Posts Tagged ‘God’
Book Review: The Uncontrolling Love of God
Author: Thomas Jay Oord
Publisher: InterVarsity Press ISBN: 9780830840847
I like Tom Oord. I like that he is a thinker. I like that even when he postulates an idea, he’s not always resolute in its absoluteness. He seems to always be exploring, processing, and attempting to understand. I remember the first time I was exposed to the “open view” of God, sometime around twelve or thirteen years ago, and I immediately rejected the idea as something that could ever be considered within the paradigm of my theology. I could not escape the gnaw of this open view though, and when it appeared on my radar again around eight years ago, I started to do some investigation and deeper reading. Tom Oord and others have been instrumental in the continuing evolution of my thought, perception, and growing relationship with God through their writing and lectures on a more open and expansive understanding of God’s relationship and His engagement in the lives of men and women. While I’m not an open theist, I know for certain my understanding of God and relationship I live with Him is far more healthier now than it has ever been in my life, in large part because of my willingness to engage this dynamic of the uncontrolling love of God. I share this preface for those who may be highly resistant to ideas previously foreign to your thinking about God. I was that guy. I am no longer that guy. This is a worthy book to read.
Oord begins this work with questions regarding the goodness of God and the tragic events that can call that goodness into question; these are the “why questions” and the reasoning behind the chapter title Tragedy Needs Explanation.
The case for God’s uncontrolling love builds with chapter two as Oord further develops his thesis, drawing distinctions between God’s sovereign control over every detail of existence and the possibility of randomness as a factor in the circumstances and happenings of life. It will be necessary for each reader to draw their own conclusion, but one thing I particularly enjoyed from this chapter was the brilliant synthesis of philosophy, science-physics, and theology. I think, in general terms, we are often want to speak and quantify our beliefs in binary terms… If I am reading Oord’s ideas correctly in this section, he promotes a mixed view of causation and randomness in all the events and circumstances of life, he concludes this chapter with these words; “Both randomness and regularity persist in the universe.” I have likely way oversimplified his wonderful presentation, but this is my simple review and my very, very brief synopsis.
The elements of free will and determination are explored in chapter three, which was a very insightful and interesting read. There are far too many excellent points in this chapter to do justice in this short review, but I can share a teaser with the following quote:
The two words, free and will, capture what most people mean when they talk about the freedom to choose in any particular moment. But philosophers use various terms to talk about free will. The philosophical label libertarian free will describes what I believe is the most plausible view of freedom. Libertarian free will says genuine freedom is irreconcilable with being fully determined to act in a particular way. Libertarian-free-will supporters are incompatiblists because they believe we cannot be simultaneously free and entirely determined by other forces. In other words, free will and complete determinism are incompatible. We choose among alternatives, and other agents and factors do not completely control us. (p. 59)
I think, one of the big takeaways for me from this chapter, is the affirmation of my own conclusion regarding my conversion from Calvinism (many years ago). In my opinion, as echoed in the above quote, theistic determinism is incompatible with free will. Now, granted this statement leaves much unanswered, but those unanswered questions are much of what Oord’s book, The Uncontrolling Love of God, explores (and a great reason to purchase and read it).
As I have alluded previously, I appreciate the approach of Oord to not bifurcate the discussion of theodicy with “either/or” statements about God and instead embrace more of a “both/and” approach to understanding this complex conversation. Again, this is my interpretation and I hope I am not oversimplifying or misrepresenting the nature and discussion in this book. You’ll need to read it and judge for yourself. A great case for my observation can be found in the presentation of Models of God’s Providence (beginning pg. 83, chapter four). Once more, in my opinion, this might be one of the more important chapters in the book. I think it can serve for some very deep and healthy discussion (albeit possibly fired with much passion), and would be an excellent reason for introducing this book in a study group. The ways we think about God and His actions among us have serious repercussions and ramifications. A conversation concerning the models of God’s providence is a great introduction to explore ways we think about God.
Tom Oord has written and lectured extensively on the open and relational view of God. It is in chapter five that he begins to fully engage this position deeply with relation to tragedy, free will, determination, and love within the scope of the God and humanity relationship. For the sake of ease and the benefit of my friends who will read this review and likely be unfamiliar with the open view of God, I will include Oord’s major defining points for this position. He writes in the opening statements of chapter five.
Open and relational theology embraces the reality of randomness and regularity, freedom and necessity, good and evil. It asserts that God exists and that God acts objectively and responsively in the world. This theology usually embraces at least these three ideas:
- God and creatures relate to one another. God makes a real difference to creation, and creation makes a real difference to God. God is relational.
- The future is not set because it has not yet been determined. Neither God nor creatures know with certainty all that will actually occur. The future is open.
- Love is God’s chief attribute. Love is the primary lens through which we best understand God’s relation with creatures and the relations creatures should have with God and others. Love matters most.
Advocates of open and relational theology may describe their views a little differently from the way I have here. Some add other beliefs. Among the open and relational theology books of importance and in addition to those cited, but most advocates embrace at least these three statements. (pg. 107)
Please note as quoted above that Oord describes this as his defining points of the Open and Relational View of God, while others will add other defining points to the position.
While this chapter represents a big-picture view of the open and relational dynamic of God, it is not just a high-level fly by. There is much depth to the presentation and Oord has done a remarkable job of annotating sources from a diverse group of thinkers and theologians. Additionally, with such depth of thinking, one can often get lost in the academic structure of the discussion; this is not so with Oord’s presentation. He has also performed admirably to bring the conversation to an every-day-man level of understanding. I believe this chapter could easily be a standalone work expressing this particular view of God.
Chapter six is a chapter I will have to return to and read more closely. I admit that it is a portion of the book that I skimmed more than I digested, unlike the slower more deliberate approach I took with previous chapters. In it, Oord dialogues quite extensively with John Sanford’s work in his book, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence. Oord expresses the importance of this chapter as a preface to his summary conclusion.
