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Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Wrestling with God

Often we think we have it all figured out in regards to our decisions, desires and directions in life. Recently, I had been excitedly (and impatiently) waiting in anticipation of a big life decision. I purportedly had prayed about it, reflected on it during many sleepless nights, set my aspirations and reasoning in writing, and even sought out the counsel of my closest brothers, friends and my church’s elders/pastors.

I was confident that my decision was the correct one, but now that my self-imposed deadline (to make the decision a reality) looms ever nearer, I am experiencing FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt). Argh! Why God?! Why did you have to throw that wrench into my neat and tidy plans?! We are quick to blame God aren’t we, when things don’t go according to our plans or timelines!

I had coffee this morning with one of the pastors and he shared his journey and experience with me. He reminded me that it is part of the refining process; and at the end of the wrestling match, I will surely walk away with a limp, even if in the end, my original decision turned out to be the correct one. The point is that up to now, perhaps my flesh had been controlling the agenda and setting the desired outcome, my protestations of  “seeking the Lord in prayer” notwithstanding.

So … let the wrestling match begin ….

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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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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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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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Making Space

Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! (Hebrews 13:2; NLT)

Tonight I am feeling for you
Under the state of a strange land
You have sacrificed much to be here
Therefore the grace as I offer my hand
Welcome home, I bid you welcome, I bid you welcome
Welcome home from the bottom of my heart

Out here on the edge
The empire is fading by the day
And the world is so weary in war
Maybe we’ll find that new way

So welcome home, see I made a space for you now
Welcome home from the bottom of our heart
Welcome home from the bottom of our hearts
Keep it coming now, keep it coming now
You’ll find most of us here with our hearts wide open

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On Categories and Cages

Churches exert a homogenizing influence on its members as unity becomes confused and conflated with uniformity. At the same time, we consciously or unconsciously group members according to our narrow categories. Michael Foley notes that “Our categorizing tendency likes to put people in pigeon holes (often contemptuously, as ‘the careerist’, ‘the philistine’, ‘the slob’, ‘the shrew’, etc.), then notices only behaviour that fits with the simplistic classification and finishes by dismissing people as superficial, limited, predictable and boring.” (Life Lessons From Bergson, Macmillan; 2013)

In particular, those who are different, who march to the beat of a different drum, who are outspoken, and who are not yes-men, are viewed with discomfort,  fear and suspicion. We think, Why can’t they be normal like me?  Once labelled, it is hard to escape from other people’s perception of you, unless perhaps, you go out of your way to act out your life according to another carefully chosen script. Foley goes on to say that “It is common even to want others to behave badly in predictable ways in order to confirm our own good judgement and enjoy superiority and righteousness. Conversely, because we hate change and want people to stay in their labelled boxes, unexpected developments can be irritating.”

I find it challenging therefore, to navigate the tricky balance of behaving according to biblical norms, church cultural expectations and one’s authentic expressions of self. No doubt I am not doing a good job of it.

What’s the answer? I think we need to be more curious, make less assumptions about others. We need to slow down and open our lives to each other, something that is sorely lacking in the superficial chit chat that too often passes for genuine conversation during the coffee time at church.

For me, my love of the arts has been helpful in arresting my own instinctive reflex to cast premature judgement or be unthinkingly dismissive. As Foley rightly observes, “A crucial function of the arts is to prevent, or break down, dismissive labelling and reveal the singular instead of the similar, the peculiar instead of the familiar, and the inscrutable instead of the understood.”

It is sad that there is no room in many churches for the arts.

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