Monthly Archives: January 2012

with the Word online Bible study: heart and seek

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Psalm 119:10-16

With my whole heart I seek you;
do not let me stray from your commandments.
I treasure your word in my heart,
so that I may not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord;
teach me your statutes.
With my lips I declare
all the ordinances of your mouth.
I delight in the way of your decrees
as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts,
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.

The psalms are often called the prayerbook or the hymnal of the Bible. How often do you use the psalms in your own prayer? How often do you use hymns or songs in your prayer? Saint Augustine said that “the one who sings prays twice”–possibly because melody and words combine in ways beyond our own intellectual capacity, perhaps because God just likes music, perhaps because singing is an embodied experience so we pray with not just our voices but our whole selves…do you agree with his statement? Does singing feel like prayer to you?

What are some ways you seek God? How do you nurture your relationship with God? The psalmist suggests meditating on God’s word and proclaiming God’s goodness as two of the ways he seeks God with his whole heart. Those are certainly good ways! What other ways can you think of, or do you practice?

In ancient culture, the Heart was the seat of reason as well as emotion–it was the place of the spirit, the center of the being, the word you would use to say “with the essence of who I am.” Sometimes we use “mind/body/spirit” as a way to say the same thing the ancient Hebrews said using “heart.” How does knowing that change the way you read this psalm?

Try praying this psalm a few times each day–perhaps in the morning, at lunchtime, and before bed–for the rest of this week. How does that change your outlook on your day, your work, your commute, your family, your leisure? When you’re consciously seeking God, what do you see differently?

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This We Believe: Second Helvetic Confession, part III

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This week we look and chapters 6 and 7 of the Second Helvetic Confession, which talk about Providence and God’s Creation.

The word “providence” is often misunderstood. Think of the word “provide” and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what it means, though–providence is about God’s providing. Throughout scripture we see God providing, being there, and governing us with God’s goodness. Psalm 139 tells us that God is in all places and there is nowhere we can get away from God’s presence, and God knows us even before we are born and knows us before we speak. Acts 17.28 says “in him we live and move and have our being.” Romans 11.36 says “from him and through him and to him are all things.”

But Providence does not mean that God controls things and moves us around like pawns on a chessboard, and it does not mean that we just have to sit back and relax and not do anything. It is at the root of Jesus’ command to not worry, but not worrying and not doing anything are not the same thing! God has given us each a calling, work to do, and we are not to ignore that work. “Wherefore we disapprove of the rash statements of those who say that if all things are managed by the providence of God, then our efforts and endeavors are in vain…” The confession also talks about the difference between chance or fate and providence, essentially saying there’s no chance, because “God has appointed to everything its end (purpose), has ordained the beginning and the means by which it reaches its goal. The heathen ascribe things to blind fortune and uncertain chance.” Interestingly, the confession doesn’t give a succinct definitely of providence. What are some examples of God’s providing, God’s guiding hand? What do you think is meant by the idea of Providence?

Related to the idea of God’s providing grace is that “almighty God created all things, both visible and invisible, by his co-eternal Word, and preserves them by his co-eternal Spirit.” And God saw that it was good, and very good! Because of this, we know that there is not a dichotomy between flesh and spirit, between created and sacred, or even between good and evil. Some people have thought that there must be two gods, one creating good and the other evil, but here we affirm that God, who is good, created all things. If God is the Creator, then by definition God has provided. And if God continues to be a Creator, if that is part of who God is (see last week’s section!), then God must still continue to provide for the creation. As the psalmist says, “the earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it.” Throughout the psalms and indeed throughout scripture we find God giving good gifts to the creation, whether in the form of food, companionship, guidance, freedom, community, love. How do you think the idea of God as Creator and God as Provider are related?

There is a fair amount of space in chapter 7 taken up by the ideas of angels, devils, and man’s immortal soul. It’s interesting because the chapter ends with “we condemn all who ridicule or by subtle arguments cast doubt upon the immortality of souls, or who say that the soul sleeps or is a part of God. In short, we condemn all opinions of all men, however many, that depart from what has been delivered unto us by the Holy Scriptures in the apostolic Church of Christ concerning creation, angels, and demons, and man.” Well then, that’s quite a sweeping condemnation! Particularly since the idea of the immortal soul is a serious stretch from anything we find in scripture. The concept of the immortal soul comes from Greek philosophy and was resurrected as an idea that could relate to Christian theology during the Renaissance. So…that makes it hard to take this part of the confession seriously! heehee. Ditto on the idea of the Devil–Bullinger’s translation of the Bible is not clear, and makes it appear as though Satan is a person, when the word “satan” means “adversary” or “one who works against”…which suggests that rather than “the devil” we have a world that is filled with adversaries–sometimes even we are adversaries!

