Thursday, February 28, 2013

Kairos Moments

One of my favorite passages (hint here - I use the phrase favorite passage all of the time, it's a bad habit)...one of my favorite passages is in Ephesians 1:3-14 (ESV).  With apologies to the text, here's what Paul says:
3  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
4  ...he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5  he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ...
7  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8  which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9  making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10  as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.


There's much more...but I stop on purpose at this verse and Paul's statement that this is all done by God as a "plan for the fullness of time".
The Greek language had two principal words for "time".  One was chronos from which we get our words chronology and chronological.  It's the word that refers to the passing of time in a linear way...hours, days, weeks, months, years.  The second word for time was kairos - a word that we don't have an equivalent in our English.  It means "now time"...momentary, suddenly, come upon us, look, see...it is captured by language that stops us and makes us look at what's happening NOW.  A kairos verse is in Galatians 4:4  
4  But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,
God chose a Kairos moment and made a decision that this was the NOW time for his son to come.
Kairos times are full of meaning, often with significance that is never forgotten - by us personally, and sometimes even in history.  They come to us at crucial times where decisions are made and the consequences last forever.

I wrote of Martin Luther yesterday.  When Luther felt he could be silent no longer, he knew God was prompting him to act - and he did.  On Oct. 31, 1517, Luther posted 95 Theses - Propositions, Debatable statements - that laid out a broad sweeping critique of the Roman church's teachings and practices.  Luther stepped into a Kairos moment.  Why did he do it?  The church had developed a money raising scheme playing off of the fears of people for eternal life by promising to either reduce their time in purgatory, or to escape purgatory altogether by paying a fee - an indulgence - to escape their doubts and guilt.  A man of the church came to Luther's Germany to sell indulgences.  Johannes Tetzel preached to crowds:
When a coin in the coffer rings,
a soul from purgatory springs.
Luther said, "Enough"..."That's it...No More" and he drew up the 95 statements that argued against the theology and practices of a corrupt church.  
The day Luther posted his theses probably seemed inconsequential.  It was "All Saints Eve" and posting on the door of the church was tantamount to putting a notice in a newspaper, or bulletin..."who cares?"
But he did it because he cared...he cared about the Gospel...he cared about the truth...he cared about "His purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him..."

Sometimes we diminish our place in God's plans.  I'm a pastor in a small rural community.  I teach in a small Christian college...can either of these make a difference.  Yet, we diminish our God when we diminish what God has called us to.  
Luther tells of the times when Satan would come to him...speaking into his mind misgivings, doubts, fears; all of which led to depression, doubts, fears within.  Yet Luther kept going back to God's word for his source of truth and consolation.  Once Luther talked of Satan approaching him, accusing him of his sins, arrogance, and pride...a litany of sins were being presented to him....and Luther said back to him, "think a little harder, surely you have forgotten some."   Satan came up with more, and when he was done, Luther took a pen, and with red ink wrote, "The blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanses me (us) from all sin."
Our mission in life is not to prop up our ego with "look what I have done".  It is to remind ourselves that we are partners with God in the accomplishment of his purposes.  All of us are unique and all of us count.   It is not in looking for kairos moments, they will come...it is knowing that God calls us in life to walk with him and to know that in his eyes, we matter.

Peace

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Forever Shifts

In 1521, a young priest named Martin Luther stood in front of a convocation of Priests, Bishops, and rulers of the Holy Roman Empire.  He was in a town called Worms (pronounced Voems) standing before a group who were asking him to recant of his writings - writings that challenged the authority of the Pope and the Roman church over the scripture.  For several years now Martin Luther had been writing, preaching, challenging the various decrees of the Papacy that ran counter to the clear teaching of scripture.  From the standpoint of the various representatives of the church, Luther was a renegade priest.  The official language from Rome was, "a wild boar has invaded the vineyard".

As Luther stood in front of the various representatives he was faced with accusations of heresy, and language of excommunication.  By all accounts, his foe was formidable.  Johann von Eck was a theologian of the church, and used by the church to hunt down and defeat those who deviated from the church's law.  Eck confronted him:

"Martin, how can you assume that you are the only one to understand the sense of scripture?  Would you put your judgment above that of so many famous men and claim that you know more than they all?  I ask you, Martin, answer candidly...do you or do you not repudiate your books and the errors which they contain?"

  What Eck said to him was not so much a question as it was a rhetorical comment...there was, from the church's point of view, only one answer.  Luther knew the implications of his answer.  He did not answer immediately.  In fact he asked for time to answer, and the convocation was delayed until the next day.
When they gathered together the following day, Luther had a clear conscience and a clear answer:
"Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God.  I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.  God help me.  Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise.  Amen."

There was no turning back.  Luther's life was forever altered.  The church was forever altered.  The world was forever changed.  

Forever Shifts... times when God puts into our path momentous decisions.  There are two very clear pathways and whichever one we choose, life will never be the same.  

Moses was a shepherd of sheep, and God wanted him to be a leader of a nation. He experienced this:
Exodus 3:1-6 (ESV)
1  Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.
2  And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.
3  And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.”
4  When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”
5  Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
6  And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Peter was leading the early church who were primarily all Jewish, and God wanted him to lead a church that reached all the people of the world - i.e. the Gentiles.
Acts 10:30-43 (ESV)
30  And Cornelius said, “Four days ago, about this hour, I was praying in my house at the ninth hour, and behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing
31  and said, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God.
32  Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.’
33  So I sent for you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”
34  So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality,
35  but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
36  As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all),...
42  And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.
43  To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Forever shifts happen when we realize that choosing to obey God will change everything.  C.S. Lewis once observed that the New Testament contains what can only be called embarrassing promises of what prayer can unleash.  It's true.
SO...let's pray to that God...Let's believe that God is doing that in our lives also.  We are called to join God's kingdom, to be a part of his plan to change the world...one person, one event, one day at a time.
It's not absurb...it's those times when all is changed because we choose to believe.

