Stayed on Thee

 Devotional Theological Reflections by Bill Block

Read Bill's Bio here


There is a need, [I believe] for thoughtful consideration of the great truths that form and under gird our faith. . To aid this, a series of theological devotions are offered to stimulate those in the Christian tradition who desire to give thought to “the faith… once for all delivered to the saints.” [Jude 3]. They are written for lay people who are interested in theology.

A word about the word theology, lest it scare some. It is made up of two Greek words Theos: the word for God; and logos: which means word, or meaning. That may be a bit confusing; but remember that even ‘word’ is in the dictionary and has to be defined. Theology, therefore can be said to be the word about God, or more technically, the study of God.

These vignettes will attempt to address the major doctrines of the faith; it is hoped, in some organized way. And, it gives the reader a suggested approach for thinking theologically, under a schema which will be called, the Divine Order. It will give a handle for doing theology to those so inclined.

This material is devotional in that it aims to foster the worship of God rather than merely to stimulate the mind. It is devotional theology in that it attempts to connect the head and the heart; the mind and the emotions. The reason for this approach comes from the well known advice of St. Paul, in the opening words of Romans 12. He invites us to give our bodies (physical) as a living sacrifice, in worship. Then he continues: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.” What is more important than the will of God? What more significant task , what more practical purpose in worship is there, than discerning that will? This is to be done in the spirit or mood of Philippians 4:8,9, where we are invited to think on that which is true, just, pure, excellent, etc.

A word about method, or approach. The material is presented in small segments in a traditional “daily devotional”. This is not the best way to treat some aspects of theology. Not every theme can be squeezed into one “bite-sized” piece; therefore frequently themes will spill over into several segments.

To begin we will attempt to touch on the major points in our Beliefs lightly; that is, touching each theme with only a few vignettes; recognizing that it leaves a lot of aspects unsaid. For example we begin with only two or three articles on God., as well as Jesus Christ. Thirty or more vignettes on each of those two themes are in first draft form.

A second round of articles is envisaged where we will explore each of the themes in greater depth and length.

1. God

Where is God, is an old question that has occupied the minds of theologians, philosophers; and has been the agonizing cry of many a suffering parent grieving over a sick child.

Books by atheists have received publicity here in the first decade of the 21st century. The slogan on some public buses: “There probably is no God; so stop worrying and enjoy your life”, has caught the attention of many people in Europe, North America, and probably beyond. At the very least, this has served to draw attention to the question of God; and that is good.

The direction these “devotionals” will focus on is the “where?” question. We want to find God, in order to enjoy life, and yes, hopefully stop worrying.

As an experiment lets follow one of the great realities we know about to its (S)ource. These great, but somewhat mystical, realities include: love, truth, beauty, light, goodness, and order. All of those figure prominently in a theology of devotions, but for this short experiment, think about light. Light stands out from the other realities, in that it is more neutral, and it has a physical presence or manifestation. (It is neutral in the simple sense that it can both warm and burn.)

Can we trace light to the source? I am not a scientist, but I know that life cannot exist without light. One of the most exciting lines in the creation account in Genesis 1, is, “And God said, ‘let there be light’, and there was light”. (Gen.1:3)

[Was that perhaps the “Big Bang”, which scientists speak about?] Life was created after that.

God as light, as well as God and light, is intimately connected in the biblical writings; especially in the gospel and epistles of John. “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” (I John 1:5) In the gospel we read: “In him was life, and the life was the light of all people”. (John 1:4) Life and light are connected in Christ, the Word made flesh. “The true light, which enlightens, everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1:9)

God is in the light, in figurative language so to speak. God is the Source of light, both physical and spiritual. The physical almost melts into the spiritual.

During the day we can visualize the ‘day light’ engulfing us as a reminder of the presence and care of God. Did you ever notice how light from outside, even on the non-sunny side of the house, and even through a small window, can fill the room? That is like God, everywhere rolling back the darkness, entering our lives even though we allow only a crack in our armour or walls.

Even electricity, which provides what we call artificial light, has its source in the created order: that is, in the flow of water and the laws of physics built into the universe by the Creator.

Where is God? Everywhere! Everywhere that humans can be; and in ways that can surprise us.

“Say it again Lord: “Let there be light!” Amen

2. The Divine Order

The first question in the old Catechism was: “What should be our chief aim in life?”  Answer: “To live in God’s fellowship, enjoy His favour, and obtain eternal happiness hereafter.”

These devotional vignettes will invite reflection on what it might mean to live life under God.

As we contemplate our place in this fascinating reality which we call life, we will consider it from the perspective of the three level Divine Order: God/Persons/Creation.  In brief that means that God is First and most important; that humankind occupies the second level; which means that we are under God; and the third level is the created order – the rest of creation.

We will contemplate the Highest, and seek to meet the God of the Holy Scriptures.  How can we think about God in a way that will be helpful, freeing, joyful, and life-giving?  What kind of a response would this kind of search call for; and what kind of a relationship could develop?

The second level deals with people: you and I.   Who are we as members and partners in the human race?  Probably the strongest reality we are aware of in daily living is the presence of others.  Who are these others, so much like ourselves and yet so different?  What claim do they have on us?  Why do they have so powerful an effect on us?  We can’t live without them it seems; so how should we live with or beside them?  How is it that differentness among people is so unsettling, or even scary?   Why do we feed some of them and shoot others?  How do love and hate flow in and out of these relationships?

In thinking about the third level we will attempt to understand more adequately how to live with, and in, the created order.  The basic component there is the physical universe with its wonderful predictability, and its, at times, fearful unpredictability.  But the third level also includes that which humans have created.  Life is lived in this arena made up not only of that which we call nature or environment, but also cultures, forces, philosophies, laws and mores; and that which St. Paul referred to as “principalities and powers”, or as the NRSV translates it: “the cosmic powers of this present darkness… the spiritual forces of evil.” [Eph. 6:12].  Where did those come from?

Was the psalmist right [Psalm 8], when he said that God gave humankind dominion, and put all things under our feet?  How do we live amidst all of that?

Life truly is an exciting odyssey.  The renewing of the mind with the promise of transformation [Romans 12:2] is worth the trip.

“O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me…” [Psalm 43:3]

3. The Source

If the beginning is a very good place to start, then let us start with God.

Further back than any beginning, anything that can be seen or imagined, there is God.

Out of the mists of eternity there pulse forth light and life and love.

“In the beginning God…” is the opening word of the Bible, a book built on the belief, or even assumption, that God exists, and is good.

We who reach out for that good God discover the outstretched arms already there.  Basking in the news that we are somehow worthwhile and precious to the Original One, we embark on a quest to discover or meet that One.

This is the ultimate quest, for it is the quest for meaning and reality, for life.  In a way it is the search for our roots; for deep within us there is a strange sense that we are not simply a product of two parents who spoke a particular language, lived in a given political area, and cooked their food in a certain way.  Where is the ultimate parent?  St Luke ends his genealogy of Jesus with the words: “Adam, son of God.”

There is mystery – deep exciting mystery; for in our hearts we believe or sense that this search will lead us to the One who is altogether good, and satisfying far beyond our present thirst.

Our imagination can visualize a kind of complete goodness.  And our longing leans toward that as to some magnetic pole.

Our imagination cannot grasp eternity, but to imagine an ultimate Being, Force, yes, even Personality which is the Source of all that we know, or can know, is possible.

What marvelous things have sprung from that Source.  Can we contact and know that Source?

What was the Original One thinking when He reached for the dust and began forming?

Stretch us, O original Parent, so that we can not only long for, but also know You.

4. Assumptions about the Source

The two key characters in this life quest are God and you; or God and the human being. The plot centers pretty much on bringing those two closer together. Several convictions lie behind such a bold statement.

The first is the foundational statement that to know God is the most important assignment, or issue, on any and everybody’s agenda. Nothing else is equal to this. Jesus the Christ, said: “This is eternal life that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” [John 17:3] There is the reason for the claim that this is number one on the agenda. It has to do with LIFE. Eternal life, about which more later, is not just about something in the sweet hereafter, it is also about living to the full, which Jesus called, “abundant life”.

A second conviction is that it is possible to know God; though not, by any stretch of the imagination, completely. There are those who would dispute this. Indeed we are dealing with a Being who is invisible, and whose “footprints were unseen”, as the Psalmist said. [77:19] So it must be faced that this is far from simple. But, stay with it – there is a promised reward.

Third, then, is the conviction that getting to know God , while awesome, is also exhilarating, and completely worthwhile. This may not be our conviction at the moment, but I think we must allow it to lure us on if Life is what we seek. The writer of Hebrews has a catchy word on this subject: “whoever would approach him [God] must believe that he exists, and that he rewards those who seek him.” [11:6]

There is another almost-conviction, (perhaps more like a fairly sure hunch), that a majority of people in their finer moments, or in their heart of hearts, want to know God. If not ready to speak such theological language, many would admit to a longing to know the meaning of Life at a pretty deep level.

There is a final conviction, one already hinted at, and that is that God is longing to be found, and more than that, in some mysterious and wonderful way is looking for you and me.

If that is so, can the two characters fail to connect?

“‘Twas not so much that I on thee took hold as thou, dear Lord, on me.”

[I Sought the Lord, stanza 2 – HWB #506]

5. Knowing God

When you can explain the physics of pitch and sound vibrations, name the instruments of the orchestra, explain the major and minor scales, you know something about music. But you don’t yet know music the way you do when you begin to sing it, play it, or even hear, for example, a Beatles’ tune, or a Mozart Concerto, being performed. The former can stimulate the mind, but the latter can feed the soul.

We can learn to know much about people, but until we meet them, learn about and understand their deeper qualities, their hopes and fears, their humour and use of language, their true feelings, yes, and their quirks, we do not KNOW them. It is as we meet them soul to soul; or, as the Jewish theologian, Martin Buber said, meet them as a thou, that we can speak of knowing them.

In that knowing we also have to open ourselves and reveal our hopes and fears, our quirks and feelings; or in brief, reveal who we truly are. This kind of knowing becomes a meaningful adventure with great possibilities.

To get to know God calls for something like this; only more. It is sometimes observed that it can take decades to truly get to know one’s marriage partner. There is so much to knowing God that we can speak of this process as a lifetime adventure. A large Bible, and the witness of millions of people does not yet say it all. On the other hand, if your thoughts reach out toward God with integrity, or even just with a vague longing, the adventure has begun.

In this adventure we are allowed to take along our questions, our doubts, and even our fears. Our questions can propel us onward and shape the direction we take. Our doubts can keep us honest – honesty is integral to the search. Fears accompany all great adventures, so why not this one; as long as they do not paralyze us.

Questions answered bring satisfaction; but usually also bring up more questions. Doubts allayed develop calmness and confidence. And when fears occasionally turn to awe, the sense of knowing is enhanced.

Do you understand the change of key, or can you already hear the music sounding?

God, nothing is hid from you. Reveal yourself to us in ‘music’ that “finds an echo in the soul.”

6. Knowing God (b)

Opening the soul to God, sounds like a pretty pious platitude. Try thinking of your self as film, and your mind as the camera. After all we do have a certain control over our minds. We can focus the lens of our mind on God and then click so the film gets exposed to God.

Focusing on God is a chosen exercise; not an automatic routine. To know God one must “behold” him, to use Biblical language. The psalmist, thirsty for God, cried out: “When shall I come and behold the face of God?” [42:2]

Two things strike one when considering a line like that. The first probably is that there seems to be some intensity there; some emotional involvement. The second, not as obvious perhaps, but important still; namely that God-seekers go back a long way (perhaps three thousand years in this case). The longing for God is an ancient one.

Ponder it, God-seekers are found way back then, and they can be found in any corner of a modern city or in any mountain retreat. You cannot tell a God-seeker by uniform or by the way they wear their hair. The person beside you on the bus, or ahead of you in the cue, may be a seeker.

Some God-seekers have written about their search – their “beholding”. The accounts are fascinating. I believe that Moses was one of the greatest of these. For forty years he tended sheep in the deserts of Midian, not far from Mount Sinai. I am convinced that he meditated – exposed the film of self – on God, on life, on truth, on righteousness, on community, on ethics, etc., by the hour, nay by the day or week. The unhurried life of the shepherd, with no books or entertainment as we know it, invited deep thought. His later life proved it. Here was a true God-seeker, a God-beholder.

Time, which is a gift, is what Moses gave to the search for God with the goal of knowing God. Out under the open sky in all kinds of weather, he learned tremendous truths.

I have seen the Himalayas, the eternal snows. At sunset they seem almost aflame. Moses must have seen Mount Sinai at sunset many times, brilliant colours against an azure sky. Majesty and beauty must surely have come to be associated with God. But how did all those other insights come?

Focus -, click -, develop -, print -. display!

