The Christian Walk
Holy Saturday: A God-Forsaken Silence of the Lamb
(My rambling thoughts on this holy reflection day…)
Holy Saturday. It’s a quandary for me. First, it’s not a day that I usually observed in the scope and sequence of my Protestant Evangelical upbringing. For that matter, neither was Ash Wednesday, Lent, Palm Sunday, Holy Week, Good Friday, or any other traditional observance of the Christian Calendar. We covered Christmas Day (more Santa than Jesus) and Easter (more new Spring clothes and candies than a resurrected Savior). Fast forward… Over the last decade of my life, I’ve become more aware and studied in the traditions of the Church and found that my faith and my daily experience with the Godhead and the people of God have been enriched in ways that words cannot describe. As much as I enjoy this aspect of my spirituality, I often get caught between the tensions of intellectual understanding and the mysterious unknowing. Reflections during the Holy Triduum (evening of Maundy Thursday thru evening prayers of Easter Sunday), cause me great tension as I wonder and wander in my mind over the events that span these days… Here follow some of my thoughts over the past couple days, a Midrash of sorts maybe:
The crucifixion of Jesus and the subsequent events leading up to the resurrection of Jesus are a profound mystery to me. I say I understand, but it’s more some measure of assent of agreement to what theologians say it is and what it represents or does for humanity. Honestly, there is far more I do not understand than what I truthfully do understand. The gaps in the Holy Triduum narrative lead us to much conjecture and likely much misunderstanding, but still, I think the tension has healthy benefits…or it can have healthy benefits.
There are some aspects of these “things unknown” that I struggle with more than others. One thing in particular is the reasoning of God for choosing the instrument used in the killing of Jesus (the cross and the subsequent act of crucifixion). Yes, I’ve heard and studied much of the ideas, thoughts, metaphors, allegories, and like that gives us plausible reasoning for the cross, but all of it still falls short of registering in my simple little mind. I don’t get it. Why the cross? Why crucifixion? I simply do not know. Though speculation and theories abound, none of them satisfactorily answer the questions I have, nor do they sufficiently purpose this means of death over and above the sacrificial death of any other holy person—there have been other martyrs, there have been other gruesome, tortuous deaths, and others have given their lives as a ransom for others. We respond, saying, “Yes, but Jesus was the Son of God” and this sets apart the crucifixion as a singular event in the history of humanity. At this juncture, most Christian believers just mute up and solemnly nod in agreement and smother their questions. I do not. As I said, I give affirmation of belief, but that doesn’t mean I understand. I can parrot all the theories and doctrinal statements of belief, but I still don’t understand. For me, it begins to boil down to whether or not the cross is truly the seminal event of the Christian faith. Most of my Christian upbringing leads me to say it was what I was taught; “It’s all about the cross” “It’s all about Jesus suffering in my place” “It’s all about the blood” “There had to be a price for sin…and Jesus paid the price.” I honestly have a tough time nodding my head in agreement that these are the seminal events of the faith I profess. Don’t misunderstand my thoughts, I do think these are pieces of the whole, but the seminal event??? No. I don’t believe that.
Am I saying the cross is not central to the Christian faith? I don’t think I would actually say those words, but I don’t believe I place the same level of importance on this event as what I was lead to believe. The death of Christ is central to the faith…but the instrument of death, I’m not so convinced other than it is associated with Jesus. In other words, had it been a poison lance or a hangman’s noose, either of these might be the little golden charms we hang on our walls or around our necks.
What then, is the critical event of the Christian faith? I say it is the resurrection (The apostle Paul seems to affirm this in his 1 Corinthians discourse chapter fifteen). This begins one of my main points of contention. Many Protestants, especially in the circles that I have traveled, focus almost entirely on the cross, suffering, and death of Christ. All of these are not as much about Christ as they are about Jesus taking “my” place. He suffered for “me.” He died in “my” place. In effect, a translation of this focus can become so “me” centered it loses the focus of redemption and reconciliation entirely. This is not true of the resurrection. The resurrection remains “we” centered. Perhaps that is why so many humans lose focus on the resurrected Christ and want to keep their eyes fixated on the suffering Christ. Again, I don’t know, but I wonder. Regardless, hyper-focalization on the death of Christ inadvertently minimizes the most important aspect of the Christian faith, the resurrection.
But what about those days in-between the death and resurrection of Christ, that Holy, Silent, despondent day when Christ was silent, dead, and buried.
The historical teaching of the Church proclaims Jesus descended into the underworld or place of the dead (the Harrowing of Hell) and defeated the captor of humanity. Exactly how this played out, I am unsure, but we profess similar in our confessions and creeds within the Christian Church. I have my own theory and piecemeal understanding—speculative I am sure—nonetheless, it is what I think I think for this season of my understanding.
In his death, Christ identified with humanity more intimately than at any point previously in his life. How? I think he identified with humanity more closely through his forsaken separation from God (the Godhead: oneness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit). Because Jesus was incarnate (born and lived as human flesh), because he agreed to become human and empty himself of his Divinity (Phil. 2:5-11), he was able to fully experience, understand, and identify with humanity what separation from God was truly like. Before this moment in time, God had never been separated from God. God agreed to break unity with himself for the sake of saving humanity. All his mortal life (Jesus) was readying him for this separation and preparing him for the moment it would take place. The tragedy and heartbreak of the Gethsemane prayers, pleading for the cup of sacrifice to be removed, all leading to this point. The travesty of separation was agreed to and accepted for the sole purpose of saving souls, the most wonderful creation of all of God’s created things, humanity. It’s all about the we…not the me.
