Week Thirty-five: The Mind of Christ

My apologies. I was on vacation last week and yesterday was swamped with catching up!

Preparation

  • Recite or sing/chant Psalms 130 and 131 (I suggest you memorize these two Psalms)
  • Moment of Silence

 Presence (through the Scripture)

  • Psalm reading (select from below):
    • Morning: Psalm 35
    • Noon: Psalm 87
    • Vespers: Psalm 119:113-120
    • Night: Psalm 149
  • Moment of silence
  • Scripture readings:
    • Monday: The book of Philippians in one sitting
    • Tuesday: Philippians 1:1-30
    • Wednesday: Philippians 2:1-29
    • Thursday: Philippians 3:1-4:1
    • Friday: Philippians 4:2-23
  • Moment of silence

 Prayers

  • Prayers of thanksgiving and petition
  • Journaling and silent reflection
  • Close with the “Lord’s Prayer”

 Practice

This week the challenge is for you to come up with your own “practice” as you read through Philippians.

 

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Week Thirty-three: Adopted

Preparation

  • Recite or sing/chant Psalms 130 and 131 (I suggest you memorize these two Psalms)
  • Moment of Silence

 Presence (through the Scripture)

  • Psalm reading (select from below):
    • Morning: Psalm 33
    • Noon: Psalm 85
    • Vespers: Psalm 119:97-104
    • Night: Psalm 147
  • Moment of silence
  • Scripture readings:
    • Monday: Book of Ephesians (read through in one sitting)
    • Tuesday: Ephesians 1:1-23
    • Wednesday: Ephesians 2:1-10
    • Thursday: Ephesians 2:11-22
    • Friday: Ephesians 3:1-21
  • Moment of silence

 Prayers

  • Prayers of thanksgiving and petition
  • Journaling and silent reflection
  • Close with the “Lord’s Prayer”

 Practice

What does it mean to be adopted from one family into another? What would it be like to come from an abusive family where rules are arbitrary and one never knows when a parent is going to react violently, passive aggressively, or permissively?

 What would it be like to go from an abusive family into a family where there is disciplined love?

As you read through Ephesians 1-3 contrast being “in Christ” with being someone who “followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Ephesians 2:2).

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Week Thirty-two: Stories, Riddles, and Power

Preparation

  • Recite or sing/chant Psalms 130 and 131 (I suggest you memorize these two Psalms)
  • Moment of Silence

 Presence (through the Scripture)

  • Psalm reading (select from below):
    • Morning: Psalm 32
    • Noon: Psalm 84
    • Vespers: Psalm 119:89-96
    • Night: Psalm 23
  • Moment of silence
  • Scripture readings:
    • Monday: Mark 3:20-35
    • Tuesday: Mark 4:1-20
    • Wednesday: Mark 4:21-34
    • Thursday: Mark 4:35-5:20
    • Friday: Mark 7:1-23
  • Moment of silence

 Prayers

  • Prayers of thanksgiving and petition
  • Journaling and silent reflection
  • Close with the “Lord’s Prayer”

Practice

From your meditations this week describe what you learn about the Kingdom of God.

Create your own parable or story-riddle. How would you describe the Kingdom of God in such a way that would get people to think and to reflect? Come up with a contemporary parable and share it with a group of friends. If they are not Jesus-followers merely explain: “I’ve been looking at the stories Jesus told in the gospel of Mark to describe what his movement was all about. I thought I’d try my hand at the same thing. Can I share my bit of creative (writing/storytelling) with you? Tell me what you think.”

If they are Jesus-followers talk about the meaning of the parables with each other over a cup of coffee or in some social setting. Ask them if they think your parable captures what Jesus is trying to say but in a contemporary way.

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Week Thirty-one: The Son of Man

Preparation

  • Recite or sing/chant Psalms 130 and 131 (I suggest you memorize these two Psalms)
  • Moment of Silence

 Presence (through the Scripture)

  • Psalm reading (select from below):
    • Morning: Psalm 31
    • Noon: Psalm 83
    • Vespers: Psalm 119:81-88
    • Night: Psalm 145
  • Moment of silence
  • Scripture readings:
    • Monday: Mark 1:1-13
    • Tuesday: Mark 1:14-39
    • Wednesday: Mark 1:40-2:12
    • Thursday: Mark 2:13-22
    • Friday: Mark 2:23-3:6
  • Moment of silence

 Prayers

  • Prayers of thanksgiving and petition
  • Journaling and silent reflection
  • Close with the “Lord’s Prayer”

 Practice

 Try to take an extended time this week to sit down and read through the entire book of Mark in one-three sittings. Read it like you would read through any other book. Try to get a “feel” for the overall point of the book and the structure.