Peace

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

We are Community

"Not what a man is in himself as a Christian, his spirituality and piety, constitutes the basis of our community. What determines our brotherhood is what that man is by reason of Christ.  Our community with one another consists solely in what Christ has done to both of us."  
-  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "Life Together"

I'm convinced that every human being longs for authentic community.  I know I love the community of fellowship in our church family at New Life.  But this is not an automatic thing, and not an easy thing to nurture and maintain.  Why?
It's not automatic because of the nature of our culture.  We live in a fragmented world with many people coming from broken homes and fragmented relationships.  We know people on a acquaintance basis.  Friends are "on-line" with virtual relationships based on "updates" and "posts".   Social media is not a substitute for the longing of real community.
What the bible says is that we were created for community.

Genesis 2:18 (ESV)
18  Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 
Genesis 1:27 (ESV)
27  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

There is no greater proof that we were made for community than to realize that we were made in the image of God - the Triune God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.   The Trinity is mysterious in understanding, but the key is to realize that God exists in a Community.  If God created us in his image, we must realize how much we are meant to live in community with both God and each other.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (ESV) 
 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.
10  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!
11  Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?
12  And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. 

Now here's something to think about.  There is little doubt that living in community means we drag our sinful nature into our relationships.  Trying to live in community doesn't mean we are immune from the pain of trying to live at peace with others.  Face it, we live in a broken world, with broken people - and we are one of them!  The problem is that people face living in community in unrealistic ways.  They want marriages that never experience the ups and downs of their own selfishness.  They want church communities to never disappoint.  The reality is there are no perfect marriages, no perfect church communities, no perfect relationships in general.  The basis for real community lies in our relationship with God - it's not based on performance, it's based on love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, repentance, etc...

When God created the man the woman he gave them to each other... period.  He didn't do it so that the one would fulfill the other, or meet their need, or sacrifice for.  All of those are good, but they are based on the self-fulfilling needs we perceive.  God gave them to each other to "complement" - a "helper", like the Holy Spirit is described in the gospel.  Jesus said, John 14:16 (ESV) 
16  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,

This "helper" is literally "One called alongside"... a companion on a journey.
We don't live in community because we "get something", not even primarily because we "give something"; but rather because in community God works in us to accomplish something in us, and around us, and through us that could not be achieved alone.

Community is not something we step into automatically...it is something we build.  
Community is not something we discover...it is something that is forged through the fire of mutual struggle.
Community is labor...but a labor that leads to a better me, a greater purpose, a more fulfilled life.

I'm happy to be in a community of friends.

Peace

Monday, February 25, 2013

Listening - We Can

Matthew 13:1-17 (ESV)
1  That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea.
2  And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach.
3  And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow.
4  And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them.
5  Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil,
6  but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away.
7  Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.
8  Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
9  He who has ears, let him hear.”
10
 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?”
11  And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.
12  For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
13  This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.
14  Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “‘“You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.”

15  For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’

16  But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.
17  For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.




What's the key in this parable?  The sower?  The Seed?  I would suggest it's the "ears" and the "eyes".  It seems that Jesus is making a point that the word is continually going forth and those who want to hear it, and want to see it, will.

Here's something to think about.  God wants us to hear Him.  God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Peter, Paul and down through church history to today has always communicated to His people.  He is always able to make himself known.

John 16:13 (ESV)
13  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.

We know that Christianity is a personal relationship and not just a set of beliefs, rules or regulations to follow.  What might be the biggest lacking in this is the absence of the Spirit from our knowing of God.  Most Christians are not adverse to talking to God, but we sometimes forget that the purpose of the Spirit is to "come alongside" (which is literally what Jesus says the Spirit of God will do) and to guide us into God's truth.  In other words, the Spirit of God will "speak" to guide.
Jesus makes it clear - there is no detailed road map, a five year plan, or one size fits all discipleship program.  We may want all of those, but what God wants is for us to know him...or should we say to get to know who he is over time, each day giving time to "listen".

The overall purpose in this is to remind us that we are Spiritual, and our lives are meant to be spiritually led.
So how do we learn to listen?

It starts with God's word.  God has spoken through his word and it is in this book that His revelation has been made known.  The word revelation comes from a Latin word and it means "to draw back the curtain"  The writers were varied, but they each heard from God and wrote down - in their own ways - what they understood God to be speaking.  The word of God is the starting place where we can hear what God has to say in a timeless way.

I think we can add to that discipline.  Quietness, Silence, and Waiting upon God are disciplines that I will never perfect, but are necessary elements to listening to God.
Psalm 46:10 (ESV)
10  “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”  



What do we do?  Nothing?  No, we spend time with God's word and we listen.  It's not an automatic thing, but like all relationships it shows desire when we want to spend time with a person.
We Pray...which is conversational.  It goes both ways.  Mark 1:35 (ESV) 
35  And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he [Jesus] departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.
"Lord hear my prayers..."
"Spirit of God help to hear what you have to say to me."
Some people journal...I have in the past.  It's good to do so if the desire is to write down those things that you are seeking to understand might be coming from God.  I think I quit because I got caught up in writing so that my children or others might read it someday - it was too full of my self, and less desiring to listen.  If you can write in a more unfiltered way, go for it.  Otherwise its more of an internal discipline that needs to be developed.

Lastly, be open to what God says.  That can take many different turns.  The direction we receive will always be in accord with God's word.
God loves us and wants us to know that.  He wants us to know that the life we have is meant to be lived in fellowship with Him.

