Using the Lenten season profitably

The Gift of all gifts

Death in Adam, Life in Christ

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come…for if by the one man’s offence many died, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ…the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,  so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord…

(abbreviated from Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 5. ESV Bible)

No one understands at once all that is included in God’s Gift to Adam’s sinful race. In fact, I plan to still be unwrapping the gift of Jesus Christ until the day my life on earth ends. The Lenten season for me has become an excellent time of extended meditation on this gift and the far reaching themes it touches- from the beginning in Adam into the eternal age that is even now breaking in-the new heavens and the new earth.

For Lent, I’ll be thinking about the reality of sin and it’s destruction here on earth. I have plenty to mourn about, starting with my own participation in the rebellion & conspiracy against the Creator. This mourning will only end at the crucifixion of the Holy One of God, Jesus Christ the Righteous son of God.

Did you happen to notice in this critical text, that the Apostle Paul calls the free gift from God to sinners, “the gift of righteousness“? Going back and reading the context of these verses, beginning at Chapter 5, and reading through Chapter 8, I think I will have a deeper unwrapping of the gift. Peace w/ God, access to the presence of the Holy God, and a rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God! (and this will also put suffering in perspective-see chapter 8, verses 18-39).

Slowly unwrapping this “unspeakable gift” has its own reward; through Christ it will strengthen me and enable me to “reign in life” in the midst of this wicked generation together with those “who love God and are called according to His purpose”, and to be “more than conquerors through Him who loved us”.

Speaking of righteousness, see my related post on Psalms 1,2

A lot of folks are asking this and similiar questions about the condition of churches in their neighborhoods after hearing of one more scandal. I certainly don’t want to join in throwing rocks at an already wounded institutional church. But I do want to offer an opinion for you to consider as one of the major weaknesses of local churches I am personally familiar with.

The Chuches have left the Story-line. As it turns out, in almost every case, the bottom lines seems to be that churches have forgotten their charter, their God-given calling.  They seem to be trying their hand at everything under the sun, everything everyone else is now doing, except the very thing they were called into existence to do; live out the life of godliness before the watching world and thus be the instrument of divine healing in the midst of a wicked and rebellious generation. The emphasis here is not on the wickedness of the world, but what God in sending Christ has done to restore his wayward children. The churches are to be local gatherings of the “first-fruits” of those restored to and delighting in the presence and the “shalom”of their heavenly Father while summoning those around them to likewise be converted and join them.

The Testimony of the Father concerning his Son, Jesus Christ, thus becomes the all essential focus of all things in the local church. And this Testimony is found only in the Scriptures-it is a very special Revelation. I found a statement in one of those powerful little books that pretty well sums up what we all need to do in order to recover the spiritual health of the churches:

Consecutive reading of Biblical books forces everyone who wants to hear to put himself, or to allow himself to be found, where God has acted once and for all for the salvation of mankind. We become a part of what once took place for our salvation. Forgetting and losing ourselves, we, too, pass through the Red Sea, through the desert, across the Jordan into the promised land. With Israel we fall into doubt and unbelief and through punishment and repentance experience again God’s help and faithfulness.

We are torn out of our own existence and set down in the midst of the holy history of God on earth. There God dealt with us, and there He still deals with us, our needs and our sins, in judgment and grace. It is not that God is the spectator and sharer of our present life, however important that is; but rather that we are the reverent listeners and participants in God’s action in the sacred story, the history of Christ on earth. And only in so far as we are there, is God with us today also.

A complete reversal occurs. It is not in our life that God’s help and presence must still be proved, but rather God’s presence and help have been demonstrated for us in the life of Jesus Christ. It is in fact more important for us to know what God did to Israel, to His Son Jesus Christ, than to seek what God intends for us today. The fact that Jesus Christ died is more important than the fact that I shall die, and the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead is the sole ground of my hope that I, too, shall be raised on the Last Day. Our salvation is “external to ourselves.” I find no salvation in my life history, but only in the history of Jesus Christ. Only he who allows himself to be found in Jesus Christ, in his incarnation, his cross, and his resurrection, is with God and God with him.

