Posts Tagged ‘christianity’

“Kingdom” Pt 1

July 26, 2008

I’m posting from the kitchen table of my wife’s brother’s family home in Brookfield, Wisconsin. It’s early and no one is up yet. Lot’s of fun stuff to do, and family to be with, so it’s all good. Took in a Brewer’s game last night, going up to Green Bay today. Just a quick update on the Garrett travels for those who might be interested. Now on to the post….

For a quick intro to what this post is about read this.

Here goes.

Lift up your heads, O gates!
   And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
   that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
   The LORD, strong and mighty,
   the LORD, mighty in battle!
Lift up your heads, O gates!
   And lift them up, O ancient doors,
   that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
   The LORD of hosts,
   he is the King of glory! Ps 24:7-10

And Samuel prayed to the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. I Sam 8:6,7

Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousnessfrom this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. Isa 9:7

And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever…. Dan 2:44

Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne,and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? Isa 66:1

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. I Cor 15:25

I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. I Tim 6:13-16

They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful.” Rev 17:14

On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. Rev 19:16

“If Christ is the King, everything, quite literally, every thing and every one, has to be re-imagined, re-configured, re-oriented to a way of life that consists in an obedient following of Jesus…A total renovation of our imagination, our way of looking at things–what Jesus commanded in his no-nonsense imperative, ‘Repent!’–is required.” ~ Eugene, Peterson, The Jesus Way

“If Christianity should happen to be true — that is to say, if its God is the real God of the universe — then defending it may mean talking about anything and everything. Things can be irrelevant to the proposition that Christianity is false, but nothing can be irrelevant to the proposition that Christianity is true. [All] things not only may have something to do with the Christian God, but must have something to do with Him if He lives and reigns.” -G.K. Chesterton

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? Luke 6:46

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Holiness

May 22, 2008

For about the last month several things have come up, quotes, thoughts, feelings, conversations concerning holiness.

Here are a couple of the quotes.

“… God is much more interested in making us holy than He is in getting a job done.” Elisabeth Elliot

“When I encounter a Buddhist priest, I meet a holy man. When I meet a Christian leader, I meet a manager.” Korean leader (this one kind of haunts me)

Scripture too.

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” Eph. 1:4

“Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” Heb 12:14

“… for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” I Pet 1:16 (referencing the many times the phrase occurs in the old testament)

The one thought that keeps sounding in my head, and resonating inside, is that I need to be a Holy Man.

If you’ve got any thoughts on becoming a Holy Man, let me know. 

No Shortcuts

May 7, 2008

 I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately. There just aren’t any shortcuts in the spiritual  life.

I know, I’ve tried to find them. I want quick growth and maturity. 

——-

I was thinking about Bradford Pears and Silver Maples this morning and how easily they split in winds that don’t bother other trees. These are the two main landscape trees we plant around here when we want a house to look “established” and “settled”. In other words, like it wasn’t built yesterday. Mature looking trees add a feeling of stability to a neighborhood. 

They grow quick, give lots of shade, and, in the case of Bradford Pears, are showy in the spring and fall. 

They are also shallow rooted, brittle and, again in the case of the Bradford Pear, structurally weak. 

Contrast that with most slow growing hardwoods and, long term, it’s no contest. 

——-

I would like to be established, settled, stable and mature. I would also like to look that way quickly. 

I’m pretty sure I can’t have both.

So I’m going to submit to the slow growth methods of prayer, scripture and real community, counting on the Spirit to make me deep rooted in Christ, and producing fruit in season. 

What if….

May 2, 2008

Is there a more dangerous game in all the world to play than the “What if…” game?

What if…

… I won the lottery?

… I had that house?

… I got that job?

… I could do that?

… I didn’t have to do that?

Or a little deeper and darker.

What if…

… I hadn’t done that?

… I had done this instead?

It plays both ways, it could be a good thing, it could be a bad thing. It can make you dream big. It can make you dissatisfied with what is. It can make you fearful of what could be.

Visions of “what if” sometimes lead to great advancement. Business, nation, and individual have all moved forward by playing the “what if” game. All innovation, all creativity, all invention at base come from someone saying, “What if…?”

