The Mighty Deeds of God

April 24th, 2016

Below is the reflection I gave this evening at an evening prayer service I have been leading called Evensong. Read and be enlightened!

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In the Psalm reading today the Psalmist proclaims these Words:

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation commends your works to another;
they tell of your mighty acts.

A littler further he states…

They tell of the power of your awesome works—
and I will proclaim your great deeds.

Listen to these words: worthy, greatness, mighty, awesome. The Psalmist used all these words and generally when we hear such words our mind fills with images of power, and we perhaps think of conquering, changing circumstances, making things happen. It is ideas such as these that populate our understanding of the divine and why it is we should pay homage, fall to our knees, render sacrifice, and obey. Our tendency is to think that because God is powerful: all powerful, he is glorious: all glory. The Gospel, however, forces us to reconsider our understanding of glory and power. Listen to Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel reading:

Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

Prior to speaking these words Jesus washed the disciples feet as an example of service, which in the Kingdom of God is the very substance of greatness. In these words Jesus is connecting the glory of God to his impending death, which is the absolute example of service and greatness, the example of greatness which is at the root of all genuine service of all the saints throughout the ages, and it is this glory that will forever crown all God’s saints in the age to come. In connecting the glory of God to his death Jesus reveals that God’s glory is his self-giving love, a love by which he made himself vulnerable, allowed himself to be broken, so that he could meet us in our brokenness, and in our brokenness intimately bind us together and bring us home to Him. This connection between glory and service, a connection which displays God’s heart for all to see, is the very heart of the Gospel.

We live in a culture that is becoming further removed from a Christian worldview, an age I have heard referred to as post-Christian, which is to say that the dominant culture no longer assumes Christian beliefs and values. More and more what is emerging is a belief that plurality, and radical autonomy, are the paths of freedom and human flourishing. Our culture believes that everyone should have the right to determine and identify themselves, without any recourse to nature or any other determinates. In this framework the greatest virtue is tolerance, and the prophetic word is what we most deeply feel is true about ourselves. We must all tolerate, even affirm, each person’s chosen identity, for the chosen self is sacrosanct. We Christians, however, have a different view of self and a different prophetic Spirit.

In today’s reading from Revelation, just after the assigned verses we find these words:

And he [an angel] said to me , “These are true words of God.” Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”

Within this passage I want to draw attention to this sentence, “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Often, when we hear the word prophecy, we envision one who offers words about the future, often a future of judgment, but here the testimony of Jesus, the Gospel itself, is the prophetic utterance. No doubt John has in mind a Spirit empowered testimony, but nonetheless the prophetic utterance is the Church’s proclamation of the mighty deeds of God expressed through the person and work of Jesus Christ, these mighty deeds wherein God made himself vulnerable to lay a hold of our depths, our sin, our brokenness and bring us back to our true selves. Selves not created by our own hands, not determined by our our limited and broken sense of what is true and good. Rather selves that were created by God’s wisdom and design. These true selves are purchased selves, purchased through God’s self-offering on the cross. These true selves are not autonomous but rather owned and they are selves that are formed and are being formed by nail pierced hands. This is the spirit of prophecy that we proclaim to an age lost in radical autonomy, and it is my prayer that God would empower his people with this prophetic spirit to boldly proclaim the mighty deeds of a glorious God who would pour himself out restore us and make us his own.

When Squirrels Attack

April 6th, 2016

I’m renting a nice car, which means that when I run errands I look for the long way to go from point A to point B, and in one of these excursions on a backroad I encountered a squirrel who was lollygagging his way across the street. Initially everything was going to be fine, as I quickly assessed the situation and decided to turn opposite of the squirrel’s initial trajectory, but then he caught sight of me and took evasive action, which ironically set him into the path of my evasive action. I was expecting certain death, but upon closing the distance nothing happened. I heard nothing: no sad thud. I looked in the review mirror to assess his state, and I saw nothing. I figured this ordeal was over, and that I would have to live never knowing with certainty what happened to that squirrel. I figured wrong.

