God, the treasure in the vessel

Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing, we’re not about to throw up our hands and walk off the job just because we run in occasional hard times.

Good Monday Morning to the week 44/2018

Eugene Peterson (1932-2018) has completed his “long obedience in the same direction.” The Presbyterian pastor, best known for authoring The Message Bible, died October 22nd at the age of 85.  I read Peterson’s paraphrased Bible because I find it accessible even poetic.  In The Message, the words come nearer and find new meaning through being more accessible to the modern reader.

I’ve just read two biographies of people going through immense trails even torture in their lives. I also think of a lot of you in the context you are in and know of many in situations of great adversity and challenge. I am greatly inspired by the verses
of 2 Corinthians 4: 7-12 starting with the translation from The Message:

If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. As it is, there’s not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we’re not much to look at. We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken. What they did to Jesus, they do to us—trial and torture, mockery and murder; what Jesus did among them, he does in us—he lives! Our lives are at constant risk for Jesus’ sake, which makes Jesus’ life all the more evident in us. While we’re going through the worst, you’re getting in on the best!

Then there are times I love the directness of KJV in Verse 7-8:
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed;

Or the Passion Translation of Verse 7-9:
We are like common clay jars that carry this glorious treasure within, so that the extraordinary overflow of power will be seen as God’s, not ours. Though we experience every kind of pressure, we’re not crushed. At times we don’t know what to do, but quitting is not an option. We are persecuted by others, but God has not forsaken us. We may be knocked down, but not out.

Or the Interlinear to the verses 7-9:
We know the treasures this in earthen vessels that the surpassingness of the power may be from God and not from us. In every way being hard pressed but not being crushed, being perplexed but not despairing, being persecuted but not being forsaken, being struck down but not being destroyed.

The splendor of the gold in these vessels, eclipsed in the minds of bystanders stand as symbols of the deity. As the vessel carrying the treasure that mediates the vision of Christ in his own ministry, Paul implies, it is actually preferable, even necessary that his bodily presence be weak, in order that the extraordinary power of the treasure he carries might be seen to be from God and not from himself.

 

Fitzgerald quotes Seneca:

If you see a man who is unterrified in the midst of dangers, untouched by desires, happy in adversity, peaceful amid the storm, … will not a feeling of reverence for him steal over you? Will you not say, “This quality is too great and too lofty to be regarded as resembling this petty body in which it dwells? A divine power has descended upon that man,” … A thing like this cannot stand upright unless it be propped by the divine.

Wishing you a blessed week!

Philemon

 

 

 

 

Finitude vs Infinite God

The state of having limits or bounds.
Our limits are a gift!?

Good Monday Morning to this week 43/2018

Recently I was sharing with a friend about the past few years. One thing that was highlighted was my awareness of personal physical limitations.

Psalm 103:15–16
As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field;
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.

“Man’s like grass.” This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this. Think back to Isaiah 40:6–7,
all is like grass and its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass.

The sort of repetition highlights the importance of this picture. It’s saying something to us and there are a few points we need to take away, some even in contrast.  1) the finitude of man; and 2) the eternality of the gospel. 3) The finitude of the interpretation of the text written.

Finitude refers to the reality of man’s limitations. As humans we are not all-knowing, all-seeing, or all-powerful. We cannot plumb the depths of reality or understanding. Gadamer spoke of the experience of finitude as the condition of essential limitation. We have limits as finite creatures, even in our understanding and interpretation. What this means in terms of hermeneutics is that we cannot presume to have exhausted the meaning, understanding, and application of a text. This means we cannot exhaust the meaning, understanding, and application reading of the Bible. There is always more to discover, always more to consider, always another angle we have not yet perceived.

Because we recognize that we cannot exhaust the depths of Scripture we ought to be ready and willing to learn from those who approach the Scriptures from a different angle. Such approaches open up new worlds and ways of thinking. Listen to the voices of theologians from different cultures, ethnic backgrounds, and religious traditions. Look at the Scriptures through their eyes. If God’s Word is universally true and universally applicable then this means it speaks to all of us in ways relevant to our individual contexts. This means that how my friends in Ethiopia or Iran or Indonesia apply Scripture is going to be different and yet will be very helpful.

