Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Scripture and Spiritual Formation

If there are things that together compose the sine qua non of the disciple’s life, Scripture is surely one of them. Scripture provides our primary physical revelation of both God and our purpose. It is with Scripture that we can measure our transformed being as we mature. Scripture is the authoritative record of God’s interaction with Man. But Scripture, simply learned, memorized, parsed, and critiqued in an academic sense is powerless and fruitless. Approaching Scripture as an interesting product of Man’s existence is to miss its import.

Scripture’s purpose is to lead us back to where we started; back to who God made us to be. Scripture reveals in its opening verses that Man (male and female) was made in the very image of God. Unlike the other animals, there is something different about Man and his being. It is not that we have physical bodies, or legs, or lungs, or blood. That we have a spirit is closer to the mark, but does not quite grasp the image concept. That image of God that we are is not just that we are spiritual beings in some aspect, but that we share the character of God Himself. We are intended to be people that model God, not because we have learned the fruit of the Spirit, but that we are transformed by the Spirit and evidence His character in our lives. We don’t learn to be patient so much as we become patient, and that from our innermost being.

Scripture then serves as a picture, of who we were made and who we are called to be again. When we read Scripture we should be able to see aspects of God in all the stories, in all the events. This revelation of God grows and becomes more defined as Scripture progresses. The Law is a revelation of God in various aspects, not the least of which is the Law’s demand for right action, justice, and mercy. The prophets pick up that theme, especially in Amos and Micah, and Jesus again brings it to the fore in Luke’s fourth chapter. The same theme is echoed by Paul throughout his writings.

But we see more of God as well. We see His promises being kept even if it seems to us to take an inordinate amount of time. Even when the people in the events cannot see God working, we can see Him as He shapes the events to achieve what He wills. We see His steadfastness and His loving concern for His people. While we see these as aspects of God, we have a suspicion that these are intended for us too. In our relationships we are called to be steadfast and lovingly concerned for one another. Christian charity is not new with the New Testament.

We also see that God has a purpose and that we may only understand a part of it. We come to see that trusting God, being the people we are made to be, even in the midst of turmoil, when what we thought we believed is tested to the breaking point, is what we must do. We come to identify so closely with God that in the final analysis we can do nothing else than trust Him. This is the essence and epitome of faith. Faith that is not faithful in excruciating trial is not the faith we are after because it is not the steadfastness that characterizes the people we were made to be. Faith is only tested when it looks as though faith has failed.

Our calling, and the proper use of Scripture is to transform us into people who so closely identify with God, His character, steadfastness, and concern, that we implicitly trust Him, behave out of our being without having to resort to Scripture proof texts, and that we become aware of our oneness with Him and others in this life.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

I Believe

As we begin a new year, we are reviewing our belief statement. Here's a draft of mine....
___________________________

I believe first and foremost that God is, that He created everything that is, and that He sustains the creation by His power.

I believe that God loves all people, that He seeks to commune with them, and that the separation of people from Him causes Him sorrow and grief.

I believe that God sent Jesus to reveal the character of God, to heal Man, and to make a way for Man to return to his original relationship with God which He did by living a faithful life and dying on the cross in submission to God. I believe that Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to Heaven where He mediates between God and Man.

I believe that God remains active in the world through His Spirit who is given to all believers and who transforms Man by working in them and interceding between God and Man.

I believe that Scripture is the divine physical record of God’s revelation of Himself and as such, is the primary guide for Man’s character and way of life.

I believe that salvation is a result of God’s grace, extended to Man through God’s patience and the sending of Jesus.

I believe that salvation is based on faith in Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of the world; that true faith results in repentance, submission to God, and dying to self; that faith, repentance, and baptism combine to effect the restoration of our relationship with God through our belief in His Son.

I believe that all believers are united to one another through a spiritual bond that is real rather than conceptual, and that we are united with all believers, those who have gone before as well as those yet to come, wherever they may be found.

I believe that God wills the healing of creation, and the salvation of Man; that He wills that we develop a love for others, mutually submit to other believers, and that each Christian is to build up the body.

I believe that God’s reconciliation and transformation of Man and of each believer is an on-going work of the Spirit to which we yield, allowing the development of the character of God within us. That same Spirit, given to each believer, serves as a real seal, and empowers us to live as, and be transformed into, likenesses of God.

I believe that the body of believers, the church locally and universally, exists to bless the world by revealing God to others, by healing the brokenness in the world, and ministering to all peoples; by maturing one another in the Faith, and transmitting the Faith through the generations.

I believe our corporate worship is a natural response of grateful, believing hearts to the graciousness and greatness of God. Our gathering together is itself a proclamation of the Gospel and a foretaste of Heaven in the coming together of various peoples united in and by one God. In our communion we reaffirm to one another, and we proclaim to the world, our faith in the love and saving sacrifice of the Son, and we renew our commitment to die to ourselves and submit ourselves to God.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Jesus Prayer

The Jesus Prayer is a very old prayer used by Christians to keep God in mind and keep themselves aware of His presence. It is very short, having a pretty much fixed content for centuries. The prayer is essentially a prayer for mercy but includes acknowledgement of Jesus's relationship with God and the Christian, and acknowledgement of the Christian's dependence on mercy as a sinner.

Worded variously, an Orthodox version reads "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." Worded or thought in this form, the prayer is easy to say and can be used to focus us on our mission and place in God's plan. In the middle of chaos or around distractions, this short prayer can serve a useful purpose.

During periods of more extended quiet, the prayer can be expanded by reflecting on its words. The following is an example of using the prayer in this manner.

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

"Lord, master, king. I don't know the complexities of those words, but I am prepared and I want to surrender my life to You. What matters is not what I want, but what you want."

"Jesus, the name above all names. Truely Emmanuel, you have graced the world with your presence and your children with your continuing abiding with us. Thank You for living in us, and giving us Your strengthening Spirit."

"Christ, Messiah, the chosen and perfect of God. Thank You for submitting to God's purpose, for faithfully revealing Him to us. As His annointed, thank You for dying for us, for rising to life, and preparing us to receive and to live in our God."

"Son, image, revelation. Divine and precious as a son. Representative and executor of our God's will and grace. As Son, You have declared the Father's will and have openned the way home."

"God, creator, and sustainer of our lives and world. No one else can take your place because You are so great, and powerful, and yet Your love is steadfast, good, and refreshing. Keep us in Your power safe and with You."

