Monday, May 30, 2011

Monday's Meditation: Discovering Our Personal Canon

There are sixty-six books in the Bible and that’s too many for me.

Just because we can carry a Bible in one hand we are tempted to think it is only one book--when in fact we carry around an entire library. iPhone apps distill the collected wisdom of centuries into a tap and touch guided tour while we wait for an elevator. Sixty-six books, forty-plus authors, three continents and at least 1,500 years: how many gigabytes do you need for that?

The reason this collection is too big is not because of some flaw in how the Bible has been safeguarded and delivered to us today. The problem is me. I cannot take in the bedazzling array of God’s creativity in the written word. Let me flash my orthodox credentials for a moment: of course, all sixty-six books are inspired by the Spirit of God. I trust the inspired judgment of the church fathers in setting the canon with these very books and not some others.

I am aware of through-the-Bible-in-a-year reading plans, but I find myself hanging out again and again in the same neighborhoods of the scripture. How about you? Again and again I return to the epic life stories in Genesis, but wouldn’t be caught dead hanging out with those wild-west Judges just a few books over. My heart is moved by the Psalms but I feel scolded by the Proverbs. I could read the gospels every day but when I read Paul I find myself asking, “Who made you the boss of me?” And don’t get me started on Revelation--I read it late one night and didn’t sleep for a week.

There was a time when I would feel guilty about playing favorites in the Bible. But perhaps my heart is pre-disposed to receive certain input more easily that others.

Let me be clear: it’s all the word of God. We should do our best to receive it all. We should not gainsay the books that do not yield their fruit as easily. We should desire to drink from every fountain he provides, yet we should not feel guilty if our hearts come again and again to a familiar spring.

Quite the opposite: we should ask the Spirit to reveal what this tells us about ourselves. Here are some questions to help us hear his voice in the Bible:
  • What books of the Bible speak to me most clearly?
  • What does this say about me--how am I postured to receive his instruction?
  • Has the Bible changed for me over the years? Are the words which spoke to me in my youth the same ones that speak to me now?
  • Are there treasures undiscovered in the books I read again and again?
  • Are there treasures undiscovered in the books I rarely read?
These questions (and others like them) will lead us into discovery of his written word--and ourselves.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Why Jesus Wasn't in a Hurry to Leave

Each spring, in the days between Easter and Pentecost, Students of Jesus have an opportunity to re-assess the mission we’ve received from Jesus. We are big on Easter, and rightfully so--God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, putting an exclamation mark on the life of his Son. Some branches of the faith are big on Pentecost, celebrating the coronation of Jesus in heaven, and the overflow of the Spirit which dripped down on the earth.
The forty days between Easter and Pentecost are less distinct, yet they provide us an opportunity to reflect on the significance of the resurrection in our lives. The risen Jesus didn’t leave in a hurry: he hung out with his disciples and put the finishing touches on three years of training. He wants to do the same for us. The first eleven verses in the the book of Acts suggests that we, too, can go deeper with Jesus and discover what he has in mind for us. Here are a few suggestions:
  • The resurrected Jesus stuck around for 40 days. Apparently he had more to say and do. The very first verse in Acts teaches us that the gospels were about “all that Jesus began to do and teach.” The rest of Acts teaches us that Jesus was still doing and teaching in the days, weeks, months and decades after the gospels. The work of the first century church was the work of Jesus. Is that still true today? It’s all too easy to substitute our work for his, to engage in ministry apart from his direction. What is Jesus is doing and teaching in our day? Are we still working with him or simply working for him?
  • Jesus’ message in the 40 days of resurrection was really no different than his message during his three years of ministry: the Kingdom of God (Acts1:3).  During that time Jesus continued to speak about the Kingdom of God. It’s worth noting that the book of Acts opens and closes with the Kingdom of God front and center. The very last verse in the book shows us Paul, three decades later, proclaiming the Kingdom of God (Acts 28: 31). Have we meditated on the meaning and importance of the Kingdom, or have we reduced the message of Jesus to only his sacrifice of the cross? Individually and corporately, we need to rediscover the Kingdom message.
  • The gospel accounts end with Jesus saying, “Go!” In Acts Jesus says, “Wait!”  What was so important that Jesus told his disciples to stay in Jerusalem? In our day many Christians are familiar with the Great Commission (Matthew 28: 16-20) but are we aware that Jesus commanded us to wait? Jesus said, in effect, “Don’t go anywhere, don’t do anything until you receive all that I have for you?” Have we meditated on the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives? We can work for God without any special empowerment. We cannot work with him apart form the Holy Spirit.
  • Jesus told his followers plainly that there were some things we would not know, especially regarding the times and the seasons of the last days. Yet this very topic is of great interest in the church today: Harold Camping’s foolish predictions are just a symptom, the true illness is a church preoccupied with an exit strategy when our mission is stay and represent. Biblically speaking, we’ve been in the “last days” for 2,000 years. Jesus tells us to focus on the mission, not the culmination of the mission (Acts 1: 7-8). Have we meditated on the wrong subject in our day?
  • The angels who were present at the ascension asked a pretty good question: “Why are you looking toward heaven?” (Acts 1:11) It’s a question worth considering. Frequently we are more concerned with heaven than with the Kingdom of God. The breathtaking sacrifice at Calvary purchased the forgiveness of sins and the hope of heaven, but in our generation many followers of Jesus have limited his work and message to heaven and heaven only. We should ask: if the gospel is only about going to heaven, why did Jesus invite us to take up the yoke of discipleship?
I’d love to get the podcast of everything Jesus taught in those 40 days, but it hasn’t shown up on iTunes yet. In the meantime, he invites us to work with him just as closely as the first disciples.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Monday's Meditation: Is Intellect Over-rated?

