Lessons for the Lenten season: How shall we then pray?

In my observance of the Lenten season as a time of meditating on the sufferings of Christ that led up to the last week, I have also been focused on the the whole question of Adam’s race in rebellion that necessitated it all. This of course leads me into confessing my own participation in the rebellion which is universal. Learning to pray from this platform is taking me into some interesting requests, not the least of which has to do with renewing my own covenantal vows of the Christian Faith.

Recently I’ve been re-reading a classic book by one of my favorite Puritan writers, John Owen, on beholding the glory of Christ. I mentioned this last year in a post and suggested this is what we are supposed to do in living the Christian life. It can be considered our “reasonable worship” as redeemed people of the New Covenant. In the last few days I ran across a post quoting from this book which I found especially helpful in knowing more specifically how to pray from this same perspective.

“Renewed repentance is seen in fervent prayer. ‘Take words with you. Say to him…’ We must know what we are to pray for. We are to pray for pardon of all iniquity. ‘Take away all iniquity.’ Not one sin must be left to be indulged. We are to pray that God will graciously receive us. ‘Receive us graciously.’ Confession must be made of the sins that caused our backslidings. ‘Assyria will not save us. Nor will we say any more to the work of our hands, “You are our gods.” Fleshly confidence and false worship were the two sins that ruined the people, and of these sins God expects a full and free confession so that we may be healed.

“Believers must renew their covenant with God, renouncing all other hopes and expectations, and put their trust and confidence only and wholly in him, for only in God do the fatherless find mercy (14:3). The result of such repentance is praise and thanksgiving: ‘We will offer the sacrifice or our lips’ (14:2). When God heals our backslidings he will communicate his grace to us, to the praise of his own glory…”  (John Owen)

To read the entire post over at ‘Cultivating Epiphanies’ go here.

The Gospel of Christ Crucified

January was a much needed Sabbatical @E4Unity

I don’t know if you missed me, but I sure missed posting for you. I have been busy refilling the tank, as they say, by reading a lot of blogs and tweets and adding new friends.

from phoenixmasonry.org

So now I think we’re ready to get back to blogging about humankind and the universal conditions we’re all faced with in the new year. To start us off, with an eye to the Lenten season coming up fast and the present situation in Egypt and the mid-east, I hope this will interest you. Comments from the Letter to the Hebrews:

The preacher finds in these antitheses the basic truth of the matter. His weakness in dying defined his power in ruling. With all other New Testament witnesses he was obsessed with the paradox of the passion story. It was by sharing in flesh and blood that Jesus became a faithful and merciful high priest; it was by being tempted that “he is able to help those who are tempted” (2:18). The devil had tempted him to fear death and thus to become enslaved to the devil; but by resisting this temptation Jesus had received power to free men from that fear, that bondage. So, in the sequence of images by which the preacher gave tribute to Jesus’ glory in 1:1-4, we must give full weight to the mention of the “purification for sins”. This action of expiation explains Jesus’ power to uphold the universe, his work in the creation of the world, his appointment as heir of all things.

Paul S.Minear writing in “God’s Glory in Man’s Story”.

 

 

As recorded in the book of Acts, Holy Scripture.

Read the most viewed E4Unity post: The Coming of the Missionary Spirit by Roland Allen (1910)

A classic reading: The Christian’s Strength

The difference between “ what would Jesus do” and “what IS Jesus doing”! You may be familiar with the popular fad that was revived in recent years that sought guidance for Christians in daily decisions by answering with WWJD. Like so many fads in Christianity, I always felt that though the intent was a sincere attempt to influence life’s decisions by reference to the historical Jesus, this version of what it means to be a disciple of Christ completely missed the heart of the Biblical Gospel.

In the last few days, I have been reading a book which confronts this misunderstanding in the American churches with a fresh exposition of the doctrine of the Ascension of Jesus. The book which was published in 2004 by Gerrit Scott Dawson, is entitled –

Jesus Ascended: the meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation“.

I read a lot and have considered myself a full-time student for over 50 years. It has been a long time since I have been as profoundly moved as I have in reading this book about the present life of Jesus of Nazareth now in His heavenly session as our King-Priest. The fact that I have been celebrating the Festival of the Ascension for over a week now was the preparation needed to be able to profit so much from this author and the mature understanding he has of this neglected part of the Biblical narrative. I would love to recommend this book to everyone but I won’t because of one principle that is a priority here at E4Unity and that is the recognition that each individual is unique and in no way would the many be able to profit in the same way I have from reading any book. In the area of what is called “spiritual formation” that means that real progress is made only when we are able to see these things for ourself, through the “eyes of faith”, and that means we must be patiently brought in life’s experiences to desiring such things as this present world can never give or satisfy our inner spirit with.

