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Archive for April, 2009

the power of prayer?

I have a friend who God has been putting into my mind of late. I’m not quite sure what to do with it sometimes. 🙂 Well, obviously, I can pray, and I have, but it’s strange that God puts seasons in our life where he calls us to pray for particular persons.

I have wondered in the past about the efficacy of my prayers. I know that he does and always has heard my prayers and I know that he is able to fulfill my prayers, but it’s more a question of whether he is willing to respond. So, part of me would like to think that my prayers are not in vain, but even asking and giving things over to God doesn’t necessarily mean that anything will go the way you see it or would like. I’m caught in a tension of being a little skeptical of the effects during my more cynical moments with the propensity to take it too mystically in my more hopeful times. But where’s the in-between of it? Is it that I always ask wrongly? I don’t think that’s the case. Is it that I don’t accept his answers? That is more likely, though his answers are not always clear to me, even when I have supposed that it was. Maybe I’m just not in tune with the will of God. 😉

My friend says that prayer to him is linked to communal worship. The identity of the faith community is united through praying and through putting their focus upon the same God. Also, he mentioned that it serves as a reminder for him as a servant of God. He does not, however, see any cause and effect relationship in prayer. And while I can sympathize with what he says, I can’t honestly say that if I thought there were no cause-effect relationship to prayer (even in the less direct and obvious way) that I would bother with prayer. I can’t overlook verses that say that things like, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16), “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14-15), and “‘Have faith in God,’ Jesus answered. ‘I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, “Go, throw yourself into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins'” (Mark 11:22-25).

If our prayers are not effective for other areas of our life, can we be confident that the same can be said about when we pray to confess sin? Obviously, I don’t think that the realm of our prayer should be limited to supplication; that would just be a distortion of our prayer life. We do it to seek God’s guidance, to give him thanks, to be close to the divine. I would probably argue that prayer for supplication is secondary to the intimacy to God that is fostered through it. But that still doesn’t negate my belief that prayer for ourselves or for others can be effective, and that it has to necessarily be that way because it stems from a relationship with a God who directly works into human history.

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I’ve been thinking about spiritual discipline — and often my lack thereof. It’s hard for me sometimes to be consistent in this area, as I’m sure is true with a lot of people, and I have to wonder what causes me to lag behind in this area. There are times I am successful, yet, I have a tendency to go away from it. I think that my lack of discipline comes from conflicting views of the purpose and results of spiritual disciplines.

On the one hand, I don’t like the idea of falling into legalism. Spiritual disciplines, as I understand it, are supposed to be for the purpose of freedom. God would surely want us to walk unburdened by our sin and to lead lives that are fruitful because of our life in the Spirit. Yet, often times, that which is meant to be liberating ends up being a greater burden to us. We have a tendency to either take it strictly, a necessity to our life that becomes attached to our status before God. This, of course, is not to be the case. Our status before God only depends on the Cross. Our work for him and the way we choose to live out our Christian faith, no matter how precious, is a result of faith, but one that should never be put on a pedestal. Otherwise, do we not make an idolatry of the disciplines? Does that which is supposed to bring us closer to God actually a stumbling block for us?

At the same time, you have to admire those who are so well-founded in the faith that they are able to persevere in holding a consistent spiritual life. Practicing the disciplines are not tedious to them, but is rather a source of joy because it is founded on a stable relationship with God. This doesn’t mean, of course, that they don’t ever fall or fail at their walk, but it sure shows more discipline than I. And yet, this isn’t enough to keep me motivated. I guess I must not really want what they have, or you’d think I’d work on it more. Or maybe I just doubt that kind of consistency.

Maybe I just have to look at spiritual disciplines in a different light. What about thinking of it in the construct of gift giving? As believers, we can give a tangible gift to God, not out of obligation or in expectation of a return, but as a gratitude for what he’s done for us. He is our love in the truest sense, in a way that no other being will ever match, and it is surprising to me how often I would rather give to others who I do not love as much than to give to him. I have a desire to give something to him that is precious to me, something that would have worth and meaning, because he is deserving of such. A “sacrifice” so to speak (though I don’t like to think of it too much in those terms lest the wrong idea is conveyed). There are many little “gifts” that I would want to give him, and though I won’t go into detail about it, it’s just an idea that I think is worth putting out there. God doesn’t require our gifts, but I don’t think that giving to him through love and faith are ever things that are overlooked by him.

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I don’t have much to say right now, but I will speak briefly on faithfulness.