There are also visions that make us wake up in cold sweat. What if I lost my job, there were an accident, my marriage falls apart, a bad test result comes back?

Scripture both tells us to take up something like a version of the game, and tries to help us not take it too far.

Luke 14:25-32

Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

Counting the cost is quite a bit like asking the what if question. “What if…

… I start and can’t finish?”

… I don’t want to die daily?”

… it’s too hard?”

Jesus does it again with the rich young ruler. But he doesn’t let him even play the game, he spells it out for him. He makes him count the cost.

Mark 10:17-22

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Playing the game in this sense isn’t playing at all, but a sober, assessment of what is likely to be required, or in this case what is actually being asked of us.

What I tend to do, however, is change it from a sober assessment to asking “what if” about things that might possibly be required, or asked of me.

I see Abraham asked to sacrifice his son, “What if I…?”. I see Mary’s reputation ruined, “What if that…?”. I see Paul’s multiple stonings, afflictions and persecutions, “What if I were…?.

In short, I see in scripture the lives of the saints upended and changed forever, and try to imagine myself in their situations. “I don’t have that much faith.” “That scares me to death.” I begin to brood about what God might take from me, and how I would react. It’s all fiction, but it makes me fear tomorrow. “What if…?”

God knows I”m prone to this, so here comes the help I need to try and put this stuff in perspective. 

“Don’t fear, little flock, the kingdom is yours.” “Don’t worry about how you’re going to live, your Father knows what you need.” “Don’t worry about tomorrow (“what if”), today (“what is”) is enough.” “Don’t be anxious about anything, but pray, and give thanks, asking your Father, and he’ll supply your need.” “I will never leave you or forsake you.” “You didn’t receive a spirit of fear, but of adoption, and power, and love, and self-control.”

Lord, have mercy.

“A 20th Century Prophet”

April 16, 2008

For those who don’t know, I’m an A. W. Tozer fan. Apart from scripture no book has had a bigger influence on my formation than
The Pursuit of God.

If you haven’t read it, stop whatever you’re doing (after reading this post) and go get it. If you need more than my recommendation here’s the preface. If you’ve read it before, read it again and feel that heartache, that longing again.

The Pursuit of God

A. W. Tozer

 

 

Preface

In this hour of all-but-universal darkness one cheering gleam appears: within the fold of conservative Christianity there are to be found increasing numbers of persons whose religious lives are marked by a growing hunger after God Himself. They are eager for spiritual realities and will not be put off with words, nor will they be content with correct `interpretations’ of truth. They are athirst for God, and they will not be satisfied till they have drunk deep at the Fountain of Living Water. This is the only real harbinger of revival which I have been able to detect anywhere on the religious horizon. It may be the cloud the size of a man’s hand for which a few saints here and there have been looking. It can result in a resurrection of life for many souls and a recapture of that radiant wonder which should accompany faith in Christ, that wonder which has all but fled the Church of God in our day. But this hunger must be recognized by our religious leaders.

Current evangelicalism has (to change the figure) laid the altar and divided the sacrifice into parts, but now seems satisfied to count the stones and rearrange the pieces with never a care that there is not a sign of fire upon the top of lofty Carmel. [See 1 Kings 18 for the allusions.-ccp] But God be thanked that there are a few who care. They are those who, while they love the altar and delight in the sacrifice, are yet unable to reconcile themselves to the continued absence of fire. They desire God above all. They are athirst to taste for themselves the `piercing sweetness’ of the love of Christ about Whom all the holy prophets did write and the psalmists did sing.

There is today no lack of Bible teachers to set forth correctly the principles of the doctrines of Christ, but too many of these seem satisfied to teach the fundamentals oft he faith year after year, strangely unaware that there is in their ministry no manifest Presence, nor anything unusual in their personal lives. They minister constantly to believers who feel within their breasts a longing which their teaching simply does not satisfy. I trust I speak in charity, but the lack in our pulpits is real. Milton’s terrible sentence applies to our day as accurately as it did to his: `The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed.’

