Blog Archives

Joy and the emotional rollercoaster of Christmas

Canobie CannonballDevotional thought for our days:

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth h in Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. 10 As soon as He came up out of the water, He saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending to Him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: You are My beloved Son; I take delight in You! 
12 Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness. t 13 He was in the wilderness 40 days, being tempted u by Satan. v He was with the wild animals, w and the angels x began to serve Him.  Mark 1:9-13  HCSB

Thus we are told that only through Christ did real joy appear and that in our life, in the last analysis, nothing matters more than coming to recognize and to understand Christ, the God of grace, the light and the joy of the world. Only then will our joy be true, when it no longer relies on things that can be snatched away from us and can perish, but when it is rooted in the innermost core of our existence, which no power in all the world is able to take away from us. And every outward loss ought to become for us a pathway into these innermost realms and to prepare us ever more for our true life.

Christmas is an emotional rollercoaster of epic extremes.  To go from the pressure of rushing around, trying to find perfect gifts, to the moments where a hug from a friend or relative means everything, to the loneliness that occurs, as we realize who we are missing in our life. Like being on the roller coaster, we are not in control, and we don’t always know how to prepare for the next drop or the corkscrewing turn.

For those in ministry, the roller coaster includes our ministry, as well as our own “private” lives.  Often we go from trying to reconcile a divided family, to celebrate a service with joy, to worrying about a friend in surgery or recovery, to being there while another friend mourns.  And we get to tell everyone that there is JOY in this world!

The reading from Mark’s gospel helps this morning, as we see Jesus going from His miraculous baptism, from hearing the Father’s cry of delight, immediately into the desert, to be assaulted by Satan. From the purity of a sacred moment, into the assault and oppression of Satan himself.  

Jesus knows our roller coasters, he knows all too well our brokenness, our struggle with our emotions trying to keep up with the moment’s challenge. In revealing His love, in dying on the cross and rising again, He comes into our lives. and brings peace.

This is what Pope Benedict is talking about as he teaches about joy, this joy that comes from realizing that we are in the presence of Jesus. as we are given the hope of glory, as we are comforted by the presence of the Holy Spirit.  The roller coaster doesn’t disappear, but we realize there will be a time when this ride ends, and we will share in His glory. 

If I have learned anything about Christmas and its emotional rollercoaster, it is this.  In order to survive it, I need to spend some time, looking at the manger, trying to put myself there, realizing that the Lord came into our lives because He loves us.  Then, hearing Him reveal HIs love, we find the deepest peace, and in that peace, joy.  

God has given Himself to us, fully.  Think on that, focus on it, as we prepare to celebrate it, together. 

Ratzinger, Joseph. 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. Print.

 

 

 

Feelings or Reason: Which do you trust? Why?

Devotional Thought of the Day:

7  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7 (NLT)

27  “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.   John 14:27 (NLT)

“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”
6 What does this mean?
Answer: I believe that by my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth and preserves it in union with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.  (1)

For fifteen years or so, I’ve been hearing that we are in a post-modern world, and along with that, a post-Christian society.

Instinctually, I have questioned both claims. Especially the claim that the church, that Christianity is somehow past its course, that it no longer appeals to people. I would contend that it is not the church people have gone beyond, but the presentation of the church that is dependent solely on reason, that appeals to a logical and systematic view of our beliefs.

Nearly a generation after Dobson’s popular book suggesting that we can’t trust our emotions, a new generation is realizing what Luther taught so long ago, that we can’t trust our reason either.  We hear it when they talk of not wanting religion but a relationship.  We see it when they say they love our Jesus, but not his church.  We see it when books like the Case fo Christ doesn’t have the appeal that it had 10 years ago, or Evidence that demands a verdict had 25 years ago.

A generation that bashes an emotional appeal to “come to Christ” is finding out the logical presentation doesn’t create a deeper faith, but often a rather hollow one.  Holiness doesn’t come because of reason, or because of emotion.  Nor can righteousness be measured by either one.  (Maybe we should stop with our generalizations condemning or applauding those options?)

Holiness comes as both our emotions/feeling and reason/logic are sanctified.  It is not a Venn diagram of where they intersect, but the entirety of both, as God comes to us, cleanses us of sin and all that is not right, and sets us apart to walk with Him, as He guides us.  He is both our majestic Lord, and our loving Father. 