This moment of “death” precipitated by the narrative of the cross, God-Forsaking-God, led to the Silence of the Lamb (Holy Saturday), but only in temporal time…only in what we could see and hear with our physically limited eyes and ears. In eternal time, happening at the same instance of death that Silenced the Lamb, eternity heard a roar from the Lion of Judah being born gloriously for all eternity, triumphantly redeeming and reconciling God’s greatest creation, human souls.
And thus… The God-Forsaken silence of the Lamb was eternity’s greatest triumph. This is why resurrection matters. It is why I adhere to proclaiming Christus Victor (Irenaeus) opposing a hyper-exaltation of Penal Substitution (Augustine). Christus Victor is all about the “we” while Penal Substitution can easily deteriorate into the age-old trappings of “me.” I have been crucified with Christ, so I might live eternally with Christ.
Book Review: Water to Wine
Author: Brian Zahnd
Publisher: Spello Press ISBN: 9780692569184
This is the first book I’ve read by Brian Zahnd, although I’ve been a follower of his blog for quite some time now. I’ve enjoyed his writing and the theology he embraces, so when I heard him announce he had published a portion of his life’s story, I eagerly ordered the book to learn a bit more about him. I’m glad I did… This book has been one of the more affirming and encouraging books I’ve read in a long time. While it’s not my intent to pontificate about me in this review, I will say without reservation Water to Wine is also some of my story. Even more intriguing than Brian’s story being so uncanny in its similarity to my own, is that this same path traced by Brian Zahnd seems to be a common thread in the journey of so many Protestants.
This portion of Zahnd’s story begins with the desire to truly connect with the deep wisdom and mystery of the center of Christianity, the God-man, Jesus. Brian speaks of his ministry success and expresses his disenchantment with a “paper-thin Christianity propped up by cheap certitude.” He was yearning for something deeper, richer, fuller… What follows is an epic and eye-opening exploration to the ancient paths of the Christian faith and the discovery of traditions of deep-wisdom forged by the original apostles and disciples of Christ and continued by the saints who have followed them through the ages. This is The stuff of true disciples of the Way of Jesus Christ.
Chapter by chapter, Zahnd interweaves some of his story with the history and experiences of those faithful followers through the ages who left the breadcrumbs of faith for us to follow. There is nothing that I do not absolutely love about this book, but there are several chapters that resonate so deeply within that I know it is the affirming nod of the Holy Spirit. One of these affirmations comes from chapters three, four, and five where Brian reflects on his reintroduction to the discipline of prayer…and perhaps even the redefining and rediscovery what prayer truly represents and can be. As I mentioned earlier, so much of what he “found” in this chapter was an echo of my own discovery with fixed-hour prayers, ancient prayer books, contemplative prayer, and more wrapped up in this richness of unity with the Godhead and with the fellowship and communion of the saints.
Another chapter that is among my favorites and maybe my very favorite is chapter seven, Grain and Grape. In this chapter, Brian shares a wonderful exploration and treatment of the Eucharistic celebration that is the Table of the Lord. I love the connection he makes with the Incarnation of the Lord and the sacrament of Communion, the Eucharist. He writes; “The more deeply we are influenced by the sacred mystery of the Incarnation—that God became human—the more seriously we will take the sacraments of Baptism and Communion.” What proceeds for the remainder of this chapter following those words is an exhilarating journey into the realm of sacred mystery and earthbound glory.
Zahnd concludes this portion of his testimony with a bit of an apologetic…not an apology. This is an explanation and invitation to “come and follow” on this incredibly rich ride that is the Christianity that has been born out of those early followers of Jesus. No, this is not a return to the old, but an honoring of the ancient as we stand on the shoulders of those who have faithfully journeyed before us. We walk side-by-side in the age we live, building on the traditions that have been time-honored methods of forming disciples of Jesus.
There is much more that I could detail about this book, but I have been deliberately vague in the specifics of what Brian shares. If you are the slightest bit intrigued, I strongly encourage you to buy the book. If you have felt that following Jesus and the promises of your faith have fallen short of what you have believed it should be, buy the book. You might find a door opening that will set the course for the greatest adventure of your life…and ultimately be the faith that you have always believed was calling to you all along.
It’s Been Awhile
The ether of this world is affecting…
Were it not for the flesh-God, Jesus, I would certainly be lost.
I am thankful that he speaks to me through written words as well as through the pages of my life. God is near, God is here, and God is within me.
I have been absent from my blog for quite some time now. The seasons of life change, moods change, desires change…I could go on, but suffice it to say there has been an unrelenting shift in my psyche and psoule over the past couple years that I have struggled to understand. In fact, I still do not. Understand. There are some things that remain constant in the shifting sands of me, my love for my Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), my longing for His Kingdom Come, my love for my wife and children, and now their children…, my love for learning, my love for God’s Church. These passions and these ever-present foundations of my being are likely the anchors that keep me from coming apart at the seams. Sounds rather dramatic, right? Perhaps it is not dramatic at all, but a reality that reveals the tension I have experienced in my soul this past couple years.
Both are in exile.
The isolation, the alienation,
Create a tension that is real.
I long for my spirit to soar,
My soul eternally set free.
The tensions of my mortality
Contort my being and warp my perspective.
O Incarnate Christ, rescue me by your
Empowering Spirit as I await your return.