It is a solemn thing, and no small scandal in the Kingdom, to see God’s children starving while actually seated at the Father’s table. The truth of Wesley’s words is established before our eyes: `Orthodoxy, or right opinion, is, at best, a very slender part of religion. Though right tempers cannot subsist without right opinions,yet right opinions may subsist without right tempers. There may be a right opinion of God without either love or one right temper toward Him. Satan is proof of this.’

Thanks to our splendid Bible societies and to other effective agencies for the dissemination of the Word, there are today many millions of people who hold `right opinions,’ probably more than ever before in the history of the Church.Yet I wonder if there was ever a time when true spiritual worship was ever a time when true spiritual worship was at a lower ebb. To great sections of the Church the art of worship has been lost entirely, and in its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the `program.’ This word has been borrowed from the stage and applied with sad wisdom to the type of public service which now passes for worship among us.

Sound Bible exposition is an imperative must in the Church of the living God. Without it no church can be a New Testament church in any strict meaning of that term. But exposition may be carried on in such way as to leave the hearers devoid of any true spiritual nourishment whatever. For it is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God Himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in personal experience, they are not the better for having heard the truth. The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge of God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His Presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts.

This book is a modest attempt to aid God’s hungry children so to find Him. Nothing here is new except in the sense that it is a discovery which my own heart has made of spiritual realities most delightful and wonderful to me. Others before me have gone much farther into these holy mysteries than I have done, but if my fire is not large it is yet real, and there may be those who can light their candle at its flame.

A. W. Tozer Chicago, Ill. June 16, 1948.

What Are We Afraid Of?

April 15, 2008

Brant Hansen has a list of the Most Influential People in American Christianity, the ones who have most influenced the way we think and act as Christians. Check it out, and the comments too. Very interesting reading, at least to me.

Jesus came in tenth (tied with one of the Wesley brothers).

His point is that we seem to want to follow someone else rather than Jesus, to hear about Jesus from others, instead of from Jesus himself. While I think we desperately need to hear this in Evangelical America, it’s not a new distortion. Paul knew the same thing with some claiming to follow him, some following Peter, some Apollos. But why is that?

I’m sure there are lots of reasons, but I think mainly we’re afraid.

When I ask God to speak to me I run two risks.

The first risk is that He won’t show up. At all. That the god (little “g”) I’ve been praying to doesn’t exist. It’s likely to be true, at least to some extent, because the god we imagine and the God of the universe are, in fact, different beings. Rousseau hit upon a truth when he said, “God created man in his image. And man, being a gentleman, returned the favor.” The God of the universe doesn’t often act the way I want him to, or show himself just because I want him to. His ways and thoughts are far above and beyond us. “What can be known about God has been made plain”… the rest we try to fill in ourselves. 

The second risk is that he actually will show up. Things (people) are never the same after he shows himself, and that’s pretty scary. The Israelites pleaded with Moses to speak to God and then report back, for fear they would die if He spoke directly to them. Isaiah fell down as though dead when he realized he was in the presence of God. Paul’s life was a little different after his trip to Damascus, and I don’t think Peter went back to being a fisherman after pentecost. 

We’re afraid that he won’t show up, and we’re afraid he will show up. 

When Jesus showed up, scripture says that the people were amazed at his teaching because it had authority, unlike the teaching from their leaders. When he said, “I am”, on at least one occasion, people were knocked to the ground.

But it wasn’t just authority and power that got him in trouble, it was what he said that was dangerous. Just try to do what he said to do and see what happens.

Turn the other cheek, go with your oppressor two miles instead of one, and give him your coat as well as your shirt and while you’re at it pray for him. Those are hard enough, but offer forgiveness to the “wrong” person, and you’ve got enemies. Challenge “the way things are” and see how quickly it gets ugly. Be a peacemaker and see who gets chewed up and spit out. 

Kingdom talk gets you killed.

But once you’ve heard it and it takes root, it captivates you, it changes everything. Suddenly you live in a much bigger world, one that centers around a throne where songs of praise are sung day and night, where the One who sits on that throne laughs at the scheming kings of this world, one where you pledge your life to a King who is always faithful to you.  It’s no longer about you and what you want, it’s about the King and what He wants this day, not in the sweet by and by. It means you have to re-think everything. Things (people) can never be the same again. Eugene Peterson, speaking of this truth of the Kingdom says this;

“If Christ is the King, everything, quite literally, every thing and every one, has to be re-imagined, re-configured, re-oriented to a way of life that consists in an obedient following of Jesus…A total renovation of our imagination, our way of looking at things–what Jesus commanded in his no-nonsense imperative, ‘Repent!’–is required.” ~ From The Jesus Way

That’s what scares us most, “an obedient following of Jesus… is required.”

Straton’s Story

April 11, 2008

I was very tempted to put up a video of just about any televangelist and this one, then ask, “Which of these is more like Jesus?” But if I’m going to compare anyone to Jesus (or Straton, for that matter) it had better be me.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.


(HT:Shaun Groves)

Spiritual Formation, Spiritual Disciplines (part 4)

March 24, 2008

seedling4.jpg   In the last post I compared our responsibility in our own spiritual formation to that of a gardener in his garden. The gardener has plenty to do, but the growth itself he has very little to do with. All he can do is provide the most favorable conditions and care for growth to take place. The way to do that is to do the things that good gardeners have done for ages. He needs to learn and practice the wisdom of those those who know more about gardening than he does.

It’s the same for us who are trying to cultivate a life in Christ. Learn and practice the wisdom of those in scripture and those saints who’ve lived  in the two thousand years since. All the while remembering that what our efforts in the spiritual life do, as Henri Nouwen points out, is to create some space and some time in our busy lives for God to shape us into His image. 

The Disciplines

Most  Christians are pretty familiar with the disciplines of reading and study of scripture, prayer, fasting, worship, service,  but I’d like to talk about a few that aren’t so well known. My reason for choosing these and not others is just my own preference, and the way they have shaped my thoughts on the christian life.

Practicing the Presence

Apart from scripture itself, and then A. W. Tozer’s “The Pursuit of God”, Brother Lawrence’s classic “The Practice of the Presence of God” has probably affected the way I look at Christian spirituality more than any other writing. I recommend it (and “The Pursuit of God”) without reservation. It simply makes more sense, as a way of living, than any other book I’ve read outside of scripture.  

The simplest and most profound of his thoughts on the spiritual life is this. “That we should establish ourselves in a sense of God’s presence by continually conversing with Him.” I know, it doesn’t sound like much. But as I’ve thought about it I’ve realized what a revolutionary way of living it actually is, and how thoroughly biblical, both in doctrine and practice it is. I’ve also noticed how different it is to the way the average Christian I see, including me, lives.

One of the most basic ideas in scripture is that God is always, and everywhere, with us. There is no place where we could go that He is not already. Well, if that is true, then maybe I ought to start living like it is.

Some folks will object, not to the truth of it, but that it’s so elementary and basic. Surely there’s lots of stuff more important we should be doing.

Before you dismiss it though, look at a few things it can do.

  1.  It makes all of my life spiritual. All of it. From the grand to the menial, I now do it in the conscious presence of God. There is no sacred-secular divide.
  2.  It takes scriptures that sound very mystical and spiritualized and makes them ultimately practical. “Pray without ceasing.” is now a do-able reality, not a pious ideal. “Whatever you do, whether eating or drinking, do to the glory of God.” is now an ordinary meal shared with God, the provider, whom I thank for it. Not some special, religious ceremony I have to perform. 
  3.  I begin to see Him at work all around me. He feeds the birds of the air, not in some ethereal, poetic sense, but right there in my front yard. He clothes the flowers of the field. Each one of them. And then as we walk together, he shows them to me, if I will just pay attention. 
  4.  It broadens my very narrow understanding of prayer. In addition to prayer being a set apart, special time where I bow my head, close my eyes and talk to God, my whole life becomes prayer, an ongoing converstion. In fact, for me, one of the biggest benefits of this ongoing conversation with God is that I have to, at some point, shut up. Listening and watching have become much more valuable to me than speaking. (Not that I always do what is more valuable)
  5.  It makes the “contemplative” person one of the most practical, down to earth folks on the planet. If I am consciously living my days with God Himself, listening more than talking, paying attention to what he’s doing, and then doing the things he places before me in my ordinary life (for this is what a true contemplative does in my opinion) then I will love those around me in the most practical, humble and useful ways there are. A very real way of living life the way Jesus did. “I only do what the Father tells me to do, I only say what I hear the Father saying.”
  6.  It makes me honest. If God is right there with me, knowing everything I know, hearing and seeing everything I say, do and think, then it makes no sense to try and fool him. I can quit trying to “get right” before I can talk to Him (as if it were possible), stop pretending to be more holy than I am, and begin to be honest with myself and talking plainly with Him. 

