Basics of Light:The Foundation

cornerstone

In the whole world of spirituality it is popular to point out that it is hard to qualify with a quick slogan or a formula.  There is a saying in the Buddhist tradition “If you see the Buddha in the road, kill him”.  Or as Bishop Robert Barron says in the Christian tradition, “If you say you have figured God out, that’s not him” (Catholicism Series).

Jesus called for faith and to repent due to a kingdom that was at hand.  This is a great challenge and a mystery.  It is to change and experience something not comparable to other experiences.  But in Christianity, there should be some essentials.  One is that to be a Christian is to identify yourself in faith and life choices as belonging to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  He is known as the Son of God, true God and true man (Council of Nicea) who founded a visible church.  These are deep and mysterious truths not to be comprehended but truths nonetheless to at least get the general theme with some kind of faculties.  Reason is a good one but not sufficient in itself.  The fulness of the Christian faith takes a lifetime of learning possible even if you are raised Christian and live to 100 years old.  In such a journey there are many questions that come to mind not always answered and it can be hard to know where to start. 

But rest assured, there are at least some elementary things to it.  Again, not to box God in and make him “in the road,” but there are some basics in the New Testament.  God does not always repeat himself through the gospels and epistles but he does rhyme if you listen for it.   

Everyone who lives on milk lacks experience of the word of righteousness, for he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties are trained by practice to discern good and evil. Therefore, let us leave behind the basic teaching about Christ and advance to maturity, without laying the foundation all over again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, instruction about baptisms and laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. And we shall do this, if only God permits (Hebrews 5:13-6:3).

Good foundation in a system of thought is a lot like a thumb. Like how it can touch all fingers so it will touch the succeeding parts.  The “basic teaching” above overlap in the development of Christian life and doctrine as reinforcing agents.  They are respective, supportive traits of Christianity.  In Greek they could be called logoi or little words, but are effective because they point to the person and work of Jesus Christ who is encountered with those truths.

But how should we interpret the proper application of these foundational teachings?  First, it is a matter of seeing the principles conveyed that point to the Christian life being a forward one.  It is successive towards an ultimate design in Christ.  As we see the design and how it unfolds in church history there is an opportunity of seeing more than a fleshed out ideology but a lived experience of Christ as the “chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20).   Paul goes on to described more about that below in the same letter. 

to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ, so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming. Rather, living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body’s growth and builds itself up in love (Ephesians 4:12-16). 

Also, we should interpret it is in the context of how the first Christian society interpreted it so we do not project our post-modern prejudices into what was written in the New Testament.  For example, I could compliment the makers of Salt Lake City streets as genius founders.  The wrong bias could say I must be affirming the Mormon faith.  But if you get to know loved ones who have known me long they can add to that statement on what I believe doctrinally and the statement was about the road system.  So too is any responsible reading of the Bible which includes “basic teaching” verses. 

So from 30,000 feet, I would like to propose what those points are. I suggest the first two are more applicable to the individual in execution and the latter four are overarching fundamentals that are implemented at the macro level. 

repentance from dead works – – Provoked By The Light   

faith in God- – Engaging in the Light (both believers and unbelievers). 

instruction about baptisms- – Entering The Light

laying on of hands- – Lifelong Engagement In The Light

resurrection of the dead- – The Light of Life

eternal judgment- – Judged In The Light

Though in the case of the author of Hebrews we do not know who wrote it, we can discern from the small talk at the end of the letter that he was a colleague of big names of the New Testament.  So if we were to be fair to the context of his foundational references we can look at the other apostolic writings of the New Testament (compare scripture with scripture) and look at the writings of the early church fathers.  They were people who were handed down authority and a tradition that was a living outgrowth of the living authority of a living Jesus.  If ones is to be detective, following wherever the evidence leads, one will hunger for living out those truths in the most true to form version of Christianity as possible.  To investigate thus is to truly investigate Christianity responsibly and on what it has actually taught.  I would add solving this part of the mystery can then be more vibrant and life giving and thus is worth a closer look for which I hope to show as Christianity ultimately a true walk in Christ.  And to walk with Christ is to be engaged with all of the Trinity. 

