Category: Discipleship

Season After Pentecost (Proper 15[20]) – The Gospel Passage: “Eating” and “Drinking” with good sense and judgment

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (John 6:51 – 52)
You know, beloved reader, it occurred to me that we have a unique view of this passage because we know what happens to Jesus. We know the story of the Last Supper. We know the motif that Jesus will fulfill at the end of his life. Here, as far as the disputing Jews are concerned Jesus is proposing something totally outside of their understanding, and extremely disdainful considering their dietary laws. Surely at some point the disputing Jesus must have figured out that Jesus was making a metaphor concerning full and total acceptance of what he was preaching.
“So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” (Verses 53 – 55)
So we pass from the disconcerting image of eating human flesh and blood to idea that what Jesus was preaching about had impact for life and death, and an existence beyond this world. And that Jesus was not just a mortal person but something beyond that.
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.” (Verses 56 – 57)
Let us step back for a moment and consider this. Believing in what Jesus is saying is a choice. I find it interesting that the writer of the gospel of John says the Jews were disputing amongst themselves – it does not say disputing with Jesus. But amongst their own group. Can we take this to mean that some of them understood what Jesus was trying to explain to them? That perhaps some of the believed? I would like to hold out the possibility that some did understand the message that Jesus was giving them. That they understood in the same way that Ezekiel ate the scroll offered to him, that they taken in and absorb the ways and wisdom of Jesus.
It also occurs to me that it does not take the wisdom of Solomon to know enough to follow Jesus. As I alluded to before, Solomon offered sacrifices in the “high places” meaning the places where offering to other deities were done. Jesus, looking back over the ancestral Jews, commented that they made choices that did not give them eternal life. And that for the traditions and rituals that the Jews of Jesus’ time abided by would not save them at the last day. Jesus was offering them the only thing that would redeem them and make them acceptable to the Divine.
“This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” (Verse 58)
I said last time we talked, I am optimistic that the majority of people in the world are kind and caring, making choices that reflect concern and undertaking for others. Choices, and more over balanced choices, are they way to make our way through the world and come out at a place where there is eternal life and a world to come. What we choice to believe has consequences, as does how we live out our beliefs. Consider carefully, beloved reader, and make good choices. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

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Season After Pentecost (Proper 15[20]) – The Epistle Passage: Showing good sense and judgment over the long haul

“Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15 – 16)
As part of my job today I spent time with a client who needed to go to the ER. I know from having worked with other clients, and from personal experience, being alone and unattended in an ER exam room can be one of the most disheartening experiences. So I am determined that no one under my care should go through that experience alone. What does that have to do with these two verses you ask, beloved reader? My point is – the days are evil only when a person chooses evil ways. When you put the care and well-being in the forefront of your thinking and planning, there is no chance of evil happening.
According to the commentators I read, the meaning of “because the days are evil” means there is so much temptation and opportunity to do evil and pursue unworthy things. Paul has a very dim view of creation and humanity. So many of the people I know pursue such worthwhile things. And while not perfect, their days are spent pursuing good and the good of others. It is for this reason hold (or try to hold) an optimistic and positive view of creation and humanity.
And I have to wonder, were the people in the time of Paul really as thoughtless, evil, and cruel as he seems to anticipate they will be? Was there a difference between the way people lived and interacted with others, and the way we treat our fellow brother/sister in humanity? Or am I just that naïve about the world around me?
“So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Verses 17 – 20)
Okay, I have to admit the rest of this passage does sound pretty unrealistic – I am pretty sure the people around me are not bursting out in praise and song to the Lord every few minutes. Maybe there is, and should be, a middle ground. Doing good and seeking to do good, but not going around as a Christian choir in a gospel worship service. Even the best of gospel worship service choirs sings their final “Amen” and puts down their sheet music. Life goes on.
What Paul does not seem to give allowance for is living a Christian life in the long run, generation after generation. Could Paul see that some two thousand years plus we would still be waiting for the return of Jesus? And then I wonder, did Paul live a life as he described – did Paul “sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs . . . . . singing and making melody to the Lord in [his] hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”?
We live in a real and ongoing world. If we veer too much to the side of personal indulgence and acting without care and compassion, then yes we live in evil days. But you can veer the other direction too much also, so focused on praise and worship that pragmatics of life and the daily reality of living are not given enough attention. If we are going to survive in the long haul, we need to have balance between living in this world and living for the sake of the world to come. And before you throw up your hands in despair thinking that balance is not possible, let me tell you, Jesus lived a balanced life. Yes, he was Divine. But he was also human, and appreciated the needs of a human life. He may have only lived on this earth until the human age of thirty-three, but the example he left us will carry us through the long haul. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 14[19]) – The Psalm Passage: When sorrow is deep . . . .

