Monthly Archives: November 2022
Thoughts that cause me to be drawn closer to Jesus… and to the Cross:
21 Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then come and follow me.”
22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he was very rich. Matthew 19:21-22 GNT
IN this atmosphere of theological litigation it comes to seem as if God did not want us to be free, as if freedom were something He envied and begrudged us; as if grace, while making us “safe,” took all the sting out of this dangerous faculty of free will by robbing us of spontaneous initiative; in other words, it seems as if man saves himself and arrives at divine union by bartering his freedom for God’s grace. The price of happiness is the renunciation of his natural autonomy, and the acceptance of a slave-status in the household of a God who is powerful enough to make slavery worth while.
The methods that make the kingdom of America strong—economic, military, technological, informational—are not suited to making the kingdom of God strong. I have had to learn a new methodology: truth-telling and love-making, prayer and parable. These are not methods very well adapted to raising the standard of living in suburbia or massaging the ego into a fashionable shape.
We need to pray for men and women in our churches who have determined to set their own agendas—to live their lives as they please! They have determined to manage the influences of the Word of God in their lives.
When I was in Bible College, one of the motto’s of our school was “to prepare servant leaders,” And while most thought this was about pastors, youth pastors and missionaries, it was equally about preparing those who would serve the church in the community, and as volunteers in local congregations. TO this end, every graduate ended up with a part of their degree being in Bible.
While I don’t believe it was everyone’s intent, there was a subtle concept undertow similar to Merton’s comment in green above. In order to show we were saved, we needed to give up what we wanted, and embrace the sacrifice that God wanted us to make. For that was the way to be holy. Avoiding sin was often taught as forgoing pleasure. We didn’t have to live like monks, (unless we were headed to the mission field) but books like Freedom of Simplicity, and books by Tony Campolo and Ron Sider were often looked at as true spiritual disciplines that we needed to embrace. (These books were good- but it was put to us that it was our “duty” to live sacrificially)
There is not doubt in my mind that we need a change of heart and soul in this country. Peterson is write, the American Way is often incompatible with God’s will. The perceived standard of living will not be increased, the ego won’t be massaged in the ways the world recognizes. This is not just a problem in society, it starts in the church, where we have been taught it is either God’s way or the highway.. Again, we see guilt and pressure to give up what we have…and perhaps even feel much like the young rich man Jesus invites into his crew.
Make no mistake, the lifestyles of someone dependent on God is different from someone without God. But it isn’t about losing freedom or sacrificing ones ego on the altar.
It’ is about seeing a change in ownership, about realizing that we were less free apart from God than we are walking with Him. We need to see that pleasure and happiness are not the same, and the damage sin does to us, is horrid. It is not losing freedom, it is changing masters, One who was oppressive, and one who is benevolent. One who does not care about one’s life, or eternity, One who cares for it enough to die…
That’s the missing piece of the discussion, the idea that free-will is not oppressed by Satan. Satan will use anything to captivate our attention, our hearts, our souls. The cost of following Jesus is not a cost to us, but a blessing. It is not a loss of free will, but freedom from the consequences of the thoughts, words and actions that deserve punishment. Until we understand this – we will struggle with the idea of the cost of discipleship.
God is our Lord, and when we struggle with that, and we will, may we ask for His help, and the assurance of His love and presence. Amen!
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 27.
Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 38.
A. W. Tozer and Gerald B. Smith, Mornings with Tozer: Daily Devotional Readings (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008).
God spoke to him in a vision at night and called, “Jacob, Jacob!”
“Yes, here I am,” he answered.
“I am God, the God of your father,” he said. “Do not be afraid to go to Egypt; I will make your descendants a great nation there. 4I will go with you to Egypt, and I will bring your descendants back to this land. Joseph will be with you when you die.” Genesis 26:1-4 GNT
Moreover it is a common plague that no one is satisfied with his own lot, so that the heathen say: How does it happen that there is always better fruit in another field, and that the neighbor’s cow gives more milk than our own? How does it come that no one is content with his own state and thinks that of another is better than his own? If God allowed one to change his lot with all his will, even then he would be like every one else, would become more tired and at last stay with his own. Hence one ought not to think of changing his lot, but of changing his spirit of discontent. Cast aside and change that restless spirit, then the lot of one will be like that of another and all will be prized alike.