Similar to my statements from chapter six, I extend my thoughts to the concluding chapters of seven and eight where Oord offers the brunt of reason behind his position and his concluding statements. It is with complete transparency that I offer my inconclusiveness. The jury is still out for me with regard to theodicy and the working of God within the parameters of His sovereignty and humanity’s unrestricted free will. I admit I don’t understand all the myriad ways of God’s working within the scope of humanity and free will. At this juncture, I’m willing to live in the divine tension of God’s mystery. I say this while fully engaged in asking questions of God and pondering with deepest contemplation (love) all the knowledge that God will impart regarding these deep and soulful questions about our existence and the ways of life in the midst of brokenness and people still separated from God by the distorted image of God within them. Even while I make these admissions about myself, there are several points that Oord makes in his Kenosis chapter (seven) that put me on edge…and for the very reasons that he gives his voice under his subheading Essential Kenosis and Evil, also found in chapter seven. I have learned that this type of discomfort I describe is when I need to pay attention very closely; I need to proceed slowly and allow God the Holy Spirit to guide my understanding. That is not to say that I will eventually be swayed to another view, but that I will remain objective in my search for truth and be wary of my personal biases as well as positions anchored in personal conviction. I think I’ll end my review on that note.
This is an excellent and very thought-worthy book. I think it will make a fabulous group study. In my opinion, there’s no way a person can read The Uncontrolling Love of God and not find subjects worthy of engagement. There’s a lot here and some deep thinking, but not too difficult to approach even for high school students. I think it also serves as a compilation and expository summary of many of Oord’s earlier works, which can be helpful if you’ve read much of his writing or if you’ve read none. The book is well annotated with extensive footnotes. I’m reading a proof copy, so I’m not sure if this is the final version of the book or not. I do not know if there will be additional appendices or if there will be a bibliography included, but in either event, this is a very worthy read. Thanks Tom for stretching my theology and giving me pause to evaluate my positions.
The book is currently available for preorder at Amazon and is scheduled for release Dec. 06, 2015
During the past month, I have been involved with an extended study and meditation over the working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers and followers of Jesus Christ. I first started writing about these stirrings around May 17th on the blog. This begins a multi-part essay sharing an ongoing reflection I continue processing. I don’t profess this work as academically complete, so feel free to join in the conversation if you are so inclined. See Part One of The In-Dwelling Holy Spirit here and see Part Two of the series here.
Pentecost: In-Dwelling Holy Spirit [Part Three]
I left off with the last installment of this series with the question, “What is/are the commandment(s) of Jesus?” The reason, again, that I believe this particular question is so important with regard to receiving and living with the indwelling Holy Spirit is because of Jesus’ words as spoken to His disciples in the Gospel of John (John 14:15-17).
“If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.”
Maybe I am making too much of the sentence structure and words used here, but it seems that the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit is contingent upon obedience to Jesus’ commandments. I think this idea is also supported with other teachings from the New Testament. When Peter preached to the crowds on the Day of Pentecost, he told them; “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). While the exact words, “Obey my commandments” are not in Peter’s instructions, “repent” “and turn to God” “and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” strongly infer and rightly assume obedience to Jesus’ commandments. Following these imperative statements seems conditional to receiving the indwelling Holy Spirit, not just a “down payment,” but full-on, over-flowing, in-filling, and indwelling baptism of the Holy Spirit. (“Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”) It is for this reason I believe close attention should be paid to the commandments of Jesus as we are dependent upon the infilling Holy Spirit.
When I consider what the commandments of Jesus are, I imagine them a single commandment comprised of many layers rather than considering them as a list of separate and specific commands. I imagine something like this…
The “sphere” of Jesus’ commandments is to Love God and Love People. I think this is best interpreted through the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) and Jesus’ definition of the “Greatest Commandment” (Mark 12:28-31). Likewise, I believe these primary instructions are found embodied in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17). While I think the commandments of God truly are as simple as Love God and Love People, I also think these commandments are much deeper than their simplicity may imply.
When I consider the commandments of Jesus, I recall a number of proclamations he made regarding himself. These proclamations shed light and provide substance to his teaching, subsequent instructions, and commandments. The following is a list of Jesus’ “self-identifiers.”
- He is the “Fulfillment” of the Law. Early in his teaching from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaimed that he “came to fulfill the Law.” See Matthew 5:17-20 for full context.
- God the Father sends Jesus… (John 8:42) Jesus’ teaching was not his own, but teaching from God the Father (John 7:16). What he taught was gleaned in the presence of God the Father (John 8:38).
- Claimed unity with God (John 14:10-11; John 17:21), and claimed equality with God (John 14:9).
- Proclaimed that he alone was the Way of Eternal Life (John 14:6). Referred to himself as the gate and the narrow-way supporting his claim from John 14:6 (Matthew 7:13-27; John 10:1-18).
- Professed immutability or an unchanging, always existent nature (John 8:58; Rev. 1:8; Rev. 22:13)…supported also by the writer of Hebrews 13:8.
These aforementioned “self” proclamations of Jesus provide context and authority for all of his teaching. It is because of this context that my understanding of the Bible, from beginning to end, is a connected whole for Jesus’ instructions and commandments. What I mean to say by this is reflected in the image diagram above. Consequently, with this in mind, I do not believe that receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit just occurs, nor I do not believe the event takes place just by asking. I think the Holy Spirit baptism comes resultant of, or subsequent to, changes that take place in the heart. I have already presented a case for this earlier (repent, turn to God, be baptized in the Name of Jesus, and receive the Holy Spirit), but evidence for not receiving the Spirit baptism might be agreed to from the account of Simon the Sorcerer and his request for filling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:9-24). In any case, I wish to further explain what I believe is meant by “If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth.”
