Category: Christian Living

Andrewes: ‘Besides our skin and flesh a soul we have. . . .’

I’m thinking this morning on a nasty word. It is an old one we don’t speak of much. The generator of my thoughts is a man long dead and little known today — Lancelot Andrewes.

The word, the almost lost word — sin — with a simple truth.

“Sin it is will destroy us all.” — Andrewes

If we forget sin, we forget our destroyer. All we need do is look around us to see the truth. But sin does not merely destroy life in the now; it has consequences that reverberate through both history and eternity.

Andrewes, sounding somewhat like Yoda: “Besides our skin and flesh a soul we have, and it is our better by far. . . .”

I read these words from Andrewes’ exposition on Luke 2:10-11, which tells of the birth of a savior who is Christ, the Lord.

Andrewses speaks of the joy that a savior of any kind brings. People may talk all they want, but there is “no joy so great, no news so welcome” as when “when ready to perish” hears of “one that will save him.”

To a person in danger of dying to sickness there is no greater joy than to hear of one will make the person well again.

To a person sentenced by law to die there is no greater joy than to be pardoned.

“Tell any of these, assure them but of a Saviour, it is the best news he ever heard in his life. There is joy in the name of a Saviour,” Andrewes said.

But most of us are not on the verge of death, in sickness, or living on death row. The thing Jesus came for is the “saving we need all; and none but He can help us to it. We have therefore all cause to be glad for the Birth of this Saviour.”

“. . . there is another life not to be forgotten, and greater the dangers, and the destruction more to be feared than of this here, and it would be well sometimes we were remembered of it.”

Our spiritual joy arises out of our true selves — our flawed selves, our sinful selves. It arises because we see ourselves and those around us, and thus we see the need of a savior. In seeing our sin it becomes possible to find our joy, it is in a savior from that sin — a savior to love and lift up, to heal and pardon, to walk and reside with us.

[The Andrewes quotes are from T.S. Eliot’s essay on Lancelot Andrewes.]

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Holding hands is for more than romance

I remember the excitement of holding the hands of girlfriends in youth.

I remember the connection when holding the hand of the woman I came to love. Not like the others, she remained from day to day.

I remember the tenderness of holding the hands of our babies; small and soft, they grasped your finger.

I thought of hand-holding this morning when listening to a song by David Kauffman — “A Hand to Hold.”

It reminded me of another hand-holding song first heard when I was 8 in 1963 — “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” by The Beatles. The excitement of that song thrilled and laid the foundation for the excitement that would come a few years later when I held the hands of girlfriends.

But, excitement is only part of life. Kauffman’s “A Hand to Hold” points to something deeper.

“Someone asked me what I want, the question sent me spinning off in circles. I could not see. Seems like so much of my time is spent chasing what my mind invents, that my heart lost its way.

“It took stripping away every plan in me to understand the simple things I need, a hand to hold, a heart that knows, a soul that welcomes and makes a whole, a smile that warms what’s grown cold ’til I’ve become a hand to hold.”

To hold a hand is one of the great joys of life. Yes, it can be exciting, but more joyously it can become a true connection with genuine tenderness, and it’s not just about romance. To rephrase Kauffman’s words:

We all need hands to hold.

We all need hearts that know us.

We all need souls that welcome and make us whole.

We all need smiles that warm us when we’ve grown cold.

We need real love, the Jesus kind of love. The love that touches our hearts, warms our souls, makes us whole, and smiles upon our lives.

We can receive these spiritually, directly from our Creator and Sustainer, but we also need to receive these from the people God brings into our life path.

God may touch our spirits, but God knows that flesh is important and needs to be touched, as well. Jesus became flesh so he could actually touch people. What might it have been like to walk a path in Palestine holding the hand of the one who loved perfectly and would one day give that hand to be assaulted in crucifixion?

And, as Kauffman’s song says, when we have been touched and changed, we will “become a hand to hold.” We need others to hold our hands, and others need us — the power of touch.

(David Kauffman has been one of my favorite Christian songwriters for years. “A Hand to Hold” is on his album by that same name.)

