Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!  I hope you are having a wonderful time of celebrating Christ's coming with family and/or friends!  I am doing just that, so I will make this post short and let you meditate on the words of one of my favorite hymns.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
ponder nothing earthly-minded,
for with blessing in his hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
as of old on earth he stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
in the body and the blood;
he will give to all the faithful
his own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
spreads its vanguard on the way,
as the Light of light descendeth
from the realms of endless day,
that the powers of hell may vanish
as the darkness clears away.

At his feet the six-winged seraph,
cherubim, with sleepless eye,
veil their faces to the presence,
as with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Lord Most High!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent Hope and the Magnificat

Photo credit: http://emilyweaverbrownphoto.com/blog/category/advent/
I just returned from a wonderful Lessons and Carols service, in which one of the main pieces was a setting of the Magnificat.  It was beautiful to spend that hour meditating in joyful song upon the marvelous works of our God.

One thing I realized is this.  Advent is a time of hope.  Perhaps this is why, for so many of us, it is our favorite season of the church year.  Hope is what keeps us going a lot of the time.  We hope for warmer days.  We hope for healing.  We hope for freedom from sin.  But what is the basis for this hope?  It is, of course, the character of God already shown to us through the events we celebrate during this season: the Word become flesh who made his dwelling among us - our God Emmanuel.  During Advent we celebrate what God has done and look forward to what he will do.

And so we rejoice, even as we cry "O come, O come Emmanuel!"  For how glorious will be that day when he does return, when all of creation joins in the song of worship to the King who became a lowly, suffering, man so that we might know and love Him forever.  Oh, how we will sing!

_______________
Some scriptures referenced in this post (for you to ponder if you like):
Luke 1:39-55
John 1:14
Philippians 2:6-11

Sunday, December 04, 2011

candles in the wind

An Advent candle burning on Dec 4th.
Candles are everywhere during Advent.  Not only do we enjoy their light during the longest nights of the year, but they are probably the symbol of Advent - of hopeful waiting and watching, of light coming into the darkness.  I've heard that candles are a good metaphor for the Christian life.  I don't know about you, but I've always found that analogy kind of morbid or depressing.  But now, looking at the Advent candles in my living room, I find myself pondering that parallel anew.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

I don't really mind driving; in fact often I kind of enjoy it.  This weekend I had to drive for 5 and 1/2 hours, which gave me the perfect opportunity to think and pray and sing and to listen to some good sermons.  One in particular by John Piper I found relevant to my life, and part of it very relevant to this blog.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Tagines and Turnovers

For some time now, I have been wanting to do a post about cooking.  Instead, I decided to start a separate blog so that when I want to do this, I can (without changing the nature of this blog)!

I am going to shamelessly advertise that new blog, called From Tagines to Turnovers.  Hopefully you will enjoy this other side of me!

To tie this 'advertisement' into the current blog you are reading, I'll give you a quotation from a book I'm reading called Living the Resurrection by Eugene Peterson:
"The unimaginable transcendence of resurrection is assimilated into the routine and ordinary of actions -- eating a meal.  We have a long tradition among Christians, given shape and content by our Scriptures, that practices the preparing, serving, and eating of meals as formational for living the resurrection.  A culture of inhospitality forebodes resurrection famine." (p59)
Certainly something to think about in our culture of busyness, isolation, and fast food.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

New! Email Feed


I just wanted to let you know that this blog now has the capability of being followed via email!  Just enter your email in the box on the right and you will get automatic updates every day that I post.  There will be links in the email back to the blog, in case you prefer reading it on the actual site.

Enjoy!



Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The greatest danger...

Something I read today:

"The great danger facing all of us [...] is not that we shall make an absolute failure of life, nor that we shall fall into outright viciousness, nor that we shall be terribly unhappy, nor that we shall feel that life has no meaning at all - not these things  The danger is that we may fail to perceive life's greatest meaning, fall short of its highest good, miss its deepest and most abiding happiness, be unable to render the most needed service, be unconscious of life ablaze with the light of the Presence of God - and be content to have it so - that is the danger.  That some day we may wake up and find that always we have been bust with the husks and trappings of life - and have missed life itself.  For life without God, to one who has known the richness and joy of life with Him, is unthinkable, impossible.  That is what one prays one's friends may be spared, satisfaction with a life that falls short of the best, that has in it no tingle and thrill which comes from a friendship with the Father. "
- Philips Brooks


down-upward

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

a quote to consider

This statement from something I read today made me think.
Arrogance is the opposite of humility. It compels us to treat our limits not as unique openings through which God can reveal his goodness but as diseases to be cured. - Susan Annette Muto
I think the most obvious example of my not having this attitude is in the way that I express my prayer requests to others. Does this quotation ring true for you?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

