Tagged: Christian Life

Praying Sacramentally

christians-praying-iconThere are typically two types of prayer: prayers of longing, and prayers of supplication (or, request). Both are good. But, it seems like most people prefer one over the other. In many prayer meetings I’ve attended and led, I have learned that attendees desire to be given a list of needs to pray for. This isn’t bad, but what I’ve learned is that the prayer of supplication is safe(r): it has the potential to allow us to pray (a good thing), in a way that is selfless (i.e. pray for other, which is also a good thing), and yet, it very often can be superficial (a not so good thing). The prayer of supplication in this manner is invulnerable, shallow, and obligational. Its function is to merely check off from the list of duties another good thing we did for God. Or perhaps, we think it’s good for us (we’re pragmatists!) and so we do it.

Yet, prayers of supplication (like many of the Psalms), are good and necessary. Essentially, supplications are requests for God’s kingdom to come to his creation he has so generously conferred to us. The prayer of supplication though, as I’ve alleged, can often become superficial and dutiful. The way this happens, I think, is that we think of that thing we’re praying about—a ministry, a neighbourhood, a church—as something unrelated to us. Or, more precisely, we allow a small degree of “relatedness.” The small degree can be illustrated by various articles of clothing. I am a shirt, and you are a hat. We are both part of the same body; there is some degree of relatedness there. But there’s something lacking here.

I started by saying that there are two types of prayer, but what I should say is that they are two in one: they are not distinct, but enhance and enable each other. Two sides of the same coin, I suppose. But I have not yet described the so-called “prayer of longing.” A prayer of longing is when your truest self is exposed before God. A prayer of longing is true knowledge of self and the world, and consequently, a deep desire for God himself. When confession is abounding and repentance is desired, and God is sought in a most honest way, we are praying with longing. So how is a prayer of longing and a prayer of supplication related? Well, as I’ve said, I think there’s a problem when we think we are only barely related to the “external” things we prayer for. We consider ourselves only formally associated to our workplace, the children’s ministry at our church, the people in our community groups, the leaders of our churches.  Do we pray for these things and people because we know them? Because they’re in our lives in some degree? How can our prayers of supplication—prayer for others—truly be a prayer of longing?

Here’s a hint:

“[Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church.”
– Colossians 1:15-18

What preceded these words was Paul’s description of his prayer of longing for the Colossian church (see 1:1-14 for yourself). With special emphasis on the church, Paul believes that all of creation profoundly shares in Christ. In Christ, all things hold together. Paul’s high Christology grounded his understanding of church (his ecclesiology), thereby forming his prayers. Paul could pray for the church without slipping into an obligational superficiality. He didn’t him see himself as merely related to the church, but for Paul, he and the church shared so intimately, so deeply, so profoundly in Christ, that they were one person: one body.

Knowing that all of creation shares in some degree in the work and person of Christ, we can pray for others with a longing that is honest. That honestly views ourself as mysteriously woven, not as separate articles of clothing, but as one beautiful tapestry that includes the ongoing problem of sin, the ongoing gift of salvation, and the ongoing work of new creation, in Christ Jesus.

Amen.

Cross-Shaped Community

We often seek to be in relationship with people that are like us, in terms of ethnicity, dress, socio-economic status, etc.  But the Gospel transcends these categories. It creates a people that are part of the new creation: “neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Galatians 6:15).  The “how” of the community of this “new creation” requires a posture of self-giving that takes its shape from the Cross. Earlier in the chapter, Paul tells us that we must

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2)

 So what is distinctive about this new creation community?  What’s the purpose of relationships if it isn’t to meet people that have similar sentiments?  I want to examine three truths from this passage that may help us make sense of Christian life in new creation community, which must take the shape of the cross.

