gratitude & hoopla: May 2006

gratitude & hoopla

"Nothing taken for granted; everything received with gratitude; everything passed on with grace." G. K. Chesterton



My daily reading this morning brought me to Hebrews 4, with its stirring final sentence:
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
I don't have much time this morning, but I think I'd like to settle right here for the next couple of posts. The author's extended disquisition on the subject of "rest" raises many questions in my mind. For example what is the place of "striving" in the Christian life? Or to put it another way, what sort of striving is approved and encouraged by God, and what sort is disapproved and discouraged? How does one strive to enter into rest? And what is the connection between rest and grace? More on these matters in the days to come.


Quotatious (2)

The Christian's instincts of trust and worship are stimulated very powerfully by knowledge of the greatness of God.
J. I. Packer, Knowing God


Don't Be Ashamed!

Paul says, "Don't be ashamed of the testimony" (2Tim 1:8) Don't be ashamed, in other words, of the message of the gospel that God has entrusted to you. Have you ever thought about the Gospel of Jesus Christ as something entrusted to you? If you are a preacher then I'm sure you have. And the trust is that you will share it.

The word "shame" seems often to be associated with defeat in the Bible. The Psalmist, for example, again and again depicts a situation in which he is surrounded by countless enemies stronger than himself, and he cries out to God, let me not be put to shame, but let those who come against me be put to shame (see for example Psalm 25:2 and many other).

In Paul's second letter to Timothy, the inference is strong that ministers of the Gospel are coming under attack, and many have indeed been put to shame (see v15). They have turned their backs, run and hid. They were not willing to "share in suffering for the gospel," as Paul says (v8b). And how does one find such willingness? Well, it is only "by the power of God," says Paul. Which brings us around again, as usual with Paul, to faith.

So we have here a picture of Timothy, whom Paul suspects may be feeling somewhat shy about exercising his ministerial gift (which in my opinion was probably preaching) out of fear of persecution. Paul's argument goes like this:
Timothy, my son, you have a deep faith abiding in you, so I urge you to fan into flame the gift of God that is in you--your gift of conveying the good news of Jesus Christ--and don't let fear or timidity hold you back. Be willing to share in the suffering of Christ, as I myself have done, only by the power of God. After all, Timothy, ours is a holy calling. God purposed us to be his message-bearers in Christ before the ages began! By this message we are able to bring life and immortality to light to those who sit in darkness, which is a part of God's eternal plan. So don't panic. God has given you a spirit not of fear, but of power, love, and self-control. Meanwhile, he is more than able to guard what he has entrusted to you. So then, be strengthened, Timothy, by the grace--the whole wonderful and ever-sufficient bounty--that is in Christ Jesus.
See how God-centered is Paul's focus. Everything, aboslutely everything, that he relies on for his strength is found it seems in Christ. Paul is relentlessly dependent on God and on the things of God. That's where he puts his focus, that's where he trusts, that's where his hope lies. May it be so also with us.



Christianity is not for the well-meaning; it is for the desperate.
Scottish theologian James Stewart


Fan it! (2)

[I have no illusions that any of these notes of mine on Paul's Second Epistle to Timothy might be somehow fascinating to others, but the process seems helpful to me. If you're interested, the previous posts in the series are here, here, here, and here.]

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 2Tim 1:6

All the pastoral instruction that will follow in this epistle hinges on this verse. That's my impression. Paul says, I remember your faith, and how you were raised in it by a godly mother and grandmother, and "for this reason" I remind you now to fan into flame (stir up, rekindle) the gift of God in you. Paul is going to follow this exhortation with much pastoral instruction, but it will do Timothy no good if he does not first stir up again that gift that Paul had conferred on Timothy by the laying on of hands.

Whatever this gift may be, it's rekindling is dependent upon--or follows from--the faith that has been resident in Timothy since his youth. So here's the picture. Timothy has a longstanding faith, which was inculcated in him by a godly mother and grandmother. In addition, Timothy has a "gift of God," which was conferred upon him by Paul, his spiritual father and mentor. But the gift, whatever it may be, needs stirring. It needs to be re-ignited. Perhaps it has fallen into disuse, or lies dormant. Given Timothy's faith, that's just not right. The basic structure of Paul's exhortation here is, given your faith, stir up your gift.

