What does it mean to be human. The Bible says humanity is created in the image of God. It is a way of expressing the value of each person — … Continue reading We all contain a spark of the ‘primal fire’
“A theology of abundance is counter to affluence. … Once there is abundance we can be generous. We reach out to the other, we feed the stranger. This is a … Continue reading In praise of abundance & generosity
The road to a better life begins by acknowledging where one stands.
The truth is that for those of us who seek to follow Christ, there is a certain disappointment in how well we are living with Christ. We don’t measure up to what we hoped when we started the faith journey.
Hannah Whitall Smith said this about the Christian life:
“Your victories have been few and brief, your defeats many and disastrous. You have not lived as you feel children of God ought to live. You have had, perhaps, a clear understanding of doctrinal truths, but you have not come into possession of their life and power. You have rejoiced in your knowledge of the things revealed in the Scriptures, but have not had a living realization of the things themselves, consciously felt in the soul.”
If she was writing this today, maybe she would have begun with, “Let’s get real.” I think anyone who really desires to follow Christ will feel, at least at times, the truth of Smith’s words. (Those who just wanted a ticket out of Hell may not understand it, but that is another issue.)
I especially like Smith’s sentence, “You have had, perhaps, a clear understanding of doctrinal truths, but you have not come into possession of their life and power.”
We act as if the correctness of our doctrine is what saves us. We don’t say that, but it’s kind of lingering in the background. Of course, that doctrine differs widely when you get into the weeds, even among committed Christians. We, with our varied theologies, cannot all be right.
Which gets us to what the New Testament says is the key to life with God in Christ — grace and faith and love and hope. We keep it simple or we get it wrong.
As I have written multiple times, we are not saved by correct theology, we are saved by God’s grace through our faith.
The grace-faith life leads to love-hope.
Back to Smith:
“Christ is believed in, talked about, and served. However, He is not known as the very life of the soul, abiding there forever, and revealing Himself there continually in His beauty.”
Today’s is my birthday. My birthday wish for us all is that we would all grow in the “life of the soul.” That grace-faith will lead us to love-hope.
My family and friends, I love you because God first loved me. Thanks for enriching my life.
There is a danger at work in the religious life. It is that we take every thought in our heads as words from God. Connecting with the Infinite, I suspect, is a bit more otherly.
This, I think, points to the allure and the limitations of reason. Thinking is an act of the mind (the self) even when we are thinking about something or someone else, such as the Divine. We may think we fall in love with God when we actually have fallen in love with our thoughts about God.
That is not to say we cannot fall in love with God, the object of our thinking, but there must be more than our thinking; there must be experience. And both our thinking and our experience are best comprehended in connection with other thinking and experiencing persons. Then the God we fall in love with is more likely to be the true Divine, not just my divine.
But, no, that is not true. People tend to think badly and to misunderstand experience, and we tend to hang out with others in the same predicament. Many people, some in very large groups, have fallen in love with notions of God that I highly suspect are untrue. Some already have passed off the historical scene; others will.
We do not despair. We are merely humbled, or should be, in our desire to connect with the true Divine. I suspect our connections will be weak because we think and experience in such confusion.
1 Corinthians 13:12-13:
“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (NRSV).
Or in the venerable and beautiful King James Version:
“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
I’m thinking this morning on a nasty word. It is an old one we don’t speak of much. The generator of my thoughts is a man long dead and little known today — Lancelot Andrewes.
The word, the almost lost word — sin — with a simple truth.
“Sin it is will destroy us all.” — Andrewes
If we forget sin, we forget our destroyer. All we need do is look around us to see the truth. But sin does not merely destroy life in the now; it has consequences that reverberate through both history and eternity.
Andrewes, sounding somewhat like Yoda: “Besides our skin and flesh a soul we have, and it is our better by far. . . .”
I read these words from Andrewes’ exposition on Luke 2:10-11, which tells of the birth of a savior who is Christ, the Lord.
Andrewses speaks of the joy that a savior of any kind brings. People may talk all they want, but there is “no joy so great, no news so welcome” as when “when ready to perish” hears of “one that will save him.”
To a person in danger of dying to sickness there is no greater joy than to hear of one will make the person well again.
To a person sentenced by law to die there is no greater joy than to be pardoned.