 Ask yourself the following questions (and ask these questions during your daily readings):

            -What resonates with me in this book (or individual text)?

            -What confuses or bothers me?

            -What draws me to this person, Jesus?

            -What confuses, bothers, or frightens me about this person, Jesus?

            -What does this person, Jesus seem to be calling me to do? To be?

 

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“A willing human being is difficult to find these days.”

In April 2002 it was reported in the BBC the followers of a Hindu cult have revived the practice of human sacrifice.[1] They had been using animals but had been heavily attacked by animal rights groups for their use—so they decided to go the traditional route of human sacrifice.

I’m glad they drew the line somewhere.

As you can imagine, this too had some challenges. After all, as Dr. Sharmah—a cultural expert noted, “A willing human being is difficult to find these days.” So the worshippers of the Mother Goddess Shakti have opted to sacrifice human effigies made of flour. They figured there are no wheat-rights groups around to protest, I suppose—no organizations like People for the Ethical Treatment of Bread to raise a ruckus.

Human sacrifice had been utilized by ancient cultures like the Mayans, Aztecs, Greeks, Canaanites, and Romans for centuries. The practice may not have been wide spread among the Greeks, but it was known. The Romans finally abandoned it as barbaric, although they showed vestiges of it in the ritual execution of prisoners of war following a Roman General’s Triumph or during gladiatorial games. The Jews have most always viewed it as an abomination (except during times of apostasy—or whenever it appeared like the thing to do by some leader in a crisis mode). So when Paul begins Romans 12 with the words: Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God[2]you figure it probably had to raise some eyebrows.

However, the sacrifice Paul has in mind is not a bloody sacrifice to appease some angry god. The sacrifice Paul has in mind is one that lives, not dies. But the fact the sacrifice is not dying but living doesn’t make it any easier. Sometimes dying for a cause can be viewed as a little easier than actually living for the cause and giving your life up in service. Again, as Dr. Sharmah says, “A willing human being is difficult to find these days.”

Throughout the book of Romans Paul has been arguing how God has worked out a plan to redeem all of his creation. Mankind had the chance to embrace God but had walked away from him. First the Gentiles and then the Jews. The entire creation was subjected to frustration and decay. But God worked to create a way in which mankind and creation could be reconciled to God. And through Jesus—the Jewish Messiah—God created the way for Jew and Gentile to come together and to be one new man under the rule of the Messiah.

Because of God’s amazing work and because of such great mercy Paul urges the Romans to offer their bodies as living sacrifices.

But what does it mean to offer one’s body as a living sacrifice? When Paul calls this a spiritual act of worship does he mean going to church? Not at all. This is something more demanding than changing what you do on one day a week. Paul says being a living sacrifice involves something called avoiding being conformed to the prevalent culture and being transformed into something else. Some scholars refer to this as renunciation and renewal.

The New International Version words verse two this way: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Eugene Peterson captures the meaning beautifully in The Message when he translates it this way: “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.[3]” If we are going to offer ourselves every day to God in the way we live we must come to grips with the fact that this is not about changing one or two little habits. So often people think being a Christian is wrapped up in the phrase: “We don’t smoke, we don’t chew and we don’t go with the girls that do!”

Being a living sacrifice involves a total reorientation of one’s mind. Paul has already explored this territory earlier in Romans 6 and Romans 8. We’ve been co-crucified with Christ. When we went through baptism it was like being killed and buried with Christ—and rising up to live a totally changed life-style. We are no longer operating from the mindset of a self-centered culture. Instead, we are setting our minds on the desires of the Holy Spirit. Do you see the connection? Renewing the mind involves setting our minds on God’s priorities. We are dedicating our day-to-day lives to living after what the Spirit dictates—to be, as Paul says in Romans 8:29, “conformed to the likeness of [God’s] son.” And when we find ourselves focusing all of our heart, mind and soul on Jesus and dedicating our energies to reflecting his glory in our lives—then we will know exactly what is God’s will.