Peace

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Second Sunday in Lent

1 John 1:5-2:2 (ESV)
5  This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
6  If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.
7  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
8  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
9  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
10  If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
1  My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
2  He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

The fact of the matter is that we are stained with Sin.  It is not a matter of "If" we will sin, but only a matter of when and how.    
God is not stained with Sin...in Him there is no darkness, no possibility of acting injustly, unmercifully, ungracefully, in relation to human kind - us!  It is clear that God's great desire in making mankind was to fellowship with them - not because of His need, but again, for us.  That fellowship is still possible, but there is this matter of Sin.  
C.S. Lewis reminded us that the greater temptation is the temptation that comes in trying to be good.

“No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down (p. 142).” Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

He reminds us that the need is to face our sin, not pretend it does not exist.  When we "confess" - literally from the greek words to mean, "say the same thing" - to God, we step out of the lie and affirm his truth.  We step out of the personal darkness and step into God's light of mercy, forgiveness and grace.

Whenever we do sin, the end is not our failure, the end is Jesus Christ, the righteous one, who knew no sin and has gained for us what we could not gain for ourselves - no condemnation, just favor.

Peace

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Cloister Spiritual Life

Cloister in Fontfroide Abbey
I fell in love with a cloister, the first time I ever had an opportunity to visit an Abbey and walk in one.
There's something very beautiful and peaceful about the cloister.  If you're not familiar with what I'm talking about, it is an enclosed walkway open to a center area that is usually a garden.  The building in the picture is always to the outside, and the central area is always open...the cloister is the walkway that transitions the two places and joins them as one.
It's like this, the outside is inside.  It's private, quiet and beautiful.  It's peaceful and serene, calming and full of awe.  I don't know for certain who invented them.  I've seen remnants 1000+ yrs old.
I was thinking about cloisters a couple of weeks ago.  I said then, if I had enough money, I'd buy enough land to build a cloistered retreat center.  I'd make one of the building a kitchen and large dining area; another end for relaxation, social gatherings, worship and study areas also.  I'd make the connecting areas various living quarters so that people could come to rest, eat with one another, worship together and most of all, walk the cloisters and the garden.  The things we dream if only.

I thought about cloisters also when I thought about my life with God.  Most of us create a space for God-time.  We may read our bibles a bit, pray a bit, maybe even pick up a devotional book to read.  We worship with folk on Sundays, or perhaps join a bible study, men's fellowship, or women's fellowship during the week.  The rest of the time we live doing everyday life stuff.  We go to work, come home to eat, watch some tv, take care of kids baths and bed, pay some bills, etc...and then we go to bed and start it all over again the next day.

If one thinks about it, you realize that nothing in life happens if we don't become intentional about doing it and making it a part of our everyday life.  I am learning some German these days.  I try to sit down everyday with a phrase book and learn how to say two or three phrases.  The problem is that when I return the next day I can't remember what I learned the day before!  Why?  Because adding a brief time for something that requires an intentional effort rarely makes things become a part of our lives.

So also the Spiritual life.  The first big misunderstanding about the nature of our live with God and the work of his Spirit inside of us is that it just happens...instantly...constantly.  To be sure, it's not a matter of whether we have the Holy Spirit or not:  1 Corinthians 3:16 (ESV) 
16  Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

It is not a matter of "do we have", but rather "what are we doing with what we have?"  Look at these verses from Paul's letter to the Galatians.  Galatians 5:16-25 (ESV) 
16  But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
17  For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 
And a few verses later he says it like this:
22  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
23  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
24  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

25  If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.  

Did you see in vss 16 & 25 that we are to "walk", "keep in step" with the Spirit.  That should tell us that it's possible to do.  It's not a hollow command, it is an admonition to practice this in your life.  Sort of like, practicing German...intentionally, regularly with a measured sense of "how well is this going?"

When I came to faith in Christ, that is the intentional faith of commitment, I was just 20 years old.  The Spirit of God, according to scripture, came to dwell within me; but I did not know that.  I spent the majority of those early years trying to "work out my salvation" in the energy of my own flesh.  Try to be loving, kind, joyful, good, faithful when you only have your own will to try to make things happen.  It's a up and down ride much like being tossed back and forth in the sea...not much fun to get a glimpse of the horizon once in a while.  
Walking in step with the Spirit is a realization that the Holy Spirit is God's gift to us -  a downpayment on eternal life Paul says in Eph. 1; but also the one who energizes life, who gives insight to what's going on just as a tutor describes the problem to a student.  He is the one who shows "not this" but "this" in practices, habits, relationships, behavior, etc...  Much like being married, there is intimacy over time that "knows" beyond knowing about, or knowing of, someone.  Paul makes a comment on this life:  Colossians 2:6-7 
6  Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him,
7  rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.  
"Rooted"...a great metaphor.  There's nothing instantaneous about roots; but when you plant them into the ground, with proper amounts of water, sunshine and temperature, they'll grow...firmly establish themselves in the soil, and then bloom.  
We also need to grow...get planted...draw nourishment...become strong and deep.

The cloister reminds me that there really is no such thing as a spiritual journey - because the spiritual is not a destination, but a place of quiet peace and beauty no matter what is going on outside.

Peace

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Spiritual Life

1 Corinthians 2:9-12 (ESV)
9  But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—
10  these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.
11  For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.
12  Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.  


1 Corinthians 2:14-16 (ESV)
14  The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
15  The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.
16  “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. 


Let me begin at the beginning.  All of us have a Spiritual life.  There is no one who is not spiritual.  All of us have a life, and that life is not just lived on the material level.  We are meant to have communion with God - God is a Spirit, Jesus said.