7. Position

In our search to understand God we often focus on what God is like. Biblical writers have given numerous metaphors to help us in this: shepherd, rock, refuge, fortress, Most High, etc.
One can also learn by musing on where God is.
A little grammar lesson can help us. When we think about what God is like, we look for adjectives, those words that describe God. Or if considering what God does, we look for verbs, words that portray action. But when we think of where God is we get to the prepositions; words that designate position. These are the little workhorses of most any language that are so crucial for clear communication: in, on, before, after, up, down, etc. Prepositions clarify time relationships, and spatial relationships. For example: is the storm coming toward us, or passing by us?
The Psalmist (42) compares his longing for God with that of a deer thirsting for flowing streams. His neighbours observing his struggle challenge him: “Where is your God?” Where indeed!
Where is God in relation to us? St. Paul has a number of interesting statements where he uses prepositions very effectively. “There is… one God and Father of us all, who is above all, and through all, and in all.” [Eph. 4:4,6]
In considering the Divine Order earlier, we affirmed that God is the highest, the first in importance; or in terms of Paul’s prepositions here, God is above all. This is basic to understanding the faith and appropriating it. If we forget or ignore this, nothing wants to come out right.
This smacks of hierarchicalism, say post-modernists; thus not a helpful concept.. And yet we deal with hierarchies all the time. They are a fact of life. They are necessary for any enterprise to move forward. In addition, whether we admit it or not, we have a hierarchy of values, Even in the most egalitarian settings where no one is set above anybody else, individuals still lead out when something needs to be accomplished.
Many of the problems in our world and society come from the lust for power by individuals, groups, corporations, nations, ideologies, etc Usually this is accompanied by a lack of recognition of the supremacy of God.
To affirm that God is above all is part of the definition of what it means to be God.
God is above the many passing phases of fashion, fads, and philosophies; above the decay inherent in much of life.
It is God’s compassion that puts God above all. His love is there for all people, not just for one group or clan. As Paul put it, God is “Father of all . . .” . .
God is above in the sense that He is One. There is no other. “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one…” [Deut. 6:4]. And yet God’s “aboveness” is a gentle kind, and those who understand it gladly enthrone Him. “Enthroned on the praises” of His people. [Psalm 22:3]
Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the world’s began to be, he is Alpha and Omega, he the Source, the ending he.” [13th century Plainsong]

8. Position (b)

“God is… above all and through all and in all…” [Eph. 4:6]

God above all does convey a certain sense of distance. To use theological language it points to the transcendence of God: the One who dwells high above the heavens.

The other two prepositions in the above quoted text emphasize closeness, nearness.

“Through all” as a location for God taxes the imagination, however. One must guard against literalism in attempting to understand this. Perhaps it is best to think of this as the hymn writer, Isaac Watts put it many years ago: “While all that borrows life from Thee is ever in thy care, there’s not a place where we can flee but God, is present there.” Watts must have had Psalm 139 open when he penned those lines.

The other, the shortest of prepositions: in, is truly intimate. This is a rich field for study in both creation and spirituality. Paul uses this significantly in the oft repeated phrase: “in Christ.”

That short phrase has enriched and inspired many seekers and writers in the area of spirituality.

We are seeking to understand more of God, and these prepositions convey the warmth and nearness; or to use the theological word, immanence of God.

For a fuller understanding of God we must hold transcendence and immanence together in a kind of positive tension.

One of the warmest names for God is Emmanuel, which means, “God with us.”

There is an Old Testament story which portrays this in beautiful imagery. Jacob was a young adult, fleeing, and in a sense rebelling. He had put a real crimp in the family: hoodwinked his ageing father, and alienated his brother. He was running away from home, and in a sense, also from God. At night, resting his head on a stone pillow, he has a dream. . .a vision of a ladder reaching heaven with the angels of God ascending and descending on it, and the Lord standing beside him.

He wakes from the dream with a new awareness, a new insight, contained in his words: “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” [Genesis 28:16]

Where is God? God is here; “in this place.” Wherever the anxious and alienated flee or hide; even “out of the country,” there God is; and the ladder is there, with God’s messengers going back and forth.

Jacob learned that God was mobile; ready to set up a ladder wherever he found himself, no matter how hard he was trying to escape. Any place can be the “gate of heaven.” [READ Genesis 28]. And to bring in the New Testament: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” [Col.1:27]

This is the immanence of God. God is present wherever we may move. Once we realize this, we begin to understand that God can be in us.

O come, please come, Emmanuel!

9. Humankind

In the Divine Order, God, the holy trinity, occupies the first level; that is, the first place. [ There will be much more to say about God later.] Humankind; that would be us, occupies the second level. It is this second part of the Divine Order which we now want to consider.

In a rather curious but palpable sense we think of ourselves as at the center of reality. We experience life from the inside out, as it were. We measure or evaluate everything by the way it affects us. This sense is heightened by the fact that the first level is pretty much invisible, and amazingly silent. So much of life in society is organized on the principle that humankind is first. Thus it is something of a stretch to think of ourselves as in second place.

Yet, it is true that almost all societies, no matter how primitive, have a creation story which recognizes that humankind was not self-generated. Modern evolutionary theory says the universe and life started with the “big bang”, but is not always clear on who lit the match that set it off.

According to the Biblical account the second level began with God saying: “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness. . .” [Gen.1:26] And so the story of the origins of humankind begins on a high note: “in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” [Gen.1:27] The second description of the origin of humankind follows in Genesis 2, and, as if to give a broader picture, tells us that “God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.”

There is not a lot of fanfare in the descriptions, coming as it does from the stylus of one who did not know about typewriters or computers. And yet some strong teachings are given in those few sentences.

We are made in the image of God. What more ennobling thing could be said of humankind? On the other hand what warning against pride is contained in the, “formed.. . . from the dust” passage? These two themes portray the tension that is there in our life on the second level.

We emanate from the first level but belong on the second. The mark of the Highest is on us, and the tug of the eternal is within us; but the space we inhabit and the tasks we have taken upon ourselves so overwhelm us that these heavenly insignias become blurred. Perhaps it is the dust that is raised.

Creator God, at your will and by your hand we were formed. May the truth of that reverberate to the very core of our being.

10. Breath of Life

The creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2, offer some profound teaching on the Biblical view of humankind. Much of this comes through in the symbolism.

We are made from the dust of the ground! Dust! Most of us do not like dust. It appears almost anywhere, and in spite of vacuum cleaners it persists. It can make you cough; it is annoying, and we consider it dirt.

BUT, God breathed into that sculptured dust lump the breath of life. [Gen. 2:7] This is a marvelous linkage, or connection: dust and the breath from God. It reminds us that we are connected to the rest of creation, all of it made by the wise Creator. The elements found in the human body are not unique; they are common. As we are reminded at funerals: after death the body returns to dust.

The more significant part is the breath of God in us. That is more than oxygen! For living is more than breathing; and therefore dying is more than ceasing to breathe. There are many other creatures that breathe in order to live; probably most. Any kind of life must have oxygen.

In traditional doctrinal terms this is saying that we are not simply physical bodies. According to Gen. 2:7, man became a living soul (being) when the breath of God entered. The word for breath used in this passage is not the common word for breath, and seems to be used mainly in connection with God’s presence.

This is inspiration. Inspire literally means to breathe into.

To have the breath of God means life on another plane. It points to a quality of existence that Jesus probably had in mind when He said that life was “more than food.” [Matt. 6:25]

Breath in a way becomes sacred, for without it we cannot remain alive. But, more importantly, it is sacred because it comes from the Creator. This is that connection that we must never forget – this connection to The Life. It is another picture showing that our life comes from deep within God. This is original inspiration.

So we are part of the earth but are connected to God. We are part of the second level in the Divine Order, but are dependent (graciously) on the first level.

O life giving Creator we live when, and as, you live in us.

11. Male and Female

Though God is One, God created two of us. Twice that creation story is given in the first pages of the Bible.

Scholars believe that they come from different authors. Genesis 1, portrays the whole colossal sweep of creation in broad and eloquent language. Whose wonder and imagination has not been stretched by the words: “Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.”? [v.3]

Genesis 2, though not as ethereal , details more the creation of humankind. It is here that man and woman are created separately. Here there is a garden, plants and animals; and it is here that a prohibition is given.

Two kinds of people are created: man and woman. Male and female, both and together, are created in the image of God. There is no hierarchy here. Both are created “according to our (is this a hint of Trinity) likeness”. In equal measure both have the image of God stamped upon them. Is this not to be seen as a strong suggestion about equality?.

The account of the woman being made from a rib taken out of the side of the man, invites puzzlement. Those who hold that woman is somehow subordinate to man, claim support for that in this account. Those wanting to affirm equality say that the symbolism of woman being made from the rib emphasizes or teaches that she is beside man as equal partner. We will have occasion to return to this question.

For now let us affirm that both femaleness and maleness are from our Creator God, and therefore it is good.

Sexuality is as old as creation. It is a fundamental reality for all living things. Thus we would do well to recognize its awesome significance, for in God’s providence it becomes the means of perpetuating life. . . procreating that which God declared as good. The survival of almost all forms of life is dependent on the sex act.

Therefore also sexuality needs to be regarded as holy, for it bestows upon us the power of creation – the power to generate life. It is holy because it resembles God in creativity.

Maleness and femaleness is a gift, and sexuality a thing of beauty and solace. It introduces variety into the world of living things. The loneliness and sameness is removed (see Gen. 2:18-21).

The challenge of opposites is put in place, not as opponents (enemies) but as complementary. The idea of opposites complementing instead of competing, has tremendous theological importance. This, which is God’s path to peace, is posited right here “in the beginning”. Two can become one. To this also we will return.

Help us to affirm, and gratefully cherish and preserve this gracious part of creation.

12. God's Idea

You and I, that is humankind, is God’s idea.

The study of origins is fascinating; and perhaps the most intriguing is where we come from. Somewhere in the teen years the questions: who am I? where did I come from? dawned on us, or were thrust upon us. This is one of the fundamental human searches.

If we are God’s idea, then for what reason or purpose? That gets us deep into the mysteries of God, and we soon realize that we may be out of our depth. Were we created for God’s joy or benefit; or for our joy? Or was the creation of humankind a grand experiment to see how a creature with limits would live and operate; to see to what heights of goodness and beauty we would rise?

Did humankind just naturally burst forth from the ultimate Creativity, somewhat in the way a piece of music bursts forth from a Mozart or a Haydn? Could that colossal and creative energy of God be contained? Scientists tell us the universe is still expanding. Was that creative energy love? Human reproduction at its best and highest is an act of love, and with the birth of a child much more love is generated and expended. Was humankind a result of God’s love?

Did God want fellowship; interaction with responsive and alert beings? Is the Afro-American poet-preacher, James Weldon Johnson, right when he suggests that God created us because God was lonely?

Or, are we simply one of the latter day spin-offs of the “big bang” which happened 30 or 40 billion years ago?

What we do know about ourselves is that we did not choose to exist. Slowly, perhaps quite suddenly one day, we realized: “I am here!” We also had no choice about the colour of our skin, the shape of our nose and ears, our gender, etc. Nor could we choose our parents or the country of our birth.

What we can affirm, or at least ponder, is that we are an idea of God. To get at that, in a way, is what these meditations are about. We know that we can think about things like this, and make some decisions about them. Therein already lies an interesting truth to lead us on.

We can say, “count me in on this; I’m glad I am here.” How about thinking about God’s thoughts after He created humankind: “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” [Gen. 1:31] How good was it? Are we allowed to ask that and think about that? If so, then we do have some choices, even though they won’t change the shape of our nose.

Creator God, I did not choose to be here, but I can and may choose to LIVE. Thank you!

13. Knowledge of Good and Evil

“Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” [Gen. 2:17]

The tree is something of a mystery. We are intrigued by this mystery. Why did Eve and Adam succumb to its lure? Why did they not of their own accord build a high wall around it?

That the tree is symbolic most would agree. But, what does it stand for; what does it mean? It has been suggested that it represents the test of obedience, or of faith. Our first parents needed to be tested as to whether they would obey God; whether they believed God. That does not sound unreasonable to us from this point in history. Life itself is a test.

Another answer may be found in the name or designation of the tree: “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil“.

To know something in the Biblical sense is often more than getting information, or even understanding. It refers to something deeper and more experiential. Perhaps the most widely known instance of this is that this is used for the sex act, as in Genesis 4:1, “The man knew his wife Eve, and she conceived. . .” This may be seen as a euphemism, but it is generally accepted that it is more. To know someone in this sense is pretty intimate knowledge.

In the case of the mystery tree the issue is knowledge of good and evil. In other words it implies intimate and experiential knowledge first hand, one could say.

The other crucial word in the name of the tree is the one we easily skip over; it is the word: and. This small word ties together the two opposites: good and evil. It identifies what lies behind so many temptations we face: the desire to have it both ways. We admire the good, enjoy its benefits, and in no way want it eradicated from our communities; but the lure and excitement or thrills that evil seems to promise is there. What is so terrible about dabbling a little in the latter? It is like the philanderer who keeps a mistress but does not want to leave his wife and family. He wants to have it both ways..

Good and evil are opposite, but are close together. Evil, CS Lewis said, was basically a corruption of the good. Much of what we experience as bad comes when a “good” is carried to the extreme. A simple example: food is good, but too much of it is harmful; even to the point of shortening life.

You can’t be intimate with good and with evil. You can’t undertake a journey that goes in opposite directions. The mystery tree represents that deep and universal truth. To attempt it is to choose the way of death.

