Thursday, January 27, 2011

Changed Into Fire...

A disciple once came to Abba Joseph, saying,

“Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, my little fast, and my little prayer.

And according as I am able, I strive to cleanse my mind

of all evil thoughts and my heart of all evil intents.

Now, what more should I do?”

Abba Joseph rose up and stretched out his hands to heaven,

and his fingers became like ten lamps of flame.

He answered,

“Why not be totally changed into fire?”

~from Prayer by Richard Foster

Been thinking a lot lately about the difference between pleasing God with our obedience and appeasing Him with works righteousness.

The two look awefully alike, yet the latter parades itself around as the former and does violence to my relationship with God.

The latter strips me of my ability to humbly accept God's grace.

When I ty to appease God with my fine deeds and good works, I end up being like Peter who balked when Jesus knelt to wash his feet.

I am sending this message: "Thanks. I'm good. I've got this."

When the truth is that: I'm ungrateful, and: No, I'm not good. No, I don't "have it."

Make no mistake, there are things we all need to "do" which are helpful in transforming us into the likeness of Christ. Being a disciple of Jesus has nothing to do with passivity!

It's certainly important to remember that while God is not interested in our attempts at earning, He is not opposed to effort.

The Pharisees were all about earning. Their righteousness was works in action. They did all the right things, read scripture prolifically, prayed (with aplomb on the temple steps, remember?), tithed, behaved correctly, and even participated in (sometimes unsolicited and one-way) "accountability programs" (i.e. told people how to act).

But Jesus repeatedly opposed the Pharisees. In fact, in Matthew 5:20, he said: "For I say to you that unless your rightousnes surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven" (NASB)

Stated succinctly, Jesus makes it clear that our rightousness need to SUPASS that of the pharisees.

Clearly works-righteousness like the Pharisees isn't good enough; He doesn't want our earning.
So, what does He want? What does "righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees" (effort in the absence of earning) look like, you might be asking?

Righteousness that surpasses that of the Pharisees has a "secret ingredient" that the Pharisees didn't include in their recipe for righteousness: Grace

So, if you're really a 'concrete operational' thinker- here's an equation that you might find to be helpful:

My Intentionality (Effort)
+ God's Grace (Jesus Does the Earning)
Transformation of Me into Christ-likeness* (*So I can bless the world!)

In other words- He wants us to lean into His Grace...And Yet...
Our Cooperation...Our intentionality...(and yeah)...Our Effort is okay...

This synergistic participation is best described by Paul in his letter to the Philippians (2:12-3) where he admonishes them to: "Continue to work out your salvation wih fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose."

No amount of work on my part can make me a more godly person. And if I misappropriate my efforts into trying to manage my own sin (or that of others), I have succumbed to a combination of blatent arrogance and naivete that is spiritully fatal. Focusing on sin management will actually bind myself to my sin more tightly, as it then becomes the focus of my attention and the locus of my worship.

Without the intervention of God's Supernatural Grace, nothing comes of my efforts but a lot of nice things done and a more altruistic me. I am not changed. No matter what I do, no matter how many prayers I pray, no matter how many chapters of scripture I read in a week, no matter how many sins I confess and repent of...NOTHING CHANGES unless Christ is in the equation...transforming me...changing me...discipling me..reconciling me unto Himself.

Without Christ and the Grace that only He can bring to the table, there is No Real Change...

And there's Definitely no "fire"...

And I wanna BURN for God!

So how does one "become totally change into fire"?

A key can be found in Isaiah 58, where we see God resprimanding His people for performing spiritual practices (specifically fasting), but harbouring bitterness, quarelling, strife, and anger and by perpetuating injustice toward others. God makes it clear that He isn't impressed by such fasting- in fact, he asks a poingnant question: "When you fast like that, without being just to others- how do you expect that I would hear your voice?" (my paraphrase of v. 4).

So then, we ask ourselves: Does God want none of this? Is he telling us to not perform spiritual practices? The answer is a resounding "No!"

