1 When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan. 2 For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified.
1 Corinthians 2:1-2 (NLT)
14 As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ? Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died.
Galatians 6:14 (NLT)
One word should suffice, that is, the cross itself. The cross is the word through which God has responded to evil in the world. Sometimes it may seem as though God does not react to evil as if he is silent. And yet, God has spoken, he has replied, and his answer is the cross of Christ: a word that is love, mercy, and forgiveness. It also reveals a judgment, namely that God, in judging us, loves us.
A thousand years ago, there were crusades. Men fought for land, urged on by those who would use religion as the promise of reward.
Now we have crusades to correct what we think are injustices. And like those who fought a thousand years ago, we often do so without completely understanding what we are getting into, without having the whole picture, without understanding the cost to those we crusade against, or to ourselves.
I’ve been there, getting all excited, getting all ready to do battle, working strategically on the arguments and planning the step by step approach to annihilate the opponent. The energy that ramps up is amazing, as our hearts feed on the competition which can quickly turn to hatred.
And then, whther victorious or shot down in defeat, we realize the emptiness, the quickly fading glory, as we see the cost in the bodies and relationships that are broken. Including our own.
I would suggest that in the quotes from the apostle Paul above (in red) is a great guideline to help us choose wisely what we invest our heart and soul in, a way to measure whether a crusade is good, moral, beneficial. Simply put, does it lead to the cross of Christ?
There we find the answer, God’s answer, to injustice. There we find an answer to the brokenness of the world which we experience. There we find the hope that sustains us, and the glory of God which brings us peace. For He was broken so that we didn’t have to remain broken. He died, so we could live.
Does what we do help people know about Jesus, does what we speak, tweet, post, do these things show His love?
People need an answer, we have one that will bring peace.
There is a crusade worth involving ourselves in… one that will cause our own peace to grow.. and will never leave us empty.
Pope Francis. A Year with Pope Francis: Daily Reflections from His Writings. Ed. Alberto Rossa. New York; Mahwah, NJ; Toronto, ON: Paulist Press; Novalis, 2013. Print.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. 18 Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.”
Matthew 16:15-19 (NLT)
40 Learn this article, then, as clearly as possible. If you are asked, What do you mean by the words, “I believe in the Holy Spirit”? you can answer, “I believe that the Holy Spirit makes me holy, as his name implies.”
41 How does he do this? By what means? Answer: “Through the Christian church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”
42 In the first place, he has a unique community in the world. It is the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God. The Holy Spirit reveals and preaches that Word, and by it, he illumines and kindles hearts so that they grasp and accept it, cling to it, and persevere in it.
Catholic theology must state more clearly than ever before that, along with the actual presence of the word outside her boundaries, “Church” is also present there in one form or another; that, furthermore, the boundaries of the efficacy of the Holy Spirit are not congruent with those of the visible Church. For, on the one hand, the Spirit, the grace, on whose action the Church depends for her very existence, can be wanting even to those within the Church; on the other hand, it can be efficacious in those outside the Church. To borrow Congar’s cogent phrase, it would be both foolish and perverse to identify the efficacy of the Holy Spirit with the work of the ecclesial apparatus.
Yesterday was the day that many of God’s people celebrated what is called the Confession of St. Peter. The celebration that God the Father revealed to Peter that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Father. Like Pentecost, it is one of the formative days of the Church, for it is that day when the church received it’s first “creed”.
A creed is simply a statement that describes what you depend upon in life. It is not a complete statement of doctrine, of that which people intellectually know. For while a “belief statement” or “doctrinal statement” expresses what is contained in our mind, a Creed adds to that what is in our heart, our soul, and is the source of our strength. It is what we depend upon, the truth we believe we can base our entire life upon. It is what distinguishes the church from every other group.
And so, like Pentecost, yesterday was a celebration of the church, and what it is built upon.
Christ, the Son of the living God.
With that being understood, I must confess a different problem, which is caused in part by both my naivete and my cynicism. Naivete because I expect the church to be the church. And I expect its leaders to strive to limit the politics and power struggles. I naively expect them (and myself) to live according to this truth we hold dear, this Man, who was the Messiah, the one Anointed to save us. My mind tells me logically; there must be that church, led by those striving to be like Christ, who’ve set aside everything and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and focus on Christ, the author, and perfecter of our faith.
Can’t there be such a thing, a group of people who are gathered into one Body who live and breathe based on what they believe in?
