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The Balance Between Communication and Academia

Devotional Thought of the Day

This is a true saying, to be completely accepted and believed: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. I am the worst of them, 16 but God was merciful to me in order that Christ Jesus might show his full patience in dealing with me, the worst of sinners, as an example for all those who would later believe in him and receive eternal life. 1 Tim 1:15-16 GNT

Nietzsche once said he could not abide Saint Augustine—he seemed too plebeian and common. There is some justification for Nietzsche’s attitude, but it is precisely in these qualities that we discover Saint Augustine’s true Christian greatness. He could have been an aristocrat of the spirit, but for the sake of Christ and for the sake of his fellow men, in whom he saw Christ coming toward him, he left the ivory tower of the gifted intellectual in order to be wholly man among men, a servant of the servants of God. For the sake of Christ he emptied himself of his great learning. For the sake of Christ he became increasingly an ordinary person and the servant of all. In doing so he became truly a saint. For Christian holiness does not consist in being superhuman and in having an extraordinary talent or greatness that others do not have. Christian holiness is simply the obedience that puts us at God’s disposal wherever he calls us.

When I was a young pastor, God opened the door for me to attend a prestigious small group of pastors studying preaching. It was a little intimidating, as my churches was under 30 people and the other 24 guys averaged 1500 plus!. After the introductions, one of the pastors, an elderly black pastor from Georgia cornered me. Having only been in large congregations for his 40 plus years of ministry, he wanted to know how you trust God enough to live on the edge with a small church. It was an odd, and edifying conversation! Here was a highly successful mega church pastor with a television program wanting to know about a tiny church pastor’s faith?

Jack Hayford, another mega church pastor, used to brag about his “pastor”, a much younger man, new to ministry and pastoring a small church. He went to him to be prayed for, to be encouraged, to be counseled.

I think Augustine would appreciate them both, as would the Apostle Paul.

There is a challenge, as one gains specialized knowledge, in communicating with others. Different vocabulary, different ways of phrasing things, different frames of reference. It is all to easy to think everyone else is keeping up with your pace. In it usually not intentional condescension, but it can come across that way, or as frustration dealing with the difference.

The same problem exists in spiritual growth. Sometimes we forget that others haven’t experienced God’s love, his mercy and His faithful presence we have. We assume they have the same knowledge and experience we do, and struggle when they “don’t get it” or when others, more experienced than us, struggle to communicate to us how they endured.

TO help us in such times, we have the example of these two men, St. Paul and Augustine, and their approaches. I have quoted these words of Paul many times, often wanting to argue with Paul about who is the primary sinner. Remembering the past God has rescued me from, including the sins of the recent past (say an hour ago) keeps my focus on what is important. My knowledge, my wisdom is useless unless I experience the love and mercy of God which is too great to understand. Unless I know the peace that comes from His presence, all the technical theology I know benefits me (and others ) not a bit. But to consider His patience in dealing with me, bringing me back, healing my brokenness, that is what matters the most.

The same with Augustine. He isn’t a saint (in Pope Benedict’s opinion) because of his intelligence, or his increible writing. He;s a servant because he learned to empty himself and minister to others. His words had a purpose, not to show off his intellect, but to help the broken see that they dwelt in God’s presence, and how that all worked.

As church leaders at every level, that has to be an image we can imitate, the servant-leader, the intellect that has become the doulos (one of Paul’s favorite words to describe himself – the slave.), We need to remember the mission we have, the reason we are sent. That is the people we shepherd and teach and draw towards God.

Claiming we are a servant isn’t about false humility, it can’t be. That will show through. Remembering the work Christ has done in our lives, helps us keep the proper perspective in our life.

Lord Jesus, help us to desire to know and understand more of Your Kingdom, but to understand and experience it in a way we can share with others. Help us to be authentic in our service using our intellect, our knowledge and wisdom to benefit others. In Jesus name. AMEN!


Joseph Ratzinger, Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year, ed. Irene Grassl, trans. Mary Frances McCarthy and Lothar Krauth (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992), 274.

Does the Church Treasure the Trivial?

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Dawn at Concordia

Devotional Thought of the Day:
19  “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20  Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21  Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. Matthew 6:19-21 (NLT)

946    If you want to give yourselves to God in the world, more important than being scholars, you must be spiritual, closely united to our Lord through prayer. You must wear an invisible cloak that will cover every single one of your senses and faculties: praying, praying, praying; atoning, atoning, atoning.*  (1)

There was a time where I longed to study, to be the most knowledgeable person.  I loved to play games like Trivial Pursuit, and another game called Tribond.  (you try to link three things together by what they have in common)  I would read and read, hoping to master this piece of history, or that.