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Proposal For Conversion

The BeginningThis is a proposal I sent to an organization called Communion and Liberation.  They have an annual convention once a year called New York Encounter.  They are accepting proposals from people who have something to share that would fit with their theme.  A different theme each year.  For next year it is “something to start from”.  Hopefully what I write below fits.  It is attended by many people who are not necessarily Catholic or even Christian of any kind.  So I do speak in doctrinal terms here but hopefully in an approachable way.   

Enjoy,

Jason Miller

Greetings in Christ,

My name is Jason Miller, and I am a Catholic convert after over 30 years of practicing as a faithful and engaged protestant. Professionally, I am an Arizona-based therapist and my therapeutic approach is partly strengths-based in supporting clients towards their goals. In addition to my work as a therapist, I am also a certified catechist in the Diocese of Phoenix. 

My proposal for my exhibit is called “Critical Impressions in Conversion.”  I write, “Critical Impressions” due to first impressions of Jesus discipling people in the first week of His public ministry.  What could be limited to first impressions, I suggest, are to be always applicable “critical impressions” as Christians are called to ongoing conversion. 

In humanity we often are restless and repelled from conversion though it meets our  inner hunger summed up well by how “our hearts are restless for thee” (St. Augustine of Hippo). The chief traits of the gospel addresses this restlessness are how “God is with us” in the Incarnation, has “mercy on us” in the Cross, and continues victory in us by the Resurrection.  Grace can work in our hearts a conscious awareness of knowing Jesus is looking at us to engraft this reality in our souls.  It is in his gaze we know God wants holistic salvation as “grace perfects nature” (St. Thomas Aquinas).  A good place to start from.  Engagement in communion with Christ and the Church lifts up those parts that are meant to be fulfilled in him.  Guesses with reason alone point only to natural faculties of the person and lack the dimension of the “religious sense” that Fr. Giussanni wrote of. 

In my experience as a therapist, where I cannot explicitly refer to sin or share the gospel, behavioral sciences show the gaps in the person to be recognized then perfect in grace. I want to address several inner tensions to authentic conversion, and how they look if  they can be contextualized with grace.  I use an acronym to groups that approaches this with a neutral then strengths-based perspective. These concepts are in the acronym GOSCAMP:guilt, openness, skepticism, confusion, anxiety, manipulation and preparation.  These are the points of the human condition we are meant to meet Jesus and be changed in. What I do with each is show how each in the pure sense are neutral. 

The analogy I make is without being an athlete I can push a large truck down the road on one condition: put it in neutral for me.  So too can someone dealing with the factors below without a reminder in the right direction or too often in this fallen world in the wrong direction on these key points.  After having “de-neutralized” each, I challenge the hearer to drive slowly forward rather than staying neutral on those terms. 

But Jesus, if fully interpreted as Savior, addresses these things and so should the Church.  I thus point to the first week of Jesus’ public ministry to illuminate how the divine encounter of Jesus transforms the very fiber of our being.  This Chief Shepherd and Bishop of our souls (1 Peter 2:25) does this work in the full presentation of gospel essentials, proper formation of the conscience and a mindfulness of his presence in our silence before him alone.

More substantively, for “something to start from” I will be pointing to the first days of Jesus discipling people in divine yet mundane encounters.  Below I outline how Jesus, who does not change, converses with the common struggles in humanity and draws them to himself.  So too can those who want more of the light of Christ can be discipled in and pass on to others like one beggar telling the other where to find bread.  These are indeed critical impressions by which conversion fits largely on the merit that Jesus does not change. 

