Friday, April 23, 2010

The sacred ordinary

A week ago I was sitting under the teaching of Eugene Peterson, pastor and teacher, man of God.  Not only did he translate the version of the Bible we know as The Message, but he wrote countless other books and articles.  I was impressed with his humility, his own ordinariness.  He would not be someone you would pick out of a crowd, a man of insignificant stature, he does not dress to impress; instead he looks more like someone's beloved grandfather.

Among a million other words, Peterson wrote, "His (Christ's) entire life was lived in a sacred ordinary that we are apt, mistakenly, to call the secular."

I've been thinking about that ever since I read those words - the sacred ordinary.  Christ lived as a human, confined to a human body, in some sense, working a job for 30 years, worshipping with other humans, then living in relationship with the twelve for three years.  He walked, talked, ate with, kept company with ordinary men and a life not a lot different from ours, an ordinary life- one we would not think inappropriate to call the sacred ordinary.

I wrestled with the phrase "sacred ordinary," trying to make sense of it.  I guess it boils down to our recognition that everything we do matters because there is no ordinary for the believer.  Everything we do matters to God - everything.  Not only do we take him everywhere we go, but everything we do reflects on him.  I think we think we can have secrets, that because no other human sees something we do or hears something we say or knows something we think, that it doesn't matter.  But there is that unseen world that does know all of those things.

Everything we do is done out of the sacred  - that place where Christ dwells. We carry the sacred with us, whether we like it or not.  There is no ordinary, and the secular exists only for the one who does not know Christ.  Faith is that dividing line between the sacred and the secular, and that truth weighs heavily on my mind today....

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


I've been thinking about compassion this month.
Here are a few verses that speak to the issue; the numbers refer to the words and their definition in Strong's concordance.

After each word, I will write something: the numbers refer to Strong's dictionary and definitions.

Mat 9:36

But 1161 when he saw 1492 the multitudes 3793, he was moved with compassion 4697 on 4012 them 846, because 3754 they fainted 2258 1590 , and 2532 were scattered abroad 4496 , as 5616 sheep 4263 having 2192 no 3361 shepherd 4166.

Here we see Jesus having compassion on those who were at their wits end, so discouraged and despairing that they had no hope, they felt lost, who needed someone to help them find their way.  I think he is still doing that - having compassion on us as we grow weary and discouraged from whatever.

Mat 14:14

And 2532 Jesus 2424 went forth 1831 , and saw 1492 a great 4183 multitude 3793, and 2532 was moved with compassion 4697 toward 1909 them 846, and 2532 he healed 2323 their 846 sick 732.

This passage shows his compassion not only on the sick and dying but those who loved them and were overwhelmed with both the physical and emotional toll of their pain.  It is amazing what happens when we trust him with our pain in this regard.  He sometimes heals it, but he also gives meaning to it
Mat 15:32

Then 1161 Jesus 2424 called 4341 his 846 disciples 3101 [unto him], and said 2036 , I have compassion 4697 on 1909 the multitude 3793, because 3754 they continue 4357 with me 3427 now 2235 three 5140 days 2250, and 2532 have 2192 nothing 3756 5101 to eat 5315 : and 2532 I will 2309 not 3756 send 630 0 them 846 away 630 fasting 3523, lest 3379 they faint 1590 in 1722 the way 3598.

Here, their hunger, their physical needs mattered to him as they do now. He continues to love us and because he loves us, these things matter to him.

Mat 20:34

So 1161 Jesus 2424 had compassion 4697 [on them], and touched 680 their 846 eyes 3788: and 2532 immediately 2112 their 846 eyes 3788 received sight 308 , and 2532 they followed 190 him 846.

Though he healed the physically blind here, it appears he also healed their spiritual blindness because it says they followed him.  So he heals our spiritual blindness today...if we look to him for healing.

Mar 1:41

And 1161 Jesus 2424, moved with compassion 4697 , put forth 1614 [his] hand 5495, and touched 680 him 846, and 2532 saith 3004 unto him 846, I will 2309 ; be thou clean 2511 .

A remarkable thing here is that he touched the leper. He could have healed him without touching him, but he touched the one who had been untouched, who longed for someone to give him the dignity and comfort of touch (lepers were unclean and no one could touch them.)  I wonder why it is that too many times we withhold that touch people so desperately need.

Luk 7:13

And 2532 when the Lord 2962 saw 1492 her 846, he had compassion 4697 on 1909 her 846, and 2532 said 2036 unto her 846, Weep 2799 not 3361.

