Thursday, September 29, 2011

II Thessalonians 1 – Memo: what God likes, and what he doesn’t; pennant race reflections

The first chapter of II Thessalonians reads like a note from God to every religious person: here’s what God likes and doesn’t like.

First, the Good News. What He likes is growing faith in Him and growing love for each other. Especially in the midst of trials and persecution. So I need to hang on to Him and to my brothers and sisters, no matter what. Let trials press me into Him and them, and not pull me apart.

Now, the Bad News. The people who don’t know Him, who don’t obey the gospel of Jesus, and who persecute those who do - “they will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.” That’s word verbatim, as my old Navigator friend Bob Minor used to say.

All season long the Red Sox have been in the playoff run, they have been the “winners”. All season long the Tampa Bay Rays (they dropped “devil” from their name a few years ago, hmmm……) have been the “losers”. Until the last four minutes of the season, sometime shortly after midnight. The Sox lost to the lowly Baltimore Orioles. The Rays beat the New York Yankees. The Rays are going to Playoff Heaven, the Sox are Shut Out of the Post-Season.

In the pennant race of life, God bats last. That tricky devil on the mound can throw any curveball he likes, but it (and he) will be CRUSHED. It ain’t over till it’s over. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I Thessalonians 5: my thoughts on holy kisses, reader thoughts on purity, "Courageous"

Received interesting comment from a brother on yesterday's entry -

"An inner purity check that has helped me to  "flee fornication" is how dare I be responsible to help another being along the road to hell when, instead, I should be showing them the Way to heaven. I know I can be forgiven for my personal failure, but how shall I stand before God for a soul, for which he died, lost, even if in small part, because of my putting appetite before his work?"
And received this comment about "Courageous", which opens this weekend at Essex Cinemas, from our a missionary friend:

"I would like to add an emphatic encouragement to Guy's announcement about the movie which will be showing in Essex on Friday. I want to encourage all of you to pray for people (yourselves included) to attend and for hearts to be moved. 

Guy's friend is right that people MUST see the movie on the first weekend and even as many as possible the first day. The cinema should be full. We work with enough people in the movie industry here in France and have learned that the first weekend is all that counts as far as success. We'd heard that before but we know it for certain now. 

I believe that all of us believers who go see movies long and pray for purer movies with Christian values, ones that tell the truth in a wholesome way. In our work with artists we encourage dreams of talented people who want to use their talents for God's glory. That is what Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, GA has been doing for a few years. We can confirm that their motives are to honor the Lord.

We as fellow believers understand that Christians often wait for reviews before seeing a movie. Of course we do it for reasons of purity, and also we are sometimes unwilling to spend our money on weak movies that proclaim to have a Christian message. We don't want to waste our money--period. We pass the word around and take our time to see movies. Many of us wait to buy the DVD and we share them not wanting to spend too much money. I am sad to say that our patterns will never help movies that have good values and pure messages become successes. Movies have to be successful to be able to make more of a particular genre. The quality will improve as more movies are made...And the cycle continues.

So PLEASE do go see the movie on Friday and even again during the weekend. That is what counts. It may not be your favorite movie. You may want to see different types of movies with a Christian message but this is the best way to start!

And finally, a thoughtful reflection of my own on Paul's encouragement (I cannot say "command") for the brothers to greet one another with a holy kiss:
Blecch! Blleecchh! I know it's cultural and not sexual but BLECCHHH!!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

I Thessalonians 4: Sex, work and heaven

Paul continues to speak as father to children to this young church - not only young in the faith, apparently, but just plain young. He tells them three things:

1) Sexual immorality - avoid it. Learn to control your body so that you won't harm a brother or sister. If you don't, God will punish you. (Yes, that is the word my Bible uses. Maybe some wimpy translation says "correct" I don't know, but the staid, mainstream NIV says "punish". Punish, how? Not sure - but some just response to willfully harming others, profaning the temple, and insulting the Spirit of God that lives within me.)

2) MYOB. Love others but without nosy meddling. When Paul writes, "make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody" I think of our brothers and sisters the Mennonites in Lamoille County, who work with their hands, are not dependent on anybody, mind their own business, and have won the respect of outsiders.

3) Some people we love (by God's grace without meddling or impurity) will die before we do. Paul says do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. Christ will return, raising the dead in Christ with Him, then raising us, and we will all be with Him in heaven. A couple of days ago Tim and I were encouraging one another with these words. Is it okay to think that Diane might be praying for us in heaven? Yes, we agreed, it might be happening. The important thing of course is that she is "there" and in a little while, we will be "there" too. 

So as a son of God I choose to walk in His Spirit today: to love the sisters with purity, to love the sisters AND brothers without being a meddling burden, and to grieve their deaths yet celebrate their homecoming. Peace be still, all is well.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Thessalonians 3: the non-complaining parent

 Sometimes the kids just need to know they are loved. Paul reassures them in a dozen different ways at the end of Chapter 2 and all through Chapter 3 that they are the apple of his eye, the delight of his prayers, the object of his thoughts, and the destination for his next trip. He is so concerned about them that his only discussion of his severe trials (persecution, prison) is to let them know that he's okay and God is in control, and that really it's all working out for the best. He's not glossing, he's speaking truth from a Kingdom perspective.