 

Time to resist the ‘cult of self and self-fulfillment’

Here are some words from James Montgomery Boice on this Sunday morning:

“What lies at the heart of family breakdown is the sad philosophy that lies at the heart of the breakdown of American society generally, namely, the cult of self and self-fulfillment to be achieved at the cost of nearly everything else. In other words, the problem is unbridled individualism, which is individualism in the most radical sense (‘me alone; no one else matters’), utterly untempered, constrained by not a single moral absolute.”

Christians today have even fallen victim to this disease. This has happened to the point that “Christian” is coming unattached from what the Bible says about being a follower of Jesus, a follower of the Jesus Way.

Politics reveals this. Many Christians have sold their moral souls for political ideas on both the left (abortion, same-sex marriage, etc.) and the right (protecting the wealthy not the poor, environmental degradation, immigration).

We need to actually read Scripture more, especially the New Testament, instead of listening primarily to what others say and write about Scripture. That’s what I’m going to do right now.

The quote is from Boice’s Foundations for God’s City, p. 23.

Leave the cave; stay in the fray

Elijah “was afraid; he got up and fled for his life. . .” (1 Kings 19:3a, NRSV).

People who are trying to be faithful to God can empathize with Elijah — there can be a temptation to run away from it all. They confront evil and injustice as best they can, but still they sometimes want to slink away and hide. It is no fun being attacked and criticized even when you are right.

Faithfulness can be especially hard for those who seek to confront phony religion. Take Elijah. Take Jesus. Jezebel wanted to kill Elijah. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day pulled it off.

The story of Elijah’s run is in 1 Kings 19:1-18.

. . . he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”

This guy had just been God’s servant in doing some major religious clean-up work. Miraculous stuff. He goes from big-time faith to no faith in days.

I have known some godly people who can confront evil all day long and be ready for another day of the same — the late James Dunn comes to mind. (Though sometimes I thought he was tilting at windmills.)

Elijah and James Dunn stand out as confronters of bad religion, but a lot of people are trying to do their parts. Still, they may feel inadequate for the tasks. We need Elijah’s angel — a patient angel.

Then he [Elijah] lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep.

Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again.

The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.

Sometimes we want to lie down under a tree — a live oak, possibly. But then it’s like we hear: “Nope. You can’t lie down town. Take nourishment and get ready for another journey.” We hit the snooze button on such angelic encouragement and go back to sleep, but we all know that a snooze button doesn’t turn off an alarm.

Back to Elijah.

At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

When we are in the pits we can overstate our situation, and that’s because we misunderstand it and ourselves and our God.

He [God] said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

That would get your attention. You would be like a kid in the old days if someone said a parade was coming to town. Gotta see it!

Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind;

and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake;

and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire;

and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.

Wind, earthquake, fire — but not God. Attention riveted. No God around. Then, silence. And Scripture says at odd thing — Elijah “hears” the silence.

When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

Summoned by silence is almost an oxymoron. Silence does not summon — or does it? Has a parent ever suddenly realized his or her children had grown silent and proceeded to investigate.

Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Why is a prophet in a cave in the wilderness? Prophets are needed in the cities, in the middle of culture, out in the open where evil can be challenged.

He [Elijah] answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

Elijah is continuing his earlier riff. God speaks.

Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return. . . .”

So many faithful believers feel like Elijah. They have been trying so hard for so long to be faithful, but no one seems to be listening. And this can happen even in the midst of praise and encouragement.

In the silence, however, we can be encouraged. We can gain a renewed sense of God’s presence. We can get new orders. “Go, return” to the fray, because God is up to something.

And we now have distinct advantages over Elijah. We have the example and teachings of Jesus, and the truth of this Man can change an individual and a world of individuals and their communities. And we have the Spirit of the Creator recreating within each of us the life spark that animated Jesus.

Ah, yes! Leave the cave!

So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith (Galatians 6:9-10).

(All quotations from the New Revised Standard Version, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)

 

God believes in you and me

First song on shuffle this morning — “Believe in You,” by Amanda Marshall. Just what I needed.