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.” (Psalms 13:1)
We define our own depths, beloved reader. What is one person’s depths could be another person’s everyday. But that disparity does not make it any less appropriate to cry out to the Lord. There no such thing as a depth too deep for the Lord to reach, or a shallow depth too small for the Lord to be concerned about. And there is no limit on how many times we can cry out to the Divine.
“Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!
If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.” (Verses 2 – 4)
As to our level of sinfulness as a deterrent to the Lord’s coming to us, there is no deterrent. Our sincere cry is enough for the Lord to break through and come to us. Do not hesitate to call on the Divine, beloved reader.
“I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem. It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.” (Verses 5 – 8)
. . . .  Praise deeply
“I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad.
O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together.” (Psalm 34:1 – 3)
It takes great courage and faith to praise the Lord when you yourself in the depths. I will admit it is hard for me to praise the Divine when I am feeling so low and helpless, griped in the fears and concerns that pursue me. If I could but turn around when I am pursued and praise the Lord, I believe what is causing me distress would be overwhelmed by the Presence of the Lord.

“I sought the LORD, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor soul cried, and was heard by the LORD, and was saved from every trouble.
The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.
O taste and see that the LORD is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.” (Verses 4 – 8)
It bears repeating, beloved reader, that the psalmist had the skill and ability to praise the Lord in time of trouble. Or at least turn to the Lord for support and direction. Or at the very least, cry out to the Lord in times of trouble. But it is also true, beloved reader, that when things are trouble free people are less likely to praise the Lord. Yes, when things are spiraling down, we reach out to the Divine for help, and help is given. Then we praise the Lord. But several miles down the road when things are going well, we forget that there were low times and neglect to give thanks to the Providence that early on helped us out. I do that myself sometimes too.
So really, there is no time that we should NOT be praising the Lord. Good times, bad times and the times in between, lift up praise! Selah!
 

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 14[19]) – The Gospel Passage: When Christology is deep

“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. . . . Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (John 6:35, 41 – 42)
The Jews, who ever they were in this story, thought they knew Jesus. Thought they knew his origins, his family, his birthright, his life history. How could he be anything else than who they thought he was? Furthermore, they might have thought, how dare he think more of himself than he is.
“Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ “ (Verses 43 – 45a)
The paradox is, unless a person believes there is no way for them to be taught and believe. One has to believe in “the Father” and believe that God sent Jesus in order to be taught by Jesus and fulfill the prophecy of “the prophets.” But do not ascribe this paradox to a Divine who wishes to remain obscure. The gospel of John is dense & deep, and filled with wherefores and whereas. The message of Jesus Christ and his teachings do not necessarily need to be shrouded in mystery. But the mystery is there, for those who go looking for it.
“Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.” (Verses 45b – 46)
I am reminded at this in point in my reflections of the other Old Testament passage for this week that I chose not to use. Let me set the scene. Elijah is fleeing from Ahab and Jezebel because he had killed “all the prophets” with a sword; a good companion piece connect to NOT dealing gently with those who oppose you. Elijah has left his traveling companions and . . .
“he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you. He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. ” (I Kings 19:4 – 8)
The similarities I see are these. Food has been offered that will sustain beyond normal expectations. It is given by the Divine – surely it must have been because there was no one else there to provide it. However, the difference is that Elijah does see the Divine, or something very close to Divinity. Was it an angel, a messenger of God? Did this angel perform a miracle itself by making the food appear? Did the angel physically carry it? Doubtful. Was it the Godself? Or might it have been the aspect of God that became the Son who was sent? But then what did Elijah see? The interweavings are confusing. And finally, we know that Elijah was taken up into heaven as opposed to dying to the physical life. Now, read on.
“Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (Verses 47 – 51)
I am not trying to set forth new commentary or break ground on new theology. I am simply saying that the question of who Christ was (and is) and Christ’s place in the believe in a Triune God is deep and complex. We can know Jesus as (simply) the son of God sent by the Divine for our benefit. We can also go deeper and look for connections across the scriptures, and allow ourselves to be drawn into the mystery. This search, however beloved reader, must be tested by and with the Holy Spirit. And again we meet with a paradox, because we must authentically believe first in the Holy Spirit in order to learn more.
May you, beloved reader, be drawn in by the Lord God in order to meet Jesus Christ in order to learn increasingly more. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