My father suffered from Parkinson's Disease since I was about five years old until his death in 1996. I never heard him complain about it - never. Not once. The man who had won a national intercollegiate debating championship reduced to inaudible whispering. This amazes me. For that matter he hardly ever complained about anything, at all, to any of us. Self-pity just didn't seem to be in his makeup. There are some who might say he was "in denial" or "not in touch with his emotions." Maybe. Or maybe he had just decided that come what may, he wasn't going to dump his troubles on his children. He wasn't going to "teach" his kids by example to make excuses, or enjoy feeling sorry about themselves.

I love Paul's three-part blessing at the conclusion of chapter three: may God clear the way for us to come to you, may he make your love increase and overflow, and may he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless when Christ returns. For any parent on behalf of their children, a good prayer of blessing.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

I Thessalonians 2: "Courageous"

Paul talks about courage here. He doesn't use the actual word, maybe because courageous men don't describe themselves as courageous. Courage is something that just happens when you choose to obey God no matter what. Paul wrote (2:2) "we had previously suffered and been insulted in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in spite of strong opposition." Paul does like the word "encourage" though (vs. 11) - "For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God." The word encourage means literally "to fill with courage," and it is passed from father to child, even if (as in the movie "The Help") it sometimes skips a generation.

And speaking not coincidentally of movies and courage, there is a local theater owner who is showing some of his own. Dale Chapman of Essex Cinemas - one of the finest men I know and a real source of encouragement to Diane and now to us - has convinced the movie distributor of the film "Courageous" to allow him to show it in Vermont. These distributors rather firmly told him "forget it" there aren't enough Christians in Vermont to make it worth their while. But Dale insisted, taking a big chance financially - and now he needs the Christians to come through. He told me a couple weeks ago that it is CRUCIAL that Christians come on the FIRST WEEKEND, preferably the FIRST NIGHT. If they wait - forget it.

"Courageous" was made by the folks who brought us "Fireproof" and "Facing the Giants". Now I am generally not a huge Christian movie fan, but I will say this about all three of these movies: they are about guys and they are about courage and faith in the real world of work, school and families. So please pass along this note to any friends who a) want to see a good movie and b) want to encourage local businesses that take a "courageous" stand for doing something good.

Below is the info on the movie -

Essex Cinemas is excited to bring you EXCLUSIVE SHOWINGS of the movie Courageous, from the writers of Fireproof and Facing The Giants. Courageous opens Friday, September 30th with showtimes of 12:45, 3:45, 6:45, and 9:30!

Courageous is the story about four law enforcement officers whose lives are deeply tested as they embrace their calling to serve and to protect. As crime fighters, they must face danger every day. Yet when tragedy hits close to home, they are left wrestling with their hopes, their faith, and their priorities as men. Like iron sharpening iron, the power of their friendship invites them to face their hidden struggles as fathers. It is out of this honesty that comes a life-altering decision. With action, drama, and humor, the fourth film from Sherwood Pictures embraces God's promise to "turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers". Your soul will be stirred and your heart will be challenged to be...Courageous!

It's September 24, we must be in Thessalonica

Like tourists on the budget tour of Asia Minor, it's another day, another pile of ruins. Ruins amid Greece's second largest city (Salonika) now, but back in Paul's day it was an Aegean seaport AND a crossroads on the east-west 19-ft. wide Egnatian Way that led from Constantinople to the Danube River. Imagine Burlington in the late 1800's, where the railroad and the inland waterway of Lake Champlain intersected and fortunes were made in sheep and lumber. The mighty orator and Roman senator and proconsul Cicero said: “Thessalonica is in the bosom of the empire.”

An ancient inscription found in Thessalonica reads: “after death no reviving, after the grave no meeting again.” Had Paul been familiar with that inscription, no doubt he would have improv'ed on it to the crowds, as he did just down the seacoast in Athens with the statue to the Unknown God. Indeed both letters to the Thessalonians contain prophecy of Christ's return. Paul had stayed there but briefly on one of his missionary journeys recorded in Acts, and First Thessalonians is believed to be the earliest Pauline letter, written from Corinth in about 50 AD. Again, how amazing that less than two decades after being crucified by the Romans, the seeds of the gospel story of God's "Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead - Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath (v. 10)." After death - reviving! After the grave - a great rescue and reunion!

Most of the rest of the first chapter reads like many of his other opening chapters: greetings, I always thank God for you, I pray for you, I remember your work, faith and love, I know you are chosen because the Spirit came in power among you, you are a model to the other believers, others praise you, too. Like the Evangelist in Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress", Paul knew by God's grace how to love, affirm and encourage.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Colossians 4: Paul's friends, my friends

I love the Body of Christ.