I want to leave you with some quotes from Dawson. He is an excellent writer and this book is very “reader friendly” in the sense that he tells you what his topic is, tells you how he is going to approach it, and even gives you upfront a short direction on “how to use this book”. I will tell you that he is a Presbyterian pastor and so he is thoroughly pastoral- that is he concerns himself in the end with the purpose of this doctrine in living here on planet earth, the life of Christ in heaven transmitted to us by the Holy Spirit as we learn to live, not in the flesh, but by faith in God’s abundant provision in His beloved Son Jesus.

He has included some of the rich comments from past teachers in the churches, both from the Patristic fathers as well as men like John Calvin,  Andrew Murray, and Lesslie Newbigin. He has a robust exposition of what the the Ascension of Christ has meant to the Church in the past as well as how it can be instrumental in reviving us in the challenge we are now facing in our own generation.

“We have such difficulty conceiving how, or even believing that, the body of Jesus went to heaven that we may want the doctrine to remain in obscurity” (p.3)

“In no way, then, did the ascension signal simply a return to business as usual between God and humanity. Rather, the ascension of Christ is a vital hinge on which turns the work of the Mediator, the incarnate Son, our Redeemer in all his offices.” (p.8)

“My premise is that the church- our local church and the churches of the west-needs to recover the meta-narrative of the gospel as a counter-story, indeed a better story to the one the world tells. . .one of those episodes, the ascension, has been sorely neglected in the church’s telling of the story. The silence. . .cuts us off from the present work of Christ in heaven and from the conclusion of the story. . .recovering a proper and robust doctrine of the ascension can reconnect us to a sense of our true citizenship in heaven and the implications of that identity for life in the world.”(p.25)

Dawson’s book is divided into three parts, and we haven’t even reached the second one yet. But I don’t want to impose on you so I will close for now with one more, this time, a quote from Andrew Murray. Murray has also been one of my favorite devotional writers for a long time. Dawson may be the first Presbyterian writer that I can think of among contemporary ones that utilizes the treasures in Murray so often and so freely. He says here, that ” the church can reclaim the fullness of its story, with spectacular results.” And then quotes Murray-

” Faith has in its foundation four great cornerstones on which the building rests- the Divinity of Christ, The Incarnation, the Atonement on the Cross, the Ascension to the Throne. The last is the most wonderful, the crown of all the rest, the perfect revelation of what God has made Christ (to be)for us. And so in the Christian life it is the most important, the glorious fruit of all that goes before.” (p.26)

In part two, one of the highlights for me was his discussion of Calvin’s interpretation of the Lord’s Supper as one of the means of grace directly connected with the ascension. We will have a great deal to come back to on another occasion. For now, we must get ready to celebrate once again another Festival: The Day of Pentecost.

The link to the book is the on-line edition where you can read most of it at Google.books.

A Personal Explanation

A Personal Explanation

I am indebted to my good friend at Jewwishes for first calling this book to my attention in an excellent review she recently posted on her blog. Follow the link to see her review.
But I found some more information about the author, Rabbi David Wolpe which I found immensely interesting in Tom Telchotz’s article written on my daughter’s birthday last September. If you follow my blog at all you know that I am vitally seeking to find people of faith telling us in their own words what their faith is like-in this case Why Faith Matters. Here are some of his comment about the author which have persuaded me to put this book on my must read list for 2009.
(Tom Telchotz’s article -excerpt)
“Wolpe is turning 50 this Friday, Sept. 19, and has been the rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles for the past 11 years. “Why Faith Matters” is his sixth book, and he wrote it not as a polemic response to the “New Atheists,” but as a personal book about his own journey.

“He was born in Harrisburg, Pa., where his father, Gerald Wolpe, was a Conservative rabbi. When David was 10, the family moved to Philadelphia, when Wolpe’s father became the rabbi of Har Zion, a large Conservative synagogue on the city’s Main Line.”

“In ‘Why Faith Matters,’ Wolpe explains that as a teenager, after seeing the vivid documentary footage about the Holocaust in Alain Resnais’ ‘Night and Fog,’ he became an atheist, embracing Bertrand Russell as one of his sages. Wolpe said he is attempting in this book to speak to his younger self. Yet, to a great extent, Wolpe now regards atheism as a failure of the imagination.”

His central argument boils down to a rejection of the notion that “the only thing that is real is what you see or measure.” Faith, he argues, adds another dimension to our experience of the world.To Wolpe, religious faith is “an orientation of the universe,” a way to invest all we do and all we experience with wonder and with meaning.

“Wolpe’s own journey led him after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania from teenage atheist to studying to become a rabbi at the University of Judaism (UJ) in Los Angeles (now American Jewish University). He spent a year in Israel and was ordained in 1987 at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York, where he wrote his first book, “The Healer of Shattered Hearts” (Henry Holt & Company).

He brings the same approach to his brief in defense of faith, embracing the objections others avoid. For Wolpe, the notion that religious ritual is primitive or some form of magical thinking misses the point…

Similarly, Wolpe feels that study of Scripture offers its own pleasures at every stage of life that we encounter it. For him, it is not the literal words alone, as much as the experience we garner from studying Scripture that faith adds to our lives. Not unlike a psychiatrist interpreting a dream, we may care less about whether it’s true than what we can learn from it…

Wolpe knows these questions well, not only as a rabbi but from personal experience. His wife is a cancer survivor, and Wolpe himself has had neurosurgery for a benign brain tumor, as well as chemotherapy for non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a cancer that remains incurable, but for which he is now in remission. Wolpe told me that it was on the day he finished chemotherapy that he decided to write “Why Faith Matters.”

