Monday, July 31, 2017

1 John 3:1-3, A Meditation (V)

“See how great a love[1] the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and we such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”

John’s first letter is a study in point and counterpoint, including between the “already” and the “not yet”. In 1 John 3:6 we read that “whoever abides in Him [Jesus] does not sin,” and yet in in 1:8 we read, “”If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves.”

In 1:7 we see that we have continual cleansing from sin, and yet in 1:9 we are told that confession of sin is part of life. In 2:27 we read that because of the anointing “you do not need that anyone teach you,” and yet John is obviously writing a letter of teaching.

So there is a lot of dynamic tension in this letter, but it really is not unlike other NT letters in this sense, its difference, when contrasted with Paul, may lie in the orchestration. Perhaps for this reason it can be a bit more difficult for people to wrestle with, though I don’t know how well people wrestle with Paul either. While John’s “already – not yet” and “point-counterpoint” is woven from chapter to chapter, Paul structures some of his letters to develop at length first his point, and then goes at length to develop his counterpoint. That is, he works with the “already” at length, and then the “not yet” at length. While this varies from letter to letter, consider the structure of Ephesians.

In the first chapter of Ephesians Paul works with the already, moving from before the foundation of the world, through redemption, the giving of the Holy Spirit, and the fullness of Christ in His church. In Chapter Two he drops back and portrays us when we were dead in sins, then shows our coming to life in Christ, then culminates his trajectory once again in the people of God as the habitation of God in the Spirit, the holy Temple of God. Then in Chapter Three he once gain drops back in the ages and cosmos and the mystery of God and works through God’s purpose in the church, arriving at a crescendo of prayer and praise.

After the above, predominated with this is who we “already are in Christ, this is who Christ is in us”, he transitions in Chapter Four into the “not yet”, dealing with how we knock up against each other in life, with obedience in daily life, with our relationship to the world, the flesh, and the devil. The lines of demarcation between the “already – not yet” are fairly clear in Ephesians. Yes, there is pretty much an overlay, a transition zone, in all of this wherever it’s found in the Bible – there are those moments of the sun rising, those areas of semi-light, after all, we do see through a glass darkly and the sun doesn’t rise in an instant.

In Romans Paul reverses his Ephesian structure; rather than moving from the already to the not yet, he begins with the not yet and transitions to the already. From 1:1 through 5:11 the move is from being sinners in need of forgiveness to being those who are justified in Christ and who have peace with God. In 5:12 – 21 we move from Adam to Christ. In Chapter Six we move from “sin” as a principle, an animating force, to being dead to sin and alive to God. In Chapter Seven we move from living under the accusation and condemnation of the Law to being dead to the Law and married to Christ. In Romans Eight we move from the flesh to the Spirit and from there into the crescendo of 8:28 – 39 with its strong emphasis on the “already” in verses 29 and 30.

Chapters 12 – 16 in Romans then deal with working out the “already – not yet” in the life of the Body of Christ, the Church (leaving off for the moment the enigmatic chapters 9 – 11).

People, pastors, elders, theologians – in other words, “humans”, seem to have a propensity to focus on either the “already” or the “not yet” and leave the other alone. But the Bible calls us to live in holy tension, affirming who we are while at the very same time acknowledging that we are “in process”, we are “working out our own salvation with fear and trembling” knowing that it is “God who is at work in us” (Philippians 2:12 – 13).

This is about Jesus Christ and about God’s great love for us in Christ. This is about not who we are but about who He is. This is not about what we do or don’t do, but about the perfect and complete work that Jesus has done. If we gravitate toward ourselves we will fall into looking at either the “already” or the “not yet” and leave the other pretty much alone, but if we behold our Lord and Savior we will see His work of cosmic redemption from the beginning to the end and become accustomed to living in holy tension between the way things are and the way they shall be, the way we are and the way we shall be. Our identity does not change, we are saints in Christ having left Adam, being delivered from the first man (fallen humanity), now we are the children of God, and such we are!. However, we are also learning just what it means to be a son or daughter of the living God – and one thing we must learn…it is not about our welfare or our blessing…it is about taking up the cross and following Jesus and laying our lives down for our brothers and sisters. We cannot live in the “already” without the Cross of Christ – He is the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world – the “already” is rooted in the sacrificial Lamb, and the “not yet” can only be worked out in and through the Cross, the altar on which the Lamb was slain.

[1] Or, “what kind of love”

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Haddon Robinson – Remembering

“Education isn’t filling a pail with information; it is lighting a fire in the spirit of a learner.” Haddon W. Robinson (1931 – 2017).

Haddon Robinson went to be with Jesus on July 22. While most of the accolades heaped on Haddon during his life had to do with preaching (he consistently appears on lists of the top preachers in the English-speaking world), I will remember him for us self-effacing demeanor, his love for Jesus, his passion for communicating the Gospel, and for his deep desire to train those called to vocational ministry to preach Biblically and effectively – to communicate in ways that are faithful to the Bible and which create a conversation between the preacher and the listener, engaging the listener in the Biblical story, and connecting the Bible to everyday life so that the listener responds to Jesus Christ. I will remember Haddon as an educator.

Haddon used to say that as a young man he wondered how some preachers could speak for 20 minutes and it seemed like forever, while others could speak for 45 minutes and it seemed like 20 minutes. Vickie and I could listen to Haddon for an entire day and it would seem like 20 minutes. If you’ve never heard him, the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary website usually has links to his messages, and there are others elsewhere on the web.

Haddon was warm, accessible, and funny – he could move from ironic humor to verbal slapstick – he once had a message on his home voice mail that was laugh-out loud crazy to listen to – people would call his home number just to listen to the message. While there were some professors who were professorial (whether by intention or by nature), Haddon was Haddon – whether in the classroom or at a Patriot’s game, Haddon was Haddon. Haddon was one of those people who not only taught by good personal examples, but he was quick to share his mistakes and errors in thinking in order for his students to learn. He opened himself up and said, “Read this, read my life, learn from it.”