"Have mercy as an outpouring of Your grace and love. Overlook our faults and accept us as You do Your Son. We appeal to You for forebearance and patience in our weakness."

"On me, a creature. Frail, often times arrogant and prideful, having eyes and yet failing to see, ears to have heard but not hearing. Accept me in my rebellion and failures, and humble me and draw me back to you."

"A sinner; one who follows his own way; corrupt and hollow. I am nothing without you. Thank you for your grace and mercy. Accept the sacrifice of your Son as my atonement. Restore me to You and keep me safe."

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

The prayer can be used in a variety of ways and in many situations - while stuck in traffic, waiting in line, in an elevator, or simply as a final appeal and reflection prior to sleep or immediately upon waking. Repeating the prayer is not intended as simply something to take up time or as an unthinking activity. Rather, repetition must be done with our full attention to the words and import of the prayer. It can serve as an entrance to greater prayer, awareness of God's presence, and resting in Him.

Try it, you will come to appreciate this very old and yet still appropriate prayer.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Brother Lawrence

Brother Lawrence’s Practicing the Presence of God is an interesting and rewarding read. A collection of letters, observations, and reflections by a Parisian lay brother associated with the Carmelites that lived in the second half of the 1600’s, the book represents a departure from many “standard” works on spirituality and contemplation. In fact, having read many other books, this one seems to be a bit too simple. But therein lies its value. It calls us back to where we are to be headed.

You see, its easy, being human, to grasp hold of a new system of spirituality, learn its techniques in and out, and then proceed to structure our lives by it. We tend to major in living that system rather than using the system to get us where we want to be.

Brother Lawrence’s advice is simple and straight forward: Decide to love God and live in His presence, and all the rest falls into place. Not that we will have an easy life physically, or that we will always enjoy what we are assigned to do, but determining to live in the awareness of and in submission to God is greatly satisfying in that we return to the place we were made to be.

While Brother Lawrence kept the daily offices of prayer, his writing makes them appear to be interruptions rather than natural for him. In his life, one that starts the day with an “OK God, this one’s for you” sort of an attitude, praying before doing the slightest work, and then when idle, returning to the presence of God through prayer and contemplation, the formality of the daily office seems to be less than needed – although he does not recommend avoiding them.

There are other practices of Brother Lawrence’s that appear simple, but don’t allow for much argument. The first is at least a daily reflection on how he did that day. Did he work as well as he could have? Did he reflect his God in an honoring manner? This daily examen was not to cause himself more emotional pain, but was an honest attempt at continued growth and submission to God. Whether during this daily review or at some other point in the day, if Brother Lawrence detected that he had not been the person he wanted to be, he would immediately confess his shortcoming to God and ask for forgiveness. After that, he wouldn’t mention it again, trusting that God had heard him, and had forgiven him. That having been done, there was no reason to bring up the subject again.

No doubt you have noticed that there are no great systems of contemplation, no sacred places per se, no series of defined theological terms, no systematic superstructure at all. The entire enterprise consists of a serious and dedicated submission to God with a continual seeking to be in God’s presence through prayer and contemplation.

All other spiritual formation efforts and systems are designed to achieve at least this degree of living in the awareness of God. Perhaps a truly mystical experience of God would be beyond this type of life, but this type of life would surely provide the foundation for an experience of the Creator as direct as some writers have described.

Give Brother Lawrence a try. He might make your spiritual life a bit easier.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Why?

She was early forties, the wife of an up-and-coming preacher, mother of three sons, a great disciple, and a wonderful mentor and teacher. Her approach to life and commitment to God had garnered her respect and devotion from many women both younger and older than she, of the congregations she had attended. She had spoken at national conferences and University presidents attended her funeral.

So why did she have to die of various abdominal cancers at her age? In six months of being diagnosed? This question has been raised a number of times and my current responsibilities require that I address this question to members of my flock. It isn’t an easy question to answer, and I’m pretty sure that whatever answer I could devise would be sufficient for some and leave others wanting. Nevertheless, I need some sort of response.

It might be easier if she had died suddenly in a car accident. But she didn’t and so we’ve had our congregation and more than a few folks around the world praying for her recovery for six months. Many of those have prayed fervently and often. Their faith, and the wording of their prayers, have beseeched God for mercy and healing. Were those prayers worth the effort? Is our faith, is our God, real enough that prayer actually changes things or are all the miraculous healings we think we see really just coincidences?

Did God leave us alone? Is He out there? Does He care?

Her death has challenged the faith of more than a couple people. What is the answer?

Let’s start by admitting we don’t know why she died rather than being healed. What we do know is that it is in these times when we need to do a gut-check of our faith. Faith is usually easy when things are going well, when life doesn’t require a whole lot of us. But faith that lives only as long as the sun is shining is a somewhat weak faith. And those who are challenged by such events in life have to ask ourselves whether our faith is real or not – do we really believe this God stuff?

I do. And no, I would just as soon not have my faith tested in a manner like this. What I trust is that God is faithful to keep my soul from Hell; that I can trust what I have committed to Him until I see Him face to face. No matter what happens in this world. Detractors will say that my attitude is one that belies the “blind faith” of Christians, that we are somehow ignorant of life or we rely on superstition to get us through our sorry lives. Let them. What they do not know is the love, acceptance, and freedom we have when we live for God, if we live in God.

I rely on what we read in Scripture of people hanging on to God in the midst of hurt and loss. Not Pollyanna’s, but real people with real hurts who come back to God time after time because they have tasted His goodness in other times or because they trust that their faith is not in vain. I rely on the fact that good people die every day. Some young, some old, some well known, but all loved by somebody who has been praying for them not to die. And yet they die.

And when it’s someone else’s loved one, or someone to whom I am not as close, it’s easier for me to accept what has happened. Only when I feel slighted, when God hasn’t listened to my prayers, when I can’t make heads or tails out of what has happened, does my faith waver. While that is a normal response, it is also a highly arrogant one. I am a creature. I do not know nor understand God’s great scheme. I do not comprehend His way of working in the world. And so I am slow to question and ready to say “I don’t get it.” And I trust that what I have seen in this community of loving people is simply a foretaste of the love and sweetness of what being with God will be like. And I am convinced that my faith and my God are true because I see them in other people all the time.

