Devotional Thought of the Day
21 For God in his wisdom made it impossible for people to know him by means of their own wisdom. Instead, by means of the so-called “foolish” message we preach, God decided to save those who believe. 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. 25 For what seems to be God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and what seems to be God’s weakness is stronger than human strength. 1 Corinthians 1:21-25 (TEV)
The same line of thought can be detected in Newman’s own comment on man’s basic relationship to truth. 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.[i]
The relationship of spirituality to God’s story has a long history in Christian thought. This relationship has been affirmed, challenged, distorted, lost, and regained in various epochs of history. Today spirituality is separated from God’s story. In his crucial work, Spirituality and Theology, Philip Sheldrake points out that “contemporary spiritual writing is open to the accusation that it amounts to little more than uncritical devotion quite detached from the major themes of Christian faith.”2 In order to understand this separation, I will comment briefly in this chapter on (1) how God’s story was affirmed in the ancient Christian church and (2) how the story was lost through Platonic dualism and in late medieval mysticism. In chapter 3 I will address how ancient spirituality was regained with some moderation by the Reformers and how Christian spirituality was lost again in the modern shifts toward intellectual and experiential spiritualities together. We will look at these points in Western history where the stone skims the water and through this history gain a perspective on the crisis of spirituality in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries (treated in chapters 4 and 5).[ii]
Gandhi has been credited with saying that he loved Christ and His teachings, and if he found a real Christian he would become one. The modern version is those he say they love Christ but hate the religion his followers created. They want a relationship with God, but like too many theologians, they want it on their own terms. As if man is equal to God as if man gets to judge God, and force God to modify the covenant he created for our benefit.
The religious respond to this, not with understanding, but often with contempt. Or with the condescension of thinking that we have to logically work to correct their sinful narcissism.
Both Robert Webber and Pope Benedict this morning warn us about this, noting that far too often we have done the same as those we question. Our theology and philosophy is used to put God into a box, to prove His existence, and to prove our perception of His plan. The Pope warns of this with the quote, “They have decided to put the Almighty to the proof—with controlled passion, a total freedom from bias, and a clear head.” As if man could do this! Webber mentions the same concept as he promises to track the history of the divorce of spirituality (the divine embrace) from God’s story.
We’ve been so eager to know about God, we chased after that without knowing Him.
And those who are critical of us, they pick up on this ironic tragedy.
What they see is either a scholastic approach to religion devoid of the relationship or an experience of God devoid of living with Him as our Lord, our Master. In both cases we set aside scripture, or have it subtly twisted in our minds, and we get to judge whether it is binding or not, whether it is “clear and logical” or not.
So what is the solution? How do we ensure our humility, and stop playing as if we have to “prove” God’s logic, while at the same time submitting to its wisdom?
I would suggest it is communion, what Webber calls “spirituality” or the “divine embrace”. It is what Pope Benedict calls approaching God with an attitude of reverence, of respectful humility. It is Moses at the burning bush, hearing God and taking his shoes off, or Peter getting out of the boat. It is David, realizing he was the man in the parable, and grieving over his own sin, it is the man formerly possession by demons, sent home to tell what God did for Him, or the blind man testifying to the religious leaders.
In that moment, when we realize we are in God’s presence and realizing that He is cleansing us, healing us, declaring we are His holy and just people. When both experience and knowledge are subject to God, and when our pride is overwhelmed by His love. When we stop trying to be observers and judges, and settle for being with our Father, and hearing Him.
This is the moment we need, the awareness of being in His presence, and of His work in our life. It is found as water is poured over us, as we are given His Body and Blood, and know His peace, for it is found in His promise, that He is with us, and will never abandon us.
We are welcome in His presence, we are welcome to hear Him testify of His love for us, and count on His faithfulness. AMEN!
[i] 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.
2 Sheldrake, Spirituality and Theology, vii. Sheldrake is one of a few contemporary authors who understand spirituality as an ancient applied theology. I fully recommend this book and Philip Sheldrake, Spirituality and History: Questions of Interpretation and Method, rev. ed. (1991; repr., Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1998).
[ii] Webber, Robert E. The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006. Print. Ancient-Future Series.
Devotional Thought fo the Day:
6 Jesus answered them, “How right Isaiah was when he prophesied about you! You are hypocrites, just as he wrote: ‘These people, says God, honour me with their words,
but their heart is really far away from me. 7 It is no use for them to worship me,
because they teach human rules as though they were God’s laws!’ 8 “You put aside God’s command and obey human teachings.”
