Do You Have Enough For Today?

People gather manna (Народ собирает манну небесную), Alexander Ivanov.

People gather manna (Народ собирает манну небесную), Alexander Ivanov.

Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.  Exodus 16:4

This is as big a test of faith for us as it was for Israel in the wilderness.  While literal manna from heaven is not always what we need, the challenge remains:  Has God supplied us what we need today?

This is a challenge we often put forth to God.  Does He have enough for us today?  But as with most challenges to God, it falls upon us:  Will He be enough for us today?  He meets all of our needs.  He gives us fresh grace every day.  But how often do we imagine that if only I had _____, if only I were _____, then life would be more fulfilled.  Then my relationship with God truer or richer.  Then my obedience to Him would be accomplished.

This is doubly more dangerous for a pastor or minister because we deal in spiritual things.  If only my church was like ______.  If only we had ______.  If only the people weren’t like ______.  Then the mission would get off the ground.  Then community would be rich and satisfying.  Then we’d grow.  Then we’d be deep.  Then we’d reach the city.

But the wonderful truth is that God has given exactly the grace needed for today.  We can believe we don’t have enough and grumble.  We can believe we can’t follow Him unless we have ______.  Or we can have confidence that He has supplied – even is Himself the supply – for this day in front of us.

After all, He taught us to pray  give us this day our daily bread.

God Isn’t Like You or Me… Wisdom from W H Auden

Auden has something to say but we must wait til the end of this post.

Auden has something to say but we must wait til the end of this post.

 

“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”  These words came into my life via an acquaintance’s Facebook page.  I had encountered similar before.  I read those words and couldn’t find any instant disagreement with them.  Of course human beings do have a built-in inclination to make God/god/gods after our own image.  It’s called idolatry and, trust me, it’s bad.  When we have prejudices and petty hatreds for people unlike ourselves that is not good.  When we assume or assert that God feels the same way as us, that’s even worse.  It is creating God in our own image.

But as I reflected for a few minutes afterwards, I started to wonder.  Where was this sentiment was aimed?   A sneaking suspicion arose that it was aimed at people who are sort of like me:  Christian (yeah, I still believe it all), conservative (for lack of a better word – certainly not politically conservative necessarily), traditional (in all the ways that are becoming more unpopular in current culture), and Evangelical (a term fraught with unwanted associations but I’m not giving up on it yet).  I don’t honestly believe I have ‘hatred’ for anybody – whether individuals or collective ‘other’.  But I do have lots of disagreement.  And if a statement like that is aimed at someone like me, then I need to receive it as a challenge.  And I do.  But I also felt obliged to challenge back.

If we can make God in our own image, that sad fact can cut both ways.  If we can make a god/gods that hate everything and everyone we do, we can also fall off the other side of the horse.  We can make a god/gods that accept, promote, tolerate everything we do.  And that’s also a sure way we’re making a god in our own image.  And the thing about idolatry is that our god isn’t the God.  Idolatry always gives us a comfortable god who already conforms to our way of looking at the world.  Our god likes what we like and hates what we hate.   But its not the True God.  The True God does hate.  He also has great love.  How can He, for example, both hate something (sin – which He gets very specific about) and love other things (sinners – no exceptions made in this area)?  Well, the answer to that lies at the heart of Christian belief – the Cross of Christ and the offer of just forgiveness made there.  But God doesn’t conform to our ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’.  God obeys neither current cultural norms nor the preferences of our individualistic hearts.  He is Who He is.  In fact, the only way to prevent making a god in our own image is to accept that reality.

One of the ways I know God is real is that He doesn’t agree with me.  I have many other reasons too – personal, rational, existential, confessional – but this one is important.  It’s also one of the reasons I believe that the Bible’s revelation of Him is true.  He doesn’t conform to me.  He has challenged (and continues to challenge) my preferred opinions about poverty and wealth, sexuality and what it’s for, who gets to be considered a human person, what faith is, who Jesus is, how I must live my life.  In fact, I’ve done a 180 in every one of those areas.  And I still get challenged to not go with the flow and choose the easier option.  If I were to make up a god, there wouldn’t be any difference between me and him.  If He’s real, though, He’ll be unlike me and perhaps the majority opinion around me.

I believe that the wisdom of W H Auden (a man whose personal faith I am not qualified to evaluate) is in order here:

“I believe because He fulfills none of my dreams, because He is in every respect the opposite of what He would be if I could have made Him in my own image. . . . None of the others arouse all sides of my being to cry ‘Crucify Him.'” -W.H. Auden

Got time for some Eugene Peterson?

In our day, information comes so quickly in blog posts and sound bites.  But real reflection takes a long time.  No one has reflected longer about Church, calling, and the pastoral vocation than Eugene Peterson.  In these four 1991 lectures, from Acadia Divinity School, Peterson reflects in a way that is convicting, inspiring, and deeply personal.

Watch.  But it will take some time.

 

 

 

 

* Best as I can tell, these 1991 lectures form the basis of Peterson’s book Under the Unpredictable Plant (1994) which I had to read in seminary.

