The Way of Our Father

CC BY-SA, mariachily, Foter

CC BY-SA, mariachily, Foter

God is not as reticent as we think he is.

I’m learning to pray, Lord, help me not to miss crucial little things about my present life and circumstances that will explain lessons later. I’ve come to realize that God is not insensitive to us when we hurt and beg for answers, yet he answers on his own terms. Moreover, he responds in love and with the wisdom of his precise timing.

Think of a book you once read and didn’t comprehend: perhaps you finished it and more than likely you didn’t. A few years later you decided to read it again, especially since everyone except you seemed to love it. This time, however, you read it and couldn’t get enough of it. You were amazed that you never noticed all that was happening the first time.

God is that way with us. Sometimes we feel he’s not explaining himself too well, but it is his will to share with us about the matters we face.  “Call to me,” he says, “and I will answer you; I will tell you wonderful and marvelous things that you know nothing about” (Jer. 33:3, GNT). Still, some lessons are deeply formative ones to our faith—why something happened, why he didn’t act—and God, perhaps nestled above on the rock, tarries until we’ve climbed to where he’s waiting to speak with us.

Walk with God long enough and you’ll discover that for many lessons he patiently awaits our growth into them. It’s not always that we’re immature or lacking in some way, but rather certain experiences—the ‘crucial little things’—enjoined with our matured faith and his guiding voice cause us to BEHOLD what we never could have understood about his purpose at the time we demanded an explanation of him.

He’s too wise for our own good.

Let’s praise him for taking his time to speak to us about our cares. Let’s endure circumstance and not waste valuable experience. Let’s care to know only what the Father wishes to share because that’s all we’ll need to trust him later. Let’s never forget that what we learn becomes our ministry.

Another post on this topic: Hail the Morning Light

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Fellowship, Plain and Simple

CC BY-NC, Geoff Reedy, Flickr

CC BY-NC, Geoff Reedy, Flickr

If you were to ask me what I like to do, there are many things I could tell you. I like moseying through bookstores. I like Sunday afternoon drives. I like thoughtful conversation and debate. I really like baked goods with big bowls of vanilla ice cream.

But more than all of these things I like being with others. I love people. I love acquainting and enjoying folk. Beside God there is no greater subject in life, and our things serve the backdrop for vibrant relationship.

Losing Our Humanity

I wonder if many of us do not value one another as we should—or if not one another, then our time spent with each other. It’s a conversation worth discussing. Technology is seriously privatizing our lives in ways we could have never imagined in the past. Face-time has drastically decreased and impersonal relationships are the trend. Frankly, traditional family life and meaningful communication is eroding. We are spending more time looking into cell phones and computers than we do into one another’s eyes.

We’ve become people afraid of the silences—the long car rides, the between-bites at dinner, the beckoning, open doorways that invite us into a person’s day or life. Instead, we opt for noise. We get in our cars and instantly turn on the stereo. Television sets the mood for most homes. We lounge together in our living rooms each transfixed on a device perhaps texting one another.

We would be lying or terribly unmindful if we denied that innovation could be helping us unravel our inner well-being by nipping and tucking at the parts of our humanity that need not be altered.

Humanity Regained

Things mean more to us when we experience them with others. I’ve been fortunate to take my dream vacation, and I was lucky enough to have it at Christmas. Yet I was alone. It was a fantastic time, but I kept saying to myself, Oh, I wish _________ were here! Things can never replace people. Too often we get the message when loved ones die and we realize that we didn’t know them the way we should have known them, and that’s a true sadness. Humans are designed to be relational.

I encourage you to develop a habit of simple fellowship, something I can call a healthy habit of mine. It could be viewed as a combination of two spiritual disciplines—simplicity and fellowship—with the goal of being truly participative in the lives of the people around us in ordinary, even artless, ways.

Shut the TV off, take the family outdoors, and have wild fun—remember the joy of spraying each other with water and playing badminton in the backyard? There is no greater enjoyable relational tool than the board game: keep them around. And why not invite over the neighbors you’ve only ever waved to and grill out. Didn’t you love it when the whole neighborhood was like family?