Note carefully this is a body, soul, and spirit thing. The Greeks and Romans tended to view the body as merely a dish or a jar that holds the soul. Jews and Christians see body, soul, and spirit as an integrated whole. What you focus your heart on is played out in your body. There is no separation between body and spirit, Sunday and Monday. This is our vocation—to live our lives totally dedicated to God day in and day out.

Paul then points out the most obvious place where this spiritual sacrifice is lived out: in relationship with each other (vv.3-5). This has been the issue for most of the letter, hasn’t it? All theology is practical theology. All doctrine, all teaching is lived out in how we treat people—especially the family of God. To be formed into the image of God’s son is to take on humility: to consider others more important, to find your place in the family of God and to serve. Paul compares God’s family to the human body with all its various body parts working in harmony with each other. Rather than giving us an exhaustive list of spiritual gifts Paul is merely giving some examples. His point is not that we should take gift inventories to discover our spiritual gift, but that we should devote ourselves to doing our part to make this family a healthy and loving family.

For the rest of the chapter Paul spells it out further. We need to love one another sincerely—to actually be devoted to one another and to honor each other above ourselves. The church that is filled with living sacrifices is a church where people bless each other. It is a group of people who care of each others’ needs. It is a group of people who feel so much at home with each other you can always find them in and out of each others’ home drinking coffee and tea and eating meals. They celebrate each others’ victories and they weep through each others’ tragedies. Rather than cursing each other and holding grudges and making lists of offenses—they readily forgive. They give up their pride and conceit.

This is what it means to offer your bodies as living sacrifices. This is what it means to renew your minds and avoid conformity with the world. It is merely getting into the mind of Christ—it is to become literally the body of Christ: an unselfish, loving, and joyful demonstration of God’s character.

Someone once said: “The problem with living sacrifices is they tend to crawl off the altar.” Or as Dr. Sharmah said, “A willing human being is difficult to find these days.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad the cult of Shakti hasn’t been able to offer real human sacrifices! But it seems par for the course that they have to resort to using effigies. Maybe that is what we’ve done. Rather than offer ourselves we’ve created suit-and-tie effigies of ourselves that only dedicate a few hours a week to engage in “God talk” and to act polite. Listen carefully: our call is not to dress nicely, act polite, and engage in some religious practices. Our calling is to dedicate our very lives every day in complete service to God’s mission of redeeming the world—of bringing his justice and mercy into the lives of those around us.

May you accept the God’s challenge to be a living sacrifice. May you devote your life to the imitation of Christ. May you demonstrate you have received God’s mercy by the love you show to those around you. Do not allow a self-centered world force you into its mold. Rather be one of the few willing ones who will die to yourself and live for God.

[1] “Indian temple revives ‘human sacrifice’, BBC News April 3, 2002.

[2] Romans 12:1, New International Version

[3] Eugene Peterson, The Message (Romans 12:2). NavPress, 2004.

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My Dilemma with the Election of 2016

Note: This article is a reflection of my own personal beliefs–not of any group or organization I am affiliated with. I do not speak for any organization or church.  I am speaking only for myself.
I still believe what I wrote in an earlier post: “Let’s not make this into some sort of litmus test. The last time I looked ‘love your neighbor’ is still the summation of the law and the prophets (Romans 13:8-10). Voting Republican, Democrat, or Libertarian is not. I just looked it up…trust me; the command to love as central to God’s rule hasn’t changed during this election cycle.”
_______________________________________

I am having a difficult time.

Since I turned 18 in 1975, I have always voted Republican. In the past I have even chastised those who voted third party (or who refused to vote) as voting for the opposite party.

No more.

This year I have come to understand why so many have refused to vote or have voted third party. At some point in time someone has to say “enough is enough.” I will no longer hold my nose and pull a lever.

Donald Trump has demonstrated a crassness that goes beyond political rhetoric. His cruelty toward those who question him is well documented. From attacking women based on their looks to ridiculing reporters with handicaps, Trump has showed himself not as a truthful person, but as a cruel person. He shows no respect for anyone who disagrees with him.