Day One is the prophetic encounter with truth.  In this case it was John the Baptist  who shook up precious paradigms and even personal places of power meant to be shifted.  Some hear this today and stay for more.  Those who do stay choose the way of preparation for whatever comes next in the Lord.  It is to “make straight the paths of the Lord”.

Day Two- – Some saw Jesus “fulfill all righteousness” as they then would “Behold the Lamb” being baptized. We are meant for openness to see Jesus but on his terms.  God works to show us his ways in matter.  It is to be heavenly minded while in context of earthly good. These are like two rivers meant to flow together. Confusion is an initial reaction to this which can give way to see spirit and matter contradicting rather than complimentary like the gnostics. Grace perfects nature and makes them complimentary in contemplation. 

Day Three- – Some saw Jesus as someone to dwell with and therefore fellowshipped with the Lamb- Holy Friendship. One only knows more if they “come and see” as Jesus said to his first followers.  At 4pm the future apostles John and Andrew went and stayed with Jesus. 

Day Four- Jesus here calls one to personal mission of service in his kingdom as happens with Peter.  In the early encounters of Jesus with Peter his struggle with guilt turns into shame.  Guilt is spiritual pain. Guilt is for the mistakes we make or the sins we have done against our conscience.  Shame says that we are a mistake putting us into spiritual shock and not seeing hope for change.   Ongoing mission, like in the early encounters with Peter, is key here in grace. Though Peter tells Jesus to get away from him with his “resume”, Jesus responds with mission.  Mission is manipulation redeemed for it educates us in the pure sense like pure education.  Education comes from educare which draws from within.  The calling of Jesus addresses how his life is walked out individually. 

Also the same day Jesus invited the openness of hard inquiry. Nathanael asked behind Jesus’ back if anything good could come out of Israel.  Jesus miraculously responded by complimenting him on his straightforward demeanor in place of “guile”.  While Ignatius of Loyola would call for contemplation, which is valid,  there is a beauty of skepticism. Ongoing engagement of reason is not an enemy of faith.  “The Truth, which is Christ, imposes itself as an all-embracing authority which holds out to theology and philosophy alike the prospect of support, stimulation and increase (Fides Et Ratio, para.92). Without skepticism, we are not stimulated. I could guess that he had anxiety, but his anxiety of Jesus that could have been on the exposing miracle, but changed to fear of the Lord.   

Days 5 and 6 on their way to a wedding in Cana-  One takes time in contemplation of Christ on their favorite angle of him.  I would suggest that the initial and ongoing follower of Jesus Christ needs them all like flashpoints of conversion.  To sum up on these points I would say the first and ongoing critical impressions of Jesus are preparation over stagnation, contemplation over confusion, communion over isolation, grace over shame, and skeptical seeking over blind cynicism. 

But not with Our Lady since she is best disciple of them all.  She asked “how can this be”? about conceiving as a virgin.  It says, twice “she pondered these things in her heart”. She had a sense of esteem in God’s love in saying “I am the Lord’s servant”.  These first impressions of this mysterious carpenter/rabbi from Nazareth were critical and lifelong impressions for Mary who was full of grace and leads us to Jesus. In our case, gazed upon by Jesus in all of the parts of us, we can be also filled every day. 

Day 7-   The conversion of the heart.  One now believes in Jesus with willingness to obey like the disciples did at the wedding at Cana.  You are a friend of Jesus and a witness of the wedding far above the one studied in the verses below.   Some wrongly think Jesus rebuked Mary for her approach about fixing a wine situation.  But the idiomatic impression meant there is nothing between him and her.  Though we were conceived in sin, we can be asked to be filled with grace now and push the throttle of faith on the upside of our internal struggles in receiving everything Jesus that he wants to be in us.  Today we can know God’s narrative of ourselves with a holistic understanding of the gospel that saves the whole person. 