He had a deep respect for vocation, whether it was in pastoral ministry, education, running a business, or driving a septic pumping truck. Haddon saw all legitimate work as a calling of God, as an avenue of worship and service to God, and as a means to serve others. This could put him at odds with other “theologians” and professors who might give lip-service to the Reformation idea of the priesthood of all believers and vocational calling, but who did not actually teach or encourage such thinking in their students. Haddon’s preaching had to do with life as we live it and life as we should live it in the grace of Jesus Christ. If preaching didn’t connect with Monday – Friday then why preach? In Haddon’s preaching classes if you didn’t connect with Monday – Friday then it didn’t make much difference what you said or how you said it – you weren’t communicating to change lives for Jesus.

I know that Haddon was frustrated at times with theological teaching that locked students into the ancient world without making the transition to the current age. Hebrew and Greek exegesis is important, but frankly if we can’t bridge the gap between Isaiah’s time and our own, and if we can’t do it in a way that speaks to our workplace, our family, and the other spheres of our lives…then what’s the point?

In a sense, I learned as much (or more) about exegesis from Haddon, and his associate Scott Gibson, than I did in other classes, they were rigorous in challenging us to find the ground of our text and to be faithful to it in our messages. They did not countenance sloppiness and they would push you to defend your thinking – so you had better have done your work. Scott and Haddon are two of the most encouraging people I’ve ever known.

When I enrolled in seminary there was one class I had no interest in taking, but since it was a core requirement I had to take it – preaching. I wanted nothing to do with a class on preaching. The preaching I had been exposed to was generally boring, pedantic, religiously formed (why use a different tone of voice?), sometimes manipulative, and often delivered with a superior attitude that reinforced the clergy – laity dichotomy and the sacred – secular dichotomy; both of which I consider dichotomies of death. Scott and Haddon’s effect on me can be seen by the fact that I took not only the core preaching courses, but also elective preaching courses – I loved those men and their training – it was stimulating and fun.

I am much the better communicator in daily life because of Scott and Haddon. They taught me to get to the point, to establish a communication goal and to focus on that, to prune away the extraneous, and to plan how you want the plane to takeoff and how you want it to land.

Being with Haddon one-to-one, or in a small group, was like wearing an old shoe – it was incredibly comfortable. He asked questions, listened, laughed – he was an uncommon man with the common touch. You couldn’t be with him without being better yourself. I think that’s called a “testimony”. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

1 John 3:1-3, A Meditation (IV)

“See how great a love[1] the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and we such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”

Just as the children of Israel forgot who they were, so has much of the professing church forgotten their identity. Israel may have known that they were biologically descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (Jacob), but they had ceased to understand that they had a spiritual inheritance, a covenant of promise that had been reiterated by Yahweh to their father Abraham, their father Isaac, and their father Jacob. In Egypt the descendants of Israel had become people of earth and straw, people of bricks, people building temples to idols and constructing palaces to honor the kings of the earth.

After Moses led the people out of Egypt most of the people could not leave their old identity behind, “They made a calf in Horeb, and worshipped the molded image. Thus they changed their glory into the image of an ox that eats grass. They forgot God their Savior…” (Psalms 106:19 – 21). Yahweh had a wonderful inheritance for the people, not just in Canaan, but more importantly in relationship with Himself. God was establishing His Presence in the midst of the people, He was building His Tabernacle, He was leading them, feeding them, revealing His Law to them – but “they exchanged their glory”. This is the story of mankind, it is the story of Israel, and it is the story of much of the professing church – we exchange our glory.

The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is our glory; and yet He is not enough. While there are many ways in which we exchange our glory, in the context of the present passage one of the most insidious ways of exchange is the denial of our identity as children of God – just as Israel rejected its identity so we reject our identity. In spite of the fact that the Bible, and New Testament in particular, is replete with the message that those in Christ are sons and daughters of the living God, in spite of the fact that again and again and again we are called saints, we insist on rejecting the Word of God and overlaying it with our experience and with tradition. We allow our experience of sin and failure and falling short to shape and form our image of the Gospel, and hence we look at ourselves rather than at Christ – as this passage points out, transformation occurs when we behold Jesus Christ, not when we look at ourselves. Much of our preaching and teaching and thinking reinforces our old identity outside of Christ, rather than affirming in one another the glorious truth that we are the sons and daughters of the living God living in union with Him and with one another.

And so we have the “already not yet” of this passage. “Now we are children of God, it has not yet appeared what we shall be.” We can live by sight in the natural, or we can live by seeing the Word and believing it, affirming it, and looking unto Jesus. Our experience ought not to shape our identity, the Word God ought to shape our identity and from that our identity and union with Christ will shape our experience. We ought not to mold the Word according to our experience, we must submit to the Word and allow the Word and Holy Spirit to mold us.

We become what we behold. The Israelites had spent their lives with their fingers in mud and straw making bricks, their identity was in the earth and they couldn’t get over it. Presumably had they reoriented themselves, by God’s grace, through obedience to the living God dwelling among them, had their eyes been fixed on the unseen (a vision to be sure that takes time to develop), had they bowed their wills to God’s commands in obedience, had they believed the Word of Promise and Covenant that God was speaking to them through Moses, had their minds been fixed on the prize of Canaan – had they been looking forward and living in the “already not yet” – well, it is reasonable to think that the story would have been different.

Why do we fight the freedom we have in Christ? Why are we so uncomfortable with being the sons and daughters of God? What are we afraid of? Why cannot we call God “Abba Father” allowing the life He has placed within us in Christ to express itself in intimate familial ways, natural ways, ways which we would expect in a Father-child relationship? Cannot we not trust our kind heavenly Father and Lord Jesus to care for us? To shepherd us? To protect us? We are predestined, called, justified, and glorified (Romans 8:30) and yet we deny our birthright and inheritance – exchanging it for a pot of greens. When we seek to live in the reality of Romans 8 the mob pulls us down into Adam – we ignore the great exchange of identity in Romans 5 that we are no longer in Adam but are now in Christ.

Now we are children of God. Do we believe it?

[1] Or, “what kind of love”

Monday, July 24, 2017

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 95

“We talk to one another about the help we both need. We admonish one another to go the way Christ bids us to go. We warn one another against the disobedience that is our undoing. We are gentle and firm with one another, for we know both God’s kindness and God’s firmness.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 82.