Love God and Love People IS the commandment Jesus has given to us; however, wrapped in that command is the fulfillment of the Law, the spiritual expression of the Law, and the practical outworking of the Law and Love (agape). Too often, we make pithy and cliché what God has intended for us to deeply express in every way of life…that is to Love God and Love People. When Jesus told the disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34), he wasn’t talking about “fist bumps” and “bro hugs.” He was talking about sacrificing your life for one another (John 15:13; 1 John 3:15; Phil. 2:5-7). Wrapped up inside of Loving God and Loving People are the Ten Commandments, and Jesus’ teaching about Kingdom loving and living as found in the Sermons on the Mount and the Plain…these, I believe, are the “high ideal” for which we strive…every day. How we strive for this kingdom living is explained in practical fashion throughout the apostolic epistles from the New Testament. For instance, Paul rebutts and rebukes Romans 7 living with a Romans 8 counter argument. He teaches us about God-love (agape) in his Letter to Corinthians (chapter 13), and he teaches us about living as “children of Light” in his Ephesians discourse and Spirit Fruit in his Letter to Galatians… these are just a few examples from the Apostle Paul. James teaches about practical outworking of faith to deeds from a heart converted to Jesus Way living in his letter. Peter teaches about selfless, servant love empowered through the divine nature in his letters, and John teaches his readers about divine love embodied by true followers of Jesus. It’s all there for us; deep and abiding instructions for the sojourning member of the divine Body of Christ. We are called to “walk as Jesus walked…” (1 John 2:6) in such a way that we are uniquely distinguished from people who do not follow the Way of Jesus. We can only successfully accomplish this mandate and our mission, if we are empowered and in-filled with the Divine Presence of God’ indwelling Holy Spirit.
As I have said (to my understanding), “Love God and Love People,” is the prerequisite and contingent command for walking in the presence and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. However, as indicated in my sphere diagram above, “Love God and Love People” is much more than a mental assent and verbal affirmation. While “Love God and Love People” is more than… it most often, is not perfection; even a quick read through the Acts of the Apostles or the Pauline Epistles will reveal many imperfect people being filled with God’s Holy Spirit. What then is the purpose of this round and round talk? I think basic misunderstanding and poor teaching about the Holy Spirit lays at the root of why so many people are attempting to live the “Jesus Life” are doing so without the indwelling Holy Spirit. I also believe that a second reason, closely related to the first, is selfish rebellion against the commands to “Love God and Love People,” but I will share more on this thought in a follow-up installment to our series.
[04JAN2012] Our “Cain”tankerous Attitudes — East of Eden
I mentioned in my last post there were some things I wanted to share about the short narrative account between God and Cain (The son of Adam and Eve and brother to Abel). What follows is the first portion of this narrative to help set the stage for sharing my thoughts:
1 Now Adam had sexual relations with his wife, Eve, and she became pregnant. When she gave birth to Cain, she said, “With the Lord’s help, I have produced a man!” 2 Later she gave birth to his brother and named him Abel.
When they grew up, Abel became a shepherd, while Cain cultivated the ground. 3 When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord. 4 Abel also brought a gift—the best of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, 5 but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected.
6 ”Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected? 7 You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.” -Genesis 4:1-7
We can only speculate why God accepted the gift of Abel, but not that of Cain; we don’t have enough information, but I assume there might have been something about the nature of the gift and the attitude that it was given to God. My reasoning for this speculation is the wordings in several translations indicate that Cain brought “some” of his harvest and Abel brought the “firstlings” of his flock. The point that seems evident to me is that Cain simply brought “something” to God, but Abel brought his best.
The account continues and tells us that Abel and his gift was accepted, but Cain was not accepted nor was his gift…this put Cain in a mood—“This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected.”
Now, one thing I find very interesting and encouraging, Cain is not disregarded by God. God responds to Cain as a Father or so it seems. The first act of God to reject Cain’s offering is akin to an object lesson, similar to an object lesson I might use to illustrate a life discipline to my own children. I might ask my son to sweep the garage and driveway, when he announces he has completed the chore I inspect the job and I find it half done, carelessly, and hurried. I inform him it is unacceptable and I do not acknowledge it has been completed and wait for a response to engage a teachable moment.
I think this might be what was happening with Cain and God in this moment of offering. Maybe this was the first opportunity to bring the “fruits of their labor” and vocation…this might have been the first test of their acknowledgement of God as overseer of all their life. I’m speculating again. In either event, Abel gets it right and Cain does not, but God doesn’t leave Cain hanging. God loves Cain and engages him in conversation; “Why are you angry, Cain? Why do you look so dejected?” I can see Cain in my mind’s eye, pouting with angry eyes…biting his lip and refusing to answer God’s questions. As God sees the bitterness and resentment of Cain’s heart, he continues; “You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.”
Cain turns and storms off, refusing to acknowledge God’s words or receive the instruction as the loving discipline that it was meant to be.
1. Ill-tempered and quarrelsome; disagreeable
2. Difficult to handle
The next portion of our narrative reveals how Cain decided to deal with his dejection; rather than receive God’s counsel to “do what is right…” Cain plots to eliminate what he perceives as the problem. The story continues as follows:
8 One day Cain suggested to his brother, “Let’s go out into the fields.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother, Abel, and killed him.
9 Afterward the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother? Where is Abel?” “I don’t know,” Cain responded. “Am I my brother’s guardian?” 10 But the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! 11Now you are cursed and banished from the ground, which has swallowed your brother’s blood. 12 No longer will the ground yield good crops for you, no matter how hard you work! From now on you will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.”
13 Cain replied to the Lord, “My punishment is too great for me to bear! 14 You have banished me from the land and from your presence; you have made me a homeless wanderer. Anyone who finds me will kill me!”
