Jude

Jude 1:1 “Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to the ones called in God the Father, having been set apart, and having been kept by Jesus Christ:”

I will admit that I have a special affinity for Jude. I think there is a lot packed into a very short letter and that it is often neglected. My favorite part of Jude though is really the first verse. Jude is introducing himself and actually makes the bold claim that he is a servant of Jesus Christ. Let that sink in. In your introductory line would those be the first words that come to mind? Is that how you would start your letter? Is that how you would identify yourself to anyone for that matter? Would you have both the boldness to proclaim such a thing and the confidence that it was true? I hope so, but I fear most of us would not.

Jude goes on to talk about how he wishes he could write about the common salvation but instead feels the need to encourage people to contend for the faith. He says the hard stuff. He encourages us to do the hard stuff. My understanding of Greek is limited, but I believe that he instructs us to struggle for the faith. Contend is often used in translation as well. Struggle is forceful. Struggle is not a peaceful vocation. It need not, and most often should not, be violent, but it is forceful. It is forceful in the way that Christ was forceful. Forceful in love, in truth and in honesty. It is being willing to say the hard things in the difficult times. It is not for the feint of heart, and and can not be done without the spirit. It is nothing less than the conviction that if the entire world were to push telling you that there was no God and Christ were a myth, that you would stare the world in the eye and say, no, you will move. I know Truth. Would you do this? Would I? I hope so, but I fear not.

So much more great stuff in Jude and I encourage you to read and study it, but I am going to fast forward to the end. Jude 1:24-25 ” Now to Him being able to keep you without stumbling, and to set you before His glory without blemish, with unspeakable joy;  to the only wise God, our Savior, be glory and majesty and might and authority, even now and forever. Amen.” Is this how your letter ends? Are these the thoughts at the end of every conversation and interaction? Don’t we all think “thank God it is over” to much and not “thank God it began” enough? Don’t we try to praise ourselves, and each other for a job well done to often and not God enough? Don’t we often roll our eyes when we hear people give God the credit and be secretly thankful we are not one of “those Christians”? Jude starts by identifying himself as a servant of Jesus and ends by praising God as deserving of glory and, in fact, being the ultimate authority. Is that how your letter would end? Is it how mine would? Perhaps a rewrite is in order for most of us. a rewrite that  follows Jude’s beginning and ending and having a healthy dose of what is in the middle.

 

It’s all in the space

God Father

(Photo credit: NeilsPhotography)

There are a numerous amount of prosperity, believe it and achieve it type pastors out there, and I want to begin by laughing at them and their flawed concept of scripture. They would have you believe that if you are “good” you will somehow be rewarded and if you have not been rewarded you are not good enough, have not given enough etc. I am going to be talking about positive attitude, but not in that framework.

I do believe that a positive attitude is valuable for the Christian faith. God is love, light, truth. Every good and perfect gift comes from Him, so maintaining a positive attitude makes those things easier to find in the world. I don’t mean to minimize the sinful nature of the world, but rather to glorify God as He has revealed Himself to us through Christ and the scriptures, so that in the n=midst of the sinful nature of the world, we find the things that are of God. A positive attitude makes this easier as we view the world through our eyes. Our attitude will affect what we see. There are those who will say that God is no where to be found, but we, with a healthy and positive attitude can see Him much easier and refute the claim.

Some will tell you that a positive attitude will change things. They are wrong. No matter how positive your attitude, you will not make more money (although you may become a better employee and advance further), you will not stop hunger (although you may see the beauty of the hungry and become possessed of a desire to ease their suffering), it will not stop disasters (but it may allow you to see the opportunity to show God’s love by aiding in the recovery). The trend here is pretty simple to follow really, a positive attitude will not change anything…except you. I won’t say that a positive attitude is necessary in order to be conformed to the likeness of Christ, but it is a big help and makes the process of transformation much easier.

Finally, our attitude, whether positive or negative will slant how we view the world around us. Some of the cliches are true. Do we see problems or do we see opportunity? Are we overcome and paralyzed by suffering or do we see the chance to show love? Do we pray hoping for answers or do we pray that God will send us as the answer? These things and so many more are the results of something so basic as our attitude.