9 And Jesus continued, “You have a clever way of rejecting God’s law in order to uphold your own teaching. Mark 7:6-9 TEV
This, then, is God’s kingship—a love that is impregnable and an inventiveness that finds man by ways that are always new. For us, consequently, God’s kingship means that we must have an unshakeable confidence. For this is still true and is applicable to every single life: no one has reason to fear or to capitulate. God can always be found!
In philosophy we seek the things which are certain and distinguish them from the things which are uncertain. And the causes of certainty are universal experience, the principles, and demonstrations. But in the teaching of the church the cause of certainty is the revelation of God. And we must consider what meaning has been given by God to a subject.
There is a huge challenge for any pastor or teacher of scripture. It doesn’t matter whether you are working with people seeking God, or those who have been in church leadership 40 years or more. It doesn’t matter whether teaching you are teaching 3-year-olds, or graduate students.
You don’t have the authority to speak and teach where scripture is silent as if it was a true as where scripture does speak. Nor do you have the authority to change what scripture says, just because you think it is no longer relevant.
There are a number of reasons, one being that we are too often too lazy to study all the scripture, and are reacting to one verse that we don’t particularly care for, or are reacting to someone’s interpretation, rather than working through it.
The primary reason is simpler; we aren’t to make ourselves God. We aren’t all-knowing, or all-powerful, and we are prone to interpret things through our own brokenness. We want to be certain of things, and there is much in life that we cannot be certain of because of our limitations.
We aren’t God.
And God, in His wisdom, has chose to reveal to us that which we really need. Through both nature (general revelation) and through scripture (specific revelation). Just like the scientist cannot deny the effect of gravity, neither can the philosopher deny the effect and the only cure for sin. Both may try to use it, circumvent it, delay its effects, but at the end of the day, and at the end of life, they cannot.
Or as my friend the cardiologist says, every time I make a break-thru and do something completely wondrous, I get a catch a common cold and remember I am not God. Each time I think I am a mature believer, I am reminded that maturity is not found in independence from God, but humble dependence.
This is hard because there are things we like and enjoy, and may even base our lives on, that are sinful. There may be fears and pains we deal with, that affect our lives. And we want to manipulate scripture and what we call our faith to deal with it.
Is it no wonder that David sings and prays this advice from God, “be still, and know that I am God!”? Or Paul reminds himself continually that when he is weak, then he can see the power of God at work?
That is the blessing that Pope Benedict (Cardinal Ratzinger) points out in the quote in green. Knowing our weakness, our limitations means that we can also know the comfort in Jesus being King. For when we humbly walk with Him, we realize that the love He envelops us with is impregnable, that shows His wisdom in the way He becomes incarnate, not just in the womb of Mary, and in the manger, but in our lives.
Knowing God as He finds us, helps us “find” Him. To find Him here, even as we struggle with not understanding His reasons, or His rules that protect us, or the blessing He pours out on those we struggle with in life. It helps us run to Him, with less and less hesitation, asking to be cleansed of sin, that we may rejoice in His love, and the limitations He gives us, that we may realize He is, and loves, and draws us into His glorious joy.
So next time you think about placing your wisdom about God’s word, think again, and humbly walk with Him. And then say a prayer that I may as well!
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.
Chemnitz, Martin, and Jacob A. O. Preus. Loci Theologici. electronic ed. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999. Print.
Devotional Thought of the Day:
8 In fact, it says, “The message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart.” And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: 9 If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. 11 As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” 12 Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. 13 For “Everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” 14 But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? 15 And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”
Romans 10:8-15 (NLT)
When then he came, I found him a man of pleasing discourse, and who could speak fluently and in better terms, yet still but the self-same things which they were wont to say. But what availed the utmost neatness of the cup-bearer to my thirst for a more precious draught? Mine ears were already cloyed with the like, nor did they seem to me therefore better, because better said; nor therefore true, because eloquent; nor the soul therefore wise, because the face was comely, and the language graceful. (1)
Today’s average Christian assumes on the basis of this principle that faith is a product of the individual point of view, of intellectual endeavor, and of the work of specialists, and such a point of view seems to him more modern and more self-evident than the Catholic positions. For many today it is hardly comprehensible that a mysterious divine reality lies behind the human reality. But, as we know, that is the Catholic understanding of Church.
In this sense it is said, “The doers of the law will be justified”; that is, God pronounces righteous those who believe him from their heart and then have good fruits, which please him because of faith and therefore are a keeping of the law.
253 These words, spoken so simply, contain no error…. (3)
No, this isn’t about Tom and Bill, and the game this week. But it is what happens on Sunday, and should happen through the rest of the week as well.
It is about something far more important, far more important than another Superbowl, and more accolades. It is about a dynasty, but not an earthly one.