15 The Lord replied, “No, for I will give a sevenfold punishment to anyone who kills you.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain to warn anyone who might try to kill him. 16 So Cain left the Lord’s presence and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. -Genesis 4:8-16
As I was reading through this brief interaction between God and Cain, my thoughts begin to fill with examples of how similarly our lives parallel the response and actions of Cain. Perhaps we do not all respond with a physical act of violence, but I’m sure that violence has been committed in many of our hearts when we feel as though we have been misunderstood and wronged… For us, it does not matter that we may have been the ones responsible for bringing discipline upon ourselves because of lax or misplaced attitudes; we feel offended and mistreated and want to respond to that, sometimes defensively and other times offensively and aggressively.
So, what I see… Instead of “doing right” Cain plots to eliminate his brother and follows through with an act of murder. I am surprised by the surly and irreverent attitude Cain presents toward God’s questioning. I can’t help but think that Adam and Eve must have recounted details of their own personal relationship with God and his character to their sons. It seems Abel learned something from them and may have enjoyed an intimate and personal relationship with God…understanding something of His nature. It only makes sense to me that the same knowledge of God and invitation to relationship with him was available to Cain as was available to Abel. God’s exhortation to Cain reveals this too; “You will be accepted if you do what is right.” Surely Cain realized the omnipotent power and authority of the Great and Eternal Creator God; surely, he must have. But his reaction and response to Him was so flippant and disrespectful.
God calls Cain to the carpet for his irreverence and his crime against humanity as the repercussions of his actions begin to fall back upon him. But the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground! Now you are cursed and banished from the ground, which has swallowed your brother’s blood. No longer will the ground yield good crops for you, no matter how hard you work! From now on you will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.”
The original curse upon Adam for his disobedience was remarkably similar to Cain’s curse. Adam was banished from the Garden and was cursed to labor and till the ground for his survival. Cain is cursed on top of Adam’s curse; no longer will the ground yield good crops no matter how hard he works for them… and he is banished from sharing community—never to have a place that he can call home, “from now on you will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.”
The amazing similarities and parallels shine forth to me in light of Cain’s response to these pronouncements of God in response to Cain’s act of atrocity upon his brother Abel. First, Cain never accepts responsibility for his action. He never once gives assent to the instruction God had originally presented to him during the offerings of sacrifice when his gift was first rejected.
The second thing(s) I notice is how Cain fully exposes the depth and depravity of the human condition; his subsequent response and actions reveal what may be the hidden nature of many people.
- Cain chooses to be angry at God—rather than “do what is right” he chooses to harden his heart remain angry.
- Cain chooses to place blame on Abel for his own rejection—rather than accept responsibility for his actions, he projects his failure upon his brother.
- Cain chooses to allow his jealousy to have dominion over him—rather than heed God’s advice, Cain allows his frustration, anger, and jealousy to fester into murderous rage that consumes him.
- Cain chooses to act out on his rage with the murder of his brother, Abel—Cain succumbs to the ultimate act of self-centeredness by taking his brother’s life.
- Cain still refuses to accept responsibility for his actions—Cain replies to the Lord: “My punishment is too great for me to bear! You have banished me from the land and from your presence; you have made me a homeless wanderer…”
Cain’s words in response to God’s justice reveal that he holds God responsible for the punishment of his crime against humanity and his brother; “You have banished… You have made me a wanderer…” He still doesn’t get it. And, apparently he never does…
The narrative of Cain and God ends with a sad explanation and counting of the genealogy of the House of Cain. Verse sixteen of Genesis chapter four reads as follows: “So Cain left the LORD’s presence and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” Although this is an argument of silence, it might be plausible… It seems that Cain went on with his life without ever returning to fellowship with God; in effect, turning his back to God and forever giving Him the silent treatment. It also seems the curse of Cain continues with his progeny. Several generations following Cain was born a man named Lamech who continues the murderous legacy of his great-great-great grandfather; “One day Lamech said to his wives, I have killed a man who attacked me…” Nothing more is heard of Adam’s lineage through the house of Cain.
I have witnessed these same chain of events on a much smaller stage countless times. I know in my own life I have committed acts against society by my own choosing and then wanted to blame others when repercussions began to swallow me up. I have seen these actions of Cain in the rearing and discipline of my own sons. I think it is part of the nature that Adam has passed on to us, but it doesn’t have to end in the way of Cain… we don’t have to be irritable and disgruntled humans… “Cain”tankerous, as it were. We can choose to listen and act on the exhortation of God’s words; “do right…” We can accept responsibility and own our actions rather than project fault upon others. We can live according to the humble and surrendered life of the second Adam, Jesus Christ, and walk in intimate relationship with God…never to turn our back on Him and never to live silently outside of God’s presence… to the east of Eden.
During the time I am away, I will reposting older entries from the icrucified blog. The following post was an entry from August 15, 2009
First, my prayer for this day: “Lord God, I pray that You will redeem and glorify Yourself with the years that I robbed from You and kept for myself. Jesus, I pray You will take my present, take my past, and take my future…make them Yours for Your glory and for Your kingdom. May my life be according to Your will and Your way for the advancement of Your kingdom and the manifest expression of Your glory.” [Amen]
Second, I’m still thinking about my earlier post (see here).
I know that my thoughts, and words, seem harsh. Rest assured they are leveled at me first. I have been giving much thought to something that God (I believe it is God) has consuming my heart and my mind; it seems like it is the only thing I think about lately. I don’t feel comfortable at this time to talk about it in detail, but a side conversation that has been birthed from it considers double-mindedness or hypocrisy. I wonder if there is such a thing as Christian hypocrisy…I don’t think there can be; really, at least not in the strictest definition…I don’t think.