When Paul writes to the  Corinthians he makes it clear they are not acting, or thinking, spiritually.  They were meant to live with a "now" sense of God's presence.  That type of Spirituality is  "close", "nurtured", "intimate", "cultivated", and on we could go.

A lot of times I have not felt close to God...he's been more of an idea, a concept than a person.  That's not even say God has been close, but simply that I have struggled to know Him on that personal, intimate place.
Now add to that is the circumstances of life.
It's been a rough week around here...a number of people have been going through really tough times.  Illness, disease, loss, unemployment, marriage, family, kids...it can all add up and become an assault on believing God is present, and he cares.

I want to be Spiritual...not in a concept form, but in reality...to know that I am in communion with God who is Spirit and to live with Him.

So How?  How do we do it?
First, a need to confess to God the distance.  Lord, I don't want to be far from you...it's not you that has moved, it's me.
Secondly, a desire to know and be connected on a personal level.  It can start with his Word, but it must go beyond that to times of conversation...which means listening...creating a quiet space for God to be with us.
Thirdly, a confidence that God has not abandoned...and never will.  We are Spiritual whether we know it or not.

St. Patrick is known for many things - some are probably myths more than reality.  But one thing he said was in the form of a prayer...a prayer worth repeating.

"Christ with me, Christ before me;
Christ behind me, Christ in me;
Christ under me, Christ over me;
Christ to the right of me, Christ to the left of me;
Christ in lying down, Christ in sitting, Christ in rising up;
Christ in the heart of everyone that thinks of me;
Christ in the mouth of everyone that speaks of me;
Christ in every eye that seems me;
Christ in every ear that hears me."

Isn't that what we all long for?  More tomorrow,

Peace

Thursday, February 21, 2013

We are Spiritual

I took a trip once to the isle of Iona, which is located off the isle of Mull in South-western Scotland.
There's a ferry that crosses from Mull to the island in about 15 minutes time.  There are no cars, but island of Iona is only about 2.5 miles by 1.5 miles in dimension, so it's not too difficult to walk.
When I landed there I was struck by the simplicity and beauty of the island.  But what struck me the most was how "spiritually" significant places I was ever going to visit.  I felt a sense of God's presence wherever my foot set down.  The sky above seemed to open up, the winds were whipping in from the ocean, and God chose this place hundreds of years before to launch a Kingdom invasion.

The history is that Patrick, that is St. Patrick, went back to Ireland to evangelize the Druids and Irish Celts.  He set up monastic communities before he died, and among them a young man named "Columba" grew.  Columba felt God telling him to carry the Gospel to other lands, and so with a few committed brothers he set sail - literally putting the sails up into the air and asking the Spirit of God to blow the breath of God into the sails until they would come to land.  They landed at Iona.  It was 563 A.D.  It was the beginning of the end for pagan Scotland and England.  Over the course of a few dozen years Columba and his friends spread out over all of Scotland, winning converts from the Picts and other Scottish tribes.  By the time Columba died, sixty monastic communities - not just places where monks lived, but outposts in hostile territory - were established.  Christianity had taken root in Scotland and England and the "yeast" would grow over time to drive out all of the pagan religions and establish Christianity in Europe.

Iona became a symbol of what Christ would do through the dedication of one person who's heart, soul, mind, strength, was totally committed to God.  Columba knew that the possibility of he becoming a martyr was high.  Many of the other brothers were martyred as they brought the gospel to Scotland.  The ground of that island is considered to be sacred ground...
I walked it, and I believe it is.
Iona is a part of what can be called "Celtic Christianity".  It is a beautiful spirituality that I love.
One of the concepts of the Celtic Christians is what they call "thin places".  The concept is simple.  We live in a material world that is surrounded by a Spiritual world, and they are always next to each other; but we often don't sense the spiritual.  In those "thin places" the separation seems to disappear.  We are still very aware of our material and physical surroundings, but the separation from the spiritual seems to disappear and we are also very aware of the spiritual presence of the heavenly world.

Iona, along with a few other places I've been to, is one of those "thin places".   In the course of their day these Celtic missionaries sensed God's presence wherever they went, and so they had no fear as to the circumstances and outcomes that might exist.  When they arose they lit their fires "in the presence of the holy angels."  Throughout the day from the early morning milking of the cows to the end of the day when they fed the fire to burn throughout the night they prayed their way through the day - ever conscious that God was with them.  I love this prayer:

The Sacred Three
To Save,
To Sheild,
To Surround
The hearth,
The house,
The household,
This Eve,
This night,
Oh! This Eve,
This Night,
And every night,
Each single night,
Amen.

The Celts taught me that God was always present, and so they opened themselves up constantly to the presence, friendship, fellowship, and love of God.
Through disciplined times of contemplation, prayer, study, and mission, they saw God at work in their work.

This raises the main issue.  It is only in our lives lived spiritually, transformed, and intentional that we will see the world around us transformed.  If you want your life to be significant, purposeful, spiritual, then it will mean that Christ is real and present and active in all that you do.  Jesus said it first:

John 15:4-9 (ESV)
4  Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
5  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
6  If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.
7  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
8  By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
9  As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.

Peace


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

With All Our Strength

Mark 12:30 (ESV)
30  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 

When we think of strength, we think of exercise, the discipline of hard work, and a building of physical stamina.  Strength is something we measure.  I could do 30 situps last month, now I can do 40.  I could do 20 minutes on a treadmill, now I do 30 minutes.  
We can not only "do" something, but we can "do more" than we did before.  "Look what I can do" is something our children use to say. 