Meekness, Wonder and Discovery

MeeknessI heard and interesting definition of meekness once: power kept under control.  To have the power and not flaunt it is no small challenge unless one is very humble.  For the crowds around a celebrity who approach a fanaticism about the that person, the trajectory is meant to be up, always up, including when it is really not.  In an example of the opposite end, there are celebrities that get old, weak and eroded of glorious beauty.  In that case, the public does not forgive. 

Such is the significance of what is called Palm Sunday by Christians in a crucial day in the life of Jesus.  Jesus made an entrance with much acclaim but his demeanor was really low key.  He proceeded on a donkey but was hailed with words fit for a king.  Before coming into the city of Jerusalem, he spoke with knowledge and authority that was determined and very set telling his disciples  “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tethered, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them here to me” (Matthew 21:2). A donkey was a status symbol of a fresh new car.  But was not meant to be speedy.  It was slow enough that one could chat with the people and be approachable rather than being on a high, fast horse.   

Jesus spoke from knowledge, authority and determination because his standpoint was from eternity and not just one age.  Taking a step back and seeing Jesus through a prophesy lens shows more in the preparation than his ride.  “This happened so that what had been spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled: ‘Say to daughter Zion, “Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” ” (Matthew 21:4-5). There is power and authority shown here but again there is meekness because there is a reference to the “daughter Zion”.  The prophecy that is quoted here has those two words to show the gentle favor like one would have for a daughter but saying Zion since that was a term for Israel of how God keeps his promises without an end. 

“Hosanna” is a word quoted from the crowd in all four gospels for this event.  It comes from the Hebrew words yasha  (“deliver, save”) and anna (“beg, beseech”) which forms what we say down to English, as “hosanna.” Literally, hosanna means “I beg you to save!” or “please deliver us!”  Later that day by the temple they would repeat it again much to the dismay of the religious leaders.  There is something noble to their praise, but it is worth keeping in mind the question: how many in the crowd would not forgive him like society does of those who grow old for not being so super? How many matter of 5 days later would being saying “Crucify him!”?  when appears in a mockery of royal robe and crown of thorns?  They generally may be calling for Jesus to save them only half on what matters and 150% on what does not. 

This comes back to why the apostles and the early church preached and taught Jesus as crucified but then risen.  If we call out to Jesus without a well rounded understanding of his sacrificial love, we will be set up to love without meaning and sacrifice without endurance.  So too for those who call themselves by the name of Christ, we will shine for the radiance of Jesus to the world.  To speak and live out the fulness of the good news of Jesus Christ in a robust manner is to let out Matthew, Mark, Luke and John like a lion from of a cage. 

There is a recurring mentioning for evangelizing with the gospel to “lead by beauty” (Bp. Robert Barron). Praise was given with palm leaves and personal clothes laid in the his path which could be considered beautiful in its simplicity.  “And when he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken and asked, ‘Who is this’ And the crowds replied, ‘This is Jesus the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.’ “ This was a simple insight in that someone important was there to see but next the chance to hear him. And if this turned out to be a prophet truly sent from God then there was a new direction to come. 

With the emergence of Christianity that was based on the cross and the resurrection the impact would be more than a shaking via a proposition but a provocation into the darkness of the world.  Decades later, associates of  Paul would be responded to accordingly with an adverse commentary.  “But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, ‘These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. ‘ “(Acts 17:6). 

Such is the pattern of Christ encountering the individual or the culture.  First the shaking by beauty and then the flipping of the paradigms.  Even this same day we see a hint of it.  “He entered Jerusalem and went into the temple area. He looked around at everything and, since it was already late, went out to Bethany with the Twelve” (Mark 11:11).  This seems like a quiet happening until one considers that only months ago he was there solo in a confrontation with the religious leaders when he healed a man born blind whereas they were troubled due to deeming Jesus and the man unworthy of a miracle.  Now Jesus comes with the Twelve.  These were the apostles of the Church.  The day would come when they would be teaching in what is equivalent to the temple basement.  Change would be coming outside of the box of the elite.  Today he begins to serve them notice that grace was here and it would be unstoppable as it is the hand of God.  Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ He said in reply, ‘I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!’ “ (Luke 21:39-40). 

