Archives For Paul

bell-spirit-motivationGetting from yawn to, “yes, we can!” isn’t an impossibility. Neither does it require a master’s degree in astrophysics or child psychology.

The overcoming of lag in the school day requires prayer, creativity and effort. Overcoming lag begins by looking at what is possible. It utilises possibility in order to break through the feeling that this period of ‘’yawning’’ is an unnavigable barrier.

With a compass built of prayer, creativity and effort; that which is impossible can points us towards that which is possible. Prayer leads us in humility out from a navigational bearing that keeps us dangerously over focused on ourselves, and our situation.

That new bearing directs our learning. It helps lead us out of an unproductive quagmire.

The parent-teacher who is creative and teachable will have little trouble with this tactical manoeuvre. The only downsides are the side effects of having been slowly caught up in the lag themselves.

With this lag comes a muggy swamp like feeling that is as embracing as fog.

We can end up feeling like we’re part of the scene in Rocky IV, where Rocky Balboa reflecting on how to respond to the loss of Apollo Creed, is met by Robert Tepper singing in the background,

…there’s no easy way out. There’s not short cut home.”

This may seem overly dramatic, but most teachers or Homeschool parents at some stage throughout the school year, would consider it a close analogy to how the lag-of-the-long-big-“yawn” can feel.

Teaching through this can also feel akin to the scene in The Neverending Story where Atreyu battles through the ‘Swamp of Sadness’. With The Nothing pursuing him, Atreyu loses his horse, Artax, and exhausted, almost gives up, tempted to succumb to the swamp himself.

Like Balboa’s prayer, renewed determination, effort and courage, that which was viewed as impossible once more becomes the possible. It may be that “…there’s no easy way out. There’s not short cut home,” but it doesn’t mean that getting from yawning, to “yes, we can!” is unachievable.

Like Atreyu, the brave who are aware of the swamp are ready to counter its effects. The compass of prayer, creativity and effort, along with the ability to discern the possible out of the impossible, finds a way through the fog.

Prayer should accompany creativity and effort because “to pray well is the better half of study”[i]

The act of prayer is an act of faith. Every sigh and every groan directed towards the ears of God lands on the heart of God.

As Friedrich Schleiermacher noted,

“Don’t listen to those who teach that, before you approach God, you must have your mind composed and your heart at peace; that it is unseemly to appear before Him in this agitated state, while the dread of pain and disappointment, the clinging to some good thing which you are on the point of losing, still tosses your heart to and fro, and leaves no room for submission to the Holy will of God. If you waited until submission had won the victory, you would feel neither the need nor the inclination for such a prayer, and the privilege of offering it would be useless to you […] such disquietude should not keep us back from God.[ii]

Paul in his own letter to the church in Rome made it clear that our sighs and groans aren’t wasted on God.

‘The [Holy] Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words.’[iii]

In his famous letter to the Ephesians, when Paul calls on Christians with the metaphor, to put on the whole armour of God, he follows on with the instruction to also pray like breathing.[iv] Such is the importance of prayer in the conflict of everyday life.

We’re motivated towards Holy transformation, because the God who is Holy, graciously transforms our motivation.

When the Pharisees came to argue with Jesus, seeking proof of his divinity, Mark’s recount tells us that ‘Jesus sighed deeply in His spirit.’[v] This happened even after Jesus had multiplied bread and fish, to feed a large crowd.

These groans and deep sighs proclaim God’s permission to lean on Him. They proclaim God’s gracious move towards real humanity whereby humanity is empowered by God to learn from God. The acceptance of this life by the Spirit is the out working of His received grace. We have permission to believe; permission and strength to revolt against The Nothing; to walk through and rise above the fog.

Getting from “yawn” to, “yes, we can!” isn’t an impossibility. It might mean breaking routine. An earlier than planned library day or morning tea by the river.

It begins with out-of-the-box solutions grounded in the wisdom of God. It begins with creativity, effort and the ability to discern the possible even while being overshadowed by that which is viewed as impossible. It’s enabled by a counter-cultural determination to start with prayer and involve God in the decisions of the day.

It’s the existence of the possibilities unlocked by prayer, creativity and effort, that moves the schoolroom from “yawn”, to “yes, we can!”

This is practicing the art of dialectic. The hope produced by the existence of impossible possibilities. It is the homeschooler as Atreyu and Balboa. It is Paul writing from prison and it’s Schleiermacher refusing to surrender to the expectations of others.

‘The Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Let not your heads be troubled, neither let them be afraid.’