Bonhoeffer thinks it “inconceivable” that Christians not speak God’s Word and will to one another. This is, of course, the New Testament picture of the Body of Christ; encouraging one another, building up one another, correcting one another, weeping with one another, rejoicing with one another. We all have blind spots, none of us enjoy total vision and perspective, and we all have something to offer others. Sadly, we tend to see two extremes in the church; one extreme says nothing, the other extreme arrogantly spouts Scripture and “thus says the Lord” to the point of domination, manipulation, and cheapening the Bible – for the Bible becomes not a Word from God but a document forced into the service of man. Paul writes that we are to submit to one another in the fear of Christ; we ought to be conscious of the fear of God when we listen to the Word from a brother, and we most certainly ought to be conscious of the fear of God when we speak the Word to a brother. We ought not to listen apart from submission, and we ought not to speak apart from submission.

People who are quick to speak the Word to others are often people who have not first provided the service of listening and practical help. Those who never speak are often those who do not know the Word, or who do not want to take the risk of rejection and misunderstanding. Those who never speak often defer to social norms; social norms should never be the norms of life together; we are called not to be conformed to the world but to be transformed by the Word and the Holy Spirit. Do I love my brother enough to speak to him? Do I love my brother enough to listen to him?

Pride is an enemy of those who speak, of those who don’t speak, and of those who listen. Those who listen may pridefully reject the Word spoken to them. They may do this because they deny there is anything wrong with them, and they may also do it because of the vessel through whom the Word comes. It may be one thing for a well-respected brother to counsel us, but how do we react when a brother of low-esteem and humble means speaks to us? It is one thing for someone with whom we are comfortable speaks to us, but how do we react to a brother with whom we have nothing in common?

Pride is an enemy of those who speak for they can mistake themselves for the Word of God in the sense of thinking themselves to be something they are not. We know nothing worth knowing in and of ourselves, everything comes to us through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. If we have something to share with a brother, if that something is from God then it does not belong to us…we are but stewards. We are to share only what we have been given and no more, and we are to be careful with what we share lest we inject our own speculation. As Peter writes, we are to speak as the oracles of God, but we are not the oracles, it is God’s Word not ours. It is better to speak a little and stop, not going beyond what we know to be the Word. If we stop and are quiet and then have clarifying thoughts, we can speak again – but too much talking often takes us beyond the Word, diluting it, overlaying it with our “wisdom” and “common sense” and speculation. We can take others out on a limb of a tree that they were never meant to be. We do not want to create or foster dependence on us, but on Christ and His Word.

At this point I want to gently make an observation; there are those always seeking “a Word from God”, it is better to seek the Word of God rather than a Word from God. The Word of God will sustain us every moment of our lives, whereas seeking “a Word from God” (in the sense I use the term) creates not a life of relationship with Christ and others, not a life of the Word living and growing within us, but rather a mentality of neediness and immaturity and dependence on others. Interdependence in life together is Biblical, dependence on others for constant direction is unhealthy for the church. Preachers and teachers who foster dependence in others have departed from Biblical eldership and teaching – and this can take many forms.

Pride is also an enemy of those who do not speak the Word of God to brothers. They may be retreating within the walls of social norms, “We don’t do that around here. Religion is a private matter” (even in church!) They may be uncomfortable, which is generally good. They may be concerned of what others may think – “He is taking things too seriously!” They may not want to expose themselves and thus be vulnerable (who does?) Do we love others to the point of deciding not to protect ourselves? Agape does not protect itself, its nature is sacrificial; it does not protect but rather offers itself. If we feel like we are dying when we share the Word of God with others that is fine, for we are called to the Way of the Cross – dying may not feel like a good thing but it is a good thing.

As Bonhoeffer mentions, sometimes the words spoken to us are “inept and awkward” – but those words can still be the Word of God. Too often our focus is on the messenger or the medium through which the message is delivered, as C.S. Lewis wrote, there were three images he was always fighting against; his image of God, his image of others, and his image of himself. In other words, our perceptions are not always accurate and they can lead us to false conclusions and ways of living. (Consider Lewis’s The Pilgrim’s Regress and Till We Have Faces for examples of how he dealt with this – one written at the beginning of his Christian life and one toward the end of his journey).

I recall words a brother once spoke to me about myself that were true, but I couldn’t hear them at the time because at the time he and I had a deep conflict between us (we had once been quite close). He could have spoken them more gently and more considerately, but the fact remains that what he spoke was true but I didn’t hear it because I was focused on who was saying it and how he was saying it and not on what was being said. Alas, we remain human…it will be liberating when this tent is put off and we are clothed with eternal garments.

Who are we speaking the Word of God to? Who is speaking the Word of God to us?

Friday, July 21, 2017

The Fellowship of the Upper Room

There are times when Jesus invites us to the Upper Room to sit at His table, not as a disciple, but as Himself. We speak but no one hears, we act but no one sees. And yet, in those times, we know Him - moving from the Outer Court to the Holy of Holies - the heart of our Father.

Jesus draws us through the koinonia of His suffering deep into Himself. The portal into the Trinity is the Cross, and while we prefer to designate the place of our own crucifixion, our Father loves us too much to allow us to do that. We are carried where we would not choose to go.

The Divine Presence shadows us, envelops us, lives in us and through us in Christ as we speak, as we act, as we obey, as we lay down our lives, as we walk out that which is written in the volume of the book…and in the midst of our pain we think, we ponder, we say, we shout, “I delight to do you will O God!”

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Benedict Option

I don’t often read books “hot off the press”, but I recently completed The Benedict Option, by Rod Dreher. I kept encountering references to it in my weekly reading, had a sense that I ought to read it and I am glad I did. Dreher argues, in my view persuasively, that Christians are called to live in distinct community, nurturing one another and their families, while engaging the world in mission. He also argues that our failure to do so will result in the continued collapse of the church and of society.