Courtney Reissig wrote an article on limitations:

Whether we admit it or not, we are often limited in what we can or cannot do. If we are parents of young children, we have limitations in our time, sleep, freedom, or all three. If we are married, we are limited in our ability to do something on a whim. If we have a cold or the flu, we are limited in physical activity. But sometimes our limitations come in more painful forms. If we are suffering from cancer, we are limited by chemotherapy and radiation. Sometimes our limitations can be discouraging and overwhelming.

Limitations Are Normal

While it would be easy to attribute every limitation we face to that fateful day in the Garden, some of our limits are inherent in our humanity When God created us, he made us in his image. But he did not make us exactly like him. We see this most notably in the limits God placed on Adam and Eve in the Garden when he told them not to eat from the forbidden tree. Adam needed Eve for the creation to be complete. We bear God’s image, but it is normal for us to be limited in some capacity as his created beings. The limitations reminded them to worship the God who made them for his own glory.

Limitations Teach Us Something

Created in the image of God, we learn from our limits that God is God and we are not. We serve a God who has no limitations.

Limitations Are a Gift from God?!

In our limitations, God gives us exactly what we need in order to make us more like him? Yes, one way of looking at it.  But there is also another way he uses our limitations. He uses them to bless us. Our limitations often unlock our usefulness for God’s purpose. God can cause our trials, disappointments, and even our sufferings to make them infinite in his narrative. So while we or many around see the broken, distressed, and hurting people as inconsequential, God blesses these same people that are weak or finite and strengthens them with his infinite strength.

Countless characters from the Bible, many of the most useful people in God’s story were the ones the world deemed unworthy, weak, and useless.  God chooses the weak ones to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:27). The wisdom of God takes the limited and fits them.

Our limitations can be seen as gifts, rather than hindrances. God knows the extent and end of our limitations, and he makes no mistakes. Of course, the key to embracing our limitations is not found in our own strength, as if mere willpower would be enough to carry us through. Rather we find the key to our strength in the strength of Another, God,  and the Other.

But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

So this very week, how about not putting too much focus on finding your strengths. Give attention to identifying and exploiting your limitations. What if they are not there in vain? Identify them. Accept them. Exploit them. Magnify the power of God with them. Don’t waste your limitations!

Wishing you a blessed week!
Philemon

When God Smiles

Good Monday Morning to this week 42/2018

Smile on me, your servant, and teach me your laws.

Make thy face to shine upon thy servant. The face of God shines upon us, when, in his providence, we are guided and upheld; also when we are made to share in the good things of his providence, and when we are placed in a position wherein we can do much good. Much more does the face of God shine upon us, when we are favored with tokens of his gracious favor; for then we grow under the consciousness of a loving God, with rich supplies of his grace and Spirit. John Stephen

Make thy face to shine upon thy servant. Oftentimes the wrongful dealings of men, of others, and of ourselves, like a cloud of smoke arising from the earth and obscuring the face of the sun, hide from us for a while the light, of the countenance of God: but he soon clears it all away, and looks down upon us in loving mercy as before, lighting for us the path of obedience, and brightening our way unto himself. Plain Commentary,” 1859.

Make thy face to shine teach me, etc. God hath many ways of teaching; he teaches by book, he teaches by his fingers, he teaches by his rod; but his most comfortable and effectual teaching is by the light of his eye: “O send out thy light and thy truth; let them lead me: let them bring me unto thy holy hilt:” Psalms 42:3 . –Richard Alleine (1611-1681), in “Heaven Opened.”

When God smiles we have:

A choice position: “we as his servants.”
A choice delight: “He shines, His face shines on us.”
A choice privilege: ” He teaches us His statutes.”

Or in Psalm 80:20

Lord God of hosts, restore us;
light up your face and we shall be saved.

The return of the Lord’s smile restores ….