But what is this gift of which Paul speaks? In my opinion, it is Timothy's ministry, or is his ministerial gifts. That's why so much of what follows is ministerial instruction--how to be a good shepherd of his flock. Perhaps Timothy had drawn back, from fear, but Paul quickly reminds him that the Spirit in him is not a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind.

But all this leads me to wonder--how do you stir it up? How do you rekindle it? Good question, thinks I. More on this tomorrow.


Fan it!

Today I want to take a look at the imperative statements in 2 Timothy 1. This epistle is above all a mentoring letter. Paul, Timothy's mentor, is pouring out his final instruction and encouragement, quite as if there was no tomorrow. With a tone of urgency, he repeats to his son in the faith certain fundamentals, summoning him again to the fullness of his calling as a minister of the Word. I thought it would be instructional to list some of these imperatives of Paul to Timothy in this first chapter (and one from the second).

Imperative #1: For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
The "reason" alluded to here, by the way, was Paul's assurance that the gift of faith dwelt in Timothy. Timothy, Paul is certain, is a man of sincere faith. Therefore, he says, fan into flame the gift of God in you, for after all you have no reason to fear, since you have been given a spirit of power and love and self-control. Note: Paul justifies his imperative to fan the gift of God into flame by saying, I know your sincere faith. In faith, then, fan your gift into flame. Although the world may give you cause to fear the bold display of your faith, God has given you such things as make fear and timidity seem foolish and immature: power, love, and self-control. So fan it!
Imperative #2: Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God...
One senses that Timothy may have suffered at times from fear and timidity. So Paul enjoins him, since after all you have been given a spirit of power, love, and self control, you needn't be ashamed of the testimony that it is your burden to preach. Be bold and up front about the Gospel, he seems to be saying. You have nothing to fear, and nothing to be ashamed of.
Imperative #3: Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
As Timothy's mentor, Paul had left Timothy a pattern to follow. The pattern is "sound." Just as Paul, way back at verse 1, had described his ministry as being "in accord with the promise that is in Christ Jesus," here he says that the pattern or model which his life represents to Timothy (and to us) is characterized by "the faith and love that is in Christ Jesus." Paul is always keenly aware that his ministry is all about being "in Christ" and what that really means.
Imperative #4: By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.
That deposit which has been entrusted to Timothy is, I surmise, the "testimony" mentioned back in verse 8. There the imperative was "do not be ashamed of it." Here, "guard it." It is the testimony about Jesus Christ, the very content of all Christian ministry. Paul had summarized it at verse 10: "... which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." Guard that. Guard it by the Holy Spirit.
In summary, then, these 4 imperatives amount to a recommissioning of Timothy to ministry. Let it be so also with us. Let Paul address you, Believer. He says, "I know of your faith. Therefore, in faith fan into flame the gifts that God has given you. Don't be ashamed to speak out and walk out what the Father has deposited in you. Follow the pattern of Godly teachers and mentors, and guard the testimony that has been entrusted to you, guard its core truths about Jesus, even if you have to suffer for them. Though others may fall away, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus (imperative #5).


Grace, Mercy, & Peace

[I'm blogging through Paul's second letter to his son in the faith, Timothy. The first post in the series is here, and the second here. I'll keep going until it stops being interesting to me!]

Now we come to the blessing that is always present in Paul's letters in one form or another. "Grace, mercy and peace from God the father and Christ Jesus our Lord."

A few comments:

1) In all his epistles, excepting the two addressed to his beloved son, Timothy, the greeting is this: Grace to you and peace. But to Timothy he specifies a third ingredient: mercy. I wonder why? Is Timothy undergoing a particular trial at this time, or is Paul, out of sheer love for Timothy, simply overflowing with favor toward him, "piling on" the blessings?

2) Interestingly, when Paul concludes his letters, all of them (I believe), he does so with a simpler blessing: "Grace to you." It's as if the peace had been granted through the very words of his epistle and therefore need not be prayed for again.

3) The 3-fold favor that Paul bestows here is "from" the Father and the Son. Don't pass over that fact lightly. Paul is opening his letter with a blessing that comes through him from God the Father and the Lord Jesus. He is absolutely confident in this. He is not, in other words, simply "talking through his hat." Are we able to confidently speak blessings into the lives of our friends, unabashedly speaking as God's representative?