I had already read my Bible and driven to Austin in silence. I turn on my computer, crank up iTunes, and it’s like God speaking to me in Amanda’s voice — a continuation of my prayers.

Somewhere there’s a river

Looking for a stream

Somewhere there’s a dreamer

Looking for a dream

Somewhere there’s a drifter

Trying to find his way

All of us can feel lost sometime. We are looking for something. Evangelical Christians like to talk of “lost” as being before someone decides to follow Christ, to put their faith in Christ. And this is true.

But believers, even those like me who have been a Christian for decades, can feel lost. We’re not, God is still there, but it feels that way.

Somewhere someone’s waiting

To hear somebody say

I believe in you

I can’t even count the ways that

I believe in you

And all I want to do is help you to

Believe in you

There are people all around us who need to hear someone say, “I believe in you.” We need this because sometimes we stop believing in ourselves. We see our failures, our shortcomings, our unfulfillable dreams. We start drifting, trying to find our way.

Somewhere someone’s reaching

Trying to grab that ring

Everyone seems to be reaching, trying to grab the ring of success or just attention. Reaching, reaching, always reaching. It seems so many others have grasped the ring, but we cannot reach it. Like a trapeze artist who misses an exchange, we fall and hope there is a net.

We’re paralyzed with fear

And everybody’s listening

‘Cause we all need to hear

I believe in you

I can’t even count the ways that

I believe in you

And all I want to do is help you to

Believe in you

We need someone to believe in us and then to help us believe in ourselves. That seems to be what God is up to. Scripture says God believes us, and in our thoughts and prayers we still seem to hear the Spirit whispering that supporting belief. But sometimes it can be hard for us to hear that Spirit because of the clutter of our own thoughts, and that’s when we need another person to audibly say, “I believe in you.”

I will hold you up

I will help you stand

I will comfort you when you need a friend

I will be the voice that’s calling out

I believe in you

Daniel J. Siegel, a professor of psychiatry, says research has shown it is crucial to “feel we are held within another person’s internal world, in their head and in their heart — relationships that help us thrive and give us resilience.”

Such a beautiful idea — to feel we are held within another person’s internal world. And this reminds me of Jesus’ words.

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me (John 15:4, NKJV).

God, in Christ, desires to hold us within His world, within His love. That can be done in purely spiritual fashion, but it also can be done by each of us for one another.

God believes in us. Someone may also need to hear that I believe in him or her.

 

Face-to-face encounters need understanding, grace

Face-to-face encounters possess great potential for good or evil, and both possible outcomes have been illustrated over the past few days.

First, Nathan Phillips and Nick Sandmann became part of our national “conversation” as a video went viral showing a grinning Sandmann standing before a drumming Phillips.

Sandmann, a Kentucky teenager, wore a “Make America great again” hat, a symbol of President Trump’s political campaign. Phillips, an older Native American, beat his drum in prayer. With other teenagers in the background, the short video portrayed a confrontation of threat and disrespect for the elder Phillips.

We now know there is more to the story. Sandmann, in my eyes, was being disrespectful. He should have stood aside and let Phillips walk back to where he had been earlier. The group in the background makes it more confrontational because loud, unruly crowds anywhere become threatening, whether or not that is the intent.

The hats, however, provided more fuel; they are a political symbol. Some people, including many Native Americans, view the MAGA hats as representative of a racist president, specifically because of insensitive comments he has made about indigenous people.

More information revealed the broader context of the incident. Sandmann and friends had not descended on Phillips as the short video clip seems to indicate. The situation began when the Catholic boys and another identity group exchanged taunts.

Phillips walked into the group of teenagers while beating his prayer drum in order to diffuse the situation that had not involved the Native American group. Sandmann then stood in Phillips’ way and refused to move. The smile and grin, with friends in the background, conveyed disrespect of this elder to a watching world.

But this became political, not just because of the MAGA caps, but because a Twitter account pushed the provocative clip. Twitter later shut down the account, but the damage had been done. Another essentially anonymous social media presence had ignited a national furor. This account sought to provoke left-leaning Americans; other accounts work up right-wing Americans.

