Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Saw this on Reddit today:
I'm going to start sounding like a broken record on this, but read the gospels. Try this: make a list of things that Jesus commands his disciples to do. Before long you'll get to something that sounds unreasonable. Go out and try to do that. Love somebody who's an asshole to you. Give away a little more money than you're comfortable giving. Take a couple of sandwiches to the park and sit down and share them with a homeless person.
If you begin living the lifestyle commands of Jesus and open your heart to him, you will slowly come into harmony with him, and he will be with you. He will be in you. This works.
In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe, where it became a culture. And, finally, it moved to America where it became an enterprise.
~ Richard Halverson
Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.
~ Romans 14
Earlier I posted about how I forgot to get an exit visa for our imminent trip to the US. I made short order of filling out the paperwork; and, by all accounts, everything went very smoothly. Signatures were given; documents were presented; and the government affairs department processed my application more quickly than I had seen before. (I was told that I would have our visas in two days, and we did!)
I can still remember vividly the state I was in the night before work that week. I had been characteristically positive about the whole thing: "It'll be alright." "It's never taken more than five days." "Good thing we remembered now." I had to be. If I wasn't, I'd drag Andi down, too.
But that night, as I laid in bed, a feeling of helplessness came over me. I knew that it had been my mistake... my carelessness that had put us in this situation. What if we didn't get our visas in time? What if Eid came before the process was complete and the week of celebration became an unstoppable countdown to financial and personal loss?
The worst part was that I was stuck in sleepless worry with nothing I could really do, physically, to improve the situation. The government affairs office wouldn't be open until the morning. Still I laid awake.
(Some scheduling information: we were leaving the week after Eid; so if we didn't have our visas by Eid, we would be on campus, as planned, but stuck in the knowledge that we could do nothing to get our visas before we were supposed to leave.)
So I prayed. I talked with my father about the worry I felt. About the shame of being careless. About the possibility of letting Andi down. Of letting our families down. Of being irresponsible with the money that he has given us. (Flights to the US aren't cheap from here, after all.)
I've been a student of scripture for a long time: I know that our father cares for us, and that he guides us in his path for our lives. I knew that my faith, however mundane the circumstances, was faltering. I was putting my trust in myself, not in him; and I was letting myself down.
Like I said: everything went pretty well, starting the next morning; I felt a little better when the government affairs representative assured me that we would have our visas before Eid; I felt a little better when his prediction left us with two days of leeway; but I didn't really calm down until I had the paper in my hand.
Of course, now I'm on the other end of the experience, and I can talk about faith in God with the calm demeanor of someone who isn't being confronted by it; but maybe I can learn something now, through prayer and study, that will give me peace when I'm in a position to fail myself again.
All things work together for good
My mind first turns to Romans 8.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
My familiarity with scripture is never what I want it to be, so I stumbled around a bit until I found Philippians 1, where Paul gives a more explicit example of what a life lived by faith looks like.
Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.
Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.
Here is Paul, imprisoned for his teaching; but he knows (and has evidence after-the-fact) that God is using his imprisonment for good. I think, in particular, about the praetorian guard; how, if Paul's ministry had been simpler, playing out as I would have chosen for myself, it wouldn't have touched these people.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
James would point out (as he does in James 2) that the faith we see here doesn't exist in isolation, but is evidenced in works. Faith, if it exists, must affect our actions. Otherwise, it's just a lie we tell ourselves.
What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
This doesn't paint me in the best light, of course: but I knew that. I claimed faith in God--even with the knowledge that anything that could happen to me would be within his plan for my life--but when that faith was tested, my actions fell short. My faith was in word only. Maybe that's why I got my paperwork in the end: not because I so desperately needed to travel to the US; but because, were I to miss out, my reaction would be a hindrance to those around me, rather than a witness. Again, I think of Paul, imprisoned, sharing his faith with his captors.
Forgiveness, and second chances, are welcome respite.
Great is thy faithfulness
All of this has been about me though, and that's missing the point. It's not about my faith, or the strength of my faith, or some arbitrary, disconnect ability that I have to put faith in things. The power of my faith is not my own, but is God's. I could choose to put my faith in myself; in political leaders; in charismatic teachers; but the value of that faith is limited to the faithfulness of the one you trust. Compared to God, we all fall short. That's why it's so amazing and awesome that we have him.
