Time of Lament

From N.T. Wright, “Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It’s Not Supposed To.,” Time Magazine Online, March 29, 2020.

“The point of lament, woven thus into the fabric of the biblical tradition, is not just that it’s an outlet for our frustration, sorrow, loneliness and sheer inability to understand what is happening or why. The mystery of the biblical story is that God also laments. Some Christians like to think of God as above all that, knowing everything, in charge of everything, calm and unaffected by the troubles in his world. That’s not the picture we get in the Bible.

“God was grieved to his heart, Genesis declares, over the violent wickedness of his human creatures. He was devastated when his own bride, the people of Israel, turned away from him. And when God came back to his people in person—the story of Jesus is meaningless unless that’s what it’s about—he wept at the tomb of his friend. St. Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit “groaning” within us, as we ourselves groan within the pain of the whole creation. The ancient doctrine of the Trinity teaches us to recognize the One God in the tears of Jesus and the anguish of the Spirit.

“It is no part of the Christian vocation, then, to be able to explain what’s happening and why. In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead. As the Spirit laments within us, so we become, even in our self-isolation, small shrines where the presence and healing love of God can dwell. And out of that there can emerge new possibilities, new acts of kindness, new scientific understanding, new hope.”

I will be working on another project for the next several weeks, so I won’t be blogging here. If you’re continuing to quarantine, stay connected. If you’re out and about, be a blessing. – Kim

James 1:2-11 (Part 2)

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:4)

According to James, one of the ways God wrests good from a bad situation is by allowing perseverance to fully develop within us. The Greek word James uses here is hypomone, meaning endurance or steadfastness. “Perseverance” is also a good choice for its English translation because perseverance implies a sense of hopefulness… patience for the bad situation to finally right itself, and patience for us to mature from the experience so long as we just hang in there!

You see, perseverance in and of itself is not the end-goal. James says, when perseverance finishes its “work,” we will be “mature and complete, not lacking in anything.” There! That is the goal. John Wesley, the father of Methodism, referred to that goal as, “Christian Perfection.”

In 1741, during the earlier part of his preaching career, Wesley published his sermon on the doctrine of Christian perfection. In doing so, it became one of the most distinguishing features of his theology and influenced many of his other sermons throughout his career. However, it was met with a good deal of disagreement from Protestant Reformers at the time of its publication.

Dr. Kenneth Kinghorn, Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Asbury Seminary from 1965-2003, concisely summarizes the disagreement in his modern translation* of Wesley’s sermons:

“Reformers powerfully championed the biblical doctrines of justification and adoption, which are works of grace that God does for us to change our position before God…. [Nothing we do – no works – can gain this for us.] To be sure, Wesley agreed with the Protestant Reformers, [however] Wesley also accentuated a “realized righteousness” which God imparts to believers to change their state.” Wesley was primarily standing up against the incorrect belief that all one needs is faith, and that good works are not required.  At all! (Kinghorn, p124)

Wesley’s choice of the term “perfection” for this doctrine wasn’t received any better by the Reformers than his concept of realized righteousness. They said perfection could only be attained by God, thus the need for God’s grace; humans could not be “perfect.” But Wesley drew the term “perfection” from the Greek word teleiosis – the same word used by James in verse 4, translated as “mature and complete.”

For the Greeks, teleiosis conveyed not just the state of being mature and complete, but the continual growth and movement toward an ever-greater maturity. For Wesley, Christian perfection is a process of becoming what God has always wanted for his creation. With that definition in mind, consider Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of James 1:4 from The Message:

You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. (James 1:4 MSG)

To me, James 1:4 says (well… actually, in my mind it yells):  Hang on! Don’t give up! Don’t you ever give up, because God is going to use this horrible thing you’re experiencing right now – that he never wanted for you – and he’s going to show you how redemption works, how faith can flourish in the weeds, and how you can become more like Christ while standing in the middle of a mess. Yes, this right here. Yes, right now. And, yes, praise God, you!


In Part 3, we’ll see what James says about how we find the strength to hang in there. We’ll also check in with another of John Wesley’s sermons to get his perspective on how our actions, including our responses to challenging times, spring from the root of our faith: our hearts.

* Kinghorn, Kenneth Cain, John Wesley on Christian Practice Vol 3: The Standard Sermons in Modern English, 34-53.

Links to previous entries: Intro to James and Part 1

LTP – Last Chapter

kalasToday marks the end of our study of Longing to Pray: How the Psalms Teach Us to Talk with God by Dr. J. Ellsworth Kalas. I feel very blessed to have been led to this in-depth look at prayer and the psalms while isolated due to COVID-19.  As my emotions have run the gamut during this time of heightened stress and unknowns, I have welcomed the reminder that I can (and should) bring all things — exuberance, gratitude, repentance, helplessness, and yes, even anger — to my Lord in complete candor.

I pray that you’ve been blessed in some way from your reading. I’ll continue sharing quotes, book recommendations, and “odds & ends” on this site. God is good, Jesus is King, and the Holy Spirit is at work — I’m always looking for and will try to share evidence of these truths.

