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Archive for the ‘ekklesia’ Category

Apart, We’re Only A Part

[lyrics are mine]

Love and shalom, together we are whole
The vows we made, the ties that bind
Connecting us together, soul to soul
Love is beautiful, love is blind

What can quench desire, the burning fire
Love bears all things, love is fragile
Seasons turn, memories burn: funeral pyre
Promises expire, passion only lasts awhile

Just took one match, just a spark
To break the trust, to lose what’s real
Watch everything burn, sitting in the dark
Two sad, too mad, two numb to feel

Alone, apart, we’re just a part
Only One, only One can make us whole
Don’t know how or where to start
To fill the hole, the hole in my soul

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Judge Not?

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (Matt. 7:1-2; ESV)

I’ve been musing on Matt 7:1-6 which was the sermon text last week at our church. If one has been a Christian for any length of time, one will know that mantra of “Don’t judge me!” is often bandied about anytime loving admonishment is attempted on an errant believer. Of course, this sentiment is also very prevalent in society at large as a protective mechanism to deflect any and all concerns one might wish to call out regarding another’s moral behaviour or manner of living.

We all naturally bristle at self-righteous people who go around pronouncing accusatory barbs with an air of superiority and in an unloving, critical spirit, but if we’re honest, we have to admit to doing the same at times.  As such, this passage from the so-called “Sermon on the Mount” warrants a closer look.

Part of the problem stems from the fact that the English word “judge” automatically evokes a negative understanding. In fact, one version (CEV) translates verse 1 as: Don’t condemn others, and God won’t condemn you. However, the semantic range of κρίνω is much broader and encompasses these meanings: “discern, evaluate, separate, decide, distinguish, give preference, to approve, to interpret” in addition to “judge”.

As usual, context is determinative of meaning, and in the passage before us, it seems to me that what Jesus is teaching may be better stated thus: Be careful how you discern and evaluate another person’s actions—judge them fairly and not in a condemnatory spirit, for you wouldn’t want others to evaluate you unfairly. God alone has the right to judge, so do not presume to act for Him, lest you be judged by Him! With Matt. 7:1,2 serving as a thematic heading to the larger passage (7:1-12, with vs. 12 serving as a summary and conclusion, both in its nearer and larger contexts), the theme of discerning/evaluating carefully/fairly runs consistently from the example given in 7:3-5, through to the  exhortation in 7:6 to not be undiscerning (obviously we need to “judge”, i.e., undergo a process of discernment in order to know who are “dogs” and “pigs”).

That said, we are indeed to be careful not to usurp God as the only rightful Judge (Rom. 14:10-13). Interpersonal relationships, especially in the community of God’s people, are always challenging. We are not to criticize, condemn, or complain about others, but at the same time, as a body of believers, we are commanded to carry out the “one another” exhortations. Part of this will entail loving correction based on careful and fair evaluation of the behaviour or situation. This is the tension we must live with, but thankfully we have the Spirit within to empower and guide us, as well as the mirror of the Word to remind us of our own failures and faults, so that we might speak the truth in love in all humility and gentleness.

I plan to write another post giving practical tips on giving and receiving feedback.

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Thought-provoking talk by Sho Baraka .. love the little rap at the end!

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Hopeful New Year

Well, another year is upon us.

After I re-read the some of my recent posts, I realized they may come across negative and critical … and maybe they are.

Confession: I am bouncing back and forth between discouragement/anxiety and joy/anticipation. Why? Because I am living in an “in between” time, a temporary transitional time that seems so long. This state of uncertainty and waiting was triggered by a recent decision, the rightness of which I fluctuate between absolute confidence that it is God’s will and doubt that is amplified the closer we get to the target date.

So, please: read those dark and downer posts in light of this context.

But I am hopeful that the Lord will guide me to what He would want me to do. I have sought the counsel of others, but ultimately, it is up to me to prayerfully discern and decide.

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Random Musings on Worship

Last night, our church had a New Year Eve’s service that we couldn’t attend because we were out of town. However, with FaceTime, I was able to virtually be a part of the gathering. Of course, this disembodied experience wasn’t quite the same, but nevertheless I enjoyed the virtual worship experience and was thankful to “participate” in it.

I was unable to sleep well, and so, as I lay restlessly in bed, thoughts about worship came to mind; in particular, these words popped up:

 

This got me thinking about how we can improve and innovate. Specifically, I would like to see our church form a “liturgical design team” so that every worship meeting can be more intentional, integrative and imaginative.