Your lovingkindness, O LORD, extends to the heavens, Your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
And, of course, there's always the classic twenty-third Psalm
But, in the end, the ultimate expression of appreciation for God's faithfulness, in my mind, comes in Lamentations 3. I didn't know that, but Wikipedia tells me that it served as the inspiration for the timeless hymn.
Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father; there is no shadow of turning with thee; thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not; as thou hast been thou forever will be. Summer and winter and springtime and harvest, sun, moon and stars in their courses above join with all nature in manifold witness to thy great faithfulness, mercy and love. Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide; strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside! Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
I've been staying away from the topic of salvation through faith because it's such a large topic on its own; but we shouldn't forget to remember that the ultimate expression of God's faithfulness points back to the promise that he made so long ago: to fix us and our world; to conquer death; to cleanse us of our sins (even the sin of faltering in our faith); even so far as to sacrifice his son, the Christ.
Sometimes my faith is weak, but your faithfulness is so great!
Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for he had married a Cushite woman); and they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us as well?” And the LORD heard it.
Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.
Suddenly the LORD said to Moses and Aaron and to Miriam, “You three come out to the tent of meeting.” So the three of them came out. Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud and stood at the doorway of the tent, and He called Aaron and Miriam.
When they had both come forward, He said, “Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream. Not so, with My servant Moses: he is faithful in all My household; with him I speak mouth to mouth, even openly, and not in dark sayings, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant, against Moses?”
I regret that I've never actually read all of the Bible. It's possible that I have, I suppose--I've been in the church long enough--but never intentionally. Never specifically and definitively have I read the whole thing.
Unsurprisingly and relatedly, I'm not very diligent in scripture reading. I know I'd like to be in the scriptures every day; but, for some reason, I'm not.
I'm picking out a reading plan. This particular one happens to be "chronological" (in order of events, not writing) which appeals to me, somewhat. I'll start tomorrow, and maybe having a goal (read every day; write about it) will encourage me to stick with it. I sure hope so.
At the same time, I really want to know more about the history of the Biblical canon. I've got so many opinions about the scripture itself bouncing around in my head, but with no authority or knowledge to justify them. I'm less certain what the right move is to clear up that problem (just trolling the Internet is probably the wrong move), but I'll look for a book or something.
You, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill.
I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.
People who read this (if there are such people) have probably noticed the trendy little tag cloud in the bottom-right corner of the front page. I put it there mostly as an exercise in playing around with ikiwiki, the wiki compiler that generates what you see here. The unintended consequence has been a harsh light on the fact that I've posted much more about gaming and programming than about faith and scripture. These are the things that are supposed to be primary, but I pay them much lower attention than comparative trivialities.
I can provide all kinds of excuses for this (a lack of focus doesn't imply a lack of esteem); but, in the end, my actions define who I am, not some abstract internal definition of self.
This bit of naval-gazing comes to a point now as I prepare for my upcoming lesson to be presented at our worship group this Friday. As is my pattern, I will attempt to prepare in a publicly-visible place in hopes that it will spur me to action and follow-through.
In our last meeting, Amir asked how often we were going to share communion together. Though Mark and I had discussed it before we separated into smaller groups, we only came to a position of "as often as is meaningful." That can be a bit nebulous in practice, so last week we decided to pray about it separately and come back together on Friday to discuss it (and definitely at least share communion then).
For what it's worth, I plan to make sure that I have suitable elements (bread and grape something) set aside and available whenever we host worship, so that we're not physically constrained in the future.
In any case, all of this got me thinking that we could probably do with a lesson about communion: it's history, purpose, and meaning, or some such thing.
I don't have much for reference materials. I left most of my books on Christianity in the 'States back when we were ignorant about customs, so aside from my Bible I mostly just have the Internet. That's fine in theory, but my aforementioned lack of faith-focused action means that I don't have a lot of trust built up around online Christian reference material. I'll do what I can, though.