Also it is worth noting the irony they were leaving the temple where the leaders do not understand him to Bethany where he was understood.  In Bethany, Jesus had revealed himself to be the resurrection and the life in raising Lazarus from the dead.  It was there that his sister Mary was used as object lesson of what it is to listen to him and adore him.  Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha served as a microcosm of community that is formed by Jesus and receive teaching in the context of being more formed towards him.  Such a people formed even more from the fullness of what Jesus did and is would likewise be prone to cry out. 

Thus we should consider Palm Sunday for what it can be.  It marks not the fulness of revelation of who Jesus is but is an appetizer of who he and his kingdom. But drawing from this scene we cry out to him now as Lord and Savior. 

Interview With A Rabbi

Happy Old Man

 

Changing perspective at a basic level can be hard.  Even more when a person has a privilege in perspective that is above their peers.  In someone at the pinnacle of the physical sciences the bias is called scientism in only confining what can believed by the quantifiable.  Or one could be a great mind in the social sciences (e.g. psychology, sociology, anthropology, social work etc.) and be fixed in thinking based on meaning per what a person or group defines as true or good today.  Good can come from inquiry when one asks the right questions.  A high expression of truth is in the words that end with “-logy” coming from the Greek work logos which is a thought out, reasoned expression for order. 

But with Christianity what is clear is that Jesus Christ is the proclaimed as divine “Logos”, the Word made flesh (John 1:1, 14), and the lease for Jesus in his day was theology.  Such a man that had such qualifications in Palestine in the 1st century was Nicodemus.  He could influence what was defined as truth among the leaders.  One night he encountered a man who was both a rabbi and a simple ex-carpenter.  This encounter was an interview that started in curiosity, went on in a confusing vein and last challenged him.

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. He came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one can do these signs that you are doing unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?” Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus answered and said to him, “How can this happen?” Jesus answered and said to him, “You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this? Amen, amen, I say to you, we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony. If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:1-15). 

teacher who has come from God… unless God is with him— This is a good starting point for the person that is privileged.  Even a high and mighty atheist will at least say Jesus had a great following and a sociological phenomena ensued.  Nicodemus sees that there are miracles and that Jesus is spiritual and is blessed by God.   This is a sign of spiritual hunger when one sees the introductory basics of Jesus. 

Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above— In reading the words of Jesus one should know the context of good news from him.  From the Old Testament the good news was the word of divine provision.  In the Roman empire the “good news” was that your people are conquered and Caeser gets to rule you.  But in Jesus he brings spiritual provision in the context of a tangible kingdom but anchored in heaven.  To accept that good news one transitions from an earthly citizenship to a heavenly one.

Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit— At this point Jesus doubles down on the point of spiritual birth that is in the context of the material and spiritual.  This is the theological normative of baptism.  Amniotic fluid was never referred to as the context here by the early church.  The material of water as the normative in the new birth was spoken by Jesus to Jews because their point of redemption in salvation history was shown forth through water in God’s deliverance.  One can see that with Noah and the ark through the flood or Moses in the wilderness.  The antitype is spoken of in 1 Peter 3:21 when it says,”baptism now saves you”.  Those experiences were of God’s deliverance and always in the context of community.  This community is in comm-union with the Blessed Trinity. 

The wind blows where it wills….so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit— This is an important principle in having a life in Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Growing after your spiritual birth is to keep yielding to the Holy Spirit.  This is childlike trust unto God.

One may rationalize this call saying wind and spirit are like apples and oranges.  Linguistically this is not the case. The English words “wind” and “spirit” in the New Testament are the same Greek word-pneuma.  When we read “wind” and “spirit” in this passage, we do so because the translators have made the distinction for us based on the context.  The original readers would have read only the word pneuma  (Steve Ray, St. John’s Gospel, 2002).  This spirit is that of adoption and fundamental transformation of the person in light of God’s voice crying out from us in the fulness of a divine adoption, suffering and always hope. 