Since over the past couple of years I have been writing about Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, the Benedict Option dovetailed nicely into Life Together. I’ll also mention a book I read a few months ago, recommended by a friend, Desiring the Kingdom, by James K. A. Smith; the subtitle is “Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation”. Smith explores how our daily civic and social liturgies form us, how nothing is neutral, and how the Christian can be easily formed into the image of the world as opposed to the image of God. Smith’s book is a good companion to Dreher’s book because Dreher emphasizes viewing life sacramentally; in a sacramental sense we are either receiving the grace of God throughout the day as we interact with “life”, and are therefore being formed into the image of Christ, or, as Smith argues, we are allowing the liturgies of the age to form us into something else. The daily question is, “What liturgy will I join myself to today?”

When we learn civic liturgies at an early age we seldom challenge them and we come to worship that which the liturgies point to, this pulls the Christian away from desiring the Kingdom.

Dreher writes concerning some Christians today, “Instead of looking to prop up the current order, they have recognized that the kingdom of which they are citizens is not of this world and have decided not to compromise that citizenship.” Dreher then goes on to explore what this has looked like historically, what it looks likes in some places today, and what it might look like in our local environments. He looks to St. Benedict and his Rule as a touchstone, pointing out that, “The Rule teaches that God must be the beginning and the end of all our actions.”

The Benedict Option has two parts, the first is a social, philosophical, and theological overview of where we are today – it draws on the insights of a number of people and integrates them into a framework for thinking about where we are and where we are going – it is well done. The second part explores hard challenges facing us; education, sexuality, technology, economics, work.

Dreher is not a philosopher or a theologian, he is a politically conservative writer. He doesn’t always close the loop on some of his thinking, but this doesn’t happen often and it isn’t a distraction. The only real drawback for me in the book is that he uses political terminology at times, laying blame for certain problems on progressives – I find this unfortunate because no political or philosophical movement has clean hands and also because such thinking can alienate people that the book might help. There are certainly “progressives” in the Body of Christ.

This can be an important book for Christians, and whether one agrees with everything Dreher has to say, he raises questions and challenges that deserve our attention. It is a book that congregations ought to ponder – how do they measure up? If they think they have better benchmarks – what are they? Are we a distinct people? Are we living in the world but not of the world? Are we functionally the City of God? Are we Silicon Valley, Washington, D.C., Stanford and Harvard, Hollywood, Wall Street…or the New Jerusalem?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

1 John 3:1-3, A Meditation (III)

“See how great a love[1] the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and we such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”

Of course the world does not know the children of God; it did not know Jesus, it cannot know us. Jesus says that if we were of the world that the world would love us (John 15:19). Twice in John 17 Jesus says that we are not of the world, even as He is not of the world (verses 14 and 16). Yet, as the Father has sent Jesus into the world Jesus sends us into the world (John 17:18; 20:21).

We can be identified with our Father and Lord Jesus, or we can be identified with the world, but we cannot do both without losing our center of gravity; we cannot rightly claim to be the children of God and also the children of the world – for the children of the present age are subject to the prince of the power of the air…why would we align ourselves with the enemy of our Father God?

We should not expect to be recognized by the world, for the world did not, and does not, recognize Jesus. Any Jesus that the world recognizes, any Jesus that the world pays homage to, is not likely to be the real Jesus of the Gospel, is not likely to be the Jesus of the Resurrection who commands worship and obedience.

As children ashamed of a parent, or ashamed of a sibling, how often do we portray our Father and Lord Jesus as something they are not? How often do we gloss over their demands for righteousness? For repentance? For total obedience? How often do we portray God as a sugar daddy, indulgent, looking the other way, making excuses for our behavior? How often is Jesus represented as wishy-washy anything-goes nebulous love?

As we love one another and as we are one in Christ we pray that the world will see and hear the Gospel (John 13:34-35; 17:21); but we also know that until the end of the age the world, in and of itself, not only will not know us but that it will often persecute us. In one sense the measure of our witness might be the measure of our persecution – of the resistance that we encounter. Let us be thankful when we are permitted to live in peace, but let us not flinch when that peace is removed.

The idea that the world does not know us comes with us being objects of the Father’s love, it comes with us being called children of God. Our Father bestows an identity upon us that is His own, we are called by His Name and by the Name of His Son, Jesus Christ. We are sealed with the Holy Spirit. We are children of the Trinity. The Name of our God, of His City, and the Name of Jesus are being written upon us and within us (Revelation 3:12). Adopted into the family of God we are being formed into the image of His firstborn Son (Romans 8:29).

The world needs us to be who we are in Jesus Christ, it needs us to live as the children of God. How sad that we should not fulfill our role as sons and daughters of God in our generation. How glad that we should. Some people recognized Jesus, some did not. Some caught a glimpse and then lost it, they turned away. Some were captured by His light and life.

The world may not recognize us; what is important is that our Great Shepherd recognizes us and calls us by name. After all, it is vital that others see Him and not us; and we can pray that through us they will see Him.

It is an amazing thing that God loves us, that He calls us His children – quite amazing.

To quote an old hymn:

“I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands;
I’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hand

Chr: Than to be the king of a vast domain
Or be held in sin’s dread sway;
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today

I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;
I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I’d rather have Jesus than worldwide fame;
I’d rather be true to His holy name

He’s fairer than lilies of rarest bloom;
He’s sweeter than honey from out the comb;
He’s all that my hungering spirit needs;
I’d rather have Jesus and let Him lead

[1] Or, “what kind of love”

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

How Much Is Enough? (V)

“For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack – that there may be equality. As it is written, ‘He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack.’” 2 Corinthians 8:12 – 15.

Equality in community in Christ is a central thread of 2 Corinthians Chapters 8 and 9. We may dilute it, we may skip over it, and we will tend to rationalize it away – however, it is the nature of Christ to care for others, and it is the nature of a body to care for itself, for its members. When we close our hearts and resources to our brothers and sisters we close our hearts and resources to Jesus Christ. As the Apostle John asks, “But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17). This is a question that churches should be asking; it is a question that most of us should be asking (I write “most” for I have known some unusual people who have lived sacrificial lives, embodying 1 John 3:16). When we do not meet the needs of our brothers and sisters in distress we are denying the nature of Christ and we are denying that we are His body. What are we saying to the cosmos, to “the rulers and authorities in the heavenlies”? What are we saying to our generation? What is our witness?