To overcome such unrest, discontent and disgust in one’s self, faith is helpful and necessary—a faith which is of the firm conviction that God governs all alike, places each one in the lot that is the most suitable for him. This faith brings rest, contentment and peace; it banishes the tired spirit
The prodigal son takes his part of the inheritance, glad that it is his, and travels as far as he can from his father’s house. Up to the point where the prodigal enters into himself and remembers where he came from, the story is that of Prometheus and the vulture. The prodigal has not stolen anything, but he thinks that to “find himself,” he must segregate whatever can be classified as “his” and exploit it for his own self-affirmation.
During a recent hospitalization, I was awake late at night and thought through my life.
Let’s just say, that even though I do what I wanted to do as a child, there is much in my life that is… disappointing. Part of that is because of the physical limitations of a genetic disorder, which caused my heart, spinal and visual issues. How many things can I not do, that I loved. How many others I would have do, if only…
It is easy to get an attitude like the prodigal – to want to take what you’ve got and head for somewhere else. To find something where life is easier, or at least less stressful, less painful. Not that those dreams have the chance to become reality, but the dreams still exist. It’s not fair to face so many challenges, to walk with others facing even more challenges. Luther hits this hard, talking of the sin of wanting to change his lot, only to find that equally unsatisfying.
At the end of the Ten Commandments, there are the commandments about coveting, of wanting something that isn’t ours. The lists includes homes, family, associates, every part of our lives. Taken in view of the Commandments beginning, “I am the Lord, your God who has delivered you.” the reason that wanting to be different than who we are comes clear. He has given us our families, our vocations, the people in our lives, and yes, our bodies. To want to toss all that aside, so that we think we can find affirmation in another scenario, means we don’t trust in God’s plan and providence, and we doubt His love.
I imagine this was Jacob’s attitude, as his sons explained to him the necessity of the move, and the impossible miracle they said was true. Ninety years of hard work, of tears of loss of the wife he truly loved, and her son. Now, in his old age – a move? A new country? To give up everything? How could God ask him of this, after everything else he’s been through?
God doesn’t forget him, this man who was brave enough to wrestle with God and not let go. Or perhaps not brave, just simply at the end of his rope, and unable to conceive of life going on, and enduring more trauma. Hearing God’s voice makes a difference. Don’t be afraid—I will be with you. That makes every bit of a difference.
You and I need to hear that voice, the promise that while life is not “ideal”, that God is here, that life is in His hands, that even broken bodies, and wounded hearts have meaning and purpose… that He will hold us, even in the midst our angst, our pain, our frustration and anger. He is there, for that is His promise to us in baptism, and one we experience as we are given the Body and Blood of Jesus Gathered by God into His presence with others. It is there we fin the Spirit’s comfort, the healing of Jesus, the love of the Father. It is there we are taught to say, with confidence, that it is well, with our souls, and find a peace-filled contentment with our life, lived in His presence..
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 416–417.
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 25.
“What about you?” he asked them. “Who do you say I am?” 16*Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:15-16 GNT
But this occurs only when God awakens us and keeps us in his fear, so that we may always be concerned and cry: “Lord, increase our faith.” Our hearts should always be in a condition as if we had only begun to believe to-day, and always be so disposed toward the gospel as if we had never before heard it. We should make a fresh beginning each day. Our faith must constantly grow and become stronger.
The naked, hidden God needs no theological proof, apology, or defense. The problem, Luther saw clearly, was neither how to find God nor even to prove God’s existence, but how to get God off our backs. Yet only God could do that.
Here is the central reason for his inescapable feeling of guilt. He condemns himself to frustration. He cannot enjoy the gift of God unless he snatches it away when God is not looking. This is necessary, for Prometheus demands that the fire be his by right of conquest. Otherwise he will not believe it is really his own. And that is the paradox that St. Paul saw so clearly: salvation belongs to the order of love, of freedom and of giving. It is not ours if it is conquered, only if it is freely received, as it is freely given.
Rarely have I found a true atheist, especially among those of any intellectual capability.
I have found people who know God exists, and do not like Him! Also, I have found many who don’t like His people, because we can be arrogant, self-centered, holier than thou, who target this sin or that one–making that sin the cause of a new crusade.
