Blog Archives

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.

Why asTheologians We Need to Re-learn Common English

Devotional Thought of the Day:

6 Think, friends: If I come to you and all I do is pray privately to God in a way only he can understand, what are you going to get out of that? If I don’t address you plainly with some insight or truth or proclamation or teaching, what help am I to you? 7 If musical instruments—flutes, say, or harps—aren’t played so that each note is distinct and in tune, how will anyone be able to catch the melody and enjoy the music? 8 If the trumpet call can’t be distinguished, will anyone show up for the battle? 9 So if you speak in a way no one can understand, what’s the point of opening your mouth? 10 There are many languages in the world and they all mean something to someone. 11  But if I don’t understand the language, it’s not going to do me much good. 12 It’s no different with you. Since you’re so eager to participate in what God is doing, why don’t you concentrate on doing what helps everyone in the church? 13 So, when you pray in your private prayer language, don’t hoard the experience for yourself. Pray for the insight and ability to bring others into that intimacy. 14 If I pray in tongues, my spirit prays but my mind lies fallow, and all that intelligence is wasted. 15 So what’s the solution? The answer is simple enough. Do both. I should be spiritually free and expressive as I pray, but I should also be thoughtful and mindful as I pray. I should sing with my spirit, and sing with my mind. 16 If you give a blessing using your private prayer language, which no one else understands, how can some outsider who has just shown up and has no idea what’s going on know when to say “Amen”? 17 Your blessing might be beautiful, but you have very effectively cut that person out of it.
1 Corinthians 14:6-17 (MSG)

He (Luther) had labored hard to put the word of God into the everyday language of the German people so that hearing and reading the scriptures would inform their biblical spirituality. He considered the gospel more as an oral message (mundhaus) than as a literary text (federhaus).

I read a lot of books.

From a lot of different genre’s, from a lot of different sources.

A lot of them are novels ( I love 18th-19th-century naval historical fiction) and a lot of them are religious works. Some are written very technically, with a vocabulary that often causes me to pull out my dictionaries or a Biblical Encyclopedia (or a Greek, Hebrew, Latin lexicon) Those are more challenging, yet they have their place. But they are a different language.

Their place is not in worship, or in Bible Study with my people.

Maybe in a class or individual study, maybe in a gathering of pastors, but it is not necessary for the people of God.

We don’t need to speak in “another tongue” when we lead worship or preach, or when we teach. And yet, far too often, we do that very thing.

That is what Luther is getting at when he speaks of the gospel as more an oral message than a literary text. It is a message that is to be communicated, not just analyzed. It is something that speaks to the soul of a person, not just their intellect. It is something that gives them hope, peace, and joy, even when they are in the midst of trauma.

That is what Luther wanted to do, he wanted to make his work, trying to reveal the love and grace of God to the people he was entrusted to care for, and to those who didn’t have shepherds, or whose shepherds didn’t do their work.

So we need to examine what language we use, in our sermons, in our lessons, in our liturgies, and whether those words are in common language. Not just vocabulary, but the style in which we write. It has to be common English, words that affect and encourage their walk with God.

As St. Paul says, “Pray for the insight and ability to bring others into that intimacy.”

The intimacy to walk with God, to revel in His love, to find rest in His peace, to savor what it means to be forgiven.

This isn’t just about teaching them “our language.” This is about pastors ensuring we explain and reveal God’s love in a language they understand and giving them the ability to praise God in words that mean something, that resonates with them.

Imagine a church, where people we able to be still, to be quiet and just know that God is our God and that we are His people. That is what the prayer that Paul instructs us in has as its goal.

Not that they would be able to diagram the communication of magisterial attributes of Jesus…

But rather that they would burst into tears of joy when they hear, “The Lord is with you!”

Abba Father, Lord Jesus, help us to be so overwhelmed by Your love and mercy that we have the insight and ability and desire to bring others into a relationship with You that leaves them in awe. Help us to speak clearly, and rejoice as we see this happen. Send Your Spirit to inspire us, and guide us in this we pray. AMEN!