“Nature is My Sanctuary…” But Jesus Keeps Dragging Me Back to Church

There’s this mildly irritating phrase that I have encountered with some frequency over the course of the decade or so that I have been a pastor. I’m sure you’ve encountered something like it in your own circles, particularly in these post-Christian, post-church, post-everything times. Oh, I don’t mind church, but, you know, I encounter God best in creation. That’s where I worship. Nature is my sanctuary. Indeed. When I am on the receiving end of this phrase, I usually smile and nod in as gracious a fashion as I can muster. Inwardly, I am often thinking very un-Christian thoughts. Of course nature is your sanctuary. A rather convenient justification for avoiding this one, I would say.
Perhaps this doesn’t surprise you. You might expect someone in my position—someone whose livelihood depends upon the ongoing existence of the institutional church—to have an opinion or two about people off encountering God in the mountains and rivers and lakes and forests and rarely darkening the door of an actual church. You’d probably be right to wonder about my motives. Perhaps you’d even say something like, Well, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
As it happens, I have tried it. Rather recently, in fact. These last few months of sabbatical and this most recent week of holidays have provided me with the rare opportunity to skip church and encounter God on my own in the idyllic confines of nature. And you know what? It’s been glorious. Last Sunday, in particular, at around the time I would ordinarily be scrambling through the usual last minute sermon edits, I found myself paddling around a pristine lake on a glorious sun-kissed morning. There was hardly another soul out. The water was clean and clear—you could see almost right to the bottom of the lake. The birds were singing, the fish were darting here and there. The majestic Rocky Mountains impressively stood guard. It was a feast for the senses. A sense of calm and gratitude descended upon me, not to mention wonder at the beauty of all that God has made. As I paddled peacefully around the lake, I found myself thinking, You know, I think I get why people say that nature is their sanctuary. I can think of any number of worship services that were quite a bit less inspiring than this.
There’s a lot to be said for encountering God in creation. You can get a sense of the power and the grandeur of God, of God’s evident love of beautiful things, of God’s creativity and the intricacy of the natural world. It’s not hard to feel a sense of awe, even reverence, when you’re standing at the top of a mountain or strolling along a beach, or enjoying some other glorious scene. I have to confess, as I was paddling around the lake on the Lord’s Day, I wasn’t really itching to get myself to a church to ratify or validate all of my holy and inspiring thoughts. Nature was indeed my sanctuary, and a beautiful one it was.
Having said all this (you knew the turn was coming, right?), I’m not sure these moments, incredible as they are, offer enough to address the totality of human need. Of my need, at any rate. I was made for things like beauty and awe, certainly, but I was also made to be trained in the art of love. My soul was created for transcendent experiences and connection with nature, but it was also created for my fellow human beings. And, regrettably, I keep on blundering my way through life in selfish and stupid ways—ways that no mountain scene is up to the task of healing or forgiving or reorienting. I need to encounter God, yes, but God in the specificity with which God has made himself known, namely, in Jesus Christ. The God of creation can inspire me, but it cannot demand that I die to myself and become ever more alive and attentive to all the things that are ugly and easily ignored in the world—the parts and the people that don’t show up on carefully curated Instagram posts or status updates.
So, yes, I can and do encounter God in creation. Nature is a glorious sanctuary, and one that draws forth my glad and grateful praise. But Jesus keeps on stubbornly dragging me back to church. To confess my sins, to encounter him in my neighbour (including my enemy), to be shown who I really am and who I ought to be, to be forgiven and set free, to be to worship the God who is revealed as Creator, certainly, but also as Redeemer and Sustainer. Jesus keeps showing me his hands and his feet and his side, reminding me of the cost and the duty of love. Jesus keeps ever before me not a sunset or a mountain peak or waves gently lapping upon the beach, but a cross.
It’s not that Jesus doesn’t love beautiful things. I think he does. But Jesus prevents me from loving the things whose beauty naturally attracts me to the exclusion of the many other things that call forth my love. He teaches me to look for beauty in places where I might not be inclined to look, and where I wouldn’t expect to find it.

