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The Darkness seems to close in… yet…

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Concordia Lutheran Church – Cerritos, Ca , at dawn on Easter Sunday

Devotional Thought of the Day:

11  Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark! At night I’m immersed in the light!” 12  It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you; night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you. Psalm 139:11-12 (MSG) \

19  O people of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. He will be gracious if you ask for help. He will surely respond to the sound of your cries. 20  Though the Lord gave you adversity for food and suffering for drink, he will still be with you to teach you. You will see your teacher with your own eyes. 21  Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left. 22  Then you will destroy all your silver idols and your precious gold images. You will throw them out like filthy rags, saying to them, “Good riddance! Isaiah 30:19-22 (NLT2)

470    The means? They’re the same as those of Peter and Paul, of Dominic and Francis, of Ignatius and Xavier: the cross and the Gospel. Do they seem little to you, perhaps?

There are days that seem absolutely dark, where the sinful nature of mankind is so dominant in my environment, that it seems like the darkness creeps in, and there is no light to see things by, to discern what is truth, what is shadow and what is evil. 

It seems like such times may never end, but how can we truly know that, when the darkness seems to totally envelop us.  How can we know that the next step won’t lead us out of the threatening forest and into the light? ( I often think that next step will be over the edge of a cliff, as my anxiety twists my discernment even more than the darkness had blinded it!)

As I read the first verse in my devotions, a song I’ve never heard from one of my favorite artists quoted it. And I knew that this is part of what I need to write, and hear this morning. 

Even though I can’t see in the dark, my Rescuer can, and He has promised that He will never leave or forsake me. Even though I endure adversity, and suffer as I struggle to know God’s presence, it is there.  He can see us, and guide us, gently, firmly.

So much so that we will destroy those false gods, those things that supply a false hope. We will simply abandon them, finding no need to cling to them. 

This is why the saints and “great Christians” of the past are who they are.  Not because of their own faithful battle against the evil they encountered in their world, or in their own hearts. 

Why there were saints?  They clung to the God who saw them in their darkness.  They clung to the Lord who has them safely in His hands.  In the cross, not just at it, they found the peace that allowed them to relax, and be sustained by the God who came to them. St. Josemaria nails it, there is the cross, the Gospel, and they promise that we will rise with Christ, that we have risen with Jesus.

Even if we can’t see it yet.

He has found us, for He sees in the darkness. 

Count on that, even as you listen for His voice, even as He reveals the glorious light of His love for you.  

Lord, have mercy on us, as we struggle in the darkness.  Help us to depend on You, to be guided, cared for and healed by Jesus, for this is what You have always promised your people.  AMEN!

 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1151-1153). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

It is NOT Enough to Be Theologically Orthodox…

20170124_103703Devotional Thought of the Day:
14  Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15  Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16  He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. Ephesians 4:14-16 (NLT)

959      We cannot give way in matters of faith. But don’t forget that in order to speak the truth there is no need to ill-treat anyone.

One thing that history has shown us is the need to be theologically astute, as well as to know the history of theology.  There are no new heresies under the sun, and they come back with greater frequency than the seasons.  As St Paul writes to the church in Ephesus, the role of ministry is to stop us from being tricked, by people who sound like they have the truth.

But it is not enough to simply be orthodox, to have the right explanation theologically, or apologetically.

There are a lot of theologians out there, brilliant men and women who can correctly and clearly explain why they know about God, and even why a contrary view is not dangerous.  And there is a myriad who are quite vocal and prolific in their writing, yet still have gaps in their knowledge.

But even for those who have a mastery over theology, it is not enough, and those learning need to learn this as well, less their zeal for orthodoxy become a barrier to the ministry they desire.

Theological orthodoxy is not enough.  It never has been.

We have to speak the truth, but it is not enough just to speak it.  We have to speak it, loving the person to who we are engaged in conversation.  Desiring not to win the argument, or that we were able to zing them.  Rather we need to desire that they can glorify God more because they have gained a greater insight into the dimensions of His love for them, that they have experienced His love and mercy.

Too often I have seen the damage the theologian ( or a theologian-in-training like myself) has done because their words were not delivered in love. Words which had unintended consequences, and to use a military phrase, severe collateral damage. The damage that leaves people thinking the church, and therefore God, is heartless and doesn’t care about them, just creating clones, or getting people inside without caring enough to confront their brokenness.