The choice is between freedom and bondage!

14. It happened in Eden

Such a lovely and pleasant place! Eden. And then this tragedy; – or what? This is classic story telling; succinct and incisive. We are left almost aghast with the sudden turn of events; especially if you can imagine reading this for the first time.

The first deed of that original pair is an act of disobedience. This is terrible. No wonderful story of how idyllic life was in Eden. Why? Would that have increased the sense of tragedy perhaps? Now it resembles a television mystery, where the crime is committed in the first few minutes, and the balance of the time is spent solving the mystery. Except here we find ourselves still left with trying to sort out this shocking paradox.

As we look at the scant evidence we are hard pressed to find the motive. At first, at least, it would seem there could be none; not in such ideal conditions. The motive surely was not hunger, for they could eat of everything else. The beauty of the forbidden food rankles. I imagine that they had just eaten and were looking around for an unusual dessert. The motive may have been taste.

Like modern affluent patrons in a restaurant, moved not by hunger so much as hoping to experience a new and perhaps exotic flavour.

But as we look more closely we discover that they want everything; they cannot put up with one solitary restriction. This is serious. They have so much, and yet think a little more would be so nice. And it gets worse. They want up; they are intrigued and drawn by the idea of being wise like God. There is a word for that.

Coming back to court in this breaking of the law, one can ask: “was this a premeditated act?” This may be more difficult to establish than the motive. It is a chosen action. This is not forced upon them, though there is some influence from outside, as it were. There is no evidence that Eve discussed it with Adam before taking the bite; but neither is there evidence that Adam said, “hold it, honey, we have to think this through, and come to an agreement here.”

Then there is the question of accomplices. If one wants to blame the woman, as has too often been done in history, then it looks as though the man was a willing accomplice.

Willing is the key word. The wonderful gift of freedom is used to choose that which is against the best that God offered. This is the story of life.

In the cool of the day, You come O Lord, and ask: “Where are you?”

15. East ... of Eden

Choices lead to consequences. Banishment: “east of the garden of Eden”, where an angel is posted to impede access to the “tree of life.” We too live outside of Eden; no question!

In other words we live in an imperfect setting where we often do not sense God walking with us in the cool of the evening. We humans are a race that can think and imagine far higher than we can produce, much of the time. However, humankind still has accomplished marvelous advances that have benefitted millions upon millions. At the same time we have to admit that humans can sink lower in degradation than any other species. Atrocities committed in connection with wars, civil or ethnic, exploitation of poor workers by multi-national corporations, etc., serve as horrible proof of that.

The invitations and seductions toward the degradation side of the axis are part of everyday life. Thus it is “east of Eden.”

One of the realities of life east of Eden is that the forbidden has multiplied. That is, the repertoire of that which can lead us downward, or to ruin, has compounded. More ways of doing evil have been invented; more ways of choosing death. More destructive possibilities exist today than ever before. If we are to believe the scientists; most all life forms could be destroyed, and our home planet be made totally inhospitable through a nuclear holocaust.

The basic temptations remain the same: pride and idolatry. Like Adam and Eve we would like to be first; or at the top. This can take various forms, in the secular, as well as in the religious realm. It is still pride. Or, we are easily tempted to be led by something that is less than God; to give ourselves to some cause, or ideology that is part of the created order which we are to subdue. This can be idolatry. The temptation is also there to be taken in by a charismatic or flamboyant person: a political ideologue, entertainment celebrity, or religious fanatic. Is that not a form of idolatry?

Granted these may sound like extreme scenarios that don’t worry us. Yet we all know of cases in recent history. More commonly these temptations begin in less drastic ways, here east of Eden, with something that can look good, or taste fine, or provide knowledge that will put us ahead of others. Once we have the edge, or are ahead, the temptation is there to exploit it.

There are numerous trees best left untasted, east of Eden.

It is a jungle out here Lord. There are thorns, but also lovely roses.

16. Divine Order Revisited

Take another look at the basic meaning of the Divine Order. It means that God is first. . . first any way you want to look at it. Humankind is on the second level, under God; and we are all loved equally by God. The Created Order is on the third level. It includes all that God has created, plus all that humankind has built, structured, or organized. It must not take the place of God. All of this is not written in stone, but is a way of understanding Christian theology.

I stand here east of Eden – alone, and tentative. That is not quite the same as saying: “here I stand”, as Martin Luther did in the 16th century. What am I doing here in this world, surrounded by the teeming millions; and a rocking terrestrial ball underneath my feet?

What is this space I occupy? Underneath is the earth. Perhaps I own a small piece of it , perhaps not. But I am allowed to stand here and live here. This beautiful earth inspires and nurtures me. However, I am aware of ice cold winds, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes. I am not in control here.

Beside me stand people: family, friends, and neighbours. Most of these neighbours I have never met; for they live in every country of the world, and number in the billions. The languages and dialects they speak are unnumbered, and their ways of doing things, and their sense of humour, etc., form a complex mosaic of existence. They influence me, and I have an effect on them. But I am not in control of them, for they are beside me, equally loved by God

The people beside me on this round earth have formed all kinds of alliances, organizations, clubs, churches, professional and labour associations, political parties, governments, nations, armies, power blocs, lobbies, denominations, faith groups, etc. These have profound and shaping power over me, but they are part of the “created order”, and raise the question: ‘who has ultimate control here’? I am not in control of these. Do they control me?

Over and around all of this, and over and around me there is the realm of the Spirit and the Creator God.. I am not in control.

I stand here and marvel. Aware of all of this I am overwhelmed. What am I doing here? I stand here. I have a place, but for what purpose? Do I have any assignments? Or, am I an accident along with billions of others like myself?

I stand here, but I can’t just stand. I want to understand. I want to understand why the universe is like it is; and, what moves I have. I want to know more about God; and if possible even meet and know that God..

O God, if you are “above all, and through all, and in all”, let me discover some of your footprints.

17. The Long Wait

God had spoken through the prophets: persons in tune with God were given messages for the people. To that one should add: for the people who were looking for such messages.

One of these prophets was the man named Moses. His encounter with God was the most vivid, and one might even say, dramatic, in the whole storied history found in the Old Testament.

During the sojourn in Egypt the children of Israel, because of their growing population which threatened the Pharaohs, were put to slave labour. In an attempt to arrest this growth in numbers an order was given that all male children were to be killed.

The baby Moses was rescued from this by an Egyptian princess and subsequently raised in Pharaoh’s household. As a grown man he became aware of what his people were suffering and in an attempt to help, he killed an Egyptian. This forced him to flee for his life. To make a long story short, he ended up in the wilderness of Sinai, tending flocks of sheep for a wealthy farmer.

He had years, much of the time alone with his thoughts one imagines, facing the vicissitudes of nature, and dealing with the unpredictability of sheep. What does an intelligent and educated man do under those circumstances? Go mad, write poetry, or think? You be the judge.

There God found him, called him, equipped him, and sent him to lead His people out of slavery, and to the promised land.

Several huge teachings come out of that story – recorded in the book of Exodus and beyond. First, that God wants people to be free. Slavery is not in the will of God. The exodus was a salvation event that foreshadowed that greater freedom from the slavery to sin still to come.

Second, in the giving of the Ten Commandments, God’s Divine Order is reinforced, especially level one and two, namely: that God is first, and there is no other; and that humans are subject to God. Further, the whole tone of the commandments is that humans are of equal value, and that the relationships between and among humans is to be characterized by fairness and kindness.

There is a third aspect that comes from this great event, and that is a promise. “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.” [Deut. 18:15]

This promise became a key peg on which to hang the hopes and dreams of the people of God. Sure it was forgotten from time to time; its sustaining power seemed to diminish and fade during periods when God was ignored. But prophets who came later kept up the hope that God had not spoken His last word.

We, who live this side of the Christ event, probably cannot imagine what it was like, waiting and wondering. Has this prophet already been born? After all he was to come from among us.

“My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning.” [Ps130]

18. The divine in the Divine Order, includes Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit

When do we come to Jesus Christ, the reader may be wondering? That is a question that was asked thousands of years ago, though not in that exact form. The question rather, was: “when will God send His Messiah”?

The writer of Hebrews begins his letter this way: “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.”

Who were these people to whom God spoke? Are they not our ancestors? What kind of people were they who were tuned in to pick up messages that did not come in the bazaars or markets of the day, nor from traders on camel trains? And what was God saying to them, or trying to say? Was it messages of dire warning of things to come, or was it a message of hope, a message of MORE?

Certainly in the Old Testament there is this hoping and waiting for God to break in in a new way; to do a new thing. To some it seemed to take too long. They were like people “walking in darkness”. The prophets, Isaiah and Jeremiah, encouraged such people with promises that God had not forgotten them.

All of us know about hoping and waiting; a kind of walking in darkness. Will it get worse before it gets better, one wonders? And sometimes it did, and does. Here, early in the 21st century, with dire fears about the world’s economy, political instability in many regions, and ecological disasters, that is the mood.

Life was far from rosy in Palestine. There had been serious wars. The temple in Jerusalem had been desecrated. The Roman conquerors moved in and occupied the country.

THEN God broke in, in the form of a baby born into lowly circumstances. There was no fire surrounding a mountain, as at Sinai. It was like God quietly coming in the back door. The manner in which He came is loaded with meaning – hope comes in unexpected ways.

Here lies the mystery of the incarnation; the mystery of how God’s ways baffle the wise, but find their way into the hearts that are waiting, open and honest.

Silently a new era dawned. . . a ray that would encircle the earth.

Is it true that it is darkest, just before dawn?

19. Bad Press, Good News

It is a sad fact that here in the 21st century the subjects: God and good news don’t seem to be comfortable partners.

The Almighty gets a certain amount of bad press. Severe weather which the insurance industry does not want to cover is called “an act of God”. An increase in the publicity atheists are drawing is a factor. Then there are the shame factors: abuse suffered at the hands of some of God’s servants; power struggles and competition within church and para-church structures; and of course the so-called ‘religious wars’ through the centuries.

There was plenty of bad news in our world some two thousand years ago. It was not just prices going up; crops or businesses failing. Those could be bad enough. A foreign power occupied the land of Israel. This spelled loss of freedom and oppression. There were soldiers everywhere, new taxes; and then a census, which meant more costs and time, since people had to go to their home region to register. Try to put yourself into that place. The foreign soldier standing there could demand that you carry his pack to where he wanted to go.

It was a time begging for good news.

“When the fullness of time had come” the Bible reports, ” God sent his Son,…” [Gal. 4:4] There is that word, God; where is the good news ?

The gospeler Mark, writes: Jesus came “proclaiming the good news of God“. [1:14] Mark does not record accounts of the birth of Jesus. He gets right to the message the angels gave the shepherds, namely the good news – news of a “great joy”. Once you mention joy, good begins to make sense.

“Good news of God”! That line has such a lovely ring. And part of the beauty of it was, and is, that Jesus himself was, and is, the living good news. The other part that made it really good was that it meant now and here!

“The time is fulfilled” said Jesus, “and the kingdom of God has come near. . .” Into that land occupied by the mighty Roman Empire, Jesus comes and announces another kingdom (empire) is here. . . the kingdom of God. . .the God who is love.

It is difficult for us, at this distance in time, to grasp how good that news was; and especially also how new, to say nothing of how radical.

To “get” that we have to realize that it is the same today: we have to believe that Jesus is the good news, and then do what Jesus calls us to do. See Mark 1:14,15.

“Not to condemn, but to save. . .” [John 3:17] how good is that?

20. Image of Invisible God

The invisible God has been a challenge and puzzle for many since day one. The divine wisdom behind this remains a mystery. People in various cultures have tried to make visible representations with carved images. Often these say more about the artist’s state of mind, than about a deity. The people of Israel were told not to make any physical representations of God. An image that humans could fashion, and then enshrine, could not begin to encompass the Divine. Indeed it could mislead.

So we live with a God whom we cannot see. Or do we?

One of the strongest statements on this subject comes in the writings of Paul: “He (i.e., Jesus Christ) is the image of the invisible God . . . ” [Col. 1:15] Jesus is God made visible. It is as simple and profound as that.

Jesus is none other than the central character of the New Testament, a book read and loved in countless human languages. Jesus is the second, and the only visible, member of the trinity. So the visibility must be significant.

The disciple, Philip, said to Jesus: “Show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus’ response, which may well have informed Paul’s theology, is: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father . . . Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me . . . ” [John 14:8f]

John the Baptist, from prison, sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “are you the one who is to come”? In response Jesus said “tell him what you hear and see”: that is, people are healed and the good news is given to them. Then He adds:

“blessed is any one who takes no offense at me.” [Matt. 11:2-6]

Some of the people at the time stumbled over this. It sounded arrogant to them, and even blasphemous. To the post-modern mind that sounds arrogant, and “offensive” as well.

Kierkegaard, the Danish theologian/philosopher, suggested that people are offended by Jesus the man claiming to be Son of God. They are offended in one of two directions. Either that God would stoop so low as to take on human form, or, that someone would make such a high claim.