The passage from Augustine, the second quote above, reaches out to when he was expecting a great man to give him insights on life that would change everything. And the man, though a phenomenal speaker, failed to impress. The rest of that passage goes on about how disappointed, and yet relieved, for from there he would go and realize more clearly the love of God
Benedict XVI, (then Cardinal Ratzinger) wrote how this issue has been recycled in our age. That philosophers and theologians, the specialists, have so spoken of faith and Christianity that people don’t always realize that what religion is, is an encounter with the Creator of the myseterious divine reality that lies behind what we perceive as reality. What disappointed Augustine in the arrival of Faustus is now the norm. What Jefferson tried to do, in eradicating the miraculous from scripture, has been accomplished by those who study it until it is dead. Simply put, they have studied it until it is either a complex set of moral guidelines or completely accepted to be a nice set of fables.
That is not the “job” of the theologian or the philosopher. They are, by their labels, those tho are to study the logic, the reason of God (the-logos) and the lover of wisdom (Philo-sophia) Their job then, should be to reveal the God that was revealed to them, to pass on the truth and wisdom and awe of a God who left heaven, humbled himself, served and died on a cross to prove to us that He loves us.
The Lutheran confessions exemplify this when summarizing the incredible truth. God pronounces sinners righteous because they believe, trust, depend on His revelation of His love for them. That belief/trust/faith/dependence is what God sees, as the Holy Spirit transforms their lives. This is what Benedict knows as faith, even as he weeps over its being redefined, not by the world, but by the church. It is the revelation Augustine was hoping to hear. God loves us, and depending upon that love, revelling in it, adoring the God, who loves us, changes us.
Which brings us back to St Paul, and his words to a young church, easily swayed by fancy orators and powerful leaders. People need to trust in God, the God, who will never let them be shamed.
And the way they come to know that is simple. We bring it to them; we send to them those who will reveal that love to them. That is how we do our job so that all can come to know His love.
It’s not rocket science. It is the work of those who understand the word of God, and those who love wisdom.
So do your job, send, be sent, share Christ, and watch the glory of God enfold as the Spirit transforms lives, heart and minds that find peace in Christ Jesus.
(1) Augustine, S., Bishop of Hippo. (1996). The Confessions of St. Augustine. (E. B. Pusey, Trans.). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
(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. 30). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 143). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
Devotional/Discussion thought of the day:
*While Joshua was near Jericho, he raised his eyes and saw one who stood facing him, drawn sword in hand.h Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you one of us or one of our enemies?” 14 He replied, “Neither. I am the commander* of the army of the LORD: now I have come.” Then Joshua fell down to the ground in worship, and said to him, “What has my lord to say to his servant?” 15 The commander of the army of the LORD replied to Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. Josh 5:13–15
“..what difference is there between philosophy and the teaching of Christ? If we merit the forgiveness of sins by these elicited acts of ours, of what use is Christ? If we can be justified by reason and its works, what need is there of Christ or of regeneration?” (Apology of the Augsburg Confessio; Article IV
I have a friend who still contends that the Dallas Cowboys are still America’s Team. I will concede that in his presence, noting that Bill, Tom and the rest of the New England Patriots are God’s team. Another friend declares that God is surely a fan of the Nebraska Cornhusker’s while demeaning the Oklahoma Sooners to be cheered on by someone a bit south of God’s abode.
Most of the time, I think such revelry and rivalry is fun, as we claim which side of a battle is holy and righteous. Except around the college bowl season – or the NFL playoffs. It is then that such discussions take on a more serious form.
We do this in other arenas as well, such as the political arena, as those who are pro-gun rights seek a verbal “trial by combat” with those who are for taking care of refugees and immigrants seeking solace. Or those who are pro-life take the field against those who want universal healthcare. Republicans versus Democrats, Tea Party versus something called being progressive.
We also do this in the realms of philosophy and theology, as if who wins in the public debates of blogs and podcasts determine where there is truth, and who is correct. Lutherans versus Reformed, Catholics versus Protestants, Pentecostals versus Baptists, Liberals versus Conservatives, Traditionalists against those who prefer Innovation. Everyone, absolutely everyone attacking the Muslims. Oh, and we are all on the defense against the JW’s and LDS.
Even within denominations we see this, and it tears the church apart.
Listen, folks, Melancthon nailed it. You are not saved by your pure theology or the logical supremacy of your philosophy. It is not what you think or what those thoughts cause you to do that saves you. What Joshua realized as he talked to Jesus, was simple.
It isn’t about whether God is on our side.
It isn’t whether your blog or mine has more followers or hits. It’s not whether my Patriots can again intercept a pass on the goal line. There are political positions on both sides of the aisle that need to be listened and heeded.
But what is important is whether you find yourself in the presence of God, with other broken sinners, finding the healing that you need. That the Holy Spirit will bring you to life spiritually, whether you will be transformed, and live in peace.
