By Your Light We See Light…a post by Rich

Aquinas the great theologian of the of the 13the century relied upon Psalm 36:9 to guide him in his great theological endeavors. “For with You is the fountain of life: in Your light do we see light.” C.S. Lewis was a follower of Christ because he held that Jesus enabled him to see what was most real and true. God’s light enables us to see.

My recent times of mediation have me reflecting on the significance of the fruits of the Spirit. Paul encourages believers to walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16). Walking by the Spirit arms us to steer clear of the desires of the flesh. Then after making clear what desires of the flesh look like (Gal. 5: 17-21), Paul informs us of the fruit of the Spirit. When God’s presence is being manifest in our lives as people of faith, we express love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22).

Our ability to see what is most true and most real relies upon the formation of a particular character. The presence of God living in us forms a moral character that facilitates our seeing well. The virtues of the faith are not just about our establishing a certain moral rectitude. Although having moral rectitude is a good thing! An honest person is better than being a liar. However, we don’t practice and live Christian virtues solely for the purpose of being morally righteous people. If that is our aim, we will most likely end up in the same legalistic pettiness of the Pharisees. We affirm wholeheartedly that our righteousness in every way is a gift from God through faith in Christ. Even our ability to practice the virtues that cultivate a morally upright life is a gift from God. All good things come from our Lord.

My point is that we seek after God and give ourselves to live out the fruits of the Spirit because this is not only a sure indicator of God being in us, but the fruits of Spirit enables us to see through the lens of our Lord’s light. The benefit of living out our “in Christ life” through the fruit of the Spirit each day is that over time it leads to wisdom. That is to say, we can see our world as God’s sees our world. We can see our circumstances as God sees them. We can see our neighbor as God’s sees our neighbor. And we can see ourselves as God sees us. We participate in God’s life more fully by participating in God’s way of knowing. The Psalmist says it succinctly “in your light we see light.” We, by grace through the fruits of the Spirt, see more clearly God’s truth. One of the great gifts of our Christian faith is that it leads us to see what is good, true, and beautiful in our world.

I raise these thoughts against the background of the political atmosphere in which we now live. I think persons living in the Kingdom of God need to be more preoccupied with attending to the fruit of the Spirit than whether we are on the political right or left. Governments of the world come and go. Remember the Assyrians? The Kingdom of God endures forever. Let us then be persons of the Kingdom keeping in step with the Spirit as we live out the fruits of the Spirit before both friend and enemy. Only then shall we avoid the the darkness. Here is a truth, one we shall never fully know this side of heaven: “in Your light Oh God, do we see light.” Thanks be to God for his Light even Christ our Lord.

Seeing the Unseen…a post by Joy

About a month ago, my eyeglass frames with progressive lenses broke. Knowing it was time to get a check-up I scheduled an appointment instead of getting my glasses repaired right away. Unfortunately, I had to wait another week to see the eye doctor. Thank goodness for another set of glasses that I use for computer work and reading music at the piano.

When the time came, the check-up revealed that my eyes would require a change on my lenses so I would need to wait about 7-10 days for the new glasses to arrive. In the mean while, we were traveling during that time. One morning, we required the services of an Uber driver. Once the transaction was complete, the driver drove away, and I walked into the house wearing my prescription sunglasses. As I began to look for my computer/piano glasses, I realized they were not in my purse and panicked realizing they had been left in the car of the Uber driver. My husband and my son discovered the info necessary to touch base with the driver. He delivered my glasses within 10 minutes. Once I walked into the house with them, I burst into tears thanking the Lord that they had been returned by the driver.   I felt very vulnerable not having those glasses and not being able to read anything without them. We still had 6 days to be away on the trip.

Later that same day, several of us accompanied our grandson to the aquarium for his 3rd birthday. When we arrived, as I began to climb out of the car, the left temple of my prescription sunglasses fell off. It surprised me and of course, I began looking for the tiny screw to repair it. It was not to be found.

With this saga that happened within one month to all 3 pairs of my prescription eyeglasses I immediately asked this question.  “Lord, what is it that you want me to see or change about the way that I am seeing or perceiving things in life?”

“What was so necessary to transform in me at this place in my life that you had to catch my attention by allowing all 3 pairs of my prescription eyeglasses to go through brokenness, delay of repair, and displacement?” My eyes, the “window of my soul” can only see what they are given to see at the appropriate time my soul is willing to see the truth about myself or another in my relational life.

I feel vulnerable with my “broken” eyes knowing that I can only see clearly when I use the eyeglasses with prescriptions designed just for my eyes. Yet, I also feel thankful for these wonderful tools that transform my sight from brokenness to clarity. I feel vulnerable with the brokenness within my soul yet thankful for the transformation that comes with the presence of the Holy Spirit through Scripture, through the community of other believers, and through the practice of Christian spiritual disciplines.