To love God with all of our strength implies "doing", and to be sure there is an element of "doing" in our relationship with God.
For years I've been guided by the passage Paul wrote to the Philippians.  
Philippians 2:12-13 (ESV) 
12  Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,
13  for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

There is in the passage the both/and element of our relationship with God.  He is at work in us...therefore, we can work it out.  What God works into us, we can cooperate with and work out.  So, what does God work into us?
We know that God is good, he is merciful, kind, full of grace, just, wise, and most of all love.  The character of God is such that he works into our lives those things that represent Himself, and as such we work those things out in our heart, soul and mind - and do it with all our strength!
We don't do these things legalistically - through rules, conforming to a cultural pattern that leaves us inwardly unchanged.   To love God with all our strength - from my point of view - is to recognize that he is at work in us to build Godly character and if we cooperate with him we'll see the fruit of that in everyday things.

Think about that.  In everyday life our ethics reflect the character of God, or don't.  Are we honest?  Do we live with a godly sense of morals?  Do we treat others as we would have them treat us?  Do we care for the poor?  the disadvantaged?  Do we seek the welfare of others over ourselves?
These are not things I HAVE TO DO to be a Christian; but rather, they "inform" my soul, my mind, my heart and lead me to a place where I can say I WANT TO DO THESE THINGS...and that is the place that transformation begins to take place.

To love God with all of our strength becomes a means to focus my attention on what God can and will do to shape his Spirit in a cooperative way into my life.  It is still ME that is alive, but it is HE that is at work making that life full, abundant, free.

Ephesians 3:14-21 (ESV)
14
 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,
15  from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,
16  that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,
17  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love,
18  may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth,
19  and
to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
20  Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,
21  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.  

Peace

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

On Giving God Our Minds

The mind is not something difficult to grasp.  Unlike the soul which is multi-faceted and sometime hard to describe, the mind is the place where we think, ponder, reflect, and understand what is going on in and around us.  Jesus went out of his way to make sure we understood the love of God must also become part of our thoughts.

Mark 12:30 (ESV)
30  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

It's interesting because in the Shema, which comes from Deuteronomy 6, Jesus includes the mind though the original did not.  Why?
It is either a place of truth, or a place of lies, which means that either God is the pre-eminent way in which we think, or we are being fed lies by God's enemy, Satan.
Jesus said it this way in talking to religious leaders who did not want to hear the truth:
John 8:44 (ESV)
44  You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 

The Devil "does not stand in truth"...
"there is no truth in him..."
"When he lies, he speaks out of his own character..."
"He is a liar..."
"The father of lies."

Contrast those statements with what he had told them just before:
John 8:31-32 (ESV)
31  So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,
32  and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”


There is in our mind a war of words...lies or truth.  I discovered that early on in my walk with Christ.  During most of my teen years, I lived apart from God's truth.  I fled my flesh with its desires all that was selfish, and of Satan.  There was a war going on in my soul, and I was yeilding it to the enemy every day.
Romans 7:23 (ESV)
23  but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 


That war is being fought in our mind.  It is the lies of the enemy that cause us to walk away from the truth of God that truly brings freedom.  In Romans 8 Paul speaks of the mind over and over again, telling us that yielding our minds to Christ is not just necessary, but liberating to the rest of our being.
Romans 8:5-6 (ESV)
5  For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.
6  For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 


We've heard it often - "a mind is a terrible thing to waste".  I agree.  God has given us a place to reflect and think so that we might find the truth of His love, grace, mercy, and peace...life and peace, Paul says.

When I accepted God's call to become a Pastor, I was drawn to the idea of the "Pastor-teacher" as Paul describes the gifts in Ephesians 4.  I devoured God's word.  It became so important to read, study, immerse myself in the liberating truth that came from it.  I don't want you to be deceived in reading this.  By no means did it mean I no longer had to deal with the lies, no they did not go away.  The enemy of our souls fights us on truth and lies every minute that we are alive.  But I found that the mind that God had given me was precious to Him.  He wanted me to know the truth, and in teaching I found a vehicle for further learning.

I teach in order to learn for myself.  I study to know the truth, and teach it, but that very word finds a place to bore itself into my own mind and heart before it goes out to others.
One day in Seminary I was listening to someone preach during a chapel service.  I don't know if it was his text, or if just came up in the message; but he referenced the Old Testament book of Ezra, and he talked of Ezra the scribal leader who had come to help the Jewish nation in the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the captivity.  He talked of Ezra's leadership and his courage; but what struck me the most was when he referenced Ezra the teacher - the one who fed his mind with God's truth and taught it to others:
Ezra 7:10 (ESV)
10  For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.


That was when I decided the course of my life - this is what I wish to become, and I've never regretted it.

Give God Your Mind

Peace

Monday, February 18, 2013

Loving with the Soul

Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (ESV)
4  “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.
5  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

The Greatest Commandment, Jesus tells us is the "Shema" - the commandment that directs our hearts and soul, with all of our being's strength of purpose to love God.  Jesus laters expands and adds that we must love our neighbor as our self also.  
I talked a bit about loving God with all of our heart, but what do we mean when it is said to love him with all of our soul?  

The essence of the word "soul" is found in it's root word, which literally means "to breathe".  The Hebrew word expands on this meaning, and the Greek word for it in the New Testament is the word from which we get Psychology - "psuche".  It is "who we are" in our inner-most being.  It is the essence of who we are, the very life inside of us that makes us the person we are.  It is much more than just being alive, it is that essence of us that makes us the most alive, the person we really are.  We are able to function on much more than a physical level, we are able to function on a spiritual level because God has made us in his image, and God is a Spirit.  This is where God's beauty is displayed as each of us bears his image in its own unique way.  Like the snowflake each of us has God's unique design, and when we were made we were made with God to live within us.
To love God from the soul - in my estimation - means to turn ourselves towards him to listen, to hear with ears that want to hear, to see what he wants us to see, and to live in such a way that a relationship is intimate and full of life - beyond the human life...the abundant life that is full of purpose and meaning.