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together (Romans 8:14-17).   

How can this happen?— Nicodemus was frustrated that he was given a riddle for his question rather than something simpler that fit his theological paradigm.

You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this? — The crux of some of the matter is right here.  Nicodemus is a man of privilege and Jesus urges him to check that very thing.  Jesus challenges Nicodemus to see him through the scriptures on the fullness of tradition.  “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40). Jesus challenges him to get over it through the message of being born again unto God the Father in heaven. 

how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?— Jesus points to Nicodemus’ earlier struggle in the cleansing power of God through matter of water as reference for how far he needs to go to truly absorb many sacred mysteries.  Nicodemus wanted to comprehend while Jesus wanted him to get the jist. 

No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man.— Jesus points very strongly to the dividing point in the Incarnation.  Jesus points to the fact that he has come from heaven and in breathing, living and talking he offers something that is incomparable. 

so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life- And then there is suffering.  Jesus points to how, though he was heaven sent, he was heaven bound for the salvation of men through the cross.  Yes, God came to earth in the Son.  But the cross is still the cross. If Nicodemus were to come into that kingdom it would be due to the work and expressed context of the cross and no experience of the Holy Spirit or 1,000 baptisms would be enough to replace that need.  To take the Incarnation and the Atonement in Christ in fulness is to have true life.  This is the life eternal in Christ. 

The odd part to me is that the quotation marks in these last words end in that chapter according to most Bible versions right before what is possibly the most popular Bible verse.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (John 3:16). 

Though not the words of Jesus, rich in meaning.  Christianity as founded by Jesus will be under authority by God, community based, contemplative and engaged in mystery.  These are true, good and beautiful to experience in Christ in the fulness of such belief.   

But we are to be also informed in obedience to Jesus as Lord. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him” (John 3:36).  In this gospel the antithesis of believing is not unbelief but disobedience.  So, if you raised your hand at the right goosebumps moment at church camp as a kid,  great! But are you still obeying Christ now?  Otherwise you are not walking by faith through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Having spiritual credentials is not the same as knowing Jesus.  An actively challenging gospel to us is on our “spiritual privilege” assumption.  He does not change but we do.  The choice to stay only as inquirer is on us if we will turn to Jesus as more than just favored of God but as Lord. 

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. (CS Lewis, Mere Christianity). 

The Holistic Definition

isaiah-scroll1

“I don’t that word means what you think it means” is one of the funnier moments in the Princess Bride film.  This statement humbled someone who  incorrectly use a word because he lacked a full understanding of the what it meant. 

Likewise a term like gospel can be used too lightly or wrongly.  Incorrect or shallow meanings can be dry information, politics, morals do’s or don’t’s, a specific culture’s paradigm or esoteric philosophy.  The Roman “gospel” was definitive, authoritative and expected to bring clarity in the world per a specific world view.   

“The term [Evangelion] has recently been translated as ‘good news.’ That sounds attractive, but it falls far short of the order of magnitude of what is actually meant by the word evangelion. This term figures in the vocabulary of the Roman emperors, who understood themselves as lords, saviors, and redeemers of the world.  The messages issued by the emperor were called in Latin evangelium   regardless of whether or not their content was particularly cheerful or pleasant . The idea was that what comes from the emperor is a saving message, that it is not just a piece of news, but a changing of the world for the better. “When the Evangelists adopt this word, and it thereby becomes the generic name for their writings, what they mean to tell us is this: What the emperors, who pretend to be gods, illegitimately claim, really occurs here – a message endowed with plenary authority, a message that is not just talk but reality…. the Gospel is not just informative speech, but performative speech – not just the imparting of information, but action, efficacious power that enters into the world to save and transform. Mark speaks of the ‘Gospel of God,’ the point being that it is not the emperors who can save the world, but God. And it is here that God’s word, which is at once word and deed, appears; it is here that what the emperors merely assert, but cannot actually perform, truly takes place (Pope Benedict VI, Jesus of Nazareth Vol 1 pp. 46-47).

