Sunday, February 22, 2015

Lenten Reflections 2015: Reflection Three - Being in a relationship with God, what does that mean (part 2)?

Today I revive this blog as I work on a goal for this year's Lenten discipline to spend some quality time thinking about God and composing some reflections or meditations about living in this 21st Century, post modern and post Christian world. 

At first I was going to do this via Facebook, but it is too much for that medium.  Instead, I'll share here and make references to Cotton Country Anglican after posts are published.

Talking openly about God and how one lives into a meaningful relationship with him and then lives for God in this world will be the world that these reflections will explore.  I cannot walk this path enough.  I have come to realize that it is not a Lenten walk only, it is a life walk.  It is actually more than a walk, it is a journey of faith whose end is the Christ's cross, a place where the earth is always level (unlike the path leading to it) and the only place from which we can move to His open tomb and the hope of resurrection and new and eternal life with God.

I'm going to add all of the reflections so far written, three to date, but for now, I begin with number tree.  I hope that something shared here will be useful to those visiting this place.  I pray that you enjoy a blessed and holy Lent.

Lenten Reflections 2015:

Reflection Three – Being in a relationship with God, what does that mean (part 2)?



oday I am further unpacking the idea that I am in a relationship with God and exactly what that means to me and what it requires of me.  Make no mistake that I think being in a relationship with God requires something of (from) me.  In truth, I think that quite a lot is required of me.  But why you might ask?  Why can’t it be as simple as the statement that God loves me?  Why can’t my having a relationship with God be as simple as it being His gift, freely given and with no strings attached?  Two words point the way to the answer I think and those two words are free will.  But alas, the good news is that as Jesus lovingly said, My yoke is light!

My last reflection ended with some questions about “godliness”: What is it? How do I recognize it (what are its marks)? How might one become godly?  Another question occurs to me: why should I care about being godly?

It is the last question posed where I’ll begin and this will be something of a detour, but a necessary detour.  It is necessary because I cannot help but think that understanding godliness, what it means to be “godlike” or godly, is at the core of what it means to be in the relationship with God that He desires.  

Scripture reveals that God created man so that He could love us and so that we would love Him in return.  He created us for relationship, but not just a casual one.  God created us “in His image” and to be like Him.  In the beginning, in the early days of “the garden”, the process of learning to become “god like” probably was going to be something akin to what we describe as “on the job training.”  The new creation, Adam and his companion, Eve, no doubt interacted with God without much to filter their exchanges.  But then came “the fall” and separation from God.  The free association, the opportunity to observe God’s nature first hand, to learn directly from the Creator was no more.  The path to godliness was no longer to be smooth and straight, it would now have twists, turns, bumps and even some dead ends.  But it was still a path along which each of us would have to walk on our journey to understand, to know, our Creator; what it means to be “godlike” and what it means to be “in relationship” with God.  Our journey to God and the relationship that He envisions is one that consumes our earthly lives.  It is a journey marked by transformation, transformation into more “godlike beings”, what C. S. Lewis describes as becoming “little Christ’s” when referring to Christians and Christianity.

  So back to where I started: what are the marks of godliness and how do I get there? Consider this written by William Law in A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, the key is total devotion to God, in action and attitude.  This means that one no longer lives to his own will or the way of this world, but solely submitting to the will of God.  The godly man considers God in everything, serves God in everything and does everything to please God and always in ways that bring glory to God.  Pax et bonum!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Can you tell me more about God, Part II?

It is a daunting task to tackle any study of God.  How does one ever hope to truly master such a study?  How does one even begin and particularly when we look back at the quotation from Acts at the end of the last post which in part told us this about God:

“God, who made the world and everything in it, is Lord of heaven and earth. …  In God we live, move and exist.”