Do these types of things. Draw on those modest activities that thrilled you when you were young, perhaps before the Information Age, and create ways to share time with others. Practice them regularly as a way of pushing back against society’s redefinition of social acceptance and importance. Perform them to reclaim normalcy in your life. Let your actions be replete with the affection, harmony, and mutual respect that make us human and keep the world beautiful.

And never ever forget that being fully human is deeply spiritual and God’s only design for us.

The Nature of Christ

"Prince of Peace" by Akiane CC BY-NC, Waiting For The Word, Flickr

“Prince of Peace” by Akiane
CC BY-NC, Waiting For The Word, Flickr

The nature of Christ rested at the center of the greatest controversies in church history and often led to the important ecumenical councils of the Church and the development of the creeds. Here we’ll discuss five major heresies regarding the nature of Christ: Ebionism, adoptionism, Nestorianism, Apollinarianism, and Eutychianism. I encourage you to consider the implications that logically proceed from these doctrines. Also, reflect on statements and teaching you’ve heard that veer close to these.

Jesus and the Christ

Christological heresies existed as early as the apostle’s ministry. A Judaizing group called the Ebionites taught that Jesus was an ordinary human possessing unusual but not superhuman or supernatural gifts. They espoused that the Christ descended upon Jesus the man at his baptism and withdrew from him near the end of his life. The doctrine resembles the teaching of Paul of Samosata who taught that the logos was not a being but was equal to what reason is in a human and merely impersonal. Jesus, so said Samosata, was uniquely indwelt by the wisdom of God and, in successive stages, grew closer in relation to him.

Samosata’s teaching is called dynamistic monarchianism, or adoptionism, and holds that this power from God came upon Jesus the man, again, at his baptism. Adoptionism opens a doorway to modern liberal theology that devalues the divinity of Jesus and teaches the recognition of human’s God consciousness.

Nestorius, on the other hand, did affirm both the divinity and humanity of Christ but insisted that the two natures not be confused but viewed as being completely distinct. Nestorius was opposed to the term theotokos, a reference to Mary as the “God-bearer.” The Alexandrian school taught that if there was in Christ a physical union of God and man, then it could be argued that Mary was the “mother of God.” Nestorius, of the Antiochene school of thought, opposed this and claimed that the logos had taken residence in Christ. The divine element in him, however, was not in his human nature.

Nestorius implied a lack of unity, stating, “I distinguish between the natures, but I worship but one [Christ].” Christian orthodoxy acknowledges both natures of Christ but that the two became one and simultaneously retained their uniqueness. It remains questionable whether Nestorius really taught what he was accused of due to the vagueness of his teaching.

Swallowed in Divinity

Apollinaris offered a truncated view of Christ’s humanity. He believed that Jesus took on genuine humanity but not all of it. Apollinaris was very concerned about maintaining the unity of the Son. He opposed Arianism—the Son was not pre-existent and was created by the Father—but ventured too far with his teaching. According to Apollinaris, Jesus was a “compound unity,” part human and the rest divine. What Jesus bore of humanity was merely his human flesh. This flesh was animated by the divine logos (spark), which replaced a human soul.

Thus, Jesus was human physically but not psychologically; his soul was divine. Jesus was essentially different from all human beings because he possessed no human soul or will nor did he possess the capability to sin because he was divinity poured into a human vessel. Further, there is a slight implication that Jesus’s flesh could have only been a mystical, docetic one, not truly subject to his overpowering divinity.

If Ebionism represents the extreme view of Jesus’s humanity, then Eutychianism is the opposite extreme. Eutyches agreed on the two natures of Christ but felt that the two became so blended in their union that there could only be one nature and it fully divine.

Apollinarianism and Eutychianism differ from the others because they hold that Jesus had one nature and not two. These two doctrines are called monophysite doctrines, meaning “one nature”; Ebionism, adoptionism, and Nestorianism are dyophysite.