In today’s entry, I’d like to simply list a few quotes from Dr. Kalas’s final chapter on anger. Once again, this was a chapter filled with “one-liners” (so to speak) that stopped me in my tracks. A few of these, I’m still lingering over. Longing to Pray will be a book I return to again and again because it carries a message I often need to hear:  God desires relationship with me, and prayer is the language he and I can use to communicate. It doesn’t need to be lofty, polished, or perfect. It just needs to be.

 

From Chapter 12 of Longing to Pray

(FYI:  I added bold print for emphasis in a few places where I thought to myself… “Wow! That’ll preach!” LOL!)

“Anger – because it is so often misused – has gotten a bad name. But anger is essential to human progress…. True, anger is a dangerous power, but less dangerous than supine acquiescence to evil” (100).

“I admit that sometimes the vigor of the psalmist’s anger is more than I can handle. But I’m not in his shoes, nor am I ‘wired up’ as he was…. So while I may be uneasy with the language the psalmist employs, I will try to give him the kind of latitude I might want in some other circumstance. More than that, I will ask that I come to possess the same commitment to justice and righteousness [that led to his anger]” (101-2).

“As readers [of Psalm 139], we see quickly that David feels he is on the side of God in his hating…. But any of us who observe human nature somewhat critically realize that it’s very easy to baptize our prejudices and judgments…. So while the psalmist prays for the victory of good and the destruction of evil, he never forgets his own capacity for evilSearch me, O God, and know my heart; . . . See if there is any wicked way in me” (105).

“You and I are miniature battlefields, microcosms of what is going on in the larger world around us. So how do we fight this evil? … We fight by education, by political action, by economic reform, by petitions, and by marching in the streets. And by prayer” (106).

“Prayer deals with matters of life, death, and eternity; it wrestles with hell. So of course it includes expressions of anger against all that violates the will and purposes of God…. I want a God who is angry with all that hurts and destroys, that cheapens and violates. I want to join with God in this battle. I need prayer to do so: prayer that is powerful enough to attack evil at its most subtle and hidden places, and prayer that is humble and perceptive enough to keep my anger in productive restraint” (107).

 

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor. 13:14)

Helpless as a Child

I love you, O LORD, my strength. (Psalm 18:1)

From Longing to Pray:   “This is the essence of the prayer of helplessness. We seek from a base of love, and we solicit power to live. This is a mood born of the nursing infant who clings to the breast in trusting love and draws from it the very strength of life. It is the small boy holding his father’s hand on a crowded street: love and strength. It is a child of God, of whatever age, surrounded by the armies of hell, taking hold of with love the indomitable strength of God. Helplessness as a word may not appeal to us, but as an experience it is universal and lifelong. Perhaps it is even necessary. Without it, we would be incomplete as humans, because we wouldn’t know the full dimensions of friendship, either human or divine.”

Jesus infant
The Virgin of the Veil, Ambrogio Borgognone, 1500

Show Me, Lord

We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.”

Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.

~ Mr. Rogers

 

Today, keep your eyes peeled for needs…

swing push

…and be a helper.

Passionate Faith

Yesterday, we talked about Psalm 51 and the expression of King David’s repentance. But there’s something else mentioned in Chapter 10 of Longing to Pray that I’d ask you to give some thought to:  the passion of our faith. It was David’s passionate faith and love of the Lord that made him pursue repentance and restoration of his relationship with God.

Dr. Kalas asserts that in modern times, “we fail at repentance because our friendship with God has no or little passion. The Scriptures say that we should love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength” (86).

“That’s the language of passion…”

Dr. Kalas mentioned a hymn as an example of the passion we should have for our Lord entitled, Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart. I’d never heard this hymn and the complete lyrics weren’t given, so I went in search of what this hymn had to say. Come to find out, the hymn also has an interesting back story:

“The words of this sung prayer are among the most passionate in the history of hymnody….  This masterpiece of Christian devotional poetry is the work of George Croly (1780-1860), an Anglican minister born in Dublin, Ireland, but whose ministry took place in London. It was there that Croly accepted the challenge to reopen in 1835 a church in one of the worst slum areas of the city, one that had been closed for over a century….

“Through personal charisma and dynamic preaching, he attracted large crowds to St. Stephen’s Church. Croly prepared a new hymnal in 1854 for his congregation and published it as Psalms and Hymns for Public Worship. [Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart] first appeared in that hymnal under the title “Holiness Desired.” It is the only hymn by Croly to have survived.” (Excerpted from UMC Discipleship Ministries – History of Hymns)

These words written by George Croly have survived over 150 years for a reason. Read them slowly, and let his desire for repentance and the passion of his faith wash over you… like baptismal waters.

Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart

Spirit of God, who dwells within my heart,
wean it from sin, through all its pulses move.
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as you are,
and make me love you as I ought to love.

I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,
no sudden rending of the veil of clay,
no angel visitant, no opening skies;
but take the dimness of my soul away.

Did you not bid us love you, God and King,
love you with all our heart and strength and mind?
I see the cross, there teach my heart to cling.
O let me seek you and O let me find!

Teach me to feel that you are always nigh;
teach me the struggles of the soul to bear,
to check the rising doubt, the rebel sigh;
teach me the patience of unceasing prayer.

Teach me to love you as your angels love,
one holy passion filling all my frame:
the fullness of the heaven-descended Dove;
my heart an altar, and your love the flame.