My cynicism says, “Uhm, no.”
Yes, we can find congregations where this is a focus and priority. Or a Bible Study. But there doesn’t seem to be a denomination out there where this is true. I have to admit a lot of frustration in this, because why can’t it be so? I can look at one denomination, where the leadership is struggling to help people live like Christ, yet their doctrine gets in the way. I look at another where the doctrine is as good as it can be, and yet the power struggles are so blatant, so extreme that it sickens me. I’ve seen too many crushed by it while seeing others rejoice over the pain caused to their “enemies.”
Is it foolish and perverse to want to identify an “ecclesiastical apparatus” with the efficacy of the Holy Spirit? My naivete calls for such a church; my cynicism wants to find a cave and lock myself into it. The option is not to spout that I want a relationship but not a religion and head for the beach. If ti were, Christ is a liar. He said nothing couldn’t prevail against His church. He died for her, so she must exist!
Both Luther and Benedict point to such a church, a church that is focused on what Peter confesses, a church where the Holy Spirit is working, sometimes clearly within the structure of the denominations, but often not. A church some theologians would label the “invisible church”, but because the Holy Spirit is working, it is visible, you know when you are there. A church based primarily on doctrine, not primary on the organization and structure, but gathered by the Holy Spirit. Where the Holy Spirit is using the word, is connecting people to Jesus and then to the Father.
This is what Pope Benedict wrote of, “the Spirit, the grace, on whose action the Church depends for her very existence,” and Luther reveals why, “The Holy Spirit reveals and preaches that Word, and by it he illumines and kindles hearts so that they grasp and accept it, cling to it, and persevere in it.
As I see this, it comforts by shattered naivete, you see the church does exist! We see Her as we see the Holy Spirit working; as the Spirit reconciles people to God and each other, as the spirit heals the broken hearted, and sets free the those bound by sin. It also shatters my cynicism, for the miracle of the Holy Spirit at work just denies the idea that there is no church. For what else could explain what happens when Christ crucified is preached. For then, the church is no longer invisible but is becomes an intact mosaic, one that is not bound within the lines drawn by man, but rather drawn together in Christ.
The church, broken, yet healing, is a glorious thing, as this occurs, St Paul described it well. “All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory.” 2 Corinthians 3:18 (TEV)
May we be patient and determined, as the Holy Spirit works, pointing us to Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God. AMEN!
(1) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 416). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
(2) Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 29). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
11 This is a sure thing: If we die with him, we’ll live with him; 12 If we stick it out with him, we’ll rule with him; If we turn our backs on him, he’ll turn his back on us; 13 If we give up on him, he does not give up— for there’s no way he can be false to himself. 14 Repeat these basic essentials over and over to God’s people. Warn them before God against pious nitpicking, which chips away at the faith. It just wears everyone out. 15 Concentrate on doing your best for God, work you won’t be ashamed of, laying out the truth plain and simple. 16 Stay clear of pious talk that is only talk. Words are not mere words, you know. If they’re not backed by a godly life, 2 Timothy 2:11-16 (MSG)
242 Sometimes they didn’t want to understand: it is as if they were blind… But sometimes it has been you who did not manage to make yourself understood properly. You must change that!
I will be honest; it is a challenge for me. It always has been, and as long as I preach, I think it will be.
To explain the glorious, majestic, beyond belief work of God in a simple way, that people will listen too. Yes, I know the Holy Spirit does the work of imprinting that which God has called into existence on their hearts, but that doesn’t mean we can be lax, or, on the other extreme, so eloquent that even a seminary professor would be in awe of our wisdom and message.
Every time we sit at a keyboard, or for some, take a pen in hand, we risk our words becoming talk that is only… talk. We may be proclaiming wonderful ideas, incredible theology, mind-blowing insights into theological truths, but if they don’t get the relationship, if we don’t bring people to realize their hope is not in knowledge, but in the intimate relationship with Jesus that Paul describes. It bears repeating
2 If we stick it out with him, we’ll rule with him; If we turn our backs on him, he’ll turn his back on us; 13 If we give up on him, he does not give up— for there’s no way he can be false to himself. 1
There is the truth that makes a difference. There is the truth that opens eyes, causes ears to hear, brings healing and expectant hope to those damaged and broken by sin.
Yes, there will be people who always seem blind and deaf spiritually. But Paul is equally insistent to Timothy to preach clearly, having studied well. That is the good stewardship of that which is entrusted to us in our ordination, or delegated to those co-misisoned to bear witness to Jesus.