As I often say I write this blog for me and to me.  But I also enjoy sharing it with my brothers and sisters. After yesterday's post I received one big "Preach It!" from our dear Nazarene sister, Merilyn Clinger of Cambridge (or is it Waterville?) who also loves Paul's exhortation to choose obedience. I could almost hear her singing "Holiness Unto the Lord Is Our Watchword and Song"! I also heard from two brothers who played important roles in the two Christian bodies influential to my decision for Christ in 1973: Rev. Dick Lawson, at North Avenue Alliance Church, and Tim Steiner, at Bethel Christian Fellowship (the Jesus People commune just a block down College Street from City Hall Park, with the giant second-story sign that read "Jesus Saves!"). And last but not least, I heard from our sister Becky Graeter, Marmalade Maker. A lay preacher, she said about being mentioned yesterday as condiment provider for my gravity-prone breakfast:

"I wrote a message about toast falling off tables and the high percentage that it would land buttered side down.  Murphy's Law.  There was an physicist who conducted experiments about Murphy's law.  "Whatever can go wrong will go wrong"  and its corollary "in the worst possible way or at the worst possible time".   So the odds are high (over 62%) that they land buttered side down.  Tables are built 29-30 inches and there isn't enough room for  tipped piece of toast to make a full rotation before it hits the floor. This physicist AJ Matthews(he conducted experiments) says :The universe is designed against us.  Even when they took away the weight of the butter and just made a B with magic marker, toast land B side down. The article was written by Jason Zweig in the July 2002 issue of Money Magazine.  Anyway the scripture I used was Matthew11:16-19, 25-30.and Romans 7:15-25.  The message was we are living in an imperfect world but God will protect us, that we will be rescued from the body of death by God giving his only son. The title was "My Protector, My God"  It was well received."
Paul loved the Body of Christ, too (and presumably still does!). Colossians Four is one of his typical "Final Greetings" passage. Like Tennyson's Brook, it runneth on and on. (Q: What does it mean when a Baptist preacher says, "And now finally, brethren"? A: Absolutely nothing.) Like me, Paul has so many rich relationships in ministry and worship with believers of very different backgrounds that he has to recognize and recommend them to others. There is Tychicus, one of Paul's oft-mentioned messengers. Onesimus, surrendered from slavery by his master Philemon to serve with Paul in the ministry of freedom. Mark, the quitter whose failure drove a wedge between Type A Paul and Barnabas the Encourager, is now someone to be welcomed by the churches. And dear friend and doctor Luke, the blessed companion on Paul's missionary journeys and as the elegant, factually fastidious author of Luke-Acts, perhaps the greatest chronicler of the Greatest Story Ever Told.  And then finally, sadly, Demas, who later would desert the ministry "because he loved the world" (2 Timothy 4:10). We can only hope that Demas, like Mark, found restoration.
Paul being Paul, his friends aren't just a social club, they are co-laboring evangelists: "Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders, make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." The goal of THIS not-a-social club is to make the outsiders insiders.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Colossians 3: Some historical background, and applications from my breakfast

Some interesting background on Colossians. If it reads a lot like Ephesians and Philippians, it's because Paul wrote all three while under house arrest in Rome. Unlike Ephesus and Philippi, however, Colosse in Asia Minor (Turkey) was a podunk town, its glory days as a trade crossroads long gone. (Just this morning in the Free Press I was reading of another outerwear manufacturer leaving Williston for the ski manufacturing hub of Portland, Maine. Colosse then, Vermont now.....) Anyway, Paul's Ephesian convert Epaphrus planted a church there, and then visited Paul in Rome, telling him about the gnostic/judaizing plague infecting his sheep. So Pastor Paul - perhaps Bishop Paul here in a hierarchical sense, which is probably forcing things a little - pens a letter that blends specifics and "boilerplate."

As noted in earlier blog posts, Paul likes to draw a straight line from Christian identity to Christian morals, and in verse 3:1, he does it again:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.

 I found it helpful to replace "you" with "Guy" to make it more personal, as if Paul were give me personal direction.

 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.
9 Whoa! Paul, how did you know that I went three-for-five on the Flesh-O-Meter when I dropped my toast, loaded with Becky Graeter's wonderful zucchini marmalade, on the kitchen floor this morning? Anger, rage, filthy language. Sometimes it is good to not have a wife to apologize to. Anyway, I apologized to God.
Interesting too that Paul speaks in an imperative: "rid yourselves". Commands like this that give me a headache when I think about hyper-Calvinism. God so clearly expects us to choose holiness, to co-operate, co-labor, with the Spirit of holiness and grace unto obedience and conformity to His image. There is nothing passive about holiness! I get tired of hearing people say "just let Jesus do it" or "wait on God" to perfect me. Yes, yes - but He expects me to do my part, which is to take my own little will and say "Yes Lord"! And having drawn me to that point, He then supplies the power through the Word, the Spirit and the encouragement and testimony of my brothers and sisters.
Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Verse 11 above is the foundation for one of the verses of the "The Great Reunion" which I sang again at Jericho last week. Pursuant to Pastor Andersen's sermon about loving Moslems because God loves them too (although not their faith), I changed it to "there's no Jew or Moslem in this place, no rich or poor are here; no black white brown or yellow, just friends and family dear; no Catholic or Protestant, shackled man or free; our all in all is Jesus, at last one family, at the Great Reunion."
As I wrote a day or two ago, I have been struck this year by Paul's uber-focus on unity and its importance in some mysterious battle in the heavenly places. He states below that unity is NOT just theological unity - although that is important - it is the unity of the Hallmark of the Believer, interpersonal love and peace:
 12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16
Reading below I now know what kind of music Paul would want sung in church......ANY kind of music that is sung "with gratitude in your hearts".  
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17
Perhaps including gratitude for my brothers and sisters who prefer different music? Well, I'm glad we've settled that unity-killer......