Yesterday we baptized four people at our church. The youngest was a four year-old little boy. We use a 150-gallon watering trough purchased from a tractor supply store: everyone leaves their seats and gathers around the sacred  tub, cameras flashing, cheering and laughing.
In the back of my head came a nagging question: does this child really understand what he’s doing? Then came the gentle voice of the Spirit asking me, “Do you really understand what he’s doing?” No one plays gotcha quite like the Holy Ghost.
This week’s meditation sings in praise of our limited capacity to understand. I've discovered that an omniscient God is not impressed by the size of our intellect. He does not want us to live in the darkness of ignorance, yet he knows it will take eternity for us to discover the fullness of his love. Who wants a gospel you can understand in ninety seconds? I hope to still marvel at the depths and riches of Christ’s wisdom when I reach ninety years.
Life in Christ begins with belief. In the process of coming to Jesus how many of us understood exactly what we signed up for? Becoming a Christian is a volitional act--it begins in the will. The intellect trails behind. Over the years our mind discovers, organizes, inquires, wonders and worships. It’s true: we should love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength and with all our mind, but we need to remember that the command is love.
Here are seven questions for the coming week as we meditate on the difference between mind and faith:
  • How much must we know before we believe? Not only in terms of being born again, but in every aspect of our life with God?
  • Is it possible to know the right answers and remain separated from Jesus?
  • Does intellect guarantee purity of heart before God?
  • Would the Father actually hide things from our understanding?
  • In the gospels, what caused Jesus to marvel: trust or intelligence?
  • What role does experience play in true understanding?
  • If the great commandment identifies heart, soul, strength and mind, which area have I elevated and which area have I neglected?
This week, let’s receive the prayer Paul prayed for his church in Ephesus:
“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.” (Ephesians 1: 17-18)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Case of the Really Short Skirt