Syndicated from Rumblings

Season After Pentecost (Proper 14[19]) – The Epistle Passage: When sins are deep

“So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.
Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.
Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:25 – 30)
Lying, sinful rage, stealing, evil talk – that is quite a list that Paul has started here. While I do not like reading a list of all the terrible things a person can do, what I do appreciate (if that is a sentiment that fits with this topic) is that all of these sins are ones that start with our thoughts and attitudes. Because if it not the human body that is inherently sinful but the human mind and spirit. Yes, we can direct our bodies to do all sorts of actions; but the starting point is always the intent to be contrary to the law of love. And, as Paul so eloquently puts it, to grieve the Holy Spirit of God. That, I think, is the greatest sin. Know what will displease the Divine and doing it anyway. Unfortunately it is a common trait amongst humanity. We may not at the time or in the moment realize what we have done, but the outcome is the same.
“Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” (Verses 31 – 32)
And from grieving the Divine it is a short step to causing pain etc for others. Or it may be that causing upset to others is the first intention, and that what it does to the Divine Spirit is a secondary outcome. Doesn’t really matter which end you start at in sinning – the Divine or your fellow human – the end outcome is the same.
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Chapter 5, verses 1 – 2)
It does, but it should not, amaze me how many ways we can go wrong in living in this life. And I am including myself. Even if you think you are following Paul’s good examples and teachings as the above, you can still “grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” Did you think, beloved reader, that if you do as Paul says as above you would be sin free? (I know I am being tough here, but bear with me.) Verses 31 to 32 tells us what should avoid doing. But it is the first two verses of chapter 5 that set the benchmark. We may do all the right things and be caring gracious people, and yet miss the mark of being “imitators of God” and being “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”. Does that mean we should give up and not try? By no means!!!
Let me tell you, sinning does not take away the “seal for the day of redemption”. And grieving the Holy Spirit of God does not mean we are lost forever. Throughout this passage Paul is talking about what his readers/audience had done. It is not a condemnation, not a “you missed up so all is lost.” It is an exhortation to see what humanity has done and to mend its ways. If we have grieved the Holy Spirit, we can also make the Holy Spirit rejoice when we set ourselves the task of being the best imitator of God that we can be.
Yes, our sins may be deep. But we are not stuck in that depth. We are not condemned to live at a depth of sin so great that we are lost to the Divine. Take courage, beloved reader. Christ loved us enough to give up himself so that we might be saved and redeemed. Even if we have to be re-saved and re-redeemed every day. The depth of the Divine’s love is deeper than the deepest of any sin. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 13[18]) – The Gospel Passage: Issues in life great and small, clear and unclear