Wise words

Walker Percy - probably less grouchy in real life than this photo suggests.

Walker Percy – probably less grouchy in real life than this photo suggests.

 

By remaining faithful to its original commission, by serving its people with love, especially the poor, the lonely, and the dispossessed, and by not surrendering its doctrinal steadfastness, sometimes even the very contradiction of culture by which it serves as a sign, surely the Church serves culture best. – Walker Percy

 

 

Many times we as Christians wonder how we can affect the world.  There is a temptation always to become more like the world in order to appeal to it.  Now there is always value in seeking to appeal to, persuade, be understood by the culture around us.  But it is something different to “be” the Church in the world.  What if what the world needs is for the Church to be the Church?

By faithfulness, by love, by stubbornness, by being (even controversially) different is how the Church serves the world.

 

An Evangelist’s Prayer

After an extended blog break and online detox, here is an offering that hopefully will set a more prayerful tone.  From Augustine to Baxter, from Paul to King David, and even right back to Jesus Himself there is a long practice of writing prayers to be prayed again and again.  This is an offering for those who want God’s grace in order to speak to others.

There is surely an office of Evangelist in the Church.  Not all are evangelists in this precise sense.  But all Christians are called to speak well of Him who saved them and seek to share that Good News with others.  Anyone who finds that desire can take this prayer (or similar) to themselves:

 

God My Father,

Help me to love all people, who are made in your image,

help me to respect their beliefs and what is true in those beliefs,

let me ask questions first and truly listen for the answers,

let them feel the love of God through the way I love them,

help me to not hide my faults even as my life may be different from theirs.

Help me to love the Good News of Jesus and His Cross and Resurrection,

let me not be embarrassed of Him, or of the Cross, or of the Truth that everyone needs salvation,

let me never be ashamed of the truth that Jesus is the only way to the Father,

and the only name by which men can be saved,

let me never shut my mouth when I need to speak it.

Help me to love You, above all other thing,

above the opinions of others, or success in this world,

remind me how much you love me and of what you have done for me.

We always speak about those whom we love – we can’t seem to stop,

Let it be that way for me.

 

AMEN

 

 

Good News! The Good News is still good news for individual sinners!

A son down in the muck with the pigs.  Just one straying guy, who needs to be reconciled to his father.

A son down in the muck with the pigs. Just one straying guy, who needs to be reconciled to his father.

I just read a pretty out-there interpretation of the parable of the prodigal son.  (or lost son or two sons or whatever).  The author, who is deserving of immense respect*, quite confidently stated how the prodigal son was about the grand story of Israel coming back to God.  The lost son, you see, is not so much representing an individual person’s path back to God but the nation of Israel’s return for Exile.  The message of the parable – and of Jesus – is so much larger than just one person being able to come into relationship with the God who forgives them and accepts them upon no merit of their own.  So it is argued.  No only is this interpretation completely novel, it also tears down what so many have always believed about this telling of the Gospel message.  In essence, it is about the Big Story of Israel’s Redemption and not about little ol’ you or me.

There’s a trend in theology.  It is to minimize the individual side of salvation and the Gospel.  For the most part this is to be applauded.  There is a tendency to make Christian a kind of “just me and Jesus thing”.  But there’s more to it.  The Good News (and all it’s implications) is so much more than that.  It is about the Lordship of Jesus over all, the fulfillment of Israel’s destiny, the Kingdom of God coming into the world, and the future restoration of all things.  It is about non-Jews coming into the family, so to speak.  It is about God making a People for His Name.  It is about God’s purposes for the entire Creation.  It’s about so much more than you may first think. But… but… but…  Is it still about sinners coming to be forgiven by their Maker?

Contra the normal saying, sometimes we can’t see the trees for the forest.  The Gospel of Christ is so much more than an individual sinner coming into saving faith but it can never be less!!!  While the prodigal-as-Israel-coming-out-from-Exile may be intriguing as a grand theme we must remember that this parable is set up by two previous ones.  A shepherd leaves the 99 to find his one lost sheep.  A woman combs her house to find her one lost coin.  And the setting is one where Jesus is criticized for eating with sinners.  Individual sinners.  Individual souls who will not enter the coming Kingdom unless they repent and return to God.  And there’s joy in those two parables.  But what is the joy?  We’re told (twice) that there is no greater joy in heaven than over one sinner who comes to repentance.  Turns out the Gospel is still good news for poor sinners.

As a pastor I must never forget this is what people need.  As a normal disciple I can’t forget that this is what I have to share with others.  As a Christian who falls and fails and continues to sin against my Father, I can’t ever forget that He loves me and will receive me (me!) when I turn back and return to Him.

The Gospel must remain good news for individual sinners!

 

 

*  I read this in N T Wright’s voluminous tome Jesus and the Victory of God.  There is so much to commend in it that I can’t even begin.  But just because a man is a theological genius and is incredibly right about 95% doesn’t mean he can’t miss a simple truth that has been in front of his eyes since Sunday School.