Council of Chalcedon

The fourth ecumenical council at Chalcedon brought an end to these disputes, specifically Eutychianism and Nestorianism. The council began on October 8, 451, and was attended by 630 bishops and deputies. After five sessions that lasted until the 31st, the council finalized the Chalcedonian Creed, one of the greatest, that further defied Christological heresy and established sound Christology.

Swedish theologian Bengt Hagglund, in his History of Theology, helps clarify the significance of the creed (in part):

We confess one and the same Son [against Nestorius, who…was believed to teach that there were ‘two sons’], our Lord Jesus Christ, who is perfect in His divinity [against dynamism, Arius, and Nestorius] and perfect in humanity…with a reasonable soul and a body [against Apollinaris who replaced Christ’s human soul with the Logos and taught that the Logos assumed a “heavenly flesh”], of one essence with the Father according to divinity…of the same essence as we according to humanity [against Eutyches]…”

The value of the Christian creeds is inestimable. The Church is triumphant over heresy today because of the great work the Fathers undertook to clarify and summarize Holy Scripture. Many groups in the Protestant Church overlook and even avoid creedalism, being speculative of it. Yet the creeds are the signet of the Church, concisely expressing theological thought contained in the scriptures. The creed is, as Cyril calls it, the “synthesis of faith” and has been a sustaining force in the existence of the Church.

What to Do About Grace

CC BY-NC, Enokson, Flickr

CC BY-NC, Enokson, Flickr

“He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” (Eph. 1:5-6)

I drove down the highway one morning listening to a version of Don Moen’s classic hymn “Give Thanks,” and the Holy Spirit turned a light on within me.

“Give thanks with a grateful heart

Give thanks to the Holy One

Give thanks because he’s given Jesus Christ, his Son.

 And now let the weak say, ‘I am strong!’

Let the poor say, ‘I am rich!’

Because of what the Lord has done for us.

Give thanks.”

Truthfully, I wanted to cry because I saw a clearer picture of the gospel, but I didn’t want to appear weepy-eyed where I was headed.

The Gospel Message

The scripture above refers to the grace of God having been bestowed upon us in Christ. The King James Version says, “…he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” I thought of that phrasing when I heard the declarations—“I am strong! I am rich!”—and realized how truly profound the gift of Christ is to us.

It means Jesus is enough.

Now that may not seem like anything cataclysmic to you, but it’s a weight off all our shoulders. We have gained acceptance with God in Christ. All our efforts at earning God’s approval and working our way into his favor are finished. We can cease feeling inadequate and marred and like we have to get our act together to please him. “Lord, I know I haven’t…God, I’m sorry but I…”

No, we are not condemned and need not wear guilty consciences. He lifts our chins and tells us it’s okay and invites into his joy. He did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves.

But What Am I to Do?

Still, we feel like we have to do something. We loathe and punish ourselves because we cannot accept the thought of simply receiving God’s selfless love and attention. We feel that we have to work our way into so rich a gift. What about our raging tempers, lying and cheating, illicit sexual habits, and various dependencies? How could he still accept us when we are yet unsure that Jesus is the way? After all, we’re still mad at him for things that happened to us all the way back in our childhood.

What are we to do with these inconsistencies?

Right here is where sound teaching is so important because we’re prone to walk away from God or live beneath our spiritual privilege. We may hang onto God, but we’ll always be trying to fix ourselves, always trying to pay a debt that has already been forgiven. If we don’t realize that the burden has been removed, we’ll continue dealing with the agony and frustration—the guilt—that comes with trying to lift it, never experiencing freedom.

A Gospel Parable

Let me show you what our responsibility looks like. Think of a person, maybe even yourself at one time, with a great financial burden—a debt. He (or she) struggled with that debt for a long time, and the debt determined so much about his life. But one day a benefactor paid off the entire bill; the indebted man owed not a cent to anyone. Then, the benefactor gave the man $10,000 to get back on his feet. All the man had to do was accept the gift.

Now the man would probably need some time to get over the incredible goodness that had happened to him, but he would be foolish not to accept the gift. There would be no need for him to stand and argue with the benefactor about all the misfortune and bad choices he made that got him to that point.