Why did she die? I don’t know but I trust that God knows what He’s doing.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Ruth


The book of Ruth is set in the time of the Judges which means that the society was characterized by everybody doing whatever they thought appropriate. There was very little national political or cultic control. We also know that God would let the Israelites have some slack, and then when they got too far out of hand, He would either send a famine or have some other tribe or country attack somewhere, so that the Israelites would appeal to God, elect a judge over them, and return to God. When they had returned, God would set right whatever was lacking in His blessing of them.

It is in this atmosphere that we have the story of Ruth and we know that there is a famine in the land so that Naomi's family moves to another land for food. And it is there that Naomi's son finds a Moabitess for a wife. This is interesting since good Israelites weren't supposed to marry outside of Israel, but he does. In this place of shelter, Naomi loses her husband and her two sons, and she decides to return to Israel. Ruth as we know, decides to go with her and Naomi eventually agrees.

So they go home. Ruth dedicates herself to caring for Naomi and comes to the attention of Boaz, a somewhat distant relative of Naomi. Boaz eventually gets the family's permission to redeem Naomi's land and Naomi and Ruth come with the land. Boaz and Ruth get married and we find that Ruth becomes the grandmother of David.

So what do we discover about God in this story where He isn't even mentioned? There are a few items that we can discern based on our knowledge of God.

--While God may discipline His people, He is with them in that punishment, He provides for them in the midst of it, and they usually come out of it in better shape than they entered. Along these lines we can see the blessing of Abraham and Isaac in Egypt and Moab, Noah, Job, and David. Our God is a faithful God who doesn't leave His people. He is always with them.

--God has always accepted people who weren't "part of His people." Ruth is the heroine of this story. She's a Moabitess who's dedication to Naomi displayed personal character and steadfastness that is characteristic of our God. She had a heart like God's and as such, was used by God in a way she probably couldn't see or understand.

--God uses what appear to be calamity to work His purposes. Naomi's son, even though he dies early in the story and does not reappear, is used by God. It is he who marries Ruth, and it is his death that allows Ruth to eventually marry Boaz. I suspect that Naomi and Ruth didn't see that hidden blessing in his death, but God worked through it to bless the world.

--God often uses these non-God's-people to bless His people and the world. This is important. Often God's people seem to think they're special and are due blessing upon blessing because of their standing with God. From time to time, God's people remember that their purpose is not self-aggrandizement, but the blessing of others. If our standing with God nets us riches, gifts, and capabilities, it does so only so that we can in turn bestow blessing on other people. But this point is a bit different still. God blesses and uses those who are not recognized as His people to work His will. These "not of us" people are used by the Creator of the Universe to work His will. If they have Godlike character, He blesses them in so using them. Ruth is going to become a Mother of God. Through her will come not only David and Solomon - and every other royal descendant, but Jesus of Nazareth as well.

--God uses sinners to work His will. Boaz can represent another woman in the story as he is a descendant of Rahab, a woman who could not be described as a woman of God for much of her life. Having worked as a prostitute, she hides the Israelite spies and by her faith is saved from destruction. Here we find that through her, and this Moabitess will come the Savior of the world.

The story of Ruth is really only about a few regular, run of the mill folks, who live in community and try to get along without too much fuss. No one here is described as "great" although Boaz has some money and gets more apparently. But he's not going to show up many more times in Scripture. And yet, God works through these average people to literally save the world.

Toward the end of Hebrews 11, the writer finally says he's run out of time to rehearse all the other great people of faith. He's had time to mention Rahab - he gives her a couple lines, but he doesn't have time to describe David, Samuel, and a few other people that we recognize as "big guns." And he mentions some no-name people as well including women who received back their dead. There are at least two that we can identify: the Shunamite woman and the widow of Zarapheth. And then a few lines later the writer says "...the world was not worthy of them."

Amazing isn't it? That in this list of great people, the writer mentions unnamed women and says the world wasn't worthy to have them grace the planet. Old women who lived in backwater places, without names, who got to witness first hand the precense and power of our God. And in the story of Ruth we have three more women who would normally have gone unnoticed, two of which become ancestors of our God.

Often times we wonder if our lives and what we do really matter a whole lot in the big scheme of things. We want to know that we are special, we want to know that we are making an impact, we want to know that we are God's people because He blesses us. The fact is, God uses normal, everyday people like you and me to work His will in this world. We may not understand how it might work, we may not understand why we have to go through stuff, we may not understand how God could use us when it doesn't seem we amount to much, but use us He will if we seek Him and have His character.

The grace of our God extends to all people in all circumstances not only to save them, but to let them participate in His saving and blessing of the world.

Let Him use you as you live today.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Art of Prayer


At the recommendation of an acquaintance I am reading "The Art of Prayer, an Orthodox Anthology," compiled by Igumen Chariton of Valamo. The book is intended as a text on developing a deeper prayer life through recitation of the Jesus Prayer. The Jesus Prayer, for those that aren't familiar with it, goes like this: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me." The book says that some add "...a sinner." The idea is that the repetition of the prayer keeps the name of Jesus at the front of one's life, and accesses the power inherent in the name of Jesus. But this is not the entirety of the book. It also includes reflections and teaching on a developing prayer life that approaches contemplation, or the actual experience of the presence of God. In this aspect the book reads somewhat like Western works, most notably to me, Thomas Merton. Merton has written many books on the topic of contemplation as well as a few others. His most well-known work on prayer is likely "New Seeds of Contemplation." In that book, Merton provides 39 short chapters on various aspects of being, living, and communing with God. The present book is following the same concepts, but rather than distinct chapters by individual people, "The Art of Prayer" is constituted primarily of quotations from Orthodox spiritual writers of the 19th and 20th centuries. I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Numb


I am numb.
I am in shock.
Everything in this place has stopped.
There is no movement.
No life.

There is no color.
No black, no white. All gray.
Not like Arrangement.
Poorer. Much less distinction.
Gray. Shades of gray.

Around this gray the world spins.
Scenes fly by.
Memories tease my mind.
Much too quickly for me to see.
But I do see.

From time to time.
Some familiar detail.
As though those scenes have color.
Some face. Some smile.
But I cannot quite make it out.

I sit here on these ashes.
They are all that is left.
I get as close to them as I can.
She is here.
Isn't she?

I reach to touch her.
And come back with silt.
That leaks through my fingers.
And blows away.
She is not here.

It is no use.
She has gone.
This is all I have left.
These ashes.
This gray place.

My chest aches.
My eyes sting.
I cannot sit upright.
I cannot breathe.
God! Come to me!

