Gift Horse In Mouth

As I write this today it is Christmas Eve.  For some it a is a time of celebration of the Christian faith taken for granted as a reality.  Others see it as a cute celebration of what amounts to a fairy tale.  Still others are somewhere in between of whatever it means to engage with such a proposition; they remain skeptical.

There is a fine line between skepticism and cynicism in matters of faith.  With the former there is an honest inquiry into what may be divine that can lead to a fuller collaboration for the parts that may become clear over time while there is some intellectual honesty that not all will be clear.  Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God….he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.” If the inquiry is honest and they come out on the other side as believers collaboration, not coercion, is in the process.

Where the later comes in, cynicism, there is not a matter of collaboration but one of demanding God make sense with little or no mystery.  This approach taken to its conclusion is asking God to coerce into what is seen as a hypothetical truth and cuts free will off at the knees.

And on this case in point, even religious people are not immune.  Zechariah was a priest at about the year 0 and he had his hangup when it was communicated to him that he and his wife were to conceive John the Baptist.  His response was not a welcome one to an angel of the Lord in the house of the Lord speaking to him, a priest, a servant of the Lord.

Then Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel said to him in reply, “I am Gabriel, who stand before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news. But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.” (Luke 1:18-20)

How shall I know this? —- A very loaded challenge.  Zechariah puts out the reasons in natural law that God’s miraculous power is doubtful to overcome.  Second, Zechariah presumes that he is entitled to know that the initiator of this promise expected to put down a deposit of good faith.  Appropriate for a business transaction in the world or a salesman pitching wares at his house.  But it is not his house.  It is God’s house and God’s economy of doing things and not man’s.  If one looks at the behavior of skeptics, especially religious ones, that mistake is done often.

But now you will be speechless …will be fulfilled at their proper time—- God does not coerce us to reason things out but proposes us.  God does force us to ponder.  Sometimes we get a wake up call in tragedy, suffering or a well reasoned argument to lift up our minds and hearts to God that transcends our dominant five senses and our many more assumptions.  In those moments or seasons we blink, we breath, we pace or look longingly at the top of a tree swayed by the wind.  And then we harden our hearts and turn to shallow distractions.  Or maybe we do not.

which will be fulfilled at their proper time—- But this attention getter would be fulfilled in two contexts that are worth knowing for the seeker of God.  One is that Zechariah needed to conceive in his heart this child of promise before he had a marital embrace.   But for the day he would hold his son it would be a matter of seeing him as a gift and not an entitlement.  In fact, John means “Yahweh has shown favor”.

God will click things together in his timing and his way.  We have something better than Zechariah in that we can choose to be silent and go slow.  To inquire of God is to hear his voice in our hearts and often over a period of time.  A sharp sense of his voice and his will for our lives is the exception and not the rule.  To forget this is to look at the existence and even grace of God like a gift horse in the mouth and making a donkey of ones self.

Today as I post this message it is Christmas Eve.  By all means, seek God with your mind.  But remember God, in Jesus, seeks you always.  Respond wisely.

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Breadcrumbs To Bread

Guadalupe

 

No decent person wants to be a male chauvinist.  Among the cries for justice in the post-modern era there is a cry against patriarchy in the face of authority structures that have kept women bound up from living their full potential.  Who would want to be a part of a belief system, let alone and organized system, that oppresses women?

This conundrum increased for me in 2010-2012 when I was dealing with two identities: one working on an undergrad in social work and identifying myself as a born-again Christian who took the Bible as the word of God.

A prevalent theory I was exposed to was Critical Theory.  The emphasis was on the social implications that is imposed on those who are disenfranchised whether intentionally or not and how that can create hardship.   In this way of looking at things there is a pseudo- holy trinity of race, class and gender.

In focussing on gender as a point of oppression from the privileged, the gender implications gave me a challenge as a Christian.  As a Christian I would use the terms The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.  At first glance the first two were easily seen as male and enough of a close look shows the Holy Spirit as male too.  Furthermore, the New Testament indicates that only men are of authority in the carrying on the Christian faith.  I asked sometimes if God was a chauvinist or if he allowed early representatives to be ones.  If the answer is yes to either, is there not a clear contradiction for my then growing two identities?  And if I could say no to both, am I being intellectually honest in light of what I had been informed by?