“So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” ( John 6:24 – 25)
In other words, “What did we miss?” The success of the loaves and fishes was so great that the crowd was seeking more instant food. Jesus decided to put a stop to that and instead directed their attention of more important matters.
“Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (Verses 26 – 29)
Was this an earnest inquiry? Did the crowd truly want a way to gain eternal life – that is, salvation and redemption? According to some commentators I read, yes the inquiry was sincere. And Jesus’ answer was to tell them it is not works – that is, human endeavors – that bestows salvation but belief in Jesus as Messiah.
“So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?” (Verse 30)
It is this question that makes me doubt the sincerity of those gathered. One commentator posits that it was not the seeking and believing crowd that asked this but those pesky Jewish leaders that were constantly seeking and demanding signs and proofs yet not believing when it was presented to them.
“Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” (Verse 31)
It is also this statement that makes me wonder about this second set of question askers. We seem to be right back at the issue of food being provided. At first glance it seems to connects to the miracle of the loaves and fishes that Jesus performed. But the miracle, according to a commentator I read, is attributed to Moses and not to the Lord God that Moses believed in. And not to the Lord God who lead the Hebrews out of Egypt. Jesus again tries to readjust the “crowds” thinking. That what the “ancestors” received was food; what Jesus is offering sustains not the body but the soul.
“Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (Verses 32 – 33)
I want to add an “aside” at this point; it seems to me this is a fairly disjointed passage. The “crowd” at various points seems to take on different perspectives and attitudes. The writer of the gospel of John does not clearly identify who is in this crowd or what type of members it is composed of. And that it segues into such a clear yet mystical statement by Jesus of his mission on the earth leaves me wondering if we have not been reading a montage of conversations.
“They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (Verses 34 – 35)
We started out at the beginning of this passage being given the crowd’s (that is one type of crowd) perspective on Jesus’ track record of miracles, and this crowd wonders what they have missed in “awesome factor” and food. Then this crowd focuses in on the underlying message of Jesus’ miracles, that he represents a Divine Lord who offers salvation and eternal life. And they want this. But then the crowd (or is it another crowd) asks for proof that Jesus is who he says he is. Is he (Jesus), they ask, like Moses who was on a Divine mission from God? When Jesus answers, I am not really sure anymore which crowd he is addressing; the sincere crowd or the questioning crowd? And that the gospel writer does not seem to give much direction as to who is who makes me wonder if the point was not to give Jesus the opportunity to set down doctrine and theology.
However, beloved reader, in the middle of the muddle we have a clear statement that the work of believers is to believe in the One who was sent and that the Sender is the Divine. In the middle of a muddle it’s nice to have a solid direction. May you, beloved reader, set aside the small issues of life and focus in on the larger more lasting & eternal issues. And may the Holy Spirit make it clear to you. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 13[18]) – The Epistle Passage: Life choices and vocations of all shapes and sizes

“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:1 – 6)
I am aware that Paul is emphasizing a great deal of “one.” And it is true, when looking at Christianity from a dogmatic perspective, one either chooses for or against Jesus Christ and the Lord God. And Paul most definitely chose one way, and then changed to the other. However, there are many ways to live out an authentic Christian life.
“But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.” (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)” (Verses 7 – 10)
I puzzled over this one for a while, beloved reader. Consulted several translations, read a few commentaries, and what I determined is this – the “lower parts of the earth”, that is us. Humanity. Creation. With all of our flaws and sins. I guess, looking back of the less than admirable Israelites and Judahites, Paul thought it had been a pretty motley bunch. Thankfully Paul prefaces his critique with the belief that each of us – then, now and in the future – was given grace. So buoyed up with that life preserver of salvation, let us read on.
“The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” (Verses 11 – 13)
Those are lofty goals, “maturity . . . . full stature of Christ”, that Paul is setting up. Life long pursuits. Some days I look at the world (myself included) and wonder if we will ever attain that. But then I remember, that is why apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers were called forth. The thing to remember is that we are learning from each other. No one, not even Paul, has the “full measure of the full stature of Christ” except for Christ!
“We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” (Verses 14 – 16)
I entitled this pondering as choices and vocations; vocations because all of us have a task and calling in the overall ministry that Christ calls us to. Some it is a career calling, others the way they live their lives as an example to others. And that is where the “choice” comes it. Because as I said earlier, it is a choice. Not just for or against Jesus Christ and the Lord God – that is a simple and dogmatic perspective. No, there are shades of following the Divine. We differentiate between those who formally enter ministry and those who just seem to be “good” Christian people.
There are also subtle ways of living a Christian life, most of which depend on how one defines Christian. Paul has set down a pretty unwavering standard. We are, however, a long time and space away from Paul. And from the days of the early Christian church. The history of Christianity has been a long and bumpy road. Good choices and bad choices, vocations that have helped and hindered the message of Christ. Be careful how you chose, beloved reader, be careful. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 13[18]) – The Old Testament Passage: Temptations and sins of all shapes and sizes