As I was writing this soulful expression of my being this morning (above), I was reminded of things I had been previously taught (further affirmation of God’s Spirit in me as this reminder is a promised ministry of the Holy Spirit to “filled” believers). The reminders consisted of the following three ideas:
- God has planted eternity in my soul (Ecc. 3:11 NLT). Because of this eternity in me, I long for eternal union with Him. Consequently, nothing else satisfies me…not even the things that give me the greatest satisfaction on this side of eternity (not life, not wife, not vocation, not anything…). These life-loves can be temporary satisfactions, but the longing of my soul always returns to that which it does not fully experience—Eternal Union with the Godhead. It is good to recognize the source of discontent. It helps me to make sense of my feelings, so I don’t drift into depression and discouragement. This is why spiritual exercises like the Ignatian Examen can be helpful. The examen teaches us to factor in our feelings and emotions as we process the state of our soul as we engage God’s Spirit in us.
- This side of life is tough and might not get easier… I don’t mean for my words to sound nihilistic of fatalistic, but they can be the reality for some people. Still, the reality of a “tough life” doesn’t mean that God is not with us, nor does it mean our hope for our promised Eternal Union with God is lessened by what we experience in our day-to-day living in the here and now. It helps to have an understanding of our circumstances and perspective that keeps us looking forward while faced with opposition that reeks turmoil in all our being. The Apostle Paul writes to the Church in Corinth these following words:
8 We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. 9 We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.10 Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. 11 Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. 12 So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you. 13 But we continue to preach because we have the same kind of faith the psalmist had when he said, “I believed in God, so I spoke.” 14 We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you. 15 All of this is for your benefit. And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.
16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. (2 Cor. 4:8-18 NLT)
- While faith and the real Presence of God through His indwelling Spirit are real and sustaining, I want more and this is okay. I was reminded of a passage that really ministered to my soul about a year and a half ago when my mind and spirit were discouraged. Like I said, this has been going on in me for awhile… The words came from the Book of Numbers (Numbers 24:17). I realize there is context that I am not including in this writing, but the relevance of the words were, I believe, a direct ministry from the Holy Spirit to the needs of my soul…both then and even now.
“I see him, but not here and now. I perceive him, but far in the distant future.” (Num. 24:17 NLT)
So I wait.
“Healthy discontent is the prelude to progress” –Mahatma Gandhi
“Discontent is the first necessity of progress…” –Thomas Edison
I endeavor with grace provided by the Spirit of God in me to endure the suffering of soul in tension awaiting its Eternal Lover. I am ever grateful for the blessings and gifts God has provided me today. I am deeply and desperately in love with my wife. I am ever blessed with the children God has provided me. I am surrounded by faithful friends who support, affirm, and encourage me always. I have the privilege of expressing my faith and the Word of God in my life’s vocation. On the one side, there is nothing more I could imagine to ask for in this life…and still, it is God himself who has ensured this life will never satisfy me. Tension. It is working through this that helps me to avoid the guilt the enemy of my soul would foist upon me. I am not ungrateful. My discontent is not born of sin. Quite the contrary. My discontent is a product of the Woo and Romance of a God who desires me far more than I’ll ever be able to comprehend during my mortal life. This, yes this, brings a smile of delight to my soul…and I feel it creeping all over my face as I end this entry. I say, “To God be the glory!” Maranatha. Amen.
Book Review: Accidental Saints
Author: Nadia Bolz-Weber
Publisher: Convergent Books ISBN: 9781601427557
Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People
This was the first book I’ve read from Nadia Bolz-Weber. I’ve watched a few of her talks on the internet over the years, but I had not gotten around to reading her book Pastrix before I had this book, Accidental Saints, offered for my review. I mention this for the point that I had limited personal knowledge to her message and communication style, although I was familiar with internet chatter about her.
It is easy to form opinions from the banter of others and while I try to stay objective in my perceptions about “stuff” and other people, I am influenced by the circles in which I travel. I freely admit that I am a bit more conservative with my interpretation and expression of the Christian faith; consequently, I was a bit cautious of the progressive posture held by Nadia Bolz-Weber when I started Accidental Saints. While I was not surprised by what I read, I was surprised by how much I agreed with and how much I was ministered to by Nadia’s experiences and sharing.
Nadia’s writing style is very open. She’s transparent and bluntly honest or so it seems. If profanity offends you, then this might not be on your summer reading list. The language can be a bit salty at times, but that is also “real world” and the stories in Accidental Saints are real… as are our own emotions, thoughts, responses, and reactions. Similarly, I don’t hold the same theological positions as Bolz-Weber on several doctrinal issues, but then…I can say that about my own denomination as well. Regardless of whether I hold the same theological positions, I was blessed repeatedly by the accounts shared and the spiritual insights gleaned through them.
I received an Advanced Reading Copy for my examination, so I’m not entirely sure the final printing will be in the same format, but I’ll share what I read nonetheless. The book seems to loosely follow a year-in-the-life of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado, the church pastored by Nadia Bolz-Weber. Chapter one begins with All Saints Day on the Liturgical Calendar (Nov. 1) and flows pretty much through the high points of the Christian Calendar to the following year All Saints Day. Personal anecdotes walk the reader through the church year and spiritual insights gleaned through the lives of Bolz-Weber and many of the congregants that share community in House for all Sinners and Saints.
The ARC ends with a couple appendices that include discussion questions for group readings and a Q&A with the author, Bolz-Weber.
