Tagged: Jesus

Reflections on Gratitude and the Holy Supper

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Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 1 Cor 10:16

Eucharisteo is the Greek word for gratitude.

The posture of thanksgiving is what the biblical narrative points to as the proper posture of the imago dei in man. This stands in contrast to our North American culture of excessive hoarding and addiction through the gratification of insatiable desires. Hans Boersma makes the observation that this is quite understandable since our words is astonishingly beautiful: “When we smell, when we taste, when we hear, when we see, when we touch—the pleasure that follows can be overwhelmingly powerful.” But the purpose of our lives is not for increased gratification of the instinctual sort. What separates us from animals and what makes us rightful candidates of the imago dei—that uniquely human calling to image the Creator—is a posture of eucharisteo: gratitude. But not just any gratitude, but the kind that leads to self-giving, the kind that recognizes that all of creation—all that we can taste, touch, smell, hear and see—is merely a gift to be offered back to God.

In response to Jesus’ instructions, christians have made what has come to be known by countless names (holy communion, eucharist, holy supper, etc) as the definitive marker of the Christian identity.

“Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus said. Then word “communion” refers to the greek word, koinonia, which is also translated as fellowship, and participation. This special Christian act is precisely that: fellowship, participation, a unique and unexplainable mystery of entering into the Trinitarian life. And as we enter into the life of the Trinitarian God, we are launched into a life of eucharisteo.

To be authentically human, according to Christian faith and practice, is constituted by the posture of thanksgiving that leads to self-giving.

Paradoxically, and in opposition to everything we’re told by a culture of rampant consumerism, a life of gratitude is the life that is most satisfying of all.

Studies have shown that gratitude in itself is a healthy posture, and daily practices of expressing gratitude will contribute to happier life. But who are we to thank? How we answer this question will determine whether or not we will move from thanksgiving to self-giving.

Pray: Learning to be Present to Jesus

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For you created my inmost being;
     you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
     your works are wonderful,
     I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
     when I was made in the secret place
     when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
     all the days ordained for me were written in your book
     before one of them came to be.
Psalm 139:13-16

One of the hardest parts of prayer is the act of being present to Jesus while doing it. Yes, Jesus is always present when we pray, but we’re great at multitasking, especially when praying. I could be praying and simultaneously thinking about the next book to read, idea to ponder, or email draft that needs to go out. (I confess, I have an unnatural desire to plan ahead in such a way that takes me from “being in the moment”).

Instead of simply being, I want to be doing.

We all have an intrinsic desire to produce, to be useful and effective, to have satisfaction from our work, and that’s not a bad thing (in fact, I’m totally for productivity, and I wrote a post about a tool to help you with that here). But most of our work is driven by a sense of self-importance, wondering “if I don’t send out that email and make that work schedule, who will?” It may be true, but why is it that in the midst of those activities, we rarely have the urge to sit still and be quiet before Jesus?

We live scattered lives, driven by the stress we complain about and go to bed thinking, “I should pray more.”

One of the things that has helped me with feeling scattered is the practice of silence. Not just being quiet, but quieting your mind, stopping yourself from thinking about what needs to get done, and reflecting on a word or phrase, like “Jesus” or “God is love” or “you are good.” I’ve been going through a book by Peter Scazzero called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Day by Day, which contain two short devotionals for every day. Each devotional begins and ends with two minutes of silence, stillness and centering before God, with a short reflection on scripture in between. I rarely expect this kind of thing to make an impact on my days, but I’ve seen it happen. I feel lighter, more aware of God’s continual presence, with a new courage to face who I really am and oppose being driven by the dictates of others.

The practice of silence is a like a workout for your brain. Returning to the gym after missing a few days will feel painful on your body. Likewise, when I miss a day or two of silence and reflection, I notice the impact when I pick it up again. With practice I’ve grown stronger in my ability to silence my mind and when I am consistently being present to Jesus in those small moments, it changes the rest of the day and every ounce of self-importance struggle to defend my dignity slowly dissipate into a weightless shadow. As I learn to be present to Jesus, I, like the psalmist, begin to know the true me.

Why Church is a Like Dressing Room

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12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Colossians 3:12-16

Childhood Sunday mornings started with the sound of metal hangers screeching down the pole in my closet. The noise informed me that my mother was arranging my Sunday outfit; the weekend was pretty much done and it was time to get up and ready for (what seemed to be) a long day of church. And it was now my responsibility the put on my clothes for church.