It is cold.
Not an outside cold.
Arising from within my bones.
A cold that cannot be shaken.
A chill I cannot escape.

My bones are bare.
They fall apart.

Like a marionette without strings.
I am nothing. I am alone.
And no one knows.

I am numb.


Imagined grief upon the loss of a spouse, Albuquerque, NM

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Amish - or Did You See God?

The Amish, those quiet people who dress and live so unconventionally. These people who’s religious beliefs go back to a disagreement over foot washing, who are pretty much a side note in European and American history have come catapulting into our living rooms this past week.

Not that they wanted to. Not that being on television of all things is what any of them elected to do that morning. But there they are. Caricatures of a time that most of us have left so many years ago. Curiosities as it were of a time that should be gone forever.

But here they are. And what do they have to say to us? Well, what they say amounts to pretty much “Let us grieve our own, in our way. It’s nice that you want to help, but really, we’d rather move through this ordeal together – with our families. If you want to help, OK, but we’re not going to bug you about it.”

They prefer apparently to go through this with just as much relative silence as they do the rest of their lives. Quite a difference from the way many of the rest of us act when tragedy comes. No wailing on the television, no demands for justice, no complaints against authorities. Simple, silent acceptance of what has happened, and reliance on God.

In this event the Amish give us glimpses of what Christianity is supposed to be about. Whether it is 13 year old Marian Fisher who begs the murderer to kill her rather than the others, or the Amish neighbor that showed up at the murderer’s house hours after the event to offer forgiveness and prayer to the murderer’s wife, or the man who said “I hope they stay around here. They’ll have a lot of friends and a lot of support.”

It must be clear to any Christian in touch with their faith that the Amish response to what has happened is precisely the kind of response our God calls us to make. We can see in the Amish response a complete reliance on God, and a personification of Jesus as they recognize what has happened and yet all of them, from a little girl to an older man, look to the interests of others rather than seeking their own welfare.

Maybe the Amish do dress differently and perhaps we do see them as curious furniture makers, but can we see in them the very transformation that we want for ourselves? Can we look past the caricature and see the substance of a faith lived and expressed more profoundly than most of us can even imagine?

It has not been a good week for the Amish of Lancaster County or for mankind. But those who have eyes and ears could have seen and heard the very presence of our God in this world.

I hope you did.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Seventy-Seven Times

The Fall Quarter (which lasts as long as we want) class is entitled “What Does God Want From Me?” It is a survey of the Bible, but it’s more than that. Rather than a standard survey that looks at the main stories, we are looking at what Scripture tells us about God, about ourselves, and God’s desire for us. It should be a good study.

This past Sunday we surveyed Genesis chapters 1 – 4. One of the things often buried in standard surveys is the decedents of Cain. In particular, Lamech, the last descendent mentioned. Lamech, in the final position, is pictured as the worst son of Cain. He marries two wives and is recorded to have said:

Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; Ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech: For I have slain a man for wounding me, And a young man for bruising me: If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, Truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold. (ASV)

Lamech thinks he’s the biggest, baddest dude on the block. “I’ve just killed someone for wounding me. Let me tell you, if you think Cain is going to be avenged seven times, I will be avenged (read: I will avenge myself) seventy-seven times!”

In short: Nobody better mess with me!

Perhaps this brings to mind a passage in Matthew 18:

“I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven.”(ASV)

Jesus here is teaching about forgiveness; that we should be ready to forgive others as many times as it takes. As many times as they ask. As many times as we are hurt, whether they ask or not.

Do you see the contrast? Lamech’s pride leads him to an arrogant and boastful claim that he doesn’t take any guff from anybody. And you don’t want to test it.

Jesus on the other hand, turns Lamech’s seventy-seven times on its head. Rather than seeking to avenge ourselves, we learn to humble ourselves. We replace our pride and arrogance with care and love for others. We forgive seventy-seven times because that is the kind of people we are.

It has always been so. Lamech was the epitome of Man when we nurture our pride. Jesus’ admonition pictures God-like Man as he was made to be.

That is our calling. That is our being.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Communion Meditation

Ezekiel 2.8f – 3.2
And now, Ezekiel, open your mouth and eat what I am going to give you. Just then, I saw a hand stretched out toward me. And in it was a scroll. The hand opened the scroll, and both sides of it were filled with words of sadness, mourning, and grief. The LORD said, "Ezekiel, son of man, after you eat this scroll, go speak to the people of Israel." He handed me the scroll and said, "Eat this and fill up on it." So I ate the scroll, and it tasted sweet as honey. (ASV)

Revelation 10.8-11
Once again the voice from heaven spoke to me. It said, "Go and take the open scroll from the hand of the angel standing on the sea and the land." When I went over to ask the angel for the little scroll, the angel said, "Take the scroll and eat it! Your stomach will turn sour, but the taste in your mouth will be as sweet as honey." I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it. The taste was as sweet as honey, but my stomach turned sour. Then some voices said, "Keep on telling what will happen to the people of many nations, races, and languages, and also to kings." (ASV)

Ezekiel and John are both given a scroll and told to eat it. John is told it will taste sweet in his mouth, but turn his stomach bitter. Ezekiel tasted a scroll that was sweet. These are not the only people told to eat a scroll. Jeremiah is also told to eat the word of God.

After they eat the scroll, on which is written what God wants announced, both John and Ezekiel prophesy the word of God. The word, because they have eaten it, is readily on their lips; they need not read the scrolls. The word of God has become them; they have become it in the eating.

Just like God provided His word for the prophets to eat, He has given us His Word. Not on a scroll, but lived and evidenced in the life and death of our Savior. This is a Word of submission, of sacrifice, of death. Death to self for the glory of God. Sweet and bitter.

As we eat this remembrance of that Word, we take it in us, it becomes part of us; we become it. As we do, we proclaim, and we claim for ourselves that same submission, that same life of sacrifice of ourselves for others. We commit ourselves to that same sacrificial existence as we become God’s people in this world, moving among men to bless and minister to them.

Given at Sierra Vista, Arizona, September 3d, 2006

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Baptism Letter

Congratulations on your baptism! Below are some thoughts about baptism and the Christian life that would be worth your reading and maybe even keeping in your Bible. This letter is a little long, but I just didn’t know how to make it any shorter.

Your baptism marks your decision to follow our God, to yield yourself to Him, to let Him make you like Him no matter the cost. It is a milestone along your journey back to God. It is not the culmination or end of that journey, but comes near the beginning of a life-long adventure.