We live in a world that creates virtual relationships over web based social networks.  Catching snippets of people's actions, or words, does not a relationship make.  It can fool us into thinking we have many friends, and that friendship is just passing along information; but God hungers for our soul to be transformed from within our deepest level of being.

Our life in Christ is not an event, but a journey.  When I came to Christ at age 20 I knew the void and emptiness of a life lived for self; but what I didn't know was the life lived for purpose and meaning...the life of fellowship with Christ.  I was a child of God and it wasn't an issue of where my life would end; but it was an issue of where my life would travel, and how it would be lived.

I quickly surmised there were many areas of my life that were inconsistent with the love of Christ.  My language needed to change, my habits, my behavior, my thoughts within my mind, my passions, and desires, and not the least, my addictions.  All needed to be laid bare before God's love.  

David knew this in Psalm 51:1-4 (ESV) 
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
2  Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
3  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
4  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.

When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden they manifested that sin in "hiding".  The essence of loving God with all of our heart and all of our soul, is to not hide, but be free by coming to Him - to find mercy and cleansing...Over and Over again.

My sins were/are many, and the hesitation I felt in addressing the lengthy things did not become a burden, but instead, much like cleaning out an old closet, things became clearer, and life became uncluttered, changed from within.

Paul said to the Galatians, "I die daily"...it is a good thing to do.  To surrender our will each day to the love of God, along with His mercy and grace, and to find in Him a deep desire to help us find our way in this world.  That is what I think it means to love God with our heart and soul.

Peace

Sunday, February 17, 2013

1st Sunday in Lent - Resurrection

In the church's Lenten season, the 40 days of Lent exclude Sundays.  While Lent focuses on the Suffering of Christ on the cross for our Sins; Sunday has always been considered a day of celebration for the resurrection of Christ from the dead.
In my own opinion, they are not exclusive, but belong to each other.  As Christians we are people who proclaim that Christ Jesus has died on the cross for our sins, and has been risen from the grave for our justification.

It's interesting in reading the Gospels, that almost all of Jesus' comments on the resurrection of the dead was to respond to the unbelief of it coming from the group of Jewish leaders called the Sadducees.  They denied the idea of a resurrected body, but Jesus made it clear that the resurrection of the body to life was not debatable in God's word.

Remember when Lazarus, Jesus' friend, died.  John 11:17-27 (ESV) 
17  Now when Jesus came, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.
18  Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off,
19  and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them concerning their brother.
20  So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house.
21  Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.
22  But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.”
23  Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24  Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
25  Jesus said to her, I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,
26  and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
27  She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

Later in the passage, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.  John 11:41-44 (ESV) 
41  So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.
42  I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.”
43  When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.”
44  The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

The physical act is matched by the spiritual one.  We all need that voice of God that says to us "Come Out" and then "Unbind, and let go."  We who live too much according to the flesh and see too much of the power of the world around us which limits our spirit life and hinders seeing the truth of God...We need to be unbound in spirit and soul...we need to hear God's voice tell us to be free...come out...be unbound.  How?
Perhaps Paul said it best:

Philippians 3:8-11 (ESV)
8  ...I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 
9  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—
10  that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 
11  that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. 

On this first Sunday of Lent, Peace

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Heart of the Matter

Deuteronomy 6:4-6 (ESV)
4  “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.
5  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
6  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.

I am sharing a bit about this process of coming to God.  Yesterday I shared a bit about the process of coming to him the first time - or at least at a time when one realizes the great need from separation from God.  Call it what you will - conversion, returning, repentance, confession - they have the similarity of realizing that a life without God at the center is being lived aimlessly, foolishly.

But, I ended with the way in which Christianity introduces us to Grace - where God gifts through his own goodness and righteousness a place for us to come to Him.  We have nothing to give him in return - except a place in our Hearts for him to come in and re-shape our selfish living.

Let's start with Heart.  If we are called to love him with all of our heart, soul, mind, strength - then what exactly does that mean?

Our heart - according to the scripture - is the seat of our soul.  While the heart is a physical organ pumping the necessary life of the blood to our bodies in order to sustain life; it had become a spiritual symbol of the internal dimension of our soul - the place where we will, we choose, we have motivation, emotions, and attitude, and more.  It is the interior dimension I speak of, not the external.

Deuteronomy 10:12 (ESV)
12  “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul,

God made Moses to understand that the willingness to follow had to come from the heart...not the external rules of the law.  The external rules, regulations, stipulations, could outline the requirements, but they could never motivate or purpose us to want to follow on their own.  That had to come from the heart.

Psalm 19:14 (ESV)
14  Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. 


Words alone cannot bring about the desired affect of the heart that is "bent" towards God.  777 times in scripture the word "heart" appears - and mostly it has to do with the internal spiritual dimension of our relationship with God.

Proverbs 3:5-8 (ESV)
5  Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
6  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
7  Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.
8  It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.


Decisions are made, commitments are forged, pursuits are entered into, allegiances are given...it's always a matter of the heart.

Matthew 5:8 (ESV)
8  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

It is in the heart, Jesus says, that purity directs us to God.  And it is in the heart that we can live out of the flesh, and easily forget...
Matthew 15:8 (ESV)
8  “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 


Very early in my walk with Christ, while still in the infancy of it, I came face to face with how differently God's word and I looked at life.  I was surprised by the freedom of God, how everything seemed less difficult when I was not manipulating and deceptively maneuvering my way through the self-flesh I had so easily become without Him.  I came to understand how differently life could be if only I made the decision to honor God's word, and simply do what he said - with a willingness to question my flesh at all levels, and a willingness to ask "what is it that God says we should do?"  It is in this period that I discovered something of God's Heart for me...and the Joy that went with it.

C.S. Lewis wrote about this:  "there is an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.  I call it JOY, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished from either happiness or pleasure.  Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and only one, in common with them;  the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again."

The longing for God, for something to fill up the emptiness of the self-life, led to the longing for more.  This is what began my journey with God, and in this journey, the life ahead of me.  I found, keep finding, an incredible source of fulfillment...that each time something inside is more real than it had been before.

It does not come all at once...it is a journey after all.  We give our hearts, and God gives it back to us, only it is more full of Joy than full of self - at least that's the scriptural view.

THEN there's the struggle with the flesh that just won't go away...More on that tomorrow.

Peace










Friday, February 15, 2013

New Life

The name of the church that I fellowship with, and serve as it's Pastor, is called New Life Fellowship.  I like our name.  I'm sure that most, if not all, of the people who read this are Christians.  But humor me for a moment about what it means to become one.

I was born into a German Lutheran family.  Our family of 7 kids were all baptised as infants.  We were taken to church almost every Sunday, and I attended catechism and was confirmed into the Church around age 12.  I walked away from my faith, and the church, for most of my teen years.  I was bored, and frankly didn't see any connection between my life and the faith I was being told about for most of those years.

The only time I was interested in the church during those years was Lent.  I remember during one Lenten season our Lutheran church had a Wednesday evening service in which the Pastor taught the last 7 words of Jesus on the cross.  I didn't need to be forced to go to church during those weeks.  Still I strayed far away from the Christian faith.  I entered college without a foundation of faith under my feet at all.  Those few years were filled with fleshly sin-filled actions that I'm frankly ashamed to say I did them.  I was floundering in a wilderness of self gratification and instead of feeling joy, I felt emptiness.

It all turned around on a date.  I met Linda, my wife, in 1969.  We didn't start dating until the Fall of 1970.  I knew something was different about her, and discovered it during one of our early dates.  We got into a discussion about faith...I didn't have one.  I had a collection of random beliefs gathered from all over the place and even I knew it was no faith at all.  Linda was not judgmental, but was clear - her faith rested in the person and work of Jesus, who loved her, forgave her, and in whom her relationship was the most important thing in her life.  I went home that night, and instead of falling to sleep, I laid in my bed, staring into the blackness of the night and internally reliving the conversation over and over again.
This is what I knew - I didn't have that relationship with Christ that she talked of.  I prayed a simple, and not very profound prayer asking Jesus to come into my life, asking him to save me and to forgive me of my sins.  I asked him to be my  savior and my Lord - I wanted to live my life for Him...a New Life.

THIS is what it means to become a Christian.  A Christian is a person who has accepted Jesus' person and work for themselves.  A Christian is a person who accepts that God has come into the world through His Son, Jesus Christ, and through Christ's death on the cross has taken our place and redeemed us from our sins.
2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (ESV)
17  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
18  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;
19  that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
20  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
21  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.


I want to be careful here.   Let's not make this new life into a business transaction.  This is not a "I agree to grant you that I am a sinner and you agree to grant me salvation in return."  That would take the mercy, grace and love of God and make them trivial at best.  Christians have a profound sense of their own moral bankruptcy and God's incredible grace in reaching out to bring us to himself.  This is a grace that isn't cheap, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German-Lutheran pastor who was martyred by the Nazis near the end of WWII.  This grace compels us to make a commitment because it came to us in our emptiness, and filled up everything that was necessary.  That is why Paul says, "in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself..."

Many years ago there was a conference in Great Britain on comparative religions.  Experts from all over the world came to debate what was unique about the Christian faith in relation to other religions.
Was it that God came to us as a human?  No, other religions had that.
Was it the resurrection?  No, other religions believed in that.
Was it heaven, life after death, or the eternal soul?
Was it love for your neighbor, good works, or sin, hell, or judgement???  NO, NO, NO.  These were all parts of other religions.
The dialog went on for some time when C. S. Lewis walked into the room.  They asked him, "what is so unique about Christianity from other religious faiths?"
He answered, "That's easy, It's Grace!"

The sense of being lost, wandering aimlessly, striving for reality without realizing that we're in a fog of our own SELF is what causes us to come to God and need His grace.
To Love God with all of our hearts, all of our soul, all of our mind, or strength - and our neighbor too - is impossible to do without that Grace.
I'll talk about those tomorrow..For now,

Peace

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Lenten Valentine's Day

Today is Valentine's Day.  Which means a lot of Hallmark cards will be sold, along with flowers, candy, and assorted gifts - all in commemoration of Love.
It's a good thing to love...God gave it to us as a gift.  Since we are made "in the image of God", we have the capacity to love, for after all God is Love.
The words of scripture are well-known, but bear our remembrance on this day:

1 John 4:7-10 (NRSV)
7  Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God...
9  God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.
10  In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

1 John 4:16-19 (NRSV)
16  So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them...
18  There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear...
19  We love because he first loved us.

Romans 5:8 (NRSV)
8  But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.  

John 3:16 (ESV)
16  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

No one can quite comprehend the love of God.  To love like He does is beyond most of us.
God is love,
And Love is a Relationship
That Relationship is full of Joy - a Joy that quite besides reason.

I remember many years ago, one Sunday evening, after Church services.  Our family was full of little kids and we all went to a Perkins Restaurant.  We sat in a booth in the corner...one of those semi-circle booths that no one large wanted to be stuck in the middle of.  When someone big needed to go to the bathroom, half of the booth had to get up and get out of it to let that one person out, and then it was repeated when they came back - so we always stuck the little ones in the middle!

