Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Notes on the work of God in and among his children

The God who formed the universe from nothing is out to form you.

God's kingdom people, his Sermon on the Mount people, are subject to this shaping and forming, through the work of the Holy Spirit, as individuals and as a people.

In the end, child of God, you will be more like Jesus than you ever thought possible. You are the object of God's creative genius.

As this shaping process goes on, you will find yourself becoming more meek, more gentle, less decisive in your judgments, less confident in your own abilities and more dependent on God's.

Consequently, you will be praying more. You will often feel helpless if not for prayer.

You will find yourself becoming more merciful. Words of condemnation will not come so readily to your lips.

And more quickly repentant, more ready to confess your weaknesses, failings, selfishness, and pride (for God will show you these things in yourself).

You will find yourself loving the truth more, even if at your own expense.

You will grow in courage for the sake of Jesus. You will be more and more inclined to Give God glory, to extoll the virtues and power of Jesus.

You will be increasingly prone, like Jesus, to cry "Enough!" to violence.

You will be less and less enamored of the systems and power-structures of this world. It's ideologies will begin to pale, to seem shallow and pointless.

You will be more and more the one who looks forward, less and less the one looking back.

It will become very easy to let go of slights, insults, old-scores, rumor-mongering, passive-aggressive gamesmanship, and the need to manage the lives of other people.

In fact, by the end of this process, you will resemble the most loving, self-sacrificing man who ever lived: Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. That is God's plan for every Christian.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Reading Report

The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing by Jonathan Pennington was a great book for me to read at the start of the year. I had made it my aim to focus my reading on the life and teaching of Jesus, snd this book helped me make a good start at that. Coming soon to my bookshelf, Pennington's Reading the Gospel's Wisely.

My current theological reading, though, is J. Richard Middleton's A New Heaven and a New Earth. I've only just started this one, but it's sort of blowing my mind. I'll no soubt be reporting more on this as I go. 

I do my theologial reading in the evening, but my bus book right now (mass transit reading) is High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic, by Glenn Frankel. Very engaging.

And finally, just before bed, I try to read a little more of Martin Chuzzlewit, by Mr. Dickens. One of his less popular novels (according to Wikipedia), but I'm enjoying it immensely. Rather over-the-top satire, it is both amusing and at times stunning in its social observations. As usual with Dickens, some passages just stop you in your tracks. You tend to want to reread these, relishing them over again. Dickens did not often write an ordinary sentence.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Have Mercy

"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy."

Mercy is a word I'm going to focus on in 2018. I'm going to look for it in my daily Bible reading, and I'm  going seek to grow in understanding it. What does God say about mercy? How important is mercy to God?

O course it goes without saying (but I'll say it) that mercy is very important to God.
"He has told you, I man, what is goodl and what does the Lord require but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." Micach 6:8
That word translated "kindness" (ESV) is "mercy" in the King James ad many others. "Kindness" is perhaps a more down-to-earth word for mercy. And kindness, you may recall is one of the fruits of the Spirt (Gal. 5:22).

In fact, that passage, Paul's list of the fruits of the Spirit, provides me with all my keywords for 2018. These are the concepts I'm going to focus on in my Bible reading this year.
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
As I said in the last post, all virtues are foretastes of the Kingdom of God. Their "down-payments" of the Kingdom. But (to take today's example) what is mercy? I'm not going to rest on what I think I know about it. I'm going to ask the Bible to refine my knowledge of mercy, and all those other virtues listed by Paul.

That's the idea, anyway. The Spirit wants to raise up a crop of kindness/mercy in the children of God. May all of us grow in mercy in the coming year.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

4 Virtue Points

  1. All true virtue is a foretaste of the kingdom of God.
  2. The Bible is a handbook for virtue development.
  3. By virtue I do not mean the avoidance of sin, but the development of a God-inclined heart, resulting in the virtuous (God-pleasing) life.
  4. See Psalm 1 for more details.

Monday, December 25, 2017

You don't have to go big, and you don't have to go home.

"Go big or go home" is the quintessential motto of our times. Everything has to be bigger, louder, faster. Everything has to be covered with more bling, more grandiosity, more hype. Everything has to be mega, everything has to be sexy, everything has to be "life-changing." As for home, well, "going home" means you're out of the game. Home is where you're sent for being inadequate to win the big prize.

Whatever happened to quiet? Whatever happened to slow? Whatever happened to the beauty of the ordinary? Whatever happened to plain and simple? Whatever happened to tranquility?

