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The Bottom Line

Jesus foot washingDevotional Thought of the Day:
1  When I came to you, my friends, to preach God’s secret truth, I did not use big words and great learning. 2  For while I was with you, I made up my mind to forget everything except Jesus Christ and especially his death on the cross. 1 Corinthians 2:1-2 (TEV)

729    Each day, O my God, I am less sure of myself and more sure of you!

Back in my youth, there was a phrase used that described the attitude of many students in college.  It went like this, “If you cannot blind them with your brilliance, baffle them with your bullshit!”

With intent or not, that may have gotten many of us a grade or two better than we deserve.  Like most sophomore (from the greek where we get the words wise and fool/moron) we thought we knew everything about everything, and we tried to impress others with those beliefs and impose those beliefs on them.

I don’t think those attitudes have changed all that much, even as I encountered them as an instructor in both computer information systems and in world religions in the last two decades.

As I read St. Josemaria’s words this morning, and I considered all the fake news out there, I remembered the attitude and the bravado and crap that we typed onto papers and presented in class.

And I regret that past, for instead of shuffling data to look good and trying to impress professors and classmates, I could have been learning more about the love of God. The love revealed in the incarnation, in the life and teaching of Jesus the Messiah, in His suffering and death which frees you and I from sin, from the resurrection, which brings us to live in Him.  I could have been looking for to the resurrection from the dead, and the life of the world to come.

For that is the bottom line in life.  Nothing else truly matters.

We keep it simple, Christ came to save sinners. sinners like me.  To save us from ourselves. To save us to himself.  AMEN

Lord, help us each day to become less sure of ourselves, and surer of Your love and presence in our lives.  AMEN!

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1711-1712). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Knowledge and Love: A Sermon on 1 Cor. 1:8-13

Kids phoneKnowledge and Love

1 Corinthians 1:8-13

†  In Jesus Name

 

As you experience the length and width, the height and depth of God’s love for you, may your knowledge be tempered by the love that God creates in your life, as you live your life through Him

Given a choice.. which will you choose for those you love?

There is a cute picture floating around the internet, of one of these.

It says above it, “it doesn’t matter how old or mean you are, when w toddler hands you one of these and say’s ‘it’s for you’, you take it and start talking into it.”

I think that is pretty much true, and I am tempted to try it on some of you afterward.

It’s because we care for our children, or grandchildren, or nephews or nieces or students. Or in the case of the teachers, our students. We love them, and they can melt the hardest heart.

So I want to think of that kid, who could get you to answer one of these.  Close your eyes, picture them in your mind and answer this question.

If you could choose what would be said about them at the end of their lives, would you desire it to be said they were geniuses, or that they loved and cared for the people around them and made a difference in their lives?

Not a difficult decision, or at least I would hope that it wouldn’t it be!

And in our gospel reading this morning, this is what the apostle Paul is talking about. And it is what we are talking about this morning, Knowledge and love.

Importance versus building up the community?

If I may, I would like to use a personal example.  When I was younger, there was this game called trivial pursuit.  Some of you may be familiar with it.

I loved it!  And I was…. pretty good at it.  Enough so that I usually won and proved the apostle Paul correct when he said, knowledge makes us feel important.  Some translations phrase it a little differently.  Knowledge puffs us up talking about our egos, and our minds.  And then one day, I looked at the name of the game again…

Trivial Pursuit.  What I was doing was chasing after what was trivial, what was meaningless.  And in the end, about all odd bits of knowledge were good for was putting little pieces of plastic inside another piece of plastic and annoying some friends.

While there is a lot of knowledge that isn’t trivial, there are enough examples of people who think they are more important than others because they have the knowledge given to them.  I won’t list the occupations, but I bet you are thinking of one or two professions that act that way.  Or you see yourself in this.

That is why Paul will say in chapter 13 if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-2 (NLT)

Instead of focusing on knowledge, Paul tells us it is love that builds the house, in this translation, it translates the house as church.  But the concept works the same in the church, in the home, or in the community we call home.