There is a higher declaration in the message of Jesus.   We are told from the Bible that Jesus means “God saves”.  How does God save?  What does God save in us? This gospel speaks of transformation and not only of mental assent nor limited to only a personal paradigm. 

First, we should address it with a proper anthropology of the person.  A way to describe my physical existence is that I am physical and not that I have a body.  But I also have a mind, a heart, a soul and strength under the same view.  I am called to love God with all of them.  But without the grace of God, I cannot do that.  Jesus means “God saves” because we are saved by grace through faith in him connecting to his divine life. “The word of God is quick and powerful, to the dividing asunder between soul and spirit, joints and marrow and thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The word is Jesus and he became flesh (John 1:14) to be the Way. 

Divinity is key to understanding Jesus as Lord.  Isaiah wrote the Messiah would be “God with us”.  Jesus saves fully for those who receive him because he is fully God.  If Jesus was only 99% divine then the cross would not work because it would be an intervention of a finite being into finite material. 

Thus Jesus saves the whole person.  The Greek word for save is sozo.  That word is used for so much more than avoiding hell.  It is for all of the parts of the person and is ongoing.  When a woman with hemophilia was healed by Jesus the Greek word for healed was also sozo.  Several times in the Bible someone receives God’s touch on any dimension they are “sozo’d” or made whole. The demonstration of the gospel of Christ is a declaration of freedom from oppression (Acts 10:38).   Jesus so wanted to emphasize this that he said that to have true life one should eat his flesh and drink his blood (John 6). 

One can see Jesus’  salvation through foreshadowing events in the Old Testament and into the New. Jesus is bridegroom, overseer of our souls, shepherd, servant, healer, forgiver, deliverer, living bread that comes down from heaven.  There would need to be a  natural habitat of these aspects of Jesus to be nurtured and allowed to grow in being understandable as channels of grace and by no means obstacles or else it is just more law. But how it begins is with the anointing of the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son (Council of Nicea 325) flowing in sacraments such as “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins (Nicea).    

Early Christianity broadened from the Greek word for covenant, diatheke, to Latin expression of the word sacramentum.  As actions speak louder than words, Jesus articulates salvation with the sacraments. They are fruit of the cross which  Jesus initiates in love to the world through words and form by his people.

I will now repeat the biblical themes above shown in the sacraments. A common criticism is they are a “sacramental system” and “manmade traditions”.   I would respond the kingdom of God is familial.  It is kinship by covenant and not any more “system” than the joy of gifts being unwrapped by children on Christmas morning. They are centered on Christ.

Bridegroom- – Matrimony.  Holy matrimony speaks to Jesus who is returning at the end of the age for a pure and spotless bride. 

Overseer of our souls- Holy Orders with a bishop (episcopi).  This is a matter of a bishop being a sacramental sign of Jesus who watches over our souls (1 Peter 2:25). 

Shepherd- Holy Orders with a clerical priest (prebuteros).  This speaks to the priestly ministry who is also a doorkeeper in the local assembly of good or bad doctrine.  Ultimately Christ is the Apostle and High Priest of our good confession.  A local priest is an extension and not a hurdle.  At the local level he is on the front line of dispensing the sacraments of Holy Unction and Penance (see below).  This does not take away from the priesthood of all believers. 

Servant – Deacon (diakonos).  Christ was a servant of the world. 

Healer- Sacrament of Healing or Holy Unction.  Christ is healer and at times uses this sacrament to communicate that. 

Forgiver- – Sacrament of Penance/ Reconciliation.  Jesus was able to say that someone’s sins were forgiven.  He passed this on to his apostles who have passed that on to others (John 20:22-23). 

