What is the Gospel?
I was at a meeting today where this question formed one of the presentations. It’s also something I’ve been throwing around with our new CEO at TEAR Fund– what we believe it to be and the different ways it gets communicated. I’ve written on this before in…
Psalm 23: The Beauty of Repetition
This reflection on Psalm 23 has next to nothing to do with the Psalm itself and everything to do with another thought it invokes for me.
Psalm 23 would be one of the most well known and repeated Psalms I’ve known in my lifetime. It begins with those words many know so well “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters…” and later “thought I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff - they comfort me.” (NRSV)
It’s well known because it’s comforting and encouraging. It’s also well known because it gets repeated often. It’s this that I want to reflect on a bit.
I’ve mostly grown up around faith traditions where repetition, except if it’s repeating the chorus of a song over and over and over, has been frowned upon. Using a written liturgy and worse still, largely the same one every week, is considered by many to be lifeless, rote, mindless and dead. The same goes for using the same pre-written prayers regularly. I’ve even heard someone have a go at the Lord’s Prayer being used regularly in worship services.
The Futility of Chasing Celebrity
Christ belongs to the lowly of heart, and not to those who would exalt themselves over His flock. 1 Clement 16:1
Tradition holds that Clement, as Bishop of Rome, wrote this in his letter to the church in Corinth late in the first century. At the time the church in Corinth was fractured. The people appointed to lead the church had been deposed and another group of leaders set up in their place. There were factions. Clement was writing to deal with the factions and push for unity and harmony. He clearly disagreed with the change and didn’t think highly of the people who had taken over the leadership - believing them to be arrogant, boastful and self centred (that comes out later in his letter).
The line above captures a lot - what he thinks of those who were now leading the church in Corinth but also how he views the nature of Christian leadership. It should act as a cut and a challenge to much modern Christian leadership.
Psalm 22: The Wrestle Between Internal Feeling and External Truth
Psalm 22 opens with the well known line echoed in the words of Jesus on the cross - “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It then continues in the same vein through the rest of the first and second verse.
Verses 3-5 offer a counter thought in that they talk about how the Psalmist’s ancestors put their faith in God. After those verses it swings back to David’s anguish and then again to God’s closeness, using motherly language of God in verses 9-10. And then the pendulum swings again. It closes out with a lunch chunk of the Psalm being devoted to praise of God.
The Psalm is a poetic wrestle between what David feels internally and what he knows to be true of God. We all go through it. We all go through those times when life is pushing against us - I certainly do. It comes out for me when I look around the world.
Psalm 20: Where do we Place Our Trust?
Psalm 20 reads like a benediction for the king of ancient Israel - a liturgical prayer to be used by the community. I can imagine David coming to the temple to offer sacrifices before a war and this being sung/spoken by the community, or maybe upon the coronation of a king. It calls for the king to be heard, protected, supported and blessed by God. It does so based on the assumption that he will place himself in the hands of God.
That assumption comes home to roost in verse 7:
Psalm 16: A Question of Identity
Psalm 16 expresses security, joy, fulfilment and loyalty. For David, in this Psalm, these things flow from one place, His proximity to God. God is his everything - “without you, nothing makes sense.” (v2b) - he sets up the tone of the Psalm very early with these words.
He expresses loyalty by rejecting the gods others chase after in verse 4. From there he affirms his loyalty to God and the loyalty God shows to him. From this flows David’s joy, security and fulfilment. The point is that his identity is seated in how he understands his relationship with the Divine - nothing else. Of course, life circumstances can affect how he feels at any given time, as expressed in the highs and lows of previous Psalms, but the thread that runs through all of them is that his greatest sense of who he is, is determined by where he feels he sits with God.
Are You Getting it Right When You Pray?
I just read a post over at Not Ashamed of the Gospel. It’s about prayer. The basic idea in the post is that you should always put others before yourself when you pray. It offers an order for how we should prioritise things in prayer - “Father first, others second, you last.” It’s backed up by a good looking vid from Living Waters (Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron) that says that if you focus on prayer for others you’ll forget your own problem. In so doing you’ll become more thankful to God.
I desperately want to agree with the post as I believe our lives should be oriented to others just as Jesus’ was. I want to affirm it because it gives us a formula that encourages us to move beyond being fixated on ourselves. It makes perfect sense. I get the point, understand the sentiment and want to applaud it. The only problem is that when looking at the Bible I can’t entirely agree.
Psalm 11: Standing our Ground
Psalm 11 gives us David willing to stand his ground when everything seems stacked against him. He had people telling him to run to the hills because there were others out to destroy those who followed God. It sounds like the whole nation had been shaken. It would make sense to leave and chase after safety.
How often are our lives like that – everything seems stacked against us and the trouble keeps coming? How often does it seem like there’s nothing left to do but get out? I’ve got friends in other parts of the world in drawn out conflict zones who feel like that often – their efforts seem useless, it’s tough and they want to get out… but they hang in there.
Gay Marriage and Evangelicals
This is not a statement for or against gay marriage and to be clear from the outset, I won’t be drawn into that discussion here. This post is just to publicly say that I’m dismayed at the response that’s raging to Rob Bell’s affirmation of gay marriage that declares he is outside of the evangelical stream of the Christian faith because of it.
Agree with it or not, when did gay marriage become the litmus test of whether someone is evangelical (or even just Christian) or not? When did it start trumping the embrace and proclamation of the Gospel (the Good News), the Kingship of Christ, authority of scripture, affirmation of a literal resurrection, the call to salvation, the journey of repentance, the embracing of grace, the pursuit of holiness, the work of justice in the world and drawing near to God through a personal relationship with Christ?
Now, I know many will link an affirmation of gay marriage to evidence of all of those things being eroded but I think it’s actually more about the disagreement over that one issue. Having disagreements on such issues does not place someone outside of the evangelical stream of the faith.
We’re allowing a culture war to degrade our understanding of what it means to be Christian and it saddens me.