I think we are too easy on ourselves. Hear what Joshua Choonmin Kang writes:
“One of the worst issues for Christians is hypocrisy. Many of us are slaves to this, and we barely know it. The Bible defines it as saying one thing but doing just the opposite. When thoughts and actions don’t match up, we try to deceive ourselves and others by our words and actions; we become hypocrites. The book of Proverbs describes such people:
Like the glaze covering an earthen vessel are smooth lips with an evil heart. An enemy dissembles in speaking while harboring deceit within. (Proverbs 26:23-24)
Jesus condemned such hypocrites as whitewashed tombs. This is a striking way to put it because he was so kind to tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners of all sorts. But Jesus confronted the hypocrites and denounced them publicly: ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence’ (Matthew 23:25).
Again Jesus said, ‘You are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and all kinds of filth’ (Matthew 23:27). Whenever I read and meditate on these verses, I feel that the Lord is reproving me for ‘holding on to the outward form of godliness but denying its power’ (2 Timothy 3:5).”
Ouch. Really… ouch! But really, is a hypocrite truly Christian…? Or, are they simply a liar; professing to be something they are not. A Christian implies one who follows Christ, a disciple (becoming like the one they follow) of Jesus, the Son of God.
I want to be a part of a community that believes the promises of Jesus Christ. I want to be a part of a community of believers that are intent on living the promises of Jesus Christ as well. I do not accept any excuse for our inability to live the life that Jesus instructed us to live. I believe the power of sin and death was defeated on the cross of my Lord; therefore, the power of sin and death have been defeated in my life and I am no longer subject to it. I believe this. Why is this important? I have been reading the words of the prophet Isaiah lately and his words (the words of the LORD) have been searing my soul. Hear what he says:
Isaiah 7:9 – “Unless your faith is firm, I cannot make you stand firm…” Wishy washy faith = wishy washy life. If you don’t believe God’s word is true for your life, it probably won’t be true in your life (thus says the Lord).
Isaiah 8:11, 13, 16, 19-20 11 The LORD has given me a strong warning not to think like everyone else does…” 13 Make the LORD of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life. 16 Preserve the teaching of God: Entrust His teaching (instruction) to those who follow me. 19 Shouldn’t people ask God for guidance? 20 Look to God’s instructions and teachings!
And Finally, this:
“I have a plan for the whole earth…The LORD of Heaven’s Armies has spoken—who can change His plans” (Isaiah 14:26-27)
Not me. I don’t want to change them…I want to be part of the plan. May it be so unto Your servant according to Your word, O God. [Amen]
During the time I am away, I will reposting older entries from the icrucified blog. The following post was an entry from May 29, 2009
Divine Tension…a holy thing it is.
It seems to me that the more I study the Bible, the more I read and study saints of old, the more I invest in theology, the more I pray, the more I practice and learn of the spiritual disciplines, and the more I seek knowledge of and intimacy with God… the more I experience a divine tension. Now, this should not be interpreted as confusion or disillusion. The tension I experience is not a bad thing; at least I don’t think that it is. It seems to me that the closer I draw to God, the more I think I know Him…the more I realize how complex and incomprehensible He is. My words do not describe my thoughts very well, but I don’t know how to describe them any better, so that will have to suffice for now.
Over the past forty plus years I’ve gotten to know myself pretty well. I’m a life-long learner and love to experience and figure out new things. I have no doubt this personality trait carries over into my spirituality. It seems there is an ongoing lesson given through Holy Spirit that continues to disrupt my tendency to put the things of God and faith to formula. I rather like the A + B = C scenarios and like it even more when I can say with certainty that more complex issues can be solved in similar fashion; such as, X(c + d) – y = Z. When I’m able to do this with the things of God it gives me a sense of confidence, certainty, and (sadly unfortunate) pride. This is why I’m pretty sure that God continues to disrupt my formulas. This is why, as I draw closer and seek more intimate knowledge of my heavenly Father, He shows me how unpredictable and unformulaic (I know…it’s not a word, but you know what I mean) He truly is. He says to my soul, “Do not put me into confined proportions!”
The LORD says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you, don’t be like a senseless horse or mule that need a bit and a bridle to keep it under control.” (Psalm 32:8-9)
I keep coming back to the same crossroads…
I don’t think I keep arriving here out of disobedience, rebellion, or insolence. I think it remains a loving reminder from my Savior King; “Don’t get comfortable; don’t relax into a place of complacency and familiarity.” The LORD doesn’t want me to rely upon myself. I need to start out the mission of every day seeking a fresh infilling of His Holy Spirit. He is the only source of Truth and the only reliable Guide who can lead me to success for the divine assignment I have been tasked with on any given day. He is the only source of holy illumination that can radiate the presence and power of Christ in me to the world of my influence. I cannot rely on what was yesterday and it is my awareness of this truth that fuels the place of divine tension in my life.
I cry out to the LORD; I plead for the LORD’s mercy. I pour out my complaints before Him and tell Him all my troubles. When I am overwhelmed, You alone know the way I should turn. Then I pray to you, O LORD. I say, “You are my place of refuge. You are all I really want in life.” (Psalm 42:1-3, 5)
Truly it is only in the place of holy awareness and need that we can be continuously confident. I am beginning to understand (with these continuing reminders from God) that I need Him ceaselessly speaking words of direction to my soul. This realization gives me fresh understanding of Paul’s exhortation to “pray without ceasing.” It is my deepest desire to be the instrument and faithful servant of Jesus in all that I do and with every moment of my remaining life on this earth. Understanding my frailty and my weaknesses also fuels the divine tension. Thank You, O God, that in my weakness You are strong. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. I mourn; I long for guidance and direction that I might follow and bring glory to my King.
