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When Jesus brought three of his apostles to watch over him in the garden as he prayed he was inviting them into a holy mystery. Because this was mentioned in such detail it seems altogether likely that while they had seen Jesus pray they had never before been brought into such close communion with his prayer life. Imagine that night. How unusual it must have been to those who expected a triumphant King and received instead a humble carpenter’s son who lowered even this low dignity so that he could wash the feet of his chosen disciples. Already that night he spoke to them of his death and ushered one of the twelve out into the night so that some unspoken task could be accomplished. Already were they told one would betray him.  Indeed in their own way all would betray him.

Like all Passovers before bread was broken and wine poured but this too was different; this wine was the blood of the beloved rabbi, the bread his flesh. What did this mean? Then the shock, Peter boldly proclaimed his steadfast loyalty only to be rebuked. Surely he must have thought will it be me who betrays my beloved teacher? No, surely not I. I am Peter, I am a rock, the leader of the twelve, second to Jesus. But then in his heart he knew there was weakness and fear.   All the rest remained silent, lost in their own doubts.

Then came the garden and a simple request, keep watch with me. Was it fear in his voice? This teacher who laughed and loved was now sorrowful in his very heart. Trouble was heavy about him. Surely these three would never betray him, Peter must have taken consolation to be there. And yet they did betray him, each falling asleep, unable to keep watch with their friend. And here more than ever before we see Jesus as a friend. In a short while he would bear the sin of all the world, betrayed by the world, and at that moment more than anything Jesus needed his friends. And they fell asleep.

This is so like our prayer lives, we are bold in proclamation, fierce when there is nothing to lose, when we see Jesus as the anointed King we pray valiantly. But when we are called to be his friend, to keep watch we fall asleep. For most of us, the important moments in our prayer life are those quiet garden moment, when the Lord speaks to us but all too often we are asleep and do not hear him. I have often thought that what hurt Jesus most was not the lash or the crown of thorns, not the nails or the weight of his own body as he approached death, but that moment when he needed friends and we were asleep.

Are you sleeping now?


Too often people pick up the Bible with an eye towards judging its, weighing it against what we believe, or want to be true. But in reality, we are judged by the Bible. How can we be judged by a mere book? The answer is the Bible is no mere book. The Bible, unlike other religious texts is not simply a moral guide, or a set of doctrines. The Bible is God. The Bible is Jesus Christ.  There is an incarnational quality to the Bible that must not be denied. What we read as moral rules in the text are in fact direct revealed moral orders, order here being used in the sense of an ordered system. When we remember that we are people of the Book, we need to recall that that book is a living thing itself, not an icon of a distant god, but god incarnate in the narrative. When we read of the various relationships in the Bible we are deep reading THE relationship between man and God. Deep reading here is meant to convey something beyond comprehensive reading, it is experiential reading, reading so deep that we become the story and the story becomes us. For this reason when are called to live in Christ we are being called to live in  the story of the Bible.


Many people, in fact most people, including Christians find it difficult to live the so called Christian lifestyle. And indeed there is nothing more difficult than to live striving towards holiness. That is where grace comes in. We are to be sanctified, not to sanctify ourselves or our efforts. Does this mean then that people cannot or should not strive to live accordingly? No. Of course not. Simply because grace works in mysterious ways and the most recalcitrant heart can be brought to submission by the in breaking of grace into their lives. What this means is that people cannot live devoted to their own egos (or the service of other peoples egos) and also be capable of living a holy, grace filled life. There must be a moment when our commitment to self-interest gives way to our commitment to living a grace filled, holy life. There is nothing in the world harder to do because we are sinful beings by nature. This is why Jesus Christ had to become the atonement for our individual sins. He became the self-interest that we each embrace in our own ways while on the cross, and it was there on Calvary that our self-interest was conquered, through him. We have but to accept the grace that was meant to replace the hole that will be left when we abandon our self-interest.

With this in mind, Christians need to remember than when dealing with the recalcitrant heart in others, not to mistake it for being laziness or a desire not to practice self-control. Indeed self-interest requires tremendous self-control. I have always said of atheists (for example) that it takes tremendous willpower to choose every day to live utterly devoted to self-interest. While it is true that we are sinners, and that our nature is to show self-interest, it is more true that we were meant for something more. That something is Jesus Christ and in this we find our true self-interest, rightly aligned and in proper working order.

 

But what of the non-believer who does charity? Here is the thing, people can live for others and still be devoted to misaligned and malformed self-interest, as is the case for those who are not homosexual but who champion homosexual marriage on  the grounds that people should be free to live as they please. This is nothing less than radical autonomy and ego run amuck. It is subverting truth, for the idea of self-interest, even as the self-interest serves someone else. The same can be said for people who while in a good marriage, seek to make divorce easier for others.

 

It is therefore a mistake to believe that those who do not believe, or who are hostile are lazy or lack self-control in a general sense.  What they do lack is self-restraint, and I believe there is a difference between self-control and self-restraint.