It is He who keeps us, guards us, our hearts and minds, in this relationship that is completely dependent, even at the most intimate levels, at the most broken points of our lives, where we realize that both our emotions and reason fail, and are nailed to the cross.

Thye both have to be killed off, and they both have to be raised from the dead, with Christ, in Christ, focused on Christ, in awe of His love, dependent upon Him, cleansed by Him and humbly guided by Him.  

It is then that our prayers are alive, that our desire to worship grows, that we aren’t focused on religious things as tasks or obligations, but rather as blessings, opportunities to see what really matters.   It is here where revival happens, where brokenness is healed. It is this place where sin is set aside, because we begin to see the glory of God, not just as something distant, but something that we are drawn into by the Holy Spirit. This is repentance and renewal. 

This is life in Christ.

Our life.  TO love Him with our reason and emotions, with our heart, soul, mind and strength, because He came and loved us.

This is the work of God!

AMEN!

(1)  Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 345). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

Our Logic and Reason: Can We Trust Them?

Devotional Thought of the Day:
2  The LORD Who are you to question my wisdom with your ignorant, empty words? 3  Now stand up straight and answer the questions I ask you. Job 38:2-3 (TEV)

11  When I was a child, my speech, feelings, and thinking were all those of a child; now that I am an adult, I have no more use for childish ways. 12  What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror; then we shall see face-to-face. What I know now is only partial; then it will be complete—as complete as God’s knowledge of me. 13  Meanwhile these three remain: faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:11-13 (TEV)

I believe that I cannot come to my Lord Jesus Christ by my own intelligence or power. But the Holy Spirit call me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as He calls, gathers together, enlightens and makes holy the whole Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus in the one, true faith. In this Church, He generously forgives each day every sin committed by me and by every believer. On the last day, He will raise me and all the dead from the grave. He will give eternal life to me and to all who believe in Christ. Yes, this is true!

I am not sure if it was written in the 70’s or early 80’s, but James Dobson once wrote a book called, “Emotions:  Can you trust them?”.  Extremely popular, it was one of the books that rocketed him to celebrity status in the evangelical world.   And in questioning our hearts, we learned that these emotions easily deceive us.

It’s been 30 years since i read it, but I think we need a sequel to the book.   Specifically, asking the very tough question of whether we replaced our emotions with what we perceive to be our logic, our ability to reason.

I am not talking about outside our churches, although that might be an interesting study.  I am talking about inside the church.  We have tried to divorce our feelings from ourselves, and the church has been lifeless because of that.  We extoll those who present the faith logically, who try to show, step by step, the logic of scripture.  (Side note:  It is not surprising that as Dobson downplayed emotions, exegetical preaching – verse by verse – became “the” way to preach.  Exegesis is good, but it can be blind to the gospel)

But is our intellect, our reason, our ability to be logical all that reliable?  Or does it have the same frailty as our emotions?  Can you actually divorce the two?  The biggest question we need to be asking ourselves is the same question Job was asked, who are we to question God?

You might say that you don’t, that everything you listen to or teach or preach is in complete accordance with God’s revelation.  That your brand of theology is the correct version, and you are sticking to it, come Hell or high water.  That everything else is heretical or heterodox or mysticism or pietism or legalism, and you are contrary to all that crap.

At which point, you have sinned, and placed yourself in the place of God.

Get it straight, even as your emotions can betray you, so can your logic.  That is why John tells us that if we deny our sin, our brokenness, the truth is not in us, we are liars.

That is why we need Christ, that is why we need Him to come to us, His presence revealed and know by hearts and minds in word and sacrament.  Not just emotionally, not just logically, but present here, now, overwhelming us with His righteousness, with His mercy, and with His peace.

That is why we need the Spirit to transform us, to conform us to the image of Christ, and to the will of the Father. That is why we need to lay aside all things, and set our eyes on Christ, the author and finisher of our faith, of our life.

It is then, Paul tells the church in Rome,

2  Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect. Romans 12:2 (TEV)

Be still and know He is God, let Him be your place of rest, and safety, and let Him transform you.  This is the hope you need, that those around you need as well. That He will reconcile our broken reason and our broken emotions to Himself, and gives us life.

AMEN.

Martin Luther, Luther’s Small Catechism: Developed and Explained, WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “The Third Article: On Becoming Holy”.