(Life Together- Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Can your faith do this for you : supply you each day with a deep sense of well-being, a sense of being content with yourself and your surroundings?

The Christian Faith defined as the Life of Christ himself indwelling the Church, which is his Body, has this quality as expressed so well by the Apostle Paul when he wrote-

I Have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content! (letter from prison to the Philippian Church)

The most logical question that comes to mind is, “How did Paul learn this beautiful art of living?” For him it was a major and necessary part of his faith in Jesus, the Christ, for he speaks of this in his other letters. For instance, he tells Timothy that “godliness with contentment is great gain“. And he tells us that this had to be learned. If Paul had to learn it, who was his teacher? He was trained under the famous Rabbi, Gamaliel, a leading authority in the Sanhedrin; did he learn the art of contentment from this teacher of Israel in the Jewish Scriptures?

I’m leaving you with this question to ponder before giving you Paul’s own answer, found in another one of his letters from prison. Think with me for a few days just how desirable this quality in life is to actually possess and then meditate on how you believe in your own situation you can learn this art, this habitual practice as part of your daily routine. Through out the history of the Church there have been examples of those in prison for their faith that have also demonstrated this contentment and calm. If you are familiar with the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor/professor imprisoned under the Nazi regime in WWII, and later put to death just before the end of the war, then you will know something of the beauty and worth of this quality in a person’s life under the most difficult of circumstances.

Read a classic on-line: The Art of Divine Contentment by Watson

Peace Window-United NationsThe Church’s Gift to the World

 

As declared earlier on this blog, the Church of Christ, according to the Christian Faith, is the most powerful force on earth when she is healthy. The Church has been given a life and a message to give to the world. Because of all the dissonance in what the world is hearing today from the churches, that very gift is turned into something unlovely and undesirable and more than a few are rejecting what they perceive as the message.

 

As a recent post was meant to show, the message is not about do’s and don’t do’s nor is it about the externals of religion such as rites, ceremonies, and creeds. No, the message given to the Church for the world’s healing, is all about a person: the Lord God’s Anointed Son, Jesus. He himself is the one that must be communicated in our message and if He is not, then we have failed. It’s really that simple. He alone is the one who brings true and lasting peace to the nations. He is the Prince of Peace. The Gospel of Peace is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

T.M.Moore, in his column, Second Sight, wrote a series on the very subject of the good news of the Church’s message of peace. He began in the Advent season and concluded it in January of this year. It is so good that I quote from it and if you like what you read, you can follow the link back to the final article in the series.

 

The Good News of the kingdom of peace is certainly that—Good News—but it is not exclusively that. In the same breath that Jesus granted the gift of peace to His disciples, (John 16) He warned them that trial and tribulation lay ahead. The record of the apostles, and of the entirety of church history, is that our Lord knew whereof He spoke.

The prospect of peace, while available to all, is extended only to those who find favor with God. This was the announcement the angels made to the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth. Frequently mistranslated, the angels’ announcement was not, “Peace on earth, good will toward men,” but, “Peace among those with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14). God parcels out His peace, from the depths of the soul to all our relationships, roles, and responsibilities, through all of culture and society, to those with whom He is pleased—to those, that is, who seek His peace in the kingdom of peace and through the Prince of Peace, our Lord Jesus Christ. And this, of course, large numbers of people are manifestly unwilling to do. We may expect many of them, therefore, to oppose our agenda of peace, not because they do not wish for peace, but because they want peace on their own terms, apart from any obligation to Jesus or God…

In view of the certainty of opposition to our agenda of peace, how shall we keep peace as a priority within the community of faith? And what shall we do to seek peace, pursue the prospect of it, and allow it the primacy in our lives, in every area of our lives?