Four Thoughts

1. From Quiet Time Guilt, by Greg Johnson:
There are two religions calling themselves evangelical Christianity today: Strength Christianity and Weakness Christianity. Strength Christianity is that religion which places both feet squarely on the Bible and proclaims, "I am strong. I sought the Lord. I’m a believer. I’ve turned away from sin. I read my Bible and pray every single day. I’m for God!" Weakness Christianity, by contrast, places both knees squarely on the Bible and says, "I am weak, but the Lord has sought me. I believe, but help now my unbelief. I fail and am broken by my continued sinfulness. Have mercy on me, Lord, and grant me favor, for apart from you I can do nothing." [HT: Reformation21 Blog]
2. Others have made the point, but none have made it better than C. S. Lewis:
I have been told of a very small and very devout boy who was heard murmuring to himself on Easter morning a poem of his own composition which began "Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen". But of course the time will soon come when such a child can no longer effortlessly and spontaneously enjoy that unity. He will become able to distinguish the spiritual from the ritual and festal aspect of Easter; chocolate eggs will no longer be sacramental. And once he has distinguished he must put one or the other first. If he puts the spiritual first he can still taste something of Easter in the chocolate eggs; if he puts the eggs first they will soon be no more than any other sweetmeat. [HT: Eight Strings]
3. publishes a nice church-planting magazine called Cutting Edge. The latest issue is here. A perceptive and perhaps overdo (at least in the Vineyard) quotation:
These days a sense of self-congratulation seems to pervade many songs. We seem to be impressed, not with our works (because that would be heresy) but at least with the admirable way we’ve responded to grace. This trend is also evident in the many songs of outrageous promise: Forever I’ll love You, Forever I’ll stand, I will sing of Your love forever, Over oceans deep I will follow, and so on. That last promise sounds like the one Peter made. One wonders whether we might be singing in praise of our own competence.
4. Finally, would that all Christians might read the following words every Sunday morning before they go to church:
"The gospel is not 'God loves us,' but 'God loves us at the cost of his Son.'" (Derek Thomas)
[HT: Ligon Duncan at Together for the Gospel]

Timothy, My Beloved Child

So we learned a couple of things (at least) from the opening sentence of Paul's second letter Timothy. 1) Paul was an apostle of Christ Jesus. That is, he was commissioned by Christ to be His representative. And 2) this apostleship is "according to the promise that is in Christ Jesus." I said yesterday that there was something mighty in these words. Paul speaks much of being "in Christ" in his letter to the Ephesians. The unity of all believers is found just here--in their being "in Christ." And for Paul it is not simply a spiritual or ethereal statement, religious mumbo-jumbo, but a practical day-to-day reality. His representation of Christ (as an apostle) is according to, in line with, all that has entered into him by means of his having entered into Christ. Such things as are elsewhere called newness of life or the fruit of the spirit.

And so we come to verse 2:
To Timothy, my beloved child
The first mention of Timothy in the Scriptures is at Acts 16:1. Paul was on his 2nd missionary journey into Asia Minor, accompanied by Silas. On his first journey he had established a fledgling church at Lystra. Now, returning after several years, he finds a young believer, Timothy, spoken well of by all, the son of a pious mother and grandmother (as we will soon learn). Paul immediately sees that Timothy will be useful on this mission trip, and the young disciple is no doubt eager to join Paul. Thus begins a relationship that will blossom from that of apostle and acolyte to spiritual father and son.
When Paul writes to the Romans (from Ephesus) he sends greetings from Timothy.

When Paul needs to send a representative into a difficult situation at the Corinthian church, he sends Timothy not once but twice.

When Paul is suffering his first Roman imprisonment, Timothy is among those attending to his needs.

And when the Thessalonians, who are undergoing persecution, need some encouragement, Paul sends Timothy.
But by far the longest description of Timothy is at Philippians 2:19-24:
I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. They all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy's proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.
"As a son with a father he has served me in the gospel." That was Timothy. When Paul spoke of him to others, he usually referred to him as a brother in the Lord. But here in Philippians, and in the two surviving personal letters to Timothy, Paul refers to Timothy with the unreserved love of a father. "To Timothy, my beloved child."


Blogging the Word: 2 Timothy 1:1

I've decided to blog through Paul's 2nd epistle to Timothy. Today's post is the first in that series. I'm motivated to do this because I think it will help me to read and understand the letter more clearly if I write about it as I go. Because, let's face it, sometimes we read well, sometimes poorly. Sometimes as we read our minds wander here and there, and still we read on mechanically, uncomprehendingly, even while our thoughts are far away from the printed page. That's me. I suspect it's you as well.