So to the overall topic really…the space. How do we fill the space in our lives? When we allow God to fill those spaces with His word and His mercy (both are necessary) then that space is filled with truth and love and our attitude naturally reflects that. When we do not allow God to do this, then our attitude sours as does our view of the world. People will notice. We claim to be Christians, then we need to represent that all the time. In the grocery store checkout that is to long, at the red light behind the car that won’t go on green, on the highway when we are cut off, etc. Those around us are going to notice and by our actions each and every moment, they are going to consciously or unconsciously make one of two observations. They are going to look and think “God is nowhere” or they will look and think “God is now here”. The witness that we show the world will be one of those two things…and if you look closely, it is all about the space.

 

 

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What I want in my church

I suspect that there have been many blog posts similar to this, so figured that I would take my crack at it. The idea is interesting really. We move to new towns or neighborhoods and search for a church. We become dissatisfied and look for a new church. We tire of politics or positions of a denomination and look for a new church. We don’t like a difficult to hear sermon, and look for a new church. We hear about sin and look for a new church.

When looking at a church we examine the children’s program and if it will fit. We look to adult classes and if we agree with them. We gauge how friendly people are and decide if we want to stay. We look at the types of cars in the parking lot and see if our’s measures up. We hear a couple sermons and decide if they challenge us just a little, but not enough to truly encourage change. We listen to the music and decide if it is traditional or too traditional, just contemporary enough or not quite edgy enough. We look at the groups available and we decide what the church can offer us. We decide what church we want and then we go about trying to find it. It’s funny really, because we go looking for the church that we want and very rarely is God on the list that we judge the church by.

So, what do I want in my church? Here goes. I want a church where the word of God effects people as it did Jeremiah (Jeremiah 20:9)…not just the leaders or the pastors, but everyone. I want a church where I am part of the solution and not part of the problem. I want a church where Christ is savior, but also sovereign. I want a church where there is swearing in the halls (because that means that we are not pretending to be perfect) followed by the slightly embarrassed look after (because that means the Spirit is conforming us even in the small ways). I want a church with pipe organs and electric guitars because there are so many ways to praise God, why limit yourself to just one. I want a church where communion is welcome to all and is not some tradition that we uphold, but is a ritual that transforms us. None of us should leave Christ’s table the same as when we came. I want a church where the presence of God is both a soft still whisper and also speaks from the storm. I want a church where the entire image of Christ is taught. Not the fluffy love everyone with no expectations Jesus, and not the man’s man hyper testosterone Jesus, but the entire image of Jesus…the savior who loves us, and the savior that expects our obedience. The sovereign that welcomes anyone, but who demands that we choose Him above everything else.

There is no perfect church, we all know that. There probably isn’t even the church I want. There will always be a problem somewhere. The thing is that the church I want requires some work on my part. It requires me to be actively engaged in what is going on. To serve, perhaps to lead if necessary. It requires some flexibility and willingness to accept that there are many people who all want their church too. Truth is that it will probably never end up as the church that I want, but God is in it, so it will end up the church that you need. That’s how God works most of the time anyway. We will have our needs met…even while complaining that it isn’t what we wanted.

 

 

 

The lie

Sexta/Viernes/Friday-POSER-Deus - Dios - God

Sexta/Viernes/Friday-POSER-Deus – Dios – God (Photo credit: Caio Basilio)

Over the course of my life I have of course had many changes. As a young and inexperienced Christian I was convinced that the devil was everywhere and tempting every one. As I grew I came to realize that is not the case at all. To give Satan credit to be everywhere is to assign him more power than is his due. It is to allow him far more influence that he could exert on his own. Over my years of faith, I think that I have figured out how he does work however.

First, Satan does not need to make us believe in him, he simply needs to make us doubt God. This is the lie in the garden to Eve and the same lie he continues to tell us. We have the word of God in the scriptures, we have the example of God in the life of Christ. Doubt is what leads us to wrong action, to argument, to discord and disunity. Why do we argue in our churches? Because we doubt God. We believe our position is correct, but rather than be loving, yet firm about it, we accuse and fight. This is because we doubt God. We doubt that He who began the good work will continue it. We doubt that the Holy Spirit will convict us and others of sin. We doubt that we are all on the path to being conformed to the likeness of Christ. We doubt God. We believe the lie.