Preaching with simplicity is a craft. It still may be profound, for the simple truth usually is more profound that the most complex of theories.
God loves you… he proved this as…
God came…for you
God died … for you.
God rose again – for you.
Oh yeah – He’s coming back for us.
That’s pretty profound, yet very simple.
May people hear us tomorrow as we point to Jesus. May we rejoice as they see the light that shatters their darkness. AMEN!
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1203-1204). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
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 me. Colossians 1:27-29 (TEV)
This fact does give us the historical context of quite a few points of The Way, but above all it emphasizes one of the basic traits of the book: the fact that it was written facing the world, looking for men and women who want to sanctify themselves in their earthly interests and activities, and proposing a teaching which can be applied to any type of age, circumstance, or work: “What amazes you seems quite natural to me: God has sought you out right in the midst of your work. That is how he sought the first, Peter and Andrew, John and James, beside their nets, and Matthew, sitting in the customhouse” (799). “You have the obligation to sanctify yourself. Yes, even you! Who thinks this is the exclusive concern of priests and religious? To everyone, without exception, our Lord said: ‘Be ye perfect, as my heavenly Father is perfect’” (291). 1
Back when I was in college, I was taught and encouraged to preach a specific way.
To take a book of the Bible, and walk through it verse by verse, gaining nuggets of wisdom from the passage, especially from the Greek text. You also spend extensive time exploring the background of the passage, and how the people of that day would have understood the passage. All of the great preachers of that day claimed to preach this way! The preachers in my old non-denominational denomination and its sisters movements, and among that broad grouping know as evangelicals, and those who claimed to preach ‘through the Bible.” Many still do preach this way, and a lot of people prefer it.
Let me explain a few of the reasons I have moved away from expository and exegetical preaching. ( for the most part)
1. Exegetical Preaching Doesn’t Face the World
The line above, from the introduction to one of my favorite devotionals, describes the problem with expository/exegetical preaching. It doesn’t face the world. To be faithful to the passage and words in the text, your focus can become isolated from the people and focus only on the text, and what the text means. It is like the old priests and pastor tradition about doing most of the liturgy facing the altar, even if it means they have their back to the people.
When I was doing some doctoral level studies in preaching, one of the courses dealt with exegeting your congregation, your listeners. I struggled with this at first, but it makes sense. If you are going book by book, verse by verse, word by word through the scriptures, you may not be shepherding your people. You can be 100% faithful to the text, but to be faithful to what the people need means knowing them, understanding them, guiding them. If you are consistent with expository teaching, you will have to overlook their needs, or bend the passage.
2. The Issue of Job, Ecclesiastes, and the huge historical begat lists
The Book of Job sometimes astounds me, if you are going to preach it exegetically/ expositional.
Think about it. How much of the book is advice and counsel from those who will be confronted and humbled by God?
Going verse by verse through that book, or through parts of Ecclesiastes will be challenged by this. Do you want to take 15-20 minutes (or 45) talking about what isn’t a Godly message? Do you want to take all that time, week after week, with your primary emphasis on why it’s wrong, in that context?
3. It’s not the practice of the New Testament writers, even though they could have used the Old Testament that way. Romans isn’t an exposition of Isaiah. But the New Testament writers brought in texts from all over the Old Testament, to do one thing… the biggest thing!
4. THE BIGGEST ISSUE It doesn’t always preach Jesus.
Ultimately, in regards to my preaching, my job is to do one thing. As the Lutheran Confessions discuss, we are to give to people that which they need to know about Jesus. Why He was born, lived, why this is something that gives you the hope of salvation. That is what preaching is! It isn’t about making sure people know why all 613 Old Testament laws are there, We can talk about that at other times and other places; in Bible Studies and individual discipleship when those passages come into play.
People – all people – need to know God’s attitude toward them, and that is revealed by understanding the dimensions of His love, which is seen in the life and work of Jesus. That is gospel preaching, that is the good news, the giving of hope.
This is why our sermons reveal Him! It is why they are focused on God reconciling us to Himself through Christ, reconciling us into His glory! It is fulfilling His desire, helping you to know His love and mercy, to know He will give you the gifts He has promised….
That’s the job of a sermon.
You might call it an Apocalyptic preaching style, the unveiling of Christ to a people who need him, who need to know Him. For that is what the word apocalyptic means – to draw back the curtain and reveal that which is
To bring the message of all of scripture, the one message, to the people who God wants to hear it. So they can be cleansed, healed, and most importantly, His.