I look at Abraham’s life and the promise that was given to him by the Lord. It took about 25 years from the time the promise of a son was given until the time that Isaac was conceived. Strange to think that God would choose such a long period of time to fulfill his promises. There must have been many times that Abraham got discouraged or doubtful. He must have looked to different places just to try to see that fulfillment in ways that make sense (through his servant, through the son of a concubine) only to find them inadequate; the others were not the child of promise. Did he fall into despair? Did he doubt? I think so. He would have tried for so long to conceive with Sarah without success. It’s hard to imagine someone impervious any kind of wavering. Yet, through it all, he remained faithful to God. It was not that he never had doubt, it was that even in the midst of his moments of doubt, he ultimately still looked to God. He continued to hope in the promise that he could not see and that he could hardly imagine in his old age. Maybe that time was necessary in order for his faith in the Lord to build. Maybe if he had gotten the promise immediately, he would not have considered it as much to be a miracle of God. Maybe he would have have been less inclined to see the fulfillment as a blessing that it really was. Maybe he would not have accumulated the faith he would need to offer up his son to God knowing that God’s promise is greater than anything man can do…. I do not normally speculate so much on the text as I attempt to exegete. But I think there is so much depth to this faith of Abraham’s. How many more years until the promise was fulfilled in the larger meaning of the word? How long until the seed of Abraham blessed the world??

We are heirs to Abraham. We carry on the faith and the true worship God through that faith. May we also persevere through times when God’s promise seems like a distant reality.

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sing a new psalm

Knowing my own weakness is just one of those things that has its ups and downs. I like that it gives a realistic understanding of who I am and what I’m capable of doing. It keeps me humble and looking to God. And yet, it is a wretched thing to know that you are not always what you want to be. I can’t always do what I want to do or have things the way I want it. Maybe my will is weak… or perhaps God’s will is so much stronger than my own. I wish… I hope… for, well, many things. But whether or not I get them, I am determined to be faithful to my loving Father who is always knowledgeable of my wants and needs and is much better equipped to give me those things if he saw it in his wisdom to grant them to me.

The Psalms particularly resonate with me during this season of my life. I don’t know if I’ve just gotten more emotional than I used to be, or if there is something particular about poetry that communicates things in a way that prose simply cannot. In any case, many of the psalms so poignantly speak to me. And through them, I see how others have spoken to God in both the good times of their life and in the more wretched times. I see how man fall and succeed, how we all face similar human conditions, how God’s love endures, how justice and righteousness should be worked out, how God listens to our prayers…

When I read these psalms, even when I do not fully understand them or relate to them, I have a sense of knowing. I know that God hears my voice, sees my afflictions, and is my redeemer. What more can I want or say?

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One thing I hate about churches is the congregational mentality to accept what the pastor says blindly. There’s nothing more infuriating than to see the pastor elevated in that way, as if his word on things is truth. Can I just say that it’s more biblical to examine what is being said in light of the whole of scripture than to follow like stupid sheep? In what way is it right for people who are literate and educated not to critically look at what is being preached? I have often wondered when it is right tin these situations to remain silent even when it agitates me or to risk stirring up some waters that may not even be a big thing. The moral side of me says that I know better and should say something. The coward in me thinks that they won’t really listen anyway… and that they’re too sexist to take a woman seriously. How awful is that? I know it’s true though, and it makes me really hate evangelicalism sometimes.

But though I face that tension, I still have to wonder, why do people merely accept the status quo? I will never understand it. Even when I try to be understanding and sympathetic toward it, the truth is that I don’t fully understand. I mean, I can’t imagine that they love things as they are, if indeed it isn’t an issue of inability to make change, but I have a feeling that I must be terribly mistaken about that. There are many talented and intelligent people also who choose to not do or say anything. Many times, I think that they’re perfectly content to see things as they are, even if they know the drawbacks of it. Laziness, that it’s just too much effort to rock the boat? I hope that’s not the case. Mico has suggested that he thinks it is often that people are overwhelmed by the situation and feel helpless to change it. A good possibility, and that’s understandable. Obviously, now, I’m not just restricting this critique to church practice, but I don’t think it’s a far leap away. Anyway, it’s frustrating.