Who is this Jesus, this One they called Christ or Messiah? Who is this one whom Stephen the first Christian martyr in his dying vision saw “standing at the right hand of God;. . .” [Acts 7:55]? Is He the one John the revelator wrote, had a “face. . . like the sun shining with full force.”? [Rev.1:16]

The fascinating thing is that Jesus, in the gospels, does not come across as arrogant at all. Indeed, rather the opposite is true. There is His generally soft demeanor; the consorting with simple people, and the shushing of people whenever He did something for them. He did not seek publicity, or special concessions. Are we embarrassed, indeed “offended”, by this?

Is this perhaps what God is really like?

“The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory . . .full of grace and truth.”

21. MANIFESTO - The Offense

A manifesto is “a public declaration of intentions, motives, or views.” So says Webster. Usually it aims for clarity and conviction, and, at times, can have a tone of boldness. Thus, it can also look like “leading with your chin”, to use a metaphor from boxing.

Jesus’ speech in the synagogue of Nazareth, where He grew up, has that kind of flavour. It can be described as Jesus’ Manifesto. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” [Luke 4:18,19]

Luke records this as the first major incident after Jesus came through the temptations of Satan in the wilderness. Having faced Satan, Jesus is ready to address His hometown.

So far so good. Then He added: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” That would have been stunning, but then Jesus mentioned a number of other statements about God’s care for needy people beyond their own town and country. The people were enraged and attempted to kill Him.

This is not an auspicious beginning for a new ministry.

It was in this same synagogue, most likely, that Jesus had been taught the great redemption story in the Old Testament: how God sent Moses to lead the children of Israel from bondage to freedom. Break the chains! God is on the side of the poor, God is for freedom; God’s program is larger than you think. Jesus aligned himself with that theme from one of Israel’s great prophets: Isaiah.

Talk about being offended. What offended the folk in Nazareth? Was it the claim to be the “anointed” one of God? Not immediately; though that certainly offended Jerusalem, as we learn at His trial on Maundy Thursday. Nor would they criticize these motherhood kinds of statements: concern for the poor, for captives, the blind and oppressed.

The “penny drops”, when Jesus reminds them of how God’s heart for the poor and oppressed, as well as the rich, in the history of Israel, reached beyond the people of Israel. That brings out the rage.

Jesus’ manifesto was that He had come to proclaim “good news”, and pointedly named the “outsiders”, the people on the margins; the people we at times refer to as “them”.

Was there a deep unchallenged basic conviction among the people that God belonged to them? So the implication of what Jesus was saying rattled their assumptions. That can be unsettling, even unnerving.

We can test our own assumptions. Are we at ease with the idea that God is concerned for dictators, suicide bombers, pimps, prisoners, homeless, or whatever the chains binding people are. Jesus’ manifesto is still in force, still the program we can support.

“By your Spirit send your power to our world to make it whole.”

22. Grace and Truth

‘How will I begin my writing’? Matthew, Mark, Luke and John must have pondered. How introduce the main character? Luke’s introduction is an earthy nativity narrative widely loved, but John had something else in mind. He comes with loftier phrases, more theological, even mystical. Jesus, is the Son of God, “full of grace and truth.” And, “we have seen his glory.”

Truth is essential, and truth is basic. Without truth things begin to rot and break down. The truth makes free, the gospel says. It is difficult to overestimate the value of truth, but try this: imagine graceful truth.

Truth separated from grace can be fairly ordinary, or even boring. A window can be built square with clear glass, that lets light in, and keeps the weather out. That can be a true window. But that window can be made graceful, by changing the shape, the frame, and the style and colour of glass. It is still a true window, but now it has grace also.

Truth apart from grace can be cold; even scary. To tell us that we are sinners is truth; but to supply the way out of that condition is grace.It is the combination of truth and grace that is beautiful and opens creative possibilities.

Jesus confronted the rich young ruler with the truth about his condition, but gave the invitation to the solution. That was grace. [Mark 10:17-22] Without truth there can be few remedies for faulty conditions; but usually more than truth is needed to realize the remedy. That is where grace is required.

Jesus combined grace and truth. Jesus spoke and revealed the most important of truths but did so graciously. The parables of Jesus were a powerful yet gracious way of presenting truth. The parables lured people into further thought, which gave them time to figure out and then respond, allowing them to save face. He was always out to save and liberate, rather than knock down or judge.

When grace and truth come together it is love. It is creative love that can alleviate situations that seem intolerable. St. Paul had a “thorn in the flesh”; some physical malady that caused him a certain amount of grief. The Lord told him: “My grace is sufficient for you” [2 Cor. 12:9] The truth, as he came to understand it, was that this malady served a useful purpose. Even when the truth is not pleasant, the promise of grace covers the discomfort.

In and through Jesus Christ, essential truth and saving grace come together. That is amazing!

Dear Lord, we add a stanza to the hymn: “Fairest Lord Jesus” – as blender of grace and truth.

23. Over the Waters

Interlude: With this brief introduction of Jesus behind us, we turn to the subject of the Holy Spirit. This is a reminder that this first series of articles serves as a kind of overture, or precis. The larger and deeper treatments of the overall theological teachings will come later, the Lord willing. Many more articles are in first or second draft form.

See also the Introduction, above  [esp. The par. on Method, near the end].

#23 “Over the Waters “

In the classic Christian tradition the third member of the trinity is referred to as the Holy Spirit. In order of appearance on the stage of the Bible, however, the Spirit comes second: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.” [Gen. 1:2]

Before the light was created, there was the Spirit of God. Who can fathom the dim, but eternal past? In trying to sort out such depths we must tread carefully and humbly.

What did that Spirit desire or achieve as it was “moving over the face of the waters?” Is this earliest text there to make way for the idea of the Trinity? Does it prepare us for that arresting word later in the chapter when it says? “Then God said, “let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” [Gen.1: 26] Why does God speak in the plural? Is this a “royal” we?

Was the Spirit of God in motion preparing the great deep and the waters for the coming of the light? Did the Spirit turn on the light? Did the Spirit draw back, or rend the curtain which allowed the eternal light surrounding God to explode forth into the universe?

It must also be noted that the Hebrew word behind spirit, could be, and sometimes is, translated wind or breath. Thus the wind of God, or breath of God, was moving over the face of the waters. Here one gets a sense of how close God is to his creation. In spite of that closeness it must be noted that it is unseen – the wind, as well as breath, is invisible. However, it can be felt.

Beyond what we see, or can see, there is a spirit realm that is real. It exists and is very significant in the effect it already has, and potentially can have, on our lives. This basic truth has to be grasped if we are going to begin to understand “the mystery of our religion,” to use Paul’s line. [ I Timothy 3:16] Or, to put it another way: if we are going to get it. Those who say only that which is visible and tangible is real cut themselves off from a lot of potential life.

This realm of the spirit is not out there somewhere in a walled territory. It does not have physical boundaries. It is accessible from anywhere, and it can penetrate the darkest corner of the heart, or unconscious, where our vilest characteristics live and plot.

The Spirit is! The Spirit is Presence.

24. Over the World

In the deliberations about the Godhead, or the trinity, within the Christian tradition, there is, or has been, more questioning, different understandings, mystery, and even controversy, about the Holy Spirit, than about God, or Jesus Christ.  I realize that statement is debatable also.

There is a large segment of Christian denominations who have chosen as their name, and thus to some extent their identity, from Pentecost: that is, from the sending of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2).

Indeed Pentecost was a watershed moment for the Church. It pulled together a group of disheartened disciples, and reshaped them into a dynamic force in proclaiming a new way to God. The unusualness, the drama, the miraculous aspects of that day have impressed God’s people ever since.

One motivation or idea that event produced , is the desire to affirm that it should be repeatable, even normative. We should experience such miracles all the time. Why don’t we?

That why question has led people at various times to try to replicate it.

There have been other great movements of the Spirit in history, but the Pentecost event in Jerusalem remains unique.

One of the results, among others, has been singling out the speaking in tongues, which happened at Pentecost, as the key sign of the Holy Spirit’s activity.

In thinking about this issue while looking at the broader picture the Bible presents of the Holy Spirit, I have been struck by how wide-ranging the activity of the Holy Spirit is.

Ponder this partial list: a) from Jesus: the Spirit is showing the world (talk about broad) that it is wrong about (or convict of), sin, righteousness, and judgment. The Spirit will guide Christ’s followers into the truth (all truth); proclaim what is to come; glorify Christ; remind them of Christ’s teaching. He will be a friend, comforter, and advocate. b) from elsewhere in the NT: cultivator of “fruits”, (see the amazing list in Galatians 5:22); giver of spiritual endowments called: gifts, services, activities (a partial list in I Corinthians 12:6f, where, incidentally, speaking in tongues is one among a good number of others); giver of assurance (Romans 8:16; I John 3:24); helps believers when weak and in need of prayer (Romans 8:26,27).

Taken together, while noting that it is not a complete description, it is huge. We can easily underestimate it. We underestimate it because the Spirit usually does not shout, but works quietly in mysterious, even unpredictable ways. Note what Jesus told Nicodemus: “God’s Spirit (or wind) blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” (John 3:8)

Listen for the sound!

25. The Unseen Realm

Like God, the Holy Spirit is invisible. It is an act of faith to seek and make contact with the Holy Spirit. In a society where the physical and visible is so potent and important, some people shy away from serious thought about this unseen realm. Those interested in the realm of the Spirit are reminded that this cannot be tested or measured scientifically.

Yet it has been observed somewhere that when people deny or forget the importance of faith, they often become superstitious, and may develop interest in the occult, horoscopes, etc. Yet does this not also deal with unseen forces; those of darkness? Paul writes about “the spiritual forces of evil”. [Eph. 6:12 NRSV] A fascination with the “unseen” is common. People who seek the highest are drawn to God’s reality. Those who are not seeking the highest may be drawn in by those darker unseen forces.

“Faith is … the conviction of things not seen.” [Hebr. 11:1] It is the conviction that there is a huge reality out there somewhere, which is super-important, which pre-dates our world and supercedes it. This reality is not easy to define since it is rather far beyond us, but we can say some things about it. This unseen reality is where the blueprint for the human soul and spirit was made. This unseen reality has a standard of values – of what is true, good and beautiful – by which it exists or operates. These can be termed spiritual principles which impact our lives on earth. These all promote and enhance life, rather than death. They are eternal; that is, they do not change or deteriorate.

God is the author and builder of all of this. Jesus came to draw attention to this spirit life: to explain it, promote it, and invite people into it. The Holy Spirit, is God with us in the present, whose coming was promised by Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit is the representative of that Godly spiritual realm here on earth. The Spirit’s task is to draw humankind into living contact with that great reality, in order that we can live within its ethos. The Holy Spirit is a great gift to humankind; the wind of good news; the breath of God upon us. The Spirit is the Comforter from Jesus who stands with us, and seeks only our good.O wind of God move across the troubled waters of our souls.

26. God With Us

It is interesting that, according to the gospels, Jesus seldom spoke of the Holy Spirit until the last days before his crucifixion. There are several earlier actions of the Holy Spirit mentioned, especially around the birth narratives in Luke. But Jesus’ teaching and promises regarding the Holy Spirit only come to their fulness in the Upper Room where Jesus spends the night before his trial and death with the twelve. [John 13-17]

It has been suggested that the disciples did not need the Holy Spirit when they had Jesus there in person. This is not a totally satisfying answer since Jesus could not be present with all believers as he was with the twelve.

In Christian tradition the Holy Spirit is seen as the third member of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity, not mentioned as such in the New Testament, is difficult to understand. On the other hand, Jesus’ teaching about the Holy Spirit is really quite forthright. That is what is important.

Jesus’ promise of the Spirit is given in a time of crisis – a time of a major paradigm shift. In announcing that he will not be with the disciples much longer, Jesus tells them of the comforter, or counselor that he will send. The shift would be from the physical presence of their master to the voice within.

On that last evening in that upper room there must have been a good dose of fear, or at least worry, on the part of the disciples. They must have been aware of what was brewing in Jerusalem. The whispered rumours about plans to “get that Jesus” will surely have reached their ears. They had been seen in the company of this Jesus many times. In addition, Jesus warned them plainly that they would be facing opposition; not just from people expressing other views. The time would come when the mood would be such that leaders would try to kill them, and would claim they were serving God by doing so.

The Holy Spirit would be there to counsel them and to lead them to the truth. When facing trial the Spirit would give them the words to speak. The Spirit would remind them of what Jesus had taught. And to underline the power of this newness, the Holy Spirit would be in them. . . God within.

The Holy Spirit was present at the creation (see Genesis 1:2), and for sure since then; but a new kind of presence after the ascension of Jesus.

Counsel, truth, advocate; what a Presence!

27. Kingdom-Spirit

A problem for the early Christians in Rome lights up for us the colour or texture of the spiritual realm, the unseen reality. Paul is addressing people who were exercised over observance of rules about holy days, and eating practices. [chapter 14] The people were not agreed on which days were to be observed as holy days, and also about whether certain foods were not to be eaten.

