Practicing knowing God

In Jeremiah 22:16, Jeremiah describes King Josiah as a good king, and then he moves on to say “because he looks after those who care for the poor” (that’s my paraphrase). And then Jeremiah says, “Is that not what it means to know me?” In other words, knowing God is not simply knowing things about God. Knowing God is a social practice—it’s a way of being in the world. It’s something we do with our bodies and our minds in the power of the Spirit. Now I’m not saying that you work your way into heaven! My point is simply that God is love, and Christ’s incarnation is the embodiment of love. Love needs to be embodied.

– John Swinton,
founder of the Centre for Spirituality, Health, and Disability
at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland,
in a conversation
with Church Health Reader,
quoted in the CRC’s Disability Concerns Oct 2017 e-newsletter

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Sit, walk, stand

Years ago I memorized Psalm 1. It begins with three things people avoid if they love God. In his e-devotions the other day Dale Vander Veen offered three corresponding positives to put in place of the things Psalm 1 tells me to avoid. Dale graciously welcomed me to share them with you here.

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Psalm 1:1 tells me that I must “not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers.” The “walk … stand … sit” reminded me of Chinese Christian Watchman Nee’s little book Sit, Walk, Stand.

Basing his thoughts on Ephesians, Nee turns the negatives of Psalm 1 into three positives, explaining that I sit with Christ in heavenly realms, that I am to walk with Christ in love, and that I can stand in Christ against evil. The psalmist and the apostle agree.

Blessing pours into my life and flows out of my life to others when I sit with majesty, not mockery; when I walk in love, not wickedness; and when I stand in holiness, not sinfulness.

Sit, walk, stand graphic found via Google

“The Christian life consists of sitting with Christ, walking by him and standing in him. We begin by resting in the finished work of the Lord Jesus. That rest is the source of our strength for a consistent and unfaltering walk in the world. And at the end of a grueling warfare with the hosts of darkness we are found standing with him at last in triumphant possession of the field.”
– – – from Sit, Walk, Stand by Watchman Nee

Contagious courage

While we were in British Columbia this summer, my 10-year-old son and I hiked the Abby Grind. The trail begins a mile from my parents’ house at the base of Sumas Mountain and climbs 1,200 feet in just over a mile, making for some good exercise. It didn’t take long before we started huffing! Near the three-quarter mark, we were both tempted to just turn around, but then we knew we’d miss out on theAbby Grind lookout spectacular view at the lookout. So we encouraged each other on and both made it to the top.

On the one hand, we both needed to hike the trail ourselves. We propelled ourselves onward with our own legs, muscles, and willpower. But on the other hand, we needed each other’s encouragement to keep going, to cheer each other on. We were also encouraged by other hikers coming down the trail reminding us that the effort was worth it.

With satisfied smiles, we scrambled up around the last corner and saw the Fraser Valley spread out below us and Washington State beyond. If it had been a bit clearer, we might even have seen the ocean. A little later as we descended back down the trail, we encouraged other hikers making their way up.

Life sometimes feels like a serious hike in which we often deal with aches and pain. Sometimes we feel alone with our doubts and fears and secret desire to drop out. One of the reasons I think God places us in a Christian community is so that we can cheer one another on. Author Lewis Smedes once observed that “nobody else can have courage for us. But behind individual acts of courage there is usually a community. Courage is contagious. It spreads when we get close to each other.”

I see a church community as a place to experience the contagiousness of courage. Surrounded by fellow hikers on the path, we hear and see people cheering us on while we in turn do the same for others. Sometimes I’m the one reminding you that the effort of being a loyal spouse, a dependable parent, or a hard worker is worth it; sometimes you’re the one encouraging me.

This goes for faith as well: Sometimes I encourage you in your walk with Jesus and sometimes it’s me who needs your encouragement. Are you part of a community where you encourage others and other encourage you? Consider joining a church gathering this Sunday.