Talk about being between a rock and a hard place – in the Old Testament passage where King David’s story is being told, we hear about David bringing Bathsheba into the palace, her giving birth to a son, and then David being confronted by the prophet Nathan concerning his sin against Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband. The other Old Testament passage is where “the whole congregation of the Israelites” were upset with Moses and Aaron. Now, beloved reader, who would you rather be confronted by? A prophet of God, or the disgruntled Israelites in the desert who had no food and very little drink. Me personally, I don’t think I would want to face down either one!
Now, King David knew he was in the wrong; the prophet Nathan told an allegory about David taking Uriah’s wife. When David heard it he was inflamed . . .
“Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” (II Samuel 12:5 – 6)
And when confronted with the realization that it was he was guilty,
“David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” (Verse 13a)
Now you have to understand, beloved reader, the prophet Nathan had a tremendous tirade against King David, basically saying that David as a king and as a man will be disgraced somewhere down the road.
I have been thinking about David a lot; and a great deal about David being a man after God’s own heart. Maybe the correct direction was David constantly seeking God, rather than God always approving of David. But, let us not leave Moses and Aaron hanging.

“The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Exodus 16:2 – 3)
You know, compared to the Israelites, David is looking pretty good. I mean, they would rather have died in captivity and slavery than to be free and able to live out their lives as they chose? I guess the Divine was practicing patience long before King David came along.
“Then the LORD said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. . . The LORD spoke to Moses and said,”I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.” (Verses 4, 9 – 12)
These were the Lord God’s called and chosen people. From the time forward, from the Exodus to the coming of Jesus, the people of God were reminded of how much God had done for them. Yet each generation forgot, or neglected to pass on to the next generation the appreciation and adoration that was due to the Lord. Yes, I know that I have professed some reluctance to praise on demand. But I have not lodged complaints against Lord because I have found myself in dire situations. Nor have I taken advantage of my position in life to abscond with another’s possessions.
Oh I have committed sin in my life – don’t think I am a saint. Each of us has our weak points – temptations that appear before us that we cannot and do not deny ourselves, or fleshpots and conveniences that we place more importance on than we should. And when our weak points become pitfalls we often need the reminder of what we have done and what we should do better.
May you, beloved reader, overcome your weak points and remain strong against sin and temptation. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 12[17]) – The Psalm Passage: Considering the “pressure” to praise the Lord