My heart is confident in You, O God; my heart is confident. No wonder I can sing your praises! Wake up my heart! Wake up, O lyre and harp! I will wake the dawn with my song. Be exalted, O God, above the highest heavens. May Your glory shine over all the earth. (Psalm 57:7-8, 11)
Prayer for the day:
O Holy Spirit of God, very God, who descended on Christ at the river Jordan and on the apostle’s in the upper chamber, we have sinned against heaven and before you; purify us again, we ask you, with Your divine fire, and have mercy on us. Grant, we ask you, Almighty God, that the splendor of Your brightness may shine on us and the light of Your LIGHT confirm with the illumination of the Holy Spirit the hearts of those who have been born again through Your grace: for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. [Amen] (Excerpted from Nerses of Clajes and the Gregorian Sacramentary)
During the time I am away, I will reposting older entries from the icrucified blog. The following post was an entry from Feb. 18, 2009
The God who Guides…
Exodus 33:12-17 12 One day Moses said to the LORD, “You have been telling me, ‘Take these people up to the Promised Land.’ But you haven’t told me whom you will send with me. You have told me, ‘I know you by name, and I look favorably on you.’ 13 If it is true that you look favorably on me, let me know your ways so I may understand you more fully and continue to enjoy your favor. And remember that this nation is your very own people.” 14 The LORD replied, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest– everything will be fine for you.” 15 Then Moses said, “If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place. 16 How will anyone know that you look favorably on me– on me and on your people– if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth.“ 17 The LORD replied to Moses, “I will indeed do what you have asked, for I look favorably on you, and I know you by name.”
I love this. I read this passage several days ago and I have not been able to get it out of my mind or off my heart since (not that I’m trying…it is one of those passages of scripture that just grips you sometime). I’m still processing my thoughts for this passage (probably will be for awhile), so I’ll share what’s stewing and brewing at the moment.
I am so encouraged by the promises God gives in these verses. Yes, I know that God is talking to Moses. Yes, I know that Moses was favored by God. I know this was the story of God’s delivering a people He had selected for Himself from the bondage and tyranny of slavery at the hands of Egypt. But…I also know this is my story. I also know these are God’s words spoken to me. I know that Moses’ fears are also my fears. And, I know that God’s responses to Moses’ fears are His (God’s) responses to my fears. This, in my opinion, is proper perspective and a very right hermeneutic. Let me share why I think this way.
Immediately upon reading this passage of scripture, several more verses came to my memory. While reading, I recognized a warming of my heart and I sensed the “closeness” and felt presence of God’s Spirit very near to me. Here is a list of the verses that came immediately to my memory:
- Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”
- John 4:26 Then Jesus told her, “I Am the Messiah!”
- John 14:9-10 Jesus replied, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don’t know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me.”
- John 14:15-17 “If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth.”
- John 16:12-15 “There is so much more I want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me. All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.'”
It seems almost beyond comprehension, but there it is…the God of all creation…the One who knows no beginning and has always been looks “favorably” on me and “knows” me by name. When I ask Him to teach me, He responds with “I will indeed do what you have asked.” He assures me; “I will personally go with you, Jeff -everything will be fine for you.” OH….My….GOODNESS! This is utterly fantastic! Jesus is God in the flesh (see Colossians 1:15-17), and He says that His indwelling Holy Spirit (yes, the Spirit that dwells in me!!!) will speak HIS VERY WORDS into my soul…guiding me!!! OH….MY….GOODNESS!!! YES! The OTHER and Omniscient and Omnipotent and Eternal God…the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…He speaks to me, He guides me, He favors me, He promises me that it will be fine for me, and that I will enjoy His rest. Why? Because He is with me and He will guide me. Hallelujah!
I believe, with all my heart that God is always guiding. He has plans for us mapped out before we existed. The breakdown occurs because we fail to recognize and obey His guidance. I pray that I will always be searching, sensing, and in submission to His plan and lead. He is the God that guides. I want to go where He goes and where He wants me to go. Thank You, O God, that You give me the assurance this is so. Help me to be aware, always aware, of your guiding and indwelling presence. I don’t want to go where You are not. Amen.
During the time I am away, I will reposting older entries from the icrucified blog. The following post was an entry from Feb. 06, 2009
Bible Reading : Exodus 7-19
The last couple days of my Bible reading has taken me through the account of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. This account serves as a perfect illustration of humanity’s obstinacy, disbelief, and stubborn heart toward God. Generally speaking, we are incredibly self-centered people. I confess that I continue to struggle with this natural propensity to “favor self.” I must stand vigilant guard in constant submission to Christ-in-me in order to keep “self” restrained. This is… the heart of iCrucified.
I think (again generally speaking) we tend to villianize Israel of the Exodus and Old Testament history, much in the same way that we are so highly critical of the disciples in the Gospel accounts from the New Testament scriptures. How easy it is to be armchair quarterbacks and criticize the players as we watch safely from the sidelines of our annotated study Bibles, questioning and judging every action of the people we read about…
I have to wonder, as I examine my own heart, and God tests my obedience (Exodus 15:25) (Exodus 16:4) and faith… How often do I fail Him; how often do I disobey…how often do I fall short? (Exodus 16:27) After He has faithfully and victoriously led me out of my personal Egypt, why do I find myself sometimes struggling to trust Him in all the areas of my life? Why am I reluctant at times to fully consecrate myself in complete obedience to God’s will? How come I am prone to miss the “Big Picture” of God, if I am walking closely with Him as did the disciples of Jesus? Could it be that roots of rebellion still exist in my heart? Could it be that the voice of self can shout louder than the voice of Holy Spirit? Might I like “myway” more than Yahweh?
…nah, I’m not like those losers I read about in the Bible, those rebellious dummies. I know Jesus, I’ve got it “going on” …don’t I???
