Monday, December 22, 2014

A Book to Talk About! Actually, Two! VI

More of Phillips' observations:

The greater church must see renewal. 

Something to be grateful for: when the breath of New Life crosses denominational barriers. He says the splinter groups don't really breathe new life into the existing church.

Jesus prayed that we would be one. . . how many centuries ago??

I did finish the book. Worth reading!!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Book to Talk About! Actually, Two! V

The qualities Phillips saw as critical to the Early Church maintaining their faith, hope, love, peace (a partial list of the fruit of the Spirit):

prayer (confession, prayer to access God's resources for change, intercession)

He sees the reading of the letters of the apostles in the churches before the Holy Scriptures were called the Holy Scriptures, as encouragement to continue to read. Interesting. Today we know that the apostles were the apostles. If their day, Jesus, Himself chose them.

He talks about Service and that we need to always look outward. "Coming down to actual practice, the Christian has to ask himself what he can do to express outwardly and effectively his inward spiritual certainty. . .his first duty is to live a Christian life in his home and in his place of work..."
(pg 99)

He asks, what if even half the members gave and hour each week to their church . . . (pg 100) He talks about gifts, too.

"..the real danger to professing Christians lies not in the more glaring and grosser temptations and sins, but in a slow deterioration of vision, a slow death to daring, courage and the willingess to adventure."

A Book to Talk About! Actually, Two! IV

Peace. Another quality of the young church - peace more profound than the times in which they lived. Peace with God and with one another. The peace that comes from Hope based on who God is, and the Love He sheds abroad in our hearts,  Faith that links our reality with God's reality and helps us line up with Him.

I pray the Lord's prayer more often as I get older, if only to reiterate, "Thy will be done" even if, especially if, I don't know what that is. I don't have to know what it is. I can pray with no doubt that God will accomplish His will. Looking back, when I found myself praying the Lord's prayer more and my own prayers less, maybe to acknowledge that's how Jesus taught His disciples to pray, there were some big, unexpected changes in my life - changes I never expected.

He talks about some of the things that fight with Peace: the need to resolve inner conflict, to share life with God, to accept ourselves as God made us and the resources He provides one day at a time, the need to align ourselves with God's purpose for us however seemingly insignificant.

And remember. There is an individual expression here but perhaps even more important, there was a group of believers learning to stand in awe of God's work - His visiting the earth, sending His son in the flesh, learning to live faith, to live hope, to live love and they became an unassuming force to be reckoned with.

A Book to Talk About! Actually, Two! III

Phillips explores Love in New Testament Christianity. He says, "God Is Love," was a new concept for the people of this era. The passage," ...the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts."(Romans 5:5) was "...stimulated and developed by accepting the love of God as shown in Christ." (pg. 61) Phillips says, "I am quite sure that a great deal of the joyful experience and invincible courage of the Young Church is due simply to the fact that the early Christians believed these words to be literally true." (pg 62) The love of the God of the New Testament transformed lives.

The young church was convinced, he says, despite difficult times, that nothing could ever separate them from the love of God. Phillips explores how we are tempted by that which isn't Love and ends the chapter saying.  Ponder "the paramount importance" and "permanence" of Love.

If love is God's nature, ponder how Christ Jesus expressed it and how the early church expressed it. How do we express it? How do we teach children that love is most important and the love of God, the love of God shed abroad in our hearts will outlast everything else? Is the love I share with the people around me, something that will last forever?

What qualities or choices fight with our call to love God and our neighbor, as adults and as children? I seem to remember my kids getting into arguments and saying, "It's not about who's right or who's wrong, it's how you treat each other. If you treat each other badly, you're both wrong." You may feel differently.

I was going to link to a bio for J.B. Phillips. Some circles consider him a heretic yet, apparently the Reverend Billy Graham thanked him for his work.

But this isn't about the translator. This isn't about the man. Every non-original language translation has been given into the hands of men and women in order to make the Living Word of God more accessible to more people. If five people look at the same sunset, which only God can make happen, do they see the same thing? The sunset is beautiful. (I think). You can talk about the science of the sunset but that doesn't mean that God didn't create it. You can write prose or poetry about it. You can photograph or paint it. But we don't change the sunset. And it doesn't wait for us.

Definitely read the intro (Explanation) in the beginning of the book as the writer talks of the scriptures of the New Testament as a Living book like no other.

Trying to look at the New Testament through the eyes, history, and culture of the early Christians just adds another dimension. God's Word is intended to stand generation after generation. As human beings we will always be very Me-centered. God isn't.

Much of what the author is doing is looking at those first Christians who didn't have all of the religious baggage that we have and the themes he saw repeating as he translated. He observing: these are qualities that made the Early Church alive, vibrant, life-changing, world-changing, drawing men and women to God. These qualities are within the grasp of every generation. Why do we focus on other things?

I disagree that we don't really need to read the whole of scripture (Old Testament, too). God gave us all of it for the reasons the scriptures say in I Timothy 3:16. You can pick which version you want to read it in. I think Phillip's point is that if your time is limited, focus on the gospels because they tell of Jesus, who He was, what He did, how He loved God and man - his faith, his hope, his love, how He maintained his connection with the Father, How He served. Read the New Testament because it tells you of those who knew God in the flesh and how they lived after Jesus left His Spirit to dwell in us and continue what He began.

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Book to Talk About! Actually, Two! II

I'm reading and talking about New Testament Christianity by J.B. Phillips. The book  Your God is Too Small is also a book worth reading and pondering especially in the context of working with children and youth. It forces us to take a second look at how we see God.

In New Testament Christianity, Phillips is looking at the New Testament and the early church, exploring themes he saw as he translated - surprisingly appropriate for the Christmas season. The nature and purpose of the God of the scriptures and His untainted Word are at the heart of his commentary.

