Archive for January, 2012

Blessed …

Posted in Uncategorized on January 30, 2012 by ancienthopes

Jesus, the divine man, the true Israelite, now speaks to the world through His disciples from the Mount of God, a new Sinai, as it were. The first word He lays before us mortals is “blessed.” This word takes us back to the very beginning; “blessed” is a creation word. It was not enough that God created the world and all that fills it. He must bless everything so that everything can live and flourish according to its design. Without a blessing nothing can function and fulfill its purpose and be fulfilled doing it. Some translations render the word here “happy” which is too weak and does not carry with it the theological implications of the word.

The truth of the matter is that to bless someone is an act of power that God has given to us humans that is anchored in creation power itself. When we as parents, for example, bless our children from the depths of our being by word, attitude, and action, a spiritual transaction takes place. That child is empowered to grow and flourish spiritually, for God has blessed that child through those parents. That child is now set to be what God created that child to be. Nothing happens in this world without a blessing. The blessing is a continuation of creation power. I have seen grown adults, often very gifted, fine Christians, who all of their life seem a little empty, a little aimless like they are missing something ill-defined. They might be missing a blessing.

Conversely, God has allowed humanity the dreadful power of the curse. To curse is to deprive a soul of power to grow and function as God designed it to do. We do not have to doubt the power of the curse; I still remember a curse that a biker gave to me once when I got too close to him with my car. That happened 30 years ago and I did not even know the guy. I still remember it, and it hurt my soul! Just think what a curse does to someone that is given by a parent or someone close?

Here in the beatitudes Jesus is gathering to Himself all humanity that is interested in a blessing to be fulfilled and empowered to be what God created us to be. Perhaps we have never had the blessing our soul longs for, or perhaps we are under curses. Be this as it may, the beatitudes are all about entering into a blessed state of being, a state that we were made for but lost because of the fall. “Blessed” is a primal word that brings us back to lost origins, to the soul’s deepest longings. Jesus is about to take us there if we can listen and receive from Him what He so ardently wishes to give each of us–a blessing!

The Beatitudes

Posted in Uncategorized on January 23, 2012 by ancienthopes

I thought that we would spend the rest of the winter on the Beatitudes. In this post, I will give a little background. It is not by accident that the early Fathers placed Matthew as the first book in the New Testament. Its unique introduction acts as a doorway, if you will, to Jesus and the whole New Testament. One is expected to pass through Matthew Chapters 1-4 to understand who Jesus is. Immediately we begin to see what opens up to us; Jesus is the true Israelite that succeeded where the Israelites of old failed. The genealogy in chapter one is divided in three equal sections beginning with Abraham, the first Israelite, moving to David the great King, then to the exile, the divine punishment for failure, culminating with Christ. It was not lost on the first Christians that Mary was betrothed to Joseph, named after the great patriarch of Israel who also had encounters with God through dreams. The wise men from the east take us back to the Balaam story in numbers 22-24, especially the prophesy that a star will rise out of Jacob (24:17). Herod is Pharaoh revisited, and the flight into Egypt is juxtaposed to the slaughter of the innocents. Exiting Egypt, Jesus is baptized; paralleling Israel’s passing through the Red Sea. Immediately we find Jesus in wilderness being tested as was Israel.

These parallels crescendo to Chapter 5:1. Jesus sees the multitude of Israel before Him. Like Moses of old He goes up to a mountain, which is the new Sinai. He seats Himself, and His disciples gather around Him. The little phrase “then He opened His mouth” is loaded! Now Jesus is no longer Moses, but God Himself speaking once again from the Holy Mountain. The first words He utters are the nine beatitudes.

How important do you think these parallels were to the early Christians? What do you think of this typology? Any ideas what Jesus’ response to John the Baptist means, “… it is fitting to fulfill all righteousness” (3:15) with regard to His baptism? How important is it to you that Jesus was the true Israelite that “got it right”? How does all of this connect with the Beatitudes?

For Yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever

Posted in Uncategorized on January 16, 2012 by ancienthopes

This doxology is not found in the earliest manuscripts and was probably added later as a Scriptural (I Chron. 29:11) and fitting conclusion to the prayer. Be this as it may, these three concepts─kingdom, power, and glory, are ultimate reality. By nature, we do not see God’s kingdom; our senses and reason turn to worldly politics as a knee-jerk reaction when things are not right. How much do we talk politics rather than the Kingdom? What really captures our imagination? By nature, we do not see God’s power working in and through all things; we live on the surface and fear the powers of chaos. How much do we live in fear? Likewise, we do not easily see the glory of God in a world that seems dominated by decay and suffering. Do we live in constant amazement and awe, or are our spirits sickened in spiritual nausea?

Jesus, in teaching us this prayer, is telling us that the more we pray this prayer, the more we live in it, the more real God’s Kingdom, power and glory will become to us. Make this prayer the very center of your daily prayer; pray it in the morning when you get up, and at night when your head hits the pillow, and as much in between as you can. Do not be afraid of “vain repetitions as the ‘pagans/heathen’ do” here (Matt. 6:7). Pagan ideas of prayer has to with magic so as to manipulate the gods (I Kings 18:26) or mantras to manipulate the psyche. This prayer is the special prayer of a child made to a Father with whom we can relate on a deep intimate level. The more we pray this prayer, and turn the phrases round and round in our hearts, the less mechanical it seems, and the fresher it becomes, and the more we are formed by it. The prayer is indeed a fixed one, but we and our circumstances change moment by moment. As we and things around us change, the prayer sparkles like a diamond, sending off colors and flashes that renew the soul.