In 2012 I began an investigation into The Catholic Church. Early on I used the non-scientific method of looking at Youtube videos of debates between Catholic and Protestant apologetics.  Among the subjects were the doctrines about the Virgin Mary.  See the link here https://youtu.be/Xs7QaHFvtvY

I went into looking at the debate with an open but intrigued mind.  If half of what I had been starting to hear on Catholic radio about Mary was true then there could be a very feminine touch to Christianity as interpreted by the Catholic Church.  However, the Protestant apologist made it seem like Mary is made into a goddess and easy made into a distraction from devotion to Jesus.  Either Jesus or Mary with the implied choice by Mr. White.  By being swayed by this argument I took a step back to look at other dogmas first.

But further research eventually reassured me.  I read Hail, Holy Queen by Dr. Scott Han and much later Behold, Your Mother by Tim Staples.  Looking at their scholarship and adding my own (albeit an amateur) I came to the conclusion that the dogmas about Mary are everything that the Catholic Church says they are.  To see what I have written on a few of them, see the following.

http://wp.me/p3jICb-92

http://wp.me/p3jICb-8Z

But beyond seeing Marian dogmas in a theological point of view is how this effects my relationship to Jesus.  First, asking Mary for intercession, looking at her example and seeing her as a queen is all based on the merits of Jesus.  In one sense she is like any other servant of Jesus in that she the good she is and does is in light of Jesus.  In fact, in using light of the son as a an analogy I would say that just as the moon only reflects and does not take from the sun, neither does Mary take away from Jesus.  True Catholic Mariology is only going to point to Jesus.

Let all the children of the Catholic Church, who are so very dear to us, hear these words of ours. With a still more ardent zeal for piety, religion and love, let them continue to venerate, invoke and pray to the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, conceived without original sin. Let them fly with utter confidence to this most sweet Mother of mercy and grace in all dangers, difficulties, needs, doubts and fears. Under her guidance, under her patronage, under her kindness and protection, nothing is to be feared; nothing is hopeless. Because, while bearing toward us a truly motherly affection and having in her care the work of our salvation, she is solicitous about the whole human race. And since she has been appointed by God to be the Queen of heaven and earth, and is exalted above all the choirs of angels and saints, and even stands at the right hand of her only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, she presents our petitions in a most efficacious manner. What she asks, she obtains. Her pleas can never be unheard.   (Pope Pius IX Ineffabilis Deus 1854).

She is given a place of high honor as the theotokos, the God-bearer, according to the Council of Ephesus in 431.  Those who stood in that day against that title and called her the Chrisotokos, the Christ-bearer, were only seeing her as giving birth to Jesus in her human nature.  The latter proponents were called Arians and they did not see Jesus as an eternal being.  They were heretics.

The gift of God to the world through the Catholic Church is the grace of Jesus Christ who is 100% God and 100% man.  But this gift has been historically understood in developed articulation of a Sacred Tradition truth to be through Mary.  She is the gebirah, the Great Lady, as the mother of the kings in the line of David were called.

Lastly, she stands as an example of devotion to God in her purity for the individual and the Church to ponder for eschatological (end times theology) purposes.  She being full of grace kept her virginity to God alone as a standard for the pure and spotless Bride that Jesus will come back for.

And so with much of this informing my conscience, I went forward in my investigation into the Catholic Church.  Not the only stumbling block for me on the way by any means but a crucial one.  The marian dogmas reinforced to me a Holy God with a holistic gospel through a holy church to a whole world.

History Unlearned and Repeated

Worship Through The Ages

It has been a while since I have posted any of my homework.  The assignment asked me to write about the lessons among the people of Israel God did from Joshua to Maccabees and what was revealed about his character.  I welcome any comments or questions.

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The people then nation of Israel had a recurring pattern of gaining and losing ground in proportion to their faithfulness to the successive covenants of God through the Old Testament.  Particular foci discussed in this paper will be right worship and fidelity of worship to God.  Through the events of the latter part of the Old Testament God prepared his people through miraculous signs, discipline, prophecy and restoration in respective eras.

Period of Conquest and Judges

From Joshua through the Judges period God was showing of His character that he was purposeful in covenant by kinship.  They had kinship with God through his covenant with Abraham which included the land of Canaan.  His character is displayed by going before them in helping make the victories happen.  Just as we see how God “sevens” himself when he swore by himself to Abraham, he has them circle Jericho seven times before the victory blast of trumpets happen and the walls that stood against covenant blessings came down.  God shows in here as a shadow of things to come that his kingdom is to be advancing and not be static.