CHRISTian

So often I lose sight of what I should really be focusing on.  It's not really a 'what', but a 'who' - Christ.  Thankfully my devotional book this week helped me by having me read a series of passages about him.  Can I even begin to express some of the excitement and awe felt in these passages as the writers talk about our glorious Lord?  Because I think it is so crucial that you and I grasp it, I will try.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Information and knowing

We live in an age of information.  It is not just money that changes hands around the globe, but information.  We send and receive emails, texts, twitters... we write on our blogs.  There are whole fields of study devoted to information  - information theory, information science, economics of information - just to name a few.  It is easy to create and difficult to quantify; essential and practical yet somehow intangible.  Have you ever thought about the role of 'information' in your life?

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Beginnings and Living [the Resurrection]

Eugene Peterson, in his book Living the Resurrection, writes
As a culture, we are great at beginnings.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

the Gospel and Suffering

Recently I listened to a sermon by Tim Keller on Suffering.  It was so good that I wanted to share parts of it with you.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

From One Amateur to Another: Photography Tips and Terms


I'm branching out a little from my usual topics to talk a little about one of my hobbies: photography.  So many of us love to take pictures; there is something of wonder in the ability to capture a moment - an expression, a beautiful scene, whatever it is that captivates us.  If you are already a photographer I suggest you skip this post and read one of my others. This post is about the basics, and a few rules of thumb.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Places

Do you have those places?  Those places that are somehow more important than others? Perhaps you had that extraordinary feeling of discovery when you happened on it.  Maybe you were wandering, looking for a place, or maybe you weren't, but now you know you will come back to it.  Perhaps it is a place you knew about all along, but it has become special because of what you thought about or what you did while you were there.  Maybe it is a place comforting in its familiarity, or a place that is familiar only in its sense of difference and the refreshment it brings to you.

I think most of us have these places.  I certainly do.  Sometimes these places are far away, and they have become over time a place in my memory that is probably different from the actual place.  I wonder how it will be if I return?

I long to share these places, to show someone how the hill curves this way or the shadows fall that way or the birds always sing that tune.  Do you feel this way?  I know I rarely 'have the time' to let others show me where they have explored, and of course, who would take the time to follow me around and let me show them my places?  Yet that would make an interesting life, don't you think?  It strikes me that we neglect to see not just literal places, but about many things that others care about.  How would we all be different if we really learned to listen and to see, to take the time to penetrate part of the loneliness we all feel and really listen?

Sunday, September 04, 2011

that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life

The summer has come to an end, and so has (hopefully) my vacation from posting to this blog. This has been the longest period of no posting since I started this blog two and a half years ago, and it is high time I began again!  I welcome your continued reading and commenting!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

my bicycle

I like my bike.  I enjoy riding it.  This weekend I went for a ride with my brother on a lovely warm summer day.  Afterwards I was showing him pictures from the old Peugeot catalogues so that he could appreciate how cool it was to have a bike from the early 80's.  I thought I'd share:
http://menandwomenofindustry.com/2010/05/peugeot-85-catalog/ (not necessarily endorsing this blog, but the post has the pictures all in one place)

For comparison:

Monday, July 04, 2011

Contentment II

Here in North America, it is a weekend of celebration: Canada Day, Independence Day - we celebrate our nations, and the freedoms and good things that come as being part of these nations.  It is thus somewhat ironic and yet also somewhat fitting that the passage I am about to quote is not about celebrating human achievement, but rather about realizing that it is not the important thing.

I have been learning a lot about contentment lately, and this quotation really struck home.  We all know how futile it is to pursue "the american dream", but do we really live in that knowledge?  Here is the prayer of Thomas Merton:
Why should I want to be rich, when You were poor?  Why should I desire to be famous and powerful in the eyes of men, when the sons of those who exalted the false prophets and stoned the true rejected You and nailed You to the Cross?  Why should I cherish in my heart a hope that devours me-- the hope for perfect happiness in this life -- when such hope , doomed to frustration, is nothing but despair?  
My hope is in what the eye has never seen.  Therefore, let me not trust in visible rewards. My hope is in what the heart of man cannot feel.  Therefore let me not trust int he feelings of my heart.  My hope is in what the hand of man has never touched.  Do not let me trust what I can grasp between my fingers.  Death will loosen my grasp and my vain hope will be gone. 
Let my trust be in Your mercy, not in myself.  Let my hope be in Your love, not in health, or strength, or ability or human resources.
(From Thoughts in Solitude by Thomas Merton)
In the middle paragraph, it is helpful to note that while God has revealed himself to us in tangible, physical, ways, and while we do hope for a physical reality in the resurrection of the dead and the restoration of all things, our hopes are in so much more than what our mind can conceive of now; they are so much more than the things after which our generation chases.   Our focus and our hope and our life must be based on Christ, and Christ alone.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Passion

Oh to live with passion!
to laugh, to dance, to sing
to see the beauty in everything:
minute flower, towering mountain or stately tree
or carefree poetry.