1. We all have burdens.

The easy-road consumer-driven “prosperity gospel”  promises a burden-less wealth-filled good-life, rather than a cross-shaped life. Its popularity is a witness to the pervasiveness of our consumer mentality: it seeks to “sell” the gospel by promising  physical well-being and status. Sadly, it overlooks the Christian life portrayed by the Scriptures. . Jesus instructs his followers  that they too must bear their cross, a prerequisite to being his disciple (Luke 14:27). Peter says suffering is a means of “sharing in the sufferings of Christ.” The church at Corinth suffered from persecution; Paul doesn’t tell them that they don’t have enough faith, but tells of his own suffering and exults in them, claiming that they are to bear the marks of  ministering for a crucified messiah. The reason why I mention the “prosperity gospel” is because I think it has so deeply pervaded our thinking that we have come to believe that sharing our burdens is a bad, faithless thing to do. In reality, we all have burdens, we all have struggles, we all have emotional or physical pain. We must begin with the concession that “we all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2), and therefore, we all have burdens, to be shared within our new creation community.

2. A personal relationship with Jesus does not mean a private relationship with Jesus.

We love our privacy. I know I do. But a close relative of privacy is a subtle resolution for self-sufficiency. Culture  tells us that we must seek to be self-made men and women. As a result, we establish a framework in which we view people as tools to serve our independent purposes rather than as humans to share life with. It’s time to stop living as though a “personal relationship with God” means doing Christian life alone. In verse 6 (in Galatians 6) Paul warns, “if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” Something who “thinks he is something” thinks it too menial a task to bear the burden of another, and will keep their own burdens private, since that would require an acknowledgment of need. If we’re not careful, we will use the language of “having a personal relationship to Jesus” as a justification for pride, and thereby avoid participation in the new creation community. 

3. Burden bearing, not being the morality police, fulfills the law of Christ.

In Galatians, Paul addresses the moral imposition of the so-called Judaizers. They wanted circumcision to be the identifying mark of the Christian, a scheme that sought to salvage a defining ethnic element of the Jewish tradition.  Paul, annoyed, writes: “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!” (5:12).  It seems the Judaizers cared little for the burdens of the people.  They focused their energies instead on keeping their ethnic tradition intact and so imposed many laws and instructions  in a burdensome manner.  The question for the new creation community is: Will we impose burdens on each other, or will we bear each others burdens?

The Canadian way tends to be the private way, and as a result, we don’t know the deep struggles, temptations, and sufferings of those in our church communities. Despite this, within the new creation community, we are directed to bear each others burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. This requires a cross-shaped  faith and lifestyle that seeks to acknowledge our own failures, embrace the way of humility, and lovingly fulfills the law of Christ, that is, the law of love. 

Silence, Solitude, Prayer: A Reflection

On October 14, I set aside 24 hours for silence, solitude and prayer. The quotes are from Henri Nouwen’s “The Way of the Heart.” Here is my reflection.

 

The excitement of anticipating a day of solitude eventually ebbed away as I confronted its discomforting reality. Initially, I looked forward to the silence and the disconnection from technology which would simplify  the task of seeking God and finding rest.  I confined myself to an unfamiliar space, limiting my diet to simple foods such as bread, soup, water, and coffee. Being out of reach of  technology made me realize that it had become a part of me, like a limb that needed tending.  I realized that phones and computers, if not carefully monitored, can swiftly morph from being allies to making us their slaves. Nouwen describes solitude as the place to encounter our false sense of self.  The “compulsive” behavior that characterizes my own  false identity was manifested in my reflexive compulsion to check my phone: to be on top of things, to have control, to see if anyone needed me. A certain restlessness was felt because I knew that I was unreachable; I wondered if I should have let more people know where I was and what I was doing. Accordingly, one of the “demons” that I met in the “desert” of solitude was my apparent need to be needed. Solitude placed this need in clear view, convincing me that I am no exception to the luring modern system of “domination and manipulation” which ultimately translates into anger and greed (11). Acknowledging this ailment brought about a posture of confession and dependence on God.