The man accepts the gift and the benefactor’s simple request that he never again return to debt. The responsibility of the man is simple. It is to prove his exceeding gratefulness by improving his knowledge about money and finances, guaranteeing the request of the benefactor.

Now…Right Now

The man with the debt, although he had been freed from it, bore a responsibility to amend his behavior and attitude toward money. It is no different with us, except our works of faith now are acts of worship to God. Let me show you.

We still have hang-ups and sin issues, but they don’t negate Christ’s work for us and in us. Our responsibility with those issues now is to understand our freedom in Christ and to rely on God’s enabling grace to build godlier character. Thereby, we love God by transforming the vile areas of our hearts into the very fruit of the Spirit. We worship him with the beauty of holy lives. But instead of doing this to earn God’s favor, we do it because of his favor already bestowed upon us.

I get emotional about this because there are many people around us, people we couldn’t guess, who secretly wish to serve God and be among the saints but feel that their lives are so bad, so messed up, that God doesn’t care to deal with them. They feel condemned and sometimes are condemned by churches and Christians that haven’t truly grasped the message of grace. But these are the weak God is calling to strength in Christ.

What shall we do with grace? Just accept it. The debt is gone. We need to get the point: we are actualized in Christ. You have wholeness now. You possess all the worth God designed for you now. Give God thanks and let your life honor him.

Also on the topic: Where Freedom Ends

Why Do the Wicked Prosper?

CC BY-NC, Steve Corey, Flickr

CC BY-NC, Steve Corey, Flickr

Have you ever been “broke, busted, and disgusted,” wondering where God was, and found yourself despising a well-off person you were certain didn’t care anything about God? Did you sizzle? Rant? Curse? I imagine there are many reasonable Christians who’ve wrestled with these feelings—and taken it out on God. I’ve been there. It’s comforting to know that the scripture writers have, too.

It’s a question asked throughout the Bible, especially in the Prophets, and by do-gooders everywhere: why do the wicked prosper? What is more interesting is God’s answer to the question. But before we get to his response, I need to provoke a discussion. *toothy grin*

This one calls for getting to the heart of why we feel the way we do about the issue. I know what a shoestring budget feels like standing in the grocery line with my bare necessities watching some thug/some white collar highbrow/some self-righteous prude lay all their goodies and spirits on the checkout, me thinking, I’m trying to live for you and I’m just getting by! Judgmental perhaps, but if you’ve been there, can I get an ‘Amen’?

God, You Owe Me!

We have to ask ourselves “Does godliness merit ease and prosperity?” On the one hand we have a God who promises, “All these blessings shall overtake you if…” and on the other he acknowledges, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous…” Might our real problem with the wicked prospering be that we feel God owes us for serving him? That we should be treated better…look like his children, yet the wicked appear more like what his children should be?

Jeremiah in his twelfth chapter and Asaph in Psalm 73 both deal with this topic. Jeremiah laments, “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?…You are always on their lips but far from their hearts” (12:1-2). One thing we see from Jeremiah’s complaint was that God’s bounty was in the land but was being circumvented by the powerful and greedy, leaving the rich to grow richer and the poor poorer (v. 4). It’s understandable to be angry about these conditions.

God’s reply to Jeremiah is a noted verse in the book—“If you have raced with people on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?” (v. 5). God told Jeremiah that his issue was a small and ordinary concern, while the real problem was the moral darkness in the land that was incurring great judgment.

A ‘small and ordinary concern’…

I pause here to be fair. We should not grossly assume that because a person is not devout or is perhaps agnostic or atheist that they are somehow undeserving of good things, and, for that matter, incapable of generosity. The larger point is that wealthy “wicked” people have not necessarily gained their prosperity by being wicked and criminal any more than some Christians have earned a life of poverty by their godliness. Instead, they have worked hard for what they own and deserve any wealth they have. Moreover, honest and diligent work is all of our responsibility, and everyone can be wealthy. This is a clue that, in God’s mind, the issue is not about money.