Luther, M. (2007). Luther’s Spirituality. (P. D. W. Krey, B. McGinn, & P. D. S. Krey, Eds., P. D. S. Krey & P. D. W. KLrey, Trans.) (p. 119). New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

Images, Filters, and Reconciliation

Featured imageDevotional Thought of the Day
5  Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you. 6  It started when God said, “Light up the darkness!” and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful. 7  If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us. 2 Corinthians 4:5-7 (MSG)

592    Don’t forget that you are just a trash can. So if by any chance the divine gardener should lay his hands on you, and scrub and clean you, and fill you with magnificent flowers, neither the scent nor the colors that beautify your ugliness should make you proud. Humble yourself: don’t you know that you are a trash can?  (1)

For the last few days, I am seeing more and more of my friends pictures with filters over them.

Some filters are rainbow colored.  Some are black and white.  A lot I’ve seen are a translucent copy of the papal flag, Even seen a few confederate flags the week before the supreme court decision.

And I guess I don’t understand it.  Either personally or pastorally.

First, personally.  When I am relating to friends and people, is what your filter speaks of the most important thing about you?  Is it what symbolizes you so much, that it must block who you are?  Is that what you want to divide you from me, what must stand between us getting to know each other, getting to care for each other?  Is that filter the primary lens through which you want to be viewed?

Or can I get to know all of you – not just the one aspect that filters the rest of you from me?

Secondly, as a pastor, I am concerned about the same issue.  About people seeing you through just one lens, about it hiding who you are from others.  Like I said, I have friends with just about every filter there is.  And I have people I struggle with, who also “wear” those filters.  They range all over the map, different personality types, different careers, talents, hobbies,  Some are nice, some annoying.  Yet the effect is dividing FB and other social media into groups, hiding the diversity, hiding who people really are.  What is worse is that these groups divide people, not reconcile them. It isolates us from each other, or it causes us to put on masks, so we aren’t seen opposing others.  I know not many are putting on these filters to divide themselves from others, but isn’t that the effect at the end of the day?

As a pastor, as I was thinking about these filters this morning, Paul’s image of us being a bunch of ordinary pots, unadorned, unpainted.  It is what inside us then that makes the difference.  Just like in St. Josemaria’s garbage can.  You can have a pot filler with glorious flowers, or one filled with fertilizer.  You can have a pot that is cracked that is filled with gold, and you can have a beautifully painted chamber pot.   (those were the pots that were used prior to the invention of indoor plumbing) We can be garbage cans, filled with trash, or cleaned and repurposed for something.

it is scripture that tells us what it takes to take something common, ordinary (the original definition of profane btw) and make it something beautiful, something incredible.  It’s not the filter that makes us special, it isn’t our pride, or that in which we take pride that makes us more valuable.  In fact, it in our humility, where we reach out to other for help, when we realize we need to sit down and talk rather than force our views down the throats of those who have different filters, or are unfiltered folk.

Yes, that includes bluntly discussing some things, like morality. We need to approach each other, even in disagreement, peacefully, desiring the best for each other.  Will we disagree on what is best?  Perhaps!  But unless we drop the filters, how will we ever know if someone has something we need to hear?  How will we be able to offer them something that will help them?

And for my fellow believers, are those filters helping you do what God has called you to do?

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 1413-1416). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

A Challenge When Seeking High Education

Featured imageDiscussion Thought of the Day:

29  But it’s obvious by now, isn’t it, that Christ’s church is a complete Body and not a gigantic, unidimensional Part? It’s not all Apostle, not all Prophet, not all Miracle Worker, 30  not all Healer, not all Prayer in Tongues, not all Interpreter of Tongues. 31  And yet some of you keep competing for so-called “important” parts. But now I want to lay out a far better way for you.
1  If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. 2  If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. 3  If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love. 1 Corinthians 12:29-13:3 (MSG)
)

For our purpose it will suffice to recall how Augustine tried to sum up the essential part of the Pentecost narrative: World history, he says, is a struggle between two kinds of love—love of self that ends in hatred of God, and love of God that ends in the renunciation of self. This second love is the redemption of the world and of the self. In my opinion, it would already be a significant achievement if the days of Pentecost would turn us from the thoughtless use of our leisure time to a sense of our responsibility; if they would lead us—beyond the merely rational, beyond that knowledge that can be stored up and used in planning—to a rediscovery of “spirit”, of the responsibility inseparable from truth, and of the values of conscience and love. Even if, at first, we should not arrive at what is, in the narrowest sense, strictly Christian, we should, nevertheless, already be touching the hem of Christ and his Spirit.  (1)