The problems themselves may not seem like problems to us in our day. However, there are issues of faith and/or practice about which there are disagreements in the Christian church. Now as then there are those for whom strict and literal observance of rules is important, and there are those who seem more interested in the spirit rather than the letter. This can lead to judgmentalism which puts a strain on the unity of Christ’s Body.

Paul says that knowing where one stands is important in these kinds of questions, but does not seem to come out on any one side. But then he does come with a statement which gives perspective, and puts the issue on a new level:: “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval.” [v.17,18 NRSV] Can this help us today?

The phrase: “kingdom of God” is another way of speaking of the unseen reality, or spiritual realm, briefly described in the previous article. Paul names three towering and wonderful realities which are major themes in that kingdom: righteousness, peace, and joy. And then he adds: “in the Holy Spirit.”

The Holy Spirit operates out of that kind of kingdom thinking, or ethos. Righteousness, peace and joy is what the Spirit encourages. Those are kingdom characteristics that can shape our thinking and acting here and now.

Paul says, “Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.” [vv.19,20] This I believe is in line with the Spirit. I don’t think the Spirit promotes quibbling over dietary laws, or criticizing our brothers and sisters. That does not build people nor bring peace. The Holy Spirit supports those who pursue righteousness and peace. This is the path to joy. It is exciting to know that joy is a central theme of the kingdom of God. Joy comes second in the list of the fruits of the Holy Spirit [Galatians 5:22]. Hooray,. . . or even Yippee! And, Hallelujah!

And all the people said: let it be!

28. The Created Order

If humankind was made out of the dust of the ground, where did the dust come from? In the first creation account in Genesis 1, the light, the earth, birds, plants, and animals were created before humankind.

This is the place to think again about the third level of the Divine Order, and that is the created order. This is the setting in which the Creator has placed humankind. We humans who make up the second level or second order, are surrounded by, and have our being, within the third level.

Life is not only lived in relationship with the other (persons), but very significantly also in relationship with the non-personal created order. Humankind lives in daily vivid contact with a host of realities that are non-personal.

There is first of all the world we live in/on: the earth, surrounded by air, atmosphere, and a universe that, in spite of new explorations and learnings, remains a shadowy mystery. This “world” includes that which our Creator God has given, especially that which we refer to as nature. Here we draw our shelter, food and clothing, plus much pleasure for all the senses. Thus this world includes the geography we occupy, and that which the earth produces.

It gets more complicated. The created order includes also that which humankind has created out of the raw materials provided by the Creator. A few examples show that our life revolves very much around this created order. There is the basic exercise of food preparation: cooking and baking. This involves finding, or planting, harvesting, processing, etc. the raw materials. The building of shelter for homes and business involves further processing of raw materials. A final example is the manufacturing of a vast array of products to enhance life: medicines, machines, tools, weapons, instruments, vehicles, to name only a few. A high percentage of our time is spent with such production and use.

There is a very significant third aspect of the created order, and that includes that which can loosely be termed culture. This includes such important items as philosophy, or the whole range of ideas and values. It includes art in its many and varied forms; institutions, governments, organizations, business, entertainment, and many more such items.

In some sense the created order is a rough equivalent to what St. John in the First Epistle refers to as “the world”. [I John 2:15; 3:17] In some biblical texts “world” is portrayed as basically negative. Here in First John it is more neutral; and John’s sincere warning is, “do not love the world.” He knew that

the “world” was a seductive place.

All of this together touches our health, our occupations, our values, our leisure. Much of this we experience as positive. But it remains seductive. In short it influences, or indeed shapes our lifestyle. To a large extent it makes us who, and what, we are.

We give thanks for this marvelous setting: this created order. Help us to be good citizens.

29. The Beautiful

The curse of nature that came with the Fall of Man [Genesis 3] does not appear to be total. This parallels the insight that the image of God in human beings was not lost through the fall. One might speculate that with Christ’s coming nature experienced some redemption; yet Paul writes in Romans 8:19-21, of nature’s bondage to decay; and, how it awaits redemption.

Nature, like some seductive lover, is very sensuous. Or, to put it in calmer, though somewhat trite, language: creation is beautiful. We experience it through our five senses. At times it feels like there is a sixth, especially when the experience is accompanied with a great deal of pleasure. Creation/nature surrounds, yea envelopes us. We stand on it, breathe it, smell it, and bathe in it. We taste and are nurtured; we hear it and are enchanted; we behold it, and are entranced.

Think of the vast skies on a crisp winter night in Canada. How I marveled on an autumn night in the mountains of India, the moon lighting up the clouds that lay in the valleys below us. Experience the tide come pounding in over a period of hours; see the setting sun paint the eternal snows a soft saffron colour; taste a tree-ripened peach from the Okanagan Valley; or hear a purple finch in the spring – and one is completely in awe.

But nature is also wild, dreary, foreboding and frightening. The psalmist invites us to come and behold the desolations God has brought on the earth. [Ps. 46] There are hot deserts, tornadoes, avalanches, ice fields, tsunamis and floods; – awesome!

It is understandable that the ancients worshiped nature. They did not understand the forces of nature to the extent we do today, and so were in greater awe of them. Conquering nature was not a concept for them. They saw themselves at the mercy of nature while striving to live in harmony with nature. But they were also enchanted by nature. The Old Testament refers to heathen worship in the groves on hilltops.

Humankind succumbed to this beauty, in a way. The story of humankind’s fall into sin [Genesis 3] takes place in a lovely garden, under a fruit tree beautiful to look at. “Good for food”, and “a delight to the eyes” is Eve’s perception. At least two of the senses are involved here.

Adam and Eve’s “YES” is a portent of things to come. Moderns are not above worshiping nature, or that which is in the created order.

The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims the Creator’s handiwork.

30. Struggles with the Created Order

Who is in charge?   Am I truly free; free to choose and act?

Am I dependent; and if so, to what extent? Am I totally at home in this created order, or am I, as the spiritual had it, “just a-passing through”?

The created order, that which God has made and that which humankind has made, dominates our senses, our experience, our living. Fruit of the earth and water, nourish our bodies and our minds. Man-made institutions and organizations order our lives.

This is where we live and move and have our being. Many daily decisions make up this life; and from time to time major decisions are forced on us. Challenges abound. Forces that are powerful, promoting opportunities that are seductive, come at us from a variety of angles.

The possibility to “sell”, or let slip, some, or even all, of our freedom exists; that is, to take direction from some part of the created order. The Bible refers to this as idolatry. Recall that our assignment from our loving Creator God is to be a keeper of the earth, not a worshiper of it. God alone is to be worshiped. Basic life directions come from God.

A common and sad example of bowing to the created order is addiction. Alcohol, drugs of various kinds, shopping, pornography, are examples we all know about.   Alcohol, as well as many drugs are produced from nature – from God’s good creation – and have positive uses. But when persons become addicted to some variation of these products, or, even when in lesser ways they begin to dominate or control, then the Divine Order has been inverted.

Some also become addicted to food, and eat inordinate amounts. The possibility of becoming a slave to our appetite is another way that something from the created order may take control.

Others worship or serve “mammon”, as Jesus said. Most any “thing” that money can buy; luxury goods, super holidays, posh houses, travel to exotic places, to mention a few, has the potential of becoming an idol; or, of absorbing our time, energy and passion.

Most of these items are part of, or grow out of, God’s good creation. They are good, and can and do serve useful and creative purposes. However, when any of them absorb us, or control us, then we have given up our God-given place, or assignment. We no longer have “dominion”. That is, we have given up that great gift God wants all to enjoy: the freedom of choice.

This is the “stuff of life”; here all are involved. This is the every day.

We live in the tension between enslavement by, or, keepers of, the created order.

31. Keepers of the Earth

During the 1990s two major Earth Summits (Rio De Janeiro & Kyoto) have met to discuss, to put it bluntly, the fate of our planet. In this century there have been several more such summits or climate change conferences, with one planned for Paris, in 2015. People from many nations are realizing with some sense of panic that the assignment from the Creator, that we are “keepers” of the earth, is for real. Many, including scientists, now fear that humankind is a conqueror and consumer rather than a keeper. The purity of the earth has been desecrated, and it is no longer a really safe place to live.

As mentioned elsewhere, the accusation has been made, that this unhappy circumstance can be blamed on how people have understood God’s assignment to humankind to “subdue the creation and have dominion” [Genesis 1:26-29]. Or is the assignment itself to blame as much as people?

It is true that for a large number of people nature is there to be conquered, controlled, and bent to our liking. Other societies have seen themselves more a part of nature, and have stressed peaceful and grateful coexistence with it. We know which of the two seems to have won.

But has humankind subdued and/or conquered the created order?

Many centuries ago, the prophet Isaiah wrote: “The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant.” [24:5]

Consider the argument that we have not subdued it, but that we, in becoming materialistic, have been subdued by it. Humankind, or at least large segments of the species, has worshiped, or been so enamoured with things, goods/possessions, that driven by greed, we have put the material above or before God. Getting as much material gain from the wealth of the earth as possible is a theme running through much of modern business and industry. There is a huge irony here. At best we have badly misread the assignment. We have not “kept the garden”. We have polluted it. Now it appears that the earth is, in a sense, fighting back, and is no longer such a welcome and safe place. Isaiah, in the lines following the above quote: “Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth dwindled, and few people are left.” [24:6]

One sad and arresting reality is the fact that the main consumers and worst polluters of the planet are the wealthy “have nations”, where Christianity has been the dominant religion. How did we get off the rails?

The “futurist” visions of living in sealed spacesuits, or under huge glass domes, are things we don’t want to think about. Could it come to that? How far east of Eden will we have to move? Can we visualize guards, with “flaming swords”, guarding the entrance to the dome? Will we become fugitives from nature?

Lord of the garden and the field, become ever more the lord of our desires.

32. The Powers

We as human beings have that great gift from our Creator: freedom of choice.  This is our greatest power.  And yet most of us are much more aware of the limits to our power.   We do not have the power to make laws, ours is but to obey them.  We are told how much tax we have to pay.  Once in four or five years we can vote for the people who make our laws, and tax us, but we also recognize how little power that ends up being.

Many of us also had a choice in the vocation we find ourselves in; but after that the “boss” took over.  The limits of our power soon became clear to us; and sometimes we chafed under that condition.

These two common powers: governments and employers, we understand quite well.  But there are other powers out there, much less defined and subtle.

For example, where can we locate the powers that rule or determine our tastes?  Think of tastes in clothing, furniture, household goods, automobiles, houses, etc.  What is this power?

It is the power to make you desire to be “in fashion”; or at the least to make you feel dowdy or uncomfortable in a 2 year old blouse/shirt, or necktie, even if it is clean, neat, and in good repair.  Who can so bend our minds that we laugh at clothes we felt good in just a few years ago?  What is the real and practical advantage of designer jeans, or designer anything?

The issue is not “up to date” versus “dowdy”, but what power is it that makes us feel good when we are up to date? Someone has said, “The strongest dictator in the world is fashion.”

And, here is the kicker: if we can be moved to cater to fashion, what else can we be moved to do or believe?  Do we accept ideas and values as uncritically as fashions?  Are the ideas we house, and the values we hold, really our own, or simply the manipulated result of some unseen power?  What accounts for the power of a Hitler to excite and move the masses?

Whether the necktie is wide or narrow is not a moral issue.  Paying $50. for a necktie may be.  Whether the blouse is teal or saffron in colour is not a moral issue; but throwing the teal blouse away, to buy the saffron, may be.

Where does this fashion dictator reside?  Are these “the cosmic powers of this present darkness”, which Paul refers to in Ephesians 6:12?  Where in our soul or character is the connecting point, or entry point, for this invisible power?  Are we awake?  Who is in control?

Giver of freedom, that divine gift, equip us to claim and use it

33. The Second Level

The most compelling reality we are aware of is the presence of others; other persons. We were born of, and raised by, others; and ever since we find ourselves bumping into others at every turn. There is very little of significance that any of us can do without having to consider others. They are everywhere!

In the Divine Order we humans experience life on the second level as the challenge of getting along with others. Living means relating. Life is relationship. This getting along with, is both enriching and frustrating; hilarious and maddening; but always a challenge. The most satisfying and joyful experiences of life come through relationships. By the same token there is potential for pain and exasperation, enough to drive people to despair and even murder or suicide. Most murderers apparently know their victims well.

There is a crucial aspect of the Divine Order that must be stated, or restated at this point. These others are our equals! The importance of this can hardly be overstated, if we are to understand the Divine Order; and if we are to make life on earth meaningful for all. This, all are of equal value, is a faith statement, but it is supported by two basic considerations.

The first is that it seems to flow logically from the statement in Genesis 1, that humans were made in the image of God. As far as we know, that is the only model or pattern God used. In other words there were not two or more levels of persons created: some higher and some lower. Therefore all are on the same plane.

The second is that Jesus supported this in the so-called second commandment of love: “you shall love your neighbour as yourself.” [Matt. 22:39] This saying puts the other on par with our self. The call to love our neighbour as our self indicates that in God’s sight both are of equal worth.