Matters of the Heart

Asaph shows us the rest of the picture. “Surely God is good to Israel,” he says, “to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped” (73:1-2). What an admission! He rants for half the chapter until despairingly stating the same sentiments I’ve made in the grocery line: “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure…all day long I have been afflicted and every morning brings new punishments” (vs. 13-14).

But then the dawn of an answer breaks through:

“When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny. Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly they are destroyed, completely swept away by terrors!” (vs. 16-18).

Asaph only alludes to the real discovery, and what he realizes is the same message God was trying to get through to Jeremiah. The issue is not wealth but the condition of the heart. The “slippery ground” Asaph refers to explains it: money allows the desires and inhibitions of our hearts to easily surface.

Reading the demise Asaph describes for the wicked is nothing to rejoice about. It is very sad. He shows us a person who has gotten carried away by his or her desires. If the test of struggle is to survive the dearth, then the test of plenty is also to survive by not being drowned by fortune—or drowned in covetousness, pride and greed, power and control, vice and criminality.

Money doesn’t have a heart; people do—and people create crime and unfairness and the imbalance of justice. Thus, why the wicked prosper is manifold, from industriousness to unlawful dealings, but this is not the real issue. What we should hate is not the wicked with money but their state and be very sad about it and the judgment and sorrow their actions work to bring down upon them and a people.

Also on this blog regarding this topic: The Perils of Covetousness, Living with Simplicity, and The Disciple Who Never Was.

His Need, Our Privilege

CC BY-NC, S.Kakos, Flickr

CC BY-NC, S.Kakos, Flickr

God inherently needs nothing and no one. Yet we would fling him beyond reach should we forget that he has done us a favor obligating himself to us. He “needs” us only because he desires us and requires himself to us.

Moreover, he has created a place for us in his plan.

He commands our worship because it benefits us and not because he lacks adoration. Ultimately, his purpose is accomplished with us and we get the joy.

Could he offer a better deal?

God shall forever be the Great Giver, limitless and generous. And I gladly resign myself to the honor of being needed by him.

God for Our Gadgets: A Short

CC BY-NC, buffdawgus, Flickr

CC BY-NC, buffdawgus, Flickr

Annoyed by the ringing phone, Grant paused his video game and snatched up the receiver before the answering machine came on. He expected someone needing his mom or dad, but it was Josh, the head youth leader at his church. Caught off-guard, Grant grabbed the remote and lowered the sound so he could hear. A baseball game played on another TV.

It was an awkward moment for Grant, who hadn’t attended his teen group, Lighthouse, in more than a month. It wasn’t because he didn’t care for it, but one thing had led to another…the spin he gave Josh: getting over a bad case of flu, tennis tryouts, his band sessions and gigs, and good ole R&R, which usually amounted to hours in video game world.

Grant texted while talking with Josh and even muted the call once to quickly answer his cell and promise a callback. The conversation had grown longer than Grant expected or wanted. Josh invited Grant to play at the church’s upcoming barn party, slated to be a big event. Grant was interested and tentatively accepted, now on his tablet looking over his schedule and then checking email and Facebook messages.

The conversation turned to spirituality. “How’s your devotional life?” Josh asked. Grant rolled his eyes, brushing his hair back and making sure not to sound peeved.

“It’s okay, I guess,” Grant replied, texting again. Josh wasn’t buying it.

“You guess? That doesn’t sound convincing,” Josh replied. Grant booted up his laptop.

“Well, honestly, I really need to get back to Bible reading. I pray fairly regularly though,” Grant said.

“Okay, but you need to be around your peers. That’s where you get accountability and how you stay strong in your faith.” There was silence. Josh continued, “Grant, you’ve been an example to many of the kids, and they’ve been asking about you. I don’t want you to lose your fire and godly example. We all have as much of God as we desire. I just need to be sure Christ remains your priority and that you’re making time for him.”

There wasn’t much Grant could say to that, tossing his cell phone on the bed. He sat down in the Banker’s Chair at his desk and sighed, a little dispirited now. When Josh started wrapping up the call, Grant interjected.

“Hey, can I talk to you for a moment?”