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Do We Choose and Pursue the Unprofitable?

clydes-cross-2Devotional Thought fo the Day:

38 And he said to them, “Keep watch, and pray that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  TEV Mark 14:38

23  “We are allowed to do anything,” so they say. That is true, but not everything is good. “We are allowed to do anything”—but not everything is helpful. 24  None of you should be looking out for your own interests, but for the interests of others.
1 Corinthians 10:23-24 (TEV)

Games, balls, feasts, dress, theatres, are not evil things in their nature, but indifferent, and may be used both well and ill; yet, notwithstanding, these things are dangerous, and to have an affection for them is yet more dangerous. I say then, Philothea, that although it may be lawful to play, to dance, to advice yourself, to be present at moral dramas, and at banquets; yet to be over fond of such things is contrary to devotion, and very offensive and dangerous. It is no sin to do such things, but it is a sin to pursue them to extremes. It is a pity to sow in the garden of our heart such vain and foolish affections, which take up the room of virtuous impressions, and hinder the sap of our souls from nourishing good inclinations.

When my devotional readings harmoniously scream the same message and grab my attention, I tend to want to hide, accosted by a law which seeks to conform us to the image of Christ.

It’s too random to be random, one might say. 

As I did my reading this morning, this happened.  De Sales’s comments struck a chord, thought I would replace the events with other things. Hobbies, Television, “computer” games, golf, even social media, all these things can be neutral, and even positive.  Moments to relax, times to share with friends (Pokemon hunting with 4 or 5 is kinda fun, and other conversations happen ) theses are all beneficial.  We could add to that even our religious traditions, music, cultural identity, etc.  We in the USA talk about the “pursuit of happiness”, which, divorced of the joy of God’s presence, becomes a demanding idol to pursue.

Any of these can dominate our lives (and some are programmed to!) as they become things we grow in affection for, as we grow fond of, and those feeling turn to desire, desire which enslaves us. Which is when what is permissible become unprofitable, when our desire for these things override our desire to love God, and love our neighbor.

Which sounds all too easy. 

For we are like St. Peter, so desiring to follow Christ in the spirit, yet so weak.  Affections for things distract us, anxieties cause us to turn away. We deny Christ, we allow our time with Him, and our time working in his kingdom to be minimized.  Am I one of His?  Hmmm, I will be after I do this.  I’ll get back to you after I….

I am not talking about asceticism here, that too has its ability to become an affection, it too can become a form of pietism, and looking after out own self-interest.  (think about the idea that those who fast should not show their hunger – but how do you do that without your own pride taking control?)

I am talking about realizing the presence of God, in our lives.  I am talking about depending on Him, asking the Spirit to mold us as He would. To see others needs before our own, because God puts us in the place we are, not for our benefit, but that they would be reconciled to Him, that they would be cared for, that they would realize they are loved.

The only way to see these things put in their proper place, is to find Christ’s love so incredible, that it draws our attention. To become so enamored, so wanting to know His love, that all else fades, and is dropped asidee.

This isn’t easy…. for it means shedding those things we are overly attracted to…. to allow God to break their hold on us.

Lord have mercy on us!  Help us to have no greater desire that to know your presence, and then to minister at Your side to those you bring into our life.  AMEN! 

 

Francis de Sales, Saint. An Introduction to the Devout Life. Dublin: M. H. Gill and Son, 1885. Print.

 

 

Can Christianity Be More than Simple?

Featured imagedevotional 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.

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.) (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

The Key to Loving Your Enemies, Loving God. The Key to Loving God…

Devotional & Discussion Thought of the Day:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

9  O God, we meditate on your unfailing love as we worship in your Temple. 10  As your name deserves, O God, you will be praised to the ends of the earth. Your strong right hand is filled with victory. Psalm 48:9-10 (NLT)

You still do not love the Lord as a miser loves his riches, as a mother loves her child… You are still too concerned about yourself and about your petty affairs! And yet you have noticed that Jesus has already become indispensable in your life… Well, as soon as you correspond completely to his call, he will also be indispensable to you in each one of your actions. (1)

Yesterday’s Bible Study time at church was talking about the attitude of St. Paul towards the people of Israel. How, even though those people would have killed him outright, his love for God, and His knowledge of God’s promises, led him to desire their salvation, no matter the cost.  He said he would even give up is salvation, if that were possible,

A tough act to follow, as many of us realized, and even grieved over during the Bible Study.

Paul’s comments, “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ,” take on a far more challenging perspective.  They drive home the idea of loving our neighbor – for love doesn’t count the cost.  Even when our neighbor is our enemy, our adversary, or just a huge pain in the neck.  Imitate Paul as he desires their salvation more than even his own, even as Paul imitated Jesus, as He died for those who caused His suffering and death.  You and I.  (All that debate about whether the Jews were responsible for His death, or the Romans is nonsense.  He chose to die to save us from our sins, to restore us to the Father.)

Are you willing to give up all for those you love?  Are you willing to love those who hate you?

Tough questions.

Even more difficult, when we realize Paul’s challenge to us is not alone, John issues it with these words,

20  If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? 21  And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters. 1 John 4:20-21 (NLT)

So how do we do this?  Is there some metaphysical knowledge that unlocks in us the ability to love our neighbor?  Is it some ritual that we must undergo, that magically gives us the ability to sacrifice all for our neighbor?

No, just simply – if you love God with all you are, when you correspond to His call on your life, then this happens.  Not because of our will or volition, it is deeper than that.  It is the work of God in our lives, what He has ordained for us.  it is a life of Holiness, it is a life, set apart to Him.

Again, not easy, a radical transformation in our lives.

So how do we do these things, things God has emphasized through His word, through the Apostles, the Prophets, in the Law of Moses, in the Gospel of Christ?

Think.

No – not think about where the solution, that won’t help.  We aren’t capable of it.

Do what the psalmist asks us to do – meditate on the Lord, on His love, on His mercy, on His promises revealed in His word. On His unfailing love.  As Paul will say, explore its depths, its height, its width, its breadth.  Realize how God’s love consumes us, how it transforms us, How the Holy Spirit makes it a reality in our life.

It sounds too easy, but keep in the forefront of your thoughts during the day the incredible love and grace of God.  Spend time just thinking about it.

Don’t limit yourself to worship and praise, to just studying the Bible in classes, or studying it as you read it.

Just read and be in awe, let the words run through your heart like a bubbling brook, occasionally like a waterfall, Like the Niagara Falls, or Iguazu Falls in South America. (Watch the movie “The Mission” to see this – and an incredible story of loving your enemy!)

Let the promises amaze you, the patience of God astonich you, the miracles and wonders of God leave you without the ability to read any further.

And delight that all of this has been done and revealed – to you… for you, for your neighbor, for that person…….

Then you will love, ot as a command, but because the gospel is alive in you, you won’t be able to resist,

It will be our lives… lived as our Lord lived.

We’ll stumble for sure, we struggle at times, but the correlation between realizing the love of God, and loving others is clear… and it is necessary…

So dwell in Him, rejoice in His presence. Know His love!

(1)   Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 3299-3303). 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.

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