I also recognized that my eagerness for a spiritual retreat was fueled more by the novel nature of the assignment, rather than my pursuit of God. I looked forward to brewing fresh coffee, preparing simple snacks, reading and journaling, and being alone. I soon discovered that silence, scripture reading, and prayer are disciplines that require hard work. Boredom struck sooner than I had anticipated, and maintaining focus on these disciplines became more difficult as time went on. Nevertheless, the progressively lull mood was eventually interrupted. I noticed a difference in my temperament as I became calmer in many respects, no longer planning ahead the tasks for the day or week but allowing silence to reorient me. Prayers became slower and more carefully invoked.

This spiritual retreat created a space for me to be made me more sensitive to the work of the Spirit. I was engaged in the present, no longer anxiously preoccupied with the future. I went from not knowing what to pray for, to praying fervent words of confession, desperation and faith. I committed myself to reading the Gospel of John and the words of Scripture attuned my posture, birthing and reawakening dormant spiritual yearnings. Conclusively, through this retreat the Spirit made me confront the reality of the cross and resurrection: my sin came to light, bringing conviction and the hard work of repentance, which then turned to a taste of the resurrection life through a renewed hope and a reoriented perspective.

 

How to Listen

The relationship between memory and need is common; whether we are conscious of it or not, memorable experiences are often those consisting of situations  where needs are being met; physical, emotional, spiritual, and so on. Most of us can remember the conversations we’ve had in life that have had great impact on us. We value the memories of deep connectivity because our very basic need as humans is connectivity. One of the ingredients required to achieve connectivity is active listening, an aspect of communication that has been seemingly lost in our day.

Listening requires great skill, and like every skill, it requires considerable practice. Its role, not only for the pastor, but for all human relationships, carries substantial weight with regards to effective communication. Before discussing what listening is, we must acknowledge what listening is not.

The key to being able to listen well is to be aware of communication roadblocks. “Roadblocks” are examples of what listening is not; they are responses from the listener that become obstacles impeding the listener’s ability to listen effectively. They are normally employed with good intent, but instead have the effect of interrupting what the speaker wants to say.  The roadblocks come in the following forms:

1.Ordering, directing, or commanding. I.e. ‘don’t say that!’

2.Warning or threatening. I.e. “You’d better start treating him better or you’ll lose him..”

3.Giving advice, making suggestions, providing solutions. I.e. “Have you tried…?”

4.Persuading with logic, arguing, lecturing.  I.e. “the facts are that…”

5.Moralizing, preaching, telling them their duty. I.e. “Your duty as a …”

6.Judging, criticizing, disagreeing, blaming. I.e. “You’re wrong”

7.Agreeing, approving, praising. I.e. “I think you’re right…”

8.Shaming, ridiculing, name-calling. I.e. “That’s really stupid”

9.Interpreting, analyzing. I.e. “Do you know what your real problem is…?”

10.Reassuring, sympathizing, consoling. I.e. “It’s going to work out alright”

11.Questiong, probing.  I.e. “what makes you feel that way?”

12.Withdrawing, distracting, humoring, changing the subject. I.e. “look on the bright side…”

So, what is listening?

To listen is to actively seek to grasp the facts and the feelings of the speaker. The listener’s endeavour is to help the speaker gain a clearer understanding of his or her own situation. Active listening requires responses that make it clear that the listener appreciates both the meaning and the feeling behind what the speaker is saying.

Before providing an interpretation of what is being heard, or offering any of the other “roadblocks” listed above, the listener should employ what one author calls, “reflective listening” (Miller). “Active” or “reflective” listening involves mirroring/reflecting the speaker’s internal processes – thoughts, feelings, insights, and conflicts. A silent response, therefore, may be considered ‘listening’ (and is sometimes the appropriate response), but it does not constitute active listening.

The attitude underlying reflective listening is one that gives the implicit message that the client is accepted; to “accept is to give all your attention and energy to the process of understanding what the person means and to reflect that meaning back to the person accurately.” The first step to this process requires the acknowledgment that what is being said can easily be misinterpreted.