A misconception that could be made regarding this period would be that things were alright with God in not having a central authority since this period went on for a long time.  In a western, individualistic society where the “personal” of faith or “spiritual but not religious” is overemphasized then the societal structure here would seem to be a good norm.  However, if one reads the recurring phrase in Judges “everyone did right in their own eyes” then one sees it is in the context of many kinds of sins.

Period of the Jewish Monarchy

In this period God is preparing the kingdom for the ultimate King of Kings in Jesus.  The essential elements of God’s character here of intimacy and holiness with an elevated liturgical worship. Through the temple of Solomon his presence in the cloud inaugurates with those of holy orders and laity present.

In how God is preparing Israel for latter parts to salvation history it is in how the temple that stands as a witness to the nations.  There is both an outer court instituted for the gentiles as well as a partnership with kings like Hiram so that they are a part of what God was doing.

A misconception that could happen for this period is kingship as central authority is a great end in itself for a nation and especially one appointed by God.  But in the actual text with Saul and Solomon there was much exploitation of workers and oppressive taxation.  Power can corrupt and for that God chooses Jereboam to split off with a northern kingdom.

Period of the Divided Kingdom

Right worship with true fidelity is an important other feature of God’s character and preparation.  The spiritual revivals that happen with the kings of Judah who come back to God had at least some levels of repentance in refurbishing the temple and/or demolishing the Ashtoreth poles in the high places.  God’s zeal for worship was a virtue

towards his preparatory ways for the New Covenant when the true worshipers would “worship in spirit and truth” (John 4) in Christ.

But the lessons along that way would be discipline, true to the boundaries he expressed in Deuteronomy 28, as part of the curses of the covenant.  God has healthy boundaries as a character and discipline through the increasing incursions by the gentiles not despite his hesed, covenant love, but because of it.

A misconception could be that any breaking from the standards of right worship is inherently good.  Though Israel, as the northern kingdom was called, broke from oppression they did not carry on right worship with a valid priesthood and were more vulnerable to infidelity with other gods.  They were the first of the kingdoms of the promised land to be conquered.

Period of the Exile

This period was a rebuilding time for God’s people spiritually so they would later be ready for a return to their land. In this period a major means of preparing his people was through the prophecies of reversing the exile back to their land and also for coming Messiah which built on that which was prophesied by the pre-exilic prophets.

God’s character that was unveiled was largely a combination of his jealousy for being betrayed by Israel like an unfaithful wife (e.g. Ezekiel 23) but also his compassion and promise to restore them, again, due to his covenant to their fathers.

A misconception would be that salvation history was paused since they were not in their land.  This can be countered by the fact that the prophetic words were spoken to give hope but also in miracles like the three faithful Jews in the fire and Daniel in the lion’s den being preserved.  In a sense, contrary to a pause, it was another means of discipline and edification for Israel as a people of faith.

Period of the Return

This period was a time for restoration and perseverance.  In this way God is showing something of his character that is a balance between thankfulness for what one has but holding on to hope and “hunkering down” (Ryan, personal conversation, 2015) while under persecution like with the Maccabean era.

Holiness as a part of God’s character is also depicted here in the return where the non-Jewish wives had to be put aside because the covenantal faithfulness of the Jewish husbands was compromised.  In this there is a preparation to be in the world but not of it since they would not see a Davidic line king ruling their land again.

A misconception could be that God was not faithful to his covenant to Abraham since the Jewish people did not reclaim complete autonomy.  This can be countered with the fact that God’s promise to Abraham was that all the nations would be blessed through his seed giving the promise an international fulfillment.

An anchoring point of this blessing starts in Maccabees with the alliance the Jews made with Rome. We see the beginnings of their next oppressor: The Roman Empire.  But if one can see how pivotal a role this future oppressor has in salvation history we see again that God does indeed “write straight through crooked lines” and prepares Israel and the world for the “one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church” in Rome which is the new Israel.

Conclusion

The pattern in the scriptures as described above is one with a recurrent tension of grace, free will of man that God respects and natural consequences in a covenantal context.  Particularly the emphasis of right and fidelity of worship to God has merit for Christian application because this issue is a tie that binds God in relationship with his people throughout salvation history. This can be seen from Abraham to the new Israel of the Body of Christ today.