Apparently, the squirrel, with the reflexes of a ninja that has reflexes like a cat, which is not unlike the reflexes of a squirrel, jumped up into a space in the engine compartment of my car, and there he planned his revenge upon his would be assassin. Ferocious Little MonsterThis is truly unfortunate, as his whole motive for revenge was based upon a misperception, as he mistook my evasive action (which I calculated in response to his initial trajectory) as an intention to strike him down. When I finally arrived home, and stepped out of the car, he, with those ninja-cat-squirrel-like reflexes, dislodged himself from the engine compartment and made a straight line toward me, up one of my pant legs, and right toward my most sensitive area, where he attacked with preternatural ferocity, and quickly brought me to the ground. Immediately I balled my right hand into a fist to bring down wrath and weight upon the squirrel, who, with those same ninja-cat-squirrel-like reflexes moved out of my pants and toward my head, and thus upon bringing down wrath I racked myself to the degree that my stomach and chest severely cramped and thereby greatly impairing my ability to breathe. Now, in my vulnerable state, the squirrel continued his preternatural rampage and had his way with my face, neck, and shoulders, and subjected me to an eternity of scratching and biting (Einstein is right about Relativity), all punctuated by the most heinous string of expletives, which decency prevents me from recounting. (Squirrels, though quite cute, have souls as black as midnight during a new moon.) Once the demons of revenge had been vented from his soul the squirrel promptly stopped, and skipped away.

God forgive me for speaking so crassly and thinking so unkindly of one of his creatures, but that squirrel was a mean bastard with an exponent of ten. Regarding the purpose of this post, I guess it’s part therapy, as I am venting the wounds of my soul even as I patiently wait for the wounds of my body to heal. Also, I want to warn my fellow brothers and sisters of the human race to not be taken in by the cute, furry exterior of these ferocious little monsters.

 

Genuine Humanity

December 31st, 2015

We humans have a deep and awesome need to become more human, to become fully human. It is not possible to become fully human under the pressure to become more human. Grace is the foundation of all genuine humanity.

My Unique Matter-ing

December 8th, 2015

I was created to be a unique home for God, a home in which He expresses Himself in a unique way. I matter because I am a unique creation, but the completion of my significance is found only in that I should be a dwelling place for God. This means that my significance is a mystery to be discovered in my relationship with God, that I cannot look directly at myself, for my essence is found in depths beyond my comprehension, in depths of soul known only to Him. This also means that I am not a blank conduit to God’s Spirit, as I am unique habitation for God, a unique and living manifestation of his glory and thus the creation that I am if unredeemed can be a loss avenue of his glory, even though my loss would not ultimately detract from his glory. The creation that I am is an irreplaceable, God-willed existence, and thus I have particular significance in God’s orchestration of creation. In short, I matter, but my unique matter-ing is only complete in God.

If Not Those Near Then Not Those Far Away

September 16th, 2015

In reading commentary about the passages where Jesus states that no prophet dies outside Jerusalem, and that the religious leaders of his day are of the same ilk as those who killed the prophets in previous days, it struck me how dire is the problem of sin. Israel had every advantage, as they were called of God, were formed by his call, and by his saving actions on their behalf. Israel was the recipient of God’s covenant, wherein they received his instruction in righteousness, and they were the ones from whom the prophets arose, and the ones to whom the prophets were sent. They received prophetic words to remind them of God’s goodness,  words about his saving actions, unlimited mercy, and the hope they have in God’s covenant love, and yet for all this, Israel strayed. They did not really know their own God. The problem this reveals is that if Israel with all its advantages did not really know the Lord, how much more so all the Gentile nations who had no such advantage. As Paul would say, if those who are near did not understand, how much more so those who are far away.

