Reading

Living Presently

Well 2014, here I am. Unfortunately, I have had some blog issues recently and I am seeking to get those resolved sometime soon, but in the meantime I thought I would continue writing. Also, there are some new additions to the site that are currently under construction but be sure to check those out in the near future! Ok, now to the topic at hand…

I have been finding that living in present moment has become increasingly arduous. Instead, I have become entranced by an elusive future that my imagination creates and sustains as if that were the antidote to the discontentedness that I am currently facing. Don’t get me wrong, it helps, but I am not convinced that it is always healthy.  I am consistently confronted with the temptation to simply escape my current life and swap it for something else. Thinking and praying about the future is not harmful in and of itself but I believe it is when we allow ourselves to live futuristically in such a way that all of our hopes for fulfillment and contentedness are wrapped up in an uncertain future that things can get unhealthy.

One of the most profoundly simple quotes I have ever come across was in The Journals of Jim Elliot, which reads this:

Wherever you are, be all there.

Talk about profoundly simple. I forget the context of Elliot’s writing here, but I think it is safe to say that context isn’t necessarily needed–that is, we get the general point without knowing the context. The point that Elliot is making is that there is no moment like the present moment. He admonishes his unknown readers (considering the fact that he had no idea that his journals would be published) to be all there so that our whole being is engaged in the present moment. 

Again, I do not think that allowing ourselves to dream or have hope that is placed in the future is a bad thing, but when we wish away time because of the difficulties and tensions that life presents instead of engaging wholly then we miss out on  all that the present moment has to offer us. The problem arises when we face a difficulty or a desire that leads us to discontentment and therefore creates the inability to live presently because of the pain that we feel. The same thing can happen in referring back to the past to a time when we felt perhaps more peace, love, and affirmation.

We must learn to be people who engage wholly in the present no matter how difficult or how painful the scenario.

Patience plays a large part in this as well, for we live in a age that tempts us to take what we want for ourselves now! Therefore, whatever we want that exists in the future becomes this commodity that we simply wish to purchase at a moment’s notice in hopes of bypassing all of the present circumstances.

By doing this, we miss the beauty of walking with God and friends on this journey! Yes, even a journey that leads through all the crap!

There is a letter in the New Testament that speaks to this tension rather candidly. James is said to be one of the first letters written in the NT and in chapter 5 James writes this:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there doing business and making money.” Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.

James gets to heart of our failure to live in the present. We have all these lofty ideas about what the future will bring, but the only time that can be promised to us is the one we currently inhabit. This feels unsettling, as it should I suppose. A few verses later, James writes this:

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop front the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Indeed we call those blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

We certainly are to be future-oriented in our hope to which James refers to here, but it can be an unhealthy endeavor to place our hopes in moments that are not necessarily promised. Not only is the quantity of those moments not promised, but the quality is not promised either. My friend once told me that expectations are premeditated disappointments and it sounds rather cynical, but I think he is right. The expectations we hold in our hearts about the next few months or about the next year have the potential to never actually become a reality.

We must learn to make the most of the time that has been graciously given. As Sleeping at Last states in their song entitled Jupiter:

Make my messes matter; make this chaos count.

In that lyric resides the call to live engaged even amidst the mess and the chaos.

 

The Dynamic of Deuteronomy

As I referenced in my last post, I was privileged with the opportunity to travel to Grand Rapids, Michigan in order to attend a tremendous conference entitled A Missional Reading of Scripture. I am thrilled to report that this conference exceeded my expectations and I am confident in expressing such excitement because I am still (and will continue to do so in the coming weeks) processing through the all the insight, stories, and concepts that were presented throughout the course of the two-day conference.

The conference was a nice vacation for me (which sounds strange to some of you, I realize). Thankfully, I was able to travel with some dear friends with whom I laughed and maintained a consistent dialogue about all that we were learning/grappling with. It was a great conference because each speaker enfolded their hearers into different aspects of the biblical narrative – keying in on different moments, situations, and stories that all participate in this greater story, which they might call The Mission of God in History.

I was thankful to have the chance to meet some of these speakers and even talk to them ever-so-briefly. The main argument (perhaps the assumed argument) of the conference was that the mission of God is the main lens through which we look in order to understand and experience the entirety of the biblical narrative. All of the speakers are convinced that the mission of God is the premier narrative of the Bible and thus gives form and understanding to every story, situation, and crevice that the Bible puts forth. I have previously been slightly skeptical of a “one – main – narrative” reading of Scripture, but this conference has furthered my assurance about the mission of God being the main lens through which we read all of Scripture. If you have questions or comments about this, please let me know – I would love to discuss this with you (and it would be helpful to me)!