350    In addition to being a good Christian, it’s not enough to be a scholar. If you don’t correct your rudeness, if you make your zeal and your knowledge incompatible with good manners, I don’t see how you can ever become a saint. And, even if you are a scholar—in spite of being a scholar—you should be tied to a stall, like a mule.  (2)

Every year about this time, I consider going back to school part-time.  I have had some people that have encouraged it in the past, and again a few are doing so, even now.   To get a doctorate, either a DMin or a Ph.D.   There is some interest, some desire to be challenged.  Even as I do consider this, there is a fear of the change that I know could occur.   A distancing of myself from my people, from understanding their lives, from speaking their language.  This is without a doubt, one of my biggest fears, the loss of the ability to communicate clearly.

I fear this, partially because I know myself, I love to absorb rather than simply memorize, and that means I forget that others may not use the same language I have acquired.  It’s happened before, and I’ve seen it happen to others.  I don’t think it is a matter of being condescending, as much as we can forget that we’ve been part of a different environment, a different culture.  At least, that is my best construction.  ( I am not saying there aren’t condescending academics out there.. just I don’t think many are truly that)

So how does one stay connected?  How do you continue to communicate, clearly and efficiently, without getting caught up in those 4 syllable words?  How do you remember to explain things in a manner everyone can understand, without insulting people’s knowledge base?  (side note:  the amount of knowledge one can accumulate has nothing to do with their wisdom or intelligence – for example – guys who are great at trivia and computers who cannot tie their shoes or understand how to use tools like hammers, screwdrivers etc)

I think the key is seen in the two quotes above.  First the obvious lesson in scripture.  Without the love of God in your life, it is all worthless.  Unless driven by God’s love for mankind, the knowledge and learning we have been given will simply echo endlessly without people to listen.

I think that is the same thing Pope Benedict is working through in the quote about Pentecost, that there is something more than just the knowledge, the data, even theological data.  Something supernatural that occurs, that we may struggle with, that we need to have.  It is that touching the hem of Christ Jesus.

Escriva is blunter, chastising those of us who in danger of becoming rude with our knowledge. Those whose are puffed up by it.  Or those who simply do not have the wisdom to understand that others are smarter, more spiritual, more faithful, even when they can’t comprehend certain subsets of vocabulary that we find common. In our use

The answer comes back to the person of Christ, to realize His love for all of us, for us to emulate His charachter, His humility, his coming alongside everyone.  To touch His robe, know His healing, and let His Spirit transform us into people who love others, renouncing our own “rights” and that which “benefits” us.

It’s a challenge for all of us, not just the academic, not just the theologian.  To realize that we dwell in the glory of God, and that God can use all things, including education, for good for those that love Him, for those He calls with a purpose, His purpose, that is the key.

So let us keep encouraging each other, encouraging each other to be humble, to follow Christ, to use our gifts and ability in a way that is loving and caring…. AMEN.

(1)  Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (pp. 153–154). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

(2)  Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 889-891). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Faith can’t fit in a meme box or 140 character tweet…

Devotional Thought of the Day:God, who am I?

24  The father at once cried out, “I do have faith, but not enough. Help me have more!”    Mark 9:24 (TEV)

8  No, the LORD has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God. Micah 6:8 (TEV)

FAITH IS SOMETHING we need to ask for. God forbid that we should fail to be importunate with God and with his saints. One of the most refined forms of arrogance consists in claiming that prayer of petition is inferior to other forms of prayer . Only when we become beggars do we realize that we are creatures. When we don’t honor the faith of humble folk, who can teach us how to ask for what we need, then we think that what saves us is pure faith; but that is empty faith, a faith devoid of all religion and all piety. In such a state, we are unable to interpret religious experience. Our intellects go astray with their feeble lights, and we resort to explaining the truth of faith with slogans borrowed from cultural ideologies .  (1)

This quote from a pope is one we desperately need to hear, especially those of us who spend any amount of time on Facebook or any other social media.