The thing about sin is that it is a reality present in all of creation, Jew and Gentile alike, and it is a reality that perverts every good thing, and actually takes goodness and works it against God. So, though the Jews had every advantage, their advantage in many ways actually worked against them because of the reality of sin, for no law, no teaching in righteousness, no prophetic utterance could ever get at the root of sin. Thus, through Jesus’ death in Jerusalem, God expressed a great judgment against all religious hopes born in this world. Through Jesus’ death God said “No!” to the very religion he created, and all the more so those religions created without the benefit of his direct action. But, and this is a blessed but, through the death of Jesus God also gave a resounding “Yes!” for through Jesus’ death God put an end to sin by condemning it in the body of Jesus. Moreover, by bodily resurrecting Jesus from the dead,  God offers life beyond the reach of sin. In this light, as Paul would also say, there is an advantage to being a Jew, for theirs is the heritage that was designed by God to ultimately bear witness to the work that God would do to renew creation and redeem humankind. As Jesus said to the religious leaders of his day, “You search the Scriptures for in them you think you find eternal life, but they are those which testify to me.” This is Israel’s true heritage, and this is our heritage as well when we come to faith in him who always was the true heart of Israel.

 

I Am a Transcendent Sexual Essentialist

September 2nd, 2015

I am a transcendent sexual essentialist! Yes, this sounds like I am making a confession, perhaps a confession that requires the custom category for gender on Facebook, or that I’m coming out of the closet for some kind of gender related issue. Actually, in a way I am, but I am not making a statement of personal identity, but rather metaphysical conviction. By saying I am a transcendent sexual essentialist, I am saying that I believe gender is an objective reality that exists beyond mere social construction. I am saying that because gender is transcendent it exists in a dynamic relationship to cultures such that it can be encoded in a myriad of ways, and thus lend itself to the appearance of merely being socially constructed. The thing to be mindful of is that gender, being a reality in God, is an abundant reality that exceeds our cognitive and linguistic capacities to fully comprehend and express, and yet it is a reality present in the structure of creation, and more importantly, in the very constitution of our existence as humans made in God’s image. For this reason gender is a reality that cannot be ignored, as its presence in creation calls out for engagement, for inquiry, for “faith seeking understanding.” And yet, though gender is a reality present in creation, because its essence is beyond creation it is not something easily reduced to a set of readily identified characteristics. As I see it, since we are creatures made in God’s image, we are limited creators, and thus I speculate that it was God’s plan that we use our creative faculties to construct our understanding of gender as we engage the transcendent real ground of gender, a reality that will always exceed our constructions, and thereby invite further engagement. In an unfallen world this would have led to a plethora of beautiful ways in which masculinity and femininity could be incarnated and expressed, like many facets on a brilliant diamond. The issue to keep in mind in this engagement is that though there are a myriad of ways to express and encode masculine and feminine in culture, there is also wrong ways they can be encoded, and I would say that one of the wrong ways is to deny that there is any kind of objective foundation to the reality of gender. Yes, this reality is not always easy to identify and delineate, but again, this is not because there is no there there, but because it exceeds the frailty of our understanding.

The Stream of His Everlasting Self-Giving

August 26th, 2015

A common definition of sin is “missing the mark.” Generally speaking when us religious types talk about sin what we have in mind is falling short (“missing the mark”) regarding a moral standard. In essence, sin is viewed as a moral transgression. Though I acknowledge the validity of all this regarding the nature of sin, I’ve often found such a perspective to be too moralistic, a tad shallow, and perhaps ironically, it misses the mark regarding the full reality of sin, a reality which goes down to our existential roots, and which obtains its content in the light the of grace.

Ultimately, sin is not just turning away from God as lawgiver, it is turning away from God as self-giver, a self-giving most concretely seen in the giving of Jesus, who is Immanuel, God with us. In essence, sin is a turning away from having our being in and through God’s self giving, and instead living our lives as if we are from ourselves and are complete unto ourselves. In short, sin is anti-Immanuel, anti-God-with-us, and is instead God-at-a-distance, or God-not-at-all. The shocking thing about sin is that it functions, even thrives, in religious contexts, but what sin won’t tolerate in such a context is a God who comes so close and gives so completely that all sense of self-sufficiency is undermined, leaving only a naked, dependent, and vulnerable self. Sin will not tolerate this self.

The trespass of law by which people typically define sin is merely a symptom of this deeper alienation from and rejection of God. This is why faith is essential to Christian living and why, as the Scriptures say, it is impossible to please God apart from faith. Faith is the posture that aligns with how God made our being to function. We were made to have our becoming (our living development) and completion in the constant self-giving of God. Faith is that nakedness, that dependence, that vulnerability to God that seeks to have its all in him. It is the appropriate giving of one’s self to the self-giving of God.