His insult of a war hero (McCain) was beyond the pale (“I like people who weren’t captured”).  He suggests we employ torture and even target the families (which include children) of terrorists. These actions are not only unethical but are recognized by the world as war crimes.

“And the other thing is with the terrorists, you have to take out their families. They, they care about their lives. Don’t kid yourself. But they say they don’t care about their lives. You have to take out their families.” -Donald Trump, Fox & Friends

In short, he is a bully. This is not the kind of person I want in a president.

Trump proposes a total ban on Muslim immigration and wouldn’t rule out the idea of registering Muslims in America. Need I remind us that when one curtails the religious liberty of one group it can have unintended and disastrous consequences for other groups later on?

This is not a matter of some policy differences (“Is he really conservative?”).

It is a matter of character and freedom.

One can point to pragmatics, one can say “He’s better than ______.” But that just doesn’t resonate with me anymore.

I have consistently said one must vote his or her conscience. I will not disparage anyone who seriously considers all of the alternatives and votes according to their heart-felt beliefs. But I do ask everyone to seriously look at the rhetoric of Donald Trump. Is this the person you want leading our country?

Even the choosing of Supreme Court Justices won’t sway me. After all, every election cycle I hear the same argument: “We’ll probably have justices stepping down, look at their ages! We don’t want ‘X’ appointing a justice, do we?” Well, that’s always been a mixed bag. Some justices have turned out the way we expected and some have not.

It isn’t enough for me anymore.

Some have compared Trump to King David. After all, they say, David had his faults and some of them were very serious. This is true. But David didn’t start off with those faults. They came about over the years and as a result of the corrupting influence of power.

What if you are already corrupt?

I can’t help but think of another king: Ahab.

He used his own form of eminent domain to obtain the land of one man named Naboth.

No, I won’t elect someone in the hope they will become better than they already are.

So I will go against both major parties. I will vote for third party.

Yes, Hillary Clinton may win.

But a third party might garner enough votes to eventually break the two party system that has been running our country for far too long.

Lincoln and the Republicans broke the two party system of the Whigs and Democrats. It won’t happen all at once, but it can begin to happen. It certainly won’t happen if we keep believing the rhetoric of the two parties in power.

I will not accept the accusation that I elected Hillary Clinton, because I will vote for someone other than Trump. That is a logical fallacy called moral equivalency.  To buy into that line of reasoning and vote for Trump means, then, I will have to take responsibility for  everything done under his administration.

That is something I will not do.

I am often guilty of rebutting immediately–and sometimes without careful reflection. This usually leads to a lot of editing after the fact–or a total deletion of my comments. So, I would ask you to be better than me in this regard (I’m working on it, really).

Before your respond. Wait. Think through what I’ve written. Try to approach it from the outside, as someone who doesn’t have “skin in the game” so to speak. Perhaps you will still disagree with me, and that’s OK if you do.

________________

Note: I realize many good Christian folks will vote for Donald Trump in this election cycle. Many good Christian folks will vote for Hillary Clinton, too. They will have a variety of reasons behind their votes.
I first ask that people do not question the Christianity of those who vote differently. My only request is that you seriously think through all of the ramifications and vote according to what you believe is best for God’s kingdom–not necessarily what is “best for the country”.  If you feel compelled to vote for Trump, then do so. If you feel compelled to vote for Hillary, vote for her. If you choose Johnson or Stein then vote without remorse! But please vote after thinking it through. Do not vote along party lines or out of fear. Vote for who you think best demonstrates God’s will for the world.
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Week thirty: Freedom in Christ

Preparation

  • Recite or sing/chant Psalms 130 and 131 (I suggest you memorize these two Psalms)
  • Moment of Silence

 Presence (through the Scripture)

  • Psalm reading (select from below):
    • Morning: Psalm 30
    • Noon: Psalm 82
    • Vespers: Psalm 119:73-80
    • Night: Psalm 144
  • Moment of silence
  • Scripture readings:
    • Monday: Galatians 4:8-20
    • Tuesday: Galatians 4:21-31
    • Wednesday: Galatians 5:1-26
    • Thursday: Galatians 6:1-18
    • Friday: The book of Galatians in one sitting
  • Moment of silence

 Prayers

  • Prayers of thanksgiving and petition
  • Journaling and silent reflection
  • Close with the “Lord’s Prayer”

 Practice

Create your own practice this week…

 

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