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A Forgiving God – Psalm 25:11, 12

forgivenessForgiveness — the pardon of sins — is a central issue in Christianity. Jesus has made it so — and has taught us to pray: “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”

Yet, it is also such a difficult issue. When there is a deep wound, the pain is still there, and the anger still arises. In times like this, we wonder: do the words mean anything? When time and time again, you have to pray “Lord, give me the grace to forgive my enemy” you have to wonder if there is ever hope for you. There have been many times, when I have wondered this about myself.

And, I know I’m not alone in having this problem. Those people who have done things that have caused wounds — especially those who have done it quite deliberately and knowingly — are hard to forgive. There are people I know who have been treated unfairly and unjustly. There are people I know who have been abused. And, the problem with forgiveness is that it seems to say that all that was okay. To let go of the anger and the outrage seems to give in to injustice — to give permission for their abuser to do it again to someone else. (more…)

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The Waiting Time – Psalm 25

“To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me. Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.” (Psalms 25:1-3 NRSV)

Hebrew_bible_4Several years ago, I began thinking of Psalm 25 as a Psalm for the waiting times. There are lots of Psalms — and other passages of Scripture — like this, but I hadn’t always seen Psalm 25 this way.

Here is what I mean.

Many times in the Hebrew scriptures we are exhorted to “wait on the LORD” — and we are told the advantages of such an approach to life. “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalms 27:14 NRSV) “For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.” (Psalms 37:9 NRSV) “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope….” (Psalms 130:5 NRSV). (more…)

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What John Wesley Actually Said About the Bible

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

John Wesley saw the Methodist movement as a return to the original life & faith & experience of Christianity. He wanted to return to the faith of the apostles and the early church — to find that same dynamic quality of faith and life that the early Christians had. So, Scripture had a place of central importance in Wesley’s teaching and preaching.

In Wesley’s view, devotion to the teachings of the Scripture is absolutely essential for the task of keeping and renewing the Christian faith.

So, in light of this, I’ve gathered together on this page everything substantive that John Wesley said about the Bible. I have not attempted to “tone down” or alter any of his opinions — though I have updated the language in the first quote. My goal here has been completeness.

Yes, there is some room for argument about what he may have meant by some of these remarks — of course. And, I certainly wouldn’t say the man was in any way infallible.

But, here is what he actually said. (more…)

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God Will Send From Heaven – Psalm 57:3

Hebrew-MS-PsalmsHow removed is heaven from us? How far does God have to come to help us?

יִשְׁלַח מִשָּׁמַיִם וְיוֹשִׁיעֵנִי חֵרֵף שֹׁאֲפִי סֶלָה יִשְׁלַח אֱלֹהִים חַסְדּוֹ וַאֲמִתּוֹ
He will send from heaven and save me, he will put to shame those who trample on me. Selah. God will send forth his steadfast love and his faithfulness.” (NRSV)

My first reading of this is: “God will send help from far away.” And, there is some basis for this reading. But, that’s not the whole story.

In the Jenni-Westermann Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament we read:

Heaven often appears as the dwelling place of Yahweh and his hosts…, so that he also acts from heaven (e.g., Deut 4:39; 10:14; 26:15; 1 Kgs 8:23, 30, etc.; Isa 63:15; 66:1; Psa 2:4; 11:4; 20:7; 89:12; 102:20; 115:3, 16; Lam 3:41, etc….).” The Lexicon quickly adds that even Heaven itself is, of course, not adequate to either contain or constrain God. “As God’s resting place, heaven naturally belongs to the cultically pure realm (cf. Exod 24:10; …). Heaven is not able to contain God, however, because he stands beyond any cosmic boundary (1 Kgs 8:27; 2 Chron 2:5; 6:18; cf. Jer 23:24).

(more…)

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Old Testament Foundations

Hebrew_bible_4In a church that I pastored years ago, one of the church leaders expressed surprise when I gave sermons based on Old Testament texts. He had pretty much written off the Old Testament — at least, from what he knew of it — and I hadn’t. In fact, I enjoy preaching from an Old Testament story or text.

I’m pretty open that I do not expound on the Old Testament the way a Jewish rabbi would. Yes, I try to understand the Old Testament in its historical context. But, for me that is just a beginning point. I also want to understand it (for the purposes of Christian preaching) in light of what God has revealed to us in Christ. (more…)

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On Peace, Love and Perfection – Matthew 5:38-48

sermon-on-the-mount-romaniaIn this passage Jesus is continuing the series of antithesis statements he began in verse 21. In these he fleshes out what he means by coming not to to destroy the law but to fulfill it. He goes beyond the law — not relaxing it, but pushing it further — pushing it toward its spiritual fulfillment. Jesus forces us to consider more than just outward fulfillment — he challenges us at the level of our motivations — our inner lives.

In verses 21-37 the issues were: destructive anger, covetous sexual desire, divorce, and the swearing of oaths. Here the issues are vengefulness, enemies, peace, and universal love for all.  Here the issue is how we treat — and think about — each other. This passage can be seen as a unit because of its closely related themes.

This is also one of those passages in the New Testament that uses the word τέλειος — often translated “perfect” — which gave rise to the phrase “Christian Perfection”— often used by John Wesley (and his followers) to talk about the spiritual life. The phrase was misunderstood from the beginning and still is today — and it’s easy to see why. Looking at verse 48 in its context may help to sort out some of the confusion.

But, our goal in looking at this passage is much larger than that one issue — it is to understand how Jesus interprets the Old Testament law and applies it to life. (more…)

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How Jesus Fulfills the Law – Matthew 5:21-37

sermon-on-the-mount-romaniaJesus has already stated that the purpose of his ministry was in no way to destroy the Law and the prophets (that is, the Old Testament) but to fulfill them. In this passage he begins to flesh out what that means. He seeks to bring the Old Testament law and teaching into its fulfillment by expounding its inner intent and purpose for the people of his own day.

In “fulfilling” the law, he fills it up with meaning, demonstrating how it reveals to us the will and purpose of God. It is for this reason that the Israelites meditated upon the law — seeking not just to keep it but to understand its inner meaning.

This passage begins a series of antithesis statements: “You have heard that it was said…”But I say….” In doing this he in no way seeks to undermine the importance or authority of the Old Testament’s teaching. He is stating the inner intent of the law — the spiritual significance of the law — for the moral and spiritual lives of the people. Notice that his sayings in these verses do not relax the law — in fact, they make them more demanding. In Jesus’ teaching the issue is not just murder, but destructive anger and rage. In Jesus’ teaching the issue is not just adultery, but the lust that makes people into objects. The issue is not the words of an oath, the issue is basic honesty.

Jesus seeks to establish among his disciples a righteousness greater than that of the Scribes and Pharisees — not more meticulous, but more in line with the will and purpose of God revealed behind the letter of the law. (more…)

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