– (John 14:26-27)


Sources:

[i] Commonly attributed to Martin Luther

[ii] Schleiemacher, F. The Power of Prayer in Relation to Outward CircumstancesSelected Sermons (p. 41).

[iii] Romans 8:26, ESV

[iv] Ephesians 6:18, ESV

[v] Mark 8:11, ESV

The information revolution may one day be described as the age of politics, power and propaganda.

It’s good to know the differences and to act justly on them.

 ‘Do not become slaves of men [or women].’
– (Paul, 1 Corinthians 7:22-23, ESV)

 

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Coleridge quote Warmth with light

‘Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’.

– Simeon Peter, Apostle of Jesus Christ (2 Pet.3:15-18)

A Fragment of Gratitude

October 30, 2013 — 2 Comments
Photo by Noah Hamilton

Photo by Noah Hamilton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today was day one of two rostered days where I take care of the Home schooling. For term four we’ve been moving through Bethany Hamilton’s ‘Soul Surfer devotional’ (Kindle Edition). The reading this morning highlighted Paul’s famous ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’ (Phil.4:13). As we read past this verse, we were reminded that even though Paul was bound in chains, he was still able to utter the words ‘I am well supplied’.

As much as they are an insight into Paul’s overall theological understanding of contentment, these four words are also a valuable lesson in gratitude. The man was aware of the gifts which surrounded him. An awareness, that for us time poor Westerners has a high probability of getting lost in the “noise” and concerns of the day.

This raised the question: “Am I well supplied”?

For home school, we have pencils, pens, paper, chairs, a table, a laptop, the internet with reasonable speed, and lots of access to resources. This is a lot more than my parents had, with their limited education, finances and almost non-existent support from family.

“I am well supplied”.

Our 7 year old car still runs well. The persistence and ability to have it serviced every year is paying off.  The in-car CD player worked. The CD playing was a compilation full of the Gospel and testimony freely shared, and just as freely purchased.

“I am well supplied”

This morning I picked up a bag of day old croissants,spinach danishes, and sour dough bread, mixed in with herb infused bread rolls for four dollars. Then when I got home I tasted the results of my youngest daughter’s best attempt to make us all a kiwi fruit smoothie for breakfast, and as I write this there is a steaming hot coffee sitting next to me.

“I am well supplied”

Today the weather here is cooler. It is a significant change to the heat which greeted us earlier this spring. Yesterday’s storm brought on this change. The first for summer. The lingering chill in the cooler breeze is more than welcome. There is a sense that you are being grasped by it as the sounds it affects moves through the trees. This whisper interrupts moments of silence with relaxed ease, gently greeting you as its cool, crisp solitude contrasts with the heat of the previous day.

PaulofTarsus writing

Source: Wikipedia Paul of Tarsus – 16th Century depiction.

It’s 10:27am. The clouds have just shrouded the sun. More rain is on its way. I’m not sure how full the water tank is, but the brownish-yellow green tint of the grass seems to be telling us we need it.

There have been times of need and impatience today, but there are no complaints. Just gratitude and the recognition of its significance discovered in these four words spoken so long ago:

‘I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragment offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen’.
– Paul of Tarsus (Phil.4:18-19, ESV)

I read the post I put up yesterday (link) hand in hand with Paul’s letter to the Colossian Church (Col.2:17). Here are some thoughts which came out of that reflection.

It helps to understand that Christian character and Christian identity – as individuals and as a group within the Commonwealth of Christ (Barth’s term for the Church), is qualified (Col.1:12) by the gracious “Yes” of God in Jesus the Christ. This doesn’t mean the Bible preaches a “forgive and forget” fallacy. Nor does it support abandoning the reality of our pain, or that we can write-off the pain we ourselves might have caused in our neighbour. On the contrary the bible is full of discussions and examples about how God’s mercy and judgement both meet the sinner.

For instance, Paul tells us both that ‘God has delivered us from the domain of darkness’ (Col.1:13-14), and yet ‘the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong done, there is no partiality’ (Col.3:25).

In one sense this means that:

‘what lies before the one whom God pardons is the forgiven sin, the sin recognised in the light of forgiveness, which drives one to repentance. The pardoned sinner’s thinking then is in accord with God’s reconciling yes to the sinner and God’s irreconcilable no to evil’ (Busch, 2008  Loc.1201-1980).

The world, identified as dogma; human opinion; ideology, informs rather than forms Christian identity. This distinction between inform and form is important to recognise. Primarily because the Holy Spirit, present and dynamic, is active in our formation. More precisely, the Spirit empowers us to conform our hearts and minds, to the heart and mind of God (Rm.12:2/1 Peter 1:13 & 14).