My overall impressions are very favorable and I’m inclined to get my hands on a copy of Pastrix, as there are several allusions to the book, which incite my curiosity. Profanity does not freak me out, so that didn’t affect my view of what I was reading, but it is something to be aware of in case you are bothered by it. I am also glad I entered into the reading with relative objectivity, because there are some great stories and beautiful spiritual insights to be gleaned here. I’m glad I had the opportunity to read and review the book; I don’t think it would be appreciated by everyone in my circle of influence, but I will recommend it where I think it appropriate. Final ranking 4 of 5 stars.
And the Perfect Double Play: a Pre-Pentecost Reflection
I’ve been giving a lot of thought to my continuing maturity in the image and likeness of Christ over the past several months. A number of habits (both good and bad) have prompted these reflections and my overall sense has been that of dis-ease. A quick disclaimer is likely helpful, before I proceed with my thoughts. I am in a fruitful season of my Christian journey. There is much to celebrate and be thankful for. My gifts and experiences are being used in profitable, gratifying, and meaningful ways. Still, I am unsatisfied and unsettled. I don’t view this as a bad thing; it is uncomfortable, but not bad.
Discipline is an expression that for me, conjures quite a few word pictures and memories. On the one side, are many memories of corrective action being meted out in response and consequence to some of my poor choices. Conversely, I am reminded of times where discipline translated into practices experienced in the context of sports and military exercises.
The Testing Discipline of God
The past few days I’ve been actively reflecting on a passage of Scripture that has prompted this writing (Deuteronomy 8:1-6).
Be careful to obey all the commands I am giving you today. Then you will live and multiply, and you will enter and occupy the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors.2 Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands. 3 Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.4 For all these forty years your clothes didn’t wear out, and your feet didn’t blister or swell.5 Think about it: Just as a parent disciplines a child, the Lord your God disciplines you for your own good. 6 So obey the commands of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and fearing him.
At first glance, there is much here that causes me unrest. For instance, I want the favor of God. I want to flourish, living in the land of promise under God’s sworn faithfulness. I am not always so eager to consider whole-hearted faithfulness and obedience to all the commands of God as my prerequisite to life in the land of favor and abundance. Yes, I want favor, but I want it on my terms and not on the terms of God. I would like favor and promise, but I would also like to negotiate the degree of obedience I must be willing to give up in order to have it. Why can’t my entry to the land of favor and promise be contingent on my desire and best efforts (determined by me)? Shouldn’t I get credit for obedience simply on the basis of “I tried” or “I want to obey”?
Likewise, I do not like the idea that my life might be a continuous trial by fire to test and purify my character. “Remember how the LORD your God led you through the wilderness for these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey his commands.” Forty years of testing??? Are you kidding me???!! Why must every day be a test to prove my obedience; didn’t yesterday (assuming I was obedient yesterday) count for something? Oh…what’s that you’re saying, Lord? “My character doesn’t need proving to You, the tests are for my benefit to prove and reveal my character flaws to me.” Ouch.
Discipline and Repetition
I remember a class assignment from elementary school I used to despise. I would even go to extreme efforts to devise ways to circumnavigate the assignment or cheat my way through it. The efforts I would engage in would often be more work than the assignment itself; I suppose this confession reveals a something of my nature and character. The exercise was writing spelling words…over, and over, and over again. I hated it. It seemed pointless and physically painful to me that I would have to spell out words ten or more times a piece, especially when I could prove to spell them correctly after one or two attempts. It was worse that this exercise was sometimes administered in the context of correction or punishment for minor infractions of misbehavior. I might be told to stay in from recess for talking out of turn and made to write out my spelling words while the other kids played. Discipline. Repetition. Correction. Behavior modification…
Discipline can be found and practiced in and with acts of repetition. It (discipline) is often and possibly only learned through those repeated practices. Although I rebelled against most acts of repetition during my youthful years, I have learned the value of repetitive acts especially where they are related to behavioral changes, and specifically in the area of spiritual formation. For instance, the repetition of writing out my spelling words in elementary school is not wholly unlike the repeated and disciplined acts of faith I practice now that leads to a godly life. I have learned and I continue to learn that the body and the mind are both strengthened through “healthy” acts of repetition.
Echoed in the Letter to the Hebrews (chapters five and twelve) are central themes to the disciplined life. There is even the mention that Jesus, in obedience learned through suffering, was made perfect through his discipline. How much more then, do we need to learn discipline and obedience. Likewise, as Christ, our perfection comes through discipline, testing, purging, pruning, and repetition leading to our consummate maturity where we will lack nothing reflecting the nature and character of Christ (Eph. 4:11-16, Eph. 5:1, James 1:2-4, 12). Anything less than perfected maturity in the life of the Christ-follower is not an option. Discipleship is discipline to the perfected image of Christ in me and in you.
I get by with a little help from my friends…
It needs saying that I’m not promoting a canon of self-works. I cannot make myself perfect no matter how disciplined or how hard I might try…at least not perfect as it relates to the image and nature of Christ. The discipline and spiritual exercises I refer to assume the empowerment and partnership of God, the Holy Spirit, in every life of the practicing believer. It is impossible to produce Christ-like behavior on our own, but God has given us all we need to live a godly life even sharing with us His glory and the Divine nature (Romans 8:30, John 17:22, 2 Peter 1:3-4), and with His help and partnership we are able to pursue and live a Christ-perfected life. This is Good News. We are God’s dance partner, waltzing the perichoretic two-step in time with the Triune perfection of our God to the to the tune of perfected obedience and melody of Christian maturity.