This is a faith position, but not one universally held, sad to say. Few, it would appear, live by this credo. There is something within us which balks at this. We have an uncanny, though usually denied, wish to be among the chosen few, or, at least, to be a bit ahead of the other. This may be the original sin; if one wants to name something that is almost universally experienced.

But the potential for goodness, healing, and peace, if this equality were truly believed, is revolutionary. Ponder it! Pray your way into this truth.

Take us back to the beginning, and to Jesus, to learn this most critical truth.

34. The Other

You are there across from me. You are the other with whom I have to reckon. You exist beside me; my equal.

The other breathes the same air I breathe, walks the same sidewalks and halls, and we share the fate of the same planet. The other stands in the same queue, in front of me, or behind me. We may be in line applying for the same job or position, or seeking a package from the food bank. The other may be trying out for the same part in the drama, as I, or seeking to fill the same position on the team. The other may not seem friendly.

The other is that attractive young woman or man who makes my heart skip a beat. The other is the Sudanese father looking for an edible root for his hungry children. The other is an official who may have some power over some aspect of my life.

The other is one who believes he is entitled to more than I, and may even take that for granted. She may also be the one who silently envies my privileges and advantages; or, with some inner pain, notes the fact that I walk without a limp. I stand between and beside both of these.

The other buys from me; or perhaps sells me bread. He bakes it and I eat it. The other may have a role designation: client, customer, tradesman, celebrity, hobo, foreigner, friend, saint, boss, nuisance, potential spouse, colleague, competitor, enemy, etc. But all of those descriptive terms are labels that diminish the other in some way. Martin Buber, a Jewish theologian/ philosopher, says we make an IT out of people that way, and prevent what he calls an “I-Thou” relationship.

I used to fly several times a year. Rubbing elbows with others is unavoidable and therefore acceptable; but, should I interrupt their reading? A number of times conversations began during the final descent and landing, and I discovered fascinating persons. For several hours they were an IT, and then for 15 minutes they became a THOU. What a missed opportunity.

When we see only the one aspect of a person, we may encounter only a fraction of what that person really is. We may only want to exploit that person, that customer, and could care less about his struggles with paying the rent, or the achievements of her children. The meaning of Jesus’ commandment, to “love our neighbour,” may not even come into the equation. Who is being robbed?

The other is a person made in the image of God. Is this a giant leap?

We are surrounded by countless interesting persons, all of them made by You, O God.

35. Differentness

Differentness challenges us. It is, at the same time, both exciting and frightening; enriching and threatening. As we meet more and more others we become aware of differentness.

The first and most universal differentness we encounter, as we grow up, is that of gender. We are not the same as our sibling. That difference was highlighted in many ways as we grew up, some of them quite annoying. In certain settings one gender had advantages denied to the other. Perhaps we wondered about this, but perhaps we just accepted these as normal.   Much grief, in many countries of our world, has come because of this.

But there are other “differentnesses”, such as language, for example. How frustrating to run into someone with whom you cannot communicate. Learning one language is a huge task, and there are thousands of languages and/or dialects. This language barrier keeps people at a distance and we become impressed with differences rather than with what we have in common. Sometimes we stereotype people of other cultures and languages. We say: “the Italians are emotional”; “the Germans are uptight”; “the French are proud”, or whatever. With a few generalizations we can put a whole people into a box, and thereby hinder the potential for rich relationships.

If we add to that one difference, the reality that we live in different nations/countries still more differences surface: forms of government, economic systems, educational philosophies, cultures, values, etc. At some of these points our home nation may be in conflict, or in competition with another nation. Our newspapers, TV, and propaganda may exaggerate the differences, or bad-mouth the others. To justify our prejudices, and our position, we assent to such views, and the world becomes a more hostile place.

What are we to do with differentness? Is it a curse or a blessing?   Is that which is different about other peoples and cultures due to their perverseness? Does it grow out of their shortsightedness, or even their malice? Or, does it serve as a challenge, sent to test the character and depth of people? Does God love these other people who speak a different language and hoist a different flag? Are they my neighbours? Am I expected to love them as I love myself?

Your wise compassion, O God, encompasses the East, the West, the South and the North.

36. Unevenness

“Unevenness” is experienced in a variety of ways. The most grievous, or most keenly felt area is probably in the standard or style of living, epitomized in the tar paper shack down the hill from the mansion.

The perspective from which we observe all this tells the story. Imagine yourself as “Dives”, with poor Lazarus lying on the boulevard near your driveway, visible from your dining room. [Luke 16:19f.] Lazarus is lying because he is disabled. Because of that he has no job. He is hoping for some leftovers from your table. You wish he would have come tomorrow, for today you are entertaining friends for dinner, and you want them to see the beauty of your front yard while they enjoy their meal of…

Imagine yourself as Lazarus. You can see into the dining room, where the table has just been set and some serving dishes are already in place. You hear the dinner bell, and people begin assembling. The chatter is amiable, sprinkled with laughter. Dives is at the head of the table and they bow to pray. You cannot hear the prayer. You bow too, and pray . . . Then Dives looks out of the window and sees you. He beckons to his servant and whispers in his ear. You wonder whether the servant has forgotten the stuffed mushrooms. The servant walks to the window, and . . .

New in India, years ago, a colleague and I went to Delhi to pick up the goods, packed in barrels and boxes, we had shipped from home. Our stuff was piled on a platform in the railway station ready to be loaded for the trip to the International School where we were to work. My colleague went to look after some paper work, and left me to look out for our goods.

Delhi railway station was buzzing – everything looked old, but it was new to me. People were not dressed very well, particularly a group of coolies nearby eying me. I wondered if our goods were safe; I wondered whether I was safe. A friendly young coolie, with bare feet and shredded shirt came to talk to me. He told me how fortunate he considered himself to be, and how happy he was with a job, and a wife and child, in a village not far from Delhi. My impression was that that was all he had. The pain and irony of that scene has never left me: a poor Hindu telling a rich Canadian Christian how happy he was.

In more recent times this unevenness was vividly portrayed in the difference in “wealth” between the 1% and the 99% in our world. Marches and protests in hundreds of cities around the world drew attention to how unjust and destructive this is. Millions out of that 99% are now desperately seeking to escape danger and poverty. They are storming the gates of Europe in hopes of finding safety and life.

Unevenness is not comfortable. It is embarrassing sometimes, and sometimes confusing. It can get into our consciences.

We may have mixed feelings about the poor, the unemployed, or those on welfare. Why can’t they all work as hard as we and become more like us? The “Lazaruses” in our society have “lucked out”, and that for a variety of reasons. Many of those reasons seem beyond their control. Try to imagine what that must be like. In what sense are these others our equal?

Show us what it means to respect those whose living standard is lower, as well as those whose living standard is higher, than ours.

37. Servants

“The greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves.” [Luke 22:26] This word of Jesus addresses one of the most common kinds of unevenness in human relationships: the desire to be at the top.  The disciples were disputing as to which of them was the greatest; so Jesus said that the exercise of lordship was out of place among his followers.

This is not a simple issue.  From this incident in the gospels some have exalted servanthood, and become proud of serving.  You can develop a competition as to who is the best at serving.  It is a little like the monk who observed that, ‘the Dominicans might be more learned, and the Jesuits better missionaries, but in the area of humility (we) Franciscans have them beat.’

Jesus does not say that the one who serves is greater.  The servant can allow that the one being served is greater.  Jesus did say: “I am among you as one who serves.”  With that He says at least two things: a) that deciding who is greatest is a non-issue; and b) that serving the other is worth pursuing.

The answer to unevenness can be found here.  Trying to sort out who is the greatest can lead to disputes, jealousy, and pain.  A rather painful experience of this came when I was on the staff of an international Christian school.  For the honor awards we as staff were asked to pick the “best, all around, student”.  I thought of the pain that would come to many at the expense of exalting one.  I refused to participate, and instead posted a letter of protest. The irony was that I probably considered myself better than those who participated in this.

Did I not say earlier that this is not a simple matter?

History has numerous examples of people killing, even their children, or siblings, in order to gain the seat of power.  The antidote is to serve others.

Still it is a stance of humility.  The test of servanthood, someone has wisely observed, comes when we are treated as servants.  One young man told me that the most difficult aspect of being a waiter in a restaurant was to be taken for granted by the customers – to be treated as dirt.

But servants are not without power.  Are they not the ones who keep the machinery functioning?  Where would prime ministers and presidents be without civil servants?  Many human enterprises would break down without those who serve.  Could one not bring two of Jesus’ statements together and say: ‘servants are the salt of the earth’?

By serving one imitates Jesus and points to Him.  Serving demonstrates evenness; it can make the “rough places a (smooth) plain.”

It is the ‘Foot-washer’, who calls us to wash the feet of others.

38. The Flow

The Divine Order, or God’s Order (interchangeable), that forms the basis of the theological approach in these “devotionals”, should not be seen as static, or stuck in a rigid structure.  Our God is alive and life-giving.  This implies movement or action, and for want of a better word to describe that action, I suggest the term: flow.

Flow is a verb denoting an action of movement; as a stream flows.  It can also be a noun in that one can describe the flow, as fast or slow, east or west, etc.

In describing the great theological/doctrinal realities of the faith, we want to see them in the spatial context of God’s Order, as the flow between the different levels.  The interaction between God and Humankind, between humans with each other, between God and creation, and between Humankind and creation can be seen as flow, as in flowing like air currents, or a river. [The river metaphor is not as clear since its flow is in one direction.]

This flow was begun by God at creation, and it has never stopped.  Visualize this as a current of love that communicates the beauty, truth, and will of God for all that God has created.  One can imagine this in a general way enveloping the earth and its people; but one can also experience this as more specifically directed at ourselves as individuals.

This flow affirms God’s keen and unending interest in us.  It invites a more conscious, many-faceted and vibrant intimacy with God.  Human, or self-centered living is not the only way life can be lived.

We find ourselves plunked, as it were, in the midst of a setting with all kinds of assumptions about how to live well, or how to live the good life.  These assumptions may need to be reexamined.  At the very least we would do well to reexamine our own assumptions about life.  Is there a place for God in our life’s equation?  How can we catch onto the flow, or how get into the flow?

The flow from God includes an impressive list, parts of which come to all, almost like givens; also some which have to be appropriated for them to take effect.

The givens would cover such things as the light and life-giving warmth of the sun; air, which in some sense is the breath of life; rain to water the earth; the bounty of nature in the form of forests, fruit trees, fertile soil, oceans and lakes teeming with fish, minerals in the ground that provide many more life staples.   Much of this is also beautiful, good tasting, and pleasant, providing a certain zest that goes beyond the necessities of toil and sweat.  And at another level there is that huge given: free will, which is the right and ability to make choices in many aspects of life.  This is not an exhaustive list of the flow that is intended for all.  But it does say a good deal about the character of God.

Then there is that flow which requires some special receptors.  This would cover such things as special graces, forgiveness, peace, a sense of the presence of God, gifts, the church – the body of Christ, the sacraments or ordinances, directions and assignments, freedom, and citizenship in God’s kingdom; and, much more.  The sum of all of this could be said to be love.  Such a God!

Imagine a current of love flowing from the heart of God!

39. God-ward Flow

There is a back and forth movement in the flow between God on the first level, and humankind on the second; a kind of stimulus and response interaction, or flow.  God is the main Initiator, but God also responds to the actions of humankind.  Humankind is more the Responder initially, but as maturity comes there is more initiative as well.

The God-ward flow begins with a kind of dawning.  When humankind awakens it is like the dawn of a new day.  The dawning is a growing consciousness of a spiritual realm; that other and unseen reality.  It is a growing conviction that there is more than simply that which one can experience through the five senses.  It is difficult to say where this comes from, or what accounts for it.  Certainly some of it comes from the people among whom one grows up.  Many simply accept the idea of the unseen on the basis of what they are taught. Mystery, somehow, always remains for thoughtful people who want to know more.

The next step seems to be a growing sense that this spiritual realm is significant, and important.  It must be stated that this is probably not a universal experience.  It appears that some persons never get to this stage. Some seem to have little interest, and/or don’t take the time to pursue it.

This growing sense of the spiritual realm may raise more questions than answers at first.  What is the connection between that realm and the universe as I experience it?  What is my relationship to that realm?  Is there order and meaning?  Is there a great mind behind that realm? A curiosity to find answers develops.  Is there a way of making contact?  The mind becomes a kind of telescope, probing the skies.

Is this curiosity a response to some, as yet unrecognized, signal from that other realm?  Or is this due simply to a curiosity built into our very being?  Is it a great desire to know about where we come from; or, is there a part of our make-up that is incomplete without this spiritual component?  Where can we find the original plans?

This first response is a reaching out.  Maybe out of curiosity it is true, but there is a kind of urgency to it.  If there is a higher power, I want to know about it.  But why?  Why am I experiencing this?

This first response of humankind then can be described as a search, a probing to find out if that other realm can add anything to the meaning of life.

Show us the instrument that can focus our heart & mind on that other realm.

40. Salvation

At the confluence of the God flow and the human response there can come the realization of YES.  It began with the God flow gradually coming into focus.  There is goodness streaming out of God.  It is the dawning, the recognition that this goodness touches me, and indeed is meant for me, that invites my YES.