That the music I make would come from my heart
and that it would sing.
That the canvas beneath my brush
or the clay in my hands
might be a thing
of beauty.

Oh, that the life within me
would flow from the Life who gives life to all
freely and in abundance.
That the extravagance of the Creator
might seep into this life that is a gift
and that echoes of his creative passion
might be heard in my living.

Oh to live with passion!
to begin to see things rightly
and to love truly.
To surrender all so that what is mortal
might be swallowed up
by life.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Change

Change happens fast.
Not long ago I was walking quickly from one room to the next, excitedly thinking about something and not looking where I was going, and in a matter of seconds I had sprained my ankle.  Almost more than the pain, the realization that my prospects for the next few days (and potentially weeks) ahead had changed hit me like a blow.  How much more so for people in serious accidents must be the overwhelming feeling of sudden and irreversible change.

The incident just recounted happened to take place on Holy Saturday, and I soon found myself reflecting on the rapid changes the disciples saw during that eventful week we celebrate each year:  Jesus enters Jerusalem, triumphant king, masses of people going crazy and shouting their joy at his arrival.  Then, a few days later, they celebrate the Passover together and he breaks with the traditional teaching to say that he is the one that fulfills centuries of Passovers, that this piece of matzos is his body, this cup is his blood, that even the events of the Exodus point to him, their teacher sitting there with them.  Yet that very night, he is arrested, tried, and taken to die a horrendous death, the same crowds of Jerusalem yelling "crucify him"!  And only a week after they had entered the city to the welcoming shouts of the people, they find themselves huddled in a room behind locked doors, fearing that they too might follow to death the man they had thought to be the promised deliverer.  How might they have felt?

Fortunately God had one more change planned:  Christ arose, death swallowed up in life, darkness lost in light, sin and evil defeated by the wisdom and love and goodness of God; the cosmos was changed irrevocably by the power of God.

Yet in the past weeks I have come to realize that change also takes place slowly.  
Our bodies heal slowly.  The miracle of plant life, hidden beneath the frozen grays and dead browns of winter, emerges slowly each day.  Spiritual growth takes time; in fact it will take our whole life.  It takes time and discipline to enter the fullness of life Christ freely gives.

There seems to be a relation between both kinds of change - slow and fast.  For a plant, it takes weeks and months of waiting, of sun and of rain, before the blossom emerges and all of a sudden its appearance is transformed.  The slow change, initiated by the sudden fall to earth of a seed, results in another quick change, an unfolding of color.  Likewise with our spiritual life, the two are inextricably linked.  I leave you with this thought, and with the challenge to think on it and to persevere with the small changes asked of you.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Seasons of the Church (Part VI): Easter!

Christ is risen! 
Alleluia!  He is risen indeed!
You may wonder that I can start with this central cry of the Easter liturgy - wasn't Easter last week?  Yes, Easter Sunday was last week, but we are now in the season of Easter, the 50 days until Pentecost (or the 40 days until the ascension, depending on how you count).  I only learned of this season recently, and it makes so much sense.  In fact, it could be argued that celebrating the easter season is crucial to our spiritual life.  N. T. Wright says that "It's long overdue that we took a hard look at how we keep Easter in church, at home, in our personal lives, right through the system." (Surprised by Hope, p256)  There are many reasons why.

Easter in relation to Lent
Has it ever struck you as odd that we spend 40 days celebrating lent and only one day for Easter?  Wright points out,
Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don't do it exuberantly in our liturgies?  Is it any wonder the world doesn't take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom?" (256)  
He suggests that "if Lent is a time to give things up, Easter ought to be a time to take things up" (257)