Do We Desire Christ’s Presence in our Lives? Does it Show?

Devotional Comment of the Day:Dawn at Concordia

1  One night as I lay in bed, I yearned for my lover. I yearned for him, but he did not come. 2  So I said to myself, “I will get up and roam the city, searching in all its streets and squares. I will search for the one I love.” So I searched everywhere but did not find him. 3  The watchmen stopped me as they made their rounds, and I asked, “Have you seen the one I love?” 4  Then scarcely had I left them when I found my love! I caught and held him tightly.  Song of Songs 3:1-4 (NLT) 

“1030      My God, when will I love you for yourself? Although when we think about it, Lord, to desire an everlasting reward is to desire you, for you give yourself as our reward.

1031      Taste and see that the Lord is good, the Psalmist says. Spiritual conquest, which is Love, has to be—in big things and small—a desire for the Infinite, for eternity”.(1)

If you gather ten average men together, they will talk about the desires they have for their baseball or football teams.  They will do so with great energy, with a competitive fever, and with an incredible level of enthusiasm.  You will have great trouble changing the subject.  A similar group of men will wax eloquent about their cars, and the experience driving them, or the cars they dream of driving. ( My preference – just one of two cars from 1970-71 – the Triumph Spitfire or Datsun 240z)

But change the subject and ask them to talk about the passion and admiration they have for their wives, how thye adore them and value them, and they clam up.  ABout the only thing they will discuss with less emotion is their faith.

And that is a problem.

A serious problem.

There are even books out there advising pastors to not talk about God and our relationship with Him, for it will drive men away. Tenderness, compassion, caring, deep love, these are words that we are told we cannot continue to use, for men will turn off their minds, and stop listening to the sermon, or the lesson. Talk about the logic of Christianity, the proofs of it, heavy theology fine.  Create systems and programs and methods for growing the church?  Fine.  Desire for Christ’s presence?  Nope.  Christ’s passion and compassion for people? Never!  Spend an hour weeping and praying over the brokenness of our communities, begging God to show us how to intervene?  You have to be kidding.

It is it any wonder that we’ve ripped the heart out of the church, that we our passion for the lost, the hurting, the broken has all but dried up?  That our church’s have developed into houses of reason, that the “approved music” by denominations is complex and majestic and too dang hard for the average person to sing and praise their God with?  We’ve taught people that they can’t trust their emotions, forgetting that in Christ, those emotions have been cleansed, that in baptism the heart of stone has been replaced by a heart of flesh.  Desire for God is dismissed, too pietistic, too emotional, and those things don’t belong in church, we are told.

Is it any wonder our churches are dying?

The above quote in red is from the Song of Solomon, and ancient commentators thought of it as an appropriate description of the emotinal bond between Christ and His Beloved, the people that are gathered as the church.  The desire there described would blow past any limitations in order to see, to be with, to know (not just “biblically”) the Beloved. And the beloved responds in a similar manner.  Desire, longing, and emptiness when the presence of the loved one isn’t there.  Other theologians have said it can’t be, and I wonder if it is less because of the physically intimate talk, or because of the transparent desire for the presence of God.

St Josemaria didn’t hesitate in describing such love, neither writers like C.S. Lewis (read Till We Have Faces) and Gene Edwards or George McDonald, philosophers like Pascal, pastors like Luther and Wesley. Songs like Amazing Grace and It is Well and A Mighty Fortress in their completeness describe this desire, this longing, this adoration of God, and of His desire to make His presence clear in our lives, as He does throughout all of scripture!

“I will be your God, and you will be My people!  (Leviticus 6:12 and many more places!)

God desires a relationship with us, He desires to pour out His love upon us, that is what salvation is all about. A God passionate for His people. A God who would do more than move heaven and earth for His people, a God who would prove out His love by sacrificing His Son.

Yeah – that’s intimidating, but also so incredible, so overwhelming,

And it is a treasure that we can share, for as we come to know His desire for us, we realize it is a desire for the world, and for our family, neighbors and friends.

HIs desire for us, even before we cry, “Lord have mercy”, is an answer to that cry…

May we respond to His desire for us, with a growing desire to spend our lives in His presence, and exhausting ourselves in that which pleases Him.

AMEN

 
(1)Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). The Forge (Kindle Locations 3643-3647). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

%d bloggers like this: