You are currently browsing the monthly archive for September 2008.

What seem our worst prayers may really be, in God’s eyes, our best. Those, I mean, which are least supported by devotional feeling. For these may come from a deeper level than feeling. God sometimes seems to speak to us most intimately when he catches us, as it were, off our guard.            

C.S. Lewis

 

Praying isn’t meant to be a show.  It’s intended to be a conversation—between us and God.

Prayer consists of several things—adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication to name a few.  But something I think it entails that we tend to forget, is honest conversation.  God knows the truth before we tell him (if we ever do)—and one of the reasons prayer can seem like such a chore is because we are so busy trying to avoid talking about just what it is that is bothering and worrying us, and even what may be plaguing and tormenting us.    

Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.   (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, The Message Bible)

You see, God hasn’t posted a long list of prayer rules on some locker room wall for us to adhere to.  We pray when we don’t have an hour to set aside— when we are battling fatigue or doubt—and when we might be really struggling in our battle against sin.  God wants us to come to him in prayer all the time as Paul reminds us.  To imagine that we can get ourselves clean enough, ready enough, or be serious enough to have God listen to us, let alone accept us—isn’t only silly, it’s flat out offensive to him. 

Jesus is our advocate and it’s only because of his worthiness that we can come in the first place to a place of prayer.

And have a conversation with God Almighty.

All the natural movements of the soul are controlled by laws analogous to those of physical gravity.  Grace is the only exception. 

-Simone Weil, French mystic and social activist (1909-1943)

 

I was surfing the blogosphere recently and ran across the above quote, to which an unnamed blogger commented—He whose will is his Father’s, whose company is his betrayer, whose victory is his forsakenness, whose love is his suffering, is free; the exception which destroys the rule

There is no one in the entire Old Testament who got a rawer deal than Joseph.   Job lost everything, Hosea had a prostitute wife named Gomer to deal with, and prophets were killed for speaking the word of the Lord—but Joseph lived in exile year after year for merely having a dream and being foolish enough to share that dream with his own brothers (the very brothers who sold him for twenty shekels of silver and staged a phony murder to fool their father).  Fortunes turn however, and the brothers faced a famine and a brother in turn who now had their futures in his hands—a brother they thought was long gone.  

18 His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, ‘Behold, we are your servants.’ 19 But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.   (Genesis 50:18-21, ESV)

It is said that Joseph was a type of Christ, a foreshadow if you will—no scripture bears witness more.

As each of us play the betrayer at one point in our lives or another—sooner or later we become the betrayed.  Living a life of grace means giving grace to the most undeserving.  Essentially, it is handing the very instrument intended to wipe us out to the one who would do the deed.  Eventually we all face our accuser—we all stand before our enemy—empty handed, with one of two choices: To strangle the scoundrel with our own two hands, or to reach out and embrace him.    

Jesus calls us to extend grace.  Even to our betrayer.  To withhold grace from the most underserving is to most assuredly be—ungraceful.

If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

           

You can’t build relationships by being plastic.  Politicians might win elections doing that sort of thing—but if it’s a flesh and blood relationship you envision, you have to show a little skin.  As Jesus-followers, if we don’t get to know one another—how do we ever expect to share with, comfort, encourage and challenge one another?  The kind of community we learn of within the context of the early church wasn’t the brand that happens by chance.   

It entails being vulnerable.

I do recognize that some of our hesitation to get to know one another is just due to good old personality conflicts, time restraints, and so forth.  But fear of rejection and fear of getting burned are stubborn foes and I’d say these fears play the lead role in why we fail to open up about what bothers us terribly, what makes our heart skip a beat, what we are really thinking—or what’s actually going on.   

 So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching.    (Hebrews 10:22-25, The Message Bible)

The beneifts of fellowship with one another far outweigh any negatives we may encounter. 

Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients. We thank God for what He has done for us. We thank God for giving us brethren who live by His call, by His forgiveness, and His promise. We do not complain of what God does not give us; we rather thank God for what He does give us daily.