Paul makes it clear that no one should be forced to think and act in accordance with this teaching, “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). There should be no pressure. This does not mean that there should be no challenge – for Paul has challenged the Corinthians with the example of the Macedonians, and he has challenged them with Israel in the Wilderness. It is a fine line – it is the nature of Christ to care for others, it is our calling to care for our brothers and sisters, now you need to decide how to live.

This idea of careful tension between compulsion and obedience is, I think, unique to the issue of money in the New Testament. Caring for our brothers and sisters is clearly woven into the Gospel, “…they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all…” (9:13). So why doesn’t Paul say, as he would in other areas of life, “Just do it”?

I think the answer lies, at least in part, in Paul’s general approach to the subject of money, he doesn’t want to do anything that might give others a reason to accuse him of being focused on money, of questioning his motives. Another likely component is that God really does love a cheerful giver, and since money is closely tied to the heart (for many of us) Paul doesn’t want someone to fall into hypocrisy by just going along with the program, nor does he want someone to harden his heart by resentfully giving what he does not freely want to give. There is a reason the Bible talks so much about money and possessions, they are dear to our hearts – alas, we cannot serve both God and money and therefore (hopefully!) we have a tension.

On the other hand, Paul is challenging the collective church in Corinth and we are good stewards of the Gospel if we challenge congregations, and if congregations challenge themselves. Note that this is about giving to others, not about lining the coffers of our own congregations. Just as individuals can justify not giving by seeking their own financial security, so can congregations and other ministry organizations. Considering the size of some endowments one would think that the God of today is not the God of tomorrow – He may have provided in the past but we aren’t sure about Him providing for the future. How much is enough before we sacrificially give to others? Why it is “just a little bit more!”

If context should rule our interpretation of the text, then the idea of God loving a cheerful giver ought to be taught in the context of giving to others in need and not in the context of sustaining our own organizational apparatus. It ought to include the context that God is our provider and that we are on pilgrimage together and that there should be equality in community. Consider that the Corinthians were to be participating in “fully supplying the needs of the saints” (9:12) – we aren’t talking about sending a few bags of dried beans.

2 Corinthians Chapters 8 and 9 is an indictment of the church as most of us know it, and I must also admit my own guilt. The question is, will we have the courage to do anything about it?

Do we consider these two chapters the Word of God? If so, will we respond in obedience?

Monday, July 17, 2017

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 94

“Wherever the service of listening, active helpfulness, and bearing with others is being faithfully performed, the ultimate and highest ministry can also be offered, the service of the Word of God.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 80.

Bonhoeffer now explores what it means for brothers and sisters to speak the Word of God to one another, not as a pastor from the pulpit, but as Christians living life together. He writes of “all the comfort, the admonition, the kindness, and the firmness of God” that might be communicated in our relationships. He points out (page 81) that “if proper listening does not precede it [speaking the Word], how can it really be the right word for the other?” He points out that if we are not being helpful in service to others then our words lack credibility.

We must listen before we speak, we must bear with others before we speak, we ought to be aware of our own failings before we speak – but speak we must for “… on the other hand, who wants to accept the responsibility for having been silent when we should have spoken?

Paul writes to the Colossians (3:16), “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hears to God.” The New Testament picture of life together is every member of the body serving the entire body; this includes speaking the Word of Christ to one another as a way of life – not as something that only occurs in structured settings.

Bonhoeffer discusses the tension inherent in the idea of being a people who speak the Word of God to one another…and to others. As he has previously discussed, we are not called to dominate others or to make others into our image of what they should be. We are not called to stamp our motif of religious life on others. We are not called to arrogantly presume to know what is best for others. We are called to listen, to pray, to intercede, to be respectful…and then to speak. As James writes, the wisdom from above is first peaceable – those who think they must shout and clothe their words with super-spiritual code words and jargon don’t understand the spirit of the Lamb and the One who will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoking flax.

“Other persons have their own secrets that may not be violated without the infliction of great harm. Nor can they divulge them without destroying themselves” (pages 81-82). There are times when we need to explicitly confide and confess to another in an appropriate and wise fashion; and such times can bring closure, relief, release, and forgiveness. But we are not dentists looking to pull the teeth of others and we ought not to coax, force, or manipulate others to tell us things which perhaps they ought not to share, or are not ready to share. We ought to seek the healing and health and welfare of others; others are not here to make us look spiritual or wise, they are not here to entertain us with stories of their struggles – we ought not to use the world and its model of continual self-disclosure in our relationships with one another. There are likely things in all of our lives, things in our past (if we have lived long enough) that we must speak to God alone about…and if it should be otherwise then we can trust Him to reveal it to us.

Yes, we are to live transparently in our life together, and part of that transparency is that I don’t pretend to be someone I am not, it is acknowledging that outside of Christ I am capable of extreme wickedness, it is acknowledging that I have things in my past which I deeply regret and for which I have sought God’s forgiveness (and the forgiveness of others as appropriate). It is also respecting my brothers and sisters who make such a confession, and respecting whatever “secrets” they may have – loving them where they are and how they are as we walk this pilgrimage together. Then hopefully they will speak the Word of Christ to me, and hopefully I will love them enough to speak the Word of Christ to them. There is a tension, but it is a healthy and holy tension, a tension of the sacred, a tension of caring for friendships, a tension maintained in the humility of sensing and knowing that we have invited one another to share life together in Jesus Christ.

Friday, July 14, 2017

1 John 3:1-3, A Meditation (II)

“See how great a love[1] the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and we such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”

How often do we pass over the word “Father” without recognizing its import? John’s introduction (1:1-4) contains the words, “…and indeed our fellowship (koinonia) is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write so that our joy may be complete.”

Jesus came so that we might know the Father, live in deep intimate relationship with the Father, and in so doing know the joy of Jesus and the Trinity (John 15:11). John and his associates found joy in writing, in communicating, in sharing, the life “that was manifested” (1 John 1:2) in the hope that others would be drawn into the koinonia, communion, of the Trinity (1 John 1:3).

How often do we say the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9 – 13) and do not linger in the first word, “Father”? Do we consider what Jesus says just before verse 9? “So do not be like them [those who do not know the true and living God]; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” Those who do not know the true and living God, but who worship other gods, think that they must get the attention of their gods, that they must placate and satisfy their gods, that they must appease their gods, that they must do something to get their gods to act. But Jesus says that “your Father knows”.