For far too often we reduce our faith on social media to a snappy quote, a “gotcha” meme, or even try to debate theology or the existence of God in 140 character bursts. What this does is what Pope Francis talks about above – a faith without experiencing God.  A Creed, a statement of “faith” that is not communicated, but forced in a way that eliminates conversation, that eliminates discussion.  Such burst messages don’t give the full picture, they miss the context, and therein is the problem.

One of my professors once said that good preaching and good theology contains not only the “what”, but the “so what”.  How the message impacts the hearer, or in the case of tweets, the reader. How do those words, seen digitally on the screen communicate the need we have to relate to God, to live in fellowship with Him?  How can we help people realize that God is dependable, and that they can depend on Him?  Even that sentence doesn’t include the incarnation, the death and resurrection of Christ.  It doesn’t shake us from our idol of self-sufficiency, our illusion that we can control our world, our environment.  For that is where humility begins, knowing that we can’t possibly be God, and in humility finding out that is okay.

Because God,, loves us enough to give up everything for us.

Neither the Pope or I am claiming you need more words to be holier, or more intellectual, but that deep faith is born in deep need.  Holiness originating in us, in our brokenness, healing of our lives comes as we realize how shattered they are.  It is at those points, when we cry out to God, that we can hear His voice.

And that is what faith, what the “Christian religion” is about – walking humbly with God, in a conversation, assured that He will guide us, comfort us, heal us.  Because He has proven, in Christ, the extent to which He will go, and has gone, to do this very thing.

May we today walk humbly, knowing we are His children, and He is our Heavenly father. …

 

Pope Francis; Jorge M Bergoglio (2013-11-18). Open Mind, Faithful Heart (p. 28). The Crossroad Publishing Company. Kindle Edition.

Ministry in the Spirit

Devotional/Discussion thought of the Day:

” I pray every day with all my heart that God may give us the gift of tongues. Such a gift of tongues does not mean knowing a number of languages, but knowing how to adapt oneself to the capacities of one’s hearers. It’s not a question of “saying foolish things to the crowd so that they understand”, but of speaking words of wisdom in clear Christian speech that all can understand.” (1)

Yesterday, my sermon talked of how we boldly and with confidence enter the presence of God Almighty.  How we go there, without division – and how this incredible plan of God – to make us all HIs people, is something that it is a privilege to share.

Whether you completely agree with the concept above, in this day where language barriers appear to be broken ( how much of the world speaks either Spanish, Mandarin or English?) the language barriers aren’t as broken as we think.   It still takes, not only translating the Bible out of Hebrew/Greek/Aramaic/Latin, but also into a language, the language that people speak, the language that they really hear. Such is the challenge of a multi-cultural society – one that is different, not just based on ethnicity, but also economic, regional, age, musical (yes I believe this is a major aspect of culture that divides us) etc.  Our language, though it may seem common, is loaded with words that have different meanings.

I think most of us struggle with this, when it comes to personal conversation – we just assume people know the words that we have used for so long – words like redemption or faith, or baptism, or who Jesus is. ( most people think He came to show us how to live…) There is a lot to “unpack” for the people we minister to, those inside and outside (for the moment) of the church.  We need to assume that people don’t know our language.  But this is true for our gatherings as well – we need to ensure people feel comfortable with asking questions, and we need to continually, whether we have more traditional worship and Bible Studies, or more contemporary styles of worship.  ( people even then don’t know what to do, or when… they can feel out of place there as well!)

We have to remember, that this freedom, this grace, this mercy we live in, is so incredible, and so open to all!  And we have the great privilege to see God’s work, amazingly, through us – as we trust in His guidance, and rejoice in His presence… as we invite others to come with us. Paul talked of this plan of God – to bring us into the presence of God… Peter did as well..

 9 The Lord is not being slow in carrying out his promises, as some people think he is; rather is he being patient with you, wanting nobody to be lost and everybody to be brought to repentance2 Peter 3:9 (NJB)

May we this week – consider how we pray, that not only would God have mercy on us, but on those whom we encounter, and may we be instruments that communicate His word, the revelation of His plan for them in Christ.

 

(1)Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 2334-2337). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

%d bloggers like this: