Friday, November 14, 2014

Infinite Power, Infinite Compassion

"Gentleness"
Etching by Chaim Koppelman
It is the prerogative of great strength to be gentle. Always remember that you are linked with the Infinite God, and that all things are possible to you. There must also be infinite pity. We must be tolerant and pitiful to those who abuse us, or have been embittered by disappointment, or have been ill-used.

It must be our aim to make allowances for such, and always to be sweetly reasonable towards any brusqueness, rudeness and bad manners of their behaviour. Let us be willing to admit that much is due to congenital moroseness. Therefore, we bear gently with the erring, and with those who are out of the way, because we also are encompassed with infirmity.

F B Meyer

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Deeds and Deep Knowledge

Photo by Steve Evans
This is from T. Austin Sparks, an author I'm reading right now. I like his intense devotion to God's will, something I also get from Oswald Chambers' writings. 

What was the one thing the prophets were always talking about? It was about knowing the Lord. The thing that was lacking amongst the Lord's people in the days of the prophets was the knowledge of the Lord. There were plenty of people who were prepared to have the Lord for what He could do for them, but as for the Lord Himself... ah, that was another matter.

What is the Lord after with you and with me? Is He first of all wanting us to do things? The idea of what is of God today is chiefly associated with the things which are being done for Him, the work we are engaged in, and so on—that is, with what is objective and outward. But the Lord is not first of all concerned about how much we do.

He is far more concerned that, whether we do little or much, every bit of it should come out of a knowledge of Himself. Any amount can be done for the Lord in Christian work and activities, just as you do other work, but it may not proceed from your own deep knowledge of God. The Lord is concerned above all else that we should know Him.

T. Austin-Sparks
Prophetic Ministry
Chapter 5


Saturday, November 1, 2014

Produce

Photo by fir0002
When we walk in the Spirit He produces in us the fruit of a holy character. The contrast between the works of the -- i.e., the selfish life -- and the fruit of the Spirit, which is the natural product of His influence, is very marked. In works there is effort, the clatter of machinery, the deafening noise of the factory. But fruit is found in the calm, still, regular process of Nature, which is ever producing in her secret laboratory the kindly fruits of the earth.

 How quiet it all is! There is no voice nor language. It is almost impossible to realise what is being effected by a long summer day of sunshine. The growing of autumn arrives with noiseless footsteps.

So it is with the soul that daily walks in the Spirit. There are probably no startling experiences, no marked transitions, nothing special to record in the diary, but every year those who live in close proximity witness a ripening wealth of fruit in the manifestation of love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control.

F. B. Meyer

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Next Job

Well-Used Tools
Photo by Biser Todorov
Today in church we sang a song called Be Still, My Soul, and this line really impressed me -- or more to the point, God really impressed me with this line:

Be still, my soul,
your God will undertake to guide the future,
as in ages past...

To me "your God will undertake" makes the lyrics much more solid and real. Katharine von Schlegel, who wrote them back in 1752, doesn't say, "Don't worry because God is always guiding the future from eternity," like many hymn writers would. No, she says, "Don't worry Christian, because God is rolling up his sleeves, getting out his tools, spitting in his hands and rubbing them together, and 'undertaking' his next job -- guiding the future." He is a worker (John 5.17); God gets dirty hands and splinters while he constructs this future.

Just like he has dependably done for "ages past."




Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Golden Calf

The Golden Calf
Your Christian influence, your reputation as a worker for God, and your standing among your brethren, may be an idol to which you must die, before you can be free to live for Him alone.

- A.B. Simpson

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Messed Up Gospel

Our Shopping List
All throughout the history of the Christ Movement we've gotten off track in how we understand and teach the Great Announcement of the Gospel.  Part of the reason for this blog is provide a place where people interested in Christianity can get past all that and see what it was that Jesus started.

Here is a random sampling of 14 ways we mess up the Gospel and get off message. They from a blog post by Howard Snyder called 14 Favorite Ways to Twist the Gospel.  By all means  read the whole thing here. It's a good list!


#11. Substitute heaven for the kingdom of God.
In the Bible, the kingdom of God is as comprehensive as the reality, sovereignty, and love of God. No spirit/matter dualism. Most people in Jesus’ days understood this; they knew that “kingdom of heaven” in Matthew, for example, was just another way of saying “kingdom of God.”

In the Bible we see the kingdom of God as both now/future, heavenly/earthly, personal/social, sudden/gradual, inward/outward, in a mysterious dialectic with the church which itself is neither the kingdom of God nor divorceable from God’s kingdom.


#2. Focus solely on “personal salvation.”
The Bible does not teach “personal salvation” in the private, individualistic way that phrase has come to mean. Rather it teaches in multiple ways and through many metaphors the reconciliation of all things (e.g., Eph. 1, Col. 1)—though not without judgment.


#12. Faith just a part of life.
We compartmentalize. Our Christian walk gets reduced to just one part of our lives, and that one part is often reduced to simply what we believe.

But now abide faith, hope, and love—and the Bible makes clear which is the “greatest” and most comprehensive. According to the gospel, faith is not the ultimate reality; it is the means to the end of loving God and others and all God’s creation with our whole being. And that 24/7, as the saying goes.

The biblical picture is faith working by love; love enabled by faith and powered by hope—full confidence in God’s amazing full-salvation-for-all-creation promises.


#5. Thinking economics and politics are not directly gospel concerns.
Walling off economics and politics from the gospel, placing them outside our discipleship, is unbiblical dualism. The gospel is an economic and political reality, so by definition the church is both economic and political. But economics and politics are to be understood in light of the gospel, not the other way round. The kingdom of God is the comprehensive framework.







Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Living Words

(This is a modified version of a post I wrote a few years ago.)

A sacrament is a material object or action that God has chosen, in his complete freedom, to use as a conduit for his grace. The Christian movement has revolved around sacraments from its start. The Catholic and Orthodox traditions teach 7 sacraments -- baptism, confirmation (called "chrismation" in Orthodox churches), communion, holy orders, penance, anointing of the sick, and marriage. Meanwhile, most Protestants only observe the two specifically set up by Jesus of Nazareth, baptism and communion. Down through the ages innumerable followers of Jesus have attested to the mystical power resident in these simple things.

But you may have another sacrament sitting on your bookshelf. The Bible has always worked like a sacrament in the Community of Jesus -- a physical book that God uses to convey his free, unearned, transforming power and kindness to his wayward children.

Instruction Book?

Here in the western world there is a tendency, based on thinking that goes back to the Enlightenment, to see the universe mechanically. We assume that everything operates like an impersonal machine and if we can just understand the mechanism we can make it work. All we need is an instruction book.

It is popular, particularly in Western Protestantism, to think of the Bible as a kind of super instruction book. All we need to do is memorize the important dates and grasp the formulas, and we'll be able to make our religion "work." And of course, there definitely is quite a bit of wise advice and uplifting insight in Scripture. But the Bible does not purport to be just a wise and wonderful book; it purports to be revelation, a living entity through which the Holy Spirit of God speaks -- in the present tense. Just as Jesus of Nazareth was not just a wise and wonderful teacher but the unique revelation of the Living God.

Jesus taught that King David wrote his Psalms "by the Holy Spirit" (Gospel of Mark chapter 12, verses 35 - 37), and that Israel's holy books were filled with, "things written about himself in all the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the Prophets," (Gospel of Luke chapter 24, verses 27 and 44 - 47 ERV).

The early Christian movement believed "[Moses] received life-giving words (literally, "living words") from God to give to us", (Acts of the Apostles chapter 7, verse 38 ERV). For them -- and for us -- "God’s word is alive and working. It is sharper than the sharpest sword and cuts all the way into us. It cuts deep to the place where the soul and the spirit are joined. God’s word cuts to the center of our joints and our bones. It judges the thoughts and feelings in our hearts." (Letter to the Hebrews chapter 4, verse 12 ERV).

As the scholar J. N. D. Kelly wrote, "Whenever our Lord and His apostles quoted the Old Testament, it is plain that they regarded it as the word of God," (Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, p. 60). It was the same with the Apostle's writings by the time the last one died, because the Jesus followers recognized that they carried the revelation that the Messiah had entrusted them with (p. 56).

Not a Normal Book

What I'm suggesting is that nice leather-bound book you have on your desk or in your car is not just a book: It is something that intelligent 21st century people get vaguely uncomfortable with, something that some scholars devote their lives to showing it is not.

It's supernatural.

When we crack our Bible's open we are exposing ourselves to the creative power of God's own being, as God wants us to experience it. Reading the Scriptures, as John Wesley used to say, is a "means of grace," a sacrament that connects us with God. And then anything can happen.

Modern people aren't supposed to think that way. We can explain all that miraculous stuff away with our current understandings, can't we? There's no need to go there, surely.

But as C. S. Lewis wrote, "Like it or not, you belong to a supernatural religion."