The lesson of the psalm is clear. The smile of the Lord upon our lives is a desirable thing. You need His smile on your life regardless of the cost, and the first step in that direction is to seek Him.

His smile replaces His anger.
His smile saves!
His smile prospers His people.

The reading begins with an appeal for the Lord to “shine forth to smile!” The need is for the clouds of divine disfavor to be swept away, and for the sunlight of His love to once again warm, restore and uplift the souls of His people.

Prayer for this day and week:

Jehovah! restore me, cause Thy face to shine (smile on me), that I shall be saved!
Jehovah bless us and protect us.
ADONAI make your face shine on us and show us your favor.
ADONAI lift up your face towards us (with your smile) and give us your peace.

Wishing a great week!
Philemon

God for us, alongside us, within us.

Good Monday Morning to this week 41/2018

This week I worked my way through a few chapters of “The Divine Dance” by Richard Rohr.

Due to reading it very slowly I’m only halfway through, even after a week. Nevertheless, I’d like to share a few thoughts!

A Space at God’s Table 

The Lord appeared to Abraham and he looked up and saw three men standing there. Three angels, perhaps more, Abraham intuitively recognizes this something more and invites them to a meal and rest. He does not join in but observes from afar. Abraham and Sarah seem to see the Holy one in the presence of the three and their first instinct is one of invitation and hospitality, to create a space of food and drink for them. Surely, we ourselves are not invited to this divine table, they presume. The Holy One, in the form of Three – eating and drinking, in infinite hospitality and utter enjoyment between themselves. If we take the depiction of God in the Trinity seriously, we have to say, “In the beginning was the Relationship.

The divine flow of the Trinity provides a framework for our relationships, our self-worth and our spirituality. Beyond doctrine, it illuminates how the integration of the Trinity sets us on a path to spiritual integration, vulnerability and wholeness.

God is a holy community; Father, Son, Spirit. We are called to this, to belong to each other, to be one as God is One.

God is Love and love is unendingly unfolding, permeating and transforming and connecting all that is.

Moving away from a dualistic age to a new consciousness of our three in one relational God.

Many Christians are in their practical life almost mere monotheists, until up along came Paul Young with his best-selling novel, the Shack, bringing the trinity back in a way as not in a long time.

Ancient Greek Fathers depict the Trinity as a round dance,  an event that has continued for six thousand years.

It’s a spiritual paradigm shift out of John 3, 5 and 14

Son
God did not send his Son to condemn the world, but to have it saved.
Father 
My Father goes on working and so do I.
Holy Spirit 
Will teach you all things and remind you of everything Jesus has said.

Instead of God being an “Eternal Threatener”, we have God as “Ultimate Participant”, in everything, both the good and painful.

God being totally inclusive! God with us in all of life instead of standing on the sidelines.

A revelation of God being always involved instead of the in-and-out deity that leaves most of humanity orphaned. Grace is inherent to creation and not an occasional additive that some people occasionally merit.

The implications are staggering: every vital impulse, every force toward the future, every creative momentum, every loving surge, every dash toward beauty, every running toward truth, every ecstasy and every simple goodness, every ambition for wholeness and holiness is the flowing life of the Trinitarian God.

We are in dire need to go from, disconnection from God, but also from ourselves, from each other, from our world, back to grounded reconnection with God, self and others.

Dare we believe even that God sees a bit of “Godself” mirrored in a new form, as God gazes at us?

The divine flow either flows both in and out or it is not flowing at all. Jesus mentions that in verses as “Happy are the merciful, they shall have mercy shown to them”.

Part of our resistance to this mystery of Trinity is what Paul describes not less than God having weakness. “God’s weakness is stronger than human strength”. Really? how could God be weak?

Human strength could be described as self-sufficiency.
God’s weakness could be described as inter-being.
Human strength admires autonomy;
God’s mystery rests in mutuality.
We like control.
God loves vulnerability.
God the All-mighty One – Vulnerability between Three!
We admire needing no one;
The Trinity admires needing, needing everything, total communion with all things and all being. God in total disclosure!
Human strength is in asserting boundaries.
God it seems is in the business of dissolving boundaries.
We can’t resolve the paradox of the Trinity so we confuse unity with uniformity.
God endlessly creates and allows diversity.
God in Three are diverse, different, distinct and yet they are one!