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Colossians 2 - more thoughts on how quickly Jesus became recognized as God

Colossians 2 contains more references to the divinity of Christ. What follows is my response to comments our brother Tim Steiner made about Colossians 1.

When else in human history has this ever happened - Jewish guy (or any kind of guy or gal) speaks and lives the truth as he/she sees it, avoids earthly power like the plague, and then gets deified a decade or two later, to remain so for the rest of recorded history?

It would have to be a miracle, a one-time thing. Stuff like that just doesn't happen, no matter how hard we (those afflicted by the Spirit of PR) might try. 

I mean, think about it. Love him or hate him, it's pretty remarkable how and why it all happened. I think a big but hidden reason is that the human heart is desperate for, was in fact made for, the story of the God becoming man and loving us so much he would take on the form of a servant and show us how to live and then die for us. It is all we could have ever hoped for. Religion is complex but ephemeral. Atheism is thin gruel. The reality is Christ.

Amen Lord Jesus, become ever more real to me and help me make you ever more real to others, unto that Great Day.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Colossians 1: one of my favorite verses....... vs. 13 - "For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in who we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."

Years ago I was hiking through the section of the Long Trail called Devil's Gulch. It was pitch black. My flash light was dead. The trail was one boulder after another. I was in the "dominion of darkness" and oh, what a relief when I finally made it to the lodge and saw the light of someone's lantern. I was saved!

I once was blind, but now I see......

....that Life was the light of men, and the darkness has not overcome it......

Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, Lord. Without your daily light I am back in Devil's Gulch, stumbling around and twisting my ankle.

How amazing it is to me that just a couple decades after leaving this earthly life, Jesus of Nazareth was being described by those monotheistic Jews who knew him, or knew people who knew him, with the following terms: Him all things were created

He is before all things

In Him all things hold together

He is the Head of the body

God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell within him

He is the image of the invisible God

The firstborn over all creation

Who ELSE gets stuff like that said about them? Two decades after he's gone? With no movies, newspapers or Twitter? And people believe it and are willing to die rather than deny it, and wash the feet of the infectious sick in His name?

He musta been some kinda guy.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Philippians 4: The Lord is near, so.....

I'm talking to you, Euodia. Listen to me, Syntyche. Never shy to preach unity, Paul gets personal in Philippians 4. He names names. But he does so in an affirming way, pleading that the two women who "contended with me for the faith" will stop contending with each other.

That phrase "The Lord is near" has never seemed to fit very well. So I decided to look at the rest of the chapter in the light of "The Lord is near," meaning His Spirit and Word is among the church and within me, is accessible and favorably disposed to hear my prayer, and is coming soon. Here's what I got.....

The Lord is near - who am I to contend with my brother? That's His job.

The Lord is near - I will be anxious for nothing. The peace of God which passes all understanding will guard my heart and mind in Christ Jesus.

The Lord is near - I may bring to him my every request, prayer and petition. He loves to hear from me.

The Lord is near - knowing this is the "secret" of living in plenty or want.

The Lord is near - I can do all things through His strength.

The Lord is near - He will supply all my needs according to His glorious riches.

From the song, "I Do Not Call You My Servants" -

The Kingdom of God is not far off
A castle where tribute you bring
but the Kingdom of God is among you
for behold now your friend is the King

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Philippians 3: slaves in the victory parade

Paul warns his readers about the judaizers, calling them mutilating dogs. Abstaining from a lengthy theological treatise like Galatians or Romans, he says in effect "I was one of them, and believe me it's all rubbish."

Reading the New Testament this year I have been struck how the grace of God forbid both Jesus and Paul the permitted worldly comforts of hearth, home, children, and social, religious and professional success. Both of them in obedience to God's insistence grace consciously turned their backs on pretty much everything the world (and me too) wishes in love for its children. And endured in humility and patience when the world abused them for their holiness. The relentless, murderous hounding of Jesus by the Pharisees.....the same treatment of Paul by the was the loving grace of God that called these men to endure this suffering. It is a sign of Paul's true saintliness - his "set apart" heart - that he could say he walked away from what many considered to be good standing with God and man in order "to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing his sufferings, becoming like him in his death."

With clarity of mind and not a little dread, Dietrich Bonhoffer preached a sermon to a congregation of Germans in London in the mid 1930's. The subject was Jeremiah, and himself, and anyone with ears to hear:

"Jeremiah was upbraided as a disturber of the peace, an enemy of the people, just like all those, throughout the ages until the present day, who have been possessed and seized by God, for whom God has become too gladly would he have shouted peace and Heil with the rest....The triumphal procession of truth and justice, the triumphal procession of God and his Scriptures through the world, drags in the wake of the chariot of victory a train of prisoners in chains. May he at the last bind us to his triumphal carriage so that, although in bonds oppressed, we may participate in his victory!"