In fact, one author claims that “one potential pitfall in paraphrasing [ie reflective listening] is to leap too far” which in turn can become a roadblock through an interpretation, and thus the speaker can feel analyzed and lose his/her direction. Based on the feedback of the speaker, you will know if you ‘reflected’ well.

Now you know how to listen actively, but as mentioned, this is a skill that requires practice, and practice requires patience. Give it a try.

Nouwen and The Return of the Prodigal Son

the-return-of-the-prodigal-son-1669I am finding myself drawn the beauty that comes from candid concession of  inherent brokenness. Truthful transparency is vulnerability, which by definition, is the “susceptibility to physical or emotional harm.” Yet paradoxically, in it, there is much strength and freedom. There requires a sense of confidence and self awareness when one musters the courage to confess their needs – and thus confess their lack. Confession of lack is to admit that I can do nothing without Jesus.

Today I started reading Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son. I was impressed with his self knowledge, his recognition of weakness, and his ability to articulate it with such forthright honesty.  What begins as honest self knowledge and confession turns to Christ awareness and reception.  In this book he speaks of his mesmerizing experience with Rembrandt’s painting, The Prodigal Son, which led him to his reflection of Jesus’ parable on the subject. Initially, Nouwen sensed a personal identification to the youngest son, which drew out his admiration for the painting. He then tells of his subsequent realization that he, in addition to the brash recklessness of the younger son, has also tended towards a behavioural pattern much like the pharisaic older brother.  Even more surprisingly, Nouwen admits that through the words of a friend, he is called live like the father:

“You have been longing for friends all your life; you have been craving for affection as long as I’ve known you; you have been interested in thousands of things; you have been begging for attention, appreciation, and affirmation left and right.  The time has come to claim your true vocation — to be a father who can welcome his children home without asking them any questions and without wanting anything from them in return.  Look at the father in your painting and you will know who you are called to be.”

These words have rung true for me. My hope is to reflect and confess my own weaknesses as I consider Nouwen’s, and, like him, reveal my personal tendency towards the two son’s in the parable, while simultaneously  becoming increasingly aware of the calling to adopt the father’s mantle.

 

 

Dematerialization, Idealism, and the Beauty of Cruciformity

A recent reading of book of James reminded me of the human tendency to compartmentalize ideas, beliefs, experiences, and so on, into their own category, and thus separating their integration. This reminded me of a quote in  Screwtape Letters.  C.S. Lewis has the veteran demon write this to his nephew:  “At the very least, they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls” (Letter IV). Lewis cleverly reveals the integration of the body, mind and soul  – that they are not their own parts, inconsequential of their action towards the rest of the body. The tendency to believe this is to make a grievous error.

James intended to remind readers that faith does not exist without a life of works. Faith and work are two expressions of the same thing: an encounter with the living Christ. Belief and action are not to be separated – to do so would be to live a dematerialized Christianity, and  we tend to do this much more often than we think. We become idealists in our beliefs, yet we neglect to speak to the One who is centre of that ideal. More passion is spent on disagreeing with someones theology/ideology than on seeking and praying to the God of grace. This is a dematerialized faith, one that has glorified ideals at the expense of being with the person of Christ.

Moreover, NT Wright has written much about the problem among Evangelicals who have made the Christian hope one of future dematerialization. The belief is that one day, if you are Christian, when you die, or when the ‘rapture’ happens, you will go to heaven. What most people mean by this, is that their “soul” or their “spirit” will go to the sky and live on clouds, and play harp music with Jesus who is of course the worship leader. Thankfully, this is completely wrong.

Though many factors contribute, this is due to a Christian conception of the afterlife that has been overly dematerialized – a separation of body/soul/spirit. This ideal  demonizes the material world and glorifies the non material; which Wright argues in Surprised by Hope, leads to a tragic disregard for the present creation.  It is an escapist mindset, viewing the current world as totally corrupt and irredeemable, thus placing hope in a disembodied heaven.