Mother Teresa sums it beautifully in the Eucharist:
We are called to be contemplatives in heart:
Seeking the face of God in everything, everyone, everywhere, all the time and seeing His hand in everything happening.
Seeing and adoring the presence of Jesus, especially in the lowly appearance of bread and the distressing disguise of the poor.
The degree to which you can see the divine image where you’d rather not, tells me how fully the divine image is now operative within you.
Your life is no longer your own. You are instead a two-way reflecting mirror.

An interesting image of Trinity could also be as with atomic power. The power is not to be found in the electrons or neutrons, but the explosive power is found in the interaction between them. This puts the Trinity into a new perspective, doesn’t it!

The mystery of the Three, the Trinity breaks us out of our dualistic impasses, and invites us to enter into another reality!

God for you,
God alongside you,
God within you!

Wishing you a blessed week!

Philemon

 

God wins!

God gets beaten up by a guy with a dislocated hip!

Good Monday Morning to this week 40/2018

Jacob is moving house. His wife and 11 sons have gone ahead of him. Suddenly, without any explanation, he’s wrestling with a man. The fight goes on all night. The man knows he’s losing, so he somehow magically wrenches Jacob’s hip out of place. Jacob says he won’t let go until the man blesses him, so the man does that, and then admits that, in fact, he’s God. “Therefore to this day,” says the Bible, “the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.”

In the end, God wins! Jesus is the incontestable champion! His story is THE end-well story . . . and His story becomes our story when we believe. He’s the hope of humanity and the best news we must share. His Kingdom is on the move and will be healed, restored and renewed.

Revelation belongs to a category of literature called apocalypse, popular 200 years before and after Christ. This literary form is found in Daniel and a few other books in the Bible. Apocalyptic literature originated during times of persecution and was intended to encourage readers during their trials.

Apocalyptic language employed dramatic visions often interpreted by an angel. It referred to past events to show that God’s grace could be counted upon in the present and future. Apocalyptic literature dealt with contemporary events. It offered picturesque descriptions of the struggle of good against evil, with assurances that good would triumph.

In addition to the main theme that God triumphs over evil, many other important lessons are taught in Revelation. God the Father is adored as Creator of all. Jesus is proclaimed as Savior and worshiped as divine. The Holy Spirit touches the lives of believers. The perfection of the Trinity is displayed through symbols of wisdom, power, holiness, and majesty. The universe is God’s handiwork, subject to his Providence. Mary stands radiant in heaven as Mother of Christ; her life and victory foreshadow that of the Church. The Saints join us in prayer and worship. Angels exist, worship God with us, and protect us. People have free will and can sin; God will vindicate the just, but the guilty will suffer. God does not view earth’s events as a disinterested bystander but invites us to accept grace and salvation. Christ in glory is close to his Church. He is one with believers and acts on their behalf. As Christ suffered, so too must we, always with hope of the next step of renewal and restoration. Christ rejects lukewarmness and urges us to follow him with all our hearts. He expects us to be courageous in challenging false values in society or government. Revelation teaches us to trust God, who brings us through every trial, even death, to eternal life.

Revelation acknowledges the struggles we have undergone, but it also assures us that God’s love and salvation are the greatest powers in the universe. No matter how badly human beings have failed, no matter how terrible the wounds sin may inflict on the world, no matter how desperate our situation may seem, God will prevail.

Victory is not complete, but it is certain. In this week of faith and always, Revelation and the entire Bible invite us to trust God and enter His Kingdom.

God wins!

He will dwell with them as their God; they will be His people. … He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the former things have passed away. The One Who was seated on the throne said, “See, I make all things new. … I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end”

God wins!

Ps: I just come back from a two-hour session at the dentist, no wonder I am thinking of end times and new beginnings! The end didn’t come and I will soon enjoy a new beginning.

God wins!

Have a great week!
Philemon