As I stated before, there were four main speaker sessions and there were three workshops and for each workshop slot there were three options from which we chose. I chose the following workshops: Church for the Thriving World: Preaching Deuteronomy Missionally, Missional Plurality: A Hermeneutic of Christian Witness, and Missional Spirituality. I enjoyed all of these workshops thoroughly and they were all equally challenging in different ways. I especially appreciated the workshops on Deuteronomy and Missional Spirituality mainly because I felt that they spoke specifically to the season I currently inhabit.

A guy named Mark Glanville  taught this workshop and I sincerely appreciated the combination of his tender personality and academic rigor that were apparent during the course of the workshop. He supplied all of the attendees with an outline for a sermon series on Deuteronomy and other notes for which I am very grateful. The main thrust of this workshop was about framing Deuteronomy in a particular manner. Glanville explained a three part dynamic that we see in Deuteronomy that, he argued, is evidenced throughout Scripture and directly applicable to the church at large today. The three part movement that he explained was as follows:

  1. God has given generously
  2. His people with respond with thanksgiving and rejoicing
  3. Thanksgiving results in generosity, justice and inclusion

    Famous painting of Moses by Rembrandt

    Famous painting of Moses by Rembrandt

This was the three part movement that Glanville proposed as the central theme to Deuteronomy and the rhythm that our churches need to recover. This dynamic is expressed in Deuteronomy through a fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel concerning land, the flourishing of Israel, and ultimately that God would “bless Israel to be a blessing” to the surrounding nations. This is evident in Deuteronomy and in a lot of ways, evident in the rest of Scripture too! Deuteronomy is all about Israel being put on display for the sake of the nations. The law, the land, and God’s blessing were not an end in themselves, but instead were for the sake of the nations. God’s intention was that the nations might know God through Israel’s witness to him as the one, true God… Amazing stuff.

I am now reading through Deuteronomy once again (by the way, when I first became a Christian, I remember pronouncing this book as “Dutronomy” – things like that are funny to look back on) and I am continually finding the themes that Glanville proposed. Today I read this verse in Deuteronomy 12:

There in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you.

In verse 7 of chapter 12 we see God’s blessing, Israel’s rejoicing, and Israel “putting their hand” to justice and generosity. This verse is a timely message for our holiday season. As we approach the eve of Thanksgiving and draw near to the season of Advent, be sure to meditate on all that God has blessed you with so that you might respond with rejoicing and generosity.

How Do You See?

I have been reading Matthew 6 for the past week or so and I was struck when I read a commentary on the section about “the eye as the lamp of the body”. To be honest, I never really understood what those two verses (22 &23) meant entirely. My ideas about these verses previously made sense, but I think they merely encircled the main idea that Jesus presents in these sentences.

The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness.

At times I took this to mean that whatever I look at will somehow and in some way invade my psysche and in turn will infect my mind and heart with lies or truths. Sure, that makes sense right? I think it does, but I don’t think that this entirely encapsulates what Jesus hopes to promote here. Could it be that Jesus is using “eyes” as a metaphor for our desires? Again, this could be part of it, but I don’t think that this fully articulates Jesus main point. Maybe we need to zoom out a bit. It seems that Jesus is concerned here with how we are seeing. I know that sounds abstract, but it is actually fairly straight-forward (and simultaneously abstract :)).

The eye is the way we physically see and envision the world, right? Right. I don’t think Jesus is only talking about what we physically take notice of, but perhaps he is referring to how we see the world–that is, our worldview. Jesus is concerned with how we see the world and whether or not we are seeing our whole world with a particular set of eyes. He says too that if our eyes are good or true then our whole body will be filled with light. How we see affects how we live. To me, this is what Jesus seems to be getting at here.

How we see has to do with story we are believing about life. That is a essentially what a worldview is anyway. It’s a particular story about life that gives some amount of semblance to our lives and the lives around us. Everyone believes a certain story about all of life. Some are convinced that life is all about becoming “somebody” by a variety of means. Others are convinced that the story of life is that there is no story. As Hauerwas likes to say, “modernity has produced a people who have no story except the story they chose when they had no story”. I am not sure what that means entirely, but it sounds cool, right? What story are you believing? Does that story have you at the center of it? Is that story true? Are you aware of the stories fallacy and seeking to replace that with truth? I think Jesus cares how we see the world because it is a matter of truth. How we see and what story we operate out of is of incredible importance because it affects how we live.

A Word on Perseverance

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I thought that this quote from Eugene Peterson is one of those that helps us to derail our attempts to maintain a subtle pridefulness. Subtle pride is what C.S. Lewis described as a focus on the self. It is pride because we are the center of our universe, and it is subtle because it is able to be masked as maturity or godliness.

I also thought that the beginning of this quote was a brilliant follow-up to my post from yesterday.