The problem is due in large part to a erroneous view of heaven.  Wright explains:

‘God’s kingdom’  in the preaching of Jesus refers, not to post-mortem destiny, not to our escape from this world into another one, but about God’s sovereign rule coming ‘on earth as it is in heaven’.10 The roots of the misunderstanding go very deep, not least into the residual Platonism that has infected whole swathes of Christian thinking and has misled people into supposing that Christians are meant to devalue this present world, and our present bodies, and regard them as shabby or shameful.

Likewise, the pictures of heaven in the book of Revelation have been much misunderstood. The wonderful description in Revelation 4 and 5 of the twenty-four elders casting their crowns before the throne of God and the Lamb, beside the sea of glass, is not, despite one of Charles Wesley’s great hymns, a picture of the last day, with all the redeemed in heaven at last. It is a picture of present reality, the heavenly dimension of our present life. Heaven, in the Bible, is regularly not a future destiny, but the other, hidden dimension of our ordinary life—God’s dimension, if you like. God made heaven and earth; at the last, he will remake both, and join them together for ever. And when we come to the picture of the actual End in Revelation 21–22, we find, not ransomed souls making their way to a disembodied heaven, but rather the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth, uniting the two in a lasting embrace.

Heaven invades earth when God enters creation. Additionally, Wright argues that Easter — the celebration of Christ’s resurrection — is what is under fire in this ideal. The resurrection of Christ has lost its centrality in the Christian hope, it has taken a back seat only to be replaced by an escapist longing for a disembodied heaven.

The consequences are detrimental:

What we say about death and resurrection gives shape and colour to everything else. If we are not careful, we will offer merely a ‘hope’ that is no longer a surprise, no longer able to transform lives and communities in the present, no longer generated by the resurrection of Jesus himself and looking forward to the promised new heavens and new earth (36).

Moreover, the wider implication of this dematerialized hope is the “downgrading of bodies and the created order” which we will one day leave behind (37). Wright notes the historic shift during the 18th century, in which “Evangelicals gave up believing in the urgent imperative to improve society about the same time that they gave up believing robustly in resurrection and settled for a disembodied heaven instead” (38).

The focus of Wright’s book is centred primarily on the resurrection – which rightly provides hope for the conquering of death and the future plan to redeem all of creation. Additionally, what I think we require in this very moment is the beauty of the Incarnation.

“The Word became flesh, and tabernacled among us” (John 1:14).

Surely, John’s readers would have recognized what John was saying about Jesus: he is God in the flesh.  God always intended that through the story of Israel, God would restore the brokenness of creation. How? By progressively coming nearer to it – bringing ‘heaven,’ the “God dimension” to creation. The restoration of creation would come as God drew closer to it; through the tabernacle, the temple, and ultimately the Temple who is Christ, and now, by the Spirit, by whom  our bodies are made into His temple, and thus through the Church.

The incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection. These are meant to bring restoration to a creation that is under a curse. Not simply a restoration but a fruitfulness and ability to flourish. Like a seed that is planted into the ground, the seed must loose its glory, it must die, for the tree to grow, flourish and provide fruit for the planter. In that way the seed is beautiful and mysterious.

Jesus spoke of himself and his followers when he said, “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24).

God enters into his own story by incarnating himself, and beckons us – the church – to enter into his story of the  ross, death, burial, and resurrection.

Thus, in this cruciform life – a life shaped by the cross — and by it we begin to behold the beauty of the incarnation; and paradoxically, by embracing the way of the cross, death turns into the blessing of life.

CS Lewis puts it this way: “we do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves.”

Paul’s teaching and life is in step with this:

“…always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” – 2 Corinthians 4:10-12

“If we have died with him, we will also live with him.” – 2 Timothy 2:11

“I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” – Galatians 2:20

May the Church grasp the beauty of the story of Christ – the incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection, and be intentional about entering into that story not  by idealizing it, nor by escaping the created world, but through lament, prayer, seeking the King, his Kingdom, and his Spirit, to the glory of God. Lord, help our unbelief.