As I pondered these things, another memory was wrestled from my past. I used to play baseball at a fairly competitive level. I cannot begin to count the hours of practice that we used to joyfully endure. I think, literally, hundreds, maybe thousands of ground balls and fly balls fielded and played out. One of the main plays we would practice from a defensive posture was the double-play. Ground ball after ground ball was fielded and fumbled for the sake of preparing for the eventuality of making the double-play out in a real game. It is impossible to know when the situation might occur or where the variables might line up for your team to make the double-play. You must be ready for every possible outcome. Practice, practice, practice and repetition helped to create a deep muscle memory of how to field the ball, determine the play, and make the following throws and catches that would ensure the success of the double-play. It was rare for anyone to witness the countless fumbles and foibles committed in practice and connect those trials and errors with the beautiful dance of completion and perfection that would happen on game night.
And we come back to where we began… This is the desert experience I think we might understand from the Deuteronomy Eight passage. It’s repetition. It’s testing. It’s faithfully showing up and trusting the outcome to participating with the persons of the Godhead. It’s all there. It’s not always fun. Discipline requires work and sacrifice, but there is a harvest of benefit and glory. Sometimes you jam a finger…sometimes a hard grounder to the chin, but those always seem worth it when you turn the perfect double-play with Jesus as your teammate.
This is something I think might be helpful for me to remember… Discipline often is, but should not always be associated with punitive correction. I think the better understanding of discipline could be associated with proactive conditioning, the kind that leads to healthy behavior and habits producing a fruitful and abundant lifestyle, the kind of life that Jesus came to offer us. Healthy spiritual practices + repetition = Abundant Life.
Book Review: What Your Body Knows About God
Author: Rob Moll
Publisher: IVP ISBN: 9780830836772
This has been without doubt, one of the most fascinating and brilliant books I have read in years. I may be putting a lot of trust in research that I have no background or knowledge of, but it seems that the claims and data presented by Rob Moll in What Your Body Knows About God is sufficiently supported in the notes section of the book for fact checking. Why would I make a statement like that? I make a qualifying or disclaimer statement because the information shared is almost too fantastic to fathom. On the other side of fact checking, is intuition and experience, and this is where I have made the connection with What Your Body Knows.
Here are some salient details about my experience. I am a former addict. Although I was raised in the heart of the Bible belt and taught the Christian faith most of my life, for many years I was living my life very far from God. Quite a few years ago, I made my pilgrimage back to the Christian faith with hopes of finding a deep connection with God that I could never find in some of the earlier forays into Christian spirituality during my younger-self life. Somewhere around ten years ago, I was introduced to the ancient and classic methods of spiritual formation, engaging in spiritual exercises and disciplines practiced by souls for centuries who were on the Way of Jesus who sought whole life transformation in the image and nature of the Christ they follow. Ultimately, these practices were supposed to help facilitate deep reconciliation, restoration, and union with Creator God and many, many of those practicing this lifestyle of devotion did report deep personal transformation…with equal affirming reports from witnesses and peers to the same. My testimony is similar. I have found peace with myself, peace with God, and realized a renewed mind and changed heart. My spiritual life was not the only thing that changed with me through this process. In addition to my spiritual health, my emotional health, my intellect, and aspects of my physical self have changed… in some cases, these changes have rendered me unrecognizable as the man I was formerly known. I am, in every sense of the word, a new creation. I know others will attest to these changes in me as well, but the challenge has been quantifying and validating the process and methods. This is especially true of my Christian tradition, which remains highly skeptical of any efforts that might resemble “works” or self-effort on the way of spiritual recovery.
I have struggled with language to articulate my experience, but that struggle is ending due in large part to the work Rob Moll has done in this most excellent book. While I have known the changes in my life (and others’ lives) have been real, I have needed something more to help communicate the rationality of what has happened. The reality of living in the information age and the age of reason dictates a language the culture can understand. What the Body Knows About God is providing me this language. Moll produces deep science and medical studies to corroborate the experiences of those who have been spiritually transformed. Evidence that supports the “renewing of the mind” and rewiring of the emotions (think fruit of the Spirit) are all included in this magnificent study. Verifiable connections to the disciplines of spiritual formation and life transformation producing “abundant living” are all recorded and explained in terms non-science person like myself can understand.
I am beyond grateful for the work put into this book and know it will be a game changer for me as I continue to share my testimony, now in ways that might better communicate the miracle of God in a life transformed. We are truly “fearfully and wonderfully made” and made so that we might be in faithful fellowship with one another and with the God who created us. What Your Body Knows About God helps to make all of this clear. A must read!
I was gathered yesterday with my faith community. At one point during our worship, we were guided in prayer and I heard the words proclaimed, “In a world where nothing seems right…” And my heart and my mind were gripped in pause. Now, I should confess that I too have spoken those words and likely on more than one occasion, but this time my soul was arrested with these words ringing in my ears.
“Nothing seems right?”
The context of these words was in proclamation of a world disordered around us. It is true; all around us there are swaths of chaos, turbulent waves of discontent, poverty, famine, pestilence, pollution, dread, and dis-ease. All this is true, but even in the midst of this broad brushed generalization, can we say with certainty… should we say with certainty “nothing seems right?” I question if this is a true statement.
I think and believe there are many things, perhaps most things that are truly right. I’m afraid we miss the deep truth as a result of our blurry, self-absorbed, and shallow perspectives. When we view the world, the cosmos, and all of creation through the narrow experience of our own self-realized being, we inevitably see all things tarnished by our own frailty and brokenness. Does our brokenness though, translate to all things being broken? Does our inability to be what we were created to be translate to “nothing seems right?”
There are many things right; in fact, most things are right.