While I do not doubt that there is a lot of prayer, thought and planning that goes into the sermon and the choice of songs, I am talking about the holistic view of the entire meeting in its formative, transformative and performative aspects. I intend to expand and clarify on these and other points in future posts, but for now, I want to encourage my church to embrace a “thicker” theology and practice of worship. Though my ecclesial background has been Baptist, Brethren and simple/NT/house church, I am opening my mind to learn about and embrace some aspects of traditional liturgical practices as long as long as they don’t compromise my core biblical convictions.

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Mystery and Marvel

In his book, Miracles, C.S. Lewis writes  that the “Central Miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. . . . Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this.” And yet, Christians—perhaps because of familiarity, but also perhaps because of ignorance—seem to take the miracle of the Incarnation and the Virgin Birth for granted. Part of this may be due to the safe, superficial, and sentimental telling of the Advent narrative.

From the virgin’s womb, the eternal Word became flesh. How can we not marvel at such a profound mystery?

No wonder that church history is replete with heretical notions concerning Jesus and the Trinity. The Nicene Creed was hammered out in response to modalism (Sabellianism), adoptionism, and Arianism. Later, the Council of Chalcedon gathered to refute Apollinarianism, Nestorianism and Eutychianism. Such battles for doctrinal purity and precision were not motivated by mere academic nitpicking or dispassionate intellectual inquiry; no, these heresies struck at the heart of who Jesus is in relation to the triune Godhead.

Perhaps one of these advent seasons we shall be treated to more substantial “Christmas sermons” to stir us to marvel more at the mystery and majesty of the Miracle of the Incarnation. In the meantime, our hunger will find some satiation from our poets if not our preachers.

They sought to soar into the skies
Those classic gods of high renown
For lofty pride aspires to rise
But you came down.

You dropped down from the mountains sheer
Forsook the eagle for the dove
The other Gods demanded fear
But you gave love

Where chiselled marble seemed to freeze
Their abstract and perfected form
Compassion brought you to your knees
Your blood was warm

They called for blood in sacrifice
Their victims on an altar bled
When no one else could pay the price
You died instead

They towered above our mortal plain,
Dismissed this restless flesh with scorn,
Aloof from birth and death and pain,
But you were born.

Born to these burdens, borne by all
Born with us all ‘astride the grave’
Weak, to be with us when we fall,
And strong to save.

— Malcolm Guite, “Descent”

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Peace on Earth

Between the crass commercialism and consumerism of secular society and the Church’s safe and sanitized celebration, it is a struggle for me to get through another advent season.

This Christmas, I chose this passage to reflect on:

Then Herod, when he realized that he had been outwitted by the wise men, flew into a rage. He gave orders to massacre all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, in keeping with the time he had learned from the wise men. Then what was spoken through Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled:

A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping, and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children;
and she refused to be consoled,
because they are no more.
—Matt. 2:16-18; CSB

Though we sing of “joy to the world”, we must never forget the sorrow all around us and that bereavement is never far from blessings. While Matthew cites only Jer. 31:15, the verses immediately following are full of hope: “There is hope for your future” (vs 17) in the promise of return from Exile. Ultimately, Jeremiah will express this hope later in the chapter (vs. 31–34) in the language of the new covenant, which Jesus came to inaugurate. So although “weeping may lodge for the night” as we sojourn in the now and the not yet, “shouts of joy will come in the morning” (Ps. 30:5; ISV) with the dawning of the eschaton.

Secondly, Herod’s heinous act failed to hinder God’s redemptive purpose (Ps. 2). Christians today need to be reminded not to react so pitifully at every little opposition, and not to fall into the temptation of trying to court favour with Empire. As Rachel Held Evans rightly asserts:

The incarnation isn’t about desperately grasping at the threads of power and privilege. It’s not about making some civic holiday “bigger and better.” It’s about surrendering power, setting aside privilege, and finding God in the smallness and vulnerability of a baby in a womb.

— Mary, the Magnificat, and an Unsentimental Advent

Finally, may we not let the sentimentality of the season distract us from the reality that for the vast majority, the King was rejected: He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:11; CSB), and that is still the case today.

O King of our desire whom we despise,
King of the nations never on the throne,
Unfound foundation, cast-off cornerstone,
Rejected joiner, making many one,
You have no form or beauty for our eyes,
A King who comes to give away his crown,
A King within our rags of flesh and bone.
We pierce the flesh that pierces our disguise,
For we ourselves are found in you alone.
Come to us now and find in us your throne,
O King within the child within the clay,
O hidden King who shapes us in the play
Of all creation. Shape us for the day
Your coming Kingdom comes into its own.

—Malcolm Guite

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