“All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD, and all your faithful shall bless you.
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom, and tell of your power, to make known to all people your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.” (Psalm 145: 10 – 12)
In reality the Lord God does not our praise – not really. The Divine was sufficient unto Itself before creation. The Lord God did not start creation because the Divine was in need of praise. We, creation, were created with the inborn need to find something out in the universe to connect to. It was a need created within us. And if we were created in the image of the Divine, maybe the Divine felt the desire to connect also. Not to be praised, but to be in relationship. To express the love and commitment that fuels the Divine. So why do we praise the Lord God. Why does all of the works of the Lord give thanks? Why does the works of the Lord speak of the glory of the kingdom of the Lord?
“Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. The LORD is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds.” (Verses 13)
The faithfulness of the Lord; yes, that is praiseworthy. When creation went so astray from the garden, and that continued to go astray after being called and chosen people, the Divine being faithful after all that is worthy of creation praising.
“The LORD upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.” (Verse 14)
When creation falls flat on its face, and is in need, the Lord comes and rescues us in small ways and in large eternal ways.
“The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.” (Verses 15 – 16)
While there are many who are in need and know want, there is also abundance and sufficiency. That our governments and economies are not able to distribute the resources that the world was first given should not be laid at the feet of the Divine. In a ideal and charitable world there would be no want. Remember too the Old Testament passage and the Gospel passage where a small amount of food was multiplied to feed many.
“The LORD is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings. The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” (Verses 17 – 18)
Do you get the sense, beloved reader, that the psalmist is speaking of a Lord God who is not quite the vengeful and punishing Lord that you read about in some parts of the New Testament? The Lord of the psalmist does sound worthy of praise. And moreover, a Lord God that one would want to connect to and be in relationship to.
May you, beloved reader, find a myriad of reasons to praise the Lord God and a multitude of times to raise up adoration. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 12[17]) – The Epistle Passage: Considering the pressure, expectations and importance of “knowing” the Divine

It is said, and I believe, that even the powers of darkness (or if you prefer capitalized “the Powers of Darkness) know the Divine – know that the Divine is about and what the Divine intends to have happen by the end of all days. Knowing who the Divine is does not mean, however, following the guidance, instruction, and inspiration of the Divine. THAT takes a great deal of work and commitment. And a heart, soul, and spirit that makes way and space for the Divine.
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.” (Ephesians 3:14 – 15)
Paul, when he was Saul thought he knew the Divine, knew Adonay and Yahweh; and thought he was being faithful when he set out to destroy the heretical believers who professed faith in Jesus as the Christ. Not just knew of him, knew his story, but believed the story that the disciples were preaching. He was persuaded towards a different belief and faith – one that included God/Yahweh, Jesus the Christ and the Holy Spirit.
“I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Verses 16 – 19)
And if Paul is praying to the Divine that his readers and audience goes beyond simply knowing about to comprehending, then it must be vital. More vital than anything else that Paul knows of.
“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Verses 20 – 21)

Those who know of the Divine, in all of the Divine’s aspects but do not follow nor act according to the precepts as they have been laid down over the generation and centuries risk much. Risk everything, in fact. We cannot, however, say for others how that devotion and following should be lived out. We can only determine for ourselves what we need to do, and then seek out like-minded individuals in order to support each other. And pray for one another. As Paul prayed. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 12[17]) – The Old Testament Passage: Considering pressures in following the Divine faithfully

For the past several weeks we have been looking at the life of David; his being chosen out of all of his brothers, raising in favor in Saul’s court, and becoming king. We have heard from the psalmist about how King David walked with God and found favor with God, and that God blessed David as king and as follow of the Lord God. So, inevitably we would come to the stories where King David made some mistakes and missteps. For reasons that I do not quite understand myself, I am loathe to explore again David’s less than stellar behaviors. So I am looking to the other Old Testament passage. And in due time the Psalm passage that is matched to it.
“A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, “Give it to the people and let them eat.” But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” So he repeated, “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the LORD, ‘They shall eat and have some left.'” He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the LORD.”(2 Kings 4:42-44)
Elisha was also a man after God’s own heart. And a man who had Elijah as a mentor. It is said that Elisha asked for a double blessing of what Elijah had. And it was granted to him. Elisha, however, was a prophet and was responsible only to his own well-being; and was accountable only to the Lord God. If he felt that God led him a certain way or told him to say a certain thing, he did that and the consequences (for good or not so good) were accounted only to him. He might have been an example for the nation but was not a leader of a nation. Hmm, maybe the reluctance to examine King David’s life comes from a sense of how hard it must have been for him.
Consider – Elisha was confident that the twenty loaves of barley and a sack of grain would be enough for a 100 people, with some leftover. If he was wrong, he would be embarrassed. King David was responsible for at least 100 times as many people. And if he was wrong, it would be the nation that would suffer. Maybe his missteps were from the pressure to succeed in the face of a nation.
We do not know how large a loaf of barley would be, and how much grain was in the sack. But if you do the math, one loaf would have to feed five men. That is possible. And there could have been twenty ears of grain (ie corn). That is possible also. So it is feasible that Elisha could prophecy abundance according to the Lord and not be embarrassed. The King David story was the first part of the story of him and Bathsheba. A story with more than a little bit of embarrassment. Not David’s finest hour.
I would like you to consider, beloved reader, what it would be like living out your faith in a fish bowl. Which life to you think would be easier? Elisha’s whose only adviser was the Lord God? Or David pulled in many directions? Let the question linger as the week goes on, and how the scripture passages to come may illuminate and suggest some answers. Shalom!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 11[16]) – The Psalms Passage: Daring to follow in David’s foot steps