The desire to win so divides us if our definition of winning is causing the other person to submit to our view. But a desire to see God’s love win is one where humility reigns, not bravado. It is where sacrifice and service take on more meaning than statistics and trophies. It is where hanging in there with that person who others would give up on matters more than attracting the stars, and the crowds. It is where truth matters more than our opinion, and, therefore, the journey is mutual, not combative.
We seek fellowship, with all, based in our relationship with God.
This is life, in Christ.
May we seek it in the next year, and lovingly work with all. AMEN.
Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 109). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
devotional thought of the day
And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God. Yet when I am among mature believers, I do speak with words of wisdom, but not the kind of wisdom that belongs to this world or to the rulers of this world, who are soon forgotten. No, the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—his plan that was previously hidden, even though he made it for our ultimate glory before the world began. But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord. 1 Corinthians 2:4-8 (NLT)
The model of enlightened reason cannot assimilate the structure of faith. That is our problem today. But faith, for its part, is comprehensive enough to assimilate the intellectual offer of the Enlightenment and give it a task that is meaningful also for faith. That is our opportunity. We must make the effort to accept it. (1)
24 But before man is illuminated, converted, reborn, renewed, and drawn by the Holy Spirit, he can do nothing in spiritual things of himself and by his own powers. In his own conversion or regeneration he can as little begin, effect, or cooperate in anything as a stone, a block, or a lump of clay could. (2)
Despite it’s occasional plunge into the depths, this blog is entitled ASimpleChristian for a reason.
Being a follower of Jesus, trusting in Him and depending on Him for the love, mercy and peace that form our relationship is simple.
I’ve seen it as the deepest faith has been shown me by those with Alzheimer’s, who can’t remember their name or their love one. They show me that faith, that dependence as their anxiety is overwhelmed by peace as they hear the Lord’s Prayer or the 23rd Psalm, or the Apostles Creed. The faith given them in their youth sustains them.
This despite not being able to parse adequately Greek, or discuss the communication of Magestial attributes, or define the difference between transubstantiation or consubstantiation as they receive Christ’s Body and Blood. They know and respond to the words, for you.
You see the depth of such faith in children, and those who have an intellectual handicap but are spiritual giants, causing many with Ph.D.’s and Th.D.’s to look like spiritual dwarfs.
Part of this, I firmly believe has to do with conversion, and bringing everything subject to the will and work of God. Including our intellect. To allow it to be renewed, regenerated, born again in the waters of baptism along with our heart and soul. That is why Paul speaks plainly, as do evangelists and those preachers who understand that conversion doesn’t happen because we are logical or reasonable enough. For that can’t be.
Reason can’t enslave faith, it can’t analyze it, it can’t conquer it. (GK Chesterton’s Orthodoxy makes this point painfully simple!) Pope Benedict XVI’s quote above makes this clear. One of our challenges since the enlightenment is that we’ve traded training our pastors in meditating on scripture for analyzing it through either historical-grammatical or historical-critical frameworks. We give them systems without allowing the word to transform them; We overlook the sweat and tears that conversion (tentatio) often brings.
We want to enslave Scripture like a rat in a cage, rather than let the Holy Spirit transform us as we hear it. We create elaborate systems, and fancy definitions and terms to explain that which scriptue doesn’t explain.
Rather than meditating on it, hearing it, letting it absorb into us and transform us, as the love of God, which is beyond our capability to fully know, is revealed to us. As the depth to which He will descend to come to us, and heal and cleanse us becomes known, for he comes to where we are. That is what the Lutheran reformers were discussing in the blue quote above. Before the Holy Spirit heals our blindness to the truth, we can’t know it.
It is like the child who wants to figure out how to use their Christmas present, based on the die of the box, but who does not know what it contains. So is it with those who base their philosophy of life, the universe, and everything without considering God’s purpose. Or who determine that God’s revelation is subject to their own critical framework, simply because it is a mystery, a sacred thing beyond comprehension.
We have to start simple – with what God reveals to us What He reveals too us in mechanics of this world, and in what He very specifically reveals to us in Scripture. This is what makes up the faith of those who have lost all, and those who we think can’t gain much. Whose faith is extraordinary. Whose faith, whose trust in God is simply there.
It is then, informed by that, with horizons set by that revelation, that we can plunge into and explore His love. It is then we, as His little children learn to enjoy the presence of our Father.
Such is a spiritual life, a simple one… sitting at His feet, letting the Spirit bring us to will and do the Father’s will.
Lord Have mercy on us sinners.
(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.) (p. 307). San Francisco: Ignatius Press. Meditation for 9/26
(2) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 525–526). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press. Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration part II.II Free Will
Discussion/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