Pentecost Sunday: A Meditation upon the Holy Spirit
Pentecost. Wait. The Holy Spirit. Infilling. Consuming Fire. Breath of GOD. Trinity. Unity. Baptized with. Inhabited by.
These are just some of the thoughts and words that bounce around in my mind when I think of this day, Pentecost, and the fulfillment of the promise of Jesus that we could (and would) share His Spirit. I think of the implications of the Prayer of Jesus (John 17:1-26) and what it means to be filled with, guided and comforted by, submissive and obedient to, and always in the Presence of the Holy Spirit of GOD Almighty. The promise of holy relationship reconciled and restored; Trinitarian fellowship renewed and unbroken… this is what I think about and rejoice over when I consider Pentecost.
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses…” (Acts 1:8) …For the Almighty has done great things for me (Luke 1:48).
I am Driven and I am Drawn…
I am driven to pursue the promise that Jesus gave to us; the invitation he extended to His followers and all who would believe: “I pray for them… Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one… My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity” (John 17:9-23).
It is the express desire of Jesus, according to this most passionate prayer, that His followers would enter into the Triune Unity with the Godhead. I believe this. Accordingly, I do not believe that Jesus would pray for or ask for anything that was not possible and it was Jesus who said that “all things are possible with God.” While there might be argument about the context of that particular quote, Jesus was, in fact, speaking about salvation and my use of this quote (Triune unity with the Godhead) is the ultimate expression of salvation (Matthew 19:25-26).
We find it easy, normal even, to believe that Jesus was in unbroken fellowship with the Godhead. We expect and talk of Him with an understanding that He, Jesus, viewed everything from the perspective of the Father. Jesus’ own testimony to this expectation validates our beliefs and understanding (John 5:19-20; John 6:38; John 17:6-8). We also know that the greatest agony Jesus experienced was separation from the unity of the Triune Godhead (Gethsemane: Luke 22:24; Matthew 26:36-46. See also the Crucifixion: Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34). What is it about this understanding and this picture of Jesus that draws me? The answer, I believe, is the Holy Spirit… the same Holy Spirit that dwelled in and empowered Christ, that Christ Jesus promised would come to dwell in and empower me, draws me.
I am Driven and I am Drawn…
I am driven and I am drawn to a relationship that is filled in the same capacity as that of my Savior Jesus. The thing that He agonized over was separation from the LIFE of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Do I feel agonized over the thought of separation from the Godhead? Jesus was continually drawn and lived in unbroken relationship with the Godhead… the question that begs asking of me is this; “Do I sense a continuous draw to grow deeper, more intimate, more passionate, more symbiotically and synergistically connected to the God in whom I say I live, move, and breath? (Acts 17:27-28).
It is the gift of God Who, in His mercy, completes the hidden and mysterious work of creation in us by enlightening our minds and hearts, by awakening in us the awareness that we are words spoken in His One Word, and that Creating Spirit (Creator Spiritus) dwells in us, and we in Him. That we are “in Christ” and that Christ lives in us. That the natural life in us has been completed, elevated, transformed and fulfilled in Christ by the Holy Spirit. Contemplation is the awareness and realization, even in some sense experience, of what each Christian obscurely believes: “It is now no longer I that live but Christ lives in me.” —Thomas Merton; New Seeds of Contemplation
Truthfully, I fall terribly short from this continuous experience, but falling short does not keep me from striving for it. As I have read, studied, and prayed over Scripture, I am fully convinced this expectation to live as Christ is what God has intended for us. We are Sons and Daughters of God; we are Brothers and Sisters of the First Born Son of God. The blessed Holy Spirit is the gift to us enabling and empowering each of us to live as Christ. This is Pentecost; this is the promise; this is the reality of the Holy Spirit, God with us, and Christ in us. We live as Christ. I am driven to Him and I am drawn to Him, so I might live as Him… as He promised.
The final question I have and the challenge before us all is this: Do we live with this hunger? Do we live with this driving, drawing, burning desire in us, before us, and behind us? If we do not, I dare say there is something dreadfully wrong with our understanding. The message and the mission of Christ is not a cerebral conversion, not an intellectual affirmation. The Holy Spirit “coming upon you” is a metamorphosis, a transcending transformation to a new life…a new being and a new way of being. Personally, I refuse to believe otherwise. “You will receive power…” It seems to me, if we have this same Holy Spirit of God who is the Third Person of the Godhead dwelling within us, we would have this hunger…an inescapable yearning to be in whole and holy, pure and unbroken fellowship and relationship with GOD Almighty. If this doesn’t exist within us… something must be wrong in my estimation. My guess is there were hundreds of church sermons today that shared those words with tens of thousands of congregants who profess to believe and follow Jesus Christ. I wonder… How many of those believe they can live with the same power and personality as a Son or Daughter of the Most High God? I believe and it will be to my dying breath that I strain forward for that prize in this life until I cross over to whatever God has in store for me in the next. Amen.
O God, who on this day didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit; Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Savior, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
More Pretense and Pride (Daniel 5:13-30)
So, a couple of days ago I posted a meditation on a reading from the Book of Daniel chapter four. The short story was a reflection on the arrogance and pride of King Nebuchadnezzar (read the full post here). This morning I realized another example of pretense and pride from Daniel 5:13-30. In this example we have Nebuchadnezzar’s successor Belshazzar committing atrocities before God. Belshazzar is having a pretty big party and decides to bring out the Holy utensils from the Temple of God taken when Babylon sacked Jerusalem.