“Tell any of these, assure them but of a Saviour, it is the best news he ever heard in his life. There is joy in the name of a Saviour,” Andrewes said.
But most of us are not on the verge of death, in sickness, or living on death row. The thing Jesus came for is the “saving we need all; and none but He can help us to it. We have therefore all cause to be glad for the Birth of this Saviour.”
“. . . there is another life not to be forgotten, and greater the dangers, and the destruction more to be feared than of this here, and it would be well sometimes we were remembered of it.”
Our spiritual joy arises out of our true selves — our flawed selves, our sinful selves. It arises because we see ourselves and those around us, and thus we see the need of a savior. In seeing our sin it becomes possible to find our joy, it is in a savior from that sin — a savior to love and lift up, to heal and pardon, to walk and reside with us.
[The Andrewes quotes are from T.S. Eliot’s essay on Lancelot Andrewes.]
On the phone to my oldest son last night a thought popped into my mind. And when thoughts pop into my mind, they often pop out of my mouth. I said:
“When bad things happen, some people blame God. I’m not like that. When bad things happen, I blame Satan.”
I don’t use “Satan” language much. But I believe evil is at work in this world, and sometimes it helps to personify it in order to fight it.
I do say this a fair amount: “Earth is not Heaven. We get glimpses of Heaven here, but we also get glimpses, some very big glimpses of Hell.”
We are nanby-panby about God sometimes because we think of this place as benign, as the Garden of Eden Extended. It’s not. This is a fallen world.
I can get worked up about this; you gathered. The cancer didn’t make me that way. The suffering I’ve seen made me this way.
Two days ago I got some good news, there is no evidence the cancer in my prostate has gotten beyond it, and it’s now gone. Good news! Celebration!
Well, there’s more. There was some not-so-good news: the cancer is more aggressive and advanced than the docs originally thought. No time to panic, but it does mean eight weeks of radiation are in my near future. Celebrate! There are good tools to fight this stuff.
So that was the context for my comment to Landon tonight. I don’t expect this cancer to kill me, but if it does, God is not to blame. God doesn’t do this kind of thing. The Divine is on the side of life, true life. God’s still got us in this Hellish-with-a-touch-of-Heaven place because God is calling all of creation into Divine relationship, and God wants us to help do it.
It gets messy at times because Satan or whatever you want to call it, the Dark Side maybe, is working against the life-giving of our Creator.
So pray for me, please, because I don’t like the Dark Side winning anything. We let God know that we really do care about each other when we pray. We love. We pray. God hears. God rejoices because when we love we are like God, and this is the Divine purpose revealed in Christ.
Sorry, I got kind of wound up. I’m competitive by nature. I want people to know that as “we” fight this cancer we are not just fighting a disease; we are fighting all that is bad in this world. We are going to continue to lose some of those we love to cancers, to other diseases, to disasters, to accidents, to this and to that, but in the end we win. Love wins. God wins.
Good enough for me. I love you, my family and friends.
“Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a sycamore tree. for the Lord he wanted to see.” This song, burned … Continue reading Zacchaeus story teaches much about about ‘sinners’ coming to Christ
The Apostle John stated that God is love (1 John 4:8), but many years later H. Richard Niebuhr made a great distinction in regard to the thinking of Jesus. “Though God is love, love is not God” for Jesus.
Niebuhr’s words were published in 1951 in what has become a classic, Christ and Culture. And, as with any true classic, there is a timelessness to the insights.
An interesting thing has happened in America since 1951; it seems that love has indeed become a god in our culture. Almost everyone exalts love; fewer exalt the God who is love and who, in Christ, showed us what love really looks like.
Jesus had his thoughts and worship fixed firmly on the God of love, faith, hope, and humility — not on those attributes themselves. “The greatness and the strangeness of Jesus’ love of God does not appear in his love of cosmic love, but in his loyalty to the transcendent power” of God the Father, Niebuhr wrote.
Jesus had a single-minded devotion to God, and his ethic was centered in God the Father and the value of the human soul, Niebuhr said. He was referring to Jesus’ “Great Commandments” to love God and others. These loves, however, are not on equal footing. “It is only God who is to be loved with heart, soul, mind and strength; the neighbor is put on the same level of value that the self occupies.”
