(Check back tomorrow for what songs we’ll sing Sunday)
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November 6th, 2014
Some 48 hours following Tuesday’s national plebiscite, and there are likely still a few faint headaches from the post-election hangover–either revelrous or despondent, depending on one’s view of the outcome. Pundits across the political spectrum will debate for weeks whether and to what extent these mid-term elections represented a seismic shift in power.
As we’re accustomed to hearing each election cycle, the investment of time, people, strategy–to say nothing of money– for the sake of either fortifying or recapturing power boggles the mind. And then it solidifies the cynical conclusion that this lurching democracy will never rid itself of forces and practices legal but ruthless. We keep trying to reassure ourselves with Churchill’s famous quip that democracy is the worst of all political systems–except for all the rest.
Late Tuesday night an associate of statistician par excellence Nate Silver posted this Time magazine cover from as recently as five years ago. His point was unstated but clear: the cyclicality of politics proves that reports of one party’s ascendancy or demise will always be to some extent greatly exaggerated.
In his enduring fantasy of races sometimes colliding, sometimes collaborating, Tolkien distinguished the race of men as those, “who above all else, desire power.” Surely there is an intrinsic thrill that obtains when power is obtained. But I might argue that underlying the insatiable thirst for power is the desire for absolute freedom–to do as one wants, when one wants to, in whatever way one wishes. Common to every candidate’s platform is a promise to enact a particular vision for society that will arguably maximize one’s freedom to pursue their own aspirations. That may be the deepest reason for the investment in, and the joy and sorrow of politics.
Last Sunday we listened to the apostle Paul elaborate on the freedom that obtains in the gospel. He spoke of a freedom not to be confused with pure autonomy, since a life free of external constraint is no guarantee of freedom from internal enslaving compulsions. Instead he argued for a freedom from the internal enslavements to which we are unavoidably prone, and thereby to a new life unencumbered by either all-consuming or unmet desires. And it is by the abiding, and, yes, mysterious, aid of the Holy Spirit that we discover that freedom in real-time.
But in all things spiritual we’re always left to ask how the spiritual life comes to be known in all concreteness.
I might be tempted to apologize for going back to the Newbigin well yet again this week. But his words about what it means to walk in the freedom that leads to fruitfulness oblige extended (and repeated) reference. The indwelling of the Spirit of God coheres with the notion of abiding in Christ. So here again from his collection of meditations, The Good Shepherd, Newbigin provides very concrete instruction in how we might know that fruitfulness of the Spirit.
What does it mean to speak of abiding in Jesus? It is hard to speak about this. ‘It is not a theme for words but for the deeper apprehension of silence’ (Temple). Yet we have to use words. Indeed our Lord says that his words must abide in us. We may perhaps take that as our starting point for thinking about what it means to abide in him. One form of his abiding in us is that his words abide in us. This is a very important clue to the thing we are seeking. We have to make the words of Jesus our constant theme of meditation, to come back again and again to them, to listen afresh to them, to apply them to our situation as it changes each day. If we are diligent in doing this, we shall find that new depths are constantly opening up within these familiar words. There is a miracle here, but it is really so.
There is a condition attached, however. The whole of this section of Jesus’ teaching is woven out of the two threads of love and obedience. We have not only to love the words of Jesus, but also to obey them. It is only as we obey the light that we see in them that we shall be granted further light. If we do this, if we both love and obey, we are led on to ever new ranges of understanding.
To abide in Christ means to let his words abide in us and constantly to refer everything to them. It means going back to them again and again and being willing again to start afresh like a child going down to the bottom of the class. It means, specifically, giving the first place in our time every day, and the first priority in our thinking, to this hidden life of the soul with Jesus.
Newbigin’s uncomplicated instruction here may leave us as incredulous to their effectiveness as most politician’s promises. But is that because we’ve taken his suggestions to heart and found them wanting, or like Chesterton put it, we found them difficult and left them untried?
The freedom we most want and will most satisfy will aways obtain regardless of whom is elected to office. We do not escape into an apolitical enclave in light of that freedom not tied to political circumstances; the Kingdom has as much place where power resides as where it does not. But we do not hitch our deepest hopes to political outcomes, even as we may labor to see some particular outcomes. That is why we do well to listen to Newbigin’s simple way to abide: it will refine our engagement in the political sphere as it protects us from narrowing our hopes to that sphere.