And for us who claim to have some level of wisdom, how heartbreaking it is to realize that we have driven someone away from the love of God.

We can change this tendency we have, we must change it! But it is not simply through our will and determination.  FOr we will find ourselves doing the same thing, to different people.  Or we will find ourselves responding defensively to others.

It is through learning to adore Christ, as we ourselves are changed by His love, that this change occurs.  It is the work of the Holy Spirit in us, revealing to us and helping us explore the depths of God’s love.  That love changes us, enables us to love, and therefore to speak the truth in love.  A maturity that is nourished in sacramental times, and in times of prayer and meditation.

So let us encourage each other to know the love of God, which is the reason we have hope and peace in this midst of this broken world, fr we know He will answer when we

Lord, Have Mercy!!!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 3383-3385). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

The Question is Not Relationship or Religion. A Plea for Communion with Christ.

Altar with communionDevotional 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.

What do people see in us?

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The church is always in the midst of a storm… but safe in Him

Devotional Thought fo the Day:
14  Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15  Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16  He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. Ephesians 4:14-16 (NLT)

917    Nonne cor nostrum ardens erat in nobis, dum loqueretur in via?—“Was not our heart burning within us, while he spoke to us on the way?” If you are an apostle, these words of the disciples of Emmaus should rise spontaneously to the lips of your professional companions when they meet you along the ways of their lives. (1)

At first, I felt an incredible burden as I read the words of St Josemaria this morning. While I know, we are sent into this word, that we are all apostles, the idea of people responding to us the way the two disciples on the road to Emmaus did seems so unlikely.

I read these words, and my heart asks whether St Josemaria knows we aren’t Jesus.  We aren’t perfect; we don’t have the wisdom, we are righteous enough, we are too bogged down by brokenness and anxiety.

So how could people react as if they encountered the holiness that is natural for the Son of God?

Because they have.  When they enocunter us, they encounter Jesus, for He is with us!

The promises are there; we will never be forsaken by Jesus, He will be with us for eternity.  The Holy Spirit dwells within all those who believe and are baptized. The Holy Spirit is transforming us into the image of Christ, even as we see His glory.

We know these things theologically, that is not enough! We have to realize the reality of what we know.  It has to sink deep into our hearts, our souls, even as we explore the vast dimension of the Love of God for us, revealed in Jesus.

This doesn’t happen through academic learning. It happens as we pray, as we spend time aware of God’s presence and peace, His comforting us and healing our brokenness, forgiving sin, removing resentment.  We are altered at the altar, as we receive Him, His precious Body broken for us, His blessed Blood, which confirms our relationship with Him and reminds us of all of His promises.  This is a life that is one of prayer, and meditation on His word. Not to prove our righteousness, but because in these encounters with God, we find His peace, we rest in Him.

As much as some would shy away from experiential aspects of our faith, these experiences where God is transforming us through His promises we hear in HIs word, through the sacraments He commissioned, these are His means.

We may never be aware of the result of the work, save when someone realizes Christ’s passion and care for them through us, and that is okay.

It’s not about our glory; it is about people being changed by our dwelling in HIs glorious presence.  AMEN!

(1) Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 2132-2134). 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.

Christ-centric life….a good reminder!

 

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Devotional Thought fo 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. 3  So when I came to you, I was weak and trembled all over with fear, 4  and my teaching and message were not delivered with skillful words of human wisdom, but with convincing proof of the power of God’s Spirit. 5  Your faith, then, does not rest on human wisdom but on God’s power.
1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (TEV)

3. Return to God: And Thou, O my God, my Saviour, Thou shalt be from henceforth the sole object of my thoughts: I will no more apply my mind to such as are displeasing to Thee. My memory shall entertain itself all the days of my life with the greatness of thy clemency, so mercifully exercised on me: Thou shalt be the delight of my heart and the sweetness of my whole being.  (1)

Twenty years ago, I preached at a small church in the middle of the desert.  Two years later, I would become their pastor.  And on their letter head was the mission/purpose statement.  “Teaching Christ-Centered Living”.

I’ve since come to the conclusion that those phrases, maybe long overlooked, are the key to the church’s misison in that community.  That is why they are planted, these phrase, this is a vision God has given those who sacrificed and set down the cornerstone.  At my present church, it is the oft repeated phrase, “The Lord is with You!” (and the response to me – “and also with you!” ) You want to revitalize a chruch – you want to see it come to life and share God’s love – discover the reason it was put there in the first place!