 Full article at Parceling Peace. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

         Now we’re cooking baby!

I ran across a post today I’ve been just waiting to find and jump on.

WHAT IS FAITH?  This was originally posted by Stacey Lawson at huffingtonpost.com, but I found a link to it over on newsvine.com where I’ve started a little news blog. That’s where I jumped right in with my two-cents worth. (please read the original post and the very interesting comments at both places)

What Faith Is

Thanks Angel for the “Faith is Not Religion” link. Here is where I have found help from the social sciences and especially in a topic most christians know little about. Faith can be demonstrated to be a “universal” characteristic of humankind. It can be studied in its “generic” manifestations rather than in the more common sense of “ideological content”, for example doctrine (this is where most of the age-long struggle within christendom comes from).

Faith deals with very important human choices and loves, everything we invest our lives in. It not only involves our minds and imaginations but also our emotions and our wills. We usually don’t ask the right questions when it comes to faith in this sense; we ask “what do you believe?” That already takes us down the road to religion and creeds and institutions. Faith is about such questions as, who do you trust for wisdom in navigating the great events of your life?  What do you set your heart on, Give your devotion/worship to? What determines the ‘values’ part of who you are?

And then there are a whole host of other not-so-insignificant questions almost everyone at some point finds herself meditating about: where did I come from? why was I placed in the family/race/country that I was born into? what is the purpose of life? where is civilization going? what happens after we die?

As you can see, these are the kinds of things that faith deals with and it is a universal because of the nature of humankind, the way we were created.(opps, I slipped, and let my own faith system show up) There is such a thing as “faith development” or stages of faith. Perhaps one of the most outstanding contributions to this whole area was the book, “Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and The Quest for Meaning“, by James W.Fowler (1981). (READ the excellent reviews at this Amazon link)I highly recommend it to anyone that is interested in learning more about faith as used in this sense.

When science tries to answer faith questions what you end up with is not pure science but a faith system. For one who answers such questions with statements that turns to the individual within, that too can be seen to be a self-developed faith system. The so-called atheists also have their own kind of faith. This is probably new to many, this concept of faith not being per se a religion. But all religious people can learn a lot about themselves and their faith by learning to study it in its generic sense.

The Cry of The Skeptics to the Religious

 

 

I had a wonderful idea sometime after hearing of Elder D.J. Ward’s death and upon reading an amazing post by Mary Louise. I have collected over the years a file in my computer I call “The Saints Gallery”. It is just a small sampling of men like Elder Ward that I have known personally or that during my short lifetime I have been privileged to know something of their influence in the world. The idea has grown that I must share that on my blog as it is such a part of the influence of others on who I am.

 

Mary Louise post is letting us in on who she is, “a Vatican kid”. (see ROOTS)  Here she is quoting from a book, Man the Saint:

 

Those who abandon the one true God very soon become slaves of the most barren dryness of soul. They are simply pagans: and to-day they can be seen all around us straining their sightless eyes, vainly seeking that happiness for which their instincts cry out, groping about in the dark, blindly trying to find the way, the truth and the life. We try to help them. We have told them a thousand times to look to our Christ. They have tried to look but they see nothing. We have shouted at them that Christ is alive, really alive, the same man that He always was and always will be, but the force of our arguments was quenched by their cold indifference. And yet it is easy enough to understand this dryness and bitterness in the souls of these poor pagans when we read the cynical challenge in their eyes: “Show us by your lives that Christ is alive.” Their argument is all too just. We cannot expect them to be won over by treatises on apologetics and theology, some of them too dry and formal. Their argument is fair enough: “Show us by your lives that Christ is alive.”

 

But then the quote takes an unexpected turn and before you can leave off reading, it’s too late; the arrow of truth has been sunk deep within. This in turn introduces the topic of the Saints as commonly understood by the faithful in the Catholic tradition. My “Saint’s Gallery” postings will hopefully answer the challenge from the skeptics and declare there are lives that demonstrate that Christ is alive and walks among us even though they may be far too few. And these lives will demonstrate that even the best of the Saints are all clay vessels with their warts and all, not exactly the common understanding.