1 Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 128-134). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
4 I am writing to Titus, my true son in the faith that we share. May God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior give you grace and peace. Titus 1:4 (NLT)
772 These are the unmistakable signs of the true Cross of Christ: serenity, a deep feeling of peace, a love which is ready for any sacrifice, a great effectiveness which wells from Christ’s own wounded Side. And always—and evidently—joy: a joy which comes from knowing that those who truly give themselves are beside the Cross, and therefore beside Our Lord. (1)
It is one of the greatest Paradoxes of our faith.
That a place of torture would be the place we find serentiy.
That a place of horrific death is the place we will find the greatest of peace.
That the place where we give up our desires, where our very being is sacrificed, is the place where our lives truly begin.
The Cross of Christ,
The place where we are joined with His death.
In a week where a friend’s mom lies in critical condition, where another is dealing with great grief, where the politics of my church body are extremely frustrating, and churches are struggling and not being strengthened, there should be a lack of peace. I could go on and on, as our church on Sunday had 134 different people, families and groups to pray for, and we did, ( Everytime we get down to 100, it seems to grow back up)
Except for the cross, the cross where we can bring those burdens, those anxieties, those sins, both that we commit, and are committed against us. All three sacraments lead us back to there, as we are joined to His death in baptism, as we feast on His Body and Blood, given and shed there, and the absolution that is ours, as our sins are atoned for and washed away….
It is at that cross where we find ourselves joined to Him… and that is enough…..and more.
Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2773-2776). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
2 For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling….. 5 I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God. 1 Corinthians 2:2,5 (NLT)
19 So far as the Law is concerned, however, I am dead—killed by the Law itself—in order that I might live for God. I have been put to death with Christ on his cross, Galatians 2:19 (TEV)
“We live in a world where mental ability is rewarded. But the heart is not trained. It just muddles along. Soon we know more and more, and understand less and less. (1) (emphasis mine)
770 When you walk where Christ walked; when you are no longer just resigned to the Cross, but your whole soul takes on its form—takes on its very shape; when you love the Will of God; when you actually love the Cross… then, only then, is it He who carries it. (2)
It was a long, busy weekend, and I am very tired, and thanks to some allergies… wiped out more than usual.
Monday is the longest day of the week for me, most of the time, and I while I love what I do, this day will tire me more. I know it, even as my aging body groans…..
No amount of knowledge will make it easier. I won’t find the strength to endure in my knowledge of Greek, or in being able to discuss the communication of magisterial attributes of Christ. Both things are blessings, but as my prayer book notes, there is a difference of knowing things, of acquiring data, and knowing something, or someone.
I loo around my office, and see the crosses, one painted by a friend, another some fancy hand stitching. Crosses from Ecuador, from the Ukraine, from Rome and Estonia. The latter one where Jesus’ body and ornately molded details have been word away from hundreds of years of people holding it close while they prayed. People who probably could quote the great preachers in history, or the theologian whose works line seminary library walls.
But they knew where to find comfort and peace, in the midst of pain, or anxiety. They went to the cross, and laid out their lives to the One who loved them. It’s why Paul modeled knowing Christ crucified alone, that they would place their trust in God, in Jesus with who they were crucified.
This goes so against the models of the world, which seeks knowledge for the mind, and allows the heart to struggle and barely survive. Even in the church, the focus is again moving towards a unbalanced focus on knowledge, of getting every aspect of theology, even the minutiae known. We see a pursuit to explain the mysteries that are unexplainable, and are meant to be that way. We don’t want to build the tower of Babel, rather a theological equivalent!
But what we need it not knowledge of the material of the cross, or the effective distance of the words of Institution.
we need our souls to live in Christ. To know the height and depth, the width and breadth of His love, of His mercy, of His desire that we would all become His people. That can’t be known with the mind alone. It must be known in our soul, in our heart. That is where the Holy Spirit transforms us (see Ezekiel 36 and 37), as the Breath of God begins our life, and sustains it. (the mind is also transformed, but not just the data storage, but the ability to use that data)
St Josemaria words so resonate here… as do the Celts with Paul. The cross, the place where suffering can make sense, the place of life….that is where we survive Monday. It is where our heart, our soul, our mind find the love of God, and find Him carrying all that afflicts us, indeed, it is where He carries us. For we dwell in Him, in His precious, sacred heart.