So back to Christ-centered living.

We aren’t talking about being religious by rote, or being scholars in Greek and Hebrew Exegesis.    We can memorize all the red letters in our Bibles, and still fail to live life centered, focused on Jesus.

SO what does it mean to be centered on Christ in our lives?  What does it mean to forget everything bu Christ and His cross?

It means to realize that clemency that deSales speaks of, it means to deligh in the presence of God in our lives, to rejoice in the incarnate, tangible God who speaks and listens.  It is to depend on this, and so know a peace that comes from God being our fortress, our sanctuary, our peace.

It means the hope that comes from realizing His comfort, and sharing in His glory, for His glory is the cHesed, the agape, the love, the charity, the compassion of God that draws us to Himself.

To live in awe of that love is Christ-centric living.

And it is our role, as God’s people to use our time, gathered together as the Church, or with a friend over lunch – to teach them what they need to know about Jesus.

My friend, the Lord is with you!

See His love, see His work in your life….. and cry out, “Lord, Have MERCY” or “Hosanna (Save us) ” or “kumbayyah (Be here Lord)” or simply, “thank you!”

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

 

The Blessing of the Communion of Saints


Devotional THoguht of the Day

Here is my servant* whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased. Upon him I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations.2 He will not cry out, nor shout, nor make his voice heard in the street. 3 A bruised reed* he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench. He will faithfully bring forth justice. 4 He will not grow dim or be bruised until he establishes justice on the earth; the coastlands* will wait for his teaching.  Isaiah 42:1-4 NABRE

Thomas Aquinas even went so far as to explain the scientific nature of theology in terms of this text. He says that theology, too, is in this sense a “secondary science” that does not “see” and “prove” its own foundations. It is, so to speak, dependent upon the “knowledge of the saints”, on their conviction; this conviction is the reference point of theological thought, which vouches for its legitimacy. The work of the theologian is, in this sense, always “secondary”, always ordered to the real experience of the saints. That is the humility that is required of the theologian.… Without the realism of the saints, without their contact with reality, which is what it is all about, theology becomes an empty intellectual game and loses its character as a science.  (1) 

With Angels and Archangels and all the company of heaven we exalt and magnify Your glorious Name, evermore praising You and singing…”    (2)

I am still caught up a little, in the message from yesterday, and the action Jesus takes, not just in delivering a man tormented by demons, but the action Jesus takes in sending the man home. Back to the people he tormented, to the relationships that were shattered in the course of the possession.  He sent him back to give the people hope, to proclaim to them the way God worked in His life.

The way described in the passage I came across in my devotions in Isaiah this morning. The care Jesus showed, the tenderness showed even to the demons ( Why not just trash them? Why not just send them into the pit?  Why respond to their plea for comfort and mercy?)  .Look at Christ, caring for the man, and for the village that rejected him!

I then came to the theologian’s quote and heard the words of our liturgy.  They both speak about the fact that we don’t live in a vacuum.  That life isn’t restricted to what we see, but that our worship joins with those before us, that their encounters with God.  We need to realize that the list of people that lived by faith in Hebrews 11, and those that followed in their steps as they followed in Christ, are those whose voices we join in praise.

And it is their experience; it is their stories that become part of our story (I think someone might say meta-narrative – but I don’t know what that is!). It is their experience of God that undergirds our study of theology.

Not because they are holier than we are.  Not because they were more intelligent! (though in my case – they are significantly so!)   It is because they experienced the love of God!  They saw Him bring healing and forgiveness into their lives, they walked with Him, even through the valley of the shadow of death!  To those who have gone before us, we see the impact of God revealing Himself to them.  It is imperative that we realize the communion of saints that we include in our confession of faith that we call the creeds.  We have to realize we are part of that, that they are part of our lives as well.

If we are to describe theology as a science, a pursuit to discover truth, and to gain an ever-deepening understanding of it, the lives of saints, past and present is the laboratory part of the course.   It is where we see the truth of Jesus in real life, experienced, observed, known.

It is something we need to know, to know Jesus has walked with others, healed others, delivered others, and sent others out, to minister to those who will be the next generation of the communion of saints.

What a blessed gift God has given to us, to help us journey with Him in life!