I keep wanting to jump back to assumed parallels with the passover meal, searching for explanation before question. In order to stop that, I'm going to focus on the gospels first:
- Mark 14:12-25
- Matthew 26:17-30
- Luke 22:7-20
- John 13:1-16 John's gospel doesn't deal with the use of bread and wine as a remembrance of Christ's sacrifice, but talks about foot-washing as a symbol of servanthood. It might not be directly related to communion, but its presence at the same point in the timeline makes me think that I should be thinking about it.
- 1 Corinthians 11:17-34
- Exodus 12:1-28
Writings and such by John Piper.
My glances over this so far focus a lot on transubstantiation vs consubstantiation vs symbolism, which isn't really where I want to go with this lesson. There's probably other useful stuff in there, though. (There might be other writings on communion elsewhere on the site, too.)
- http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/the-ot-lords-supper-the-nt-passover This one in particular calls out parallels between the passover meal and the intention of the lord's supper. That definitely interest's me, but I shouldn't get ahead of myself.
Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology
Alex sent me Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology this morning (awesome!) and pointed out the chapter that deals with communion.
- BC sacrifices serve as a reminder of sin (Hebrews 10:1-4)
- AD communion is a reminder of Christ's death being the absolute sacrifice for sin
- AD communion is a reminder of future celebration in Christ's presence (do in remembrance of me points to the future, too, when Christ will again "drink of the fruit of the vine" with us)
Random, likely untrustworthy, sources
- http://christianactionforisrael.org/judeochr/passover/supper.html (communion and the seder)
- http://www.rc.net/wcc/readings/exodus10.htm (remembering the passover and exodus)
- http://www.mountainretreatorg.net/bible/passoversup.html (passover and the lord's supper)
Read the story of the Lord's supper.
Christ is celebrating passover with his disciples.
Read the story of the first passover
Give a brief overview of the captivity of the Israelites in Egypt, the plagues, and the sparing of Israelite children.
- Livestock death (pestilence)
- Death of the firstborn
One of the first institutions of the Israelites, predates the law.
The lamb provides salvation from death and destruction. As it did in the past, so it will. Christ's followers get to share in the feast, but Christ does not: he is the lamb; the one who suffers for the salvation of others.
John 1:24-29 (John calls Jesus the lamb of God)
Jesus uses a fundamental tradition to teach, similar to how he uses parables.
Jesus asked us to share in the supper in remembrance of him. We remember his sacrifice when we perform it; but we also remember that we will be with him one day.
Luke 14 says "I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." and "I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes."
Matthew 14:29 is more specific: "I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom."
John 14:1-3 (go to prepare a place); Revelation 19:6-9 (marriage supper of the lamb)
Marriage is often used as an example of the relationship that Christ has with the Church. (Jesus describes it this way in parables in Matthew 22 and 25) We are betrothed, promised, or engaged to be the bride of Christ; he has gone to make a home for us, and will come to call for us one day.
Acts 2:43-47 (maybe communion for the early church?)
1 Corinthians 11:23-34 If nothing else, we should take away from this passage that we should prepare ourselves for the Lord's supper, remember it as a sacred act, and remember that it is about believers coming together in unity with Christ. Always be mindful of each other and each other's needs.
Communion for our group
I want to have the elements (bread and something made from grapes) available in our home whenever we host a gathering of believers. This way, we won't be contrained if we feel led to share communion together.
I think (not necessarily correctly) that we should set aside a time each week, separate from the lesson, and definitely separate from the meal, for anyone to share communion who would wish to that day. This makes it available to any and all, while also making it easier for each to judge for himself whether he should partake. (See 1 Corinthians 11)
Servanthood as it deals with the passover
Amir asked us to pray for guidance on how to serve. Amazingly, this is also part of the passover meal that Christ shares with his disciples.
Talk a little about synoptic gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) vs John's gospel.
John doesn't mention the Lord's supper, but he places a big focus on servanthood.
Service is the very definition of a Christian life.
Do not resist an evildoer; but if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, [...] if you love those who love you, [...] what more are you doing than others?
~ Jesus of Nazareth, teaching on the mountain