Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Former Things: A Kingdom Meditation for Sunday, December 15, 2019

Every one of us has bad memories.

Every one of us has regrets.

Some people simply move on and are seldom burdened by these dark thoughts. Others are debilitated by them. These old regrets come back to mind frequently and even disturb their sleep. They feel as if somewhere in their past they took a wrong turn, and there's no going back.

This is true hopelessness. This is a kind of mental prison. A pathless wood.

But the message of the New Testament is that a light has shined in the darkness, the Lord has provided a way, just as the ancient prophets like Isaiah said he would.
Behold, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs forth. Do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. [Isaiah 43:19]
 From the very start of his earthly ministry, Jesus was proclaiming this new thing. This was the good news.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. {Luke 4:18-19, Jesus quoting Isaiah 61:1-2]
For behold, I create a new heaven and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.  [Isaiah 65:16]
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. [Rev. 21:4] 
Jesus comes to open the cell door of those locked in the prison of regret. This is the good news of the Kingdom. Even now the "things to come" of the Kingdom are gaining ground in our minds against the "former things" of our past. Jesus would have us turn our thoughts from former things, from dead things, from old hurts and deeds done in darkness, and turn them instead to the things of His Kingdom. He is doing a new thing. Do you not see it!

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Reading in 2020

It's mid-December already and I'm thinking about a 2020 reading plan. I'm going to track my reading closely (using and try to read as much as I can. But with a plan, or at least some guideposts in place. And I mean by that a plan beyond reading the books that are lying around the house unread or the books found randomly in a little-free library (there are several in my neighborhood).

So a few categories that I want to keep in mind in the coming year:
  •  Re-read at least one literary classic (pre-1900)
  •  Read at least one book of Biblical theology
  •  Read at least one classic of Greek philosophy
  •  Read Augustine
  •  Read at least one book of political philosophy
  •  Read at least one book on economics
Along with all this will no doubt be interspersed the usual random stuff: Westerns, sports history, etc. But in general, I want there to be a perceivable focus and direction to my reading, so that it is not really random but instead a well-considered way. I plan to be talking about these things much here at Stranger Here.

Friday, December 13, 2019

3 things

I like this article about the journey of the Magi.

And also this piece about the Christmas story in the Gospel of Luke, and ho it has been misunderstood through the years.

Also timely in the runup "the season of giving": TenWays Materialism Brings Us to Ruin.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Gospel of Peace

I've been reading and enjoying and learning from Ron Sider's If Jesus is Lord. Sider is making the New Testament case for non-aggression, non-retaliation, nonviolence. He is making the case, in other words, for pacifism (or something very close to it). It is a book that covers much of the same ground covered by Preston Sprinkle's Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence.

This is a place the modern church does not want to go. It would be revealing to compare how often the NT uses the word "peace" to how often it is used in modern sermons. It would be good for us all to grasp the heights and depths of what Paul readily calls "the gospel of peace." [Eph 6:15]

I'll no doubt have more to say about all this in future posts. But for now, have a very peaceful day.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

A Few Good Habits

It is Day 5 of my practice of writing every day, and here it is evening and I'm just now getting 'round to it. I try to do these short blog-entries in the morning, but today that plan just didn't work out.

I do want to keep writing about the virtues (as I began to do here, here, and here), and also about a reading plan of sorts for the coming year.

As for today, I just wanted to say something about habits. I'm trying to form the habit of writing, for example. It is not a high bar I'm setting. Just write something, anything, here on the blog, every day.

There are other habits, like exercise, that I'm trying to be more intentional about. I'm 63 and I'm beginning to think I ought to quit wasting time. It's getting rather late in the day! I might say that the ultimate waste of a day would be to go without prayer, and I have had plenty of those days. So yes, prayer is a habit I want to work on as well.

Another good habit I want to work on is the reading of Scripture every day. These are things, both the prayer and the Bible reading, which I once pursued much more avidly than I do today. Perhaps Jesus might say to me what he said to the church at Ephesus:"But I have this against you. You have fallen from your first love."

Which brings me to the daily devotional I've begun using for Advent. Today's reading is here. You'll note the three "kneeling prayers" at the bottom: a prayer to the Father at morning, to Jesus at midday, and to the Holy Spirit at bedtime.  They aren't much, perhaps, but they're a start.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

In Pursuit of Virtue

It is easy enough for all this talk about virtue and about "the good life" to devolve into mere moralism. To be moralistic is to focus on morals, on goodness, apart from the One who is good. In the wider culture, moralism is deservedly despised, though not always for the right reasons.

But the Christian pursues virtue as a Christian. It is a Godward pursuit, with Christ going before us and the Spirit strengthening and enlightening along the way.

If Jesus, who in his earthly ministry embodied all the virtues, is not in view when we talk about virtue, then we are bound to drift into moralism.

So then the pursuit of virtue is the pursuit of God, and will always resemble David's way: "Create in me a clean heart, Oh God." As such, it is a way of humility, a way of trust in God. Always we are falling short, always we are lacking faith, and always we ought to be praying, "Lord, I believe, but help my unbelief."

But we should never stop pursuing it. The life in Christ is a life on the way. We know our destination, and we know that he who is in us is greater than he who is in the world. Nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Approaching Virtue

As I mentioned yesterday, I've been reading Karen Swallow Prior's On Reading Well. The subtitle of the book is this: "Finding the Good Life through Great Books."

"The good life" is of course many things to many people, but for Prior it is a life of virtue. Or perhaps it is better to say, a life of the virtues.

Prior lists 12 virtues (see yesterday's post), Ben Franklin had thirteen, and a quick search of the Internet will get you lists of up to 400 virtues. I probably started thinking about virtue a little more rigorously after I read Jonathan Pennington's book on the Sermon on the Mount called The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing, in which Pennington talks about the purpose of the sermon as one of virtue formation. Pennington, like Prior, connects the good life with the virtuous life.

I intend to reread Pennington's book soon and discuss it here, but for now I have a simple question for myself and perhaps for you as well: what virtue are you most lacking, most in need of, at present? I suppose this is another way of asking, what sin is giving you the most difficulty these days?

Using a list like Prior's, or perhaps Franklin's, or using a shorter list like the cardinal virtues or the theological virtues, pinpoint one of them in particular and ask yourself, how do I acquire more of this? The beginning of an answer (and middle and end) is in the most virtuous person who ever walked the earth: Jesus.

On the day of his baptism in the Jordan River a voice from heaven was heard: "This is my beloved son. Listen to him." (Matthew 3:17)