(1)  Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (pp. 198–199). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

(2)   A paraphrase of the Lutheran prayer said as we prepare for communion

 

When Theology Fails It’s Objective…

Devotional Thought of the Day:

1  In the beginning the Word already existed; the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2  From the very beginning the Word was with God. 3  Through him God made all things; not one thing in all creation was made without him. 4  The Word was the source of life, and this life brought light to people. 5  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out. 6  God sent his messenger, a man named John, 7  who came to tell people about the light, so that all should hear the message and believe. 8  He himself was not the light; he came to tell about the light. 9  This was the real light—the light that comes into the world and shines on all people. 10  The Word was in the world, and though God made the world through him, yet the world did not recognize him. 11  He came to his own country, but his own people did not receive him. 12  Some, however, did receive him and believed in him; so he gave them the right to become God’s children. 13  They did not become God’s children by natural means, that is, by being born as the children of a human father; God himself was their Father. 14  The Word became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us. We saw his glory, the glory which he received as the Father’s only Son.
John 1:1-14 (TEV)

“Our desire to advance in theological knowledge, in sound, firm Christian doctrine is sparked , above all, by the will to know and love God.  It likewise stems from the concern of a faithful soul to attain the deepest meaning fo the world, seen as coming from the hands of God. “( St Josemaria Escriva, Christ is passing By)

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.   (Martin Luther, Luther’s Small Catechism)

Theology has the hardest job of any science.

Yeah, you read that right, I called theology a science. It is a logos; it seeks to exist in the world of logic and reason, of in-depth study and observation.  It is full of hypotheticals, and that which is proven, though we argue about which things fall into which categories.It has to balance general revelation with documents which claim to be specific revelation from a divine, omniscient source.  It is up to us to discern which books are divine, which are simply good, and which are absolutely false.  Just for clarification sake, “us” is inclusive of people of every time, and of nearly every culture, from every continent, with no special wisdom given to those of any particular heritage.

The problem is that Theology has failed miserably, because theologians on every part of every spectrum have forgotten the basic reason for the existence of theology. Some still get it, but they are marginalized, more about them later!  Unlike other sciences, theology has long ceased to benefit humanity; it seeks simply for a truth divorced from meaning.

The reason for this is that theologians distance themselves from the objective, expressed by St. Josemaria Escriva as to know and love God.  This should be the Theologian’s greatest joy, to do what Paul prayed for, for all the people of God.

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)

This is where a theologian lives, it is where a theologian would thrive, and it is as the theologians share the wonder and joy of knowing this love, that a theologian learns to know and love God, and where the theologian begins to understand the deepest meaning for this world.  It is where John 1:1-14 goes from being nice philosophy to something that is mind-blowing and life-altering.

It is where theology becomes the science which benefits people, those who hear and listen and end up becoming the children of God.

That is what theology is for, that is why we preach, that is why the church sacrifices all it has to make known the love of God.

May theologians from every culture, every language remember why they are called to this task. Our existence is predicated on knowing and loving God, and as we return to that, knowing His love for us, may we see the Breath of Life empower and guide our efforts.

The Glory of God and Human Worth

The Glory of God and Human Worth

Psalm 8

†  IN the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit †


May the Holy Spirit make us more and more like Jesus Christ, causing us to reflect His glory into our broken world.

 A precious lesson to remember

I’ve been doing a bit of thinking since I realized that this summer will make it 30 years since I was a pastoral intern.    Some of that pondering has been in awe of what God has done, other moments have brought tears.  It has been especially rough as this year has seen some dear people pass away at each of the churches I’ve served at.  Nor does it help that in my devotions I’ve read Job recently, and presently am reading Ecclesiastes, where Solomon’s chorus seems to be,

All is meaning-less.

And there are days that I hear this!

Over the thirty years I’ve also learned to disregard that attitude, to know that even when I don’t see how everything will work out, that I am assured of God’s promises, and can rest secure knowing He is faithful.

That’s not where this sermon on Psalm 8 is going, well, not directly, but that is part of the background.  Thirty years ago, actually thirty-three years ago, a phrase was drummed into my mind.  It took 3 years to make sense, and a lifetime to implement.  It is a great guideline for theologians and preachers, and it helps those who listen to sermons and try to apply it to their lives.

These are those words,

You cannot fully understand any Biblical truth until you have reduced it to a corollary of the idea of Covenant.

or to put it in the way I came to understand it,
You can’t clearly understand any doctrine, in Christianity until you understand it in view of the relationship God calls us into with Himself, as described in the New Covenant.