One last thing here. To be good at and to master anything in this life, we must spend hours practicing it. One does not just sit down at the piano and play like Rubinstein. Why on earth do we feel that prayer should be any different? Why should we feel that prayer must be some spontaneous thing that must be charged with great emotion to be real? Most of us in our culture know that our minds cannot comprehend God, but far fewer know─ really know─that our feelings cannot grasp God either. True prayer most often takes place on a level far deeper in the soul than our emotions. True, our minds and hearts are often affected, but if our prayer life is based on them, it will become erratic and ineffectual. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, the Psalms, and our petitions to God day by day consistently, we find that something quite unexplainable happens deep within beneath the surface of our thoughts and feelings.

Friends, I do not speak here as one who has made great progress in prayer. I am just a beginner. Therefore, I invite any of you to join in here and help us out!

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Posted in Uncategorized on January 9, 2012 by ancienthopes

Of all the phrases of the Lord’s Prayer, this is the most striking and troubling. Its meaning is not evident on the surface. Jesus is here making demands on our minds and spirits to unravel a problem. The problem is obvious; how can we ask God not to lead us into temptation when we know that it is not God who leads us into temptation, but Satan. After all, James tells us that no one can say that he is tempted by God, for God tempts no one (1:13). James places the origin of temptation within, “but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire…” In short, Satan may tempt, but he needs something from us to work with! Like Adam and Eve, we fall into sin because we want to do it, not because “The Devil made me do it.” Our problem, then, is why Jesus is so intent on us to ask the Father not to lead us into temptation.

I think the key to the problem lies in the opening phrase of the prayer, “Our Father.” We mentioned before that this is the door to the whole prayer, and here in the last petition we see that this is vitally so. Being a father myself, I find that I want to give my kids everything good that is in my power. This is true of earthly fathers who are evil, as well as our heavenly Father, who is pure (Matt. 7:11). We must conclude that God, who has power to give all His children everything with no limits, has a desire to do just that! Jesus is therefore encouraging us to engage God with regard to His fatherly desire to give us everything we want. God knows that many of the things we desire would destroy us, however great or small, physical or even spiritual. The strange thing is that sometimes God even gives us these things! I have seen so many of God’s children crash and fall because of gifts God has given them!!!!!

In this prayer, Jesus is placing upon us the responsibility to ask the Father not to give us anything that would destroy us. Only God knows what these things are. I see what other of God’s children have, and they seem to get along wonderfully with them, and I want it to! It may be that if I pine for it like I see one of my kids pining for something, that God will give it to me. After all, God has a deeper longing to make us happy and bend to our desires than we will ever know. In praying this prayer, therefore, we are asking God not to give us anything that will lead us into danger. This brings us to union with God as the earlier petition, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We know that left to ourselves we would willfully self destruct! We must engage our wills in this prayer so that we ask God not to give to us otherwise good things that we might long for, but that we are not suited for. It is the prayer of contentment.

I cannot help myself here but think of that old movie “Willy Wanka and the Chocolate Factory” with Gene Wilder. Obviously God is not emotionally detached like Willy when the kids self destruct, but the ethos of the film speaks to this petition for me. The world is a beautiful but dangerous place; we are delivered from much evil by praying this prayer! What do you think?

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Posted in Uncategorized on January 2, 2012 by ancienthopes

This is the prayer of self examine. One universal truth about us sinners is that we tolerate our own sin while being particularly sensitive to the sins of others. In fact, it takes a tremendous amount of reflection, prayer, patience, and overall grace to see ourselves as we really are. Deep down below our surfaces lie all sorts of scary things that we are hardly aware of. When we do manage to catch a glimpse of it, we tend to be very self forgiving and forgetting while at the same time unforgiving and not forgetting when other people’s “stuff” offends us. True, in some cases we are not so self forgiving, and out of our own pride (we tend to think that we are above many sinful thoughts or acts) take a sort of perverse joy in condemning ourselves. This is where patience, gentleness, and humility are needed so that we recognize our sin and failure, and take it to the Lord and seek His forgiveness.

It is a strange thing about us; whether we are quick to self-forgive or self-condemn, we tend to be very slow in forgiving of others. This reflects a deep ignorance of ourselves. When we truly see ourselves as we are, then it is an easy, even joyful, thing to forgive those who do us wrong. When we don’t understand ourselves, when we do not see that our own offensiveness is as offensive as the world around us, then it is the hardest thing in the world to forgive others.

The few short words that make up this phrase are so compact and exacting, so penetrating in the knowledge of human nature. Unless we are hardened and proud beyond measure, we do long to be forgiven. Our Lord tells us that if we cannot forgive, then we possess a willful, twisted heart that cannot abide God’s purity. How is God to forgive us then? Can we take refuge behind a self-serving and shallow understanding of justification by faith, that our slate is once and for all swiped clean, and still live with an unforgiving heart? What is Jesus telling us “good Christians” who believe with our whole heart that we are forgiven and experienced in God’s saving grace and yet cannot forgive others?

But what of those who commit unspeakable, willful, and vicious crimes against us or our loved ones? The only answer Jesus gives humanity is this phrase; “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” It is the constant praying and exploration of this phrase where we find Christ and freedom in this world of shadows and bondage.

Any thoughts on this?