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life together

       

We all have been there—so consumed with someone else and their life—we made our self utterly miserable.  Why is it that we think so and so is better off than us for such and such reason or that everyone else has been given gifts and talents that are superior to ours?  One day we feel as though we are on the cusp of living the life we believe God has destined we participate in—the next we wish we were in someone elses’ shoes.

Jesus tells Peter to care for his brothers and sisters after asking him several times if he loved him (the two happen to be in direct correlation with one another)—and concludes by indicating what kind of death Peter would suffer and by simply saying Follow me.  I’m thinking Peter got agitated by the exchange because moments later he’s thinking about John.  

 Turning his head, Peter noticed the disciple Jesus loved following right behind. When Peter noticed him, he asked Jesus, “Master, what’s going to happen to him?”

Jesus said, “If I want him to live until I come again, what’s that to you? You—follow me.” That is how the rumor got out among the brothers that this disciple wouldn’t die. But that is not what Jesus said. He simply said, “If I want him to live until I come again, what’s that to you?”    (John 21:20-23, The Message Bible) 

It’s not for us to concern ourselves with what Jesus will do with our brother and sisters.  Frankly speaking, it’s none of our business—our concern is to give ourselves to that which Jesus plans to do with us.

All saints, that are united to Jesus Christ their Head, by his Spirit, and by faith, have fellowship with him in his graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory: and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other’s gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man.      

 -Westminster Confession, XXVI:1  

 

It’s no secret that today scores of lives and relationships are at the breaking point.  As followers of Jesus, we need to do better than refusing to be square with one another.   

Like Doc Holliday (who I mentioned in the last post), it can take a life altering or ending event to shake us free.  Being able to level with one another starts with being honest with God and ourselves—once we do that—we can begin to walk in community with one another.  Wikipedia states, ‘Koinonia’ is the anglicisation of a Greek word (κοινωνία) that means communion by intimate participation.  It’s basically where our word fellowship comes from (so no, the word fellowship isn’t some cheesy word your pastor thought up in describing mid-week meeting just to be weird).  The idea comes straight from the Bible itself, and we see it lived out beautifully in the early church.  But not without the participants being willing to bare their souls and share their sufferings, burdens, losses and their joys—one with another.  The book of Acts records that they came together daily—in other words—they very regularly participated in the lives of one another.    

How about us?

I have a brother and a sister of my own who both have families of their own.  However, a part of having a healthy and rewarding relationship with either of them is by the grace of God—and somehow attempting to participate in their lives. 

And it requires intention and sacrifice.    

 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.   (Acts 2:42-47, ESV)

What are you a part of that’s more important?

When a Christian shuns fellowship with other Christians, the devil smiles. When he stops studying the Bible, the devil laughs. When he stops praying, the devil shouts for joy.
        
-Corrie ten Boom
 
                        

My favorite movie (Tombstone) winds up with Wyatt Erp visiting his friend Doc Holliday on his deathbed at a sanatorium—he is dying from tuberculosis.  Wyatt, not having enough friends to need more than one hand less four fingers to count them on, comes to visit Doc every day and try his luck in a few hands of poker—despite Doc’s displeasure with the visits.  The afternoon Doc is going to die, Wyatt walks up to his bedside—in a style only Wyatt could—and asks, How are you feeling today Doc?  To which Doc candidly replies, I’m dying, how are you?  

And that’s what it takes for some of us to level with one another when we should have much sooner.

Why are we so phony with one another?  We are asked on a day that we feel like crawling in a hole, How you doing today?  And what’s our answer?  Great, never been better.  Even Joel Osteen has a bad hair day.  How many couples spend a lifetime together and never take the time to stop and really learn about one another?  I’ve had bosses who after months of working for them say to me—I didn’t know you had any kids?   And I want to ask them—Do you think I would work this second-rate job if I didn’t?  

 Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire. Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete. Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.

…Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness.   (Colossians 3:9-11, 15, The Message Bible) 

It’s okay to say—I’m hurting, would you pray for me?   Which reminds me, it’s even better to say—I can see your dying, what can I do for you? 

Often we remain silent when we need to speak. Without words, it is hard to love well. When we say to our parents, children, lovers, or friends: “I love you very much” or “I care for you” or “I think of you often” or “You are my greatest gift,” we choose to give life.

It is not always easy to express our love directly in words. But whenever we do, we discover we have offered a blessing that will be long remembered. When a son can say to his father, “Dad, I love you,” and when a mother can say to her daughter, “Child, I love you,” a whole new blessed place can be opened up, a space where it is good to dwell. Indeed, words have the power to create life.

-Henri Nouwen

 

I remember it vividly, as if it were this morning.  I was staying with my parents.  A grown man with children of my own, feeling like the biggest loser in the world.  I had not been divorced all that long and to make matters worse the divorce had been the consequence of a series of bad bad choices on my end years earlier.  And to top it off, months after the spectacle I had went out and messed up my life even more. I felt like my insides were being torn out to be frank.

One morning as I was laying in bed, home from my job (which required traveling)—But he knew I was dying inside and it was killing him.  I began to cry and I couldn’t stop.  Silence and sobs.  And out of nowhere my dad said seven words: You are a man of God, Ken.  He didn’t need to say anything else, it didn’t matter to me what I felt like or the fool I had made of myself, I was still God’s man.       

 So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.   (Colossians 3:12-14, The Message Bible)

Thank God he’s a Father who has chosen to love me and pick me up when I can’t even lift my chin.

God is none other than the Saviour of our wretchedness. So we can only know God well by knowing our iniquities… Those who have known God without knowing their wretchedness have not glorified him, but have glorified themselves.

Blaise Pascal

 

Our natural inclination is to be committed to one another so long as the relationship doesn’t get too distant, too cold, too one-sided, too uncomfortable, too costly, too painful, or too embarrassing for us.  I can certainly imagine the scene in the garden called Gethsemane on that bitter night of betrayal when every last one of Jesus’ closest followers couldn’t even stay up and pray with him—the night that ultimately ended days later in the Victory to dwarf all victories combined. 

These disciples weren’t always committed exactly, and yet, Jesus never gave them an inkling of a reason to question his unflinching loyalty to them.  Jesus wasn’t duped either—he knew one was a snake from the onset (Judas).  Aware of his disciples’ inconsistencies, he had warned Peter hours before Peter delivered his I’ll do anything for you Jesus speech.  So, that doesn’t surprise me.  It’s what Jesus says to Peter before he predicts his denial that blows my mind.  

“Simon [Peter], stay on your toes. Satan has tried his best to separate all of you from me, like chaff from wheat. Simon [Peter], I’ve prayed for you in particular that you not give in or give out. When you have come through the time of testing, turn to your companions and give them a fresh start.”   (Luke 22:31-32, The Message Bible)

Basically, Jesus says in all this—Hey, I know you are going to fail me no matter what you say.  The promises you are making, while they may be well-intentioned, are hot air.  You are gonna back out on me.  That being said Peter—I’m not only going to let you in on a little secret here, but I am going to let you know ahead of time that I won’t give up on you when you duck and run.  And even when you feel the worst about yourself, I won’t even think of abandoning you.  When you realize this, and you will—turn to your brothers and sisters in the faith and encourage them.

There will be times when we will prove uncommitted, but it’s essential that during those times we don’t despair—Jesus remains committed to us.  Following Jesus isn’t about telling him all the wonderful things we are going to do for him, and it isn’t about declaring war on his enemies.

Following Jesus is about having faith that he remains committed to every one of us when we fail him most.  

Love God? Sometimes I hate Him!

-Martin Luther (in answer to a question about whether he truly loved God)

 

We’re sure to tell God of our intentions to obey him and in the hour of our testing we miss the mark.  Okay, you haven’t.  But for the rest of us who have—we can relate with Peter.  Peter wasn’t alone that night in his self-assured profession—the other disciples just had enough sense to not be so loud.  And it should be no wonder that zealous Peter still has plenty of company today, whether we open our mouths or not.  We are no different than the original twelve. 

On the eve of Jesus’ arrest, Jesus tells his disciples they will fall to pieces and Peter essentially says no way.

Peter broke in, “Even if everyone else falls to pieces on account of you, I won’t.”

“Don’t be so sure,” Jesus said. “This very night, before the rooster crows up the dawn, you will deny me three times.”

Peter protested, “Even if I had to die with you, I would never deny you.” All the others said the same thing.   (Matthew 26:33-35, The Message Bible)

One moment brash Peter is promising Jesus he’ll stand steadfast by his side—and the next minute he’s brandishing a sword and cutting off the ear of one of Jesus’ captors.  Peter thinks he’s validated his commitment to Jesus while Jesus knows better. 

The lessons of Gethsemane are plentiful—but one that has stood the test of time is simple: Jesus’ idea and our idea of what it looks like to be his disciple are often at odds.  Jesus knew a thing or two that Peter didn’t know—following Jesus isn’t about slaying his enemies, or even staying awake with him when we should be praying.  Peter, like us, had to experience a personal moment of crisis in regards to his outspoken declaration of character and as a result he learned that following Jesus is about painfully recognizing ones fallibility—no matter how tedious and time consuming a process it encompasses.  Remember, it was only moments before wrongly defending Jesus (as if Jesus the Son of God needed any), that Peter was swearing up and down he’d never do such a thing as deny him—only to do that very thing before the sun comes up the next morning.  It was with one vicious swipe of a sword it sure looked like Peter meant business.  But it wasn’t the business of Jesus. 

Rather than showing Jesus his commitment—he shows us all his lack of it.  Jesus isn’t looking for our swords or our big talk, he’s got it handled. 

What he wants is us.  

Jesus Christ is a God whom we approach without pride, and before whom we humble ourselves without despair.

-Blaise Pascal

              

I may have trouble seeing, but I’m not blind.  The harder I have tried to make the people in my life prouder of me and happier for knowing me—the more I realize I have disappointed instead.  I have failed others as well as myself.  I know my failures are obvious and we’d rather ignore them—although some may wish to publicize them for reasons of their own.  Does my life exist to make a name for myself or build a legacy I can be proud of?  I am more apt to be a colossal failure than I an amazing success.  I don’t much like it really—and my friends tell me I need to stop beating myself up and over it.
 
Alright—point made.
           
I concede.
 
But it don’t change the facts.
     
 He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.”
        
”Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.'”
      
Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself,  you will become more than yourself.”   (Luke 18:9-14, The Message Bible)       
                
I’m not giving myself a hard time.  I’m really being pretty easy on myself considering.  I’m not going to write to beat myself up.  Likewise, I didn’t decide to write to build myself up.  And just as I’m not going to talk about my accomplishments—I’m not going to flog myself.  The excruciating details surrounding my failures are irrelevant, there’s no good to come of that for goodness sakes.  What I will do is write about how much my inability to save myself or anybody else only highlights the sufficiency of God in Christ Jesus. 
      
And in the end I won’t rise up to be anyone in and of myself—Jesus has leaned over and helped me up.
    
I will need more of the same in the days to come.     
a blog about radical discipleship, the gospel of grace, a theology of the cross, Christian spirituality, the mission of the church in this world and whatever else on the same wave length that may be running around the brain of a hopeful Protestant.

follow me on twitter

My Blogs Elsewhere

Photo Credit

...just to be safe and ethical—there is a Creative Commons liscence on the photo. Here's the link to give credit where credit is due—thank you. http://www.flickr.com/photos/ shoebappa/1080642528/