Rocks are right. Gravity is right. Osmosis is right. Photosynthesis is right. Stars, suns, planets, and galaxies are right. Plants, animals, insects, fish, and fowl, all express perfect being. They are all complete expressions of what they were created to be. Not one is outside of its origin as God intended. A rock rocks as a rock was created to rock. Birds bird as they were intended. And so on. None of these created entities are in rebellion to their created being. Counting all created things, only man rebels against his created essence. Because of this rebellion, nothing seems right…
I wonder…I contemplate the possibilities and consider, what if man submitted to the order of his creation—surrendered to the command to reflect his Creator—would it be possible for us to see and even realize how much is right? Amidst the chaos and dis-ease, might we see the hallelujahs sung by the waves, might we hear the crescendos of the rising and setting sun? Is it plausible that we might witness the incomprehensible Divinity that sustains each atom that binds this universe together? I think we might. I’m sure we can.
It was narcissistic coordinates that landed us on planet ME and self-centered perspective leads me to see the world through my own corrupt lens. Jesus Christ prescribes the course correction: “Pilot, adjust your coordinates 180° and set your course for Deny Self.” Herein we are privileged to take in scenery that assumes the likeness of its Creator and suddenly…everything seems and looks right.
This past fall, I was taking some CEU classes that entailed lively discussions about the history and challenges of the modern church in North America. My pastoral role and calling to the vocation of pastor as spiritual director puts me headlong into some of the challenges we discussed, especially those challenges that affect the process of discipleship and whole life transformation in the image of Jesus Christ. This is, after all, the primary mandate Jesus commissioned his followers to pursue before his ascension back to the Father. Jesus said; “Go and make disciples of all the nations,baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.” We, the Church of the 21st Century, specifically in the United States of America, face unique and difficult challenges… not insurmountable, but challenges nonetheless, if we are to fulfill the commission we have received by Jesus. The following is a presentation I shared following the the completion my my CEU course.
When asked to prepare a thesis and presentation for what I might consider one of the greatest challenges of the church for the twenty-first century, I immediately thought discipleship…that is, making true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Specifically, I believe consumerism is one of the greatest challenges to the mandate of the Great Commission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ” the Church faces today.
The very nature of making disciples in the image of Jesus is difficult by definition of Jesus himself. It is he who qualifies the disciple as one who “denies himself daily” and/or one who “takes up a cross” to follow Jesus. Likewise, Jesus proclaims his disciples are people who are “kingdom people,” yet he also says the number is “few” who find and follow the path to this kingdom (Matthew 7:13-14).
While I believe the Teacher and writer of Ecclesiastes speaks truthful words saying, “There is nothing new under the sun,” I think our first-world western culture offers unique challenges making discipleship as difficult as or more difficult than any time in the history of the church.
I pastor and worship in the context of the United States of America and my statements are reflective of this context and not a generalization of the global church. This is important because, while I believe discipleship is difficult in any culture; my statements are uniquely applicable to our setting.
It doesn’t take a deep reading of Scripture to realize there is something strikingly different about the message that Jesus taught his followers. A quick reading of the gospels reveals the message of Christ as very counter-cultural, especially when that culture is centered around the economic system of capitalism and the “American Dream.” We, the church in North America, are in direct competition with our culture; this detail alone makes creating disciples incredibly difficult.
Reading from the Sermon on the Mount and Sermon on the Plain, quickly reveals the American Dream as the antithesis ideal to following Jesus.
Before I proceed, I think it necessary to say that I love my country and I love the Church of the Living God. I also believe in large part the motive of the Evangelical Church has been born of honorable intentions, but I also believe despite her intentions, she has been deceived by destructive intent disguised as an “angel of light.” Our good intentions and attempts to be culturally relevant have largely defused the dunamis of the Gospel of Christ. Many of our efforts to acculturate the gospel for shifts and changes in our society has resulted in blurred understanding of the gospel at best and a complete reduction of the gospel at worst. The result of this blurry reduction of Jesus’ message is a lack of discipleship and a patchwork of shallow theology that often borders on heretical teaching.
In the monumental Reveal study commissioned by the Willow Creek Association, one thousand churches and two hundred fifty thousand congregants were surveyed. It was discovered that our contemporary church growth model was largely ineffective in making true disciples of Jesus and producing measurable spiritual growth. Our programs and formulas can build self-sustaining organizations, but these organizations are rarely consistent fulfilling the primary mission given to us by Jesus Christ to make disciples.
Recently, I have been reading from the book Thinking | Listening | Being by district superintendent of the Kansas City District Church of the Nazarene, Jeren Rowell. In this book, particularly found in chapters titled “thinking identity” and “thinking leadership,” he gives voice to the dangers presented to our churches as our models for organizational leadership have shifted from the pastoral and prophetic to business and the boardroom. Superintendent Rowell identifies the jugular of this challenge quoting from Eugene Peterson’s book Working the Angles; he writes:
“The pastors of America have metamorphosed into a company of shopkeepers, and the shops they keep are churches. They are preoccupied with shopkeeper’s concerns—how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street, how to package the goods so that the customers will lay out more money.”
One of the greatest challenges we face with making disciples in our society is the economic engine of capitalism. The very success of a capitalistic economy hinges on consumers; therefore, all that our society does from top to bottom and side-to-side is built to nurture and develop consumers. The result of this nurture and development is most everything in our society becoming commodified and/or commoditized. Capitalism and consumerism has trickled and seeped into the church at a slow and steady pace over the years until it has become utterly saturated until it bears little difference from any other marketplace in our society. In practice, the western church has simply become another marketplace for many consumers seeking “christianized” commodities. Sadly, the Gospel has become another commodity to sell on Sunday and one wonders if there might not be tables and lattes overturned were Jesus to join the services on any given weekend.