Why does our Father know? Because our Father loves us and He therefore pays attention to us. In the midst of the insanity of our culture our Father knows us and loves us and pays attention to us. Yes, because God is God and is therefore omniscient, He knows all things, but the word “Father” conveys a relational knowing – He knows us as our Father, not as solely the Creator of the universe. I do not understand this mystery, but it is portrayed in Scripture. We can cry unashamedly, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6), for though God is indeed the Creator of all there is, through Jesus Christ He is also our Father, and we can therefore say, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are…”

John emphasizes the relational reality of our familial bond with, “and such we are”, or with the simple literal “we are” – we are His children, we are, we are, we are. How many times must we repeat “we are” until we begin to see the deep-space reality of what has happened on this planet and in our hearts? God has come back to the “Silent Planet” (to borrow an image from C.S. Lewis) to bring His children back to Himself. How powerful is His love? How desperately pursuing is His love? What great lengths will His love go to rescue us?

We were dead in our sins, we were His enemies, we were laden with sin and death, we were wicked, yes wicked. To see the love of God we must see our hideous condition, and if we attempt to mitigate our condition as if to say, “We weren’t all that bad,” we might as well say that Jesus didn’t need to come and die because there was another way – and that the love of God is not all that magnificent and humbling.    

To rescue the innocent is one thing, to rescue and die for the guilty and wicked is quite another. But in Jesus Christ the children of God are brought back to their Father and “we are” now His sons and daughters, “we are” now saints in Jesus Christ. We know that since we had nothing to do with this great rescue and redemption that we can rest secure in our Father’s amazing love. This is “a great love”, a love that we are called to pass on to others just as John passed it on – and passing it on means living in relationship with others, for in loving relationship with others we know loving relationship with our Father, and in loving relationship with our Father we know loving relationship with our brothers and sisters.

There is no one we will meet today who does not need to know the love of God. Today we will meet those living in vibrant relationship with our Father, then we will meet those who belong to the family but have little awareness of who Jesus Christ is and who they are in Him, then we will meet those who think some semblance of religion makes them something they are not, and then we will meet those who have embraced the lies of this age and think and live as if nothing matters, and then there are those who are simply hungry for love and peace and hope. We have the Father’s love to give to all, we have a drink that forever satisfies, a bread that fills the soul.

Jesus says to all, “Come.” What do we say?

If we will holistically know the Trinity as our abiding place, and if we will live in the awareness that the Trinity abides in us…what might today look like? It will look like Jesus walking the earth.

[1] Or, “what kind of love”

Monday, July 10, 2017

1 John 3:1-3, A Meditation

“See how great a love[1] the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and we such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”

When you awoke this morning did you know that you were loved? In world of uncertainty, do you know that you are loved by God? This love is both of a magnitude (how great a love!) and a nature (what kind of love!) as to envelope us in God, overwhelm us in God, and draw us into God in Christ.

God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16) – have you ever been loved like this? Are you aware that you are loved like this? Do not gloss over these words that perhaps are too familiar; God gave Jesus for you. Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20 concerning Jesus, “who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Just as Christ Jesus loves Paul, so He loves you.

Paul writes in Romans Chapter 3, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us…For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

Jesus desires “that the world may know that You [the Father] sent Me, and loved them [His people] even as You have loved me” (John 17:23). He concludes His prayer in John 17 with, “…so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.”

The Father loves the man, or woman, or child in Christ “even as” He loves His Only Begotten Son. Do you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and source of light and life, are you living in relationship with Him? Then be assured that the Father loves you as He loves Jesus Christ, for you are His child; “that we would be called children of God”.

If you have not yet come into a relationship to Jesus Christ, God not only loves you, but there is a sense in which He wants to love you even more (if I can use such an expression). In John 1:12 – 13 we read, “But as many as received Him [Jesus Christ], to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

God the Father wants you to come home to Him, He wants you to know that He loves you as you are and that He desires to give you His very own life, the life that is found in Jesus Christ. The Father desires to bestow on you the name and nature of His family, His children – “that we should be called children of God”.

If you know Him in Christ, then do not forget today who you are in Jesus Christ – you are a son, or a daughter, of the living God. Do not forget the magnitude and the nature of the love which God has bestowed on you – is it any wonder that Paul writes in Romans Chapter 8, “Who can separate us from the love of Christ?”

There is a lot of advertising about DNA testing, take a test and find out from what ethnic groups you are descended, take a test and find out potential health concerns. Here is the Gospel: We were created in God’s image, we rejected His image, rebelling against Him, sinning, and our sin is killing us all – inwardly and outwardly. We left His family.

Jesus Christ came to live and die and rise from the dead, making a way for us to come back to our Father God, making a way for us to leave our old family tree of death and be joined to His Family Tree of Life (Romans 5:12 – 21). In Christ we are no longer children of death but rather children of Life in Christ – “that we should be called children of God”.

While DNA testing may identify health concerns, they are all temporal – for we are all going to die physically anyway; the health concern that should matter to us all is that outside of Christ our spirits lie dead (Ephesians 2:1-3). This is why Jesus speaks of being “born from above” in John Chapter 3. We need new DNA, we need new Life. We don’t need self-improvement, we don’t need self-help, we don’t need self-esteem – we can have these things and yet remain dead and dying – these things can distract us from the disease within us – we need restoration to the life of God, and only God can give us His life…the Good News is that He deeply desires to give us His life, He deeply desires for us to know how much He loves us…how deep is this desire? He gave His Son for you, for me, for us.

If you already know God in Jesus Christ, remember today that you are loved; remember the magnitude and the nature of that love…and live in awareness of that love today.

“See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and we such we are.”

[1] Or, “what kind of love”

Saturday, July 8, 2017

A Lifetime of Books – Musings (8)

Continued from the previous post in this series…

Along with the sense of the numinous, is the sense of opposing forces which we cannot see. Beneath the earth in The Princess and the Goblin are the goblins and their king and queen. I never lost sight, for indeed it was sight, of the Princess and Curdie in the bowels of the earth as prisoners of the goblins; their escape remained with me. When I read the story to Vickie a few years ago I revisited my experience when my mother read the story to me, and I kept thinking, “Oh yes, I remember that. Oh, that is the way it was, the mists of cloudy memory have disappeared. Why did I wait so long to read this myself? Why did I wait so long to share it?”