Forde’s insight of Luther is often true of them, as they feel the tension bought about by a God who is only focused on correcting their errors, what we refer to as sin. This was Luther’s battle, and the freedom he eventually found was transformative. Forde simply says to Luther’s cry to get God off his back, that only God could do that. Only God can deal with the feeling God is on your back, bugging you to do what is right, and not do what is wrong.
Merton’s Prometheus has a similar struggle. He tries to steal fire, that is his purity, his righteousness. But you can’t steal what which is a gift! We see that in society today as well, and even in some theological systems, where we have to attain a level of holiness, or perfection, before God would bend down to us. I think that is the real reason for those theologies which promise health and wealth – the illusion of being blessed by God . It has more to deal with our opinion of ourselves than God’s opinion of us. It is to ogain the illusion of success, or at least striving for it.
The first quote from Luther, though, picks up an interesting idea. That the presence of sin in our lives, no matter how small, no matter how big, should drive us to cry out to God for a deeper faith. To trust in Him more, because we realize our incredible need for Him and His healing. As sin is a daily issue, so too is this life of transformation, trusting—depending on God to see be there for us.
Perhaps if we started each day thinking through Peter’s exchange, hearing God ask us, “who do you say I am” And realizing that Jesus is the Son of God, the One chose and anointed (for that is what Messiah means) to bring us to the Father, at any cost. That thought balances off the reverence, and yet the intimacy we need…It reminds us we can cling to Him, we can depend on Him, to care for us. He’s not on our back, He has our back.. for He loves us.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 415.
Gerhard O. Forde, “The Preached God,” in Theology Is for Proclamation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990), 22.
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 24.
Thoughts which drive me to Jesus, and to His cross
You, LORD, are all I have, and you give me all I need; my future is in your hands. 6 How wonderful are your gifts to me; how good they are! 7 I praise the LORD, because he guides me, and in the night my conscience warns me. 8 I am always aware of the LORD’S presence; he is near, and nothing can shake me. Psalm 16:5-8 (TEV)
For instance, it is very common to find, even under the formulas of impeccable orthodoxy, a raffishly Promethean spirituality which is avid not so much for God as for “spiritual perfection.” The language of prayer in such cases may be the language of the most consummate humility. Grace becomes everything. Nature is worse than nothing: it is an abhorrent nothing. And yet such a spirituality may be completely self-centred. Its orientation can be directly opposed to the true orientation of Christianity. Instead of being the fulfilment of a Christian finding himself in God through the charity and selflessness of Jesus Christ, it becomes the rebellion of a Promethean soul who is trying to raid heaven and steal the divine fire for its own glorification. What Prometheus wants is not the glory of God but his own perfection. He has forgotten the terrible paradox that the only way we become perfect is by leaving ourselves, and, in a certain sense, forgetting our own perfection, to follow Christ.
In Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, there is a turbulent scene in which a whaleboat scuds across a frothing ocean in pursuit of the great, white whale, Moby Dick. The sailors are laboring fiercely, every muscle taut, all attention and energy concentrated on the task. The cosmic conflict between good and evil is joined; chaotic sea and demonic sea monster versus the morally outraged man, Captain Ahab. In this boat, however, there is one man who does nothing. He doesn’t hold an oar; he doesn’t perspire; he doesn’t shout. He is languid in the crash and the cursing. This man is the harpooner, quiet and poised, waiting. And then this sentence: “To insure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooners of this world must start to their feet out of idleness, and not out of toil.”
Melville’s sentence is a text to set alongside the psalmist’s “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10), and alongside Isaiah’s “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength” (Isa. 30:15).
As I have scrolled through social media today, I have seen a lot of people express that they are thankful for this, and thankful for that. Some are thankful for the relationships of friends and family. Some are more honest, and are thankful for a day off, where some family members work harder than they would on a work day! Others are thankful for health, and yet others–missing those they love–are thankful for the time they did have together.