How unlike is the true God from the gimme-goodies-God my flesh would pretend to worship, with my lust-filled eyes fixed firmly on my eager, outstretched palm. God of Jeremiah, Jesus, Paul and Dietrich, forgive my idolatry.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Philippians 2: We can never be as humble as Jesus - but if we shine like stars, the heavens will shake

I will never have the chance to descend from a heavenly throne and take on the form of a servant.

But I DO have the chance to leave my house and deliver some garden squash to neighbors who don't know me.

I will (probably) never be asked humble myself and become obedient to death, even death on a cross.

But I AM asked daily to humble myself and become obedient to the death of my proud "listen to me and do what I want" self.

I will never be exalted to the highest place, and given the name that is above every other name.

But I DO and WILL gladly bow the knee and with my tongue confess as Lord the name of him who "made himself nothing," to the glory of God the Father. And I DO and WILL resist the daily temptations to follow the example of the angelic pretender and would-be usurper Lucifer.

Someday in glory I hope I will learn the story of all of the marriages healed, kind words spoken, harsh deeds left undone, and good works carried forth in love, unity and humility, in response to Paul's depiction of the servanthood of Christ in Philippians 2. Other than the gospel accounts of the sermon on the mount and the Passion, there is no finer description of what Jesus "is all about".

And it is interesting that Paul brackets this hymn with earnest pleas for Christian unity. As in Ephesians, there is a powerful connection between Christian unity on earth - Mary and Martha and you and I serving each other in the hurly-burly and hum-drum of daily life - and every knee bowing and every tongue, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord. Maybe it's not just metaphor when Paul says that when we "do everything without complaining or arguing", we "shine like stars in the universe." I wonder - who or what is witnessing and evaluating my "shine", right now?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Philippians 1, from the other side

"Forgive me Blogger, it has been four days since my last blog entry."

I think that four days is as long as I've gone since February. Having to show up at a federal court at 7:30 every morning, handing over all of your electronic devices, and then spending all day listening to lawyers debate Vermont's energy future.......I tried to grab a few free minutes on a computer here and there, but it just didn't work. However, during boring sections of testimony I would grab my battered pocket New Testament and crib notes on Philippians.

A lot has changed since the first time I really read Philippians 1. Back then I was an earnest teenaged believer trying to memorize the whole chapter. Like the newish believers to whom Paul writes, I was encouraged by his confidence that He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. Like them I needed more wisdom, knowledge and discernment (although I probably thought others needed it more than I did). Like them I needed to know that my spiritual elders could use the Word to handle what life threw them. If they couldn't, what hope was there for me?

Thirty five years later it's me who prays for his young loved ones from afar, me who hopes they will have the spiritual smarts to handle the (O Baby, Baby It's A) wild world, me who knows "it is right for me to feel this way about you, because I have you in my heart." And that God knows how much I love them.

I am plenty healthy, emotionally and physically, and can reasonably expect a long, productive life of love and service. But still my kids do worry about me. Like Paul, it's my job to tell them the truth about the chains and guards of real day to day life, but without fear and self-pity and whining, because in Christ all godly choices will lead me to joy. As we enter new phases of life, I can serve them and God and myself  best by living such that "now as always, Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain."

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ephesians 6: Household Holiness

Paul devotes a lengthy discourse to the core covenant human relationship (marriage) but has much to say on three other household relationships:

1) Children: obey your parents because 1) it's right and 2) you will live a long and happy life. Paul uses the word "promise" here but I think it's more of a general principle of life: kids, your godly loving parents are your lifeline to the Good Life, don't let go.

2) Fathers, don't exasperate your children. This doesn't mean I can never, ever do the Funky Chicken in their presence, although judging by the comments and facial expressions when I means I must not beat the devil out of them, condemn them, weigh them down with burdens I myself will not carry, and in any way be a paternal stumbling block in their Kingdom travels. I must not withold love, but rather imitate Abba Father and as a dearly loved child, live a life of love.

3) Servants and masters, serve God, both of you. Servants don't be lazy, masters don't be cruel, for both of you are brothers with the Suffering Servant and adopted sons of the Most High.

I could blog for weeks on the Armor of God, but I will just say this: only warriors wear armor. We are at war, whether we know it or not. When the planes were heading towards the Twin Towers, America was at war. We just didn't know it yet. Our intelligence - our awareness, if you will - failed us, and great suffering resulted. Those powers and principalities waiting to see the Church advance united (Ephesians 4) aren't all our friends. So let's close ranks.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ephesians 5: Three-Step Mold Removal – Sunlight, Scraper, Copper

As a roofer, I know that mold grows in the darkness. It also bears no fruit. Left unexposed to the sunlight it just grows and grows, corroding the true material beneath and protecting itself from its enemy, light, with layer upon layer of corruption.