In many churches across America, congregants come to the marketplace on Sunday to have felt needs met and to get their soul entertained…rarely is the intent to enter into deeper transformational relationship with Creator God by becoming a more dedicated disciple of Jesus Christ.
This consumeristic relationship between the church organization and the congregant develops codependency. While codependency may be good for the capitalistic model, it is critically unhealthy for the Bride of Christ.
The dangers of codependency become realized when the organization becomes the focus of the church rather than Jesus Christ, making disciples, and living as kingdom people.
Ultimately, the codependency becomes the “driver” behind every vision and mission statement. If the “mission and message” is not new and fresh to compete with the latest “flavor of the day,” consumer-members may seek out a more popular and momentary gratifying mission and message… In essence, churchgoers may seek out a more charismatic teacher (claiming they are not being fed), they may seek out a different music, children’s program, affinity group, or more robust programming. While there may be some validity and good in all these aforementioned programming elements, it can easily be recognized how quickly they become commoditized and consumed. When this becomes the model and churchgoers become dissatisfied consumers, they leave in search of a better product to consume. When churchgoers leave, finances wane. When the organizational structure (building, grounds, staff, and capital resources) get large, the organization cannot afford to suffer serious and unsustainable loss of income. When this happens in a capitalistic model, bankruptcy can occur and the business dissolves. Churches have largely copied the business model of western society and tried to balance the reality of their message with the wants and perceived needs of the churchgoers and have effectually compromised the message and call to “deny self” and follow Christ. Simply put, the consumer discipleship model hinges on serving the self, which illustrates the fundamental flaw when compared to a Christocentric discipleship model.
The call of the Church is to make disciples and teach them all the commandments of Jesus Christ. We are not called to make “McChurches” looking to franchise or assembly line church growth methods. We are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ, not consumers of church products hoping to make a better self… a better self is not necessarily a denied self.
The nature of this thesis is to identify the challenge of the Church and not to necessarily identify a definitive correction; however, there are some suggestions we might consider as we ponder our next steps.
We might remember that systems and processes are needful, but discipleship is intimate and organic at its core. People and souls are unique, mysterious, and wonderfully made, and as such, disciples cannot be cookie-cutter created or assembly line manufactured.
It is likely we will not be able to change the current and flow of our economy and society. Personally, I’m not sure that is part of our mandate; there are a number of Scripture passages that teach us to not conform to the world and we are “in the world, but not of the world.” The point is that we are all consumers of some degree and it is all too easy for consumerism to creep into all we have done and all we do. It will be important for us to remain vigilant, always on guard that we do not allow consumerism to contaminate our mandate to make disciples of Jesus.
The Church can learn much from the ancient traditions and not fear the streams of Christendom that are not our own. God has been working from the earliest days of the Church to refine His bride and make true sons and daughters in the likeness of Christ. We might choose to walk on the shoulders of those who have gone before us and embrace the revelations that God shares with us today.
by Jeff Borden–The Greatest Challenge for the Church of the 21st Century ©12/27/2014
25DEC2014—Christmas Year B
Incarnation—God in Flesh, God in Me: Christmas Day
Scripture Reading: Year One Readings from the Book of Common Prayer
Lectionary – Christmas 1: Psalm 96 ◊ Isaiah 9:2-7 ◊ Titus 2:11-14 ◊ Luke 2:1-20 ◊
Christmas Collect: O God, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of thy only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we being regenerate and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; Grant that as we joyfully receive him for our Redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold him when he shall come to be our Judge; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.
Contate Domino—1 Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the Lord, all the whole earth. 2 Sing to the LORD and bless his Name; proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day. 10 Tell it out among the nations: “The LORD is King!” 11 Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad. (Psalm 96)
Christ has come! The LORD is King!
Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad.
What a great and marvelous promise that comes to us through the words of the prophets, speaking as the oracles of God. These, the words of the prophets, are the words that strengthen and encourage us as we wait in patience…even in suffering… with hopeful, and joyful, expectation. James exhorts his listeners; “For examples of patience and suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord (James 5:10). Let us look to the prophet Isaiah today, based upon the exhortation of James, to hear what the LORD might speak to us.
(Isaiah 8:20) Look to God’s instructions and teachings!
1 The time of darkness and despair will not go on forever… 2 The people who live in darkness will see a great light. 3 They will rejoice as people rejoice at the harvest. 4 For you will break the yoke of slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders. You will break the oppressor’s rod. 6 For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders and he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 His government and its peace will never end. The passionate commitment of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen! (Isaiah 9:1-7).
What amazing hope-filled promises to look forward to from God through the words of Isaiah. The passionate commitment of our God is to “break the oppressor’s rod.” No more will the yoke of sin’s slavery be the burden of humanity! This is the promise! “Darkness and despair will not go on forever…”
700 years might seem like forever (the amount of time between Isaiah’s prophecies and the birth of Jesus), but the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s decree arrived in the form of God himself wrapped in the flesh of humanity. Light came. Darkness was dispelled. The rod of the oppressor was broken. The promise was real and the promise was realized; Luke’s gospel shares the account of the herald of his arrival.