Some even added a religious tone to their thanks, thanking God for this country, or for their religious freedom. After all, most picture Thanksgiving as Pilgrims and Indians, gathered around a table, free from the horrible religious controls that saw the Puritans leave England, hoping for freedom to practice their brand of Christianity, rather than following the flavor of King James. Some may even remember to thank God for the cross,
With this in the back of my mind, I came to Merton and Peterson’s heavy words, and they resonated enough that I had to think through them more deeply than the norm. It is not the most sophisticated systematic theology I have encountered. Even so, they are incredibly deep thoughts, and require more context than I include. But the thought is similar in each, a search for something more
The concept gets to what we should be thankful for, more than anything else.
with God the Father Almighty, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.
It is what Merton’s Prometheus couldn’t find, the reason he had to try and steal fire, he had to steal purity. Salvation was the end of the journey in his quest, without God. Which is, I am afraid, all to common these days, especially among those who are interested in theology and apologetics. We’ve done this for decades, chasing after the ultimate apologetic, and placing justification up as our idol, all but omitting its compatriot, Sanctification. We reversed the old Right Praise (Orthodoxy) leads to Right Doctrine and Right Practice. Preaching becomes more important hearing the word, and more important than communion with God in those incarnational, sacramental moments that reveal the greatest truth–God desires and made possible a relationship where He is our God, and we are His people.
It was what Peterson saw as Ahab’s strength, the ability to focus more on what was important than the evil storm, or the evil Leviathan. Not sure Ahab knew that was what he was doing, but by resting he could fulfil his role, his destiny. We need a similar focus on those times with God, those moments we experience His acceptance of us, and His presence in our lives.
This is what our life is about, it is who we are…
That is, more than anything else, what we need to be thankful for…
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 23.
Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 33.
Only One Guy Understood—How Ironic
† In the name of Jesus, Son, Savior, King †
May the grace of God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ draw you closer and closer to them! As close as a criminal executed for his bad (crappy) life!
- I Love Good Irony
Pastor Parker knows I like irony, for a few reasons….
But theological Irony? Well, I might need more teaching…to understand that!
Take this cartoon that someone put on the internet (ask Doug to advance slide or use the clicker)
But what most of you don’t know is that Charles Schultz was a devout Christian and used the Peanuts cartoon as a way to tell people about Jesus!
Linus will go from waiting for the Great Pumpkin in that movie to reciting the story of Jesus’ birth in the Christmas special. Hmmm That’s cool! From waiting for Someone to Come and bring ultimate blessings–to seeing that Someone to come at Christmas! Sound familiar?
Anyone make that connection?
Here is where irony comes in… Lucy kills Jes… err the Great Pumpkin and serves Him up for everyone to eat.
HMMMMMMMM… someone mocked the Peanuts characters and unknowingly revealed one of the most blessed mysteries in scripture. That Jesus would provide His body and blood to us, to help us know He loves us and would die for us! And we would share in that Body and Blood as gather here today!
Pastor thinks Schultz would love this cartoon… He certainly does. I think I do too!
So back to the gospel reading, and more irony!
- The Crowds and Experts (and sometimes us)
So, let’s talk about some serious mocking—or, as they say today—trash talking.
This is even more intense than pastor and I comparing Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers!
Hear the gospel again,
The crowd watched and the leaders scoffed. “He saved others,” they said, “let him save himself if he is really God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
That’s pretty nasty to say to a guy tortured and nailed to a cross to pay for your sins, don’t you think?
Other’s picked up on it, saying,
The soldiers mocked him, too, by offering him a drink of sour wine. 37 They called out to him, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”
Even Pilate, the governor, got into the act. This is what he had done…
A sign was fastened above him with these words: “This is the King of the Jews.”
Man, these people are cruel!
I mean—I can’t see myself being that cruel to a guy was guilty and about to be executed!
Never mind doing that to Jesus, we would never ever do that, would we?
Here is the hard part of the law—we have…
Every time we have tried to kick Jesus off of the throne, by choosing our way, rather than His. Every time we have broken the commandments, or failed to love our neighbor, we deny the fact that He died to save us!
This is harsh—and I wish Pastor was preaching this… o wait- then I would sit there and pay attention…. And hear the law. It would sting and rip my sinful heart to pieces… hmmm… maybe it’s better I am up here…
We need to see our sin as…well sin. We need to see it as just as much a betrayal of Jesus as those people who mocked him, and those who laughed. We have to struggle with it, so that we become as desperate as the man on the cross… whose only hope…hanging there next to Jesus… was Jesus.