In each, in our homes, in our church, in our community, it is love is what binds us together, it is love that makes that bond strong and causes us to grow as a family.

The challenge is loving others the way we love the kid handing us the phone.

In the example Paul uses, he talks about how this love changes us, using the example of food offered to idols.

For him, with all the knowledge of one who was a leading Jewish theologian and became the greatest of Christian pastor-theologians, the idea of food offered to idols was silly.

The idols were carved pieces of wood or rock, metal fashioned to look like how man imagined God to be. And because there was no inherent power in them, because they weren’t gods, eating the food someone else dedicated to them was of no great importance.

But it was of great importance to those who didn’t know different.  They saw the world as a cosmic battle between these false gods and the One True God who came to us, love us and died for us.

And while knowledge would say debate with them and show them the truth, love said that we needed to remember they weren’t ready for to hear that; be patient.  Winning the argument isn’t worth driving them from Jesus. We can go without being proved right in the small stuff, we can even go without that piece of bacon wrapped shrimp or stuffed pork chops rather than cause them to stumble and do what they thought was wrong.

It’s not worth the fight, it’s not worth the debate.  Such debates can destroy faith, but love puts it in the correct priority… and eventually, love will straighten it all out.

How it happens

But how do we love others, especially when we some people are just darn difficult to love?  And how do we teach our children, grandchildren, students and other children we come into contact with to love like Jesus loved us?

The answer on how to love like that, how to make a difference in someone else’s life isn’t found in some instruction manual, it isn’t found in a series of podcasts or videos.

It is found in knowing that we are God, as Paul said,

There is one God, the Father, by whom all things were created, and for whom we live.

And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things were created, and through whom we live.

It is found in living for and in God that we find the love that changes us.  It forgives and removes our sin, and makes us holy, set apart to love God, to love His people.  It is something that is realized more than learned, something that we spend our life growing in, and as He changes us, we love, even those others see as unlovable.

For that is what knowing God’s love does, it changes us, and it gives us hope in the middle of what seems a lost and broken world.  That is why we are here, and why we have a place for kids, who will hand us a phone, and learn from us how to love.  As we learn it from God our Father.  AMEN!

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.

Blinded by Theology: The Case of Perfect Knowledge without the right purpose

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADevotional Thought fo the Day:

27 “I have already told you,” he answered, “and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Maybe you, too, would like to be his disciples?”
28 They cursed him and said, “You are that fellow’s disciple; but we are Moses’ disciples. 29We know that God spoke to Moses; as for that fellow, however, we do not even know where he comes from!”
30 The man answered, “What a strange thing that is! You do not know where he comes from, but he cured me of my blindness! 31We know that God does not listen to sinners; he does listen to people who respect him and do what he wants them to do. 32Since the beginning of the world nobody has ever heard of anyone giving sight to a person born blind. 33Unless this man came from God, he would not be able to do a thing.”   John 9:27-39 TEV

7  Yet every advantage that I had gained I considered lost for Christ’s sake. Yes, and I look upon everything as loss compared with the overwhelming gain of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord. For his sake I did in actual fact suffer the loss of everything, but I considered it useless rubbish compared with being able to win Christ. For now my place is in him, and I am not dependent upon any of the self-achieved righteousness of the Law. God has given me that genuine righteousness which comes from faith in Christ. How changed are my ambitions! Now I long to know Christ and the power shown by his resurrection: now I long to share his sufferings, even to die as he died, so that I may perhaps attain as he did, the resurrection from the dead.
Philippians 3:7 (Phillips NT)

These are great mysteries and far above all human comprehension. But we know that these holy mysteries have been revealed to the church, in order that we might pray to God properly and consider reasons for this marvelous kindness, that God, by an eternal association, joined a human nature to Himself. Therefore He truly cares for us and loves us and sent this Son that He might be the Redeemer and soften His wrath against sin, as needs to be said repeatedly later.  ( from the section by Melancthon) 

As I grow older, I am coming to realize that the biggest handicap for a pastor may be his intellect and reason, and how it is educated rather than formed.  How area minds are taught to seek the deep mysteries, not to be in awe of God, but to be able to teach purely, to be able to note and correct each other.