The centrality of Easter
We must realize the importance of Easter.  Wright says it well:
This is our greatest festival.  Take Christmas way, and in biblical terms you lose two chapters at the front of Matthew and Luke, nothing else.  Take Easter away, and you don't have a New Testament; you don't have a Christianity; as Paul says, you are still in your sins.  We shouldn't allow the secular world, with its schedules and habits and parareligious events, its cute Easter bunnies, to blow us off course.  This is our greatest day.  We should put the flags out.  
At first this might sound a bit extreme.  (And don't worry, he is not downplaying the doctrine of the incarnation -without the incarnation the resurrection doesn't make much sense either!) But the more you think about it, the more you read Paul, for example, the more I think you will begin to agree. that Easter is truly the defining celebration of the Church. But do we really understand this centrality?  Kimberlee Ireton writes, 
Like the disciples trudging up the road to Emmaus,  I trudge through life as if Easter were just a nice day in spring and not the earth-shaking, mind-blowing, life-altering, cosmos-shattering event that it is. (The Circle of Seasons, p 96)
The Easter Season as a time to grasp the resurrection
Ireton makes a good point about the necessity of Easter as a season.  Not only does it balance out Lent in duration, but it helps us grasp the events we celebrate.  She writes,
If Easter were only a single day, I would never have time to let is incredible reality settle over me, settle into me.  I would trudge through my life with a disconnect between what I say I believe about resurrection and how I live (or fail to live) my life in light of it.  Thanks be to God, our forebears in faith [...] decided we simply cannot celebrate Easter in a single day, or even a single week.  No, they decided, we need fifty days, seven Sundays, to even begin to plumb the depths of this event.  They knew, as we too often do not, that the riches of this most important event in all of history cannot be exhausted in a single day.
As a student, I often find that Easter slips up during the busiest time of the semester.  If I'm not feeling 'in the mood' on that one day, does that mean I miss out on celebrating Easter?  Certainly, I should make every effort to celebrate on Easter Sunday.  But after that, the church calendar provides such a wonderful opportunity to integrate "Easter" into my day-to-day life.  What does this look like?  I'm only just beginning to see (and writing this post is helping me).  For me, I think it will involve a lot of visual things: 
  • delighting in the new life springing all around me, and intentionally relating it to the resurrection
  • putting out the eggs I blew and decorated on Easter Sunday as reminders throughout the season
  • I will look for signs of the life of Christ in those around me.
Maybe I will go back and re-read the Easter liturgy.  Perhaps tomorrow I will play through some Easter hymns on the piano.  What will you do?

_____________________
Note: for a more extensive study on why the resurrection is important, I recommend N. T. Wright's book Surprised by Hope.  

Monday, April 18, 2011

Meditation

"We have some idea, perhaps, what prayer is, but what is meditation?  Well may we ask; for meditation is a lost art today, and Christian people suffer grievously from their ignorance of the practice.  Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God.  It is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God; as a means of communion with God.  Its purpose is to clear one's mental and spiritual vision of God, and to let His truth make its ful and proper impact on one's mind and heart.  [...] Its effect is ever to humble us, as we contemplate God's greatess and glory, and our own littleness and sinfulness, and to encourage and reassure us [...] as we contemplate the unsearchable riches of divine mercy dispalyed in the Lord Jesus Christ" - J.I.Packer, Knowing God
Why is it, I often wonder, that I have such trouble focusing on God, submitting my mind to him?  Perhaps it is my pride, which slips around that key phrase "by the help of God" and tries to do it on my own.  Perhaps it is simply that I have not been learning long enough and persistantly enough.  Yet I long for it - the ability to let God dominate my thoughts, to let go of all the petty thoughts and concerns in my mind, to dwell on who He is and what he does.

All to often, I think, we think about our spirituallity the wrong way.  Dallas Willard offers a good caution:
Prayer, like all of the practices into which Jesus leads by word and example, will be self-validating to all who will simpy pray as he says and not give up.  It is much harder to learn if we succumb to the temptation to engage in "heroic" effors in prayer.  This is imortant.  Heroism, generally, is totally out of place in the spritual life, until we grow to the point at which it would never be thought of as heroism anyway." (The Divine Conspiracy, p 241)
Ah, the mysterious and sometimes weary paths of our walk with God - as God, infinite in wisdom and mercy, seeks communion with us, finite and fallen humans.  Perhaps this is part of what Jesus has in mind when he commands, "Remain in me, as I also remain in you".  Oh, that we might learn this sometimes lost art of meditating, that every part of us - including our minds - might remain in Him!

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Seasons of the Church (Part V): Lent

I began this post a couple weeks ago but it is still relevant so I will continue:

Here we are in Lent, the 40 day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter.  Church decorations are shrouded in purple or taken away altogether, and people consider what to give up or take on for Lent.