One of the marks of great storytelling is the ability of the narrator to portray the antagonist. An antagonist ought to be etched as deeply in our minds as the hero, for the hero’s heroism is framed within the evil which he or she encounters and overcomes. When evil and opposition are portrayed vividly we will not forget what we have seen and experienced. We may not dwell on it (hopefully we won’t), we will shut it in the abyss and throw away the key; but we will never forget what we have seen and the courage and faith it took to defeat it. MacDonald portrays evil in many forms in his writings, sometimes it is overt, at others time it is seductive – only a fool thinks that evil has a limited wardrobe.

Lewis does much the same in the Chronicles of Narnia and the Space Trilogy; evil can be beautiful to the eye and pleasing to the senses, it can be logical and scientific, or it can be hideous.

MacDonald also portrays the good and courageous in various forms, as does Lewis. Is Irene’s grandmother old or young? Is she beautiful or ugly? What does the natural eye see versus what is really there? Is not this the way it was and is with Jesus? Isaiah says that He had no beauty or form that we should desire Him. What can we learn from this?

The Bible teaches us that we do not “see” all there is to see, it teaches that there is an unseen realm(s) of which we have limited awareness…and yet, it need not be so, at least to the degree that most of us experience. However, the Bible does not turn this into a religious or supernatural amusement park ride, it doesn’t entice us to “experience” the supernatural, for these are not playthings – better not to see these things than to see them and play with them…they can destroy you; or they can make you think you know more than you do. For the Christian, life must always be about Jesus Christ, loving Him and loving others and not thinking a great deal of ourselves or what we think we know. Better to be in love with Jesus than think we are something we are not.

Yet, the Scriptures pull back the curtain; in Daniel, in Revelation, in Zechariah, to name but three. Yet, Paul writes that we are to look at the unseen and not the seen – but he does this in the context of knowing Jesus and suffering for Him, he does this in the context of looking for our home, anticipating the day when we will put off this temporal dwelling and be clothed with heaven’s dwelling (2 Corinthians Chapters 4 & 4). Moses (Hebrews 11) sees “Him who is invisible”. We don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but against powers in the unseen that manifest themselves in the seen (Daniel and Ephesians 6).

Children, as adults, need to know there is evil and MacDonald portrays just enough malice in the goblins to leave a lasting impression, an impression that’s been with me for 60 years or more. There is good and there is evil in the story; there is the guiding hand of Princess Irene’s great-great-grandmother, there is the capture and the escape, there is the defeat of the goblins in the king’s house – where are we in the story?

Where are we in the story of the Bible? In the story of life? Do we live as if what we see is all there is? If so, what is the point? If what we see is not all there is, then who will have the courage to live as if life matters? Will I have the courage? Will you? 

Friday, July 7, 2017

A Lifetime of Books – Musings (7)

Have you ever “felt” something and didn’t know what it was? Or perhaps tasted something that intrigued you and appealed to you, but didn’t know the ingredients? Have you ever been aware of “something other” than what you can touch and see?

When I was a very young boy my mother read a story to me; not a nursery rhyme, not a Little Golden Book, but a story that took me on an adventure beyond myself, and beyond anything I could touch with my fingers or see with my eyes…and yet…yet I could “see” what she was reading, I could feel it; it drew me, beckoned me, invited me. As she read, my mother’s words transported me beyond my surroundings and I found myself with the Princess Irene, and her grandmother, and Curdie, and with the goblins. George MacDonald’s book, The Princess and the Goblin, awakened the numinous within me – or perhaps better – the numinous broke through to me and touched something within me.

C.S. Lewis termed George MacDonald “my master”. When Lewis was an adolescent, after having rejected Christianity, he purchased and read MacDonald’s Phantastes (Lewis didn’t know MacDonald was a Christian); the story stirred Lewis and he excitedly wrote to his friend Arthur Greeves about it – he didn’t know what it was but he had touched something, or perhaps we should say that something had touched Lewis. Not until years later would Lewis understand what had happened with Phantastes, not until he was surprised by joy – the joy of finding his desire, the joy of finding that for which he had always yearned, and had often denied, in his struggle between materialism and the numinous. The seed planted by MacDonald would be nurtured by Hugo Dyson and J.R.R. Tolkien – and one day Lewis would know that “this is that which has been drawing me all these years” (my words) and he would surrender to God “a most reluctant convert” (his words).

I never forgot my experience with The Princess and the Goblin, but I didn’t understand it – not until in my 50s, and even now I am still discovering its depths and heights. When Chesterton writes that all he needed to know was to be found in the nursery, he is writing about the numinous, the sense of “other”, the experience of adventure and journey, of being surprised by joy. Alas, as Chesterton also writes, the world does its best to extinguish it, it educates it out of us, it shames us, it tells us to grow up. Lewis’s tutor, Kirkpatrick, educated the sense of the divine out of Lewis…or at least tried to…it was nonsense, illogical (really?), you couldn’t see it or touch it. But Phantastes remained with Lewis, lingered, hung in the background; and it would knock on the door, whisper its voice, beckon him to come…Lewis thought that there must surely be something more than the material world, he knew there would be no surprises of joy in materialism but he felt constrained to force himself to think like an atheist or agnostic…and yet his heart told him that there must be something more.

I never forgot The Princess and the Goblin, and there were times I would sense that experience I had when listening to my mother, but like a fool I sought to find it in places where it was not to be found – sometimes in frivolous places, sometimes in sinful places, many times in places where the world told me that I should go, such as career, position, recognition, accomplishment, material things.

The church was not helpful either, for coming to know Jesus in the context of my experience was like joining a subculture among a subculture with competing subcultures. Intellectual theological propositions have their place, but in and of themselves they are at best Stoicism; spiritual/emotional experiences have their place, but in and of themselves they are akin to riding a roller coaster – perhaps we can call them religious Epicureanism. I had a longing for “home” but I didn’t know it, and had I known it I may not have known where home was.