Even more daunting is the prospect that one could study about God and at the end really not feel that they know Him.  And beyond that, it is a bit unsettling to contemplate what knowing God may be like and particularly if we focus upon the words written in Hebrews 10:31, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

But not to be deterred, let us remember why we undertake this journey, the imperative of the journey.  God, the creator of all that is, reigns as the sovereign of the entire creation and is intimately involved in all that exists within creation.  It is therefore of utmost importance for humankind, created in God’s image, to understand that God created all things for His glory.  He created us for the singular purpose of a relationship in which He freely gives to us His steadfast and unlimited love and we in turn give to him fully our selves, to love and worship Him in mind, body and spirit.  Thus, I think it is no surprise at all that the psalmist wrote these words in verses 12 – 16 of Psalm 119:

Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes.  With my lips I declare all the ordinances of your mouth.  I delight in the way of your decrees as much as in all riches.  I will meditate upon your precepts, and fix my eyes on your ways.  I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.

With this knowledge of the essential elements of the relationship between the Creator and the created, Dr. J. I. Packer (in his book, Knowing God) tells us that we can approach the journey guided by five basic truths:

1.   God has spoken to man (revealed himself), and the Bible is His Word, given to us to make us wise unto salvation.

2.   God is Lord and King over His world; He rules all things for His own glory, displaying His perfections in all that He does, in order that men and angels may worship and adore Him.

3.   God is Savior, active in sovereign love through the Lord Jesus, the Christ, to rescue believers from the guilt and power of sin, to adopt them as His children and to bless them accordingly.

4.   God is triune; there are within the Godhead three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; and the work of salvation is one in which all three act together, the Father purposing redemption, the Son securing it and the Spirit applying it.

5.   Godliness means responding to God’s revelation in trust and obedience, faith and worship, prayer and praise, submission and service.  Life must be seen and lived in the light of God’s Word.  This, and nothing else, is true religion.

Dr. Packer also observes that the truths just listed are unfamiliar themes for far too many modern Christians; something that he observes was not always true of the people of God (even in the last half of the 20th Century).  As an traditional, Anglican evangelical, it is not surprising that he would quote from the Westminster Shorter Catechism to provide a concise definition of God (in human terms): “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.

Fortunately for us, one of the truths that Dr. Packer listed about God is that His rule is grounded in love and that love was most perfectly revealed to His creation in the person of God’s Son and our Messiah, Jesus, and it is here that Bishop Rueben Job guides us in our search for an understanding of God and His nature in his book, Three Simple Questions.  Bishop Job writes that “… in Jesus we have the clearest picture of who God is, what God does, and how God invites us to live as God’s children.”  He turns to the first Chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians who expressed it this way:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the one who is first over all creation.  Because all things were created by Him [God], both in the heavens and on the earth, the things that are visible and the things that are invisible … Because all the fullness of God was pleased to live in Him [Christ], and is reconciled all things to Himself [God] through Him [Christ] – whether things on earth or in the heavens.  He [Christ] brought peace through the blood of His [Christ’s] cross.

The beauty that Bishop Job points us to as believers in God through Christ is that in the life of Jesus we are shown without any filters and unbounded by our limited imaginations and often preconceived ideas, an otherwise incomprehensible God who is greater than anything that we can think or fully comprehend.  As Bishop Job states, “The God Jesus reveals shatters all our little ideas about God and reveals a God who is author and creator of all there is.  In Jesus we see a God who reverses the values of our culture and turns upside down our scheme of priorities, leaving us gasping at the sight of such bone-deep love, justice and mercy. In Jesus we see such bold and radical truth that we tremble in awe and then cry out for help as we try to practice the faithful way of living he demonstrated so splendidly.