That evening, our youngest son, was sitting in the middle and he must have been thinking about something that related to church - at least that's what I tell myself.  Perhaps nothing more was happening but that God's Spirit was working in his mind and heart.  He leaned over and said, "Dad, can I ask Jesus to come into my heart?"  A rather innocent and lovely statement from a little kid..."Yes...do you want to do it right now?" 
He thought a bit, and then said, "Yes"...and he disappeared...
slid down off the bench and went under the table...
a little while later he emerged, and had a smile on his face.

"What did you do?" I asked.
"I asked Jesus to come into my heart"...that's it, that's all, that's enough.

It would be easy to say, "He was influenced by his environment, doing what pleased his parents...fit into his religious community...did what was expected socially..."  Blah, Blah, Blah...

The fact of the matter is though that millions of millions of people have done the same thing - responded to the Love of God.
All of us have the same ability - to love, to trust, to accept and receive what is freely given...and it doesn't have to happen once 
In a Perkins...
Under a Table...
It can happen again, and again, and again.

Our invitation from God, is to believe, trust in, and walk every day in the reality that we are loved...and the story of that love keeps on going through out the days of our life, and then on into eternity.

Happy Valentine's Day...It's a Lovely Day

Peace

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lent: A Journey of Remembrance

Today begins the 40 days of Lent.  I look at these days ahead as an opportunity to join with millions of Christians around the world in celebrating, and remembering, what our Lord Jesus has done in going to the cross.

Matthew 16:24 (ESV)
24  Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.




By tradition in many of the mainline churches ashes are placed on the head of those who come to worship today.  The word "Lent"  comes from the word Lencten, which is an old Anglo-Saxon word for "Spring".  Lent begins a 40 day period that ends at Easter (Sundays are not counted in Lent because they are considered to be days of celebrating the Resurrection, not the cross).
Why Ashes?
The symbol of Ashes have always stood for mourning, for a repentant spirit.  The Old Testament world often depicted mourning as people tearing their clothes, or wearing sackcloth, and sitting in dust and ashes.  At a funeral service, especially graveside, it's not unusual for a pastor to say we return the body to the earth, "ashes to ashes, dust to dust".  Look at some other passages:  Genesis 3:19; Job 34:15; Psalms 90:3, 104:29, and Ecclesiastes 3:20.
Ashes symbolize the temporal quality of life.  Our lives "are but a vapor, that appear for a minute and then vanish away."  We live with the reality that we are not going to live forever in this body, in our world.  Our lives will come to end, and if not for Jesus' death on the cross, we'd live without the hope of the resurrection and the promise of eternal life.

1 Peter 2:24 (NRSV) 
24  He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 

However this day strikes you - and I hope it means something to you - make a point of coming back each day as we think, ponder, pray our way through these 40 days leading up to Easter.

Peace

Friday, February 8, 2013

In Honor of Athanasius


Today, Feb 8, is a memorable date in the Church's History.  On Feb 8, 356, while leading a worship service in Alexandria, Egypt, the Bishop of the church in Alexandria, Athanasius, had the service interrupted by armed troops of the emperor who sent them to arrest him for heresy.
Athanasius was one of the early church's most important individuals.  He was a brilliant theologian who wrote the great masterpiece - "On the Incarnation" - which defines the important tension of Christ as both human and divine.  This was a direct attack upon the heresy of Arianism that had crept into the church and was becoming a popular alternative to what is true.

So What Was the Big Deal? 

Arius, whom Athanasius deposed, maintained that Jesus was "divine" but not fully God. Rather, he was a created being. Athanasius insisted that Jesus was fully God. Is all this idle theological speculation? Not according to Athanasius. At stake was nothing less than this: God so loved the world that for our salvation He did not send one of His creatures to do the dirty work but came Himself.
For this, Athanasius was exiled by the Emperor several times.

At the Council of Nicea Nicea was the first of the great church councils - Athanasius went as an assistant to his bishop, Alexander, and helped win the day for the orthodox. He replied to the Arians and drafted the council's creed.

He also helped define what we have as the Bible. Writing his Easter letter to his people in 367, Athanasius set forth the authoritative list of Christian writings (27 books) that would be finally approved at the Council of Carthage in 397 and accepted by the Christian church as the closed canon of the New Testament.

He also wrote An Early Christian Biography: Athanasius's Life of Antony
Athanasius was so impressed by the spirituality of St. Antony of the Desert, the first notable Christian monk, that he wrote his life--one of the first Christian biographies. In the selection that follows, he tells how Antony gave up all that he had.

After the death of his father and mother, Antony was left alone with one little sister: his age was about eighteen or twenty....

"It was not six months after the death of his parents, and going according to custom to the Lord's House, he communed with himself and reflected as he walked how the Apostles left all and followed the Savior; and how those in Acts sold their possessions and brought and laid them at the Apostles' feet for distribution to the needy, and what and how great a hope was laid up for them in heaven. Pondering over these things, he entered church, and it happened the Gospel was being read, and he heard the Lord saying to the rich man, 'If thou wouldest be perfect, go and sell that thou hast and give to the poor; and come follow Me and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.'
Antony, as though God had put him in mind of the Saints and the passage had been read on his account, went out immediately from the church, and gave the possessions of his forefathers to the villagers--they were three hundred acres, productive and very fair--that they should be no more a clog upon himself and his sister. And all the rest that was movable he sold, and having got together much money he gave it to the poor, reserving a little, however, for his sister's sake."

SO...on Feb 8, 2013, it's my desire to honor this man of great faith!

Peace