Yes, it’s possible that I could’ve conquered the Abby Grind on my own. But hiking it together with someone was not only more fun but also boosted the courage in both of us.

I suspect there’s someone with whom you’re hiking through life who could use a boost from you today.

I wrote this for the Rock Valley Bee a couple weeks ago
but kept forgetting to post it here!

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Bookends

My current Bible reading plan includes reading a psalm each day. The other day I was up to Psalm 41, the end of which marks the division between Book I and Book II of the Psalter.

It occurs to me that Book I (Psalms 1-41) opens and ends on a similar note, one of blessing. Psalm 1 begins with a blessing for the one who delights in the Lord and His will:

Blessed is the one who
does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,
and who meditates on his law day and night.

In short, the book of Psalms opens with a call to love the Lord our God and His ways.

It turns out that Psalm 41, the last psalm of Book I, also opens with the word “Blessed.” This time the blessing is for those who defend the powerless:

Blessed are those who have regard for the weak;
the LORD delivers them in times of trouble.

Here at the end of Book I we have a call to love the weak or, as the Bookends found at Wayfair.comESV translates it, the poor. Deliverance comes to those who love their neighbor as themselves.

I see Psalms 1 & 41 as bookends. Taken together, they foreshadow Jesus’ summary of the law which Psalm 1 upholds:

“The most important [command],”
answered Jesus,
“is this:
‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul
and with all your mind
and with all your strength.’
The second is this:
‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
There is no commandment greater than these.”

Together Psalms 1 & 41 reveal the secret to a blessed life, a life marked with joy and meaning: It’s an other-focused life. Instead of focusing on myself and pursuing my own happiness, I’m called to focus on God and focus on others. Loving and serving God together with loving and serving others – that’s where I (together with God’s people for millennia) have found the blessed life.

Now I lay me down to sleep

A few weeks ago Eric Dirksen from Christ Church of Davis in Davis, California, spoke at Trinity CRC. His text was Acts 7, the stoning of Stephen. How Stephen met his death inspires me in how I live.

As Stephen is dying, he is overheard praying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Eric pointed out a couple things about this prayer. First, this is the same thing Jesus prays just before He died on the cross: “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit.” Stephen is so Christlike he imitates Jesus to the very end.

The second thing Eric pointed out is that Jesus did not make up this prayer. It comes from Psalm 31, where the psalmist originally prayed:

Into your hand I commit my spirit;
you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.
(verse 5, NRSV)

It turns out that this was (and perhaps remains?) an ancient bedtime prayer for Jewish children. I picture little children rubbing their eyes as they crawl under the blankets and reciting these words. It’s similar to a bedtime prayer Eric learned when he was a child – as did I:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
(attributed to Joseph Addison, 1711)

I cannot help but notice how the author of Acts records Stephen’s death soon after he recites Psalm 31 as his prayer: “When he had said this, he fell asleep.” The idea of sleeping is sometimes used in the Bible to describe death. How appropriate to use this expression for the man who just uttered his bedtime prayer one last time! The prayer he may have regularly prayed before falling asleep each night is the same prayer on his lips before his final sleep and moments before he opens his eyes in new life in Jesus’ presence!

This inspires me in a couple ways. First, I want to be so saturated in the Bible that my dying words echo truth and comfort from that Word. Second, I don’t think I have to wait until my dying breath to commit my spirit (or my mind or my life) to Jesus. As Eric pointed out, I can practice praying this prayer every day. Jesus invites me to entrust every aspect of my life to His direction and care. I believe it’s the best way to spend every waking moment until the last time I fall asleep.

Prayer graphic found via Google

Wildfires

Our family had a great time reconnecting with our parents, siblings, nephews, nieces, and friends in British Columbia this past month. And, as always, I enjoyed being back in the mountains and made the most of opportunities to hike some trails, including the Abby Grind and the Othello Tunnels / Hope-Nicola Valley Trail.