So how does Bishop Job articulate the characteristics and the nature of God as revealed through Jesus?  A partial listing follows: a God choosing to be the friend of sinners and being just as comfortable with the wealthy as he is with the homeless beggar; a God who refuses to accept the boundaries that culture establishes; a God who is not swayed by popular opinion, loud adulation or noisy rebellion; a God who is not controlled by any ideology, philosophy, concept, force or power; a God who is never under our control but always free of any control and who may act and create as it seems wise and in keeping with His will (and His alone); a God who is always and forever beyond us, completely other than we are, and yet who wants to come and dwell within us; and finally and most importantly, a God of love.  Bishop Job points us to the truth revealed about God in 1 John 4:7-8, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 

To conclude this brief examination of who God is and what He is like, perhaps we might combine Dr. Packer’s concise definition from the Westminster Shorter Catechism with Bishop Job’s vision of Jesus as the true image of God to complete a portrait of God: God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, truth and LOVE.

Having at least a basic appreciation for who God is, I now move to the second question that Bishop Job poses, “Who am I?”.  We’ll address that next time.

God’s peace. <><

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Can you tell me more about God (Part I)?

When I decided to resume posting to this blog, I did so because I determined that it might be useful for me to sharpen the focus of my personal search for a close (or at least closer) relationship with God and a clearer understanding of just who it is that I profess to believe in and worship.  So where do I begin?

I suppose that as good as place to begin as any is to allow my mind the opportunity to wonder a bit to the visual images through which I sometimes see God, images such as God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, even God the unknown as He was to Moses.

Several years ago I read a book by Dr. J. I. Packer (Anglican priest and theologian and one of the theological editors of the English Standard Version of The Bible) entitled, Knowing God. Dr. Packer is an Anglican Evangelical and the premise of his work (the second edition was published in 1973) is that modern “believers” must not just know about God, they must know him personally and intimately, which means growing in one’s relationship with Him - - to know His nature and character. As Dr. Packer put it, “… we are cruel to ourselves if we try to live in this world without knowing about the God whose world it is and who runs it. … Disregard the study of God and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul.”

But simply studying about God (the intellectual act of study) doesn’t necessarily mean that after our study we will actually know God. Dr. Packer points out that simply amassing knowledge about God and developing the capacity to think clearly and talk well about principles of theology is not the same thing as knowing God. He is very direct in stating that even with all our knowledge about God, we may not know God at all if we do not take the knowledge learned and process it through prayerful meditation so that we allow God to speak to us through the knowledge acquired and to transform us in the process.

Methodist bishop Rueben P. Job, in the first section his book Three Simple Questions, addresses the same general question, “Who is God?” Right at the beginning, Bishop Job uses these words to set the stage for why we strive to know God: “Our identity is found and formed by the God we worship and serve. Our life together as Christians is discovered, held together, and lived out based on our understanding of the God we have come to know and seek to follow.” Stated another way, God is the glue of our lives and our world; without Him, we (as individuals and as a family of creation [His creation], fall apart.

This notion that God is the glue of our lives and world is why people of faith [in God] strive so to understand God’s nature and this thing that we call “the faith.” Truth be known, whether people profess “to believe” or not, my heart tells me that in those times where they are alone, perhaps down on their luck, perhaps ill, perhaps shunned, perhaps in financial difficulty, those same people long for something bigger than themselves in which to believe, to look to for guidance, comfort, strength and, in a word, love. Whether they recognize it or not, they search for God, and to know Him, and to love Him and feel His love for them.

I’m going to unpack this subject a bit more in the next post and viewed from two different perspectives or approaches, those of Dr. Packer and Bishop Job. But for now and in closing, I end this post with these words from Acts 17:23b-28:
What you worship as unknown, I now proclaim to you. God who made the world and everything in it, is Lord of heaven and earth. He doesn’t live in temples made with human hands. Nor is God served by human hands, as though he needed something, since he is the one who gives life, breath, and everything else. From one person God created every human nation to live on the whole earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their lands … In fact, God isn’t far away from any of us. In God we live, move and exist. As some of your own poets said, ‘We are his offspring.’”

God’s peace. <><

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Beginning again ...