Cruciform Life: Faith, Hope, Love

I grew up hearing the language of “inviting Jesus into your heart.”

It is very cute, and I’m sure Jesus appreciates it, but it’s not exactly biblical.

What we see most commonly in Scripture is not that we invite Jesus into our hearts, but that HE invites us into his story. The language of being “in Christ” is a recurring theme throughout the New Testament (appearing an approximate 83 times in the Pauline Epistles alone), pointing us to the reality that Christian humans (I think I prefer being identified as such, since I am primarily a human, then a Christian), enter into the story of Christ; a story marked by the cross and the resurrection, and resulting in a new life.

Conformity to Christ crucified, which one authors calls ‘cruciformity’ (‘cruciform’ literally means ‘shape of the cross’), is an ongoing reality in the life of the believer, beginning at the first moment of faith, expressed in baptism, and continues on throughout life. About baptism, Paul writes,

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Romans 6:3-4.

So what does the cruciform life look like? It’s characterized by faith, hope, and love. Faith is fidelity and loyalty to God, patterned after Jesus’ life of faithful obedience. Hope is the confidence of God’s future glorification in the life of the believer despite present suffering and tribulation. Love, patterned after the cross, is the costly covenant fidelity toward others within the ekklēsia; also taking the shape of cruciformity.

This life is only possible through the empowering of the Spirit; which enables fidelity to God by connecting believers to the cross and thereby creating individual and corporate newness.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

1 Cor. 5:17

This points us to an even grander story: the story of God’s plan for New Creation. God promised, through Isaiah that God would one day re-create creation: “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth” (Isa. 65:17; cf. 66:22). For Paul, this has already begun in the resurrection of Christ, but will only finish in the future. The community who is “in Christ” (Romans 8:1) has the “first fruits of the Spirit” (Romans 8:23), and exists and lives as result of and anticipation for the New Creation (8:23-25).

Like an author who loves his story so much that he will include himself in it, God enters into his story as the Rescuer – inviting us, and our story, to join his, into the cruciform life of faith, hope, and love, looking to the promise of a New Heaven and New Earth.

Amen.

The Blessings of the Kingdom

There are countless interpretations of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

One wonders, was Matthew being a legalist with regards to these teachings? Commonly, it is suggested that Matthew is warding off legalism with respects to the dominant Pharisaic presence, while at the same time, warning against an antinomianism common to those who “live by faith” (but not by works).

This seems to be a common struggle for many Christians, particularly Evangelicals. That is, the struggle of “faith” vs “religion/works,” as it is commonly referred to. Most often, Christians agree that it begins with faith and the works will follow. This is good, but not enough.

The beatitudes, (i.e “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…” etc etc) don’t seem to fit in very cleanly with the above mentioned perspective. There is something missing. What is important to note about these sayings of Jesus, is that they are not describing the “way things are now” but rather

“they are annoucing a new state of affairs, a new reality which is in the process of bursting into the world. They are declaring that something that wasnt’ previously the case is now going to be; that the life of heaven, which had seemed so distant and unreal, is in the process of coming true on earth” (NT Wright, After You Believe, 105).

Now that Jesus is here, God’s kingdom of blessing is coming, a kingdom of renewal of creation, mercy, justice, peace, and love. And as the Kingdom arrives, the qualities of humility, meekness, purity and so on will shine through most powerfully.

So, his teaching is not a “rewards based” retribution theology, (ie behave this way and you will be rewarded), nor is it a “now that you believe in me, this is how you must behave.” Rather, Jesus is saying that God’s new world, God’s plan to bring restoration to the world – a plan beautifully exposed in Isaiah 11 – is coming to birth in Jesus.

These qualities become a reality as we anticipate the coming Kingdom – the New Creation.

Anticipation is a funny thing. When playing soccer, if I anticipate the ball coming towards me, the power of that anticipation will result in bodily movement; I will run towards the ball. Similarly, anticipation of the New Creation will result in new behaviour; transformation of Character. That happens as we follow Jesus.