In the early days church was a time to see friends within the confines of  Sunday School and Sunday services. As long as I respectfully attended those events, it was fair game; I could hang out with friends before and after and sit with them during the service.

I didn’t have any theological understanding of what church was for; for me, church on Sunday was time to spend with friends.

Even though church, in my mind, was for spending time with friends, I have no doubt that each Sunday gathering was a place of formation: God was forming me in ways I never could have imagined.
While I was getting dressed for church, God was dressing me for a new life.

The life-long process of becoming Christian is God’s main concern. He wants us to be formed into a certain kind of people; that’s why the Bible often refers to salvation as a “new life.”

Paul lays out the characteristics of this new life in many of his letters, and one of his favourite metaphors to describe it is through the everyday practice of getting dressed.  The Christian life is one where we “put off” what is sinful and “put on” what is godly. When you become a Christian, you learn to put on the right clothes; a constant a putting off and a putting on.

Now, it’s easy to know the right answers to most questions about what’s right and wrong, and yet it’s quite hard to live them out. For example, it is easier to preach on 1 Corinthians 13, the famous love chapter, than it is to love my neighbour as myself.  It’s much easier to explain God’s grace to someone than it is to be gracious when mistreated. It’s much easier to sing about surrender than it is to truly surrender our bank account, our time, and our energy. Let’s be real: it’s much easier to receive and relish God’s forgiveness than it is to offer it to those who’ve offended us.

Putting off sin and putting on Christ is far from easy or automatic; at least not at first. Putting on Christ needs to be learned, and it needs to be practiced.

We need help.

Let’s look again at Paul’s clothing metaphor in context. A sermon I heard recently reminded me that getting dressed takes practice. That might sound bizarre at first because you might not remember not being able to get dressed, but I guarantee that you weren’t born into this world with the natural ability to dress yourself. Mom or Dad manipulated your limbs to undress and dress you into the outfit that they imagined for you before you woke up.

Eventually, (I hope), you learned to dress yourself. In fact, you’ve dressed yourself so many times, that now, you don’t even think about it. Getting dressed is second nature to you; you may ponder on the outfit, but the “putting on” takes no thought, it just happens.

Paul chose a brilliant picture: everyone needs to learn how to get dressed. And learning how to do it requires help. And once you learn, getting dressed takes practice, it takes time, but eventually, it becomes second nature, it becomes automatic.

But this is where it gets good: you don’t have to practice alone.

The way we put on holiness, compassion, kindness, meekness, and patience and love is through what Paul describes in verse 16:

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another…singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with thankfulness.”

Paul’s talking about what happens when the church gathers.

Sunday gatherings is our practice time: As we gather to sing, to worship, to hear the preached Word, to participate in Holy Communion and to celebrate Baptism, we are getting dressed; putting on Christ. God graciously provides the clothes, and now teaches us how to put it on, indeed, he puts it on for us. “Work out your own salvation,” Paul says, “for it is God who works in you.”

And as the Church gathers, it becomes the place where we practice “putting on” Christ. The place where we learn to work out our salvation.

As the gathered church we absorb the Gospel through our senses: we see each other and the elements of communion with our eyes, we sing and pray together with our voices, we hear God’s Word for us with our ears, we consume the bread and wine with our mouths. Every sight, sound and movement acts together as a means to practice the deep love for us in Christ. Hearing sermon after sermon does something to your heart, even though you don’t necessarily remember every single one.

Just as you learned to get dressed, church is the dressing room where you learn to put on Christ, and eventually Christ’s too becomes second nature.

Paul began the letter to the Colossians with the prayer that they would be “filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9-10). 

That’s what church is for. It’s the dressing room, where we put on the clothes that God provided for us, the place where we can learn together what it means to put on Christ. Week by week we are putting on God’s love, God’s patience, God’s humility, meekness and compassion, so that we can get back into the world with right kind of clothes.

 

 

Can We Know God’s Will for our Lives? Part 2

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In my last post, I suggested that a Christian should be able to answer the questions, what is God saying to me and how do I know that he’s saying it?