I first ventured into the blogosphere in the spring of 2008 and did so because I felt an urge to join the roiling debate about the future of The Episcopal Church in the wake of the 2003 approval of Gene Robinson's election to become the Diocesan of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire and followed by the election of +Katharine Jefferts-Schori to become the next Presiding Bishop of our church.  From the perspective that I held at that time, I believed that both of these decisions were poor one's for the Church and I wanted to add my voice to the shrinking body of conservatives urging the Church to tread carefully before going further down a path toward the liberalization of our Church.  For the next few years I posted several hundred times on what I felt were political matters within the Church and at times I feel that I became far too partisan.  It was as if I had become a holy warrior in a battle to defend the faith and save the Church.  I was convinced I think that if a course change did not occur that I would be forced to leave the Church (The Episcopal Church that is).  Suffice it to say that I've had a perspective shift.  While I still consider myself to be a traditionalist and moderate to conservative Episcopalian - Anglican, I entertain no thoughts of leaving the Church that I love, and I have no conception of myself as a holy warrior and no charge from God to defend the faith.  Quite the contrary I am perfectly comfortable living with the tensions that currently affect Anglicanism (and really most of western Christianity) and I am very much at ease with the knowledge that "the Church" is not mine, either to own or to defend.  The Church, and "the faith", belong to God and God alone.  Moreover, He is perfectly capable of mounting whatever defense of "the faith" He deems necessary or appropriate.  Saint Paul's words in Romans 12:19 speak new truth to me: "Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath (justice) of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.'"

I took this blog down in May 2013 and originally intended to abandon it altogether and either leave blogging to others, or create a whole new blog.  I actually started to build one but have never published in it.  There was something just not right about it.  I missed the comfortable format of Cotton Country Anglican, CCA was my blog home.  And so I've returned home, done some housecleaning (including removing all of the old posts) and today I begin again.

My blog focus from this point forward will be upon the Kingdom of God on earth and my responsibility to help advance His Kingdom.  Because I am intentionally making a new beginning, I am initially focusing upon two passages of Scripture: Psalm 46:10 ("Be still and know that I am God") and Mark 1:14-15 ("Now after John was arrested Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news").

During my quiet time away from blogging I have tried to pay attention to the often soft voice of God so as to hopefully be ready for whatever He might have to say to me.  I've spent some time with Scripture, particularly the Book of Revelation and the Gospel according to Luke, and I've read a book by Western Louisiana's bishop (Jake Owensby) entitled, Connecting the Dots.  I have also begun a re-read of C. S. Lewis', "Miracles", a slow read and contemplation of two small works by retired Methodist bishop Rueben P. Job entitled, "Three Simple Questions" and "Three Simple Rules", and just recently entered into a study of how Christianity is, and has been over the last 2,000 years, evolving - the phenomenon referred to as "Emergence Christianity" (and discussed in the book The Great Emergence by Phyllis Tickle).

It is Job's little books that have been particularly helpful for me and because I have become convinced that I need to reconnect with God and to learn anew just who He is, the God of love, hope and purpose.

The questions that Bishop Job asks are these: 1) Who is God? 2) Who am I? and 3) Who are we together?  In subsequent posts, I'll talk about these questions in more detail.

The rules that Bishop Job suggests are straightforward and have done good things for me.  They are: 1) Do no harm; 2) Do good; and 3) Stay in love with God.  These too will be fodder for posts to come.

A guiding principle that I shall endeavor to follow in future post is to have them be positive in both substance and tone.  That does not mean that subjects addressed might not be challenging or controversial, but it does mean that I will strive to be objective and fair in my treatment of whatever is being discussed. It most especially means that I will steer clear of personal criticisms or of falling into the trap of attempting to demonize those with whom I might disagree.  We are, all of us, the beloved children of God!

For today I close with a few words from the hymn, "Stay in Love With God":

Do no harm by any word or deed;
do good wherever there is need.
Remain attentive to God's word;
Stay in love with God, stay in love with God.

God's peace.<><