The Christian journey is one of transformation, of being completely re-formed. We change from selfishness and fear toward other-centeredness and confident submission. Just as our God loves you, let Him change you into someone who loves others. While that idea seems easy and desirable, in practice it can be hard and frightening as you attempt to make the idea concrete in your every day life.

It is eternally imperative that you see your decision to follow God as absolute and non-negotiable. There will come times when others will hurt you, let you down, or embarrass you. At those times it will be surprisingly easy to become angry and mistreat others – sometimes even those who have not hurt you. There will be other times when you will be tempted to take advantage of, or ignore others. In those times you must remember your decision to follow our God. Your example must always be that of our Savior. Jesus submitted Himself to God’s will, and to the interests of others. When mistreated, He did not lash out. Rather, He responded with patience and blessing – even to the point of dying for you. Jesus’ death must be your example of care and ministry in this world.

You will not be able to do this alone. Our God is with you; He is in you. More so, God is in the church, His body, His people. In community with God’s people you will be challenged, you will learn, and you will practice ministry and blessing for all God’s creation. You will also find imperfect people like you on the same journey. These people may disappoint you, but they can also provide you example, encouragement, and strength to continue. Love His people, join with them, help them, and find comfort with them.

Our God is faithful and steadfast. His love for you will last forever. He will be with you although at times it may not feel like He is. At these times trust that He is faithful and that He is with you. Follow Him through whatever comes. Our God is steadfast and so you must be.

Your decision has placed you squarely in the middle of a stream of people that began thousands of years ago and will continue until our God returns. You participate with Christians today, those that have gone before, and those that will come after you. See yourself as part of this grand procession of our God and His people through history. Doing so will give you a broader picture of our faith and give you patience with your people.

Christians through the ages have practiced spiritual disciplines. There are many of them, but I want to introduce you to three. The first is simplicity. Our culture and even our friends almost demand that we chase the most, the best, and more of everything. It seems that we can never be satisfied; that we always chase the next best thing. Do not fall into this trap of wanting more. If you do, you will never be satisfied and the stress of chasing “stuff” or having to look successful, will make your life miserable. Learn to live simply. If you can, you will have peace and be able to bless others out of the abundance that God gives you. Cultivating simplicity will help transform your physical and spiritual lives into the likeness of our God.

Develop a consistent and ever-present prayer life. This may include a daily quiet time, but nurture it into a life lived in the expectant presence of our God. Speak with Him and trust He is with you. This ever-present God will help transform your spiritual life, give you spiritual strength, and lead you to see the world and others as our God sees them. To love them as He loves them. Practice His presence and He will give you confidence in the midst of trouble.

Read your Bible every day. Do this in two ways. First, read big chunks at a time. Whole chapters, or even books. This will help you gain a broad understanding of God’s story. It will help you connect ideas, and see how they fit together. You will come to see our God and yourself in a more complete way, and better understand the workings of our God in this world. Secondly, read small bits – only a few verses at a time. Read the verses several times, maybe out loud, and reflect on them. Listen for what God is telling you and how you can use that in your life. Both these approaches, used together, but not at the same time, will open the Bible and our God more and more to your understanding. The growing realization of Him and His love for creation will help you find your place in the people of God.

As you practice these and other disciplines, look and listen for the message of God. Don’t spend too much time on do’s and don’ts, because they are secondary. Instead, see the picture and hear the descriptions of our God. What kind of God is it that you follow, and how does seeing Him change your very being? Seek Him, study Him, submit to Him, and imitate Him until He forms you, becomes part of you, and you become one with Him.

Finally, as you continue to let God transform you, make your whole life a ministry of blessing and care for others – for your family, your neighbors, your co-workers, and the rest of the world. Look for ways to be God in this world, to learn more about Him, to show others the goodness of our God. Learn two passages by heart:

God so loved the world that He gave His only son so that those who believe on Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For He did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might by save through Him. (John 3.16-17)

He has shown you oh man what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? But to love mercy, act justly, and walk humbly with God. (Micah 6.8)

I trust that as you follow Him, our God will bless you with peace and patience beyond your imagination.

Welcome to the family! We love you and pledge to you our care and mentoring as we together live the lives we were made to live.

God's Story

Explanation: At last night’s meeting of the Sacrament Review Committee, I made a comment, well several I suppose, that apparently revealed myself to be a heretic and ignorant. I make that conclusion based on the number of gasps, choking noises, and the number of people leaping away from anticipated lightening bolts. My comment was that God’s story isn’t about God, but creation. This post is intended to illustrate my comments and to place them in perspective.

God’s Story

In one aspect it is patently obvious that God’s story is about God. After all, who else would God’s story be about? Isn’t that why we would call it God’s story? Well of course. God is the actor, He does great and mighty things, it is He who moves in history to craft and to cause what He wants. Similarly, it is clear that any biography is the story of the person whose name is on the front of the book. It is a story about what they did, a description of their life.

But a person’s story, if read only to get the details of what they did, or even to laud them as great people, is of far lesser value than if read to gain insight and lessons from the person’s life. If we do not actually see their life from their view, we have missed the greatest reason for reading their biography. We become mere fact finders.

Let me illustrate. If we were to read Billy's story, we would read about him. About his job, about what he did on Tuesday, about the fact that he is a preacher, and a host of other facts. In short we would read a story about Billy. But if we were to enter that story from Billy's view, we would see that his story is not about Billy, but rather Susan. We would see a story about a man who loves, cares for, worries about, cries with, and prays for someone else. Billy’s story becomes less about Billy and more about Susan. Billy remains the actor, but the focus of the story shifts from how great a guy Billy is to what Billy is actually about. Billy is about Susan.

Or perhaps Billy might consider his life incomplete if his boys simply learned the fact that he was a preacher. Even if they all become preachers, if they simply were masters at the preacher’s craft, Billy’s hope for them would not be realized. Rather, Billy’s hope for them is that they come to see who Billy is, his love for God and his love for other people. Hopefully Billy does not preach because he is driven by fear, but rather because he is driven by care for others. Billy’s story is not about Billy. Billy’s story is about becoming the man God wants us to be. It is about other people. It is about his boys.