This has to do with covenant, for it is a transaction between God and the human, but the broad word that covers all this is salvation.  It is one of the finest concepts in any language.  Almost every novel worth reading sets up a problem, frequently a difficulty with the potential for great loss and pain, and then proceeds to develop a solution.  The hero or heroine is somehow “saved”.  It may be a tragedy in which the hero dies, but is not defeated by that.  We look for this to happen in our own lives and are grateful when somehow we are rescued from danger, disease or disaster.

The Bible has a rich array of stories of salvation, and a variety of ways of describing this large and wonderful truth.  We will take some time to explore those descriptions.

In the Divine Order salvation is the event where God and humankind meet in joyful acceptance.  This can be portrayed as YES; a YES on both sides.  It means to be embraced by God, and to embrace God in return.  There is no finer reality this side of the river.

One is reminded of the covenant of marriage.  In the German marriage liturgy of my childhood there were no “I will(s)” or “I do(s)”.  The minister would delineate the marital vow and then say to the couple something like: “if you are willing to assume this obligation, then answer with an honest, Yes.”

Simone Weil writes of this as consent. It is probably the most important power we have: to desire the good, which really is God, and give our consent – our Yes.

The apostle Paul put it this way: “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him (Christ).” [2 Cor. 1:20 RSV) This identifies the Saviour.  In the coming of Jesus God extends His loving offer of restorative forgiveness to humankind.  In Jesus Christ the promises of God peak and find their fulfillment.  Life in fullness is the prospect.  Then it is our move.

The stage is set for our Yes.  But a whole new set of forces appear on the stage.  The invitation to a yes implies the possibility of a no.  Tension is introduced by the conflict between choices.  What appeared to be a simple and obvious choice for Life, becomes complicated by other options, temptations, fears, and doubts.  We become aware of the reality of evil and the powers of darkness that are desperate to make their pitch for our life.  The pitch may seek to portray attractive options, and question the reality of God’s claims and promises.

Freedom which is such a heady gift suddenly becomes scary.  What huge implications hang on this choice: this Yes or No.  Stripped down to basics it is the choice between God and the forces of evil.

In the valley of decision, stand by me.

41. Reconciliation 1

There is a picture, seen long ago, that lingers in my memory.  It is of Adam and Eve, with shoulders bent forward, faces toward the ground, leaving the Garden of Eden.  You may have seen it also.  It may be famous.  In any case it is a poignant portrayal of extreme disappointment and sadness.

The sadness lies in the separation from the joy and peace of Eden; and more to the point, the alienation from God.  An angel with a flaming sword guards the way to the tree of life. [Genesis 3:24] Gone are the pleasant conversations around naming the animals.  No more hearing the sound of God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.  Life is now dominated by toil, sweat, thistles and dirt.  This is followed by heartache as children quarrel and brother kills brother.

What becomes clear as we ponder this desolation is the necessity for reestablishing relationship with God.  Alienation is not a happy state.

This alienation is an ongoing wearing experience.  When humans, living on the second level of the Divine Order, turn from God and take their cues from society, or from the third level the Created Order, everything goes out of kilter.  The result is pain, sadness, and yes, alienation.

Broken relationships are probably the most devastating experiences in the lives of people.  The fallout is measured in bitterness, physical and mental illness, hatred, orphans, violence, etc.  Alienation from God leaves humankind in a kind of limbo; it sets us back on our own resources.  From a spiritual point of view these resources are usually very limited.  Like the “prodigal” we are in a strange country, far from home and with little nourishment.  In some sense we are out of sync with the universe. How hopeful then, that far too rare concept, reconciliation.  It is more than a concept.

With this as backdrop the picture of salvation as reconciliation is so full of promise.  This doctrine is most clearly stated in 2 Corinthians 5.  “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them . . .” [v.19].

“In Christ”! – that is: in the sending of Jesus Christ to walk this earth and proclaim the love of God.  God’s purpose was to heal the broken relationship, to invite the world back into a restored relationship. This is good news.

Pride sometimes hinders the process of reconciliation between people.  Not so on God’s part.  Christ humbled himself and took the form of a servant to live among us and demonstrate the love of God.  God’s willingness to not “count trespasses against us” is the further move that offers the forgiveness, which is necessary for reconciliation.

Another way of portraying this is that it leads to peace with God.  The ending of the familiar benediction given to Aaron, the brother of Moses, to bless the people with, is: “the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.” [Numbers 6:26]  It is still there in the New Testament benediction: “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” [Phil. 4:7]

“Be reconciled to God”: a lovely proclamation, a loving invitation.

42. Reconciliation 2

A culture is shaped, to some extent, by the vocabulary it uses, or develops.  Some words seldom show up even though they exist.  In Canadian Law, especially in the practise of criminal law, the word forgiveness, is noticeable by its absence.  As a young Indigenous man reminded me once: “commit the crime, do the time.”  He saw no other possibility.

In the book, Comeback, John Ralston Saul, indicates that in aboriginal culture, when moral codes are broken, the community deals with the offender, and the hoped-for goal is a kind of restoration.  In other words, the culture is shaped by this possibility.

South Africa, as late as the last quarter of the 20th century, was infamous for its apartheid policy, which categorized the black citizens as second class.  Why second class? one could ask.  The cynical reply might be: because there was no third class.  The darkness of that history is well known.  Significant aspects, left-overs, are still ruining lives.

Into that dark culture an old, almost forgotten term, was reintroduced: reconciliation. It came in a pregnant title; three words: Truth and Reconciliation.  The goal was to do away with Apartheid.  The goal was to remove the concept and reality of two levels of citizenship.  The goal was to face the terrible wrongs that had been committed under apartheid; which meant facing up to the truth of what had been done; not in general, but also in particular.

Amazingly the goal went even further.  Reconciliation between individuals, and indeed the races, was the ultimate goal.  There are many inspiring stories.

One huge result is that that action reintroduced the term reconciliation to the whole world. I am sure that wonderful word appeared in headlines of all respectable newspapers around the globe.

The concept or phrase: Truth and Reconciliation, nay the idea of its possibilities has echoed into many dark corners.  Even into Canada, where the government appointed a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2008, to deal with the racist legacy of its colonial past. The Commission dealt with the terrible history of Residential Schools, and the more recent “murdered and missing aboriginal women and girls.”

The implied and suggested answer/solution for this dark history and present pain, is RECONCILIATION. There is much to forgive.

Reconciliation is an ancient word, and St. Paul claimed it as a deeply spiritual term, describing the coming together in harmony between God and humans. (2 Corinthians 5) God wants it; God is the initiator.  It is the theme song of the Kingdom of God.  Christ calls us to it.

Racism, ethnic and religious, as well as political differences alienate one community from another.  Our world is badly out of tune with God.

Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, encapsulates the truth and reconciliation reality.  It begins with alienation, when the son grabs his inheritance and leaves home.  His father’s “Aufwiedesehen” hardly registers. In the far country truth dawns on him, and he longs for his home, his father.  The father sees him coming and organizes a celebration.  What are they celebrating? the older brother asks.  The answer: Reconciliation!

In terms of our basic theological grid we called: God’s Order, reconciliation begins between God and humankind; but reconciliation between humans is the next order of concern.  It is about the doctrine of peace.

Can you think of something more necessary for our world, than reconciliation?  Perhaps it can’t happen without God.

With God the impossible becomes possible.

43. Knowing God

There is another description of salvation which in some sense rises to the top, or encompasses the pictures or metaphors, like conversion, reconciliation, new birth, etc.  Each of those emphasizes an important aspect of salvation.

This larger description comes from the warm/wonderful words of Jesus: “this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” [John 17:3]

Eternal life is the vibrant result of salvation.  It is a new inflow from God that is more than lasting forever; it refers to a quality of being that cannot rot, rust, or be destroyed.  It begins in the now, not simply in the next world.

This life is something one possesses or can possess in the present.  In the writings of John this kind of language, emphasizing present possession, is used.  For example: “He who has the Son has life.” [I John 5:12]  Our Lord said, “he who hears my word and believes Him who sent me, has eternal life.” [John 5:24]

This life, in simple but profound terms, is somehow equated with, or results from, knowing God.  One needs to ponder more deeply the meaning of knowing, or to know.   In a time when knowledge is increasing at explosive speeds one gets the feeling that one knows less and less.  Who can keep up?  Someone has said that we know less and less about a lot more.  This may apply in relationships with others in our fast-paced lifestyle.  It is clear that there are different levels of knowing others.

The term to know is a term of intimacy, and is used that way in the Bible.  Sometimes the word is used for sexual intimacy; or knowing comes as a result of such intimacy.  But knowing someone implies much more than that.

Every one of us has a secret chamber where we keep the most precious parts of what it means to be “me”.  In our relationships with others we reveal more or less of that according to the amount of trust we develop.  In a genuine friendship this works in both directions. The other reveals the self to us as trust grows.  Thus it is that only true and trusted friends, and probably only those we have known for a good length of time, truly know us.  To know someone is precious, and in a way, even sacred.

We are persons, and we learn about our relationship with God, from relationships with others.  John writes for example, that if we do not love a brother whom we have seen, we cannot love God whom we have not seen. [I John 4:20] And earlier in the same chapter: “he who loves is born of God and knows God.  He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.”

Another way of understanding this powerful language is to remember that God is the source of Life.  We have to get to the Source of Life to realize Life.  The Source is not some abstract entity, but a living reality brought to a sharp focus in Jesus Christ.

Eternal life is a quality of life, which is a present possession.  It is lived, or  realized, in love for others.  It is nurtured by fellowship/communion with our God.

To know is more than knowledge; to know God is more than life.

44. The Neighbour

We turn now to living on the second level – our life with others.

Most of us don’t choose our neighbours.  They were already there when we rented the apartment, or bought the house, on Third Street.  We did not ask them for permission to move into their neighbourhood.  This simple reality is a real test of humanity; and it is a test of faith, or faithfulness.  The saying of Jesus: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”, though it has broader applications, does apply here.  It applies significantly because of its immediacy, or “everydayness.”

The basic affirmation that all people are of equal worth is established and upheld by this word from Jesus.  This commandment establishes a very fundamental value with wide implications and applications.  It sets a norm for all human relationships and interactions.  It implies simply but clearly that “ours is not better”; or more basically, that we are not better.

This relieves us of the pressure to keep showing how or why we are better.  Proving a lie always takes a lot of effort.  It allows us to take the energy saved there, and put it to use in the service of that neighbour.

The genius of this “second commandment” of Jesus lies in this that it shifts the attention away from self, to the other.  Psychologists assure us that preoccupation with self is not conducive to mental health.

We have the gift of imagination from the Creator.  With this gift we are able to put ourselves into our neighbour’s shoes, or to “walk in his moccasins”.  This is a must if we are to see the other as a person like our self.  This needs to be there before we can love our neighbour.

Unless this happens there is the danger of being condescending: “those poor people, how they need our love.”  That is not the same as loving our neighbour as our self.  Is this why a lot of social work, and so called “charity” and “welfare” in society, as well as “mission” done by the churches, is not very effective?  Or, consider how we view those in whose eyes we are the poor; who are much wealthier than we.  We may be tempted to think that they don’t need our love.

It is a critical question of values.  Can we begin to grasp that the other, the neighbour, is as worthy of God’s love as we?  It helps if we know ourselves loved by God, and it helps if we know ourselves as sinners. It helps if we remember that God’s love is not like a pie that has only so many pieces.  If your neighbour comes to the table, your piece will not be diminished.  Some bakery, some Baker!

Help us to learn that we cannot own You, nor hoard your love.

45. People of God

You and I, and indeed all of humanity finds itself  between God above, and the created order beneath.  In God’s Order, the second level has to do with humankind.

The earth is teeming with people who are differentiated by race; by language, tribal, national, or ethnic groupings; by economic positions (developed or developing), and by countless other subdivisions.  Some of these categories are natural, as in race and language.  Others have evolved, or have been created by the actions of humans.  Some of these have come through positive goals and actions, while others have resulted from hostile actions such as colonial empire building or wars of conquest.

Everyone on earth finds her/himself personally and palpably involved in one or more of these groupings.  Membership/citizenship helps to define who we are.  It gives a sense of belonging, which potentially gives meaning, and perhaps even direction, to life.

One of the outstanding factors about all of this is the “manyness”, or the diversity.  In defining themselves humans can, and do, say, “we are not like them”.  We have a common humanity, but after that it gets separated, divided, categorized, and pigeon-holed, till we can find a place to file anybody.

These teeming billions on earth, no matter what affiliation or membership gives meaning to them, want, and even long for the same basic matters: food, a place to live, security or peace, work, and freedom.  And many of us, want a lot more; or we want each of those items in abundance, and/or with style.  These are the things that drives the politics and economics of nations, governments, institutions and corporations of our world.  It is not always pretty.

From the first level of God’s Order there comes this call/invitation to another category of belonging; a membership that transcends the differences and divisions, and citizenship that exist.  It is a call to become the people of God; a people under God.

