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.

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