Before you think that I have attained any competence in this, let me tell you that it is the most difficult thing I have ever tried to do. I just can’t do it consistently, at least not yet. Simple does not mean easy, as we sometimes think. But time after time I keep coming back to this simple practice as one I must keep on trying to do.

The next post I want to talk about solitude.

Spiritual Formation, Spiritual Disciplines (part 3)

March 12, 2008

seedling2.jpg    I just finished lunch with my friend Randy.

One of the discussions we have regularly when we get together is pretty common wherever folks are trying to live out the Gospel of the Kingdom. This discussion has several names (Grace vs. Law, Grace vs. Works, Active Spirituality vs Passive Spirituality, Quietism vs Legalism, etc…), but the same basic tension. It all comes down to, “How much of my spiritual life am I responsible for, and how much is God’s responsibility?”

It’s good for me to wrestle with this. Randy spurs me to move back toward a more balanced life. I can be pretty lazy sometimes, and tend toward a more passive approach to the spiritual life. Randy says it’s good for him too, coming from the other direction. So we’re gonna keep getting together.

Both sides have scripture and smart folks they use to back themselves up. Here’s a few quotes.

“There are very few people who realise what God would make of them if they abandoned themselves into his hands, and let themselves be formed by his grace.” -St Ignatius

“Currently we are not only saved by grace; we are paralyzed by it. We find it hard to see that grace is not opposed to effort, but is opposed to earning. Earning and effort are not the same thing. Earning is an attitude, and grace is definitely opposed to that. But it is not opposed to effort.” -Dallas Willard

“The general human failing is to want what is right and important, but at the same time not to commit to the kind of life that will produce the action we know to be right and the condition we want to enjoy. It is the feature of human character that explains why the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” -Dallas Willard

“‘Rest in the Lord; wait patiently for him.’ In Hebrew, ‘Be silent to God, and let him mould thee.’ Keep still, and He will mould thee to the right shape.” – Martin Luther

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works so that no one may boast.” Eph. 2:8,9

“…for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Phil 2:13

As with almost everything, you need a little context. No one who has studied Luther, at all, would label him a quietist, no one who has read, or heard Dallas Willard would call him a legalist. And anyone who would call the Apostle Paul a quietist…well, isn’t familiar with his travel itinerary. 

In the last post I talked a little about gardening as a metaphor for spiritual formation. 

As anyone who has tried to grow a garden knows, it’s a lot of work; planning, soil preparation, planting seeds, watering, weeding, fertilizing, pruning, harvesting. It takes daily care, and a lot of time, all to be done by the gardener.

On the other hand, there are a lot of things the gardener has no control of; late freezes, drought, bad seed, animals. Even if none of those things are a problem he still can’t make a seed grow. Jesus said this, “This is what the Kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.” Mk 4:26, 27

Here is the picture I need to remember about my spiritual formation. I have lots of work to do to tend my garden. Good and necessary work. But I don’t make anything grow. I don’t even know how it really happens. All I can do is provide conditions that aid healthy growth.

Growth happens becuase the Spirit lives inside me. I don’t really understand how growth, or transformation happens, but I do see some results, though most of the time it happens so gradually I can only see it looking backward over time.

So, I’ll practice the disciplines, knowing that I have a part and a responsibility in my own growth. But also that life in the Spirit is a gift from God, and any growth is because of that gift.  

Eugene Peterson Interview

March 6, 2008

Here’s a rare interview with Eugene Peterson. Watch, and I think you’ll see why he’s one of my favorites. (HT; Internetmonk)