So Job One is to expose it to the light, by cutting back overhanging branches. And then comes the scraping, and that is nasty work. How well I remember the Morristown golf resort hotel roof on Rte. 100, 2000 square feet of it, on my hands and knees with shovel and scraper in the hot summer sun. And the killer is that no matter how hard you scrape, you can never get it all, and will destroy some of the roof in the process.

What really works is the constant cleansing of a downhill flow of a one-of-a-kind liquid. So I went to the peak of the roof, get out my hammer and nails, and nail in some strips of copper. And the rain slowly dissolves it, and the coppery liquid flows down, and destroys the fruitless corruption. Only then will the roof be clean.

What can wash away my sin
Nothing but the blood of Jesus
What can make me whole within
Nothing but the blood of Jesus
O precious is the flow
That washes white as snow
No other  fount  I know
Nothing but the blood of Jesus

"Nothing But The Blood Of Jesus" was written by 19th century Baptist preacher Robert Lowry, who also wrote “Christ Arose!” and “Shall We Gather At The River?”

And I cannot stop writing without commenting on 5:25, “Husbands love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” During my lengthy single life, I heard this verse preached over and over and over again until somehow it imprinted itself on my psyche, and I am glad it did because despite all my husbandly failings I never lost sight of the battle standard and rallied to it in crisis. Just one more act of grace for which to be thankful to You, Lord.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Ephesians 4: another straight line from theology to life

As he did in Romans 12, and did once again in Galatians 6, Paul in Ephesians 4 draws a straight line from Christian theology to Christian living: "I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received" and "you must no longer live as the Gentiles do in the futility of their thinking".

Paul calls me to be filled with the Spirit that unites Jew and Gentile and breathes love, humility and patience through the Body. Unity of the Spirit is everything: "one body, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all." How mankind has exchanged the power of love for the love of power: "Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuhrer!" was Hitler's cynical, pragmatic misappropriation of Ephesians 4:5. Even Samuel De Champlain, a true Christian humanist who actually succeeded ever so briefly in IMPROVING the lives of Native Americans and humbly living with them as equals, adhered to the 17th century French maxim of "La Foi, Le Loi, Le Roi" - One Faith, One Law, One King.

But unity does not require uniformity, in fact it excludes it. Paul goes on to say that "to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it", and that we all have been given different gifts. But the goal of the gifting isn't radical individualism, it is the promotion of godly unity.

In vs. 8-9, Paul also gets all cosmic again - saying how Christ ascended to the lower, earthly regions and ascended higher than all the heavens, filling the whole universe, leading captives in his train, giving gifts to men like a returning conqueror. One wonders if somehow the United Church "attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" is in some cosmic way, unseen by us, a sign of holy conquering and the cue for unseen powers to bow the knee to the One God and Father.

And here's another heavy thought: in vs. 15 Paul describes Christ as the Head. I know that He has born the sorrows of us all, every toe, pancreas, tendon and capillary, and that He understands and comforts us in our afflictions. Imagine sin and suffering as pain signals sent from every individual nerve ending to the brain (the Head). On Him were laid the afflictions of us all. Amazing love, how can it be......

Three other thoughts about Ephesians 4:

- If I "have a continual lust for more" for anything other than the Spirit and the Word, it is a sign of darkness and spiritual separation from God. It is a dying canary in the mineshaft.

- "In your anger do not sin." Paul knew a thing or two about going too far in his anger, and going just far enough. Anger is another canary, and not always in a bad way. It lets me know that something is wrong and needs to be changed. What that is - my attitude or another's - is a matter of discernment and wisdom. Why give the devil a foothold when I'd rather have mine (in Jesus' name) on his stinking, lying neck.

- "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, except what is helpful for building others up." There are few things that God specifically says he really hates, but one of them is gossip. When I practice or tolerate it, I grieve the Spirit.  

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ephesians 3: A Roman Catholic explains Ephesians 2:8-9; the mystery of unity

Our brother Tom McCormick responded to my musings yesterday about Roman Catholic interpretation of Ephesians 2:8-9 by taking time out from his already hectic life as a busy lawyer, father and husband to respond:

Guy --

I’m not sure how our interpretation is different. As I read the passage -- "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, lest any man should boast” – this is what it means to me as a Catholic.

We believe that believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation. We believe that faith is a free gift of God to man. God does not compel us to accept his gift. Faith involves a personal response to God’s gift. We do not give ourselves faith any more than we give ourselves life. We can reject the gift; we can lose the gift. We believe that grace is a gift, that our justification comes from the grace of God.

The faith/works dispute is one that’s outside my experience, and is clouded by centuries of emotion and sorrow. We believe that, as God’s creatures, we have received everything from him. Thus, we do not have a cognizable claim to deserve anything from him. If our effort earns any merit, it derives from God’s choice to work through us and our free decision to cooperate with him. We are called, as it were, to be distributors of God’s manifold gifts.