I'm going to move slowly, a verse or two at a time, posting my comments and questions as I go. I am no Bible scholar, no well-trained exegete. These will simply be the thoughts of a reader. The goal is to read well. To read with understanding. As a "people of the Book," this seems like a worthy goal for us all.

BTW, I choose to begin with Paul's second letter to Timothy, simply because it happens to be next in my Bible-reading plan. Here's the opening verse:
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus...
Now, every NT reader probably knows that, in ancient correspondence, it was the normal procedure for the letter-writer to introduce himself right at the start. The ancient reader thereby always knew, from the very first words, who it was that had written the letter.

Put yourself in Timothy's shoes. The letter is from Paul. Paul, his father in the faith. His mentor, who almost single-handedly brought the Gospel to the Gentiles. Paul, the prisoner. Paul, the old man. Paul--we will soon learn--cold and alone.

The imprisoned Paul writes a letter to the younger Timothy, whom he thinks of with the love of a father. "Paul, the apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God." Yes, that Paul. And nothing could be more certain that his apostleship was, indeed, by the will of God, for no one knew that better than Timothy. And then we read this: "according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus." Paul's apostleship is in accord with--in line with--consistent with--the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus.

How quickly Paul blows open the mundane etiquette of letter-writing to immediately let mighty things enter in. The promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus. What is he talking about? In a word, the Gospel! The promise of life--it's a phrase that catches up all the promises of the Gospel and is perhaps grandly summarized in the words eternal life. We could spend a lot of time here. But perhaps it would be best to close these thoughts by remembering Paul's words to the Roman Christians, written some years before, when he said this about the faith of Abraham:
No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.
That was Abraham. That was Paul.


The Mystery of the Kingdom

A couple of days back I talked about the "mystery" of the Gospel. That was Paul's word in several places for the message that he preached. Now, perhaps he was making a point by using a word common to the mystery cults of his day, but it remains true that the Gospel message embodies something much larger than that which the human mind can grasp by purely rational processes. On this score, here's a relevant passage from George Eldon Ladd's The Gospel of the Kingdom:
This is the mystery of the Kingdom: Before the day of harvest, before the end of the age, God has entered into history in the person of Christ to work among men, to bring to them the life and blessings of His Kingdom. It comes humbly, unobtrusively. It comes to men as a Galilean carpenter went throughout the cities of Palestine preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, delivering men from the bondage of the Devil. It comes to men as the Disciples went throughout the Galilean villages with the same message. It comes to men today as disciples of Jesus still take the Gospel into all the world. It comes quietly, humbly, without fire from heaven, without a blaze of glory, comes like seed sown in the earth. It can be rejected by hard hearts, it can be choked out, its life may sometimes seem to wither and die. But it is the Kingdom of God. It brings the miracle of the divine life among men. It introduces them into the blessing of the divine rule. It is to them the supernatural work of God's grace. And this same Kingdom, this same supernatural power of God will yet manifest itself at the end of the age, this time not quietly within the lives of those who receive it, but in power and great glory purging all sin and evil from the earth. Such is the Gospel of the Kingdom.


Lewis on the Maledictory Psalms

Nate at Eight Strings quotes extensively in his latest post from Reflections on the Psalms by C. S. Lewis. Lewis is commenting on the "maledictory" passages in the Psalms, those disturbing verses that seem to be driven by hatred and spite rather than love and mercy. We avoid them like the plague, we Christians. I myself have often read a Psalm aloud in my small group or to a friend, hoping to bless my hearers, and found myself picking over these passages like a man in a minefield.

Lewis, of course, is able to shed some significant light on these matters, and although he doesn't really make these passages any more palatable--how can they be? why should they be?--he at least helps us to think about these things more clearly.


Just let me say this about that . . .

Okay, everyone is talking about The Da Vinci Code. Except me. I'm not one of the 63 million (or something) who have read the book, although I'm not saying I never will. But in keeping with my cranky refusal to get down and dirty with the latest Christians vs. the world controversy, I'll just let this one pass. Because, let me assure you, it will. Even as Gibson's The Passion of the Christ wasn't the incredible turning point in modern cultural history (or even church history) that many predicted it would be, just as The Prayer of Jabez is now a faint ping on the radar screen of history, and Purpose-Driven Christians are getting harder to find every day, so this Da Vinci thing too will pass like a summer storm. I'm tellin' ya!


The Mystery of the Faith

When in doubt, blog the Gospel. That's my blogging rule-of-thumb.

So I'm sitting here wondering what to blog about, and I remember, oh yeah, that's right, blog the Gospel!

And then I think of my Bible-reading this morning. First Timothy, chapter 3. Paul uses the word "mystery." He uses it twice. At verse 9, speaking of the qualifications for deacons:
They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.
And it surprised me here that Paul, in speaking of the fundamental qualifications for serving in a position of authority, doesn't simply say, they must hold to the faith with a clear conscience, which I'm sure would have sufficed to convey his basic meaning, but he says, the mystery of the faith. They must hold to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.

I want to pause over this word. It strikes me that we can grow so familiar with formulas of our faith that we no longer understand it as "mystery." Later, at verse 16, Paul uses the word again: "the mystery of godliness."

It's a shorthand phrase for our confession, for all that we believe. In one form or another, by one dead-end method or another, men had pursued the ill-defined will-of-the-wisp, godliness, for centuries. And never captured it. But even for those who found it, like Abraham, like Moses, it remained a mystery. Moses walked with God, yes, and yet God, he knew, was always infinitely more, was always other, was always beyond. In godliness we find something right here in, as Eugene Peterson calls it, "the walking-around-world," that is nevertheless strange, connecting us to the utterly above and beyond, the unknowable, untouchable, and ultimately impossible to comprehend.

In another place Paul speaks of this same mystery, the mystery of faith, the mystery of Godliness, as "Christ in you, the hope of glory." That's Colossians 1:27. We Christians are to be hotspots of the eternal and unknowable at work in the ordinary walking-around world. I ask myself, is it true of me? Have I been, in my daily dealings with others, mysterious? I don't mean to be glibly mystical here, but I'm supposed to be a connecting-point to heavenly things.

Well, let us not drain the mystery out of the Gospel. Let us not think it is merely a matter of words, assertions, confessions, etc. God's ultimate plan is to draw us to Him, and that is a mysterious thing to say and believe. This is what we proclaim, a mystery. A secret knowledge now revealed and yet remaining, nevertheless, quite strange, deeply mysterious.


On Being a "Discriminating" Charismatic Christian

I wrote yesterday of being "a critical Christian." But of course the word critical has, for many, an automatically negative connotation. The first of seven definitions at Encarta says, "tending to find fault with somebody or something, or with people and things in general." Synonyms might be: captious, fault-finding, censorious. Hmmm.

But then there's another side to this ill-favored word: "characterized by or involving careful and exact analysis and evaluation" (from WordSmyth). Here the synonyms would be: evaluative, discriminating, discerning, investigative.

Thing is, many Christians, perhaps especially the charismatic variety, tend to want to exempt themselves and their own thoughts and notions from this exacting process, and they do so by prefacing their thoughts with words like, "The Lord is telling me. . ." Or, "I'm getting a picture . . ."

Who has not known the Charismatic Christian who uses this sort of language to privilege his own beliefs, ideas, or impulses? It reminds me of the time some friends of mine went to the Toronto Airport Vineyard. A young person there spoke a prophecy over one of these fellows, and when the recipient expressed some skepticism about the "revelation," the young prophet replied, "Hey, it's my vision, man. Don't dis my vision."

Oh, well. So much for testing the spirits. But my point is that thought, human reason, which is after all a gift of God, gets disempowered in this process, and becomes something like an ugly step-sister to revelation.

I need to add here that I am a "charismatic" Christian, but I do believe there is a healthy approach to these matters, and that this "disempowerment" of the mind is not inevitable among us. And to help me think this through, I'm hoping soon to read Full Gospel, Fractured Minds? A Call to Use God's Gift of the Intellect, by Rick M. Nañez.


On Being a Critical Christian

A while back, over at Together for the Gospel, C. J. Mahaney posed the question, what is the most serious threat to the Gospel today? The question has stayed with me, bugged me, nagged at me, ever since. I know what I want to say in answer. I don't know if it's really the "most" serious threat, but I think it's pretty high up the list. I'm speaking of glib happy-talk and positive-thinking messages among Christians.

This kind of thing usually goes under the label "encouragement." Joel Osteen is, of course, the reigning master here, but I'm not going to pick on him. The problem is rampant. I think there are probably many negative ramifications, but I want to look at one in particular. The absence of a critical perspective--of critical engagement with, for example, a religious book, film, pastoral message, or church program. Instead, we in the church tend to aggregate at two opposite poles--that of the hyper-critical (you know them well, I'm sure, and no explanation is needed here), and on the other end of the spectrum the glib boosterism that must allow everything that comes from the pastor's lips, or from the current Christian bestseller, etc., to pass without inspection.

We all remember, if we belong to churches that got swept up in the "purpose driven" thing, the spirit of hyper-acceptance, insistently uncritical, with which people were expected to receive that book and its message. The marketing people at Christian publishers know how to take advantage of this attitude, and they do so with distressing ease. That's because we're suckers for "the next big thing." As consumers, we're no more independent or careful than kids at the video-game section of Walmart.

Douglas Groothuis addressed this very issue recently [HT: Transforming Sermons]. He speaks of the "constructive curmugeon" (what a good phrase):
The curmudgeon is constructive in that half-truths, bovine excrement, fashionable nonsense, unfashionable nonsense, and other offenses to the Good, the True, and the Beautiful need to be exposed so that the light may dawn and reality be revealed. Reality denudes us all in the end, no matter how much we hate it. The curmudgeon tries to love reality, deep reality--whatever the cost. She or he encourages others to love reality as well, come what may.
The sub-head over at Wade Hodges' blog is right on: "without disagreement, nothing can be learned." I (ummm) agree. And the corollary to that statement is, "When disagreement is discouraged, people remain ignorant."

Finally, at the risk of being overly-dramatic, let me just say that the day will come when a cleverly marketed product will come along, taking advantage of a long-entrenched spirit of uncritical acceptance, and sweep much of the church off its foundation and cornerstone, leading many astray. [Mark 13:22-23] We are called to be watchful, to test the spirits, and to know how to read the signs of the times. In short, we are called to be "educated" Christians. That's why we need to encourage a culture of healthy, constructive, and intelligently critical engagement with every text, especially those which comes under the label, "Christian."

Doug Groothuis wrote an excellent follow-up called Cheerful Curmudgeon Weighs In. This post says, in my opinion, just about the "last word" on the subject.


Good Question

I signed up a while back for Michael Card's weekly email devotional. As you might expect, it's powerful and thought provoking, not ducking the tough questions. Anyway, here's a piece of this week's devotional musing:
Whenever Jesus reveals Himself in a new way, He invariably must tell the disciples, "Don't be afraid." In our current passage (Mark 6:47-50), when Jesus walks on the water he must say it, to the synagogue ruler (Mk 5:36), to Jarius (Lk 8:50), after the Transfiguration (Mt 17:7), after the Resurrection (Mt 28:10). The question begs to be asked; Has Jesus ever revealed Himself in such a way to me or my congregation? Have we ever been so utterly amazed by His awesomeness that we required to hear those words, "Don't be afraid. It's Me!"


More on Colossians 4:2-4

Paul advises the Colossians to pray unceasingly, with watchfulness and thanksgiving, and then asks that they pray for him--specifically, that a door may be opened for the Word (that a door may be opened for him to speak/declare/proclaim "the mystery of Christ"). Paul, you will recall, is writing this letter from his first Roman imprisonment. His goal is and has ever been to speak of the mystery of Christ everywhere, even in the midst of hardship, and always to "make it clear."

Shouldn't that be our goal, too. As I said yesterday, I personally have not often spoken with people outside the church about Jesus. It's really rather sad, come to think of it. But before I left for my recent vacation, I sat down and wrote out three major goals, or points of focus, that I wanted to work on in my life.
1. To love and honor every person I deal with throughout the day
2. To pray watchfully--that is, to be watchful of the need for prayer throughout the day and to leap quickly into that situation with prayer
3. To talk about Jesus with people ("proclaim the mystery of Christ")
All three of these goals, taken together, describe oa lifestyle that is far beyond what I am living or have ever lived. God, give me the grace to grow in these three areas.


Vigilante Prayer and Open Doors

I've been dwelling on Colossians 4:2-4 lately. Take a look:
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.
I'm struck by this idea of praying watchfully. Pray steadfastly, Paul says, being watchful and thankful. I think that's way cool! I want to do this. I want to have an attitude of vigilance, being eager to pray for whatever need springs up. To pray watchfully. Maybe I'll call it vigilante prayer.

The second part I'm intrigued by in this passage is the phrase "an open door for the word." It was Paul's mission, his heart's desire, to proclaim the message of the Kingdom everywhere he went. That's what Jesus did. That's what the other disciples of Jesus did as recorded in Acts. But it's not just "scattershot" proclamation. Paul is looking for an open door for the Word.

I've got a hunch that God shows us these "open doors" every day, but we pass them by. These are the things I want to work on in myself. I want to be a vigilante of prayer, and I want to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom from day to day (or, to put it another way, tell someone about Jesus!). This Kingdom news is a mystery, but also something that one may "make clear," which is, says Paul, only how we ought to speak. Lord, show me your open doors, then give me the grace to make clear the mystery of Christ.

I want this to be more truly and thoroughly my way of life. How about you?


Are we peculiar?

While I was down South I saw a higher density of churches than I have ever seen here in the Northeast, which of course comes as no surprise. One of them, as I recall, sported a prominent billboard with the following message: "A Holy God, A Holy Place, and Regular People."

This striking reluctance to apply the descriptor, "holy," to the people of God, a reluctance on proud display, seems to me most sad. The NT writers had no trouble referring to the people of God as set apart, peculiar, and, yes, even holy.

I am reminded of all this as I near the finish of John Bright's wonderful book, The Kingdom of God. This book is powerfully convicting me. Although it was written over 50 years ago, its assessment of the Church seems as appropriate today as ever. On the matter of being "set apart," here's what Bright has to say:
God help the church that so blends into society that there is no longer any difference! Such a church will produce no quality of behavior other than that which society in general produces. It will take on the prejudices of society, and even d emand that its gospel support such prejudices. It will make itself a tool of society whose main business is to protect and to dignify with divine support the best interests of its consitutents. And that is stark tragedy! The end of it is a poverty-stricken church which utters no Word, states no demands, summons to no destiny--but has a host of activities that you would enjoy. And such a church is not the peculiar people of God's Kingdom: it has failed to be the Church and needlessly cumbers the ground.


On Spiritual Absent-Mindedness

This comes from Jill Carratini at Slice of Infinity:
Gallery statistics report that the average time a person spends looking at a particular work of art is three seconds. To those who spend their lives caring for the great art museums of the world, I imagine this is a disheartening sight to behold day after day. It would have been interesting to hear the thoughts of the St. Petersburg curators who watched as Henri Nouwen sat before Rembrandt's Return of the Prodigal Son for more than four hours.

I wonder how often I am more like the three-second viewer than a captivated Nouwen, moving through my days with my eyes barely open. How often am I surrounded by the presence of God, but unaware and unseeing—missing, in my absence, the bigger picture?


I'm back!

Back from my long journey. Ah, home! I had a wonderful trip, my first ever foray into the South. The Blue Ridge rocks! Virginia rocks! North Carolina is now my official home away from home. I was quite captivated. The people are way friendly, and there is an ease and a gentleness among them that is not so common up here in the Northeast.

Then there was Merlefest. No, Swapblog fellows, I did not get Gillian Welch's autograph, but I saw her act on three seperate stages this weekend. She kind of swept through the festival like a whirlwind. Her recordings simply don't even come close to doing her justice. The same can be said for Chris Thile and Nickel Creek. But the great thing about Merlefest was not any one performer or group, but the opportunity to simply soak in the music. I come away with the conviction that I really do need to make music and singing more a part of my life again.

The best "Southernism" I heard all week might have been in church on Sunday morning. Laurie, Nate and I attended a Morningstar church in Wilkesboro. The pastor there interrupted his message for a moment to say, "Y'all lookin' at me like a cow at a new gate!" Hmmm, us city-folk can only surmise what that must be like.

Finally, I want to send out special thanks to some gracious folks that I met up with on my journey. First of all, Milton and family. Thanks so much for your kindness toward us on the way down. It was a pleasure to meet you, Milton, and don't forget that proposal I made to you.

Then there was Curt and Julie. I believe I have made some good friends in you folks. And also Chet and Irene. You two are awesome! And by the way, Chet (who has been a reader of mine here), don't you think it's time for you to start blogging? And let me not forget Randy--you are a real sweetheart. Keep on keepin' on, brother!

That's all for now. I will have more to say about the "spiritual" aspects of this journey in the coming days (I hope).

UPDATE: Other bloggers reporting on Merlefest:
Bear Witness . . .