Religion for Wolpe “is a complex of things, rather than an abstract set of beliefs.” What Wolpe feels is lost in the discussion of religion by “the new atheists” is the positive benefits of religion, such as community, a sense of social responsibility, a commitment to charity and charitable acts and of believing that there is something larger than oneself, having boundaries, submitting to a “higher power.”

By contrast, faith, Wolpe said, can also make a “disturbance” of life, making life more difficult. As Wolpe put it, the sense that you are put on this earth for a reason carries with it responsibilities and challenges to meet a higher standard. Speaking with Wolpe, you get a sense that this is particularly true for him; that he is a person who is always pushing himself…

Similarly, in “Why Faith Matters,” Wolpe suggests that faith, religion and religious practice are to be valued — if not for what they offer us then for the benefits they offer our children by learning to look beyond themselves, to be charitable, to treat others as they would like to be treated…

Clearly, you don’t need religion to teach these ideals, but these are aspects of religion that rarely receive recognition from its critics. Faith, Wolpe believes, offers us a chance to give our children a way to suffuse their own lives with meaning and better prepare them for the challenges they will encounter…

The objective narrative of our lives is mundane and prosaic: We are born; we live; we die. It is the subjective that colors and enriches our experience. We all know the power of music or art, of laughter and love to transport us. Why then, not add faith to the list? And what of the connection between the two?

It is also worth noting that “Why Faith Matters” is a book meant to settle the soul of David Wolpe, given that his first impulse when concluding chemotherapy was to write a book.

“I love literature,” Wolpe said. “I have always found consolation in words, in both reading them and also writing them and speaking them. One of the really great gifts of being a rabbi is that you are expected to translate your experience into something that other people can understand and benefit from. That forces you to reflect on it and create some kind of mosaic out of the jagged pieces of a life. And that’s really a great lesson.”

And so, on the occasion of his 50th birthday, Wolpe has given us — and himself — a memorable gift.”

Tom Teicholz (to read more)

 

Pay Close Attention to FLESH in his writings

“The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. . .all flesh is grass” -The Prophet Isaiah, chapter 40.

The subject of flesh and blood is one of those cords that is woven very distinctly throughout the fabric of Scripture: it is prominent in the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as well as in the understanding of His Apostle to the Gentiles. Consider just a few samples.

“Flesh and blood hath not revealed this to you…”( Jesus to Peter).

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (Jesus to Nicodemas, a ruler of the Jews)

“Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God” (Paul to the saints at Corinth)

“We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against…the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Paul to the saints and faithful in Christ Jesus at Ephesus)

The Apostle Paul gives us the “Resurrection” chapter of the Bible in the same letter which is begun with quite a lengthy discussion of the foolish ways of God and the wisdom of humankind. He makes a statement regarding the wisdom of God which goes to the heart of what is at stake: God’s way of redemption, of restoring His fallen creation, insures “that no flesh should glory in His presence”.

These and many other scriptures signal a basic truth: God’s ways are not our ways. When Messiah Jesus is sent into the world, it announced to all the earth (all human flesh) that God was doing an entirely new thing which would be the definitive thing in defeating our enemy for the glory of His Name. This new thing would involve the creation of a new human flesh; a flesh which was of heavenly origin, not earthly. It is through this heavenly flesh and it alone that the good and perfect will of the Father is at long last done on earth as it is in heaven.

The heavenly flesh was sent by way of the cross on its way to the resurrection and the glory that is to follow: “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit”(Jesus, speaking to his disciples just before his betrayal and death). The cross of the heavenly flesh is much more than the sinless sacrifice that “takes away the sin of the world”; it is the death of death itself that does away with the earthly flesh and all the corruption that goes with it. It is not this body that is raised with Christ. That flesh is to be relegated to the grave, and we are commanded to “reckon it to be dead”.

It was the “offense of the cross” that was at the center of all the resistance to Paul’s gospel preaching. Why? Because it meant that God had judged the earthly flesh once and for all and put it to death. The repentance that He now requires of all who would enter His everlasting Kingdom not only involves an agreement with His verdict concerning our sins of rebellion, but much more, what He has in fact already done with our flesh. What He now requires of us in true repentance is a drastic repudiation of our earthly flesh and a life of “no holds barred” mortification of it as long as we are in this body.

In Christ, He calls us to replace the flesh with the “grace and duty of minding the Spirit” (Romans 8:1-27), and of “walking or being led by means of the Spirit”. This is the way to read Romans 8 to obtain the greatest profit. This is the way to read Saint Paul and to learn from him what is the TRUE life of CHRIST (Galatians 5).

To be continued: If I had only one message to post before I die