Saturday, July 30, 2016

30 July 2016
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” Matthew5:5 (NRSV)
            I feel as though I should apologize for yesterday’s blog; not my best work. I don’t want to say it is easier to ‘spiritualize’ the Bible; scripture and its interpretation is always serious business. At times though, ‘spiritualizing’ is certainly less difficult than finding practical, day to day application, which after all is my purpose here. So for those of you who have returned today, thank you.
            Today we look at meekness. defines meek as:
1. humbly patient or docile, as under provocation from others.
2. overly submissive or compliant; spiritless; tame.
3. obsolete. Gentile; kind.
Ironically, the obsolete definition seems most appropriate here. Jesus Himself says “…I am gentile and humble in heart” (Matthew11:29, NRSV). Humble, patient, gentile, kind are all fitting and proper words to describe the Jesus we see in the Gospels. Another aspect of meekness involves not having an agenda-hidden or otherwise-or, perhaps better said, not forcing an agenda, or a point of view, or opinion.
            Now, from a spiritual perspective as it applies to our salvation-that is, our redemption and restoration-not having an agenda is most important. That is to say, we do not set the terms nor dictate to God what we will or will not do to be saved. The plan is His; the work is His; our job is simply to believe and accept. We also see an interesting parallel in Jesus’ ministry here. While Jesus definitely had an agenda, He never forced Himself on His listeners. He taught, He healed, He fed; in all these things He proclaimed and demonstrated the Kingdom presence and left it out there, for people to accept or reject. For the most part, the poor in spirit and meek accepted Him better than the proud and self-righteous. And here we see the application-in our spiritual lives our day to day lives as we interact with God and each other.
            First, we must make the distinction between seeking God’s will and asking God to bless our will. This blog is an example-the idea had been lurking in the back of my mind for probably a year or more before I finally started writing. And while I hope with all my heart for God’s blessing-that He will speak to someone through me-I will not continue if and when I sense His disapproval. I also hope to accurately and faithfully represent Him her, as opposed to my interpretation of Him, although some of that will certainly come through.
            Our current political situation-indeed, the very notion of culture wars and how the church should respond-is another area pregnant with possibilities for the discipline of meekness. Now, I have no intention of delving deeply into the political controversy or taking sides or anything like that. Nor do I have any desire to criticize any segment of the church, which would amount to pushing an agenda-the very antithesis of meekness. But, as a practical exercise, I might suggest taking some time to be alone with God and asking Him to show you if you are genuinely seeking His thoughts or merely asking His blessing for your thoughts. One is sowing to the flesh; the other sowing to the Spirit. Perhaps you could pick a point on which you refuse to budge and ask God to show you what the other side is thinking. Another practical but unrelated exercise would be to spend a day-as much as is possible for you in your situation-without an agenda, letting others dictate the course of things, going with the flow. You may find there is great relief in relinquishing some control to others, in not having to be in control of everything all the time.
            Finally, commenting on the Sermon in general and the Beatitudes in particular, Haley’s Bible Handbook says “Jesus wants to bless Christians so that unbelievers will be drawn to them, and consequently the unbeliever can be led to salvation in Christ”. This is the point and the goal. We are beginning to see a picture emerge of the kind of people Jesus wants in His church, as His representatives. Humility, empathy, meekness emerge as the antidote to power, wealth, force of will. A picture of leading by example rather than authority. These are the people Jesus chooses to represent Him, to whom He promises an inheritance-and what an inheritance it will be. Much more can be said; I leave it to you to discover for yourselves the direction God would have you go here.
             One word of caution for those who would seek to practice the discipline of meekness. Remember-baby steps. This was a radical notion then and it is a radical notion now. Abundant grace will be required-and given. After all, discovering and accepting our need for God in all things-God who is present to us at all times and in all places-is the beginning, the journey, and the end.

May The Lord bless you and keep you this day. Don’t forget to spend time in worship with your brothers and sisters tomorrow. Lord willing, I will see you all Monday. JRG