Which includes the incredible glorious mystery we celebrate today, that God is One, and God is, simultaneously three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  What we call the Trinity the merger of the words Tri and Unity.   Until we understand that in view of God’s relationship with us, His relationship that He calls us into, the result is meaningless.
Failure to Understand the Relationship

So how does this work?  Why can’t we understand the idea of the Trinity, the doctrine that God is Triune, if we don’t include our relationship with God in contemplating it?  Why is understanding the Covenant necessary to understanding this?

The answer is somewhat simple, we can’t understand the Trinity until we are actively involved with it.  To understand the Trinity, we must move and live in unison with God, in sympathy with God.  It is as if we are dancing with Him, moving as His partner.

And if we don’t understand this, it is as if we are standing in the corner of life, just observing His glory, yet not able to understand it.

We end up with a partial picture of Psalm 8,
When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers, – the moon and the stars you set in place – what are people that you should think about them, mere mortals that you should care for them?

From a distance, this is how we see God, all the incredible beauty he creates, the skies, the mountains, a smile a joy filled laugh. It is glorious for sure, it is beyond the scope of our ability to describe, but we still don’t understand God, we still don’t know Him.  We think we know all about Him, but we do not know Him, and we cannot see the fullness of His glory, His majesty, His love.

It is as if we are a high school freshman, at his first dance, looking at an incredibly beautiful girl.  He can describe her dress, her beauty, but until he is dancing with her, looking in her eyes, he really doesn’t understand her beauty.

Neither can we understand the Father, Son and Holy Spirit until we are moving with God.  Our lives lived in Him, and He dwelling in us.  Until that point it is an academic exercise, one were we put ourselves in the place of judgment, as if we are the experts in judging His glory, because of our great understanding.  The understanding that is merely theological, that is merely from a distance.

Which means we read this psalm and say -God doesn’t think about us, He couldn’t care about us!  He has a universe to run!  Like desists we think that God is far off, that He isn’t involved, and that it is up to us to run our own lives.

That gives us freedom, to go after what we want, to do what seems good to us. It means we can justify our sin, thinking it doesn’t really matter to God, that He doesn’t really care, and that we should just enjoy life.

Ultimately, sin is nothing more than choosing to remain in the corner, distant from God, unengaged with Him.  We refuse to walk with God, preferring to stay at a great distance, able to describe Him, and creating explanations for what we do not understand.  Explanations that encourage sin, and encourage living life to what we think is the fullest.

That separation leaves us unfulfilled it doesn’t satisfy the hunger, it just makes it greater, and it enslaves us.  And once enslaved, with sin pulling us further and further away, our “expert” view of God becomes more blurred, and often more hostile.

Until we agree with Solomon, that all is simply meaningless.

Sure, God is three, and He is One, but what does that matter if my life is spent against the wall, alone with my speculation and philosophy and theology books?
Trinity understood through Covenant.

When we reduce the doctrine of the Trinity (not the Trinity itself) to a corollary of covenant, when we see this incredible mystery of Three in One from the point where we engage God, when we see it defining who we are, we begin to understand this,

This is my God, and I am His child!

It is like looking into the eyes of your beloved as you dance together.  You may not be able to describe what you see, heck, you may not be able to speak.  Eloquence evades you, but you know your beloved at a level that transcends truth.  This is when we begin to understand how much God does think of us, how much He truly cares.

It is when the Psalmist begins to understand the answer to his question,

what are people that you should think about them, mere mortals that you should care for them?

You made them only a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.  You gave them charge of everything you made, putting all things under their authority.

The answer is simply understanding the Trinity in view of our relationship with God.

For we see the Trinity involved with us from the beginning, as God makes us just a little lower than Himself, making us in His very image.  In our creeds, as we describe this glorious Trinity, we see God the Father, the Creator at work,

And then God crowns us with glory and honor.  This is the work of Jesus, the Son. of the Father, and our Lord.  It is His redeeming us, pulling us out of the corner, bringing us to dance with God.  This is Jesus, our righteousness, whom we are untied to in baptism, made one with, as He cleanses us from all sin and all unrighteousness. His very birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension affect s our lives, from redeeming us to being our advocate, proclaiming us Holy and deserving of the crown and righteousness.