I think we have entered an age where the church does is doing the same thing.  We want our pastors to have advanced degrees, we want consultants who will share with us the wisdom gain from surveys and studies. We applaud those who have the title theologian, and our young pastors and priests turn to podcasts and blogs to prove their knowledge, and their ability to dominate any discussion.

We desire expertise in churchwork, for we believe that making the church great again requires great knowledge.

This is what we’ve grown to treasure.

We will even downplay anything that smells of spirituality, calling it pietistic, or fanatic. Relationships come to mean less and less, as we prefer followers.  Reconciliation loses importance and submission, preferably blind submission, becomes what we expect in our churches.  (Even to the extent that we are told to send our troubled folk to larger churches, where they can be marginalized)

What would happen if this changed.  If the people we admire were those of prayer, and of devotion to Jesus.  What if those we pointed out for others to emulate were those who talked of Jesus love, and clung to him because they knew their hope was there because He promised to be with them?

What if we treasured those who desired reconciliation, and healing of broken relationships?  What if we used as examples those who actually tried to imitate Christ, and asked forgiveness when they failed?

What if the church treasured those who treasured the love that is heavenly, that is Christ? Who loved even in the face of persecution, or great personal cost?

Wednesday is a the start of lent.

Perhaps giving up earthly treasures and honor to encourage heavenly treasure would be a good way to spend the 40 days….

(1)Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 2193-2196). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Don’t Know it All? What an Incredible Blessing!

Devotional Thought of the Day:

8 *Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. 9 For we know partially and we prophesy partially, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. 12 At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.g 13 *So faith, hope, love remain, these three;h but the greatest of these is love.  1 Cor. 13:8-13 New American Bible. Revised Edition.

152    Don’t you sense that more peace and more union await you when you have corresponded to that extraordinary grace that requires complete detachment? Struggle for him to please him, but strengthen your hope.

As our Wednesday Night Bible Study has been meandering through the Acts of the Apostles, the last two weeks have encountered people with partial knowledge.  Apollos and the 12 Ephesian disciples.  In both cases, they were missing significant, I would even say critical knowledge about Jesus, about His death and resurrection, and about what it means to depend on Him in life.

Yet they were still called believers, disciples, knowledgeable.

They had people lovingly correct them, Priscilla and Aquilla, and Paul.  Things were corrected, and God was revealed to them, so much more graceful, so much more loving.

But it, and today’s readings. got me thinking about how easy it is to idolize knowledge, especially theological and spiritual knowledge.We expect that it will protect us against heresy and heterodoxy, that it will cause us to mature, to grow in our ability to enter into discussions and win them (the discussions/debates – not necessarily the people) for Christ.  I’ve been there, done that,offended people, been condescending and arrogant, as I’ve strived to know it all. I’ve had to repent, and on more than one occasion apologize and  confess and pray for forgiveness. 

Yet scripture is clear, and we need to understand we can’t know it all. I can’t learn it all, nor keep tomes and tomes in my brain. I won’t be the next Augustine or Pascal or Melancthon.

To realize this, is a blessing that is incredible. 

To realize that I won’t have every answer, that I will continue to grow, that my sight will always be indistinct, that my knowledge will always be partial is so freeing!

It frees me from an idol, one called knowledge.  It stops me from becoming thinking that knowledge is the highest of virtues, and reminds me of something I need- to depend on Jesus, the author and finisher of my faith.

Coming face to face with my own inadequacies leads me to search out for Jesus Christ  more than to search out for another theological guru, another academic tome.  For His grace is communicated through His word and sacraments, through the Lord’s supper, and in the promises poured out with water in baptism, as the burdens of sin and unrighteousness are relieved as I hear the words,”Your sins are forgiven!”.(2)

It is Christ that protects us, it is the Holy Spirit that lifts us up, whether we can adequately diagram the text, or explain the communication of magisterial attributes.  (these are actually helpful – but they ain’t God, nor do they automatically make us more godly!)

Knowing we don’t know it all, that we can’t, drives us to the cross, brings us to walk humbly next to Him, depending on His as a disciple, and this is good.

It is a great blessing – for as we lean on Him, as we trust our Lord, this is where we find peace, and the greatest knowledge of all.

That is this:

“The Lord is with you!”

AMEN!

 

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 488-490). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

(2)  I would recommend reading the Apology of the Augsburg Confession for a partial list of other sacraments, such as prayer, and helping the poor.