He notices and heals the broken hearted, caring for the one so broken she wept. He still notices oiur tears and has written words of comfort to us.

There are lots of other examples of Christ showing compassion - on the woman they were going to stone for adultery, on Thomas who doubted, on Peter who denied him, on his mother when he told John to take care of her...certainly on all of us in our need for forgiveness and hope.

But the point I want to make is that Jesus cares for us, the ordinary person with common needs. And as he showed compassion on us, we, made in his image, are to show compassion on others. I know some people are lousy at it, but we have all experienced it....

So take some time to recognize the compassion you have experienced and consider how you can be a vehicle through which he shows compassion.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Answered prayer: does it depend on me?

James 5: 16 says in the old KJV where I first memorized it: Confess your faults one to another, and pray for one another that ye may be healed.  The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

The ESV puts it this way: 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

And NASB says it this way: Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

The word translated effectual fervent or effective comes from the Greek word energeo meaning 1) to be operative, be at work, put forth power; a) to work for one, aid one; 2) to effect; 3) to display one's activity, show one's self operative. 

Honestly, I wrestled with this verse and the conditions that seemed present in the KJV on answered prayer.  First of all, it seemed like it had to be fervent; I couldn't figure out what fervent meant.  I knew the English word has the idea of 1 : very hot : glowing; 2 : exhibiting or marked by great intensity of feeling, so it seemed like the prayer had to be passionate about the prayer, but I was not sure what that looked like.  Did it require sweat, tears, long periods of time, depth of sincerity?  Somehow all of that seemed like the work of the person determined whether God would answer the prayer. 

Then I looked at the rest of the verse, the idea of a righteous man.  That Greek word translated righteous man is the Greek word dikaios meaning 1) righteous, observing divine laws; a) in a wide sense, upright, righteous, virtuous, keeping the commands of God; 1) of those who seem to themselves to be righteous, who pride themselves to be righteous, who pride themselves in their virtues, whether real or imagined; 2) innocent, faultless, guiltless; 3) used of him whose way of thinking, feeling, and acting is wholly conformed to the will of God, and who therefore needs no rectification in the heart or life; a) only Christ truly; 4) approved of or acceptable of God; b) in a narrower sense, rendering to each his due and that in a judicial sense, passing just judgment on others, whether expressed in words or shown by the manner of dealing with them.

As I waded through all of that, it occurred to me that the only way one is righteous is through Christ.  In Romans 4: 3 - 6,  Paul writes about righteousness by faith:  For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness...But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. Even as David also decribeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works.

The point is the verse tells us that the believer (one who is righteous through Christ's work on the cross, not his own work) who prays accomplishes much; his work is not in vain.

The word translated in the English avails or great power or accomplishes much is ischyo meaning to be strong; a) to be strong in body, to be robust, to be in sound health; 2) to have power; a) to have power as shown by extraordinary deeds; 1) to exert, wield power, to have strength to overcome; b) to be a force, avail; c) to be serviceable; d) to be able, can.

The bottom line is that prayer works; it has power.  It is not magic, a guarentee to get our way, what we want, a way to blackmail God, sort of like   If he said it works, and I pray, I will get what I ask for; after all, God must keep his promises.

No, prayer has power because the praying changes us, if we allow it.  It brings us into community with God.  As we leave ourselves and our will and desires behind, as we are still in his presence, seeking the face and will of God, we are changed.  Our cares are left behind.  Our anxieties are dropped along the way.  Our fears are absorbed by his love.  We grow stronger and confident in the love of God as we commune with him, allowing the Spirit of God to remind us who loves us - God loves us.  And God knows not only what our needs are but how to meet them in the way that is most beneficent for us, and for all the needs of those we love.

We cannot make those we love conform to the image of God by our prayers: that comes only personally as any individual desires God.  But we can pray that God will move in their lives that they recognize him and listen to him and respond to him.  Then by faith, we must acknowledge that God has given us a will and though he accepts all who come to him, he does not force anyone to come to him.  John 3:16.  There is no guarentee we will get exactly what we ask for, no matter how many times we ask it.  God, in his love for us, knows what we need, and in his love, will not grant what will ultimately harm us.

So, I guess that is a lot of words to say that prayer works; it accomplishes much.  However, answered prayer does not depend on our fervency, our works; it depends on our relationship with the Father - how real and personal that is.  Or at least that is the conclusion I am coming to this morning.