But what is the point of lent?  Certainly there are many scriptural examples of 40 periods of time (Genesis 6-8,Exodus 24:12-14, 1 Kings 19:1-12, Matt 4:1-11 to name a few).  I like how Ireton, in her book The Circle of Seasons, puts it:
We can be raised to new life only if we have first died to the old one.  That is the challenge - and the gift - of Lent. (73)

At the beginning of this season I heard a helpful reflection on Lent and Jesus' 40 day time in the desert.  The pastor talked about each of Jesus' temptations in turn.  See Matthew's account below if you need to refresh yourself.  It is interesting to note that in each of the temptations, Jesus was in some way offered a shortcut - whether instant food or power - Jesus was tempted away from the hard path he would follow.

In many ways that is how Lent - and the aspect of our spirituality that it focuses on  - is for us too.  When we are tempted to think that life should be easy, we are reminded that there are no shortcuts.  There is no quick way to righteousness, to loving God with all of our being.  There is only the way of Christ.  Certainly his way is enough - in fact it is more than enough; it is the best way.  The temptations to seek shortcuts are real, and in our weariness we can find ourselves longing for them.  May we learn to fix our eyes on Christ, who understands even this and is the all-powerful one who is surely strong to help us.
*****

  Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
  Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
  Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
   “‘He will command his angels concerning you,
   and they will lift you up in their hands,
   so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
  Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
  Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
  Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
  Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. (Matthew 4:1-11, New International Version, ©2011)

Update

You may wonder where I have been these past two weeks.  (More likely you don't.)  Maybe you understand that life can be a little intense at times, more because of the way we perceive it than because of an extraordinary amount of pressure or stress.  But I am indeed alive and well and hope to be posting again shortly.

Blogger greeted me today with an update on their features.  If you like interactive web pages, you should check out this version of my blog:
http://butyouhavecome.blogspot.com/view/mosaic

enjoy, and let me know what you think!

Rainy weather
An interesting photo on Flickr today.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Why Praise God?

Why do we praise God and how?  Does our motivation matter?  What is true adoration? In sorting through these questions, an apparent conflict arose.  There seemed to be two distinct answers to these questions:

1.  Our praise comes out of an understanding of God's interactions with us.  There are countless examples of this in scripture.  Here are a few:
Give praise to the LORD, proclaim his name; make known among the nations what he has done. (Psalm 105:1)
LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago. (Isaiah 25:1)
I will tell of the kindnesses of the LORD, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the LORD has done for us— yes, the many good things he has done for Israel, according to his compassion and many kindnesses. (Isaiah 63:7)
And elsewhere when the people of God are commanded to remember and worship God, this God is identified as the God who acted - the God who brought them out of slavery, etc.  (For example, see the core teaching of the Old Testament in Deuteronomy 6:1-25)

2.  Genuine praise does not depend on what God has done for us.  Albert Day writes,
We never really adore Him until we arrive at the moment when we worship him for what He is in Himself, apart from any consideration of the impact of His Divine Selfhood upon our desires and our welfare.  Then we love Him for himself alone.
This seems a good caution, for is there not danger of self-worship confused or mingled with God-worship, when we focus on what he has done for us?  Yet at the same time, how can we ever separate our understanding of God from his direct action in our lives?  We cannot worship an abstract idea.

Resolution
This morning matters became more clear to me as I read from Isaiah 43:
"You are my witnesses," declares the Lord,
"and my servants whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. [...]
I have revealed and saved and proclaimed [...] (v10,12)
God has made us his witnesses - this brings him glory.  The two thoughts unite: we understand who God is because he has revealed it through what he has done for us, and we praise him not because of his acts necessarily, but because of who he has revealed himself to be through them.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

bar code faith vs. transformation

My heart breaks for the church in this country.  This is Christ's bride, which he loves so much that he "gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless." (Ephesians 5:25-27)  Surely Christ has not abandoned his church.  But are we falling short of receiving the life he wants to give?

I constantly struggle to understand the relationship between grace a transformation.  I'm re-reading The Divine Conspiracy by Willard, in which he also points out this struggle.  In chapter 2, he challenges what he calls the "bar code" mentality of being a Christian: we have faith or say something, "God "scans" it, and forgiveness floods forth ... We are, accordingly, "saved."  Our guilt is erased.  How could we not be Christians?"(37)  There is some truth to this idea: "it is not necessary to be a good  Christian in order to be forgiven"(37)  And yet - could it be that in focusing only on this part of what Christ has done that we miss the point?  Willard writes,
The real question, I think, is whether God would establish a bar code type of arrangement at all. [...We are] in danger of missing the fullness of life offered to us.  Can we seriously believe that God would establish a plan for us that essentially bypasses the awesome needs of present human life and leaves human character untouched?  [...]  Can we believe that the essence of Christian faith and salvation covers nothing but death and after?  Can we believe that being saved really has nothing whatever to do with the kinds of persons we are?   
And for those of us who think the Bible is a reliable or even significant guide to God's view of human life, can we validly interpret its portrayal of faith in Christ as one concerned only with the management of sin, whether in the form of our personal debt or in the form of societal evils? (38)
When I look around at my friends struggling to realistically put on the 'new self', the new life in Christ, when I hear sermons or talk to people about faith, sometimes I wonder if we really do believe these things.  How do we respond to Paul, for example in Colossians:
"you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator" (3:10)
Yes, Christ's grace is amazingly free and his salvation to us unconditional.  But talk to anyone who has tried following Christ for a while and they will tell you that receiving this salvation and learning to live in the new kind of life he offers takes time, perseverance, and constant surrender - all things that aren't necessarily easy.  Ironically, it seems that it is not always easy to take on the easy yoke.

I am challenged by this.  I think we must be very careful not to pretend that as soon as we accept Christ and turn to follow him, our lives become good and we become better people.  (We all know this isn't true, but sometimes we accidentally say what we don't really believe.)  In fact, I don't think even the understanding of Christ's righteousness covering us will bear fruit all on its own in our lives.  (Unless, perhaps, it is the understanding with which we really have difficulty).  As I discussed in my last point - spirituality isn't all a mental or abstract thing, it concerns our bodies and our actions.

As a young adult, I am always searching to find older Christians who can teach me what they have learned.  I do know many my own age who are actively seeking God's kingdom, yet sometimes it feels like we are 'the blind leading the blind'.  I am grateful to God for all the ways in which he has provided in this respect, but I long to see training and discipleship grow in his church.

Sorry for the length of this post.  If you have read to the end, some of these things probably matter to you as well.  What has God been teaching you about all of this?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Faith and Bodily Life

Prompted mainly by recent reading (especially Willard and Wright) I have been thinking about how vitally important it is that we grasp the reality of the spiritual world.  Even saying 'spiritual world' implies something other, but I don't know what else to call it.

First we must see the very physical nature of our faith.  As Willard points out,
"the foundational facts and teaching of the Christian religion essentially concern the human body.  The incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection of Christ are bodily events." (Spirit of the Disciplines, p 30)
The resurrection of Christ was the triumph of his flesh-and-blood-and-spirit life over sin and death. Thus it is not some disembodied spirit we worship, but the resurrected and triumphant person of our Lord.

The physical nature of our faith doesn't stop with Jesus, but has everything to do with how we live.  Whatever did Jesus mean when he said "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10) if not life to our whole beings, including our bodies?  As Wright states, "We are saved not as souls but as wholes" (Surprised by Hope, p199)  And as Willard points out, the transformation of our selves through the life of Christ is a process which involves the training of our physical bodies.

This is all very good news indeed, since most of our daily life concerns our physical existence.

Secondly we must see that the unseen parts of our existence and spirituality are no less real because we cannot see them.  Rather than elaborate, I will let you ponder that for a moment, and consider its outworking in your own life.

This ties into a passage I heard today, 1 John 4:5-6:
They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.  We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us, but whoever is not from God does not listen to us."
I've been realizing lately how sometimes the ways I think and act make little sense to others because I am assuming a different reality than they.

Thanks be to God for providing this new reality which fits so well with who we were made to be, this new life that in its fullness transforms every part of us!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

February

Winter reaches back through our memories
January, December, November,
(when was it that the leaves fell?)
the smell of sun and grass is a memory difficult
to recollect.
We have always known the daily process of wrapping ourselves against the cold.

The whites and grays of winter
have a certain permanence to us now.
That icicle outside my window,
the narrow walkway of the sidewalk,
like old acquaintances if not always loved
have at least become familiar. 

Winter changes almost imperceptibly
at first.
Dawn washes the sky
and the birds sing earlier now.
The lengthening hours of light make it seem that somehow
we are given more time in our days.

One week in February the cold relents.
Pavement appears under puddles.
The illusion of permanence is broken:
how shockingly quickly the snow returns to being water.
Though the trees solemnly stand as they did last week,
For the first time I realize
that they are already preparing for budding days.

Yes, spring will come, suddenly, joyfully,
but that is for another month, another time.
This is a time for slow changes,
for grays and whites and sooner dawns.
We grow impatient-
but is this not the way of change for all living things?