One spring night several years ago I stood in line waiting to buy a movie ticket. The young couple in front of me were talking about the Easter Sunday “disturbance” at their church.
“Well, it was a pretty short skirt,” said the guy.
“That’s just the way Julie dresses,” answered the girl. “She needs to have people notice her.”
“She got noticed all right. One of the deacons went and got a video camera and took video of her in that outfit so that when they confront her about it they’ll have visual evidence.”
“That’s just wrong,” said the girl.
“Which?” asked the guy: “Her skirt or the video?”
Sometimes I make things up to prove a point. This conversation, however, was real. I wish it wasn’t.
Setting aside for a moment the creepiness-factor of middle aged deacons running for a video camera to tape a girl wearing a short skirt, the case of the really short skirt demonstrates the reasons so many believers are through with the church. The incident makes it difficult to suggest that participating in church life is a vital aspect of following Jesus. It’s hard to be in favor of the church when the church is manifestly flawed.
But what about Julie? What if she really does “need to have people notice her?” Who will help her, and how can it be done? The camera wielding deacons are no answer, they are part of the problem. Yet church discipline should exist to help believers find freedom in Christ.
“Church Discipline.” The phrase is either an oxymoron or a neon sign warning all who see it to run for their lives because this church is nuts.
Were the churches of the New Testament nuts? Here’s a sample of the insanity:
So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord . . . I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people--not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5: 1-5,  9-13)
What are we to do with Paul? Is he also a camera-crazed deacon? Or what should we do with Jesus, who laid down guidelines for handling  conflict within the church ending with, “if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
Church history is filled with bad examples. The only redeeming thing that came out of the Spanish Inquisition is a Monty Python punch-line. So how does an obscure blog from the peaceful hills of Central Kentucky solve the problem? It doesn’t, other than to suggest three key factors every follower of Jesus should consider today:
  • Experiencing the presence of Jesus is the first and best kind of church discipline. Jesus is the head of the church. He is alive, active, and he has opinions about the actions we take and choices we make each day. The best way for a disciple of Jesus to avoid camera-wielding deacons is to live in the presence of Jesus as a way of life. The same gun-toting Apostle Paul who spoke such harsh words to the Corinthians concluded his advice to the Philippians like this: "All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you." (Phil 3: 10-11) Toward an immature church Paul raised a strong hand. To a healthy church he commended them to the still small voice of the Father.
  • Church discipline in the Western world is nearly impossible today. In the U.S. alone there are more than 6,000 denominations today. That’s denominations, not churches. Is it any surprise in a consumer-driven society that a follower of Jesus would have 6,000 choices of how to express his or her faith? If your skirt is too short for one church, head for another. If you are a greedy idolatrous businessman you can fit in nicely somewhere. You don’t even need to change denominations, just “move your letter” to the other side of town. Even when church discipline is exercised with perfect love and care (a rarity, I grant you), the object of such love can easily pack up his problems and head somewhere else. The only difficulty is that the problems go with him: "wherever you go, there you are." Set your calendar, the need to be noticed--or whatever your problem--will surface again.   
  • Loving someone enough to help them find freedom from their fears and appetites is the heart of church discipline. If you knew someone was suicidal, would you take action? How about alcoholic or anorexic? We instinctively agree that love takes action. Imperfect action is better than no action when life is on the line. But the truth is: life is on the line every day. What if Julie's need to be noticed grows into the choice to marry an abusive husband? By the time everyone agrees on taking action much of the harm is already done. Godly leadership (not the deacons in my example!) is empowered to see and take action. Godly leaders are the shepherds of our souls: “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.” 
Is that crazy talk, or scripture: you tell me.
What about you? Do you have examples of church discipline gone bad--or gone right? Tell your story in the comments below.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Monday's Meditation: The Secret of Contentment

I can keep a secret, but the people I tell--they can’t keep a secret! So, if I tell you a secret this Monday, it’s OK if you spill the beans.
I found this secret buried deep in a stack of letters from a man stuck in prison. The kind of prison where you had to provide your own food and clothing, which was a problem because you were in prison. If you were out of friends you were outta luck. The kind of prison where you sat before you went to trial, wondering if you were going to trial. The man in prison had been beaten, healed, scarred, and beaten again. Shipwrecked three times, and far from home. Still, he had a secret, and he shared it with his friends:
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Philippians 4: 11-12)
This man, Paul: a follower of Jesus, falsely accused, in prison awaiting trial for more than a year, had discovered the secret of being content.
Contentment is perhaps even more of a secret today because the Western world is locked up in its own striving and appetites, wholly unaware of its blessings. Can we hear Paul’s whisper through the clamour of consumerism today? Consider just a few insights into his secret:
  • Contentment does not depend on circumstances: Paul could be content in the midst of plenty or little. In our world plenty is not enough: each of us know first-hand people who cannot be at rest even when they are surrounded by every comfort. Worse: some of us are those people.
  • Contentment does not mean giving up: Paul still had places to go and things to do. He was not a fatalist who accepted every event in his life as the final word. Yet even when he faced obstacles and frustration he found contentment within.
  • Contentment is not the result of positive thinking: There’s an old story about the child given a pile of horse manure for his birthday: he joyfully grabbed a shovel and said “there’s got to be a pony in there somewhere!” Not so. Sometimes there is no pony: life simply covers us with dung. The danger of positive thinking is that it comes from our own strength, and eventually that resource runs dry.
The “secret of being of content” is much deeper. It is born out of relationship to an unchanging person and his unshakable kingdom. This week’s meditation is an invitation to tune our ears and listen to the man in prison. His words are like a treasure map: hearing the secret is not enough, it must be discovered. At the end of the search we will discover ourselves people so in tune with the Kingdom of God that we navigate difficult times, supplied with peace as well as strength.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Beyond Mere Community