Friday, July 29, 2016

29 July 2016
Those Who Mourn
            “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted" (Matthew 5:5, NRSV). Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart write, in How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (2003, Zondervan) “Unique interpretations are usually wrong…The aim of good interpretation is simple: to get to the ‘plain meaning of the text’” (p.18). These words were on my mind as I considered today’s post, particularly what Jesus might have meant by ‘those who mourn’, and how we might apply it to our task of reaching out. Most commentators tend to group vs.4 & 5 together, seeing a progression from realizing one’s spiritual bankruptcy to mourning one’s sinfulness in preparation for receiving God’s saving faith. And indeed, Jesus may have had that very thing in mind; He was consistent if not relentless in pointing out the need for repentance.
            However, I’m thinking there may have been another component to the idea of mourning; the actual ability, the inclination, to mourn with and for others. Jesus himself mourned over broken humanity on several occasions- at the death of Lazarus (John 11:33-36); the unwillingness of Jerusalem to recognize and heed the prophets (Matthew 23:37); in Gethsemane where He fought to reconcile Himself to The Father’s will and came face to face with the horror that would result (Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:40-46).
             Ezra mourns for Israel (Ezra 9-10) which leads to a national revival and this is one way we might reach out, having spent time in God’s presence-a private reaching out in a corporate sort of way. A word of caution at this point. We must be careful here to seek our Lord’s guidance if we are to pray for corporate sin, otherwise we risk falling into the trap of thinking ‘I thank you God that I am not like the rest of the (fill in the blank). I actually felt led to pray for our country in that way one time-and one time only. I believe I was changed more by the experience than the country was.
            But there is another way to reach out in mourning on a more personal level. This has to do with empathy. Here is a personal example. My wife, who enjoys being active, doing things-around the house, around the yard, walking the dog, stuff like that-suffers from chronic, sometimes debilitating back pain. Any treatments we have tried have been temporary at best; relief has proven elusive. The situation is compounded by her absolute refusal to give in-surrender, as she puts it. She is afraid one act of surrender, no matter how small, will start a downward slide from which there will be no recovery.
            Most of the time she handles it well; but, you know, we all have our bad days. One way I can reach out to her, to mourn with her, so to speak, is simply to let her do, to honor her desire to not surrender. Bit of a stretch? Maybe (I never said this would be easy). But I can try, as God allows, to enter into her pain and in some way be a source of comfort and stability (not that I am-but, hey, I’m working on it). I have also found, the more consistent I am in prayer for her-specifically for restful sleep and some relief at night-well, I don’t want to say it works better, but it does seem that way. It almost seems as though I learned perseverance at her expense.
            I volunteer at a soup kitchen my church runs every Friday, for the homeless and the poor. On the months that have five Fridays (today) an outside group comes in, brings the food and serves. Today one member of that group had a mini stroke. The response was immediate-the rest of the group gathered in the kitchen for prayer while he was being taken to the hospital. The concern was obvious-they were mourning for their friend and comforting one another as they prayed. Which leads me to my final point.
            Our Lord promises those who mourn will be comforted. Comforted by whom? By us, as we demonstrate The Lord’s presence by reaching out to those in need. Now, I’m not talking about stuff like ‘I’ll pray for you’ (although we certainly should) or ‘it must have been the Lord’s will’ (maybe it was, but there are times when that is just a totally inappropriate thing to say). I’m thinking more along the lines of cooking a meal, doing laundry, cleaning up the house, simple everyday things grieving people can’t-or won’t-find the energy or desire to do. The practical, day to day stuff life is made up of. Like listening-listening is huge. There are times when silence is not only appropriate but essential. By the way, Paul addresses this idea of comforting-and in a back door kind of way, suffering-in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7; and of course we have the example of our Lord Himself in Hebrews 4:14-16.
            So there it is. As you spend time in God’s presence, ask Him if there is anyone He would want you to mourn for, or with. Offer yourself up as a source of comfort. And then pay attention. He just may surprise you.

May the Lord bless you and keep you this day. JRG 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