When it comes to the tool of this saga that I have experienced, I sense that Christ is reminding me that He is constantly providing for me even when I can’t see things clearly and even when I can’t see the whole picture of what He is allowing to happen to me in my every day life. I have once again been given the opportunity to trust God in all things even when I feel very vulnerable about my weaknesses. It has also been a lesson in patience with myself and with God’s timing. Part of seeing how Christ was working in me through all of this was to not be seeing through my own eyes in order to “open my eyes” to what He wanted me to “see”. The tools that Christ uses for our individual journeys of spiritual transformation may not always be the great sermon that we just heard or the Scripture passage that we just read. It may also be the most common and ordinary events of life that God is using to call us to pay attention to see what we can see through His eyes.

Here’s mud in your eye!…a post by Tom

“And who is he sir, that I may believe in him?  Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you. He said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshipped him.” – John 9:36-38

This past Sunday’s gospel reading from John 9:1-41 featured a beautiful and comical account of a man born blind healed by Jesus. The disciples inquired as to whether this man sinned or his parents so as to cause his malady. Jesus corrected their bad theology by saying his infirmity wasn’t divine retribution but divine opportunity for God to be glorified. Jesus then spits on the ground and mixes mud and saliva, which is then smeared on the blind man’s eyes. This action was considered pagan, gross, shocking, and earthy. Yet this is the salve that Jesus uses to open the man’s sight. The story goes on to chronicle how troublesome this was to the religious leaders who thought they clearly saw God’s truth. They excommunicated the healed man because of his testimony. It was only after his excommunication that Jesus formally introduces Himself. Jesus came to give sight to the blind and expose the blindness of those who think they see.

We are born spiritually blind and stumble about trying to find happiness. We are prone to bad theology where infirmities are thought to be God’s punishment for sin. We are religiously sleepwalking. Often our spiritual awakening comes through gross, shocking, and earthy experiences whereby we are jolted by life. Life seems to spit and then rub dirt in our faces, sometimes to the degree that we feel like the mud soaked man in the blog picture!  Our spiritually blind egocentric vision for our lives is obstructed so we can then see the truth of God.  The cross is a shockingly grotesque, seemingly pagan (child sacrifice?), and earthy way to open our eyes to our condition, God’s beauty, and love for us. We know we see when we can strangely find beauty in such suffering. Mysteriously some of us don’t formally meet Jesus until after getting expelled or excommunicated from the religious tribes who claim to know. As the saying goes, “those who say do not know and those who know do not say.” I am also reminded of a quote from The Little Prince… “Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

I Have a Dream…a post by Jim

Martin Luther King, much like Martin Luther centuries ago and the Apostle John and the Old Testament prophets of old, had a vision of a different future. They had a dream of what life might look like when the kingdom of God is more fully lived on earth. They called people to live that reality.

We cannot live well without a vision, without a dream, without hope of something better. At so many levels and in so many places we see the brokenness, suffering, and sin of people on the edge of the vision. Indeed, all of us need a sense of “we were not created for this so surely God has something better in store for us.”

Yesterday, as we celebrated a national holiday honoring a man with a dream of people being judged, not by the color of their skin, but the quality of their character all of us should pause and ask ourselves, “How can I better ‘do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God’?”

Be specific. Not random but INTENTIONAL acts of righteousness, kindness, and meekness. Maybe tip someone twice as much as normal. Maybe prepare a meal. Maybe 15 minutes of quiet prayer listening to God with a spirit of surrender.

What is your dream? How are you living toward it today?

Sitting Still With Christ…a post by Joy

As we consider the ways of Christian spiritual formation, there is always one particular facet of the journey that mesmerizes and challenges me the most.

The one of “sitting still” before God with the expectation and intention of knowing God. Psalm 46:10 tells us to “Be still and know that I AM God. “

It seems that many Christians are interested in being “busy about the business of God”. Even family life is busy about the “business of family” instead of intentionally taking time to “be still” and know the family member.

Stillness can refer to literally being still or posturing ourselves in a place where we can sense the “distilling” work of Christ within us.

Being still for me can also be a place of being grounded internally in the still unconditional love of Christ even when life is a whirlwind externally.

As a musician, there is always movement of the melody or harmonies in a piece. Yet, there is also the stillness of the rests which call for silence. Though the rest may only be for one beat, we still refer to it as rest, or silence. Sometimes the measured rests have their own rhythm. If we don’t pay attention to the moments of these rests of silence or stillness in the music, we miss the complete picture of what the composer intended us to hear.

We as human beings have the capability of paying attention to either movement within our souls or stillness. Most of us are great at paying attention to this movement or whirling around of the regular living of life from day to day. Yet, we tend to have a more difficult time paying heed to the stillness that comes from the beckoning call of Christ. We are created with the ability to be still within our souls as we pay attention to being with Christ. Christian spiritual formation calls for the both/and of stillness and action: the movement and the rests as it were.

If the stormy sea can understand and obey the words of Jesus when He said, “Peace, be Still”, how can we who are created in His image do less?

 

Surely God is in this place…a post by Tom

“When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he said, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.’ –Genesis 28:16

Jacob was on the run from his brother who wanted to kill him. Jacob whose name means ‘deceiver’ had maneuvered himself into the patriarchal blessing and birthright by tricking his Dad and also taking advantage of his brother. As he was fleeing and making his way to his Uncle’s house he stopped to rest. It was in this vulnerable and exposed ‘in between space’ that he had a fantastic dream and awoke to his conclusion that God was there! He then called that space Bethel which means house of God.