In the Garden of Eden, when humanity, through its primordial parents, stretched forth its hand to eat the forbidden fruit, beneath the trespass of “thou shalt not eat,” was a belief that God was holding out, and a corresponding yearning to live a life on the basis of what we could secure for ourselves through that outstretched hand. In modern words, that out stretched hand declares, “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” For this reason, it is very fitting that salvation happens when we cease to stretch out our hands to secure our lives, and allow the outstretched hand of God, pierced for our transgressions, to reach down and secure us in the stream of his everlasting self-giving.

 

A Legalist of Sorts

May 6th, 2015

I am a legalist of sorts. In making this confession I am not saying that I can point to a specific set of laws or moral standards I ascribe to, and live by, and believe that upon this basis I have a good standing with God. I know what the Scriptures say about the false hopes of self-justification, and the sharp contrast between life under the Law and the righteousness that comes by faith. Moreover, I know full well that any good I do is infected with egoism, pride, and fear. So, this confession is really about how little I get grace, I mean really get grace, so that it digs into the marrow of my bones and releases me into the glory of God.

Earlier this morning, as I was reading Crisis in Masculinity by Leanne Payne (worth several posts unto itself) and was processing the relationship between righteousness and grace, I wrote the following words:

The righteousness of faith is the righteousness that comes when one leans upon the right-making, restoring action of God wrought in human hearts at Jesus’ expense when he poured himself out on the Cross.

I wrote this because I was trying to work out what I hope the Spirit was working into me as I was processing grace and righteousness. Honestly, I know so little of this right-making action in the heart, and for my entire adult life I have been morosely puzzled by this fact. I have read quite a bit about grace, holiness, and the process of sanctification, but mostly my efforts resulted in amassing information, and not in the transformation I was seeking. Regarding what I wrote, I think what the Spirit was speaking is that we can only experience this right-making action at that place where we are sinners. About this Saint Paul says, “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.” I have long taken heed of this verse, but being a Christian of the Protestant persuasion, I primarily understood this verse to be describing a new status I have before God on the basis of trusting that Jesus bore the judgment I deserve for being a sinner. What I didn’t see in this verse is an implication for how one spiritually grows through God’s action of justifying the ungodly through the work of the Cross.

Instead of merely receiving a new status, I am starting to think that this verse is also talking about discovering again and again that God meets people where they continue to be broken, fearful, resistant, rebellious, selfish, and unlovely, and rights them at that very place by administering the reality of Jesus being poured out on the Cross. In this way, when the Scriptures declare that “the just shall live by faith” it is saying that the just are the ones who live in the awareness that God is constantly covering them by pouring himself out through Jesus on the Cross, particularly as they find in new and deeper ways that they are indeed sinners. This means that the Gospel is not just a reality that we the “converted” preach to the lost out there, but is a reality by which we Christians continue to be converted. I imagine that this again-and-again discovery of the Gospel is what enables us to go from glory to glory, and to truly be transformed in to the likeness of the one who loves us, and in a manner of speaking, continues to give himself up for us. I think this is more akin to what Luther meant when he referred to Christians as simultaneously just and a sinner, for the Christian is the focal point where the ongoing justifying (right-making) action of God is happening.

I will conclude by saying that I hope what I shared above is near the truth, as I imagine this is the only way that I can stop being the legalist that I am.

 

True Joy

February 10th, 2015

True joy makes suffering its friend.

A Wanting Prayer

January 21st, 2015

Dear Father, I don’t want to want what I want; rather, I want to want what you want me to want. Amen

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Yes, the repetitiveness of this prayer is somewhat humorous, but along with this humor I offer it with sincerity. As far as the use of the word “wanting” as a modifier for this prayer, I primarily intend that it refer to the amount of want expressed. However, I like double entendres, and so I also want to cash in on the definition of wanting as “something essential that is lacking,” but I intend that the essential thing that is lacking refer to a heart that only wants what God wants, and not some quality of the prayer itself.