It is clear he doesn't want rote compliance, a sort of going-through-the-motions spirituality that makes no difference in a person's everyday life. If we fast or pray, or have daily devotions consistently, yet these practices are merely acts that have no effect in shaping our souls, then God wants us to defer from doing them. He's simply not interested in our works centered compliance- what he wants from us is an entirely different thing- grace centered RADIANCE.

So then, I will lean into God's grace...That means that I will believe Him when He tells me that I am His and that I am redeemed. I will choose to lean into His grace and take Him at His word. Next, I will believe that this same truth applies to my neighbor. I will choose to see her through the loving eyes of Christ- the same eyes that lovingly look at me. Because of this new way of "seeing" (a grace-based way) I will begin to have a transformed way of thinking of myself and my neighbor. My intentionality plus God's grace working in me supplants my need to manage my own sin. God's grace changes me completely into a person who desires to see the lives of others redeemed by God's mercy.

That is how one moves beyond sin managment and becomes changed into radiant fire...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Why My Dog Might Be the Final Authority When it Comes to Doctrine

...tongue and cheek musings and ramblings about doctrine and dog-ma...

I asked my dog what he thought about baptism. (I really did- It is a very important secondary doctrinal concept that deserves much attention, thought, and yes even passion, you know. And I was in need of some validation.) So, one day by accident, I found myself having a theological discussion with my terrier mutt.

Some time ago, while blogging about baptism on Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed site, I got all worked up at someone’s response. I was taken aback and a little more than bothered that this one person clearly did not share my particularly keen clarity of insight about baptism, and was not appreciating the subtle nuances surrounding the doctrine of baptism is the same way in which I did. Of course, this caused me great and severe consternation and angst. (I have mentioned that baptism is a very important secondary doctrinal concept that deserves much attention, thought, and yes even passion, haven't I?)

I began talking out loud excitedly to an empty room, and woke up little Rex who had been dozing peacefully at my feet. He looked at me curiously and with obvious concern. Perking his little ears up, he cocked his fuzzy little head to the side and looked at me pensively.

“What?” his brown eyes queried “What’s wrong. Why are you barking so loud? Is someone at that ‘window’ you always stare at?”

So, I said to him, “What to you think, Rexy? What is your opinion of baptism? (It is of course a very important secondary doctrinal issue.)”

Rexy just looked at me. I bet he's thinking (thought I) that sprinkling is better. I know he hates immersion. Yes, he definitely is a “sprinkle-‘em-once-when- they’re-a-pup-and-be-done-with-it” kind of a guy...

As he stared at me dully, I immediately knew his deepest thoughts (amazing how he can do that...)- “I just want you to love me and feed me and pet me and be kind,” he thought at me, “You could have the most fascinating, perfect, insightful doctrine, but if you don’t love me and aren’t nice to me, it doesn’t matter.”

And that’s when it hit me. A little Jack Russell mixed terrier knew more about the kingdom of heaven than perhaps I did. Without love I am nothing. Thanks, Rexy for reminding me that doctrine is dog-ma without love and faithfulness.

Leave it to a little dog to teach someone about the importance of love and faithfulness…

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Feast of the Epiphany

January 6th- Blessed Feast of the Epiphany!

Today we celebrate the “Feast of the Epiphany” also known as the “Feast of the Wise Men”.

We do not know who these “Wise Men from the East” were, but we do know they traveled a long distance and gave up a great deal of time to find the King of Kings. They came bringing the best of what they had; and when they found Him, they disclosed their finest to the One that the star told them was the King of the Jews. Just as God had given His best, they gave what were the most expensive gifts of their day. They brought gold for prosperity, frankincense for sweetness and atmosphere, and myrrh as a preservative symbolizing his ability to overcome even the worst of times…even death. They brought their finest to the Finest- shouldn’t we do the same?

On the Twelfth day of Christmas, My TRUE LOVE Gave To Me...

Today is January 5th (Also Known as “Twelfth Night”) - Happy "Twelfth Day of Christmas"!

Today we think about the “Twelve Drummers Drumming” which represent the Twelve Points of Doctrine in the Apostles' Creed:

1) I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
2) I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
3) He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
4) He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell [the grave].
5) On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
6) He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
7) I believe in the Holy Spirit,
8) the holy catholic Church,
9) the communion of saints,
10) the forgiveness of sins,
11) the resurrection of the body,
12) and life everlasting.