Meanwhile this Sunday, as we near the final stretch in our study of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we face the one thing with which we’ll contend all our days. Not sin in general, but a particular excess to which we are often entirely insensible. Often we need someone to call it out in us–maybe even write a song about for us. We’re in Galatians 5:26-6:5 this week.
We’re going to convene at the Kull’s home (923 Zeb) again this Sunday night for our monthly time of praying together. If you haven’t been before, we call this monthly event “Counting to 8,” a phrase coined by a theologian named F.D. Bruner. From the episodes when Jesus helped feed the multitudes with meagre supplies, Bruner sees both a miracle and a mandate. Jesus proved His power to make much of little. But He also taught the disciples that when faced with a large need and an ostensibly paltry allocation of resources, you can’t simply count what you have on hand. You have to count what is not seen but is surely there for the asking–namely, what God can provide. So in addition to the 5 loaves of bread and the 2 fish you also have to count the Lord. He’s the eighth element–the wildcard that overcomes the insufficiency.
We know if voicing prayers in public can be awkward for some. But we let our liturgy (which you can find a draft of last month’s here) warm us all up, if you will. The texts and songs–the silence and communal prayers–mean to prepare us for offering our own prayers for many things, people, and places.
Two items came across my desk recently which I thought might help you understand why we pray together. The first comes from Glen Scrivener (HT: Jennie Pollock) about how we may need to drill down on how we even think about prayer.
Prayer is not a thing.
“I need to work on my prayer life” we say. And we mean it. But so often what we mean is “I need to improve at this spiritual discipline because my lack of proficiency reflects badly on my stature as a Christian.” Or maybe we want to improve because we want to “improve our relationship with God.” In some ways this motivation is even worse because it pictures “my prayer life” as the thing that connects me to God, rather than Christ. Then it becomes very important to focus on “my prayer life” but as something quite separate from focusing on Christ our Mediator. So we force ourselves to go to the prayer meeting and hear someone pray: “Please may God bless this work…” And we think, “Huh? I thought we were praying to God? Are we? Or are we performing a thing called prayer in front of one another?” Perhaps the pray-er does manage to address God but then mixes up the Persons. At that point you have to ask: Has prayer become a thing that we do. Should it not be an enjoyment of our adoption before the Father through union with the Son in the joy of the Spirit? But so often, don’t we find that prayer becomes a thing we must get right. And a thing that stands between ourselves and communion with God?
Perhaps you have a right conception of prayer–you don’t think of it as some mere “thing” we do, like washing dishes. But maybe there’s no abiding impulse to pray, with countless other activities vying for (and winning) your attention. Here’s some honest words from folks who can identity with that apathy toward praying and how they sought to move beyond their hesitations.
Prayer is an act of faith. Prayer tests our faith. Prayer grows faith. We hope you’ll come out to the Kull’s this chilly Sunday evening. And even if you can’t join us, but there are cares and concerns for which you’d still like prayer, please email us at [email protected], or grab a prayer request card on Sunday morning and drop it in the offering plate at the appointed time.
As you heard last Sunday (and will hear again throughout November), Christ the King is pleased at the opportunity to participate in growing a foundational scholarship resource in the amount of $2,000 through our financial giving this month. We see this as an outreach opportunity above and beyond our normal giving. Our initiative will be the basis for matched gifts from others.
Through our participation in the Global Consultation on Music and Missions (every music, every voice, every heart) men and women who otherwise would not be able to participate will add to the richness of the event.
Those we sponsor will:
- Join with music makers and Christian mission leaders from around the world.
- Learn how to use culturally relevant music to reach and encourage others with the good news
- Share knowledge and experiences with like-minded believers from both similar and diverse geographic areas.
- Celebrate God’s manifold wisdom through multi-ethnic praise.
In case you missed hearing Paul and Cathy McAndrew’s presentation several weeks back on GCOMM, here’s a summary of that endeavor.
Community Quick Hits:
- Our North Texas Presbytery gathers for its quarterly meeting this weekend, commencing with a worship service Friday night at 7pm at Providence Presbyterian Church in Dallas. Click here for more details.
- Ladies, don’t forget the women’s gathering at the Holzwarth’s Saturday, November 15th.
- We’re once again collecting for the Women’s Shelter in Duncanville. Have a look here for more details about what’s needed and when you can bring it.
What you can pray for
- for Dave Farah as he prepares for Gall bladder surgery
- for Barbara Byron during her final physical therapy sessions here, and as she prepares to transition back home to the Carolinas
- for opportunities to linger, listen, learn, and laugh with people