- Irony Man
Now we get to the criminal on the cross. Not the dude that mocked Jesus, but the one the Holy Spirit worked on, the one whose heart was opened, who saw Jesus as the Messiah, as the savior
The word for criminal is interesting. Kaka-poi-a-oh. It’s actually two words merged into one. The Poi-a-o one is to craft something—to bring artistic level skill to your work. So this guy is an artist when it comes to what he does…
What he does is the Kaka part. Now, that isn’t what it sounds like! It means the worst of the worse, the scummiest kind of bad actions against others. He was convicted of a capital crime—murder, treason; you know the other options.
And while everyone was mocking Jesus, telling him to save himself—this guy was the one to see that Jesus had to die… that Jesus must die, if there was any hope..
It is ironic—that the baddest, scummiest, crappiest sinner in the crowd was the one to see the need for Christ’s sacrifice… and to say… “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
I think it’s only when we put ourselves in his shoes… when we realize how broken and bad we’ve been, that we can see how wonderful Jesus is! How he is our hope—whether we are facing dealing with the consequences of our sin, or the ultimate consequence of sin as death approaches!
He is our King, the one who came to save us.
No matter how bad our kaka-poi-a-o has been…
We can cry out—Jesus, remember us, dear King!
And at Communion, what is called the Great Feast, I almost said pumpkin—as we celebrate, we recall what He said—do this; remembering me… proclaiming my death for you… until He comes again.
Jesus is here, and He could not save Himself, because He was saving you.
But in doing so, He entered His kingdom, and there will be a day when that Kingdom will be as clearly seen.
Until then, you still dwell in His Kingdom, as surely as the sinner on the cross next to Him, and therefore in His peace that passes all understanding, which He will keep you in…. AMEN!
Thoughts which draw me closer to Jesus, and the Cross
Isaac had come into the wilderness of “The Well of the Living One who Sees Me” and was staying in the southern part of Canaan.
After the death of Abraham, God blessed his son Isaac, who lived near “The Well of the Living One who Sees Me”. Gen. 24:62, 25:11 GNT
Jesus left that place, and as he walked along, two blind men started following him. “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” they shouted. 28 When Jesus had gone indoors, the two blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I can heal you?” “Yes, sir!” they answered. 29 Then Jesus touched their eyes and said, “Let it happen, then, just as you believe!”— 30 and their sight was restored. Jesus spoke sternly to them, “Don’t tell this to anyone!” 31 But they left and spread the news about Jesus all over that part of the country. Matthew 9:27-31 GNT
If I, even for a moment, accept my culture’s definition of me, I am rendered harmless.
If, for example, someone came asking us to intercede for them before some powerful man who was angry with him but did not know us, we would immediately respond that we were unable to intercede on his behalf because we do not have a relationship with the man in question. If, therefore, a person is too ashamed to intercede for another on whom he has no claim, how could anyone possibly assume the role of intercessor before God on behalf of the laity if he does not know himself to be in the intimacy of his grace because of the merits of his life? And how can anyone possibly ask for the forgiveness of another when he does not know if he is himself reconciled?
IT is in this perfect self-realization by contact of our own anguished freedom with the life-giving Freedom of Him Who is Holy and Unknown that man begins the conquest of death in his own soul. This finding of our true self, this awakening, this coming to life in the luminous darkness of the infinite God, can be nothing but a communion with God by the grace of Jesus Christ. Our victory over death is not our own work, but His. The triumph of our own freedom, which must truly be our triumph if it is to save us from death, is nevertheless also and primarily His. And consequently, in all these meditations we will be talking of contemplation as a sharing in the death and Resurrection of Christ.
We need to cling to God and pray: Merciful God, thou hast permitted me to become a Christian, help me to continue to be one and to increase daily in faith
In the great Easter acclimation, the church shares its hope as they yell, “He IS Risen, Indeed!” The tense of the verb is not mistaken – whether it is 33 AD. 700 AD, 1500 AD, or 2022 – Jesus is Risen!
Yes, the action originated nearly 2000 years ago, but it is still present tense. The impact of the resurrection is right now, wherever you are reading this. Peterson’s point about culture not defining us is based on the fact that Christ, the Christ who is Risen defines us. We are His!