Unfortunately, some Christians feel they need to discern God’s will about what they eat for dinner. What we eat for dinner is not something that God is really concerned with, provided we eat with gratitude. An important reality, often overlooked in our anxious searches for God’s will, is that many life decisions are left for us to make freely. Some Christians walk with an enormous weight of uncertainty, worrying about every jot and tittle of their lives, when God has allowed a certain degree of freedom.

Through Scripture, we know enough about God to make most decisions. Some questions have been answered with a “no” and others with a “yes,” while many other questions are left to up to us. Imagine God gave you a watch. Would you honour him more by asking him for the time or by looking at the watch? I know that I ought to practice kindness and patience towards my wife, and I know that I ought not hate or judge my brother. However, what I eat for dinner is my choice.

Still, some decisions require more than logical reasoning and biblical knowledge. Some decisions we face beckon us to slow down and listen carefully to God’s direction. Maybe it’s prioritizing tasks for the week in order to make decisions well, or considering a career or relational opportunity that might change the direction of one’s life completely. There are certain matters we know the answer to, other matters in which we are free to choose for ourselves, and still other matters that require thoughtful and prayerful discernment.

Let me illustrate:

Pretend a coach of a soccer team has drafted you into his team. When it’s game time, it would be silly to ask about the rules of another sport, or whether or not you should try to work as a team with the other players. The first question is irrelevant and the second is obvious.

Likewise, to fret about God’s will for my dinner or whether or not I should be “kind” to my neighbour misses the point of discernment. In the first instance, we’re asking a question that has nothing to do with the game or even the sport, and in the second instance we’re ignoring the rules of the game we’ve already been given. There are also moments in the game when passing the ball to player A or player B will be your choice, and to ask the coach for his instruction in that moment would be detrimental to the game.

I know the rules, I know the point of the game, I know that there will be moments where I must depend on my reflexes and choose accordingly. In this way, we can understand “God’s will for my life” as referring to my position on the field and how I can best use my strengths to win the game according to the strategy.

In order for me to play well I will ultimately need to know myself: how am I built to play this game well? This is the task of discernment.

Seeking God’s will for my life does not dismiss everything he’s already revealed in Scripture, but seeks to understand my fit in it. What are my “gifts” in the context of the team and the strategy already given?

The particular will of God we seek is in the context of our participation in the life of the church.

One of the early challenges the church had to wrestle through was individual gifting, or vocation. Every individual equally contributed to the life of the whole, just like every part of a body contributes to the life of the body. And that body, being the church, exists for the common good of society. The question is: what is Jesus saying to me personally (now comes in the individual, the parts that make up the whole), in the context of our calling to be the church in our world.

We must learn to listen to the voice of Jesus for ourselves, but not apart from our team. So how will we do it?

Here are five voices we must be listening to in the dance of discernment:

1) We listen to Scripture, which speaks not only to our heads, but to our hearts as we contemplate its stories and teachings. Scripture has an authoritative power, not because it has special secrets about how old the earth is, but because it has a special way of igniting faith, hope, and love in us. In an overarching sense, Scripture tells us of the gospel news of God’s rescue mission to bring the world to its intended harmony. It tells us the rules of the game and the strategy for winning. But to know how we fit in the game we need to learn to read the Bible personally: how is a passage, a verse, a story speaking to you, in this moment?  When we take the time to slow down, listen, and contemplate God’s word, it has a special power to speak to us in a personal way, because the Bible always brings us to the person of Jesus who is the Word of God in the flesh. Sometimes this means sticking with one word, one verse, one parable or psalm or story that sticks out to you, and letting it resonate with you until your heart catches guides your head. Perhaps you’ll receive a picture, an invitation, a sense of gratitude, or a memory. This isn’t an easy discipline, but a very rewarding one.

2) We listen to people in our lives who can help us see our blind spots. Who are we reading the Bible with? Who are we worshiping with on Sundays? Who knows you enough and loves you enough to be honest with you about who you really are? But beware of people telling you what God is telling you: they may be able to guide, to advise, and even to offer an opinion, but only you can know the inner witness of the Spirit.