What do you think of the idea of the immortal soul? If it is true, what does that mean for your Christian life? If it is a concept borrowed from Greek philosophy, how does that change your understanding of your faith and life?

book sale!

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The book sale is still going on…have you stopped in to find the next book you’re going to read? Check back regularly because you never know what hidden gems your eyes might have missed the first time around. Tell your friends too–we have LOTS of books of every kind, from religious books to children’s books to cookbooks to novels to vintage books printed before WWII to random nonfiction to diet books to relationship advice to teen books and everything you can possibly imagine in between!

(Can’t make it Sunday? you can come during the week too–either between 9 and 1 when the office is open, or with your key fob, or call to see if we’re around and we’ll let you in!)

 

Question Friday: surrender

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Today the Middle School Youth Group leaves for their weekend retreat. This year’s theme is “Surrendering to God.” Surrender isn’t a word we tend to use very often. What’s your first thought on hearing the phrase “surrender to God”? And once you get past the first thought, what’s one way you can maybe “give in” to God a little this weekend?

This We Believe: Second Helvetic Confession, part II

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Sorry this is late…the book sale got the better of my time management system! better late than never, right? (btw: there are still books. you should buy them. 🙂 )

Today we consider chapters 3, 4, and 5, which are about God and the worship of God. These chapters cover things like the Trinity, images, and worship.

First and most importantly, God Is One. Sometimes we talk about God’s “nature”–God is “one in essence or nature, subsisting in himself, all sufficient in himself, invisible, incorporeal, immense, eternal, Creator of all things both visible and invisible, the greatest good, living, quickening and preserving all things, omnipotent and supremely wise, kind and merciful, just and true.” phew! that’s a long list (though not as long as in the Westminster Confession!). It’s fairly exhaustive, too–this is who God is and what God is like.

But God is also Three–we know God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We say “there are not three gods, but three persons, consubstantial, coeternal, and coequal.” That just means that they’re the same stuff, the same One, but known in three ways. There’s no inequality–God the Father is not better or bigger or more than the Son, and the Spirit is not the extra thrown in for good measure–they are “so joined together that they are one God, and the divine nature is common to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

This of course makes no sense, but is true nonetheless. It’s one of those mysteries where as soon as you explain it it’s gone, flitting around the edges of your vision. As a great teacher once said, “if you can explain it, it isn’t God.” But why is this important? Because there have been people who have said that Jesus was just a human teacher, not God. And there have been people who have said that the Trinity is like a heierarchy, with one person more important than another, or coming before the others. And there have been people who said the Spirit is the only real God in the bunch. And there are plenty of people who think we’re polytheist–that we worship many gods–because of this doctrine. But we don’t–we have One God, known in Three Persons. It’s confusing, we know, but expresses something profoundly True even though we can’t explain it.

“Since God is in essence invisible and immense, he cannot really be expressed by any art or image.” Drawing on the commandment that says “you shall not make any graven images,” this confession rejects the iconography of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions, insisting that they are idols. This confession is for a church oriented to the ear, not the eye–we are people of the Word. In response to the problem of illiteracy, the confession says “in order to instruct men in religion and to remind them of divine things and of their salvation, the Lord commanded the preaching of the Gospel — not to paint and teach the laity by means of pictures. Moreover, he instituted Sacraments, but nowhere did he set up images.” I don’t think this is a rejection of all art–there is good and wonderful use of visual arts in our world! The issue seems to be with using art as the primary means of instruction and worship, rather than the Word. Though it does make one wonder–if, in a time where many could not read, and where the art was so amazing (16th century Europe was practically awash in masterpieces), this was the teaching…how does it relate to us today, where we live in a world where most can read but our world is so intensely visual? How do we regain the art of listening, of encountering the living Word through the spoken word, while also appreciating the inspiring artwork all around us?

Part of the issue seems to come in the next section, where the confession says that “God alone is to be adored and worshipped.” Not an image, not an icon, not a saint, but God alone. And we worship God through Christ, “our only mediator and intercessor.” We don’t need priests or popes to talk to God on our behalf, we can go straight to the top, thanks to Christ who is the bridge for us. Not the saints, as the Roman Catholic church of the time did–we don’t pray to our favorite saint, we pray through Jesus only. The saints are good, and provide good examples, and are people to be honored. “We acknowledge them to be living members of Christ and friends of God who have gloriously overcome the flesh and the world. Hence we love them as brothers, and also honor them; yet not with any kind of worship but by an honorable opinion of them and just praises of them. We also imitate them.” Only God is to be worshipped and prayed to. This means that icons, images, and relics are not The Way, though they may be beautiful, inspiring, and even may cause us to desire to know God more. God can use all these things, but none of them is to be set up in the place of God.

What do you think of these teachings? How do you experience God? How do you worship? What do you think of the idea that our primary worship/teaching method should be through the spoken word as a way to encounter the Living Word?