While there is a need for such correction and for proper teaching, those resources of intellect and reason, the time invested in education are wasted in the purpose is wrong.

We see this in Melancthon’s words, highlighted in blue above.  Talking about the mysteries of the Trinity, and of Christology, he concludes that the reason for the revelation of the existence of these mysteries, and the depth of our knowledge of them is to one end.

These things are revealed that we could pray, that we could communicate with Lord of love who binds us to Himself eternally as He cleanses us and restores us.  Our pursuit must not be the mysteries that are beyond our comprehension, but the love of God which is clearly seen, and which transformed all that it draws and connects to Him.

This is why the blind man could easily see that Jesus was special, that the miracle he did drew him to be Christ’s disciple as well.  And the Pharisees and leaders of the synagogue, the men the mysteries of scripture were entrusted too, could not get past their own doubts. They remained blinded by their theology and didn’t see that they were in the presence of God.

These weren’t men that pursued knowledge for malicious purposes.   They didn’t study the scriptures daily with the intent of enslaving others to a religious system to take advantage of them.  Even Paul, before encountering Jesus, talked of being righteous according to the Law.  But that righteousness he would set aside, that justification of his own actions, so meticulously laid out, was worthless.

He needed to know God.  He needed God to walk with Him, to comfort and shepherd Him.  He needed the Holy Spirit’s presence to lift him up, to draw him to the reconciliation and transformation, not only being justified completely, but being sanctified.  TO know, as he wrote in Hebrews, that he could boldly walk into the Father’s holy, almighty presence.

That is the purpose of theology, the place it starts and ends.  Prayer, that moment we go to God, in desperate need, humbly asking Him to be here, and hearing a response of a God who our mind can’t fathom.  Yet in whose presence our hearts rejoice, and in front of whom our souls dance, free of sin, and sure that we are home with Him.

So next time you pick up that tome, or search that dataset, know what you are looking for, what you are searching for, that your people need to be taught.  The height, the depth, the width and breadth of God’s love for you, and for them.

That will be made clear in His glorious presence, and make this known as well;  THE LORD IS WITH YOU!

 

 

Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.

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.

In My Search for Meaning, In Our Search for Truth, Have We Lost Our Minds?

Featured imageDiscussion/Devotion Thought of the Day:

2  “Everything is meaningless, says the Teacher,completely meaningless! 3  What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? 4  Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes. 5  The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again. 6  The wind blows south, and then turns north. Around and around it goes, blowing in circles. 7  Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows out again to the sea. 8  Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content. Ecclesiastes 1:2-8 (NLT)

Men are all too inclined—the great philosopher of religion opines—to wait placidly for proofs of the reality of revelation, to seek them out as if they were in the position of judge, not suppliant. “They have decided to put the Almighty to the proof—with controlled passion, a total freedom from bias, and a clear head.” But the individual who thus makes himself lord of the truth deceives himself, for truth shuns the arrogant and reveals itself only to those who approach it in an attitude of reverence, of respectful humility.  (1)

425    To realize that you love me so much, my God, and yet I haven’t lost my mind!

I am not a natural born philosopher.  Matter of fact, my “favorite” quote on Philosophy sums it up – I may be wise simply because I know I don’t know it all. ( Paraphrased of course)

I once did, well, at least I thought I did know it all.  I knew a lot back then.  No, let me rephrase that, I picked up an retained data, and found uses for it faster than some others. But knowing data is not the same things as having complete knowledge, much less being wise.

Solomon had this problem as well, at least in the early chapters.  For his wisdom and knowledge, recognized by all, still led him into discontent, a sense of failure, a sense of meaninglessness.