Today we contemplate the importance of a sound doctrine (orthodoxy) as well as the necessity of having a sound Christian walk (orthopraxy).

We ask ourselves: “Do I live the Gospel I claim?...and…”If they came to arrest me for being a Follower of Jesus- would there be enough evidence to convict me?”

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas, My TRUE LOVE Gave to Me...

Today is January 4th- Happy "Eleventh Day of Christmas"!

Today we think about the “Eleven Pipers Piping” which represent the Eleven Faithful Apostles. (The list does not include the twelfth disciple, Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus to the religious leaders and the Romans.):

1) Simon Peter,

2) Andrew,

3) James,

4) John,

5) Philip,

6) Bartholomew,

7) Matthew,

8) Thomas,

9) James bar Alphaeus,

10) Simon the Zealot,

11) Judas bar James.

Today we contemplate our faithfulness to God and His toward us.

We ask ourselves: “How can I live a life that’s faithful to the call of Christ on my life?”

…And we seek to live intentionally in Him.

Monday, January 3, 2011

On the Tenth Day of Christmas- My TRUE LOVE Gave To Me...

Today is January 3rd-Happy "Tenth Day of Christmas"!

Today we think about the “Ten Lords A-leaping."

They which represent the Ten Commandments found in Exodus 20:1-17:

1) You shall have no other gods before me;
2) Do not make an idol;
3) Do not take God's name in vain;
4) Remember the Sabbath Day;
5) Honor your father and mother, and you will live long;
6) Do not murder;
7) Do not commit adultery;
8) Do not steal;
9) Do not bear false witness;
10) Do not covet.

Today we contemplate our inability to follow these commands…

We acknowledge our ineptitude at perfection, yet rejoice in our ability to hold onto The One Who is Perfect... The One who came to take away the sins of the world…

Today we remember that Jesus instructs us to “Love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength…and to love our neighbor as yourself,” and show us that following this simple rule makes is easier to live a life that promotes human flourishing.
Today we reflect on how we can stay in this frame of mind throughout the coming New Year, and how we can promote human flourishing (ours and that of others) in order to glorify God.

On the Ninth Day of Christmas, My TRUE LOVE Gave to Me...

Today is January 2nd- Happy “Ninth Day of Christmas"!

Today we think about the “Nine Ladies Dancing.”

They represent The Nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22:

1) love,

2) joy,

3) peace,

4) patience,

5) kindness,

6) goodness,

7) faithfulness,

8) gentleness,

9) self-control.

Today we contemplate how we are being continually Spiritually Formed, and we ask ourselves these questions:

How have I been receptive to the Holy Spirit’s workings in and through me throughout the past year, and does my life bear spiritual fruit?

How can I be receptive to the Holy Spirit’s workings in and through me more fully throughout the coming year, so that I can more fully bear spiritual fruit?

On the Eighth Day of Christmas- My TRUE LOVE Gave To Me...

Today is January 1st- Today, we are Blessed to celebrate a New Year, and we also celebrate the "Eighth Day of Christmas"!

Today we think about the “Eight Maids A-milking”-who represent the Eight Beatitudes:

1) Blessed are the poor in spirit,

2) Blessed are those who mourn,

3) Blessed are the meek,

4) Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

5) Blessed are the merciful,

6) Blessed are the pure in heart,

7) Blessed are the peacemakers,

8) Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake. (Matthew 5:3-10)

We reflect upon these things and we and we contemplate what it means to be “blessed” using Jesus’ frame of reference...

No doubt, at one time or another over this past year- you have been "blessed" according to Jesus' definition. And as surely, as I type these words...during the next year to come, either you or I will experience poverty of spirit, mourning, persecution, humiliation, or degradation. But not to worry, for along with these things, according to The One who knows, comes blessing. This is my prayer for you as we enter a new year: that God will bless you despite, and even 'because of' the negative things that may assail you during this coming year. Additionally, I pray that God will mightily bless you by making you hunger and thirst after Him, and by growing you in righteousness so that you may become more kind, more merciful, more pure in heart, and one who walks in and relentlessly "wages peace." I hope you will pray the same for me...