Daily Prayer :: Water

Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

February 15, 2019 — What is heaven like?

Today’s Bible reading

But Jesus called them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. It must not be this way among you! Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  –– Matthew 20:25-28

More thoughts from meditation

There are many views of what we call “Heaven,” of course. We are all wondering about what is going to happen after we pass through death, some even reasoning that there is no “passing through” at all. Among the plethora of ideas we have about the afterlife the historically prevailing notion for many Western humans, like us in the United States, is that we go to a “Christian” version of Heaven. This usually looks like a vast expanse where the architecture is all clouds (except the golden, yet pearly, gates surrounding the perimeter) with many chubby babies flying around. Maybe we turn into chubby babies! Is this really what the Triune Christian God is preparing?

The United States has been called a “melting pot” before—maybe you were in the play back in elementary school. This idea also incorporates religious ideals. As renowned theologian NT Wright likes to say, “We have platonized our eschatology, moralized our anthropology, and paganized our soteriology.” In other words, our ideas about Heaven have been influenced by multiple religions and Greek philosophy; making something that looks like a disembodied free-for-all where each individual is satiated with the fulfillment of every possible want they could have granted them, as long as they’ve been good, no matter how ridiculous (sometimes that’s even the point!). Is that really what Jesus has saved us for?

Jesus and the New Testament authors act as if Heaven were already here. That is worth pondering. And it isn’t just talk, either. Jesus and his followers taught this as if it were true and began teaching (and modeling) how to live as a “citizen of Heaven.” (Phil 3:20) The New Testament is offering a lifestyle/frame of mind where the Christian is actually living in Heaven while on Earth. That is incredibly counterintuitive considering we use phrases like “heavenly” to describe things pleasurable and “hell” to describe things painful. Which isn’t totally wrong, but if Jesus is our representative from Heaven and he was crucified, did he ever stop being its citizen? Was he ever not ushering in the Kingdom of Heaven whenever he experienced pain? When he was weeping over Lazarus’ death (Jn 11) or when he went into the Temple furiously flipping tables and what not (Matt. 21)?

Consider Jesus’ conversation with his disciples in the passage above. “It must not be like this among you,” he said. If you read the several passages this particular one is sandwiched in between you would see that Jesus is talking about what life will be like in the “kingdom to come” or what Heaven will be like. To put it plainly, Jesus describes Heaven like he describes his followers, even more specifically, like he describes himself. Heaven will a place where we live in harmonious relationships with each other and with the rest of creation (think of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 1). In this place, it will not be like the social structures we know today. People will live in mutual, self-giving love relationships with each other instead of power-grabbing politics and hierarchical relationships. We know this because Jesus lived that way, he died that way. And after he was raised from the dead, he commissioned his followers to live that way and invite others to also, and he called it “the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Suggestions for action

Set a timer for 5 minutes and imagine a “scene” from your life which you experience fairly often. Could be some encounter with the coworkers, like one of those monotonous meetings, or sitting on the train or bus on your commute, or some usual scene from spending time with your kids. Imagine an experience–no matter how ridiculous it might seem–where the world around you lived like this: where every person lived in a self-giving and loving way towards the other and towards creation. Take 5 minutes right now and re-create that scene.

February 14, 2019 — Nothing matters, except…

Today’s Bible reading

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery. Listen! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you at all! And I testify again to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be declared righteous by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace! For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait expectantly for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision carries any weight—the only thing that matters is faith working through love. — Galatians 5:1-6

More thoughts for meditation

What is faith…actually? Well, actually, faith by itself is merely a desire. A hope. If I have faith in the bridge before I cross I really just hope it will hold me when I do. But, without crossing it, using the word faith there feels kind of odd, doesn’t it? It would be weird for one to say “I have faith in that bridge” and then not cross it, right? Who would believe them? So faith by itself is indeed worthless, like “a body without a spirit”, as our brother James says (2:26). Well then, what does “walking across the bridge” look like? Maybe God is showing you a bridge right now and asking “do you trust me?”

The Apostle Paul, the author of Galatians, is writing this letter to answer that very question! The good people of Galatia, modern day Turkey, had come under the influence of some misguided teachers. They were Jewish and loved God and had recognized Jesus as God’s savior, or the Christ. But they misunderstood what it meant to actually love God in this key way: culture-determined outward appearances. They were teaching that one needed to become circumcised, or become Jewish, in order for one to be included in God’s family, in Christ. Paul was livid. The whole POINT of a savior is to tear down walls, not reinforce them. Paul reminded them, and us today, that in order to be in the family of God all that is required is the working out of your hope through self-giving love, a love that is modeled after Jesus himself. In setting our minds on this way of living, we stand firm–we live–in the freedom of abundant life.

Suggestions for action

In the United States, Christianity has become something of a national treasure, and I don’t mean that as a compliment. For a lot of us, we have been encouraged a little too strongly to add something into our lives in order to be Christian. Take a moment and think about your life in faith.

  • Do you recoil from confession because to be Christian is to have it all together?
  • Do you have to read a verse of the Bible daily because a good Christian reads their Bible?
  • What does a “good Christian” do, in your mind?

Maybe take that question to a friend, even better if they aren’t Christian (most people in the US can answer that), and find something our culture may be demanding of us more than Jesus would.

Today is Valentine Day! Be encouraged by this spiritual ancestor at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.