Not that we become God, but that through this process we become fully human, participants with God (2 Pet.1:4). Therefore the Church must not surrender its theology to ‘worldviews which take over the freedom of the Gospel and instead hold the gospel in critique of all ideologies’ (Gorringe, 1999:3 & 33).

One significant reason for this is that this Spirit empowered reformation is restorative. Viewed as such because ‘grace is the secret of ethics’ (Gorringe, 1999:63). It is a call, or as Barth puts it, a summons to relationship with the God who does not want be without us.

Barth rightly points out that this relationship is grounded in the reconciler who reveals himself as himself, the Father, Son and Spirit, three, yet one alone (CD 1.1 & Col.1:15 ‘the pre-eminence of Christ’).Our response is insisted upon by the life of, and the blood-spilt by the Christ. He invites us, as-we-are, to become who-we-are now in Him.

The opposite to this is, on its own, is a degenerative dehumanization.  This is because ‘pride distorts our appreciation of freedom, turning on the presumption that humanity is the sole and only ground of its own being’ (Elshtain,  2000:42, see also Proverbs 3:5-8).

One might consider here the arrogant reductionism found layered into the text on many a social media site. Such as the discounting of the Christian faith, thought and practise through the fallacy of ad hominem. The aim which Jean Bethke Elshtain points out, is to get people to engage in a ‘politics of displacement’ – identity politics which promotes and limits rhetorical boundaries in order to enslave us to an idea of who we are, what we can only ever be, and why change is deemed impossible by the majority who hold that opinion over us.

It is worth introducing at this point Paul’s words from prison to the Colossian Church, words which are also relevant to Christians today.

‘Let your living (word & deed) spill over into thanksgiving. Watch out for people who try to dazzle you with big words and intellectual double-talk. They want to drag you off into endless arguments that never amount to anything. They spread their ideas through the empty traditions of human beings and the empty superstitions of spirit beings. But that’s not the way of Christ. Everything of God gets expressed in him, so you can see and hear him clearly’ (Peterson Col. 2, The Message italics mine)

He adds:

‘Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence. You don’t walk away from a gift like that! You stay grounded and steady in that bond of trust, constantly tuned in to the Message, careful not to be distracted or diverted’ (Peterson, The Message)

Christ becomes our identity because in Him, ‘God made us alive together with Him’ (Col.2:13).

This suggests that whatever others might say about who, or what we are has been negated by the Cross of Christ. We can now choose to live differently and are empowered to do so (Col.1:14-15; 3:5-10).

Paul warns: ‘let no one disqualify you’ (Col.2:18, ESV) since ‘a corrupt mind may disqualify us’ (2 Tim.3:8).

Our pasts may haunt us, but if we are in Christ they cannot destroy us. Words may sting like a whiplash. They often do, but the covert put downs, the passive aggressive-snide remarks mean squat in light of the fact that ‘God qualifies you’ ( Col.1:12).

This example from the 3rd Century highlights my point:

Vibia Perpetua, a newly married woman of good family and upbringing. She was about twenty-two years old and had an infant son at the breast.
While we were still under arrest (she said) my father out of love for me was trying to persuade me and shake my resolution.
 ‘Father,’ said I, ‘do you see this vase here, for example, or water pot or whatever?’130328161152-perpetua2-c1-main_Getty Images
‘Yes, I do’, said he.
And I told him: ‘Could it be called by any other name than what it is?’
And he said: ‘No.’
‘Well, so too I cannot be called anything other than what I am, a Christian.’
At this my father was so angered by the word ‘Christian’ that he moved towards me as though he would pluck my eyes out.  But he left it at that and departed, vanquished along with his diabolical arguments.
(For more about Perpetua’s eventual martyrdom click here)

God’s acceptance of us presupposes our acceptance of Him.

We properly hear this and act. Or we don’t. Reacting against it. Wrongly leaning on the lies of self-justification (Torrance 2009:105).

A good example of response comes from something else I read recently:

Leah’s heart went from pain and suffering to praise. Somewhere along the way, she surrendered her will, her wants, her deepest desires and decided to praise the Lord.
May our eyes be turned to this God, praising Him for His amazing goodness.
Fall to your knees and spend the rest of your life rejoicing…
Saying: “This time. I will praise the Lord”…(Genesis 29:35)’ (DS, 2013 italics mine).