But in all honestly, I have an ethical problem with passively accepting the status quo. As Christians, does Christ not call us for better? Are we not to be part of bringing his kingdom in not only a spiritual sense, but also in the political/structural/societal sense? My Christ did not just accept the things of his day. Yes, he worked within the context of his culture, but he also challenged them, brought people to a greater understanding of what Kingdom living should be. I can’t see him as ‘safe’ or as one who would advocate the sort of sterilized Christianity we see today. Did his death and resurrection not shake the world in a way that no person in history was able to do? Why do Christians not continue to live in the prophetic ministry and merely fall back into complacency? If you think that things are just fine, maybe you should really reexamine things, and if you must and if it helps you, ponder the question ‘what would Jesus about this circumstance’?

Please don’t take my criticisms without noticing that I am not blind to some of the benefits of living in such a system. There are good aspects to keep, certainly, and on a practical level, it has it’s uses. Order and whatnot for those who love order. For those who are comfortable within that system, it simply be that they do not see a need to criticize it. But to be uncritical about the system you live in comes with a price. I mean, what’s to say that we aren’t blinded to the depth of the frailties of that which we are entangled in? I guess I can’t really buy ‘That’s the way it’s done’ as a rationale. Or ‘It’s not as bad as some other ways’. While they may be true, it’s just downright unsatisfactory. What if the ‘good enough’ really isn’t good enough?

Or am I just a malcontent and a zealot? That could be it too. But I’m only that way to make up for so many people who aren’t. . . =P

Oh, and as a completely different aside, thank you Mico for always being supportive. You reaffirm for me what I already know: yes, I should look to that which is worthy of me, and yes, I am better off for the “loss.” It’s sometimes hard to see that, but knowing someone who knows and values me is special. It’s easy to lose focus on truth even when you know it to be true, and having friends to remind you of it is a blessing.

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dogs galore

I’m allowed to do shallow posts, aren’t I?

If not, I will make one anyway. =) So here it is. The types of dogs I love:

::Pug::

::Dachshund::

::Pembroke Welsh Corgi::

::Bedlington Terrier::

::Yorkshire Terrier::

::Shetland Sheepdog::

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I am happy. If this sounds somewhat simplistic to you, it is. The sort of peace that I have been experiencing is truly inexpressible. It comes from a sense of simply knowing and loving, in finding joy in the fact that I live and breathe, and that this breath comes from God. The filling of my lungs with air make me think of God’s breath breathing in life for the first time into Adam. And I realize, I really like my life. There’s so much intrinsic good in it and in my relationship to my God. How can I ever give him enough gratitude for that?

Holy Father,
I thank you that you are Yahweh, the Creator, the Master, the Covenant-Maker. I thank you for the shalom you have been working into my life. I have peace even when everything and everyone around me may be in turmoil because I am founded in you. There is something great and special when your presence is so tangible that I can feel you and your holiness and your Spirit through creation, in the air, surrounding me. When I look at the stars at night, I know you have created the great expanse of the universe and that you can make even greater things, but that you chose in the midst of that to single out mankind to love. Why do you, when you don’t need us, still call us? I cannot understand that mystery of your love. I ask that you would give me direction for the next season of my life, and that in it, I will find an even greater love for you.
Amen.

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One thing I really enjoy about Dr. Bird’s class is that he does a pretty good job at integrating the information he gives us with critical thinking and application of the Christian life. Or, to say it in Taylor terms, there’s an “integration of faith and learning.” I don’t always appreciate this as much as I should, I suppose. Sometimes, it seems shallow at best. But when it’s done well, it can be a wonderful thing. With Bird, he has such a desire to push students to where they’re uncomfortable. And I really like that.

The topic of this class revolved around the biblical concepts of justice and relating them to the countries which we are learning about. My country of study is Sri Lanka, and learning about the human rights violations going on there is surprising. Things that we Americans don’t even have to think about… We had prayer time in class for the different countries to address directly some issues that pertain to each. It was actually very moving for me, and it was a challenge for me to pray for things beyond my individual scope of life. I’m so selfish that I always pray for me or for things pertaining to me. Our “individualized” and “personal” Christianity is cheap when we realize Christ gave himself for the whole world. If we claim that missions and evangelism is important to us, what better place is there to start than just to pray?

It must be hard for him. To know so much, to have those types of things on your mind, to feel very limited in our individual ability to act against such systematic types of oppression. I’m at a loss because I do care, because I know that God cares, because I believe scripture tells us to look beyond ourselves, and because I believe that the Gospel carries along with it freedom in its Kingdom concept, not only from personal sin but from injustices as well.