By “ritual works,” I presume you mean the holy mysteries, the sacraments. We do not believe that they “oppose the benefits of God’s grace.” Quite the contrary: we believe that they are signs of grace, instituted by Christ, by which divine life is dispensed. Baptism, for instance, is a sacrament. We believe that baptism is necessary for salvation. Jesus commanded his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them. Hence, the long-standing tradition of infant baptism in the Catholic church. (There is sophisticated, thoughtful exploration of how that might extend to good, worthy people who were not given the opportunity to know Christ, but that’s way outside the scope of my homework assignment.)

But, I do run on. … Here’s a link to a joint statement by Catholics and Evangicals on much that we do have in common in this area:

Tom has been a faithful reader and commentator on the One Year New Testament Blog since its inception, and I greatly appreciate his thoughtful, gracious response. Not surprisingly the issue of church unity (Gentile/Jewish believers in agreement on the substance of Eph. 2:8-9) plays a major role in God's economy - in fact it appears to be far more important than we can possibly understand. It has consequences to mysterious beings who are "not of this earth".

Speaking of the Greek/Jewish union, Paul writes that God's "intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms."

Who? God is the sovereign ruler of the universe of course. Is Paul speaking of the devil? God's own faithful angels? Abraham and Moses working in a new job description? Some other order of beings? "Mystery" is right, Paul.

And......WHY? What cosmic outcome is hanging in the balance of the Jew/Gentile unity in Christ? As Satan and God contended over Job's holiness in the midst of trial, is human history the stage for God contending with the enemy over the church's Gentile/Jewish unity? Consider that it was when the epitome of evil, Adolf Hitler, demanded in the 1930's that baptized, believing Jews be separated from the German state church, that Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemoller stood firm for gospel unity. Bonhoeffer said: "The question is really: Christianity or Germanism? And the sooner the conflict is revealed in the clear light of day, the better." Consider also that according to many eschatologists, Jesus will not return until Israel, or at least a remnant, embraces the gospel.

The cosmic, eternal consequences of our seemingly "every day" choices will be revealed in heaven, unhindered by earth's dark glass. I will rejoice and cry. Until then I choose to put feet to Paul's prayer "that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ."

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ephesians 2: Bible Verse as Pillar

Every flavor of the faith has a few "core" verses, scriptures taught from childhood and repeated over and over. If theology is like a game of Tetherpole, these verses are the pole, unchanging and unmoving no matter how much the ball of "debatable issues" gets batted back and forth.

As a new, teenaged believer at North Avenue Alliance Church and later in Campus Crusade for Christ at UVM, one such verse was Ephesians 2:8-9. I don't even need to look at the text: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, lest any man should boast." From a Reformation POV, that verse pretty much says it all. I learned to recite this verse almost as readily as our Catholic brothers and sisters learned Luke 1:28.

I know exactly what that verse means to me, and have been writing about the gist of it all last week during the Galatians blog posts. But I have often wondered: what do our Catholic brothers understand Paul to mean here? Is Christian salvation indeed by grace, through faith, and that not of ourselves? I ask this in sincerity and in a true spirit of inquiry because I know what I was taught lo these many years ago: Roman Catholic emphasis on on the salvific value of ritual works (confession, communion, baptism etc.) opposes the benefit of God's grace to the believer, per Ephesians 2:8-9 and other verses. Just ask any fundamentalist preacher! What I don't know, and have never really asked, is how a learned Roman Catholic preacher (like, say, PETE GUMMERE !?) would interpret this passage. Sure am hoping I hear the layman's 30 second elevator speech some day, and will be pleased to consider it, and pass it on......

.....And I say this in what I hope is a spirit of fraternal peace in Christ. For "He himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create the one new man out of the two...."

By grace I am a fellow citizen "with God's people and member of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone."

Monday, September 5, 2011

Three things I like about Ephesians 1

Quite a city, Ephesus. Crossroads of trade. Emporium to the empire. One of the Fab Five of major imperial cities, with Rome, Corinth, Antioch, and Alexandria.

Three things I like about Ephesians Chapter One:

1) Having believed, I've been marked with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing my inheritance. All that love, joy, encouragement, understanding - it's just an appetizer. The way the bread and the wine I ate at church yesterday was just an appetizer of the Great Banquet.

So it seems I have a lot to look forward to!

2) God bats last. If I'm down 10 runs in the fifth inning and just twisted my ankle tripping over second base - so what? Christ is seated above all rule and authority in this life and the next. With God batting last, my team will win. Until then he will help me and my teammates gut it out, whether we're ahead or behind.

3) Whooda thunkit that today no-one can name the five biggest cities of the Roman Empire, but almost everyone has heard of Jesus?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Galatians 6: What it looks like to keep in step with the Spirit

My beloved brothers and sisters in Galatia, for the sixth and final time I write about fleeing slavery by keeping in step with the Spirit. Brother Gaius asked last time “what does it look like” to keep in step with the Spirit. Perhaps you have seen copies of my letter to the Romans; first I taught theology, identification, and positional truth, and then described how a justified person alive to Christ and dead to sin will think and act. Just so today I will describe what freedom in the Spirit looks like in a person, and in a church.

The Spirit of God rebukes, forgives, encourages, restores. So if someone is caught in sin – whether by the tar baby of recurring sin or by the gloating, condemning fox – the Spirit leads us to humbly forgive and restore our wayward Br’ethren.