“After 40 years of walking with God I have met plenty of unhealthy Christians who belong to a church, but I have never met a healthy Christian who does not belong to a church. What are we to do with this? The currently popular solution is to hang out informally with our believing friends and declare, ‘This is my church. These people know me and love me. I receive nothing from organized religion.’”

I wrote these words a year ago, and after thinking about it for a year, I have only one revision to make: After 41 years of walking with God I have met plenty of unhealthy Christians who belong to a church, but I have never met a healthy Christian who does not belong to a church.

It’s difficult to stand in defense of the church when the church is so screwed up. It’s a helluva a way to run a railroad, but apparently the Father thinks it’s worth the risks. We were designed for community, but also something beyond mere community, we were designed for the church.

Many will object, and I invite you all to tell me gruesome tales of hypocrites, self-righteous blowhards, and sexual predators. I get it. The North American church is desperately sick, and in many cases the church hinders the spiritual growth of believers. But before we all decide have coffee and croissants down the street with the cool kids and call it church, I’d like to suggest that God has given us a few clues about what He thinks makes up a church. The bottom line is: church is God’s idea, and we ignore it at our peril.

It’s a book-length discussion--a life-length discussion, actually--but here is one man’s list of at least six vital parts of a real church:
  • The church meets together regularly: Sunday morning isn’t the only possibility. In fact, Acts 2:42-47 suggests they met together far more than North Americans might find comfortable. In a variety of settings, for a multitude of reasons, followers of Jesus meet together regularly and share their lives together. I don’t give a rip when or where, but regular, habitual gathering is a mark of the church.
  • The church has a defined structure: Structure is built into God’s order of creation. Single-celled organisms reveal astonishing complexity of function; in the human body there is individualized function. Without the structure of a skeleton, the body cannot stand. These physical realities point toward spiritual truth. Amazingly, the scripture seems to endorse a variety of church structures, but every New Testament church had a recognizable structure. We can disagree on what that structure may look like, but it’s not possible to read Acts or the Epistles without recognizing it’s importance.
  • The church provides authority: Authority! Just mention the word and people tense up. Abuses abound, guilt is common currency, and the church in North American differs little from any business down the street. Yet we all must personally come to terms with passages like, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.” (Hebrews 13:17) Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus could be considered all about authority! Nearly everyone has a horror-story about abuse of authority in the church. Here’s my take: authority without compassion and relationship makes a sham of God’s Kingdom, but compassion and relationship without authority misses God’s Kingdom entirely.
  • The church is a proving ground for love and forgiveness. “Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3: 12-14) These words are impossible to live out in isolation. I believe the Father designed families and churches as the venues for love and forgiveness. How can we live out these words apart from our families, or the church--which is the family of God?
  • The church equips God’s people. Christian maturity requires a nurturing family atmosphere. Gifts of the Holy Spirit and the development of Christian character thrive in a healthy community. Entertainment apart from equipping is antithetical to God’s plan for the church--there are plenty of churches that amount to nothing more than TV shows. But fellowship and community without equipping also falls short of the mark. If there's no equipping going on, it's not fully the church. Jesus is into lab, not lecture. And it's not recess, either.
  • The church provides a unique corporate witness: There have been exceptional individuals throughout history. Saints and geniuses appear larger than life, and because they are are so exceptional, they are easily dismissed as individuals, even freaks. But who could dismiss an entire community of faith? “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another,” said Jesus in John 13: 34 “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” The early church would either get you healed or care for you until you died. Widows, orphans and outcasts of the first century knew there was a refuge called “the church.”
Object if you will: it’s easy to do. The church has failed in every area. Today’s post is not a defense of the way things are. The church in North America is desperately sick.

Some things should change--and I believe the change begins with us as individuals. If you must leave your current church, then go. But where? If you can find a group of believers attempting to fulfill these six ideals you will land in a safe place. Leaving a sick church may be the best decision. Ignoring God’s plan for your personal growth as a disciple never is.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Monday's Meditation: What if Your Money's No Good?