Similarly, the same is true concerning God’s story. God is the actor. We read of His great deeds, we see Him bless and afflict various peoples and beings. But that view is from outside the story. If we see the story as God see’s it, if we can put ourselves in God’s place in the story, it becomes clear that God’s love, God’s concern, God’s passion is the creation. Our God is an other-centered God and His story is about His care for others. God is about other people. His story is about people. His story is about you.

N.T. Wright argues that God’s story is about a God that cares so much about creation that He remains faithfully in covenant with it, that He created, loves, transforms, and will re-create the creation. God’s story, from God’s view is about something other than God. James Thompson argues that Paul’s great mission in life was the transforming of the Christians and the church into the creatures we were made to be. It is that transformed church that will prove whether Paul’s work was worth much. Paul’s story is not so much about Paul as it is about the church. It is that way because Paul understood that God’s story is about the creation.

We get a glimpse of this from the prophets. God calls the entire cosmos together as witnesses to His love and care for His people. He does so not out of some ego need, but because He wants His people to see what kind of God He is. He wants them to see that He is steadfast and faithful to them. And He calls them to be steadfast and faithful to Him and to each other. Not so much because He’s a great God, but because He is crafting in them the salvation of the world. They were to be God-people in the world. Their story isn’t so much about them as it is the creation.

We do ourselves and our God a great disservice when we come to believe that our highest calling is the worship of God rather than the love and care for the same things that are the center of His work. We are being transformed not into worshippers of God primarily, but rather beings that are like Him. Beings that are truly human and that bear the clear image of our God. Beings that truly are what they were created to be. We are made to join with, and be with Him.

Because we come to see what our God is about, we worship Him and yield to His transforming power to make us like Him. We don’t do so out of fear, but out of an understanding of our God. This is what Israel missed. They acted as though God’s story culminated with them and in other cases, that their rituals were sufficient. They missed that they were a vessel of blessing for the entire creation and when they missed that, their rituals were hollow. They missed that God’s story is about people other than themselves.

We (the creation) are the foci of His creative power, His sustaining power, and His saving power. And so God’s story is not about God. It is about people. We can fully join with Him only if we grasp what He is really about.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Nature and Purpose of Scripture

Scripture, as we have received it, has a particular nature and particular purposes. It is in fact a tool given to us to eventuate in some anticipated end. Regardless of our positions on textual criticism, on whether the Canon is the canon, the actual authorship of any particular writing, or the historicity of Scripture and its record as such, Scripture demands that it be taken seriously. To that end, I offer the following observations.

The nature of Scripture is what makes it much more than just another set of writings. Our belief that at least some aspect of its writing, development, and collation lies in the very person of God, requires that we consider what it says with considerably more weight than the writings of our favorite philosopher or devotional writer. If God has decided to speak to us, we need to listen.

However, Scripture also has a purpose. Perhaps the most famous self-explanatory passages is 2 Timothy 3.16. Or again, Paul’s statement that the purpose of various ministers is to build up the body (corporately and individually) into its fullness. Clearly Scripture is sufficient for Godly lives. Herein we find the ultimate purpose of Scripture, that we will become the images of God once again.

Scripture it seems has three purposes or aspects that are intended to issue in Timothy’s purpose. Scripture is revelation, it is a guide, and it is reminder. Scripture reveals the God of the Universe, the creator of everything. It tells us a few things about our God that we would do well to remember. That our God’s primary characteristic is love. We are also told that He is just, merciful, steadfast, patient, holy, giving, omniscient, omnipresent, all-powerful, and spirit. We are told that after creating the world, God so loved it that He sent His Son to die in order to clear the way for Man’s return to God. Scripture also reveals a history of God’s relationship with Man. This history is not intended to be complete but is bounded by the three purposes we have identified. This history describes the characteristics of God as they exist in our world, it provides guidelines and illustrations of what God expects of people, and it serves as a reminder of God’s interaction with Man. While this revelation of God would be important if it was for its own sake, it isn’t. The purpose of God’s revelation is to show us who we are to be. We are made in His likeness and He expects we will remain so.

Scripture as guide has a specific purpose and that is to illustrate to us what kind of people God expects us to be. Couched sometimes in national language, sometimes in community phrases, and sometimes in individualistic words, the point remains the same: God made us for, and expects us to be, people like Him. Scripture is not primarily a text on nation building, Temple worship, church organization, or relationship development, although aspects of all those can be found in Scripture. They are there not for their own purpose, but to guide us in ordering our relationship with God and in shaping ourselves to be like Him.

Scripture as reminder is critical. We have Scripture in writing so that we can remind ourselves of its message. That message is embodied in the revelatory and guide aspects of Scripture, and is essentially simple and uncomplicated. Our God, as powerful as He may be, has demonstrated Himself faithful and gracious time and time again. He seeks to bless others, and expects us to become like Him. We fail to do so at our peril.

Scripture then has an overriding purpose characterized in three ways. It provides us everything we need to live lives that embody our God. This is the ultimate goal of Scripture. To achieve that goal, Scripture serves as a revelation of our God, a guide that provides us insights into what being Godlike might look like in our world, and a reminder of who our God is, His interaction in the world including His mercy, steadfastness, and wrath. Scripture then is a tool and has no end in itself. Knowing Scripture is only profitable if we become it. The mark of a mature Christian is not one who can quote Scripture or who can intone well in an assembly, but rather one who embodies and who can explain our God.

Scripture is a tool. A divine tool, but a tool just the same. It does not exist for itself but rather to guide us back to where we were made to be – in the presence of our God, living lives that reflect His goodness. If we elevate Scripture to a place that ignores its purpose, that makes the tool our end, we do violence to it and are endanger of alienating ourselves from our God.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Road Trip

Just got back from South Carolina....3400 miles round trip in six days - with two dedicated to family stuff and sightseeing. I feel like standing up all day!

Got to drive through the Smokey Mountains, along I-40. On the way it stormed up a storm! Couldn't see past the end of the car's hood! Neat man! Neat! The Smokeys are beautiful and the fog just adds to the ambiance.

Time with family is of most importance, and we got two days to visit and enjoy each other. Met one son's girlfriend and got to harrass her for a while. She's a sport so she passed.

As good as the trip was, there were some issues that developed, and I'd like the states involved to fix these before my next road trip:

The interstate system was made to get lots of traffic from point A to point B quickly. The idea of a maximum speed of only 70 is pointless. My cars will easily do more than a hundred, and so let's look at boosting that speed limit some. Is there really any difference between the interstates or the traffic in say, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma? None. Zilch. Nada. So, it'd be nice if the two slow states could get with the program and at least meet New Mexico's and Arizona's speed limits.