1 Many years later King Belshazzar gave a great feast for 1,000 of his nobles, and he drank wine with them. 2 While Belshazzar was drinking the wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver cups that his predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar, had taken from the Temple in Jerusalem. He wanted to drink from them with his nobles, his wives, and his concubines. 3 So they brought these gold cups taken from the Temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. 4 While they drank from them they praised their idols made of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone. (Daniel 5:1-4)
Things start to spiral downward at this point (read Daniel 5:5-12), and ultimately, Daniel is called to the scene to give another interpretation to the King. Daniel interprets “writing from God’s hand” to the King with a dire prediction. This is pretty telling, the judgment that is about to fall upon Belshazzar for his pretentious actions, but that point was not all that stood out to me…
Daniel recounted to King Belshazzar the reign and the “humbling” fall (orchestrated by God) that came upon Nebuchadnezzar. When Daniel finished retelling the story to the King, he spoke these words; “You are his successor, O Belshazzar, and you knew all this, yet you have not humbled yourself” (Daniel 5:22 NLT). Here are the words that still have me in their grip “and you knew all this.”
I wonder, with all the information, knowledge, and stories of the Bible…revelation of the redemption story through Christ that we have access to, how much more will we be held to account. I can hear the saints, angels, and ancient prophets saying to us, “and you knew all this…” I wonder how many of us neglect to humble ourselves and fully submit our lives in obedience to the King who has sacrificed His life for our freedom… “and you knew all this…”
May God have mercy on us.
God reveals Himself to the humble under the most lowly forms, but the proud, attaching themselves entirely to that which is extrinsic, do not discover Him hidden beneath, and are sent away. –Jean Pierre de Caussade
Eastertide: “Waves of Lonely Comfort” [2011APR26]
I’ve been in a bit of a funk since Easter celebration. I can’t describe the reasons for it, at least not all of it. Oh, I’m aware of what is driving some of it, but I’m also fairly certain there are a number of subconscious contributors that I can’t physically name. Naming them doesn’t matter though, they’re there; I sense it and that is enough. Blech.
“Anyone who wants to save his life must lose it. Anyone who loses their life will find it. (Matthew 16:25).
The awareness that comes over me sometime in the process of “losing my life” is a difficult revelation to realize. It hurts; deep soul-bruising hurt. Loneliness, the stripping of pride, and the realization that ordinary is your new life aspiration is a sobering and humbling experience. All of this gives the old adage “no pain-no gain” a whole new interpretation. Finding life in Christ through suffering and emptying of self is not for the faint of heart. I’m thankful for the “cloud of witnesses” that have gone before me whom I can call upon in times like these. My memory of the Psalms and my memory of the Bible readings through my years provide rich resources for the Holy Spirit within me to bring to my heart’s recollection. I’m able to recall the truths of God’s Word and promise which will always trump my doldrums and emotive weaknesses. Sound theology carefully laid by saintly mentors provides me with understanding for why I am the way I am at this moment… and I know, this wave of loneliness will soon pass.
Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—Savior and my God! (Psalm 42:5-6)
Your word is a lantern to my feet and a light unto my path. I have sworn and am determined to keep your righteous judgments. I am deeply troubled; preserve my life, O LORD, according to your word. Accept, O LORD, the willing tribute of my lips and teach me your judgments. Your decrees are my inheritance for ever; truly they are the joy of my heart. I have applied my heart to fulfill your statutes for ever and to the end. Guide my feet and hold my hand. Set my heart on heaven’s way. –How priceless is your love, O GOD! Your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings. They feast upon the abundance of your house; you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the well of life, and in your light we see light. (Psalm 119:105-108, 111-112; Psalm 36:7-9)
I am consoled.
This wave of temporary despair and loneliness is a natural cycle in the process of “stripping the flesh” from my soul. I should be concerned if it did not make an appearance in my life from time-to-time. I’m thankful that I know the remedy for its siege; I am thankful for God’s word to guide me and the prayers of His people to inspire my own petitions. I also received inspiration and encouragement from a poem from Thomas Merton along with an accompanying summary meditation from Richard Rohr; it follows:
When in the Soul of the Serene Disciple
When in the soul of the serene disciple
With no more Fathers to imitate
Poverty is a success,
It is a small thing to say the roof is gone:
He has not even a house.
Stars, as well as friends,
Are angry with the noble ruin.
Saints depart in several directions.
There is no longer any need of comment.
It was a lucky wind
That blew away his halo with his cares,
A lucky sea that drowned his reputation.
Here you will find
Neither a proverb nor a memorandum
There are no ways,
No methods to admire
Where poverty is no achievement
His God lives in his emptiness like an affliction.
What choice remains?
Well, to be ordinary is not a choice:
It is the usual freedom
Of men without visions.
And, Richard Rohr writes the following commentary regarding the closing portion of the poem:
In the second half of the spiritual life, you are not making choices as much as you are being guided, taught, and led—which leads to “choiceless choices.” These are the things you cannot not do because of what you have become, things you do not need to do because they are just not yours to do, and things you absolutely must do because they are your destiny and your deepest desire. Your driving motives are no longer money, success, or the approval of others. You have found your sacred dance.
Now your only specialness is in being absolutely ordinary and even “choiceless,” beyond the strong opinions, needs, preferences, and demands of the first half of life. You do not need your “visions” anymore; you are happily participating in God’s vision for you.
With that, the wonderful dreaming and the dreamer that we were in our early years have morphed into someone else’s dream for us. We move from the driver’s seat to being a happy passenger, one who is still allowed to make helpful suggestions to the Driver. We are henceforth “a serene disciple,” living in our own unique soul as never before, yet paradoxically living within the mind and heart of God, and taking our place in the great and general dance.
I’m grateful to be journeying to this place of a “serene disciple” taking my place in the sacred dance. This is the comfort in the loneliness; this is the wholeness that comes from brokenness—this is finding life through losing it. Alleluia. Amen.
Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.
I thank you, heavenly Father, that you have delivered me from the dominion of sin and death and brought me into the Kingdom of your Son; and I pray that, as by his death he has recalled me to life, so by his love he may raise me to eternal joys; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, on GOD, now and for ever. Amen.