The taxi driver watched while we emptied our pockets, shoveling money and tears toward people we barely knew . . .
I’ll never forget my first trip to Peru. As a rich North American I had traveled the world previously. I had stayed at the finest hotels and soaked up the sun on privately-owned beaches manicured by Marriott and Hilton. This trip was different. I had gone to Peru to talk about the Kingdom of God. I lived among the people of Lima and worked with them each day.
We stayed in a modest hotel and ate our meals with new-found Peruvian friends in local restaurants. We encountered Peruvian believers who owned but a single pair of shoes and just one Bible. This is nothing new. Countless North Americans have had their world rocked when they discover the economic needs of others around the world. But I caught a glimpse of Kingdom of God on the very last night of the trip. Our translators had been with us for ten days. We had spent more time with them than anyone else in Peru. As we waited for a midnight plane to take us home we invited our translators to one last meal together. We chatted like old friends and basked in the romance of a very short visit. Then it was time to head for the airport.
Our translators, three young Peruvians, hailed a couple of taxis and negotiated the price with the cabbies.  As they turned to say their final good-byes, a revelation swept over the North American team: we were going home: all of our Peruvian money would be worthless in a few hours.
There was only one sensible solution: give it away. The taxi drivers watched while we emptied our pockets, shoveling money and tears toward people we barely knew. We all searched for every coin, each paper bill: whatever might be of benefit to our new friends. If someone was watching from the sidewalk it made no sense: there was an awkward and mad scramble to give it all away. There was no accounting. There were no instructions. No strings attached. As “employees” they had already been paid in full. Now the affections of our hearts and our immanent departure commanded a different kind of transaction. That night we began to understand radical generosity. We were living a parable.
What if your money’s no good where you’re going? The old rules no longer apply, new priorities become urgent. The way you see the world has changed. Others may call you foolish, but you don’t care, because your values have changed.
This week’s meditation asks, “What is valuable in the Age to Come?” How do you tally up the score if wealth is no longer the unit of measure? After all, gold is used to pave the streets--clearly God has a different economy!  God’s economy--from first to last--has always been abundance: an abundance of relationship, love, peace, and joy. That’s the kind of wealth I want to have and share, and let heaven break into earth even now.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

God of the Present Moment

Every day is a god, each day is a god, and holiness holds forth in time. I worship each god, I praise each day splintered down, splintered down and wrapped in time like a husk, a husk of many colors spreading, at dawn fast over the mountains split. ~ Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm
“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” ~ Matthew 6:34