St. Gregory shows the important of this relationship extends beyond the individual.It is from knowing the Lord is present that He is Risen means we are Risen. If we do not realize Chirst’s presence, how can we introduce people to Jesus? How can we promise them the healing of Jesus, unless we have experienced the power that raised Christ from the dead in our own lives. We need to live in that experience every moment of our lives.
Merton sees the same thing, in the selection I read from his work – our meditation, our contemplation has to be wrapped up in the death and resurrection of Jesus – for this is where we find His victory that is the triumph resulting in our freedom. Everything is based there, everything exists in that resurrection. That is this moment as well.
This presence of life is why Luther’s echo of the Apostle Paul – we have to cling to Jesus, even as we count on HIs clinging to us. This is the reason Hagar could name a well “the Lord who sees me”, and the well’s name stuck, a testimony to God’s presence in the life of one forgotten. It is the reason the formerly blind men went and told everyone. Christ was with them…
He is Risen. Therefore We are risen.
We need to know this, everything else in life depends on it.
We being all the people in the world.
so if you know… let those around you know as well. He IS Risen!
Eugene H. Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 21.
St Gregory the Great, The Book of Pastoral Rule, ed. John Behr, trans. George E. Demacopoulos, vol. 34, Popular Patristics Series (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2007), 44.
Thomas Merton, The New Man (London; New York: Burns & Oates, 1976), 10–11.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 399.
Thoguhts that drive me to Jesus… and to the Cross
When Jesus saw how much faith they had, he said to the paralysed man, “Courage, my son! Your sins are forgiven.” Then some teachers of the Law said to themselves, “This man is speaking blasphemy!” Jesus perceived what they were thinking, so he said, “Why are you thinking such evil things? Is it easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? I will prove to you, then, that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralysed man, “Get up, pick up your bed, and go home!” Matt 9:2-6 GNT
Wherever the carnal man is savingly touched by the Word of God, one thing is felt, another is wrought, namely, “The Lord killeth and maketh alive.” Though God is the God of life and salvation and these are his proper works, yet, in order to accomplish these, he kills and destroys, that he may come unto his proper work. He kills our will, that he may establish his own in us. He mortifies the flesh and its desires, that he may implant the Spirit and his desires; and thus “the man of God is made perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”
For what, indeed, is a position of spiritual authority but a mental tempest in which the ship of the heart is constantly shaken by storms of thoughts, tossed back and forth, until it is shattered by a sudden excess of words like hidden rocks of the sea?
All too often what happens is that the systematic theology short-circuits the process and usurps the place of the proclamation. The secondary discourse about love displaces the “I love you.” One ends then by delivering some species of lecture about God and things rather than speaking the Word from God. When this occurs, it matters little whether the lecture in question is conservative, liberal, evangelical, or fundamentalist. That only means the lecture is to one degree or another theologically correct. But that is of no great moment if it does not issue in proclamation.
Luther’s words about God killing off our will are so needed today, in my life. And I believe they are needed to be heard by every person in the world, if the individual and indeed, communities, are going to survive.
For until our will is finished with, we will be satisfied with whatever thrills us, whatever agrees with us, and we will not see a need for anything else. We will be satisfied with talking about love, rather than knowing we are loved. We will be glad about talking about God’s covenant, rather than rejoicing we are in a relationship. Mercy will just become a blessing, rather than something which transforms the soul.
In order to take that step, we need to be put to death, our passions, our pride, our will. I think this is why Gregory talks about the tempest those in ministry go through…because, like Peter, we need to let Jesus rescue us from drowning… it isn’t enough to just walk on the water. We need what Luther calls mortification – the dying off time, when all there is to life is the hand of God, lifting us out of the darkness.
This is what Paul shares with the church in Rome in Romans 6-8 – that part of salvation is God cleansing us, breaking us, and killing off our will so that we rise with Christ anew. I see it in the lives of some of my people, who take on incredible burdens, and find it joyous, as they see God at work in the lives of those they help, or those who see them helping. It is amazing to see God at work at such times. There is a correlation between knowing God’s love and showing that love to others that is only possible because of a deep, intimate relationship with God.
This is stuff that needs to be not only thought through – but lived through. Some may even experience it, without being able to put it into words. Like the man whose friends brought him to Jesus, they have imply clung to God during the storm, and treasure His presence. They know He has said to them, “I love you”
I pray then that we can enter those stormy times in our lives… assured of His love for us, and His presence that will see us through.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 397–398.