Does GOD love unconditionally? No. And such an idea is contrary to what the Bible teaches. GOD’s love is a component of HIS holiness. Being perfectly holy GOD abhors that which does not strive towards holiness, which is why HE “hates” sin. Unconditional love is a nice greeting card sentiment, but it is a myth that has no basis in the Bible.  Evil is never condoned for example, in a world of unconditional love then even sin would have to be tolerated and indeed loved equally to holiness. What is unconditional is the grace bestowed through GOD’s mercy. In other words “once” we are forgiven, sanctified, washed clean, born anew, or any of the other terms we might use then that forgiveness, that mercy becomes unconditional and irrevocable. BUT and this is very important, to be really forgiven means two things.

1: While we continue to sin, our desire to sin no more. This is where non-Christians see hypocrisy when they really only see human nature continuing despite a desire to be changed. The Christian continues to sin. Our fallen nature does not disappear once we commit to Christ.

2:  While the result of Gods mercy is unconditional forgiveness, it is not freely given. We must want it, we must ask for it, and we must embrace it when it is given. God does not and will not save or forgive the unrepentant. GOD’s love is not the love a rapist, aggressive, angry and forced against our will. And on this Jesus Christ is in perfect accord with the Old Testament Prophets. For example, once we are “forgiven” then nothing we do can change that. It is not revoked. But this is not a license to then commit further sin. That is part and parcel of the antinomian heresy. This goes back to faith vs works. Faith is the only way to salvation. Works won’t cut it, but true faith is manifested in works, so while works do not equate to salvation, our faith is questionable if we are not driven to also do good works, just as the candle under a cover gives off no light, neither does the Christian who does not do good works give off the light of Christ.


 

These books should not be confused with the documentary Hypothesis which states there are at least 4 Biblical authors who to varying degrees created the ancient Hebrew Bible, either from previous sources or out of whole cloth and with deliberate cultural agendas. Rather these lost books represent a narrative tradition that was at one time well enough known to the ancient Hebrew Bible audience that their mention would have been familiar and would have lent authority to the newly compiled Bible. The same is true for the latter books and letters that are mentioned in the New Testament including Pauls pre- 1st Corinthian letter, an earlier letter to the church at Ephesus, an epistle to the church at Laodicea and a possible prophetic work hinted at in Jude, though not explicitly named.


When we think of the idea of brooding we tend to think of images like Achilles brooding in his tent beneath the walls of Troy or of Abraham Lincoln and his well attested melancholic brooding through the White House during America’s Civil War. When used as an adjective this is a very apt definition, but it is not the only. In fact Farmers know of a different, fuller and richer definition by looking at the way a hen broods over her precious and utterly defenseless chicks, anxious and fierce. This is the word used as a verb. Now Jesus Christ is described in many different ways both symbolic and descriptive but a description that is used only once Conveys a sense of Jesus Christ’s human nature as it is mingled with the divine aspects of his being in way unlike any other. Jesus Christ is indeed very like a mother hen, brooding over his precious children.

 

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you,

how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her

chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”          

 

                                                                                                                                -Matthew 23:7

 

Have you ever seen a mother hen gathering her wayward chicks under her wing? So it is with Jesus Christ, and we the chicks scamper about never knowing the dangers we face when outside of that protection. The chick that is lost to the roaming hawk is the chick who wandered away from the wing.

But there is still another way to use the word brood. Have you ever seen a large Specter haunted house sitting on a hill top, one that seems to fill up all the horizon, often seemingly larger than its actual size? We might say such a house broods on the hilltop. So it is with Jesus Christ to the faithful. Externally Jesus broods over his children like a mother hen, but internally, through the Holy Spirit his presence comes to brood over our whole being, taking up real space within us. This is why so many mystics and indeed any one of the faith in times of deep inner turmoil and crisis are prone to fits of melancholy. It is in these moments of deepest despair that we are most diminished. And in being diminished many parts of who we are and what we think we want are displaced. And though Jesus Christ fills up that void if we let him it cannot be denied that we pay a great price in ourselves for what we lose to make room for his presence. As it is said in Hebrews, and I wholeheartedly agree, that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God. But how much more fearful is it to have that Living God fall into your innermost being.

Thought topics

1: What Bible passages suggest melancholy or a brooding nature?

2: How did the different disciples respond to moments of inner turmoil?


Christianity is born in crisis. What I mean is that no one simply becomes Christian because they were already having great lives. They must first become aware that there is something wrong, and then that there are correctives. Remember that salvation is meaningless to the person who doesn’t know he or she needs to be saved. The Holy Spirit is not like some predator that strikes unawares. When the apostles felt the spirit descend it was only after they were broken and desperate, after their promised earthly king apparently failed and was put to death. I like to evoke it this way.. Christianity was born over three days of pain and uncertainty and of fear and anger and confusion. Later minds called this the dark night of the soul.

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