In last Thursday’s post I imagined the financial advisor reading the words of Jesus, pushing his chair back from his desk, thinking, “Surely, he can’t be serious.” Yet there, in the Sermon on the Mount, we find Jesus recommending living one day at a time in the manner of birds and flowers.
The Father--in his divine wisdom--decreed that we should live one day at a time. His decree did not come with words, but by his actions: he created the world in such a way that it is impossible to do anything other than live one day at a time. Each person drawing breath on the planet is allotted only the present moment. Riches cannot buy anything else, nor can intelligence or imagination. We are time-bound creatures because that’s the way he wanted it to be.
The Spirit invites us to reflect on his work called “time.” What lessons can we learn from his actions? I’d like to suggest at least five life-giving benefits of grasping God’s wisdom for the march of days:
He invented life’s rhythm. “And there was evening, and there was morning.” The stanzas of the creation poem contain a rhythm which translates into any language, and a universal experience accessible to any person. Genesis is more than a report from the past. It is the pattern for the present. We were made for the straight-time of everydayness. For example, our family life flows more smoothly when school is in session, when each day is a metronome of time and task. If we move away from the rhythm of a daily schedule we are a people playing our own music, out of sync with one another.
He is aware that the days add up. There were 25 years between God’s promise to Abraham and fulfillment. That’s just over 9,000 days. 9,000 evenings Abraham rested his head on a pillow and asked, “When, Oh Lord?” 9,000 mornings he woke with anticipation, looking for the fulfillment of divine promise. Between promise and fulfillemnt lies the present: ongoing and daily. The Father knew Abraham would have to experience each day one at a time--9,000 of them--and still God chose to speak 25 years before the fact. We, too, can experience the forces which shaped Abraham into the father of faith. Every mother waiting to conceive a child understands Abraham; each single person waiting for a spouse feels the emotions Abraham must have felt; even the oppressed people of the earth awaiting justice drink from the well of Time, supplied by springs of hope in God’s goodness. In our waiting we learn to trust that he is good, even if we are empty-handed in the moment.
Each day is the Father’s antidote to worry.  Prudent and responsible people plan their future, but far more of us try to secure our future through the power of our own efforts. But no amount of planning can anticipate the days ahead. It’s true: there are plenty of Bible verses about the wisdom of planning, but rare is the person who can draw up plans and then leave them on the altar of the God who holds the future. The scripture is filled with treasures extolling each moment lived in relationship with the Creator: “his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” How many of these passages find a place in our thoughts each day? Those who embrace the dew-fresh experience of God’s daily mercy are free from taskmaster of worry. Those who depend on their own plans more than they depend on the Creator of Time need to discover the treasure of time wasted with God.
Each day is God’s balm for the past. The mass of days and months gone by are a heavy burden to carry. We were not to meant to live in the past. Two small words in our thoughts can combine to form brain cancer: “if only.” If only I had chosen differently. If only they had not cheated me. If only I was not the one left behind. God does not expect us to deny or forget our past, but he knows that the weight of by-gone days is too heavy for anyone to bear. The balm for “if only” is a simple question we are free to ask every day: “what now?” To ask the Father “what now” acknowledges that we are not alone, that the promise of his presence is real to each of us each day. But we must be sure ask! The loss of loved ones, the shame of poor choices, the scars of abuse can all become part of our testimony today if we will walk with the One who is the Eternal Now. To ask what now is to recognize that we are in relationship with the One who has power and grace to redeem the past and set us on the path of life each day.
And yet, the days are gods: Annie Dillard was on to something. Our senses can be overwhelmed by the clamour of the present, demanding our full attention and even our worship. Each day I awake to a rush of light and sound that competes for my attention. The alarm calls my name. My calendar demands attention, the television tells me what is important today. The still small voice of God is always present, but it is not the only voice. The gods of Everydayness demand tribute. How should we live?
The present is only valuable when it sends us to the Father. It is an enemy if we find ourselves sucked into the urgency of now apart from the grace of the Eternal Now. Inside the husk of time is the God who exists outside of time. Each day is only valuable to us as we learn to grab the grain, break the husk, and discover the Ancient of Days inside. 

Monday, May 2, 2011

Monday's Meditation: Seven Thoughts on Unity

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
   running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
   down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
   were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the L
ORD bestows his blessing,
   even life forevermore.   (Psalm 133)

With understated simplicity God reveals something of his nature in just sixty-two words. He loves unity and bestows his blessing wherever he finds it.
His very existence models unity before creation, unity before knowledge, and unity forevermore. Tim Keller calls it the “dance of reality:” the Creator of the universe is somehow three and also One. Unity is simply another way of saying “God is love.”
We have trouble with this. We mistake uniformity for unity. We mistake intellectual agreement for unity. But there is no mistaking the oil of anointing in life lived together. There’s no mistaking the refreshment of a saturated mountain-morning when God’s kids learn how to play nice together.
In accord with Rachel Held Evans’ initiative, this week’s meditation invites us to muse on the nature of unity and God’s heart for his children. Here are seven starters, all from Paul’s letter to healthy church in a place called Ephesus. I will not give chapter-and-verse references because to do so would be to reduce the call for unity to mere Biblical argument.
  • We are--all of us--adopted into God’s family. This means we must learn a new way to live. We are called to take on a family identity that was previously alien to our way of thinking and acting. To carry our old ways into the new family of God is refuse the new identity he gives us.
  • The eyes of our heart must be enlightened, not the thoughts of our intellect. More than knowledge, we need the Spirit of wisdom and revelation.
  • He wants to show us the “incomparable riches of his grace,” but we frequently mistake the moment of adoption as the beginning and end of his grace. Having breathed the air of grace the first time, we think we received all there is. There is more grace to discover: it starts within the family of God and migrates outward.
  • There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. ~ If you’re keeping score, that’s seven “ones” and three “alls.” Did you notice that the phrase “one creed” does not appear?
  • We grieve the Holy Spirit not by what we teach or advocate, but by how we treat one another.
  • If we revere Jesus we will submit to one another.
  • “Peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.” The greatest intellect of Christendom opened and closed his love-letter with the words grace and peace.
Blessings abundant for the week ahead!