Ordinary Time Readings: Sunday, August 3

Reading: Genesis 11:1-9 and Matthew 6:25-34

  1. In this week’s readings there are two different building projects depicted, two different kingdoms being built. The plain in the land of Shinar is the bedrock for what would become Babylon (Gen.11:1; Daniel 1:2). From Gen.11:1-9 and Matt. 6:25-34, what do you hear, what do you understand, what differences do you discern about these two building projects? Consider the outcomes of each: the city of men, the Kingdom of God.
  2. In what areas of life are you most prone to echo the cries of autonomous living (self-governing, acting independently, Gen.11:3-4): to secure future outcomes or propagate personal agendas? Where does this kind of living leave you? How does it affect your relationships with others? What happens to your well-being or peace of mind?
  3. What would it look like for you to seek to live in and operate from the Kingdom of God – with God rather than living by your self?
  4. Take some moments in prayer. Ask God to help you identify where the dominion of the “self” is still largely at work in your life: building, ordering, or reigning supreme. One way of getting at this is to discern what frustrates you most; or looking at your response to interruptions at work or in your daily life; or examining what happens within you when you don’t get what you want or things go “your way”? Ask for the courage to seek God: his ways and his rule over all the matters and concerns of your life.

Miss The Mark

Trying to not sin doesn’t work for the vast majority of Christians. Why? Endeavoring to not do something is too weak of a vision. It is not compelling enough. Not just with big things like God, but even with something as mundane as diet and exercise. Trying to not eat sugar or bread gets most of us now where. Bringing eating habits under control too often only follows a heart attack or diagnosis of diabetes or constant joint pain from inflammation caused my too much processed food, etc. Then suddenly there is a vision of a preferable future: I don’t want to die; I don’t want to live on insulin or in pain, etc.

Dealing with persistent sin issues requires the same kind of vision. Here is how it works. The primary word for sin in the Greek New Testament is “hamartia”. It means to “miss the mark” (think of a target or bulls eye). The mark in this case is the will of God for humans, especially his called-out ones—followers of Jesus; the church. I believe, based on my personal struggles and long-time pastoral experience, that sin persists mostly because we have lost “The Mark”—the story of God which was meant to be the thing that gave our lives meaning, coherence and direction; the thing to which we sought to align the various aspects of our lives.

We sometimes say that, “no one knows what sin is anymore”. Well…there is a reason for that: If we let that mark drop away, it should be no surprise that sin has no meaning.

Pick up the will of God for your life and you find it pulling you away from all the wrong directions and drawing you toward the right ones. This is what happens when someone decides; I want to become a marathoner. Suddenly their whole life begins to revolve around that goal.

Don’t aim for perfection—that is not available to us. But major growth and progress is.

Try it on for size: quit beating yourself for nagging sins. Get a big vision of God’s goodness and your call to be his cooperative friend—you will find old leaves of fall naturally dropping off to make way for new spring growth.

Ordinary Time Readings: Sunday, July 27

Reading: Genesis 8:1, 15-17a, 20-22, 9:1, 11-17 and Matthew 26:26-29

  1. Continuing our journey in the story of the Flood, Noah and God’s interaction with humanity and creation, spend moments reading this week’s passage in Genesis. What captures your attention? Or captures your heart? Pause to give thanks, ask questions, or name your concerns as you dialogue with God about the on-going saga of relationality between God and his creation.
  2. As you consider God’s covenant promise made to his new creation and to humanity, how does it make you feel as you consider God’s relentless determination to be gracious and loving toward his children?
  3. God offers a sign of the covenant: a rainbow. A rainbow is a visual symbol of God’s faithfulness to his people. We see them in the skies after a storm – refracted rays of light catching water droplets producing varied colors of glimmering light to remind us of God’s faithfulness to generate new life and to cherish the glittering sacredness of that life. How does nature speak to you of the invisible attributes and promises of God? Remember one incident when nature declared the glories of God. How did it speak to you of the goodness of God or about the wondrous love of God? How have you experienced God’s faithfulness to bring new life to you? If you are struggling at present, make this a sacred moment of trust, even though the storm waters might not be clearing for you.
  4. In Matthew’s gospel we hear the invitation of Jesus as he takes the covenant promises of God to a new level of intimacy and assurance. Spend time with Jesus as you hear and receive his words. Let these moments be a type of preparation to come to the table this Sunday as we dine together on the goodness of our Saviors table feast!

Miracles and the Expansion of the Church

There are conversations floating around the cyber world about how the more developed theologies of the north and west (mostly Europe and North America) might help inform and shape the church as it emerges in the south and east (Africa, Latin America, Asia). As the historian Mark Noll points out, while the church of the southern hemisphere might have all sorts of denominational affiliations, beneath it all is an underlying Pentecostalism—that is, a belief that the supernatural world is as real as the one we see and touch every day.

The church of Europe and North America has been deeply shaped by the Enlightenment, and belief in things supernatural has fallen on hard times over the last 300 years. It’s not that Christians have no interest in the subject, but it appears to be much less robust than what is seen among Christians in the parts of the world where the church is dramatically growing.

I wonder if the expansion of the church in the southern hemisphere will reshape us in the north and west rather than the other way around? Or will these newly-developing Christian movements become a different kind of Christianity altogether? Will there be, for example, a church in one half of the world that prays for God to heal people’s bodies, and a church in the other half that doesn’t?

It’s interesting to me that the subject of prayer for healing has, for several hundred years, been controversial except among Christians in the southern hemisphere. They seem to take it for granted. The rest of us don’t.

It’s a sketchy thing, this theology of healing. I know it has traveled some rocky roads, with some claiming that it all died out with the last apostle, and others insisting that everyone could get healed if only they could drum up enough faith. Neither of those ways of thinking has been helpful, in my view.

But what if our southern friends are right, and the expectation of God bringing health to sick and injured people is appropriate for us? What will that mean?

Will it mean that medical care should be shunned? I don’t think so. But perhaps we can think about putting medical care in a new perspective. Most cultures offer some sort of care through medical professionals, and perhaps, even without realizing it, such efforts reveal something about the image of God that is imprinted upon all people. As a result, we can’t help but find ways to care for one another. But such care need not be seen as the last word.

Will it mean that we recast healing as an expectation that is embedded in the Atonement? I hope not, although there are still people who make that claim. We might need better theologies of healing, but locking it into some kind of transactional package deal is not the answer.

Will it mean that all people should expect to be healed? No, and for two reasons: First, it just doesn’t work out that way. Second, we all end up dying in the end anyway. Yes, my friends, we are all going to die. Have a nice day. ☺

Here’s a possible way to think about this, a way that could help us dialogue creatively with our friends across the globe: Physical healings that come as a result of prayer are signs of the Kingdom of God. They are not guarantees, they are not based on adequate levels of faith, and they are not the result of neatly organized theologies. They are signs that God’s kingdom is a partial but present earthly reality, a reality to be fully realized when God draws all things together in the new heaven and the new earth.

So, I keep praying for people to be healed. I also go to the doctor (even though I’m in a crummy HMO and supernatural healing is sounding better to me all the time) and try to do things that positively impact my health. I try to expect that God will actually work in people’s physical lives, but I don’t demand it or crumble in disappointment if nothing seems to happen. Whether we live or die, whether we remain wounded or are restored, our lives rest in God’s care.

Healing is a sign of the Kingdom.

Prayer for healing is a sign of the Kingdom.

Caring for one another is a sign of the Kingdom.

Trusting God in all circumstances is a sign of the Kingdom.

And so, we pray: Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Amen.

Soulfarer – Mike McNicols