And then the Spirit sanctifies us, setting us apart, conforming us to the image of God’s son. We are revealed to be in Christ Jesus, the Spirit dwells in us, and gives us the role of God’s trusted children, trusted enough that He puts all things under our authority, our responsibility, as we walk with Jesus.   This is what it means to be holy, to be sanctified, to walk with God,

And so we see God, in all of His glory, working in our lives.  Creating us.  Redeeming us, Sanctifying us.  Making us His people.  That is what the creeds describe the Trinity doing, simply engaged with us, thinking about us, caring about us so much that God invests Himself fully in our lives. His is what we confess; it is what we believe.  It is our Credo – why we depend on upon God.

It is a description of our faith in God who reveals Himself in this way to us,

This is why Paul can preach as the He describes in Colossians,

 

For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too.  And this is the secret:  Christ lives in you.  This gives you assurance of sharing in His glory.  Colossians 1:27 (NLT)

This is how we are to understand God, not with high minded philosophy from afar, but moving in unison with God as our Father, our Lord Jesus Christ who died to save us, and the Holy Spirit who will bring to completion our transformation into the children of God.  He thinks about us, He cares for us, HE LOVES US!.

As we come to know the Trinity this way they share with us the peace that surpasses all understanding and will share the glory of eternity.  For this is true!
We are His people; He is our God… AMEN!

Theology that Truly Matters Meets Us….

Devotional THoguht fo the Day:
14  Let us, then, hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we have a great High Priest who has gone into the very presence of God—Jesus, the Son of God. 15  Our High Priest is not one who cannot feel sympathy for our weaknesses. On the contrary, we have a High Priest who was tempted in every way that we are, but did not sin. 16  Let us have confidence, then, and approach God’s throne, where there is grace. There we will receive mercy and find grace to help us just when we need it.
Hebrews 4:14-16 (TEV)

290      Joy, and supernatural and human optimism, can go hand in hand with physical tiredness, with sorrow, with tears (because we have a heart), and with difficulties in our interior life or our apostolic work. He who is perfectus Deus, perfectus Homo—perfect God and perfect Man—and who enjoyed every happiness in Heaven, chose to experience fatigue and tiredness, tears and suffering… so that we might understand that if we are to be supernatural we must also be very human.  (1)

Tomorrow in church we will use the Athanasian Creed, an incredible wonderful set of words that describe the nature of God who is so much more than we can understand or conceive.  It first describes Father Son and Holy Spirit (or for us older folk Holy Ghost).  Mindblowing in both its simplicity and complexity.  Very appropriate as we dedicate the day to thinking about the Trinity, this majestic and glorious God, who has revealed Himself to us.

The second aspect I want to deal with here, well sort of…

It describes, as best as one can, the divine and human nature of Christ.  That he is 100% man, 100% divine.  Theologians will talk about this ad nauseum, with fancy Latin phrases and epic tomes which make us sound far more brilliant than we are.  Where it matters is where the saint who wrote Hebrews mentions above.

Christ has sympathy for us.  Not just a sympathetic ear, but true sympathy for us.  Or perhaps more accurately, empathy.   He’s been here, done this, and instead of having a t-shirt to wear, He has stripes on His back, a gaping hole in His side, and in his wrists and feet.  As the scriptures tell us, he endured the temptations we face, (and then some extras!)  He experienced the fatigue and suffering, the tears and emotional exhaustion.  his sacrifice was on the cross, but it was also His very life.  A life that was an offering for us, and to us, to show us the depth of God’s love.

Which is why, broken and weary, tired and drained, even doubting and in despair, we can turn to Him.  Or more precisely drawn to Him.  We don’t have to avoid the pain, and the sorrow, the tears and the grief.  For there, in the midst of the brokenness, we find Jesus, who was broken for us. We find in our Humanity, the Lord and Savior, who loved us enough to become human, and there, at that moment, we find the joy of His making us holy, and supernatural, as we share in His glory.

So if you are preaching tomorrow, remember to link the Trinity to their beloved, remember to mention the Birde of Christ.  If you are hearing a sermon, worship with great joy, knowing that God is with you… that He has chosen to share your life, and at that moment, know the peace and joy that is beyond all understanding.  For Jesus the Christ is with you, guarding you heart and mind.  AMEN!




 

 

Escriva, Josemaria. The Forge (Kindle Locations 1181-1185). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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