In the same place are all philosophers who try and hold the position of judge, as Benedict XVI points out clearly.  Philosophers must be observers of reality, to live in awe of it.  To ponder its depth, not rule over it. Solomon would eventually get there, (tomorrow in my readings perhaps?) to the point where he will define himself by his relationship with God.  But even that is a position of suppliance, of faith, of dependence.

The philosopher who approaches reality without the reverence and humility that Benedict recommends ends up in Solomon’s position, a place where we indeed lose our mind, our psyche, and perhaps, our soul.

I am not saying we are to give up on philosophy, on deep thought, on exploring, with great awe, the existence and meaning of life.  To search out what is real, what is true.  We need to do this, and St. Josemaria gives us the place to start, in realizing the love of God, for us.  That is where philosophy and theology should, no must start. In the depth of a relationship with the God who not only defines reality, but creates it. As St. Paul encourages,

18  And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. Ephesians 3:18 (NLT)

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. 166–167). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Location 1053). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition

You must be a Theophilus (Loved/r of God before being a Theologian

Devotional Thought of the Day:

 2  I may have the gift of inspired preaching; I may have all knowledge and understand all secrets; I may have all the faith needed to move mountains—but if I have no love, I am nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:2 (TEV)

7  The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. 8  Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ 9  and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousnessPhilippians 3:7-9 (MSG) 

“You wrote to me: “To pray is to talk with God. But about what?” About what? About him, and yourself: joys, sorrows, successes and failures, great ambitions, daily worries—even your weaknesses! And acts of thanksgiving and petitions—and love and reparation. In short, to get to know him and to get to know yourself— “to get acquainted!”” (1)

For the last year or so, I have been toying with the idea of going back to school, to get a doctoral degree.  I’ve thought about which degree to get, for there are a number of fields that interest me – from worship, to sociology, to counseling, to homiletics and other pragmatic areas of ministry.  Yesterday I went back to where it all started, 30 years ago this fall, as I entered a “non-denom” Bible College – in a very accidental “God-thing” type moment.

Combine with that preparing to preach this weekend – “Trinity Sunday” we call it, a day to meditate upon how God has revealed Himself to us, as three distinct, yet …..One.  One of the greatest, most complicated theological doctrines there is, and yet, still so far out of ability to comprehend. ( Read the Athanasian Creed – an incredibly beautiful explanation of God, yet each phrase, raises more questions, leaves us more in awe.  And for a theologian, albeit an amateur one, (as all pastors are – as serving others takes precedence…always… over such deep thoguhts) I love to just sit back and plumb the depths of the minds who wrote far more comprehensively than I can think.

But then I come to St. Paul – a man who was a first rate theologian in his day, prior to His conversion, who wrote the quotes above.   It doesn’t matter how much I know, I’ve got to realize I am loved, I have to understand why Paul so desired to be embraced by Christ, why everything else took a back seat to knowing, not the details.

Which is where Theophilus – the person Luke writes his gospel for comes in.  The name in Greek is Loved by God/Lover of God. But it is that relationship that matters, that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have revealed that we are the beloved, that we never walk alone, that we have been cleansed and healed and are loved.   It is starting from there, realizing the miracles our being justified and sanctified are only to deliver us, the children of the Father, the ones Jesus calls His friends, the ones who are the Home of the Holy Spirit.  We must be Theophilus, before we ever become Theologians..

English: Gergeti Trinity Church cross relief

English: Gergeti Trinity Church cross relief (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I would never say to not study theology, but first, come to know God, as St Josemaria says – get acquainted with Him in prayer.  Talk to Him – about everything and anything.  Listen to Him, hear Him tell you of His love, of His mercy, of His grace.  That is what matters, in a way, it is ALL that matters….. for knowledge even all the data we can generate about Trinity – without that love… is nothing….empty…worthless.

I pray for you  (and ask you to pray for me, as the apostle Paul did for the people of Ephesus…

 14  For this reason I fall on my knees before the Father, 15  from whom every family in heaven and on earth receives its true name. 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 3:14-19 (TEV)

 

 

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 365-368). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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