The Holy Spirit of God will hold unending Holiness Revivals in the tent of your body until Jesus returns. Attend often. Compare your holiness to His, not your brother’s. There is no prize for being the sweetest smelling skunk. Even in step with the Spirit you will never be too holy to avoid temptation, but dancing alone might make you too conceited to admit it.

The Spirit of God groans in intercession for struggling saints. Carry one another’s burdens, and thus answer His prayer that the Law of Christ be fulfilled on this earth.

The Spirit of God directs and empowers the gospel and its workers. Anyone who receives instruction in the Word must share all good things with his instructor. Work under the noon-day sun with him in the mission field to which you are assigned, sowing hardy, fruitful gospel seeds of words and deeds, pruning unproductive branches, pulling weeds. What you do will matter for eternity, for yourself and others. Do not mock God’s words and promises by acting otherwise.

The Spirit of God loves everyone, most especially Christians, so be good to everyone, most especially Christians.

The Spirit of God exalts the cross, despising its shame. Do likewise, even through persecution. Boast only in the cross, and thus keep in step with the One who carried it to Golgotha in humility, holiness, groaning prayer, and love, and in selfless furtherance of the gospel.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Galatians 5: What Not to Do, and What To Do

My Dear Galatians, This is the fifth and next to last section of my exhortation to you to continue in the Freedom of the Spirit and Forsake the Slavery of the Law, now listen up......

Wait, who is that waving his hand in the back? You know I can't see too well........Is that you Gaius? What's that you say? "Give me a for instance"? "Tell me what this means in real life?"

Well.....okay. Don't get circumcized. The judaizers insist that All Good Christians Are Circumcized. (And attend Temple every Sabbath. And tithe. And abstain from alcohol and meat sacrificed to idols. And bow and scrape like Spartan slaves before their learned men. Give them an inch of your freedom, and they will make you bear their burdens for a mile.) Never mind that the Law they profess to know says it should happen eight days after birth. True, our Father Abraham circumcized his entire household. Yet many righteous gentiles since then, both in Scripture and outside of it, have lived under The Blessing without cutting their flesh. And....oh, there I go teaching again when you just wanted an example. So - don't get circumcized. It's like telling God "by gum I DO need to obey the law and everything in it or else you will scowl at me and say 'Bad, bad servant!' and beat me, sell me or cast me out into the street."

My brothers, it is they who will be cast out if they persist in denying grace and the Spirit and sonship. As for you - if you insist on slavery, God will not deny you. The Father did not stop the Prodigal. So as for something specific you shouldn't do: don't get circumcized.

And're welcome. It hurts like, well, the place the judaizers are going to. As to what you should do - go, bear fruit. What's that, you say you need a wife first? No, not that kind of fruit....not that there's anything wrong with that.....oy vay, Gaius!....I mean bear fruit in the Spirit. When you pray, ask the Spirit to pray with you and for you. When you read and hear The Word, ask the Spirit for understanding. When you speak to others, ask the Spirit to bless others through you. Throughout your day, listen, follow, rejoice, serve, love. Co-operate with the Spirit as He breathes faith and love through you. And when you are lying on your bed tonight, in silence, just you and the Spirit of God, thank Him for being your constant companion and the seal of your inheritance as a son of God. O, we are rich men, you and I, Gaius.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Galatian 4: I do not call you slaves, I call you children

My beloved Galatians, for the fourth time I appeal to you as a father correcting his wayward children, as a mother who would endure the pain of childbirth for a second time if it somehow would give them a second chance. The judaizers call you servants - slaves - of the law, but you are NOT slaves! Indeed your life before I introduced you to the Spirit of Christ was slavelike enough, and will be again if you follow the enslavers. But you were never slaves by nature or calling - you were children slated to inherit everything from a loving Father. He knew that one day you would be called Sons, you would call him Abba, Father. He would give you everything that was His, and you would stand at His side in love and freedom, partners in the family vineyard. And now you are Sons of His inheritance, even if you are a woman. Or a slave, or a Viking, or a Republican, or a Quadriplegic, or a Gaul, or a Yankee fan, or a Roman Centurion, or a Jew.

Don't you remember the thrill of calling God Father for the first time? The thrill of your grateful spirit as it uttered those intimate endearments to Abba Father? To a Master, a Slave is only "good" for the work he does. The same Master who says "good slave" would, if asked, refuse to set that same slave free. And he would howl in disbelieving laughter if it was suggested that he and the slave shared the same bloodline and spirit!

What is true in Rome was true in Israel. The slavegirl Hagar's son was not the chosen seed. It was the son of Sarah, daughter of promise, through whom Messiah came. Earthly Jerusalem is under the law and enslaved. In heavenly Jerusalem there is grace and freedom. Mansions of inheritance await you. Slaves don't live in them. Sons do!

Start living like sons, my children. The Spirit you have inherited - walk in it. Your loving Father's hand of help and protection extended to you - grasp it. Life is a vineyard - rather than labor in it under a harsh taskmaster, walk in it with your father. Give me no more reason to fear that my beloved children will endure an eternity of slavery.