There’s this interesting Greek word, telos. It connotes a sense of completion, goal, and fulfilment. A full word study may not be appurtenant here, but often, the word is mentioned in the context of the biblical vision for the New Creation, and to top that off, it is in view and anticipation of the telos that a Christ-like character is being formed. 1 Corinthians 15 is a great example of this, as well as the entire book of Revelation. Also, 1 Peter 4:7, which says:

7The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.

There are many more directives throughout the New Testament that we can look at.

One author summarizes the big idea beautifully:

“When [the New Testament writers] present us with a vision for the future, they refuse to move from the present to the future. They move from the future to the present. They are captivated above all by a conviction about what God will finally do – the panorama unveiled in Revelation 21 and 22 – a future when God will dwell with his people in the new Jerusalem, a future promised by and guaranteed in the raising of Jesus from the dead. And in the light of this ultimate hope, they dare to claim that this future can start now. They tell us that their lives are being breathed into by the breath of God, being reenergized by God’s Spirit, that they are already enjoying the life of the future.” (David Taylor, editor of “For the Beauty of the Church”).

Jesus tells his hearers, “Be perfect (teleios) because your heavenly father is perfect (teleios)” (Mt. 5:48). Teleios, is usually translated as “whole, complete, perfect.” Essentially, he’s saying, that you are people of the goal – people of genuine humanness.

The Blessing of the Kingdom is in light of the New Creation – And that is happening here and now because of Jesus. We are living in the “already and not yet” – we live in view of the “not yet” and we live it out “already.”

 

Spring

Today is the first day of Spring.

I’m reminded of newness. Spring time is a season of new life. God is actively involved in making all things new – in our lives, our churches, our societies, our cultures. He is present, and active.

“And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you” (Ro. 8:11).

“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20).

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.” (1 Peter 1:3)

3 “We always thank God,f the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the loveg you have for all God’s peoplehthe faith and love that spring from the hopei stored up for you in heavenj and about which you have already heard in the true messagek of the gospel that has come to you.” (Col. 1:3-5)

This last one pretty much sums up what I’ve been ruminating on recently. The recipients of this letter had a faith in Christ and a love for people that was not out of a sense of “obeying the rules of Christianity” but it was a character that springs from a sense of “hope.” Now, when Paul says that it is stored up in heaven, he does not mean that they have to get to heaven to receive it, but as he just said, the future reality springs to the present, effecting today’s reality.

What a great way to start the letter to the Colossians.

Amen.

Make Disciples

When things get busy and there are due dates to meet, hours to work at a job that isn’t very exciting (Sbux), relationships to maintain, and not enough hours in the day, it gets easy to lose a sense of purpose.

As a future-oriented person, I tend to plan a lot. I think of the future a lot. Being aware of this, I have tried to counter it by focusing on the now. Still, I can’t help but wonder, what’s next? That’s often followed by a, “how is right now related to what’s next?” And a “why I am here doing this, and not that?”…  I want the big picture. God doesn’t seem to work that way.

Jesus calls us to make disciples. There is the assumption, and rightly so, that he will equip us to do that calling well – even though we don’t have all the answers. In fact, 40 000 denominations in the Christian Religion tells me that God is okay with using people who don’t have all the answers. This is freeing.

There’s something beautiful about God’s use of broken people in order to make disciples. I believe it’s so closely connected to our human calling to ‘make shalom’. I’m not sure which one comes first, but it’s granted that making shalom includes making disciples, and vice versa.

With that said, by faith I can believe that all that is happening now and will happen in the future is a means by which God is using in order to produce that thing we call fruit. All the studying and learning, which I love, is not meant for some intellectual gluttony fest. It’s meant to make me a cultivator of shalom and maker of disciples. This is good news and fills my heart with hope and joy. It draws me into worship — and i don’t just mean singing, but singing included.

This means that right now, God is meeting with us. In the busyness, in the times of relaxation, in the times of curiosity, questioning, wonder, and doubt: God is working on us.

And God is faithful.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10