The angel said; “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today… Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” (Luke2:10-20 NLT)
The One the world waited for since the time of Adam’s rebellion had come. The waiting was much longer than 700 years. The wait had been millennia. The estrangement of humanity from God had been too long. God himself condescended himself (Phil. 2:5-7), so he might re-breathe life into his most cherished creation (Gen. 2:7, John 20:21-22) to reconcile and reunify himself to them (John 17:20-24) as he had determined all along, before creation and time itself, that this creation, yes, humanity, would be the Tabernacle of His very Presence (1 Cor 3:16; 6:19, 2 Cor 6:16, John 14:16-17).
God has come. Incarnation. God in the flesh, and God in me.
The free reign of the oppressor is no more in the life of the believer. God can live fully in me as he did in Jesus when he walked amongst men (John 14:12, 2 Peter 1:3-4 NLT). This is the joy of what the day of Advent, His Coming, the Christmas Celebration entails. The Apostle Paul helps to shed “light” on the what the coming of Light means to us in his letter to Titus.
For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to god, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds (Titus 2:11-15).
We live as people who are filled with the presence and full-embodiment of Christ. Are we not filled with his Holy Spirit? Is not the Holy Spirit a person of the Triune Godhead? The Spirit of Christ lives in us and among us. What is the Spirit of Christ?
1 In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He existed in the beginning with God.3 God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. 4 The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. (John 1:1-5 NLT)
God has come. Incarnation. God in the flesh, and God in me.
It means something. Christmas. Incarnation means something. God came. God has come. There is a reason and there are lasting repercussions to his coming… both good and bad. For those who receive Him and his eternal, life-giving, Holy Spirit, breath… the repercussions are good and active even now as we wait for the eternal fulfillment of all God’s promises. We can live and expect to live fully into the atoning grace of Jesus Christ today. This is good news. This is great joy news! This is Glory to God in highest heaven. Let the heavens rejoice and let the earth be glad. I know I am. Glad. And rejoicing. God has come. He was in the flesh and now is in me.
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks for ever…
My merciful God comes to meet me…
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be your Name; may thy kingdom come and thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil—for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Glory be to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, so it is now and so it shall ever be, world without end. Alleluia. Amen.
Leo the Great preached, “Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the incarnation. From the time when Christ came, the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, and speech of kindliness diffused. A heavenly way of life has been implanted on the earth.”
“My merciful God has come to meet me…” This is Christmas. Christ has come. Christ lives in me. Christ will come again. Praise Him. Alleluia and Amen.
And now may the spirit which was in Jesus Christ be in me, enabling me to know God’s will and empowering me to do God’s will. Amen.
24DEC2014—4th Wednesday ADVENT Year B
Advent: Christmas Eve—The Power to Save
Scripture Reading: Year One Readings from the Book of Common Prayer
Psalm 45, 46 ◊ Isaiah 59:15-21 ◊ Phil. 2:5-11 ◊ Luke 1:67-80 ◊
As for me, this is my covenant with them, says the Lord. My spirit, which is upon you, and my words, which I have placed in your mouth won’t depart from your mouth, nor from the mouths of your descendants, nor from the mouths of your descendants’ children, says the Lord, forever and always. (Isaiah 59:21 CEB)
Today is the eve of Mystery revealed; Advent is upon us, and darkness is now at dawn. The question begs asking; “Are we ready?” Are we prepared for the greatest and our most longed for Visitor to arrive? Are we looking for and anticipating his living amongst us…living within us? Arrival is nigh. He comes. Ready or not.
“How can we expect to find Jesus if we do not seek him in the states of this earthly life, in loneliness and silence in poverty and suffering, in persecution and contempt, in annihilation and the cross?” -Francois Fenelon
The time and place of Jesus’ birth makes me wonder if many of us in this modern and over-busy world would recognize his coming today. We people living in “first world” countries have a debilitating habit and hunger for the loud, proud, and shiny things. Many of us like busy and entertainment filled lives; we do not crave the quiet or silence, and many of us do not like being alone or in solitude.
Jesus was born in the shadows…and lived in relative poverty on the edges of his society hidden from the world’s stage for more than ninety percent of his life. Would we know him? Would we recognize him? In all likelihood, many who claim to know him today probably would not have recognized him then… Truthfully, many who say they know him today, probably would not recognize him if they saw him face-to-face today. I count myself as one of those who likely would not have known or recognized him.
For Christmas is not merely a day like every other day. It is a day made holy and special by a sacred mystery. It is not merely another day in a weary round of time. Today, eternity enters into time, and time, sanctified, is caught up into eternity… We are then, above all, obliged to reveal Christ in our lives… Every day of our mortal lives must be His manifestation, His divine Epiphany, in the world which He has created and redeemed.” -Thomas Merton
A Psalm and a Prayer
1 God is our refuge and strength, a help always near in times of great trouble. 2 That’s why we won’t be afraid when the world falls apart, when the mountains crumble into the center of the sea, 3 when its waters roar and rage, when the mountains shake because of its surging waves. 4 There is a river whose streams gladden God’s city, the holiest dwelling of the Most High. 5 God is in that city. It will never crumble. God will help it when morning dawns. 6 Nations roar; kingdoms crumble. God utters his voice; the earth melts. 7 The Lord of heavenly forces is with us! The God of Jacob is our place of safety. (Psalm 46:1-7 CEB)
Lord God, our Father in heaven, you have sent u the Savior, who was born to bring great joy to all people. Glorify your name, we pray. Give the world the peace you along can give, the peace that wells up in our hearts. Let your favor rest on us so that we may hold out under our sufferings on earth. We need your loving help to remain inwardly steadfast until everyone can be reached by the message, “Be strong in the grace of Jesus Christ.” Amen.