How many times did I read Hebrews Chapter 11 and miss the theme of “longing” for home? The men and women of faith longed for their true home, they lived with a sense of the numinous – and yet I reduced what I read to either the intellectual or emotional and did not see the holistic, did not see the cosmic. I thought I was living in the penthouse, or at least a floor or two below it, when all the time I was in the basement depending on artificial light.

We underestimate what happens when the numinous is educated out of us – whether by the church or by the world. As Lewis wrote, we are men without chests; without hearts, without souls, without higher desire, without a sense of who we really are. It is not my intention to offend, I write this clinically, but when I see the drivel contained in popular catalogs of “Christian” books, enticing us to engage in the latest and greatest revelatory teaching, or self-help program, I want to shout – “We are being dumbed-down in an opium den of the little universe of self and religious entertainment – we are reinforcing heavens of brass and shutting the Divine Presence from our lives, obscuring the call of Jesus Christ to belong to Him and to Him alone.” Yes, there are substantive writings, past and present, to be had but the general “Christian” population is generally unaware of them and has little patience with that which does not appeal to our short-attention spans and obsession with self.

Are you longing for home?

A few years ago I read The Princess and the Goblin to Vickie, and then its sequel, The Princess and Curdie; I highly recommend them to you.

I will return to The Princess and the Goblin in my next post in this series.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

How Much Is Enough? (IV)

“For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack – that there may be equality. As it is written, ‘He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack.’” 2 Corinthians 8:12 – 15.

How often do we look at what we don’t have instead of what we do have? We look at what we don’t have and say, “I can’t do that. I have nothing to give. I have nothing to contribute.” Is this true?

When we look at what we don’t have our focus is on nothing so we have nothing to give; we can’t give what we don’t have. If we look at what we have we have something to give, for we are looking at something – especially those of us in the West, especially those of us in middle-class and above circumstances. The Macedonians were living in deep poverty (8:2) and yet they gave, they begged to give, they desired to give – their brethren in Judea needed help and the Macedonians wanted to give beyond what they had – their giving made no sense to the observer, but it made sense to God.

Many times I’ve heard people say that the church in Jerusalem that held “all things in common” (Acts 2:44 – 45) is not a model for the church, that it is an anomaly, that it was only for that particular time and place. But I’ve never heard these same people talk about 2 Corinthians Chapters 8 & 9 unless they do it out of context, a point I’ll get to in a future post. While we know from Acts 5:4 that there was no coercion to sell private property and contribute it, we also read in Acts 4:32: “Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but that they had all things in common.” [Italics mine].

Whether or not I have sold what I have is not the point, the point is who owns what I have – is it the Lord Jesus or is it me? If Jesus Christ owns my possessions then they are at His disposal, I am a steward and not an owner – my wife and I are stewards of our possessions, we hold them in trust for Jesus Christ and His people and for the blessing of others.

“Nor was there anyone among them who lacked…” Acts 4:34. Can we not see the interplay of Acts and 2 Corinthians? Do we see the consistency? How can what we see in Jerusalem be isolated to that time and place when we see it applied to the saints in Europe, in Macedonia and Greece?

We don’t see it because we don’t want to see it. We ask, “How much is enough?” And we answer, “Just a little bit more. Let me have just a little bit more and then I’ll give. A little bit more so that I am certain I’ll be okay and enjoy life and then I’ll give. A little bit more and I’ll make adjustments. Surely God understands, surely Jesus knows, surely He wants me to have just a little bit more.”

We gloss over the word “equality” in 2 Corinthians, we don’t make eye contact – if we don’t see it then it doesn’t exist – but it is there and it is the Word of God.

Paul reaches back into Israel in the Wilderness on its journey to Canaan for his analogy, when the manna fell to feed the people of Israel no one lacked, there was an equality of provision. The people of Israel were on a journey together. We, however, tend to live in relative isolation. We close our doors, we close our hearts, we close our pocketbooks; we use common sense and cultural norms to justify ourselves – we make excuses for why others are in need and therefore justify not giving to them, justifying a lack of equality. (Just to be clear, this is not letting individuals and families escape from accountability – if people don’t work they are not to eat – 2 Thess. 3:10. However, the mutual care of one for another is seen throughout the Bible and the exception is not the rule – we are to care for the widows and orphans and others – we need to quit looking for a way out).

In Paul’s day we might say that manna was falling in Greece but not in Judea and that the Greeks should be giving. As for the Macedonians, even though there was but little manna in their nation they were determined to give beyond what made common sense – they weren’t looking at what they didn’t have but rather at what they did have…and they were trusting God to provide.

There is something deeply wrong in the church when people in the same areas and regions go hungry while others feast – within the church. People gathering in some churches may lack adequate food and housing and medical care, while 15 or 30 or 45 minutes away people in other churches enjoy warmth, and full refrigerators, and attentive doctors, and education, and safety. This is a concentric principle and reaches to the ends of the earth – what about our brothers in the Middle East, Asia, Africa? How do we compare with the Macedonians? What about our brothers across the street? Across the bridge? Across the tracks?

The only place I know to begin is with myself. The only place we can collectively begin is with repentance and a commitment to follow Jesus Christ in giving whether or not anyone joins with us. Sadly, for pastors to preach and teach 2 Corinthians Chapter 8 & 9 is risky – to challenge the American obsession with consumption and possessions and financial security is a fool’s errand (in the natural). It certainly doesn’t help that much of the American church overtly preaches a pagan prosperity gospel, and that the rest of us often think that the only thing wrong with the prosperity gospel is that it lacks decorum – better to frame the permission to get more and more and more in terms of the American dream, of the Declaration of Independence and its pursuit of happiness, in socially acceptable terms. The real problem with the prosperity gospel is that it doesn’t hold its teacup properly.

Can we not see that possessions and consumption have anesthetized us to the pain and suffering and distress of others – both within and without the family of God? Someone has poured drugs into the water trough that the sheep drink from.

How do we and our churches compare to 2 Corinthians Chapter 8 & 9?

How does the word “equality” sound on our lips? How does it play in our minds? Does it have room in our hearts?