Love and worship of God were at the center of Jesus’ theology and ethic. We err when we place love and worship at the center. The object of our love and worship is the key. When we put God at the center, then love and worship flow from our lives, and then other people want to know more about the source. And thus we are reminded of how worship, Christian living and evangelism are connected. When we worship God and live for Christ, evangelism becomes more genuine, more authentic because we have become more like Christ.
Images of the church lady from “Saturday Night Live” came dancing in myhead as I read a recent column by Daivd Brooks, “Let’s All Feel Superior,” in The New York Times.
Brooks’ Nov. 14, 2011, column came out in the aftermath of the child sex scandal at Penn Stae University, but I just now read it. Brooks wrote:
“First came the atrocity, then came the vanity. The atrocity is what Jerry Sandusky has been accused of doing at Penn State. The vanity is the outraged reaction of a zillion commentators over the past week, whose indignation is based on the assumption that if they had been in Joe Paterno’s shoes, or assistant coach Mike McQueary’s shoes, they would have behaved better. They would have taken action and stopped any sexual assaults.”
Brooks said studies have shown that people often do not do what they ought to do or what they think they would do if they discovered such an atrocity.
“Over the course of history — during the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide or the street beatings that happen in American neighborhoods — the same pattern has emerged. Many people do not intervene. Very often they see but they don’t see.”
In a 1999 study at Penn State, of all places, students were asked if they would “make a stink if someone made a sexist remark in their presence. Half said yes,” Brooks reported. “When researchers arranged for that to happen, only 16 percent protested.”
We’ve all heard stories of people standing by and watching as terrible things happended to others. But why?
The Apostle Paul said we do the things we don’t want to do and don’t do the things we want to do. In other words, our intentions differ from our actions.
David Brooks gets this point without allusion to the Bible.
“People are really good at self-deception. We attend to the facts we like and suppress the ones we don’t. We inflate our own virtues and predict we will behave more nobly than we actually do. As Max H. Bazerman and Ann E. Tenbrunsel write in their book, ‘Blind Spots,’ ‘When it comes time to make a decision, our thoughts are dominated by thoughts of how we want to behave; thoughts of how we should behave disappear.’
“In centuries past, people built moral systems that acknowledged this weakness. These systems emphasized our sinfulness. They reminded people of the evil within themselves. Life was seen as an inner struggle against the selfish forces inside. These vocabularies made people aware of how their weaknesses manifested themselves and how to exercise discipline over them. These systems gave people categories with which to process savagery and scripts to follow when they confronted it. They helped people make moral judgments and hold people responsible amidst our frailties.
“But we’re not Puritans anymore. We live in a society oriented around our inner wonderfulness. So when something atrocious happens, people look for some artificial, outside force that must have caused it — like the culture of college football, or some other favorite bogey. People look for laws that can be changed so it never happens again.
“Commentators ruthlessly vilify all involved from the island of their own innocence. Everyone gets to proudly ask: ‘How could they have let this happen?’
“The proper question is: How can we ourselves overcome our natural tendency to evade and self-deceive. That was the proper question after Abu Ghraib, Madoff, the Wall Street follies and a thousand other scandals. But it’s a question this society has a hard time asking because the most seductive evasion is the one that leads us to deny the underside of our own nature.”
Ah, that “inner wonderfulness,” is such sweet bliss, but so is ignorance, and they are connected.
Back in the 1980s, a friend and I used to go for walks in Chatham, Illinois, for a little exercise and mostly for a little talk. Joe was a committed Democrat who worked for a U.S. senator from Illinois, and I described myself at the time as a “Reagan Democrat.”
While that is how I used to describe myself politcally, there was one thing Ronald Reagan used to say and imply something that bothered me. He was convinced of the basic goodness of people–that people, when given the chance, will do the right thing. That seemed naive to me then and it still does.
The Bible paints a picture of people being created in the “image of God” but having “fallen.” The Apostle Paul said we all are sinners.
The biblical picture seems more accurate than Reagan or others who espouse that “inner wonderfulness.” The image of God stills shines through in many people in many circumstances, but this image has been marred by self-centeredness–our sin, if you will. This sinfulness is in evidence, even among seemingly “good” people.
There is an “inner wonderfulness;” it comes from the Creator of all of this. There also is an inner sinfulness; it comes from our heritage of self-centeredness. It is dangerous to think either does not exist, because that is ignoring reality, that is living in a fantasy world of one’s own making.