Hear now the Christmas meditations of Cardinal John Henry Newman:
THERE are two principal lessons which we are taught on the great Festival which we this day celebrate, lowliness and joy. This surely is a day, of all others, in which is set before us the heavenly excellence and the acceptableness in God’s sight of that state which most men have, or may have, allotted to them, humble or private life, and cheerfulness in it. If we consult the writings of historians, philosophers, and poets of this world, we shall be led to think great men happy; we shall be led to fix our minds and hearts upon high or conspicuous stations, strange adventures, powerful talents to cope with them, memorable struggles, and great destinies. We shall consider that the highest course of life is the mere pursuit, not the enjoyment of good.
But when we think of this day’s Festival, and what we commemorate upon it, a new and very different scene opens upon us. First, we are reminded that though this life must ever be a life of toil and effort, yet that, properly speaking, we have not to seek our highest good. It is found, it is brought near us, in the descent of the Son of God from His Father’s bosom to this world. It is stored up among us on earth. No longer need men of ardent minds weary themselves in the pursuit of what they fancy may be chief goods; no longer have they to wander about and encounter peril in quest of that unknown blessedness to which their hearts naturally aspire, as they did in heathen times. The text speaks to them and to all, “Unto you,” it says, “is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
It's Christmas morning as I write this. I noticed while watching football on TV yesterday that there's some sort of "reality" show out there that features competition for the most grandiose Christmas decorations. Who can deck their house with more lights, synced to holiday music, able to be seen from space, etc. That, in a nutshell, is what Christmas in America seems to have become.

I think you'll find that as our culture drifts further and further from its Christiandom moorings, its celebration of some sort of Secularized Christmas will become more and more tricked up with gaudy display, all designed to present you with one and only one choice: that is, the choice between the myth of salvation by acquisition, or the perceived humiliation of not having all that your neighbors have. To signal to the world that you're in the game, you might want to add that 20-feet high blow-up Rudolph to your front yard seasonal display.

But of course, nothing could be more unChristmas than all that. [I could go on my usual rant against commercialism here, and how it is ultimately dehumanizing us all, but I'll try to keep that in check.]  It's as if we were all born into some giant fun house at the carnival, and don't even realize that out beyond the colored lights and the amped-up music there remains the real world. Or at the least the possibility of the real. But who even cares anymore?

Christmas is about humility. It is to shepherds that the angels come--mere boys--not to kings or corporate CEOs. And if you want to understand humility, just look at Mary, the mother of Jesus. You'll find her story in the first chapter of the Gospel according to Luke. Or look to Jesus. The first chapter of the Gospel according to John might help here, or even Paul's tribute to Jesus, at the start of the 2nd chapter of his Letter to the Philippians.

Let me put it to you this way: the world does not want you to be at peace. So it will do all it can to keep you from hearing the gentle rap at your door when the Prince of Peace comes calling. This culture of go-getting, of brashness and self-promotion, of keeping up with the neighbors and putting on a good show, is killing us. It's frying our spiritual nerve endings, numbing our senses, keeping us trapped in the funhouse. But off in the night there shines a star, and down below, forced to shelter in a stable, a young maiden is giving birth to a child. That child will rattle the foundations of empire by going to a Cross. Praise Him!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

On Reading Matthew

I've been reading through the Gospel of Matthew in a fairly desultory way (I do want to change that "desultory" part). The idea was to read devotionally, in small chunks, maybe with repeat readings of the same passage before moving on, keeping notes in a journal along the way. The idea was, in short, slow reading. Thoughtful reading. Devoted and worshipful reading. I'd flown over the forest many times, and knew its shape and contours from above, but now I wanted to walk straight through, taking my time, following the paths, keeping alert.

Well, that was the idea. In fact, since then I've been stumbling through the forest, taking long breaks, distracted, missing a lot of the signposts and trail markers, and a lot of the beauty as well. The plan was a good one . . . on paper. It was in the implementation that the problems arose. This reading plan calls for, well, certain commitments from the reader. Not merely hitting marks or keeping to a schedule (like a Bible-in-one-year reading plan), but commitments that reach to the level of character, maturity, the earnest engagement of the heart and the full attention of the mind.

In these matters I have been inconsistent at best. Jonathan Pennington, in his book, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing, presents the model of the ideal reader. The ideal reader reads with keen attention. The ideal reader is aware of his own presumptions and biases and tries to set them aside. And the ideal reader of Scripture understands his own need for personal transformation. He reads with that purpose in mind.

Pennington's book is surely the right book for me to be reading just now. So my plan is to continue my devotional reading of the Gospel of Matthew, but I'll be going back to the start. Pennington's outline of the structure of the text is helping me to see how much I've been missing. And his focus on reading the text for the purpose of character formation, which after all was Matthew's intent, is exactly what I need.