We begin to apply all of this when we hear in Paul, Perpetua and Leah’s words the call to acknowledge the God, who has made the painstaking effort to acknowledge us.

In sum, the world does not get to define the Christian. Christ does. Our substance belongs to Him (Col.2:17).

Sources:

Barth, K. 1936 Church Dogmatics, 1.1 The Doctrine of the Word of God Hendrickson Publishers
Busch, E 2008 Barth (Abingdon Pillars of Theology)  Kindle for PC ed. Abingdon Press.
Elshtain, J.B 2000 Who are we? Critical reflections and Hopeful Possibilities Wm.B Eerdmans Publishing Grand Rapids
Elshtain, J.B 1995 Democracy On Trial BasicBooks, Perseus Books Group
Gorringe, T.J 1999 Karl Barth: Against Hegemony Oxford University Press
Peterson, E. 2002 The Message: The bible in contemporary language NavPress Publishing Group
The Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas sourced 29th October 2013 from http://web.archive.org/web/20031206113609/http://www.bu.edu/religion/courses/syllabi/rn301/perpetua.htm
Torrance, T.F 2009, Atonement: The Person and Work of Christ, InterVarstiy Press
Unless otherwise stated, all biblical references are from the English Standard Version

©RL2013

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‘He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.Surely he has borne our grief and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all’. (Is.53:3-6 ESV)

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T.F Torrance wrote that ‘sinful existence is a will to isolation from God and a refusal of His grace’ (‘Incarnation’ 2008, pg 52).Within this statement we can see an idea that is stimulated by Paul in Romans 5:12-21. This is that humanity is plagued by an uncertain primal aversion to God brought on by a distortion in humanities relationship with God. This theme of primal-atheism has in impact on how the world deals with the depth and relevance of Easter. Easter disturbs us because it reminds us that our ‘elevation into union and communion with God exists because of the humiliation of Christ the Son’ (‘Incarnation’ 2008, pg 57). It does not exist because of any human effort to prove ourselves right before God.

This can be connected to something Paul writes about in Romans 5:12-21. ImageHere he points to a counter disturbance whereby ‘grace does not leave humans unaffected in their consciousness and behaviour’ (Schreiner ‘Romans’ 1998, p.292; Moltmann‘The Spirit of Life’ 1992, p.113). This provides the framework for understanding how the ‘grace of Christ conquers and subdues’ (Schreiner 1998, p.285) sin and death. The Christ-event is an act of interceding grace (Rm.5:20) from which God fulfils His promise (Rm.8:26) and brings life out of death (Rm.4:17); light out of darkness. This counter disturbance summons every human to a response of gratitude (Barth) for what has been done on our behalf. This dynamic invitation ruffles our feathers as the tradition of the Church, along with the Spirit of God calls us to remember that in Christ humanity is found, rescued and offered new Life.

ImageBarth asserts this when he states that ‘the theme of the Gospel is the death of death’ (R2 1933, p.166). His emphasis here fits the literary context of Rm.5:12-21 because it points to Paul’s main theological point in Romans. This is that in Christ, God calls humanity into a newness of life. This means that in Jesus the Christ, God wills human existence (Barth C.D IV/III.1 p.362). In order to actualise this God addresses our unrighteous, ‘bleak, lifeless and unrelated existence’ (Barth 1933, p.170).Consequently righteousness becomes connected to life because ‘the victory over sin…rests in the entire accomplishment of the course of Christ’s existence’ (Pannenberg ‘Jesus-God and Man 1968, p.362). In other words Christ’s existence becomes our existence. For the biannual pilgrims of Christmas and Easter these words are a reminder that God not only gives permission for them to breathe, but that God also empowers them to do so.

Paul’s letter to the Church in Rome is about a ‘restoration that is outside our competence’(Barth ‘R2’ 1933, p.168). The good news of Romans 5:12-21 is that through Christ, God recalls us to a life transformed. He takes the initiative and through his act of reconciliation ‘invades the being of man and woman, making them his saints’ (Barth C.D IV/II 1958, p.523).This is a remedy established by the free gift of grace, which is given through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Despite primal-atheism, a product of a distorted relationship God does not desire to be without humanity (Barth). Consequently humanity is delivered from the abyss (Barth 1933, p.240) bringing us to a point where we can joyfully say ‘’I know who did it’’.

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Artistic process: I put together a display and photographed it at different angles. I then choose three to four of the best and used instagram to frame them. I put the collage together with the standard photo editor for windows 7. The hand print was done by using a print out, a glove and red food dye. (2013)