“Righteous is a common translation for the Hebrew term. “Righteous is out and out a term denoting relationship, and…it does in the sense of referring to a real relationship between two parties…and not to the relationship of an object under consideration to an idea.”…

he continues…

Perseverance is not the result of our determination, it is the result of God’s faithfulness. We survive in the way of faith not because we have extraordinary stamina but because God is righteous, because God sticks with us. Christian discipleship is a process of paying more and more attention to God’s righteousness and less and less attention to our own; finding the meaning of our lives not by probing our moods and motives and morals but by believing in God’s will in purposes; making a map of the faithfulness of God, not charting the rise and fall of our enthusiasms. It is out of such a reality that we acquire perseverance.

How does this speak to you?

An Excursus on Righteousness

Have you ever pondered the fact that words can have various meanings according to the culture, time period, and community in which they are uttered? Sometimes the difference between what words once meant and what they now mean is quite nuanced and other times these differences are drastic.  For instance, take the word “cool”. When we use the word cool today we are typically describing someone who is confident and tends to “roll with the punches” of life. By our standards, a cool person is someone who never getting too bent out of shape — at least not outwardly. For African slaves in America during the 19th century, this word meant something rather different. For these African slaves, the word cool was meant to depict an outward confidence that was a way for their community to cope with the utter suffering that they had to endure. They were not actually cool, calm, or collected, but it was the word they used in order to grope for normalcy amidst chaos. “Cool” is an example of a word through which we are able to grasp the occurrence of words that evolve and change over time. Sometimes definitions undergo more significant change than we see in the word cool. Etymologies can be traced that show us that certain words, while spanning centuries, have undergone significant re-definition. I have been learning that one of these words is the word righteous.

The word righteous has undergone many phases, most of which I can hardly begin to unravel. I am especially interested in how the word righteous is used in the Bible and how we use it today. I know that there are plenty of intermediary periods that can shed light on this word, but I hope that we will be caused to see differently as we unpack the etymological differences in the word righteous.

Why is this important? I am convinced that a contextual study of the Bible changes how we see. We often come to Scripture with our own cultural lens, but in order to understand some of the nooks and crannies of Scripture we must begin to wonder about the intent or meaning behind this or that word or phrase. Righteous is one of these words that I hope changes the way we see as we encounter it in Scripture.

In today’s post-elightenment era, the word righteous has often come to mean one who is morally upright. In fact, a quick search through google shows us that Merriam-Webster defines righteous as:

morally good: following religious or moral laws.

Would you disagree with this definition? I tend to think that most of you would not, but please tell me if you would have! When we describe someone as righteous, we are usually defining the moral quality of their person. I am not saying that anything is wrong with the way that we have come to define this term, but I am saying that it is important to understand words in different contexts if we are to understand and interpret the Bible in its context (without bringing out context to bear upon it). As you might have guessed though, our modern-day definition only speaks to part of how the Bible defines the word righteous.

The Bible is where we often see the word righteous and what people think of when they utter the word. Most generally, the word denotes relationship (yes, you read correctly). In the Bible, righteousness often refers to the relationship God has with his people. There are four major components of this “righteous relationships” that is evident at different moments in biblical literature.

1) Righteousness often refers to God’s saving acts in human history. God’s rescue of Israel from Egypt is a great example. These acts of God’s rescue are always described as righteous. Micah 6:5 is a great example of this, but the Psalms are also littered with similar examples.

2) When God rescues his people in the Old and New Testament, he always grants them a new status: righteous. Through God’s saving acts his people are granted a righteous status before Him. There is a great quote from Rudolph Bultmann that helps incarnate this idea:

It [righteousness] does not mean the ethical quality of a person. It does not mean any quality at all, but a relationship. That is, dikaiosyne [Greek] is not something that a person has on his own; rather it is something that he has in the verdict of the “forum” to which he is accountable.

3) Righteousness always includes a human response to the saving acts and granted status of God to his people. The righteous acts of his people are not necessarily morally upright acts but those acts that are proper and in accordance with how God has treated them . Simply put, how God treated them is the model for how they are to treat others. The righteous response to God’s pursuit is an embodiment of how God has graced them in his saving acts and in the new status he has granted them.

4) Lastly, righteousness always corresponds to peace in the Bible. Peace, as depicted in the Bible, usually means wholeness. Righteousness therefore brings peace to interpersonal relationships just as God has enacted peace through his righteous acts and granted status of righteousness to His people.

Hopefully through this brief explanation you will notice the discrepancies between our modern conception of righteousness and the biblical conception of that rich word.

This content was gathered from two different sources. The first paragraph that explained the etymology of the word “cool” was gathered from a book entitled “The Vertical Self” by Mark Sayers. The rest of this blog was content that was gathered from a book entitled “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes” by Kenneth Bailey.