3) We listen to the friendships we find in the church, the local and the historical, the present and the past. Scripture has a personal and concrete word for us, yet keeping ancient friends from our Christian heritage will help us keep from making Scripture fit our own designs. Let the creeds of the church be the boundary markers of the soccer field, telling you if you’re in, or if you’re out. The creeds can also help you make sense of where you are on the pitch, providing you with an orientation that helps you know if you should pass or shoot. Our forefathers were at a different level in their prayer lives. Find an old prayer book to help you discover  new ways to foster intimacy with God (Augustine’s Confessions is one of my favourites).

4) We listen to our circumstances: how has God provided the context you are now in? Pay attention to the circumstances of your life. How are you to be faithful in your current circumstances? What do you like or dislike about your circumstances that you would like to change or not change? These questions force us to be honest about what is possible and what isn’t. But don’t eliminate the apparently impossible option, because God may indeed be calling you to something that in this moment, feels impossible. This listening is merely a matter of seeing clearly how God has been at work in your circumstances. Oppositions and obstacles need to be considered, but don’t be quick to take them as signs that this isn’t what God wants: God may very well be asking you to walk through a closed door.

5) We listen to our emotions, which help us identify what we love and what we dislike.   We tend to be suspicious of emotions, for fear of emotionalism, and end up putting too much weight on our rational abilities. However, Descartes was wrong when he proposed that humans are merely thinking beings. We are thinking, loving, and acting beings, far more complex that what Descartes suggested. Emotions are at the heart (no pun intended) of what it means to be human and in order to properly discern the voice of Christ, we need to develop the capacity to articulate what is happening to us emotionally.

All of these activities happen in the context of a life devoted to prayer. Prayer is the glue that helps us make sense of each sphere of our lives. Prayer is our response to God’s initiation; in prayer, we are always responding to God’s YES to us in Christ. Prayer is constant dialogue with the coach, cheering and guiding us on as we play the game.

Seeking the will of God is not as simple as a question and answer session. Discernment is a process, it is a game, or a dance or like being part of an orchestra. We attentively listen and watch the conductor move his baton towards a harmonious composition. As we learn to play in sync with the voice of the coach, God’s team defeats opponents not by beating them but by winning them over to a new way of playing.

Feel free to share your thoughts or experiences on discernment and seeking God’s will below.

Instagram, Hashtags, and the Things We Communicate

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There’s a search feature on Instagram which tells me that there are more than 40 million pictures tagged with the word “blessed.” They boast about meeting celebrities, getting a new tattoo, and finishing a morning workout with a protein shake. In our world, to be “blessed” is now equal to being famed, fortuned and favoured. But is this really accurate?

In my first year of college I noticed that students had an incredible capacity to adjust their lingo in order to fit in to their crowds of choice. But let’s be real: this isn’t something that only happens on college campuses. In the Christian subculture, we “share testimonies,” feel “convicted,” pray for a “hedge of protection” and “seek God’s glory.” Not that these are wrong things, or bad words — actually, most are derived from biblical principles – but one of these phrases has been so badly misused by Christians that it has led media icons, rappers, and movie stars to co-opt it to communicate something totally un-Christian; I’m thinking of the term, “blessed.”

Now that life on social media is such a predominant part of Western culture, we should perhaps be reminded of the implications of hashtags and rethink whether tagging a picture of front row seats at a Taylor Swift concert with #blessed is a good idea.

Here are four questions to consider before using the term “blessed”:

1) What are you trying to communicate?

Many assume that to be “blessed” has one very obvious meaning: to be fortunate or favoured. But if we’re honest, our use of #blessed has much less to do with God than it has to do with us. We use #blessed to highlight the most trivial events of our lives: made it to class on time, found a new outfit on the sales rack, on a vacation my parents paid for.  I’m not saying God can’t be at work in those situations. But by trivializing the idea of being blessed, we’ve allowed an important word to be co-opted and be detached from its true Christian value. Biblical blessing has much more to do with Jesus, his way and his message than it does with our daily pleasantries.

2) Why are you trying to communicate it?

My opinion on technology and social media is that, like all created things, they are good. In fact, their existence attests to the ingenuity and innovation that reflects God’s creative image on earth — man is called to join God to create ways that brings flourishing. Your media feed can be used for practicing gratitude and even experiencing a truly human connection (don’t tell me the slideshow of your grandma shared by family members didn’t make you shed a tear!). On the other hand, it can easily be used as an opportunity to brag about your life. Let’s be honest, telling the world how awesome you are through social media and adding #blessed doesn’t automatically suggest that you are thanking a higher power. Who’s getting credit here, God or you?

3) Gospel consistency: Does it line up with what Jesus said?

If you’re hashtagging #blessed whenever your life is going great, you’re saying something about God: you are saying that he’s only working when things go well. But, isn’t he at work in your life even when things are going terribly? Isn’t he at work even when you’re stuck in traffic or doing dishes?  People never Instagram sadness or trauma, or the mundane—but according to the Christian faith, God is at work blessing you right in the middle of it. According to Jesus, it’s the meek, the mourners and the merciful who are blessed, not the ones who got a free latté upgrade at Starbucks. The meek, the mourners and the merciful (and all the other beatitudes you may remember from Matthew 5), are blessed because of the person of Jesus as the king who is making all wrongs right.

4) Is my life being changed?

There’s an interesting use of the word “blessed” that you can find it in the book of Acts, in one of the first Christians sermons ever preached. Peter, we can say, used the term #blessed, but not like any of us do. In his sermon, Peter preached that Jesus was sent by God as a blessing that would cause us to turn from evil. The blessing that is in Christ is not a “my life got easier” blessing. It’s more of a “my life is being transformed” blessing: I’m not as greedy and selfish as I once was; I’m more giving and selfless; my world doesn’t revolve around me. Why? Because of Jesus. I am no longer defined by my possessions and circumstances because Jesus defines me by his love and leads me by his Spirit. I may not be perfect, but I don’t need to make up for my imperfection by boasting about abundance or fortune.

God’s love casts out the fear of being unworthy, so we don’t have to front. So the next time you hashtag your photos, put wisdom to work and interrogate yourself: what are you going to communicate, what are your motives, is it consistent with the Gospel, and are you being transformed by the ultimate blessing who is Jesus? Perhaps a better way to hashtag is not with #blessed, but with #thankful.

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.

Attending to Jesus

I’m observing Lent for the first time.

Again I am reminded of Paul’s prayer, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Phil. 3:10).

From a devotional I am using, Lent is described as

“a season of preparation and repentance during which we anticipate the death (Good Friday) and resurrection (Easter Sunday) of Jesus. It is this very preparation and repentance – aimed at grasping the intense significance of the crucifixion – that gives us a deep and powerful longing for the resurrection, the joy of Easter.”

The purpose of Lent then, is to meet with Jesus. My prayer is that he would meet with me, so I’ll be attending to Him. Not simply when I have devotionals or time set apart for prayer, but my hope is that I will be attending to him wholly, fully, as I study and research for school, as I spend time with friends, as I work, that I would be attending to Him, waiting on Him to meet with me.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23-24). 

With All Your Mind

Why is it that many Christians today separate the work of the Spirit from the work of the mind? As if any thought of the mind is a product not of the Spirit but of the flesh.

Mark Noll wrote on this subject, calling it the “Scandal” of the Evangelical mind: simply put, that there is no mind. He argues that Christians today, specifically Evangelicals, don’t think ‘Christianly’ about culture the way their Fathers did. By Fathers, I’m referring to the Fathers of Evangelicalism; John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, and others.

In my thinking, the Liberal Theology in the 19th century rejected the supernatural and embraced science, humanistic endeavours, and ultimately the mind (and that definitely created a problem, but that’s not my point right now). This liberal theology welcomed the popular consensus that reason was of utmost importance. Maybe it’s a bit of an overstatement but I think in many ways the fundamentalist reaction to liberal theology in the 19th century was one that led to the rejection of the use of the mind, creating a false dichotomy between the mind and the Spirit.

Here’s how:

The wake of the 20th century saw immense supernatural activity amongst Evangelicals, resulting in the birth and growth of Pentecostalism. Being raised Pentecostal, I tread carefully on these waters, but not uncritically. Perhaps the embrace of the supernatural at the expense of the natural became catalytic in the discarding of the mind. (As a side note, this seems to fit perfectly well with a pre-millenial eschatology that longs for an escape from this ‘evil’ world, dualizing God’s “good” creation. I realize that statement opens up a whole other dialogue, let’s forget I said that for now). Don’t misunderstand me here, I believe in the supernatural and I believe that it’s something we can and should seek, but not at the expense of the natural. The supernatural work of the Spirit was never meant to be worshiped, just like the natural (creation, our bodies, etc) was never meant to be worshiped.