St Gregory the Great, The Book of Pastoral Rule, ed. John Behr, trans. George E. Demacopoulos, vol. 34, Popular Patristics Series (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2007), 42.
Gerhard O. Forde, Theology Is for Proclamation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990), 4–5.
Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well. She went and filled the leather bag with water and gave some to the boy. God was with the boy as he grew up; he lived in the wilderness of Paran and became a skilful hunter. His mother found an Egyptian wife for him. Genesis 21:19-21
It is essential that these two kinds of discourse not be confused or that one gets substituted for the other. Perhaps this can be clarified by pressing the love analogy further. Imagine the lover and the beloved at a critical moment in which the primary language is to be spoken. “Do you love me?” asks the lover. And the beloved answers, “Well, that is an interesting question. What is love after all?” And so launches into a discussion about the essence of love. After patient waiting, the lover finally gets another chance. “Yes, that’s all interesting, but do you love me?” Then the beloved takes another diversionary tack and says, “Well, yes, of course. You see, I love everybody!” (A universalist!) The lover protests, “That’s not what I mean! You haven’t answered the question! Do you love me?” So it goes. In spite of all the helpful things it does, secondary discourse makes the would-be lover look ridiculous when substituted for primary discourse.
Our task is that we develop a self-identity as Christians and do these things not incidentally to our lives, but centrally. By encouraging one another, by praying together, by studying Scripture together, we develop a sense that these things are in fact the very center of our lives. And we recognize they are not the center of the world’s life, however much cultural talk there is about Christianity.
There are the bad guys in scripture, and then there are those we assume are bad guys, sinner worse than the rest of us, and those bound for hell—well at least in our humble opinion.
The first I ever noted was Cain, who God talked to, and protected, not allowing any to condemn him. Ishmael, the son of Hagar, is another. It is just a brief comment. God was with him.
God was with him.
He wasn’t the chosen one, but God was with him.
I think this is what Forde is getting to as he tries to keep sharing the gospel in tension with teaching systematic theology. We can talk all day long about the presence of God, using intricate words like incarnational and sacramental, throwing around Hebrew, Greek and Latin terminology, and discussing the covenants. We can make hypothesis about why Elohim was used and not Yahweh. We can look at the history of his offspring in the Old Testament, and the sins they committed and the wars they started. Based on all of that, we might think that Ishmael was completely cut off, outside the family of God, even as he was cast away from the family of Abraham.
Defined by theology, Ishmael was an outcast.
But looking at the scripture through the lens of the gospel, God was with him.
It is something to think through, because many of us don’t fit the systems of the church today. We are not in with the cool crowd; we don’t have the right sponsors; we don’t have the connections, or the look or the charisma. We feel like outcasts.
This passage gives hope to the outcasts, for if God was even with him, then surely God can be with us.
The passage is that primary language of the gospel, “I am with you” that we so need to hear. I will care for you (which was the promise God made Abraham about Ishmael) God kept the promise, even to the one everyone overlooked.
He will keep those promises to you as well.
The Lord is with you!
Gerhard O. Forde, Theology Is for Proclamation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990), 3.
Eugene H. Peterson, Introduction, ed. Rodney Clapp, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 18.
Would any of you who are fathers give your son a stone when he asks for bread? Or would you give him a snake when he asks for a fish? Bad as you are, you know how to give good things to your children. How much more, then, will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
*“Do for others what you want them to do for you: this is the meaning of the Law of Moses and of the teachings of the prophets. Matthew 7:9-12 GNT
Now if our doctrine is to be found in the Bible, we certainly should not seek it elsewhere; all Christians should make daily use of this book. No other bears the title here given by Paul—book of comfort—one that can support the soul in all tribulations, helping it not to despair, but to maintain hope.
Proclamation belongs to the primary discourse of the church. Systematic theology belongs to its secondary discourse. Primary discourse is the direct declaration of the Word of God, that is, the Word from God, and the believing response in confession, prayer, and praise. Secondary discourse, words about God, is reflection on the primary discourse.