Secondly, Satan has used two tricks that are inter related. He has convinced many of us that he does not really exist. This may be his greatest trick really. Without the adversary of God, we look for adversaries elsewhere. Without the spiritual forces of wickedness to stand against, we stand against each other. Satan is alive and well. The other trick he has used to great effect is convincing us that he is around every corner and the sole source of evil in the world. I have become convinced that at least 95% of the evil in the world has been conceived and enacted by mankind. The devil does not need to work so hard because we do it for him. By thinking that the devil is behind every evil in the world, we are assigning an omnipotence to him that is God’s and God’s alone. We are buying into his claim to be as God. It is no accident that Satan has chosen two extremes for his deception, as I believe that is indeed where he lives and thrives. Extremes allow for one thing and one thing only. An extreme can allow for love and grace or it can allow for rigid adherence to “the rules”, but it can not allow both. God, through Christ, provided the example for allowing mercy, grace and love, within the boundaries of a life that pleases God. Extremes allow for one part of scripture, Christ allows for all parts of it.

Satan told a lie once. He told it to Eve, it lead to doubt, and then sin entered the world. Take the story literally, or as a metaphor, but make no mistake, Satan was the author of that lie and all the doubts that came with it. Satan told a lie once, and to dispel it, The Truth had to come to earth, suffer, die and be resurrected, so that we could understand. Satan told a lie once, and to often we have repeated it over and over again by doubting God. Satan told a lie once and all to often we continue to whisper it to ourselves and those we encounter by the lives we live, the actions we take and the words we speak.

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The Descension into Hades – The Orthodox Liturgical Response

16th century Russian icon of the Descent into ...

Image via Wikipedia

Today Hades tearfully sighs: “Would that I had not received him who was born of Mary, for he came to me and destroyed my power; he broke my bronze gates, and being God, delivered the souls I had been holding captive.”

O Lord, glory to your cross and to your holy resurrection!

Today Hades groans: “My power has vanished. I received one who died as mortals die, but I could not hold him; with him and through him I lost those over which I had ruled. I had held control over the dead since the world began, and lo, he raises them all up with him!”

O Lord, glory to your cross and to your holy resurrection!

• Holy Saturday Orthodox Liturgy
A Triddum Sourcebook, p. 66

HT

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God is Dead

de: Gottvater mit dem Leichnam Christi, Nieder...

de: Gottvater mit dem Leichnam Christi, Niederlande (?), 15. Jh.; Lindenholz, alte Fassung en: God the Father with the Dead Christ, Netherlands (?), 15th century, limewood, old colours Skulpturensammlung (Inv. 8079, erworben 1918, Geschenk James Simon), Bode-Museum, Berlin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

…Suddenly all of them standing around the gallows know it: he is gone. Immeasurable emptiness (not solitude) streams forth from the hanging body. Nothing but this fantastic emptiness is any longer at work here. The world with its shape has perished; it tore like a curtain from top to bottom, without making a sound. It fainted away, turned to dust, burst like a bubble. There is nothing more but nothingness itself.

The world is dead.

Love is dead.

God is dead.

Everything that was, was a dream dreamt by no one. The present is all past. The future is nothing. The hand has disappeared from the clock’s face. No more struggle between love and hate, between life and death. Both have been equalized, and love’s emptying out has become the emptiness of hell. One has penetrated the other perfectly. The nadir has reached the zenith: nirvana.

Was that lightning?

Was the form of a Heart visible in the boundless void for a flash as the sky was rent, drifting in the whirlwind through the worldless chaos, driven like a leaf?

Or was it winged, propelled and directed by its own invisible wings, standing as lone survivor between the soulless heavens and the perished earth?

Chaos. Beyond heaven and hell. Shapeless nothingness behind the bounds of creation.

Is that God?

God died on the Cross.

Is that death?

No dead are to be seen.

Is it the end?

Nothing that ends is any longer there.

Is it the beginning?

The beginning of what? In the beginning was the Word. What kind of word? What incomprehensible, formless, meaningless word? But look: What is this light glimmer that wavers and begins to take form in the endless void? It has neither content nor contour.

A nameless thing, more solitary than God, it emerges out of pure emptiness. It is no one. It is anterior to everything. Is it the beginning? It is small and undefined as a drop. Perhaps it is water. But it does not flow. It is not water. It is thicker, more opaque, more viscous than water. It is also not blood, for blood is red, blood is alive, blood has a loud human speech. This is neither water nor blood. It is older than both, a chaotic drop.

Slowly, slowly, unbelievably slowly the drop begins to quicken. We do not know whether this movement is infinite fatigue at death’s extremity or the first beginning – of what?

Quiet, quiet! Hold the breath of your thoughts! It’s still much too early in the day to think of hope. The seed is still much too weak to start whispering about love. But look there: it is indeed moving, a weak, viscous flow. It’s still much too early to speak of a wellspring.