What's the deal with Arkansas drivers that camp in the left lane? I thought only Louisiana drivers did that. Guys, if you have a line of cars behind you that stretches to the next state, MOVE OVER!

On a similar note, I'd like to propose a federal law that would require anyone in the left lane to be moving at least five miles an hour faster than the folks in the lane immediately to their right. Enough of these road blocks because "I'm going the speed limit" or "I have my car on cruise." Pretend like driving requires some actual mental activity and awareness of what's going on around you.

Thank you.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Spiritual Formation

Christians, among other things, are told to tell others about our God. Having told them, we are to train them in the way of our God. Individual Christians, through mentoring and friendship, as well as the church through its ministries of grace and teaching, contribute to the maturing and growth of disciples. Paul’s admonition that we should allow God to transform us into His likeness indicates the individual disciple’s part in becoming Christlike.

Spiritual formation is an on-going, life-long pursuit and service for ourselves and others. The demand of spiritual formation affect every aspect of our lives – personal, marital, familial, vocational. If the Christian life, if our submission to God, if our transformation, is worth anything, it must include our very being.

Spiritual formation then is not something else Christians do. We don’t go to church, engage in ministry, worship God, and then do some spiritual formation work. Rather, like all these others, spiritual formation is what we are about, it is our life. But more than the others, spiritual formation gives the others their legitimacy. If we are not transformed, if we are not being transformed, the other things we do are pointless.

Much of Paul’s pastoral writings and all of Jesus’ teaching are aimed at transforming people’s lives, calling us and exampling for us the surrendering of self, and what God-following looks like. As is obvious, spiritual formation is not new, and in fact goes far behind the coming of Jesus on this earth. God has always wanted His followers to be like Him. Micah 6.6-8 sums up what God wants from His followers and summarizes the teachings in the Old and New Testaments including those from Jesus and Paul. It reads something like this: “And what does the Lord require of you? He has shown you oh man: to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Spiritual formation is simply the process through which we approach God’s expectations for us. The result of spiritual formation is comprehensive Godlike lives lived in submission to Him.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Claudia

Met Claudia today. Nice lady.

Seems she is a resident at a residential care facility here. She’s been here only a week or two, the result of moving here with her daughters. They had moved here for work and asked if she wanted to move with them. She did.

One of Claudia’s daughters had called the church office, wanting someone to visit her mother. I happened to be there harassing our Youth Intern as he worked on the new webpage and our office administrator gave me the message. I’m glad she did.

Claudia is a talkative and relatively energetic lady. She’s in a wheel chair because apparently she tends to black out without warning. She sees the wisdom in using the chair, although I get the impression that given the chance, she’d just as soon take a relaxing stroll outside.

After assuring Claudia that we’d have folks come and talk, bring her communion, and a congregational bulletin, I asked if she’d like to attend services at the church. She was concerned about not having a dress to wear. You see, living most of your days in a wheel chair makes slacks and blouses easier. And so she doesn’t have a dress, or least an appropriate one, for church. Another concern was the imposition that having someone pick her up would be on whoever that might be. What with the wheel chair and all.

One doesn’t want to be a bother, you know.

I told her she could wear whatever she wants; we won’t care. And that we had more than a few folks who would be willing to pick her up and stay with her for services. If she wanted to come, we’d make it happen.

Claudia is a life-long member of our church. She’s familiar with our more conservative groups, but I don’t think she leans their direction too much.

I hope to be like Claudia one of these days. Oh, I don’t know that I want a wheel chair, or to black out if I stand up too long, but her commitment to the family of God, a desire to have human interaction, and concern about others’ scruples are wonderful.

HR

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Why Did You Change?

On one of the listserves that I read, someone asked "Why Did You Change? Over time or was it sort of an epiphany?" I thought that was a pretty good question and so I responded with the following:

In my case, epiphany is closer to the answer. But it didn't happen over night.

I used to be a rather callous react-er. No more.

By now, you all should know that I read and read about, and reflect on Scripture. That certainly has something to do with the change. There have also been EO classes and acceptance training.

In addition, I've seen little kids, to whom I had given chocolate the day before, now dead on the street and sidewalks, having died from mortar or sniper fire. I've had grown women and men ask - plead - for help. I have seen the panic and anxiety in their eyes. And I have not been able to help in the immediate moment. I would not want to be where they were. I have seen men shot by snipers as they walk down their streets.

I have learned that my value, your value, comes to us simply because we are alive. That everyone deserves respect and a sympathizing ear/heart - even when corrective action is required. I have learned that people thrive with caring boundaries because of the respect they provide them. In my case, I believe God loves me; that our relationship is secure no matter what happens to me in this life. This realization frees me to help people even when it looks stupid, or when others may think I'm being taken advantage of. It's not others I worry about. It's who I am that concerns me and my motivations for acting.

I also know how embarrassing it is to spew invective and then find out that I didn't understand the situation. I have received invective that I thought was misguided or ill-timed. I don't like the feeling of either one and I don't want others to feel them.

True love drives out fear, and fear is my understanding of why people develop dysfunctional behaviors. Most of my fear is gone; I trust God. Therefore, I have no need for defense mechanisms or self protection. I can behave as a whole person without need for shadowing or conniving. I can be honest and let you either accept me or not. I can admit an error and not
feel as though the world will end for doing so. I can let you be you, with all your foibles and not think you a threat to me.

Why have you changed?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Pepperdine 2006

Last week's Pepperdine Lectures trip was another enjoyable and rewarding trip. Classes were great (Cope, Shelley, Anderson, Beam, Walling, et al.), and the key notes were pretty good too. Weather was a bit of a downer the first part of the week - overcast and rather cold for southern California, but the last couple or three days were as expected - sunny and warm with just a slight breeze to cool it down a bit.

Ate way too much at our evening group meals. Fresh fish is great, but too much of it will add a few pounds and inches - especially when paired with creamy crab and shrimp sauces. By the end of the week I had reverted to my now regular habit of hitting some morning classes, buying some books, eating lunch on the university plaza, and talking to folks. Hit a couple afternoon classes, but generally the conversation, sun, and flowing Coke and tea were enough to keep me on the plaza until dinner time.