Let’s talk about it.

If Jesus asks us to love God with our whole being, including our minds, then thinking (about both God, culture, and the world), should not be considered an action that is mutually exclusive to the work of the Spirit. In other words, the work of the Holy Spirit is not manifested ONLY when something supernatural happens, that is a false dichotomy. God is the God of the natural and the supernatural. Christian’s need to again begin thinking Christianly about culture, about God, and about how they are to engage in the world. Not escaping it, not leaving it, not disappearing from it, but showing the world what it means to be human; this involves the mind empowered by the Spirit.

The Kingdom in Mark: 3 Predictions and 3 Misunderstandings

If you read the Bible, and more specifically if you read the Gospel’s you’ll notice that the disciples of Jesus had a hard time understanding certain things. Mark gives us an interesting picture regarding their complete misunderstanding of the kingdom. Even though to them it had “been given the secrets of the kingdom” (Mark 4:11), Jesus asked them various times, “do you not yet perceive or understand/ are you hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you net hear?” (Mark 8:17-18, cf. 4:13; 7:18; 6:52). What had been given to them was Christ himself, but what they seemed to fail to understand was the implications of the kingdom of God. Their expectations of what was to happen represent the same expectations of all of Israel; that God would eventually send a Messiah who would militaristically and politically take charge of Israel and be in command. For Israel, the comming Messiah meant political power and authority given back to the people of God.

I think Mark chooses many ways to show this, but I want to highlight one. Jesus predicts his death and suffering three times, in 8:31-38, in 9:30-32 and in 10:32-34. Now the interesting thing that Mark does is that he juxtaposes the disciples misunderstanding right next to the predictions. First with the transfiguration, Jesus’ clothes become radiant on the mountain (sounds familiar, think Exodus?), and Elijah and Moses show up, and suddenly Peter says “it is good that we are here.” Of course these words should be seen in light of the next part. In 9:34, after the second prediction of the suffering Messiah (literally right after), it says that “they (disciples) argued about who was the greatest.” And then lastly, following Jesus’ 3rd prediction, James and John have the brilliant request: “grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left in your glory” (10:37).

We see more of this happening later on as Judas betrays Jesus for money (14:10-11), Peter denies ever knowing Him (14:66), and none of them eventually stay with Him, but they all “fled” (14:50).

The people of Israel misunderstand the plan of God. They expected to be freed from Roman bondage by sword. In fact, that will explain why Jesus will constantly tell those whom he healed NOT to tell anyone. If the people thought of him as the Messiah, they would quickly begin to riot against Roman rule. Similarly, the disciples, the closest ones, completely misunderstood the meaning of the Kingdom.

Here’s the big idea. Mark is writing to Christians who like us would read the gospels and identified themselves as being disciples. Mark is warning against presuppositions that come from our own pride and smugness, and our own self-assurance. The people of Israel had an expectation that was completely off, so did the disciples. I think what Mark may be saying is that wether or not we may think we are “insiders” we may miss the point of discipleship, equating it with worldly status rather than obedient service.

Searching for Truth

My journey is like Moses who went on the mountain in Exodus 24 in search for God. Or at least my convictions tell me that it should be. He was in search of true theology, while his people waiting for him decided they’d come up with their own theology. One that served creation rather than creator. It came by their impatience and desire to worship.

Moses went up the mountain, was there for a long time, and sought God. My prayer is that my theology would also be formed through prayer. There are many books and commentaries and denominations that interpret biblical theology differently, giving us various “religions” under one theology.

My belief is that there are strengths and weaknesses in every denomination. This places me on a search for truth. Others may be in a place where they too are searching for correct theology, and maybe some believe they have found it. Wherever you are, I pray that you wouldn’t be defined by your denomination, whether Reformed or Pentecostal, or something else, but you would be defined by prayer, not prayer itself, but the result of prayer. In order for this to happen we must be passionate about truth. Truth that doesn’t waiver. Truth that may sometimes offend. Truth that may be hard to swallow.

Moses went up the mountain, Jesus went to a desolate place, and we too ought to seek divine truth in momentous occasions of faith: prayer fueled by our desire for unrelenting truth.