His book isn't a how-to but he draws attention to mega-themes that effect how we think. He talks about God historically visiting a tiny dot in the universe for which we should be eternally humbled and grateful. He talks about faith as a muscle, the bridge between God's reality and our own reality - the reality of living in a physical, social, cognitive world. He talks about faith based on fact.

Then he talks about hope; not hope as wishful thinking or "pious hope" but again, hope based on fact, work, and God's realities. Faith and hope, as he describes them, are based on what is real and true of God's nature and God's purpose, even if we don't know or understand what that purpose is.

He briefly touches the historical context of the New Testament; how brightly the faith and hope of the early Christians shined in such a dark culture.  At one point he says, "To the pagan mind to take a man's life was to take his all, but to attack Christians by sword, torture, or the atrocities of the arena was to invite defeat. Even if you killed them they slipped through your fingers to be with their Lord for ever!" ( pg 48) I've read Eusebius. The historic account of the early church is incredulous - humbling and inspiring.

He ventures to say that the New Testament is more about faith than depravity.  He shares brilliant metaphors to explain how he understands the relationship between faith, hope, our actions, and God's. He ventures to explore the challenge of living in the world but not of the world - holding to the realities of both the physical and the spiritual (living, working, believing) knowing we're being prepared for the latter.

More to come. I'm about halfway through.

Why do these tiny adult books matter if I'm working with children? Children start off with a faith, hope, and love uncharacteristic of most adults. We are given charge (parents, teachers, friends, family) to nurture faith muscles, hope muscles, and the muscles of godly love. In order to set children up to succeed, they have to learn how to tap into the God of the Universe as revealed through Christ Jesus and His Holy Spirit in their day to day life. God help us if we give them what is counterfeit and set them up to fail.

Sometimes we get so caught up in things that don't matter that we miss what really does matter. Check out  1 Corinthians 13:13.

The scriptures tell us of true faith, hope, love founded on the reality of Who God is and His own eternal purpose. We have an obligation to tend and grow what is true to the God of the scriptures - faith, hope, love that will last a lifetime and beyond, not counterfeits that can't stand up to life in this world. Can I tell you where the lines are? No, I've just started pondering this.

How did the early church know they were on target? Their faith, hope, and love stood the test of the world they lived in. God's reality became their reality. Their eyes were always on the Father and their lives and actions reflected that love in tangeable ways that even the world could see. They were different. The God of Creation, the God of the Universe, walked with them.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Book to Talk About! Actually, Two!

Not long ago, I read a very short but loaded book by J.B. Phillips. Yes, he is one of the individuals who translated the New Testament. The book was Your God is Too Small. It truly challenges what we believe about God in the light of what scripture says. A challenging book for a parent/teacher group Bible study. An important book for people ministering to children in Christ-following faith communities.

Now, I am reading New Testament Christianity also by J.B. Phillips. Both are very small (as in short) books: 90-100 pages.  I'm reading this on the sly because it's a Christmas present. I wanted to read it first.

The main points Phillips makes are so important, so foundational to how we think. And if they are crucial for us as adult believers, how much more for children?

I admit his introduction is a bit stuffy. He's telling you why he feels compelled to write the book, but hang in there! The rest of the book will keep your attention. These are very short books that should send you back to the scriptures "to see if these things be so."

Chapter 1 "The Angel's Point of View" - a reminder that is it utterly amazing that the God of the Universe chose to visit us. Beyond our ability to even comprehend!  Worth celebrating at Christmastime.

Chapter 2 "God Makes News" is another reminder that ties into Christmas: "Emmanuel, God With Us" - God came and lived among us and that was beyond our comprehension and the understanding of those who lived with him. How did His presence with them effect their everyday lives?

We've become so dull to the Amazing that we say with our minds. Of course. I knew that. But maybe such understanding, too wonderful for us, should bowl us over!

Chapter 3 "The Faith Faculty."  I'm only half-way through this very short chapter. Phillips approaches this with fresh perspective looking at the visible and invisible world. Faith is in some ways a portal, if you will; in other ways, a muscle to be exercised.  If Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Door to the Father and faith is what we need to access Him . . . is there anything more important for us to give our children? Is it ours to give? Or only by example and through prayer?

Going back to read more.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Non-electronic Christmas thoughts

Our kids are grown but they seem to enjoy coming home for some combination of Thanksgiving and Christmas. We almost put the tree up this year while they were still here for Thanksgiving. No grand kids yet. But thinking about traditions.

Years ago someone wrote an article in New Wine magazine about creating Christmas ornaments each year that reminded them of something God did that year, or something to be thankful for. Over the years, we made ornaments and bought ornaments for the tree with that in mind.

You could do that in Sunday school classrooms, too, or even as a multi-generational church activity.

You could even combine Thanksgiving and Christmas: collect magazine pictures of something each child (or person) is thankful for this year. [Instead of a magazine picture of something each person is thankful for, consider a photo of each person.]

Collect metal juice can lids (hammer a hole in the lid for the hook). Glue each picture to a lid.

Seal (with something like modgepodge). Sprinkle the wet sealer with glitter.

Hang them on a class or church Christmas tree.

Send each person's decoration home on Christmas or Christmas Eve.

If you play with this, you'll probably come up with a better idea.

I have to say that if you do this every year at home, eventually you will need a separate memory box to keep all those kid-friendly juice can lid pictures but what a fun box to open with grand kids if you decorate your tree together at the end of Thanksgiving! We have pictures of babies, hamsters, a computer, homes. When I dig out my Christmas boxes, I'll post photos.

Each picture ornament comes with a story and a real live storyteller. :-)