So it’s Monday. You may not want to be where you are, you may be dragging, so much so that your pessimism can’t be overcome with three Trente coffees….. that’s okay…
Run tot he cross… cling to the Lord who died there… that you may live in Him forever.
(1) Celtic Prayer Book – Finian Readings for January 25th.
(2) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2768-2770). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Devotional Thought of the Day
22 Jews want miracles for proof, and Greeks look for wisdom. 23 As for us, we proclaim the crucified Christ, a message that is offensive to the Jews and nonsense to the Gentiles; 24 but for those whom God has called, both Jews and Gentiles, this message is Christ, who is the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 Corinthians 1:22-24 (TEV)
16 I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, 17 and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, 18 so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. 19 Yes, may you come to know his love—although it can never be fully known—and so be completely filled with the very nature of God. Ephesians 3:16-19 (TEV)
I venture to assure you, my dear reader, that if you and I enter into this forge of the Love of God, our souls will become better, being cleansed of some of the dross that clings to them. (1)
I watched a couple of interesting movies yesterday. The first was Good Will Hunting, and then I watched the movie that has become quite popular among Christians, God’s Not Dead.
I wrote last night on FB that both were about redemption, and that both fell short. They both dealt with brokenness, they both had characters, several of them, that needed to be healed of the darkness they dwelt in, and they both seemed to find healing for their brokenness. And both fell short. Both were incomplete.
But what surprised me is that I found that God’s not Dead seems to have fallen shorter in some ways.
Good Will Hunting isn’t a movie trying to serve as an apologetic. It is simply a John Hughes movie, done in the context of Boston. Quite realistic, even to the language. it got it when the character that is redeemed can’t be helped by the wisdom and knowledge of the world, of the professors and clinicians. It takes a broken, battered man (Robin Williams) and the unlikely average joe to bring about the promise of redemption, of meaning. And it is found, not in the career, not in the perfection of life, but in the need for real love, and the chase of the one who loves. Replace Minnie Driver with Christ, the sexual scenes with times of intimate prayer – and you have something.
But the brokenness and pain can’t be healed by anything but love.
Now to God’s not dead
Did you notice anything really conspicuous missing from the movie?
The ontological arguments were well done. The brokenness of relationships with God and between Dean Cain and his family, and Kevin Sorbo and his girlfriend, students and life in general are well done, if a bit over the stop in stereotypes. The dealing with cancer, and the band ministering to the girl with a cancerous death sentence, nice done as well.
But there is something missing.
Figure it out yet?
Where was the cross?
You can prove the existence of the Divine, of a Creator, logically and completely, and still have someone who is bound by satan, enslaved by sin, in anxiety over death.
Luther noted that this was true, as he explained the work of the Holy Spirit in the Large Catechism
For all outside of Christianity, whether heathen, Turks, Jews, or false Christians and hypocrites, although they believe in, and worship, only one true God, yet know not what His mind towards them is, and cannot expect any love or blessing from Him; therefore they abide in eternal wrath and damnation. (2)
We can know all about the existence of God, but without the cross, you cannot know God’s attitude is towards you. All we can realize is that you don’t deserve love, but punishment. Like the mathematicians and fancy psychologists, we cannot find a way out of our brokenness. We are so broken, so torn up, so enslaved by sin. Even forensic, scientific apologetics becomes, not a hope, but a hindrance. The victory of young Wheaton in the movie is something we can triumph in, we defended God successfully! We won the battle, even as they don’t see the victory in the back room, or out on the street, or even behind him, as the girl who lost her family but found Christ was there.
We have to have the cross, for it is there we find God’s attitude toward us, we see the incredible dimensions of His love in those rough beams, in the blood soaked body of Christ. We proclaim His death until He comes again, as Paul says we do as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, the incredible love of the Eucharist. We are joined to that cross in our baptism (see Colossians 2, Romans 6, Titus 3)
it is impossible to know the love of God without seeing His work, without seeing the cross.
And it was missing.
The relationship? It was a minor secondary thing compared to the victory. Compared to the people who came to “know” about God by deciding God’s case.
As if we could comprehend His ways, understand His actions simply by deducing there is a God.
We have to know there is a God who loves us……who loves us enough to die for us.
Yes, God’s not dead, but He did die….
Get to know Him, walk with Him, it is why He died.
(1) Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 203-204). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.
(2) The Large Catechism of Martin Luther.Part II Of the Creed: Article III