28 July 2016
Poor in spirit
            We will begin looking up with the Sermon on the Mount. Here we see our Lord describing Kingdom life-a clear picture of how He expects His followers to behave. This is how we bring the presence of Christ into our daily lives and put it on display, showing those around us what God is really like. We won’t probe too deeply here in the scholarly, exegetical sense; we simply listen to Jesus speak and wonder how what He is saying to us may affect our day to day lives. More of a Lectio Divina approach; holy daydreaming.
            I will say this about the Sermon on the Mount. Scholars and commentators seem divided over whether this instruction, because of its high moral standard, is given primarily for some future time, or given strictly to demonstrate God’s character, rather than teaching Jesus actually expects us to follow day to day, here and now. I would say yes to all the above. This teaching does indeed demonstrate God’s character; as children imitating our Father this is why we look here in the first place. And it is indeed the standard for life in the eternal Kingdom. It is also intended for us in the here and now. This is us “being transformed by the renewing of your minds”; the “clothing ourselves with Christ”; abiding in Him as a vine in a branch, bearing fruit. After all, if we can’t enjoy Him here and now, how can we ever expect to enjoy Him (or even be comfortable in His presence) in eternity?
            One final thought. This seems like a good place to introduce the “already but not yet” nature of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is here already-Christ is present in individual believers and corporately in His Church (demonstrating His Kingdom presence is why we are doing this in the first place). It is not yet here in its fullness; at some point Christ will return and the Kingdom will be plain for all too see. Again, demonstrating Kingdom presence is the goal here. We are working on the question “What kind of Jesus will people see, when they see you?” Now that that’s out of the way, let’s take a look at the first Beatitude.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3, NRSV). I see ‘poor in spirit’ as the opposite of spiritual pride; perhaps of pride period. This must have been a bit of a shock to the religious leaders of the day, who probably figured they pretty much had a lock on heaven. Paul advises his Roman readers not to think of themselves more highly than they ought (Romans 12:3); he tells his Philippian readers to, in humility, value others above themselves and look out for their interests (Philippians 2:3-4), having the same mind as Christ (5-8).
            This is a broad, deep topic, this idea of poor in spirit, and we could go off in several different directions. But since we are considering how we might reach out to others, let’s look at how we see ourselves in relation to those others. For example, how many times during the day do we insist on having our own way; on being right; on being the definitive source for whatever we happen to be working on (or blogging about)? In one of his books-I think it is Seeking the Kingdom but I’m not positive-Richard Foster offers this interesting exercise. He challenges his readers to go one full day without justifying themselves or make excuses for their behavior. I tried this once and failed less than two hours in. This might be a good exercise in humility.
            There are many others. The next time you show up for some volunteer service, rather than choosing what you want to do, you might say something like ‘wherever the need is’ or ‘whatever nobody else wants to do’. Try giving up your place in line to a mom with young children or an elderly person with a cane, or giving up the prime parking spot or the best seat. There are many things you can do while simply waiting in line-not the least of which is calling down a blessing on those in front of you.  And-dare I say it-put the phone down, start a conversation and listen, really listen, to the other person. Small things, to be sure, but what we are really doing here is forming holy habits, disciplining ourselves to put others first.
            You may have a totally different take on this poor in spirit thing. That’s ok. You may even want to comment-that’s ok too. Commenting in the ‘poor in spirit’ attitude is good exercise. Next time we’ll look at those who morn. Slow going I know, but I’m not in a hurry to get anywhere. The idea, after all, is to be changed by being in His presence. Then go and do.
May the Lord bless you and keep you this day. JRG

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

This blog is titled Reaching Up Reaching Out because I believe, as followers of The Way, this is what we are called to do. As the universal world-wide church we are God’s family-The Body of Christ, Christ’s visible presence on earth. We are all in this together. I believe God’s purpose for our salvation-our redemption and restoration-is not merely to get us to heaven when we die but to live in relationship to the Living God in the here and now. Our commission to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20, NRSV) necessitates interaction-relationships-with one another. This is the reaching out part. “All nations” tells me no one is excluded. “Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” and “I am with you” tells me I should actually know what Jesus taught and cultivate a relationship-rely on-Him. This is the reaching up part.
            At this point I need to insert a couple disclaimers. Obviously this is not an original idea. If I thought of it surely many others down through the centuries have also. Which leads to the second disclaimer-I don’t claim to have this business down pat or to be an expert or anything like that. I would love to say this blog is the product of decades of wisdom and experience gained from a life of close personal relationship; this is simply not the case. I get the theory; the practice has been lacking. So there is a sense in which we will be exploring this together, as beginners. I have, however, been influenced over the years by a few specific authors and teachers. I will make every effort to credit them when credit is due. There are, however, times when thoughts and ideas just sort of float around and I can’t quite remember where they originated.
            So, to recap: the idea here is to reach up to God through Jesus Christ, spend time in His presence, and then take what we learn out into our day to day lives. This kind of practical application has traditionally been difficult for me. My hope is this blog will give me some personal discipline-putting things into practice. I will try my best to be consistent in my posts. I believe now more than ever we must seek those things that unite us, that enable us to work for the common good and to build one another up rather than tear one another down; biting and devouring one another, as Paul said.

            This is a lot to digest-like my wife’s dinners, it sort of grew-so let’s start small, with something simple from Ephesians 4:29 (NRSV): “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” For today, borrowing an idea from one of Richard Foster’s books, let us try to do exactly what Paul says-quietly, without calling attention to ourselves, let us make it our mission to affirm and build up those people whom God sends our why. May The Lord bless you and keep you this day. JRG

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

With everything going on in the political arena these days I thought it might be good to remember who is really in control, what He expects from us and how we can lift each other up. Stay tuned; more to follow.