For the last week or so of our vacation, however, the mountains were obscured by smoke of the wildfires still burning in BC. Instead of clear mountain vistas, we often awoke to hazy skies. The wildfires also closed several highways between Prince George and Abbotsford, forcing us to detour over the Yellowhead Highway from Prince George east to Tête Jaune Cache and then south to Kamloops, Hope, Cache Creek wildfire photo from CBCand Abbotsford. We drove past barricaded highways and towns on evacuation alert.

Ashcroft First Nation fire damage photo from CBC

 

 

 

 

 

 

As it so happened, Michael W. Smith’s CD Sovereign provided the soundtrack for part of the drive. As we were driving through Little Fort, a town where the residents had returned following an evacuation but remained on high alert, the song “Sovereign Over Us” started playing with its reminders of God’s strength in our sorrows. These lines were especially appropriate:

You’ve not forgotten us;
You’re with us through the fire and the flood.

The bridge helps us confess:

Even in the valley You are faithful,
You’re working for our good,
You’re working for our good and for Your glory.

Literally and figuratively, God is present with His people in hazy valleys and fiery circumstances. That doesn’t necessarily make traveling through those valleys or enduring the flames easy. But it does assure me that I’m not traveling through them alone.

Lessons in hospitality

Graphic and quote found via Google

I once heard a story about a young college student named Bill. Bill had wild hair, spiked with vivid colors, and wore a nose ring. Bill regularly wore t-shirts with holes in them, blue jeans, and no shoes. Bill, a brilliant young man, became a Christian while attending college. He attended a Christian organization on campus, but he also wanted to find a church.

Across the street from Bill’s college was a conservative, very traditional church filled with well-dressed people. One Sunday Bill decided to visit that church. He walked into the sanctuary with his nose ring, no shoes, jeans and a t-shirt, and wild hair. The service had already started, so Bill walked down the aisle looking for a seat. But the church was packed and he could not find a seat anywhere.

In an uncomfortable silence, people watched Bill make his way to the front of the church. When he realized there were no seats left, he squatted down and simply sat in the aisle next to the first pew.

Although this was perfectly acceptable behavior at his college fellowship group, this had never happened before in this church! The tension in the congregation was palpable. The preacher didn’t know what to do so he stood there in silence.

As Bill was settling down in the aisle, an elderly man, one of the old patriarchs of that church, slowly made his way toward Bill. The man was in his eighties, had silver-gray hair, and always wore a three-piece suit. He was a godly man, very elegant, dignified, traditional, and conservative. As he started walking toward the boy, people wondered what he was going to do. After all, how can you expect a man of his age and of his background to understand some college kid with a nose ring, wild hair, t-shirt and jeans and no shoes, sitting on the church floor? Was he going to whisper in Bill’s ear and ask him to leave? Was he going to squeeze Bill’s shoulder and point him to the door? Was he going to pull Bill out of the church by his nose ring??

Because the old man walked with a cane, it took a long time for him to reach the boy. The church was utterly silent except for the clicking of the old man’s cane. All eyes were focused on him.

Finally, the old man reached the boy. He paused a moment, then dropped his cane on the floor. With great difficulty, the old man lowered himself and sat down next to the boy. He shook the boy’s hand and welcomed him to the church.

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I’ve read before that the Bible is the story of God’s relentless hospitality towards His creation. My kind hospitality towards others simply reflects the hospitality first extended to me by God Himself. Even if it feels like a world of differences separates me from the other person – whether it’s gender, nationality, skin color, language, or cultural differences – it’s not even close to the huge difference that separated a holy God from sinful humanity. That means the uncomfortable space I perceive between myself and someone different than me is nothing compared to the chasm God bridged in Christ to reach me. To put it a bit differently: I am probably more similar than I realize to the person to whom God is asking me to extend kindness.

The story about Bill and the elderly church member is one of
a couple stories about hospitality from
GettingReadyForSunday.com.
I read the other story a couple weeks ago at Trinity CRC
when I spoke
on 1 Peter 4:7-11 and hospitality.