It trickles, lost in the chaos, directionless, without gravity. But more copiously now. A wellspring in the chaos. It leaps out of pure nothingness, it leaps out of itself.

It is not the beginning of God, who eternally and mightily brings himself into existence as Life and Love and triune Bliss.

It is not the beginning of creation, which gently and in slumber slips out of the Creator’s hands.

It is a beginning without parallel, as if Life were arising from Death, as if weariness (already such weariness as no amount of sleep could ever dispel) and the uttermost decay of power were melting at creation’s outer edge, were beginning to flow, because flowing is perhaps a sign and a likeness of weariness which can no longer contain itself, because everything that is strong and solid must in the end dissolve into water. But hadn’t it – in the beginning – also been born from water? And is this wellspring in the chaos, this trickling weariness, not the beginning of a new creation?

The magic of Holy Saturday.

The chaotic fountain remains directionless. Could this be the residue of the Son’s love which, poured out to the last when every vessel cracked and the old world perished, is now making a path for itself to the Father through the glooms of nought?

Or, in spite of it all, is this love trickling on in impotence, unconsciously, laboriously, towards a new creation that does not yet even exist, a creation which is still to be lifted up and given shape? Is it a protoplasm producing itself in the beginning, the first seed of the New Heaven and the New Earth?

The spring leaps up even more plenteously. To be sure, it flows out of a wound and is like the blossom and fruit of a wound; like a tree it sprouts up from this wound. But the wound no longer causes pain. The suffering has been left far behind as the past origin and previous source of today’s wellspring.

What is poured out here is no longer a present suffering, but a suffering that has been concluded–no longer now a sacrificing love, but a love sacrificed.

Only the wound is there: gaping, the great open gate, the chaos, the nothingness out of which the wellspring leaps forth. Never again will this gate be shut. Just as the first creation arose ever anew out of sheer nothingness, so, too, this second world – still unborn, still caught up in its first rising – will have its sole origin in this wound, which is never to close again.

In the future, all shape must arise out of this gaping void, all wholeness must draw its strength from the creating wound.

High-vaulted triumphal Gate of Life! Armored in gold, armies of graces stream out of you with fiery lances. Deep-dug Fountain of Life! Wave upon wave gushes out of you inexhaustible, ever-flowing, billows of water and blood baptizing the heathen hearts, comforting the yearning souls, rushing over the deserts of guilt, enriching over-abundantly, overflowing every heart that receives it, far surpassing every desire.

–Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988, Heart of the World)

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An Ancient Homily – The Lord’s descent into the underworld

Good shepherd

Image via Wikipedia

The Lord’s descent into the underworld

Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all”. Christ answered him: “And with your spirit”. He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light”.

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden. See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

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Three words

“It is finished”. Found in the gospel of John (John 19:30), these three simple words changed everything. It is fair though to ask the question what exactly is finished? We can look around our cities and towns and see violence and addiction, poverty and need. We can watch the news and see all manner of evil across the globe. We can look into our lives and see all the mistakes and misdeeds. So what exactly is finished really?

The answer is the grip of sin. No, not sin itself, but the grip that sin has over humanity. That is what is finished. The grip that sin had on our lives, the power of sin to condemn us and force us into an endless cycle of guilt then sacrifice, then wash, rinse and repeat is finished. The excuse we had to commit sins as well. That is what is finished. God, knowing that mankind desperately needed both a savior and a sovereign, sent one son to be both. God, understanding that the world was in such need of hope, sent the Blessed Hope, a perfect hope, so that we could rise from the fear, the anger and the depression of a fallen kingdom and become a part of The Perfect Kingdom of God. Yet we look around and can only help but ask, “what is finished?” We look around and see not what God intended, but instead what man has made.

Yet still, it is finished. The central message of Good Friday. The reminder of the price that was paid for us. The worth that we have to God and Christ. The promise that the final sacrifice has been made. What went so wrong? If it indeed is finished, if the grip that sin had is no longer on the faithful, why are things as they are? The problem is not that sin still has a grip on mankind, the problem is that mankind has not lost it’s grip on sin. It is finished- the power of sin is finished- but unfortunately we are not finished with sin.

Christ’s words “it is finished” is both a declaration that sin no longer has  grip on us and a reminder that our grip on sin should be finished as well. It is an encouragement that sin can be overcome, and a reminder that we can overcome it through the power of the cross. It is the central message of Good Friday. It is finished, so that we can begin.