Bought just a few books, mostly from some of the speakers - autographed of course (Tippens, Olbricht, Spivey, and Beam). Also bought Rochester's series book "Preaching the Eighth Century Prophets." Since I'm partial to Amos and Micah, I'm looking forward to reading through that one. Has a chapter by Marrs which is bound to be good reading.

Back to work tomorrow. Hope you all have a great week!

HRoberson

Renovation

January is routinely resolution month with many of us making the same resolutions we made last January and gave up on in February. Let's face it, if we were going to exercise more, do we really need to make that decision in January? And if we do, what does that say about our earnestness in making that decision?

What kinds of resolutions have you made in the past? Have they had to do with you - eating better, exercising more, reading better books? Most resolutions I suspect are usually me-centered. After all, there's little to no accountability with those. What's wrong with a banana split for breakfast every now and then anyway? While there's nothing wrong with resolutions that deal more with me, how much better would be resolutions that improve the way we interact with people. Resolutions that have to do with learning to be, and trying to be better parents, better spouses, better Christians seem to be higher resolutions because they are focused on becoming the kinds of people we know we should be - the kinds of people God calls us to be.

Perhaps all this resolution talk is much ado about nothing. Maybe the energy we use in deciding on the resolution is all the energy we will ever put into it. Or perhaps, maybe the whole resolution cycle simply serves to soothe our psyches - let's us believe that we are making an effort.

This year, pick one thing to resolve. I recommend something like "to become more like Jesus every day." Or perhaps, "to yield myself, my money, and my time to do whatever God reveals to me." Making a resolution to take Me out of the center of my life, and let God really show me who I am to be could be the best resolution I could make. Not very flashy. Doesn't need a new $100 gym outfit. But it would be the most far-reaching and satisfying resolution available.

Resolution making and renovation seem to go hand in hand. Max Lucado compares God to someone who redecorates and renovates a house to make it better than it was. To fix up the sagging roof, clean off the walls, and repair the foundation. Our job is to yield ourselves to God so that He can work His renovation in our lives. Keeping this resolution won't be any easier than the others. In fact, it might be harder because it will require us to surrender ourselves, our rights, our freedom to God and to other people. But the results will be far better than flatter abs.

Well, the results will be better, but we might not recognize it for that at first glance. The following is a prayer written by a World War II concentration camp resident and illustrates the kind of personal, spiritual renovation God wants to work in our lives.

O Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not only remember the suffering they have inflicted on us; remember the fruits we bought, thanks to this suffering: our comradship, our loyalty, our humility, the courage, the generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this. And when they come to judgment, let all the fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness.*

Do you see the grace in that prayer? Instead of calling for brimstone on the heads of his tormentors, this God follower seeks to bless them. Amazing, isn't it? Why is it that some humans are capable of such open-hearted humility and the rest of us don't seem to be? This kind of renovation of our hearts and resolutions to live by it are not easy and chafe against our pride, our sense of fairness.

What might happen in your life, in your marriage, in your family if you could extend this kind of grace to your spouse or your kids? How much are you willing to let God renovate your heart, right now, today, to get you to such a place?

It will hurt. Pruning and renovating always does. But what satisfaction you could have when your relationships reflect the character, the humility, the tenderness that God seeks for them. Seemingly overnight, although it will take longer, the slights you used to perceive from your family members will disappear and you will become more giving, more forgiving. And you will look like God.

So what do you say? Want to make a resolution?

Have a great New Year! Now, where are my tennis shoes?

*From Rob Goldman, "Healing the World by Our Wounds, The Other Side 27, No. 6:24, in Richard Foster, Prayer Treasury, 1992, HarperCollins.

Note to Graduating Seniors

Congratulations on achieving a great milestone! This is but one of many to come over the next few decades, leading to the one that will usher you into the presence of our God. It is that milestone on which I urge you to keep your focus. All the others between now and then will simply be steps in that direction which, if you choose wisely, will keep the track of your life directed squarely toward that final marker.

God created Man in His image which means that somewhere in all of us – in you – is the image of our God. That image, that imprint, that spiritual DNA if you will, is the real picture of who you are called – who you were made – to be. In reality, it is you. Many people see their life’s journey as an outward trek, one that reveals more of themselves to themselves as they experience more. It is true that we grow as we experience life, but our journey to ourselves is really a round trip journey – we end up where we started and where we are meant to be, discovering in ourselves a deep communion with God.

That communion – that being one with God – is a liberating realization that with God we are safe regardless of the physical, the seemingly real, circumstances of our lives. As we become more aligned with, as we yield more to God, we come to realize that everything we see around us has some aspect of God in it. Because we are secure in God, we can take greater risks in loving others, enjoying His creation, and taking care of people and that creation. We need not worry about being hurt or embarrassed or abandoned by people and things because we are with God. We perceive ourselves participating in His essence all the time. While we cannot become God, we can let the rigid distinctions between Him and us dissolve so that we become extensions of Him in working His will in this world. In seeking to yield ourselves to our God, we like Him, so love the world that we give ourselves for it. We become no longer concerned about Me. Not because we are “doing” something, but rather because we become the Lover of Others that we were made to be.

This may seem hard to grasp now. It is difficult to write clearly. But our legacy, your legacy, is to be an example to others of someone who so deeply loves, that so closely walks with God, that they see in your life, and will remember once you are gone, that God walked in you. Strive to meet each milestone in your life in the spirit and in the essence of the person you were made to be, who you are.

There is a string of verses that I urge you to make part of your being. The first is Micah 6.8 and it describes what God expects of each of us. We are to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. Strive to do those things and they will serve you well throughout your life. John 3.16 and 17 tells us that God, in who’s image we are made, so loved the world that He gave Himself for it – not to condemn it, but to save it. We would do well to shape our lives so that we can so love those who the world, and even ourselves, find difficult to love, to help, to accept. The last verse is Paul’s admonition in the fifth chapter, verse 21 of his letter to the Ephesians that we submit ourselves to one another. It is often easy to love and serve someone at a soup kitchen, but often much harder to submit to people who are close to us. This verse reminds us that we are to love everyone, even those who are so close to us that they can often hurt us the most. God strives to love, not condemn them too. If we are to become like Him, we must let our submission and forgiveness to those closest to us reflect who we are.

I pray and trust that our God will be with you for the rest of your time on this earth, and I urge you to submit yourselves to Him, letting Him reveal His image in you, so that your legacy will be one that blesses the world.

April 27, 2006

Welcome and legal mumbojumbo

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