Two new names — Guy Jones and Don Wegman — later entered the national conversation. Jones is a Native American, and Wegman is a MAGA-hat-wearing Anglo man. They met Tuesday at a protest outside the Covington Catholic Diocese. Jones was there to protest; Wegman was there to make personal contact. The two men ended up exchanging phone numbers and planning to meet for coffee.

We need more people like these two — people who will have civil conversations about what they think.

The early church had a problem with people stirring up trouble. There were Judaizers, gnostics, and others. Some people simply like to stir the pot of public discourse, and they usually are not seeking greater understanding and fruitful dialogue. They are seeking to divide.

A frustrated Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church.

For my part, brothers and sisters, I was not able to speak to you as spiritual people but as people of the flesh, as babies in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food, since you were not yet ready for it. In fact, you are still not ready, because you are still worldly. For since there is envy and strife among you, are you not worldly and behaving like mere humans? For whenever someone says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not acting like mere humans? (1 Corinthians 3:1-4, CSB).

We are so prone to act like “mere humans.” I belong to Calvin (or Calvinism). I belong to free will Baptists (or Arminianism). I belong to Conservatives. I belong to Progressives. I belong to Trump. I belong to Clinton.

We can understand this in the world, but it should not be this way among Christ’s people. And we can bring the same respect for differences to our broader social and political context.

Paul talking about church factions:

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? … According to God’s grace that was given to me, I have laid a foundation as a skilled master builder, and another builds on it. But each one is to be careful how he builds on it. For no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:5, 10-11, CSB).

Today, we are thrust into a world in which anything we say or do can be captured and shared globally. Any of us can go viral. We can be both understood and misunderstood when one moment of our lives gets the world’s attention.

But we also are consumers of such messages. It is good to bring grace to our judgments, understanding that we do not know the whole story. We can be thankful we know what is going on and be moved to action while also remembering that one short video or photo can be very misleading.

One more word from Paul:

I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not be based on human wisdom but on God’s power (1 Corinthians 2:2-5, CSB).

 

God calls Christians to the divine work of pursuing justice.

The “arc of the moral universe … is bending toward justice.”

These are now famous words, but are they true? What do you see when you do a personal memory scan of what you know about history. Some of us may see an arc toward justice; others of us may wonder.

We surely have not arrived at complete justice in the United States.

We live in a nation of laws, which is a huge step toward greater justice, but those laws are not always justly applied across economic and racial divides.

We live in a nation of inclusiveness that promotes justice for all persons without regard to race or ethnicity, but still bigotry and racism flourish in both language and violence.

Justice and injustice — both are real.

Scripture makes it clear that God is just and wants justice. One reason some people miss this is that in Scripture the words translated as justice or righteousness are often the same words in Hebrew or Greek.

To keep this simple, we can just say that justice and righteousness are intimately connected in Scripture. We can say that God is both righteous and just and also that God’s people are to be both righteous and just.

Matthew 13 illustrates the connection between righteousness and justice, and it shows the importance of both. Jesus said at the end of time all of those who cause sin and are lawless will be thrown out of God’s kingdom. “Then the righteous [just] will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. Let anyone who has ears listen” (Mt. 13:43, CSB, bracketed word added).

In short, God’s children are righteous and just.

God is bending the moral universe toward justice, and God has called us to join in this work.

Some may doubt the truth of what Martin Luther King, Jr., said about the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice, but I think this great pastor described exactly what God is doing and wants all of us to participate in doing.

Here is the full quote from King’s book, Stride Toward Freedom:

But amid all of this we have kept going with the faith that as we struggle, God struggles with us, and that the arc of the moral universe, although long, is bending toward justice.

We struggle or should be struggling in pursuit of God’s great purposes, and one of those is justice. We do not, however, struggle alone. When we pursue God’s purposes we have the Divine energy and power with us. Justice is our struggle, but it is not ours alone.

A version of this post originally appeared on the Texas Baptists website.