 

One final quote from the post of Mary Louise, in hopes you will want to take time to read it all.

 

“ It is a cause for bitter regret to see the insipid and crumbling spectacle we present to the world after twenty centuries of so-called progress. Our world is full of living Christians, but yet it is the lifeless who are in command. We have churches in plenty, but so few good lives. All we lack is lives, lives to inspire the dead, to convince them, to strengthen the wills of poor weak mortals,to enlighten the minds of the diseased, to soften the selfish hearts of greedy materialists –

passionate lives,         

generous lives,                                                 

 So few good lives!”

 

This is also what my earlier post on “The Most Powerful Force on Earth” is about.

National Day of Prayer

 

 

Now is an excellent time to discuss religion in America and to get a basic understanding for what has been called America’s “civil religion”.

 

When I’ve used this phrase recently, I was surprised to hear from otherwise educated adults, “what is civil religion? Is that something you invented?” No, I assured them, I stole it from someone else. Actually it has been around a long time in certain areas of study such as The Sociology of Religion, etc. It is a very helpful concept for anyone trying to get a handle on how religion in general actually functions, and has functioned almost from the beginning, in These United States of America. It is not a very good idea to get into a discussion, at least in public, on such themes as “Separation of Church and State” and a host of other contemporary issues without having a basic understanding of America’s only real religion.

 

I want to blog this week as I said about The National Day of Prayer and this is an excellent time to discuss the concept of civil religion with my blogroll partners. So please, leave your comments and let me know if you’ve already encountered this in your own life experience or not. Here is as good a place to start as any. As you can see it is from a course that is taught in various universities and has been for sometime. It is so fundamental that I think it should be taught at every middle school in America.                     

 

                                                            

“While some have argued that Christianity is the national faith, and others that church and synagogue celebrate only the generalized religion of “the American Way of Life,” few have realized that there actually exists alongside of and rather clearly differentiated from the churches an elaborate and well-institutionalized civil religion in America. This article argues not only that there is such a thing, but also that this religion–or perhaps better, this religious dimension–has its own seriousness and integrity and requires the same care in understanding that any other religion does.” –Robert Bellah,Civil Religion in America

 

(read the article)

 

Related essay by Harry Stout: Baptism-in-Blood

Did you ever hear the old saying,

DYNAMITE SOMETIMES COMES IN SMALL PACKAGES

I’m thinking especially about books that have made an impact on my life. Some of the most powerful books have been little paperbacks. I have a dear friend that is an avid reader, and that’s putting it mildly. He once said to me, “I don’t do paperbacks!” But I said, there are some precious little gems that only come in paperback. “Well”, he said, “I guess I’ll just have to wait until the hardback edition comes out, won’t I.”

Some of my most treasured books over the years are paperback classics, I’ll just name three: Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer,Harper & Row (1954), 122 pages,and The Obedience of Faith, by Paul S.Minear, SCM Press (1971)110 pages. I wish every Christian in America could read these as well as the third one I’ll mention now, regardless of which church tradition they call mother kirk.

The third little treasure is a little book on the church, Body Life, written by Pastor Ray Stedman in 1972, and telling the story of the Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, California. The basic message of this little book and what it represents is still dynamite today. The Church, PBC, and their vibrant ministries are a testament to that.  

 He makes this statement in the early part of the book after discussing many of the negative ideas that come to mind when the word “church” is mentioned: 

“Let’s be honest: The church has been all of these things at one time or another. Again and again, it has justified every bitter charge, every gripe and criticism that was ever leveled against it by angry atheists and disillusioned agnostics.