February 13, 2019 — Microorganisms inviting us to rest

Today’s Bible reading

The Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites, ‘Surely you must keep my Sabbaths, for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you.” — Exodus 31:12-13

More thoughts for meditation

Have you been sick recently? Or did something unexpected come up that made all of your plans come to a screeching halt? Being sick definitely does that.

The gut reaction for most people in the United States when symptoms start to show is to power-through the illness. BBC wrote an article about this in 2016 and pointed to Hillary Clinton when she went to a 9/11 commemoration event despite being diagnosed with pneumonia. According to the same article, more than a quarter of workers who were surveyed by a public health agency say they always go to work when they are sick. Don’t you want to tell Hillary Clinton to “Just lay in bed for an hour, at least! Get some rest!?” But of course, she didn’t invent the idea of ignoring what the Bible calls “sabbath rest.” And, of course, she has a camera on her 24/7. This mentality is pervasive in the “Western” world.

Can you relate? Maybe you take off from work when you’re sick. But when you are incapacitated, does the urge to be productive creep in? Maybe it blares like a fog horn. But wonder with me what it would look like to be okay with resting. Maybe you make a cup of tea, stay in your pajamas and actually indulge in watching some TV. Maybe you take a hot bath with some bath salts you were able to borrow from your neighbor. Maybe you just lay in bed and listen to music for a couple hours. Or better yet, maybe you just sleep.

Suggestions for action

How is being sick a blessing? This can certainly be extended to your kids or spouse. What else happens that begs you to rest or provides you with the space to rest? Take a moment and consider how you rest well and maybe how you can rest better. Maybe this is a season for you where you need to just take a sick day even though you aren’t actually sick. Go ahead, take the day off and find your rest, i.e don’t be “productive.”

February 12, 2019 — People can be disappointing, Jesus will have to save us

Today’s Bible reading

If anyone would come after me, let them deny themself and take up their cross and follow me. — Mark 8:34

More thoughts for meditation

People can be disappointing and our prayers don’t always get answered. Add to that the friend from cell you have been praying for who really wants to come but cannot seem to allocate the time? Or the coworker who is always getting their part of an assignment in right before it’s due? The family member who just doesn’t seem to be paying attention to our needs?

The reality is you (and I writing) could just as easily be added to this list of disappointments. And the problem isn’t that we aren’t asking God for miracles. We do that plenty. The problem can often be the moment God asks us for something. It’s easy to rub a lamp, make a wish, and remove ourselves from the process–but God is incarnational. And if we are to be counted among the faithful, we must be incarnations, too. So when we ask God to change the heart of our cell-mate, so that we can see them more and get to know them, we must expect God is asking something of us in the process.

Jesus is calling us to follow him. What does that look like? Throughout the Gospels the authors often recount Jesus offering this call: “If anyone would come after me, let them deny themself and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34; see also Mat. 10:38, 16:24, Lk. 9:23, 14:27). In your request, what could it look like to “carry your cross” while you petition the Lord?

What does carrying the cross even mean, anyway? Well, Jesus, in a garden at the time of his greatest trial shows us. Before he actually bore the cross on his back, he bore it in his soul. He petitioned God to “take this cup from me,” essentially, to make a way for him not to be crucified. The second part of his prayer in Luke 22:42 is the expressed self-giving love that is bearing one’s cross: “yet not my will, but yours be done.” Jesus makes his desire known, and begs for it even, but is ultimately wooed by God’s love, God’s wisdom and power.  Jesus was the focus of God’s strategy for ushering in the new creation and Jesus was willing to do whatever it was that entailed. A tough pill to swallow, to say the least, but God is good! It is the culture that demanded his blood in the first place. Ever since Genesis, God has been on mission to restore the creation and he invites us into that work.

When we dream about community and intimacy, about justice and transformation, about the peace and joy of Christ’s Kingdom the buzzing of the alarm clocks of our society prompts us to bitterly and repeatedly hit the snooze button. But we hardly enter the same dream again. Waking up and being confronted with the individualism and racism and brokenness and resentment can be exhausting. This life, however, that Jesus calls us into is one that is awake. And we cannot actually live with eyes wide open if we are constantly dwelling in that which is the antithesis to what we are living for and towards. To live this life, fully alive, as Jesus intends (John 10:10), we need to trust him. To follow him and receive what he has for us by the Spirit of God–daily, and truly, moment by moment.

Walking with Jesus and carrying our crosses means that, yes, we look directly into our deepest fears, and maybe we die because of them (have you seen Bird Box?) but the promise of God is that if this death comes with the Spirit of Christ, you will live (Rom.8:13). The power of Christ is most notably seen in his ability to die and then rise. But notice that he actually dies so that he can actually rise. So, too, in our lives we need to be ready to do the same: encountering the things that want to make us crawl in bed and die; but instead of withdrawing, leaning on the grace found in Christ’s presence with us so that even though we die, we might subsequently rise.

Suggestions for action

Who are two or three people you need to connect with? Maybe you feel like they’ve disappointed you recently, or you’ve disappointed them. Take a moment and ask that question to “God with you,” Emmanuel: “Who are you calling me to call?” Then follow Jesus and be willing to be disappointed one more time. Who knows? You might even experience mini-resurrections for all of the dying you do.

Today is Fanny J. Crosby Day! Visit this notable spiritual ancestor at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.

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