A long time ago in my undergraduate work, I had 4 classes on preaching. The basic idea we were taught was that sermons explained and explore the Biblical passage under consideration. The recommended method was exegetical, dissecting every word (I still do that in preparation) and then explaining those points. Along with that was including the theological points those verses supported.
I enjoyed studying that way. I enjoyed writing sermons that way. Not so great at delivering them for one simple reason.
Ultimately, they were meaningless.
Meaningless because I had so focused on the words that I missed the Word. I got lost in the Greek and Hebrew to the point where Jesus was not the focus, and people didn’t hear of their need for Him, how much He longed to meet that need as He drew them to Him, and onto the cross with Him. Luther’s words about Romans 15:4. ( For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. Romans 15:4 (NKJV)) He puts it there well, that these words of scripture are there to support the soul, to protect it from despair, and to give and maintain hope. The hope that is found in the cross and resurrection.
A solid knowledge about theology, whether Exegetical, Systematic or Historical, is not the end purpose of our message. If that is all that it is, then we should turn our churches into lecture halls, our Bible Studies into micro-universities. There must be more than that, if we are to offer people something that makes a difference in their lives, that gives them hope, as scripture was written to give them hope. Something that gives them the expectation of forgiveness as they confess their sins, something solid to base their confession of faith upon, the hope that Someone is listening and responding to the prayers that we share, and a God who is worthy to be praised.
This is what our sermons and Bible studies need to do—to address people where they are in life, and draw them to Jesus, as we lift Him up for them to see.
This is what we do… we listen to hear of our Lord and His love.. and that is what is communicated in our sermons and studies. So that our people can know
Alleluia! He is risen!
And therefore, we have risen indeed!
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 395.
Gerhard O. Forde, Theology Is for Proclamation (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1990), 2.
Once Jesus was in a certain place praying. As he finished, one of his disciples came to him and said, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”……Then, teaching them more about prayer, he used this story. Luke 1,5 GNT
And I tell you more: whenever two of you on earth agree about anything you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them.” Matthew 18:19-20 GNT
But Christ approached, raised him up, and placed him on a higher plane of faith. “Go thy way; thy son liveth.” Thus the man advanced from his first faith, when he believed that Christ could heal if he were present, to a higher stage of faith, by reason of which he now believed the mere Word of Christ. For if he had not believed the Word, he would not have ceased until the Lord had accompanied him to his house; but he accepted the Word, believed Christ and clung to his Word.
Does that mean we learn how to pray in community, that what we do in solitude is something we take from the community’s worship?
That’s what I mean. If somebody comes to me and says, “Teach me how to pray,” I say, “Be at this church at nine o’clock on Sunday morning.” That’s where you learn how to pray. Of course, prayer is continued and has alternate forms when you’re by yourself. But the American experience has the order reversed. In the long history of Christian spirituality, community prayer is most important, then individual prayer.
I had to look it up, but Petersen is right, our being taught to pray starts in groups. Bible studies, small groups, but especially in the church. In the book he will spend more time on the issue, but I needed to think through just this first part.
It was even this way in scripture, as Jesus taught, bet before, as Moses at Sinai and Solomon at the dedication of the Temple, as Nehemiah and Ezra and Daniel all learned to pray, it was as the family of God.
We need to learn more than by reading a book, for there we can only learn a form. We need to see others struggling with God, blessing God, realizing how complete His mercy is, how beyond reason God’s love is. I think that is what lifts us up, as we see Jesus lift up others. It is in these groups of believers that prayer becomes more than a spiritual exercise routine. It becomes a conversation based on our trust in God, our dependence on Him. We learn that from observation, from sharing in the tears, and in the joy, from sharing as our anxieties are calmed, our spirits are comforted, and as we realize that God is in our midst.
Does this mean we do not pray on our own? Of course not! But there is something about knowing others are praying for you, with you, as we storm heaven to ask God to be there. There is something about seeing others – locked in prayer, and being comforted by the Holy Spirit. The numbers aren’t the issue, the communion, the fellowship, the bonding is.
For as we realize we are praying in one voice, we realize that voice is in respons eot the Voice-the Voice who taught us to pray, together….
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 393.
Eugene H. Peterson, Introduction, ed. Rodney Clapp, vol. 17, The Leadership Library (Carol Stream, IL; Dallas; Waco, TX: Christianity Today; Word Pub., 1989), 15–16.