It is a call to recognize our Creator, and at the same time to recognize that our humanity is more important than our racial identification, or national citizenship.  We are invited to membership in a unique togetherness, where our primary sense of belonging comes from our relationship to God.  And more than that, that our first loyalty and allegiance is to this God.  It is, in a sense, an affirmation of God’s Order, i.e. that the spiritual realm which we refer to as the first level, is indeed primary.

In a world divided to the point of hatred and bloodshed, which is nurtured by claims of superiority over the others, there is a crying need for such a transcending togetherness where any and all are welcome.  This is a heady and powerful concept.

It is good news and wonderful, that God wants us to be His people.

Show us the way to such togetherness; to such belonging.

46. Community

A frequent lament heard in recent years concerns the lack of, or the loss of, community.  Apparently this is not as serious in many cultures in the so-called  third world.  The affluence of the West and the “explosion” in the field of technology, has brought about more personal independence, and a new kind of individualism.  We do not need neighbours the way we used to.  Many people live in close proximity to people, yet are isolated and alone: on their I-phones, in their work stations, in their houses or apartments.

In the past communities (villages) were built around a “common” – a kind of court, or green, in the center where people met to do business, visit, celebrate, etc.  Community is built around something common; that is, something the people have in common.  Thus for example, there is a community of firefighters, as we saw after the tragedy of September 11, 2001. A common danger and a common commitment builds them into a community.

There are many other kinds of communities built around a variety of common causes, ideals, hobbies, or concerns: vintage automobiles, cancer survivors, or drinking buddies at the local watering hole, etc.

The church is a community built around a common which is God.  Having God as the center makes it a unique community.  Having God as the center makes it a world-wide community, with no geographical boundaries.  Having God as the center makes it a timeless community. There is no expiry date on membership.

That which community provides can be found here: a kind of belonging, which also translates into a sense of worth; fellowship with others; service opportunities in a common cause; some core values that offer guidance in a variety of ways; opportunity to test ideas, and skills, and opportunity to use them; a place to listen, and a place to be heard; a place where heavy loads are borne communally; and much more.

The central activity of this community is worship.  In brief that means trying to tune in to the Highest, for the purpose of uplifting and feeding the soul, that inner essence of what humans truly are.  This Godward focus is a turning away from lesser, or lower causes, concerns, desires or ambitions, to that which is pure, noble, and eternal.

The church as community provides the setting where persons can meet God and other people in a togetherness that has potential for healing and fulfillment.  But community is not an automatic; it is built by people of faith committed to the worship of God, and seeking the good of others.

Lead us to that healing nourishing community so that we may be healed, and equipped to nourish others.

47. Worship

The highest human act is worship.  It would be difficult to name something more important.  A German hymn writer put it thus: “My first feeling (or impulse) is praise and thanks.”  The last thought before falling asleep at night could be the same.  Indeed it would seem right that our last breath could also be worship.

But what is it?  Worship is giving our full attention to being present to the Highest.  It is a focusing of what we are, or the energy of life, on the contemplation and adoration of God.  Thus it is a free act of the will. . .

To review a point: one of the basic meanings of being made “in the image of God” is the ability we have been given to respond to God, and to do so of our own free will.  Worship is humankind’s free response of praise to God’s freely given love.

In terms of the Divine Order, worship is the recognition by humankind that God indeed is primary – that is, of first importance.  It is an affirmation of position . . . It is a facing of the sin of pride, which is as old as Adam and Eve; who wanted to be like God.  It is a joyful or ready acceptance of our place in the economy of God.  It is an act of submission.

There is a certain amount of relief in this; a trust that there is someone wiser in charge of the universe.   There is an old story of the minister who was seen walking into the woods on the edge of the town at the same time every day.  When a curious citizen asked him about the purpose of this exercise, he replied that he went to watch the train go by and to thank God that there was one thing that ran without him.

It follows that praise is a key part of worship.

The saying: “imitation is the highest form of flattery” may sound a bit manipulative; but there is a strong strain of truth in it.  Imitating the Lord is a form of praise.

Worship in the form of praise is the enthronement of God.   Psalm 22:3 “Yet thou art holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.”  A kind of democracy idea here – or, can be read into this text: praise is a vote for our God; and note that it is the praise of a people, not just an individual.  Picture it – God’s throne is built out of praise . . . the praise of the many.

For many of us in the Anabaptist tradition praise is most comfortably expressed in music; in congregational singing.  In other traditions and cultures, other forms of praise are practiced: lifting hands, dancing, shouting hallelujah, etc.  It is what is happening in the heart that matters.

Praise is only the beginning of worship, but it keeps us facing in the right direction.

48. Community of the Book

Sacred writings have a unique place in humankind’s spiritual quest.  There is something about words or thoughts, written down, that have power.  Spoken words often disappear into thin air, but written words have a more permanent quality: they can be preserved and passed on from one generation to the next.  More than that they can be copied and spread.

In the book of Exodus, in the Old Testament, we read that God carved sacred writings, the Ten Commandments, into stone tablets.  When we think of how paper fades and crumbles with age, the material carrying these words convey a message as well.   “Carved in stone” has become a metaphor for that which is fixed; meant to last.

The Bible is the book of the church of Jesus Christ.  It is the source book for its faith and life.  It sees the Old Testament as the account of the people of God struggling with life, temptations, opposition, problems, joys, blessings, etc.  It is the story of people by turns seeking the will of God, and disregarding the will of God.  There are prophets, and kings, and plenty of ordinary people, working, slaving, fighting, worshiping, caring, suffering; indeed coping with life as it comes to all: trying to make sense of it in the light of a strong belief in the One God.

The New Testament is occasioned by the coming of Christ, the incarnate child of God.  It tells that story, and its meaning as the early followers of Jesus struggled to be true to Him, and recorded what they saw, heard, and experienced. In the early centuries these writings were gathered and eventually canonized; that is, declared to be the received Word of God for the church.

The church is made up of disciples, which means learners or students, and as such they are students of the Bible.  The Bible is read and studied by individuals for personal guidance and enrichment, and is the central text which shapes the life and worship of the church.

In the Anabaptist tradition the Bible is not just for personal enrichment.  “No prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God,” wrote Peter. [2 Peter 1:20] This means that the church interprets the scripture together in community.  Each person can bring forward an insight or understanding, but the larger meanings are worked at together in a move toward harmony.

This points to another key aspect of the meaning of church: namely, that members listen to each other, and respect each other.  This together-approach to interpreting the Bible builds community; it strengthens the church.

Reverence for the Word, and respect for each other, bring us closer to Your truth.

49. Followers of Jesus

The church of Christ came into existence in a kind of natural way.  It was the followers of Jesus, who after He was no longer with them, began meeting together.  Initially there may well have been the need to deal with fears, and to bolster each other in the face of opposition.  After all, their master, hero, and teacher, had been executed as a common criminal.  Were they safe?

They also met together to remember their Lord, and to pray.  They believed Jesus to be God’s anointed Messiah, and so this took top priority.  Christ had also instructed them to wait for the Holy Spirit He promised to send.  That waiting took the form of praying and remembering. In a sense every Sunday worship was a celebration of the resurrection. In that process a strong bond must have begun to form.

In addition they were bound together by an assignment that Christ had given them; which was to spread the good news of God’s love and to invite others to become disciples/followers of Jesus.

So the pressure of opposition, the assignment from Jesus, the advent of the Holy Spirit, and a felt need to remember and worship this Messiah, formed them into a body.  They existed for Christ, but also for each other.

It should be noted that they did not reject their religious traditions, nor spurn the temple.  Jesus had taught that He had come to fulfill the law, not destroy it. They had a sense of being called to something more.

These followers of Jesus met together regularly to retell the Jesus story and experience.  They celebrated this Jesus who was the Christ.  They remembered by observing the simple bread and wine meal Jesus had introduced.  They celebrated by meeting to study and pray, and share meals.

At Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came with tongues of fire, many people had been drawn to this group, this faith.  As they continued to celebrate Jesus, to tell of God’s grace, more people were attracted to this group.  Here they found a deeper meaning to life, and a new joy and freedom.  Love and sharing what one had drew people to this group who confessed Jesus, recently crucified, resurrected by God, alive for evermore.

These early believers became followers of the Way, later called Christians.[Acts 9:2; 11:26]

Jesus binds people together and brings in a new freedom.

50. The Body of Christ

Spiritual truths often come to us through figures of speech, especially via metaphors.  Jesus used metaphors to explain who He was, or what He was about. For example: “I am the good shepherd.”  “I am the truth”.  Metaphors challenge and tease the mind to work; they invite participation.

Paul, in Romans, I Corinthians, and Ephesians, speaks of the church as the body of Christ.  This is a rich metaphor.  The biblical phrases: “Christ in you”, and “in Christ”, come to mind.  The small preposition in conveys a sense of closeness, even intimacy.  If the church is the body of Christ, then the members of the church, in some mystical way, are a part of Christ.  Dare we say that the church is Christ present on earth?

This metaphor calls for a stretch in the way we think of ourselves.  We readily think of ourselves as Canadians, or Americans, or whatever nation we belong to, but when it comes to religious belonging, don’t we think of ourselves as Christians?  And does that not have a personal and individualistic ring to it?  The challenge is to think corporately: I am a part of the body of Christ.  This calls for we thinking.  I am not the body of Christ; but we, that is, many millions of others and I, together, are the body of Christ.

It appears that Christ is present in a special way when persons are together in His name.  Jesus said, “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” [Matt. 18:20]

There is a kind of submission called for to achieve body.  The “two or three” who gather do so of their own free will.   Not only that, there has to be a recognition that the others are just as integral a part of Christ’s body. 

Body is not a static thing therefore; it is alive.  The body is a living dynamic organism, involving wills, emotions, minds, and personalities, interacting in worship, service, decision making, etc.

Because the human component of the body is so visible, and because individualism is so ingrained, it takes some discipline to remember that it is Christ’s body.  But what more noble sentiment to sustain one than to know that one is – that we are – part of Christ?

Enlarge our “we-thinking”, and open our eyes to the greatness of your Body.

51. Interlude

With this interlude we introduce a transition to a more concentrated exploration of the themes introduced in the first 50 articles. 

Those first articles were an attempt to introduce the series with a “once through lightly” approach.  That means a very limited number of articles on each major topic. The idea was to create a picture, if not of the whole Christian Faith [who is up to that task?], at least the true highlights.
In an overture to an opera, or an oratorio, the composer brings together short sections – several bars - excerpted out of the major choruses, or solos, and weaves them into one piece to tantalize and prepare the audience for what is to come.  These first 50 articles serve as a kind of overture to the larger piece.  For example, the first approximately eight articles, deal with God, though God is never far from what follows.  Then there are series of articles that deal with humankind, sin, the coming of a Saviour, the Holy Spirit, the life of faith, the church, and so on.
In addition to introducing the major doctrines of the Christian Faith, the “overture” also introduced a sort of grid to help in our thinking and acting. This is called, the Divine Order; and is a basic order of importance or value.  In simple terms it posits God as of first importance, or Number 1. Humankind (we), come second; but firmly under God.  The third level is referred to as the Created Order.  This includes the rest of creation, including all that humans have created. I believe this to be built into what we might broadly call Reality.  It provides a framework on which to develop a Weltanschauung, and a guide to build a life of faith
In the coming articles the attempt will be made to broaden the exploration, and to foster a search for deeper meanings. The goal is to challenge the mind and move from there to the heart; to expand understanding to the point of making application to daily living.  A Christian Monastic Order in the 12th century maintained that a “balanced” Christian life involved the heart, the head, and the hand; or in more down to earth terms: thought, affection, and action.
Go back again, to the beginning, to where it all started.  No; for before all that we know about creation, God already was.  That is mystery beyond comprehension. 
In Genesis, chapter one and two, we have an account of what God was doing, one could say, ‘that first week’.  That raises the question: “what was God doing the previous week”?  The text says the earth “was formless and void” before the creation of light. After the creation of light evening and morning described day.  Is that when time, that other complex reality, began?  What was there before time? 
To begin this new section let’s take a look, imaginative to be sure, at what might have gone on before time – before the beginning; or in that deep eternity before there was a before.
Imagination is one of God's great gifts.  Let's use it.


About Bill

Bill Block grew up and enjoyed his formative years in Steinbach, Manitoba. From a young age, working for the Church seemed a natural path. Post-high studies at Canadian Mennonite Bible College built on this foundation and led him into a life of serving the church.

Bill has 23 years of formal, pastoral ministry experience in Mennonite congregations in Vancouver, Winnipeg and Morden. Further schooling, service and volunteering for Mennonite institutions punctuated those pastoral terms… and his “professional church career” ended with him serving 12 years as denominational minister for Mennonite Church Canada.

Since retirement in 1997, he and his wife, Dolores, have been very active at Hope Mennonite Church in Winnipeg.

Bill is married to Dolores, since 1956, and they have four children, all married, and 4 grandchildren. Dolores was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1995. This has had a growing impact on their lives, and currently (since 2010) Bill is a full time care giver.

Hobbies have brought colour to life: building furniture, restoring furniture, gardening, reading (novels, historical spy accounts, theology, philosophy and psychology) writing, baking, socializing, some travel, and occasionally some golf.