The Purpose of Theology

Devotional Thought of the Day:

8  In conclusion, my friends, fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable. 9  Put into practice what you learned and received from me, both from my words and from my actions. And the God who gives us peace will be with youPhilippians 4:8-9 (TEV)

 27  God’s plan is to make known his secret to his people, this rich and glorious secret which he has for all peoples. And the secret is that Christ is in you, which means that you will share in the glory of God. 28  So we preach Christ to everyone. With all possible wisdom we warn and teach them in order to bring each one into God’s presence as a mature individual in union with Christ. 29  To get this done I toil and struggle, using the mighty strength which Christ supplies and which is at work in meColossians 1:27-29 (TEV)

654  Until now you had not understood the message that we Christians bring to the rest of men: the hidden marvel of the interior life. What a wonderful new world you are placing in front of them!

In the last few days, I have been asked a few times about theology, about what it iis, about what it isn’t.  The questions were not precisely worded that way.  Some questions asking me my thoughts on an article, some questions sent me about dialogues my friends had been involved in, which concerned them because they were “theological” yet seemed…. empty.troublesome, and the question was asked… is this theology worth my time?

As I consider these questions, I must ask the question, what is theology?  What is its purpose?

For my answer, I must turn to the greatest theologian in the New Testament, to the Apostle Paul.

Where did he focus his thoughts of theology on?  What took up his time, his thoughts, his efforts?  Was it on high level discussions about semantics and how things are phrased?  Is it about the discussion of miniscule differences in manuscripts copied by people a thousand years after the scriptures were written?  Paul, who walked among the greatest of Rabbinical theologians, who was a master teacher himself, would toss it aside.  For his thoughts and words to dwell on something that is the heart of theology, dare I say the only thing that is theological.

Christ, bringing people into God’s presence, revealing to them His love.  Everything, the incarnation, His life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, all that scripture records which points to Him.  That is the nature of theology – literally the logic, the reason of God.  This is the treasure we have, this is the thing which we focus on, working with all that is in within us, even as Paul encourages us to do.

For it is Christ in you which St..Josemaria talks about as our “interior life” – that incredible blessing we have, as we realize the Spirit dwells in us, as God abides with us, as the we realize the message of Advent and Christmas – Immanuel – God is with us!

Theology drives us to treasure that life, to remember that it is the promise of our baptism, that it is found as we take and eat, take and drink the Body and Blood given and shed for us.  This is the highest good, the reliance on God. This is that which Paul would have us keep our thoughts on, this Christ, this Savior, this plan to make us the people of God.

That is the purpose of theoogy…that should become the focus of our lives….

All else… is as worth it as the stuff Paul leaves behind.

 

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 2744-2747). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Beauty of Faith, the Beauty of Christ

Corcovado jesus

Corcovado jesus (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Discussion/Devotional Thought of the Day:

“There are some who pass through life as through a tunnel, without ever understanding the splendour, the security and the warmth of the sun of Faith” (1)

As I read this little quote this morning, my mind goes back to the study I did yesterday, for Sunday’s sermon on the gospel reading which is found in St. John 5:1-18.   It is the story of the invalid man -whom Jesus heals, after Jesus asks him, “do you want to be made whole?”  An incredible story!

What struck me while I did my research was the comments and references to the passages throughout church history. Early on, the church Father’s talked about how this story represents Christ coming to us, and even before the man is ready to face the change of a new life, Christ gives him that new life.  It is a picture of the miracle down to each of us in our baptism.

Then I moved into the reformation, and the enlightenment. The use of the passage changed, now it became a source for “doctrine”- especially regarding the divinity and humanity of Jesus.  ( Albeit I have less “sermons” and letters to churches from that era).   There are a couple of exceptions- such as Newman. But for the most part, in order to focus on the deep theology, they overlook the incarnation of Christ into this man’s life.  They miss His passion, and the healing- which is a type of the very healing Christ does in each of our lives.   We can miss Christ coming to us, we can miss His presence, His healing, and the peace and security Jesus brings us, who dwell in pain.

I think that is what St. Josemaria is getting to, in this little quote.  Do we see Jesus – do we see the beauty of His love, and the beauty of the relationship that He builds with us, as we learn that we can trust Him, and how much we can trust Him.  Or do we see the minutae –  the stuff about Christ, the things that are beyond our comprehension – not because we are so small, but compared to knowing Him, they are!  I can’t think of any of the unknown things of Christianity, the stuff that academic theologians often get distracted by, that is more glorious, more profound, than what has been revealed to us, in Christ.

And that’s the point.

So for today, think, meditate, and be still and know – all the thoughts, the meditations, the knowledge focused on knowing the Lord Jesus, who has come into your life to make you whole…..

 

 

 

(1) Escriva, Josemaria

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