Sunday, February 06, 2011

imagination

Lord, let my life be orderly, regular, temperate; let no pride or self-seeking, to covetousness or revenge, no little ends and low imaginations pollute my spirit and unhallow my words and actions.
-Jeremy Taylor
This prayer resonates with my prayers lately that God would enlarge my imagination of who he is and what he wants to do.  We are so limited, I have been realizing, by our lack of imagination.  The beautiful thing is that God wants to help us in this.  Just look, for example, at the whole old testament, which helps us understand his plan that was fulfilled in Christ!  We worship a God who delights to help us grasp who he is.

I challenge you to seek bigger vision of what God wants to do, and of who he is.  God has surprised me even this week in the ways he is answering this prayer.  I am excited about what he will teach me in the week (and years!) ahead.  What a good God we worship!

Monday, January 24, 2011

cell phones and sacraments

Last week I had a dream in which a cell phone alert persisted.  I don't remember who's cell phone it was, but it went off every five minutes or so, and for some confusing reason whoever had the phone wasn't turning it off.   This probably made the dream annoying so I woke up.  It was only then that I realized that the alert was coming from my own cell phone, which was running out of battery life on the other side of the room.

This would have been no more than a quirky event in my life, except that it tied into what I read a few days later.  In the conclusion of his book, N.T. Wright discusses the implications for our spirituality of Jesus's resurrection and the central Christian hope of new creation.  Foundational to our spirituality are the sacraments of the church, such as baptism and the Eucharist.  Here is what Wright has to say:
I have come to believe that the sacraments are best understood within the theology of creation and new creation, and of the overlapping of heaven and earth, that I have been exploring throughout this book. The resurrection of Jesus has brought about a new state of affairs in cosmic history and reality.  God's future has burst into the present, and (as happens sometimes in dreams, when the words we are saying or the music we are hearing are also happening in the events in which we are taking part) somehow the sacraments are not just signs of the reality of new creation but actually part of it.
I found this connection helpful, since often there is so much confusion (historical and contemporary) regarding the sacraments.

I can relate to the man who asked Jesus (Luke 10), 'what must I do to inherit the eternal kind of life'?  In other words, something is clearly happening here - what does it mean to live in this new world order?  Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the very complexity of living, and wonder how my daily life relates to God's kingdom.  And yet Jesus tells this man that he already knows the answer.  It is an answer incredibly simple and profound: 'Love God with everything you are, and love your neighbor as yourself.'  I find it comforting to know that, even as we seek to better under stand the mysteries of our faith, our goal in this kingdom living is summed up in this statement.  It is not always an easy thing to do, but at least it is clear.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Seasons of the Church (Part IV): Salvation and Ordinary Time

The fabric at church was all changed back to green this week, signalling that we are back in ordinary time. Ordinary time comprises the largest portion of time in the church calendar (see image). The current season of ordinary time lasts until Lent (the other  one is between Pentecost and Advent) Ireton, in her book The Circle of Seasons, gives more meaning to the name:
The word ordinary is rooted in the word ordinal, to count.  Thus these "days between," as writer Wendy Wright calls them, are not simply ordinary in the way we use that word -- uneventful, unimportant, boring -- but are actually "Counted Time," time that counts, that matters.  Designating the bulk of each liturgical year as "Ordinary Time" is a profound way of recognizing that the daily, ordinary rhythms of our lives are sacred [...] that God is just as present in the grittiness (and the glory) of an ordinary day as in the great celebrations of Christmas or Easter or Pentecost. (61)
Since learning about Ordinary Time in college, I have found this view helpful and relevant.


But what does this have to do with salvation? Isn't salvation what we celebrate in the spring? Why, then, did I include it in the title of this post?  It turns out that salvation has everything to do with ordinary time.  I am still reading N. T. Wright's book, and I have been realizing how much our understanding of things like 'heaven', 'salvation' etc, affect our daily Christian life.  Importantly, with respect to salvation, we must understand that "it is about the present, not simply the future" (Wright, 200).

But first things first.  What is salvation?  What is being saved? Wright takes great pains to emphasize that it is not a disembodied soul which is saved.  And nor are we saved just to 'go to heaven when we die'.    Rather, Salvation is "being raised to life in God's new heaven and new earth" (198).  There is, of course, much more that could be said about the theology of salvation, but this will suffice for this post.

What does this have to do with the present, you ask?  Wright explains,
For the first Christians, the ultimate salvation was all about God's new world, and the point of what Jesus and the apostles were doing when they were healing people or being rescued from shipwreck or whatever was that this was a proper anticipation of that ultimate salvation, that healing transformation of space, time, and matter. The future rescue that God had planned and promised was starting to come true in the present.  We are saved not as souls but as wholes. (199, emphasis added)
The kingdom of God, or 'the kingdom of heaven', begins to make more sense in this light.  Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, all start to fit together.  And, as Wright points out, salvation is "about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us." (200)  Thus, the mission of the church has everything to do with salvation.  And the life of the church is lived out in ordinary time.