The human condition is on the run. Plagued with fear, manipulation, maneuvering, and trickery we are running from something. We think we have to fool our way into God’s good graces and blessings. In doing so we make a mess of our lives and end up running from what is essential. Yet the funny and sad truth is that what we are running from and looking for is the same thing!

Sometimes it is in these ‘liminal’ spaces when we are in between relationships, jobs, locations, religions, political beliefs, or whatever that we actually stop to rest. It is in these spaces that we are finally vulnerable and exposed and God can get at us! What does he want to get at us with? His love and reminder of our birthright and blessing! We are the beloveds no matter what and His promises aren’t related to our behavior but to an unconditional covenant cut with Abraham by grace through faith and made reality through Jesus. It is our big brother Jesus, not Esau, who is chasing us to remind us of our birthright and blessing!

The shocking revelation of the New Testament is that I am a temple of the Holy Spirit a walking and breathing Bethel. That in each and every eternal moment God is in this place! The issue is that I am too preoccupied to know it. Thank God for those liminal spaces where this can be revealed. May I encounter each moment with childlike wonder and awe that God is in this place, especially when I am on the run.

Red, Yellow, Black and White…a post by Jim

One of my earliest memories from Sunday School is singing, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red, yellow, black and white they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.” The song was about as diverse as we got in the Dutch community of Holland, MI in the late 50s. But it was and IS true. Jesus does love ALL ethnic groups. The trouble is that we find that hard to do.

The recent events of shooting and killing by and of police are tragic. And it appears that race was a factor in the loss of life of civilians as well as the policemen. Jesus loves all the children of the world. Easier to sing than to live. As a culture and as an individual.

Because we are created in the image of a relational God (Father, Son, Spirit) we are relational whether we are red, yellow, black or white. The quality of ALL our lives depends on the quality of our relationships. And not relationships just within our particular color. The quality of ALL of our lives depends on the quality of our relationships across ethnic lines.

It is the power of the Gospel that has made it so that there is no longer Jew or Gentile (or slaves or free or male or female). This does NOT mean there are no differences between races or social status or genders. Christianity is too ‘particular’ a reality to ignore differences (e.g. God showed up in a particular Jewish man; God chose a particular race in the Old Testament through whom to reveal himself). Any attempt for ‘unity’ that ignores or fails to respect differences is doomed to fail.

But there is a unity that is found at the deepest level possible for those who are IN Christ. If he is at the core of our being then, no matter if we are male or female, slave or free, or red, yellow, black or white then there is a new unifying reality for us. What is most true about us is far more powerful than our differences. We cannot expect the world to believe or live this out but we who are followers of Christ MUST believe and live this out.

Today, how can you express the new reality of IN Christ with your brothers and sisters of different ethnic groups?

 

Bonhoeffer on the Christian life…a post by Rich

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s work the “Cost of Discipleship” was the most significant book I read in the decade of my twenties. It was a book given to me from a pastor in Alton, Iowa who was retiring and dispersing his library.  Bonhoeffer’s reflections on what it means to follow Jesus changed my life.  It was the first time I came to realize the meaning of God’s grace. After reading the book I was motivated to become a serious student seeking to bring all of my life under the Lordship of Christ.  I came to understand in the economy of God their was “no cheap grace.”  Bonhoeffer taught me that grace was costly. Consequently Christ in grace continually invites us to give our entire life in service of him as we respond in love for being so generously loved by God.

Eric Metaxas’ work “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” is well worth a place on your summer reading list.  Chad Lewis, a friend of mine, recently sent along to me a quote from Metaxas’ book that summaries Bonhoeffer’s life.  I have returned to these words numerous times in recent months as I reflect on what is it means to be a follower of Jesus. Here is how Metaxas summaries Bonhoeffer’s Christian life.

“He had theologically redefined the Christian life as something active, not  reactive. It had nothing to do with avoiding sin or with merely talking or  teaching or believing theological notions or principles or rules or tenets. . . . It was God’s call to be fully human, to live as human beings obedient to the one  who had made us, which was the fulfillment of our destiny. It was not a cramped, compromised, circumspect life, but a life lived in a kind of wild, joyful, full-throated freedom that was what it was to obey God.”

How we imagine what it means to follow Jesus eventually becomes HOW we follow him. Bonhoeffer imagined a way in following that was about becoming fully human, “a kind of wild, joyful, full-throated freedom.” Perhaps Metaxas’ summary of Bonhoeffer’s manner of loving God and living as a child of God can help us all imagine a way of being with Jesus as Jesus hopes we would!

“Reality Distortion Field”

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson was hard to put down. The story is compelling, inspiring, and sometimes disturbing. He often treated people poorly in his drive for perfection. Yet his intuition, intensity, and focus created a brave new technological world.

In describing how he was able to create an amazing future, colleagues spoke of his “Reality Distortion Field.” Steve refused to be controlled by what was real in the present. He saw another reality and, through either charm or coercion, pushed his company toward it. Continue Reading