Before we start I want to point out that this was probably written by King David, or by someone very close to him. So if it seems to laud King David, that may be why. I am not saying this is not a true and authentic representation of David; but if it seems to favor King David that may be why. As the passage proceeds, you will see why it is important to know that it is pro-David.
“I have found my servant David; with my holy oil I have anointed him; my hand shall always remain with him; my arm also shall strengthen him. The enemy shall not outwit him, the wicked shall not humble him. I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him. My faithfulness and steadfast love shall be with him; and in my name his horn shall be exalted. I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers. He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation!’ I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. Forever I will keep my steadfast love for him, and my covenant with him will stand firm. I will establish his line forever, and his throne as long as the heavens endure.” (Psalm 89:20 – 29)
The psalmist is outlining David’s tenure as king; I have said (ad nauseam) that King David made mistakes. But we all make mistakes, and quite honestly there should be no rank of mild to severe mistakes/sin. We function and judge ourselves and others that way, but at the end of our lives and/or at the end of all days – sin will be sin. David did feel God’s blessing, and for that David should be proud and take satisfaction in striving as much as a human can to follow God. Actually it is this next section that makes me take notice.
“If his children forsake my law and do not walk according to my ordinances, if they violate my statutes and do not keep my commandments, then I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with scourges; . . .” (Verses 30 – 33a)
And that is exactly what happened. One of David’s sons, Absalom by name, ran afoul of David’s God and was punished. Some of David’s great grandchildren and great great also did not walk according to the Lord’s ordinances. And we know the results were that the king of David, Judah and Israel, fell to the surrounding nations. And the glory of David’s throne was tarnished. Did David/the psalmist know this would happen? Is that what prompted these next verses?
“. . but I will not remove from him my steadfast love, or be false to my faithfulness. I will not violate my covenant, or alter the word that went forth from my lips. Once and for all I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David. His line shall continue forever, and his throne endure before me like the sun. It shall be established forever like the moon, an enduring witness in the skies.” Selah” (Verses 33b – 37)
From David’s line (at least in human biological records well and accorded as Joseph’s son who was in the line of David. ) Jesus was born. (You know, it becomes clear to me now why the census and the birth of Jesus were so close together – so that the unborn child would be and was accorded to the line of David. Just a small “aha” moment.) And from Jesus the line did and does continue forever. So yes, what the psalmist wrote was true – but maybe not in the way the psalmist thought it would be.
But, that is not even my whole point. We are . . . . spiritual heirs of David. To us falls the task of walking according to the Lord’s ordinances. And if we fall to do so, the Lord says “ I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with scourges . . .” And if we, as David did despite his flaws and missteps, live and strive to follow the Lord as closely as we can, the Lord says “but I will not remove from him [or her] my steadfast love, or be false to my faithfulness. I will not violate my covenant, or alter the word that went forth from my lips. Once and for all I have sworn by my holiness. . .” Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

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