I don't think I really understand the implications of this in my own life yet, but I want to.  Thankfully, God does work in our daily lives, changing us, helping us to see and to grow.  The light whose coming into the world we just celebrated at Christmas is still in the world, ever growing.  Oh, that we would all grasp this in our churches!  What could better express this longing than that prayer taught to us:
Your kingdom come, your will be done - on earth as it is in heaven.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

2010 in Books

Reading Room
Inspired by last year's post, I will take the time to think about the books which I have read this year.  Since books shape the way I think so much, this is an excellent way to look back on the past year.

In roughly chronological order (starting with the books I listed as currently reading last year):

  • The Two Towers, and The Return of the King, by Tolkien. This was a re-read.
  • What the Best College Teachers Do, by Ken Bain. I read this book, recommended by a friend who is a graduate TA at Eastman, and definitely enjoyed it.  It was helpful to think about teaching methods and ideals, especially before I plunged into teaching my first course that summer.
  • Hinduism, by H.L. Richard Recommended by my Dad, this book is a brief look at that many-faceted religion.  A good starting place for understanding Hinduisum and those who follow it.  
  • One World: The Interaction of Science and Theology, by John C. Polkinghorne. This was one of the better 25 cent book sale purchases I made.  I'll have to look for more Polkinghorne!
  • Knowing Christ Today, by Dallas Willard.  If you like Willard, you should read this.  If you haven't read any of his books, start with the Divine Conspiracy, and then read this one. It is a good look at what it means to know God, and in typical Willard style, asks excellent questions and gives good answers.  For more on this book see a this post.  
  • Art for God's Sake: A call to Recover the Arts, by Phillip Graham Ryken.  A quick read, but thought-provoking.  See my two posts on this and other art-related topics here.
  • The Geurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer.  I recommend this interesting historical fiction book, which gives a glimpse of life on the channel islands during the war.  It is written as a series of letters.
  • Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God, by Francis Chan.  I read this book as part of a study group.  Chan's passion for God is wonderful to see, but due to certain attitudes expressed and potentially shaky theology I can't really say I recommend this book.   Perhaps I am simply not the target audience, but I found myself insulted and/or upset by quite a few sections in the book.  On the more positive side, from studying the book I did gain (I hope) a better understanding of God's incredible love for us.
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain.  This was a long overdue read of this classic.  The middle section was a bit slow I confess, but overall it was an interesting look at that part of history.  
  • The Princess and the Goblin, and The Princes and Curdie, by George Macdonald.  A girl at my church was interested in these books, so I read them too (I think they were read aloud to me as a child).  If you haven't read any books by Macdonald yet, you are missing out. :)
  • Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation, by Isaac Asimov.  As you can see, I diverged from my usual reading to read this 'hard-core science fiction' series.  Set in the distant future but inspired in part by The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Gibbon, these books tell of the rise of an empire which has been planned out by the genius of a farsighted 'psychohistorian', who hopes to shorten the inevitable period of chaos following the fall of the previous galactic empire. 
  • The Samurai's Garden, by Gail Tsukiyama.  Another book sale buy.  Certainly not the best book I've read, but it did provide a glimpse at life in Japan during the first half of the last century.
  • Silas Marner, by George Elliot.  After I got through the first couple chapters, I enjoyed this book (the first I've read by Elliot).  I noted, however, that she seems to have a rather bleak view of humanity.
  • Sorcery and Cecilia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot, by Wrede and Stevermer.  This book is not high quality reading, but it did provide an entertaining one-day read while on Christmas break.  
Books I'm reading (or hoping to get back too soon)
  • Surprised by hope, by N.T. Wright.  I have already written 4 posts on this book.  See them here.
  • The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year, by Kiberlee Ireton.  This short book is one of my resources for my posting on the topic of the Church calendar.  
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by Rowling.  Yet another booksale purchase.  To answer your questions - no, I haven't read any of the others in the series (odd as this may seem).  
  • How to Read the Bible for All It's Worth, by Fee and Stuart.  I highly recommend this book.  The only reason I haven't finished it is that it is one of those books that needs to be read in stages, when the passages discussed can be studies alongside, and the techniques practiced.  
  • Praying, by Packer.  I have to confess I was slightly disappointed by this book.  It has good content, but sometimes it is slow going and I wish they had been a little more ruthless in the editing process.
Books I hope to read:
Rather than make another list -- do you have any recommendations?