“Yet–despite all its obvious flaws, weaknesses, hypocrisies, sins, and excesses–the church has been the most powerful force for good on the face of the earth, century after century, from the time of the apostles right up to this present moment. It has been light in the midst of the blackest darkness. It has been salt–both a preservative and a delightful seasoning–in a corruption-prone, unsavory society.”

He goes on to ask the obvious question, “How can this be?” And his answer is one we need to ponder very very carefully today when the world desparately needs what only the “True Church” was designed to provide.(see my earlier post on,”I Belong To The One True Church“.

Two Churches

How can we unravel this paradox? How can the church be both sin-ridden and salt and light? How can the church be both a source of disillusionment and a source of illumination at the same time? The answer, as found in the Bible, is this: What we call “the church” is really two churches! One is selfish, power-hungry, and sinful. The other is loving, forgiving, and godly. One has a long history of stirring up hatred, conflict, and bloody persecution, all in the name of God and religion. The other has always sought to heal human hurts, break down barriers of race and class, and deliver men and women from their guilt, shame, fear, and ignorance.

One is a false church, a counterfeit, masquerading as Christianity, but whose head is Satan. The other is the true church, founded by Jesus Christ, mirroring His authentic character through acts of love, self-sacrifice, courage, and truth.

Well there you have the gist of what I really believe about the Church and all of her many different manifestations and the urgent task of unity. To read more of this chapter from the late Dr.Stedman’s book, go here.

A Blogger filled with Hope

A number of things such as the Pope’s visit to U.S.A. and the economy and the presidential primaries, well you get the picture; the temptation to either stick one’s head in the sand or to be overcome with despair, have me thinking a lot about the theme of hope. I want to introduce this theme into my blog at this point, but rest assured it won’t be the last time it will come up. Every faith system by which man is known to live by includes the idea of hope and it seems to be another one of those basic traits that we all have in common as human beings, created in the image of God. So let’s begin with Pope Benedict XVI himself and what I see and hear in him to be a central spiritual force just as it was in his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. (His hope by the way, was clearly revealed in an interview that became the book, “Crossing The Threshold of Hope”.)

 

Pope Benedict XVI’s second encyclical, Saved In Hope, (“Spe Salvi” in Latin) takes its title from St. Paul, who wrote, “In hope we have been saved”. 

Love and Hope are closely related in the spiritual life. Love of God involves hope or trust in God. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man”. Hope enables us to look to the next life, but it also inspires and purifies our actions in this life. Pope Benedict considers modern philosophies and the challenges of faith today in light of the virtue of hope.

“Confronted by today’s changing and complex panorama, the virtue of hope is subject to harsh trials in the community of believers. For this very reason, we must be apostles who are filled with hope and joyful trust in God’s promises. In contemporary society, which shows such visible signs of secularism, we must not give in to despair.”
— Pope Benedict XVI

 

Interested yet? I promise to give you much more to ponder because we are living in days that are still on the verge of “the Abandonment of God”. This comes from another man, a prophet by the name of Jacques Ellul that I doubt any of you ever heard of.(surprise me) His book by the title of this post was published in english in 1974 so his perspective was conditioned by his historical context. He was a faithful member of the Reformed Church of France and fought in the French Underground against the Nazis. His thesis in that book was that often the strongest hope is birthed in the darkest hour, whether for an individual, a people, or an entire nation; a time when we actually feel we have been “abandoned” by God. 

AN EXERCISE IN UNDERSTANDING THE FAITH of OTHERS

Today is not like normal Sabbaths for the simple reason that this year Pesach falls on Saturday; at sundown today, Pesach begins.

Of all the Jewish holidays Pesach is the one most commonly observed, even by the otherwise non-observant Jews….(Judaism 101)  http://www.jewfaq.org/holidaya.htm

 

Have you ever thought what a quantum leap we could make if we began to really appreciate and respect our neighbors Faith through their own eyes and not through what we’ve heard- even in a “comparative religion” class?

Join me as I observe the Jewish holy day of Pesach.