I honestly get a little annoyed when people speak of things such as disallowing homosexuals to marry as the greatest form of societal oppression. Give me a break! Even when I grant that there are some oppression and discrimination that shouldn’t be there, it pales in comparison to…. human trafficking, torture, female genital mutilation, genocide, child soldiers, etc… So why then do people spend so much time on more minor issues when they turn a blind eye to the much more serious injustices? That’s not at all to say that we should ignore the other issues because there are still injustices around us. But comparatively, the suffering caused by these other issues are are significantly greater in scope and individual harm than, say, the “deterioration of the family” in America (Sorry, I can’t pick on one side without jabbing at the other. At least now we’re all offended). It’s funny that some things that people often crusade for become just as much a source of oppression or alienation to others as the things which they claim are the “oppressors.” Just something to think about…

What types of injustices are particularly important to you and how do you go about doing your part as your work of faith?

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I spent some time talking to a professor of mine over lunch. He’s so knowledgeable and passionate that I find that I miss having that sort of intellectual one-on-one conversations (surprisingly, college doesn’t necessarily fill that vacuum). Anyway, we got to talking about philosophy and religion, as per usual, and the topic of the “others'” ideas and perspectives came up. How do “we” relate to them and how do “they” relate to us? Do some liberal theologians sympathize with the text and yet ultimately disregard conservative claims on truth while many conservative theologians fortify a wall around themselves in order to protect themselves from ‘liberal theology’ creeping in? What do you do with the divide when both sides are lobbing bombs at each other? Take a side and stick with it? Get caught in the middle? Withdraw completely from the conversation? None of those options sound very appealing. In the spectrum of beliefs which claim to be “Christian,” this is at best fuzzy to me, and at worse, completely intangible.

How does “otherness” and orthodoxy relate? If we accept the idea that there is a value of being different, not merely as one who follows the crowd, but as one who would for Christ serve in his own unique way, how far should we allow for differences and in what way does this dialogue practically take place? Do both sides simply claim to be open and sympathetic to the others’ ideas, so long as that side does not make any solid ethical, moral, and objective claims? Ultimately, I sometimes wonder if either side truly values diversity and seek instead to create homogeneity to conform other people to themselves. Where, then, do we have room to conform to Christ? Who are we following and for what possible good? What exactly are we conforming ourselves to??

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not advocating a concept of relative Christianity. Or even a flexible morality. Part of engaging faith is having the courage to stand up for your own particular beliefs even when no one else does, but I don’t find dogma in itself to be particularly virtuous, no matter what side it is that you identify most closely. I think I’ve come to the point where I’ve grown some amount of courage to stand up for my truth claims. At the same time, I also try not to fully disregard another’s perspective even if they tend to be radically different from my own. I think you owe it to yourselves to at least listen to what others have to say for themselves. There’s merit and weakness in every position that are worth sifting through. . .

And now, I’ll admit that I don’t know where to go from there. If you have any insight, please feel free to enlighten me. This is why it’s good to have friends who have some different strengths, interests, and opinions than your own. You just learn so much more from them. =)

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I’ve started picking up Moltmann’s The Crucified God again. I never did get far into it because of school and work. But now that I have time, I’m reading through it. He says some heavy stuff that I have yet to process (it’s definitely not light reading). In particular, he mentioned about the concept of losing one’s identity in order to find it (Mt 16:24). This made me think about how true that concept is to the Christian life…and to all life in general. It seems paradoxical. But when you think about giving so much of yourself to one thing, your time and your mind and your body, your life becomes a part of that movement. Your identity becomes wrapped up into that ideology, concept, cause, or whatever it may be. In essence, to give completely to something means that your life and your self is swallowed up into the thing which you work for.

It’s kind of scary to think, but people do this all the time, unknowingly, for many sorts of things and for many sorts of reasons. Some of these things may have worth. Some of it may be destructive. But all of it falls short of what God calls us to be. Why, then, do we take the cross so lightly, knowing that what we give ourselves for is so much greater than any other cause? Why do we falter short of having our identities placed on Christ’s death and resurrection when we would willingly become involved in other things that will not last? The truth is, we — or rather I — lack discipline and my self becomes more important than Christ… and it is by God’s grace that he brings me back to the cross. But in light of his grace, I struggle all the more to conform myself to his will and to the truth of his person.

As the Word gave his identity from eternality to come down as human, to be crucified and identified with the cross, so likewise we should pick up our cross to be “crucified” with him. Then, we will find our identity. Then, we get to take part in his glory. We get to be more than dust. Let us not forget that what we value very much shapes who we are.

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” – Philippians 2:1-11.

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