Deliverer- Baptism which is the initiation of the priesthood of all believers. It is the normative way that we are saved (John 3:3).  “Baptism now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21).  There was a baptism in Moses (1 Corinthians 10:1-3) for the exodus (exhoda) from Egypt.  Jesus said he was the Way (hoda) which plays in words that he was the way out of the slavery of sin. 

Living bread that comes down from heaven- – Eucharist (eucharistia— thanksgiving).  Jesus gives us the means through his flesh that is made real in the Eucharist.  Jesus in communion is the “engrafted word of God that can save your souls” (James 1:21). 

But God is not bound to sacraments. My conversion to Jesus on a rainy day in Newport, Oregon was with the Protestant tradition“The Sinner’s Prayer”.  It but it is not something that one can point to in the scriptures nor anytime before the 19th century.  We are called to Jesus but ideally expressed as together  through the authoritative, universal, “according to the whole”, called out and together Catholic Church (ecclesia katholikos) which is the “church, the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Timothy 3:15).

The gospel can be articulated more holistically when applied sacramentally. This is not dependent on the individual holiness of the instrument he uses but by grace (ex opere operato).  Next is only how receptive we are (ex opere operantis).  God has something to say of all of us and to all of us but never forcing us.   

Right Resolve. Not Just Resolution

Heart by hands in the sunAs I am writing this, It is New Year’s Day of 2018. People love to make resolutions with some of theme having a permanent effect.  Honestly, some of them can be superficial or easy.  They say “I have a resolution to change”.  Resolution means one has resolve to follow through if one takes the wording correctly. 

But people can lose the emotional fuzz and let go.  In fact, give the person enough time and they will forget they made it. 

But conversion is a different thing.  There is an indelible mark on the person’s soul and their biography is not the same.  The story of their life has a reference point for context. 

There are some dramatic conversions that can change someone’s story.  Governor George Wallace was a racist, pro-segregation governor who changed his mind and heart and apologized.  There was one man who was party to religious persecution and the death of at least one good person who changed and became the Apostle Paul.  I knew someone who was a Neo-Nazi, violent meth dealer who came to fulness of life as a Christian minister.  By the time I knew him he was a soft-hearted man serving the mentally ill and addicted with tact and wisdom.  There is a line of before and after in an encounter with divine love.  True Love is a person who loves us as we are but too much to stay the way we are. 

This is why in a way we who call ourselves by the Christian name should always be converting.  Constant conversion speaks to constant grace that stirs us on to our calling.  Jesus said,  “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”.  And this is not impossible to attain at temporary, precious moments to be savored just as “grace perfects nature” (St. Thomas Aquinas).  Standing by grace is good but walking continually in grace is the gospel taking on flesh in our lives. 

I can testify that I became a Christian at a young age but I am having a conversion season right now and it is not the first time.  Below is my history.

1:  A rainy day in Newport, Oregon my cousin explained the gospel and led me in the “Sinner’s Prayer” of the Protestant tradition.  I accepted Jesus in my heart and meandered clumsily through the Bible for the next few years. 

2:  At 14 I met a friend who took me to my first regular church (I was not raised by Christians) and got more grounded on the fulness of Jesus and the Bible. 

3:  At 18 I was stressed with a lot of self-confidence issues, struggling with learning disabilities and discord with my parents when a spiritual older man came into my life with some light and some mixed bag insights.  Some conversions can be a mixed bag but God allows it so we can know more about what the pure is when we get our feet back under us.  When it was good, it was good.  But when it was toxic…Jesus gets very blurry when a pseudo-savior gets in the mix. Long story, ugly story. 

4: At 27 I got my feet back under me.  I went back to a well rounded church on a day they were singing “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand”.  My wife at the time was leaving me for another man.  Our children  were 5, 3 and under 1.  I used only a Bible for a year with few commentaries so that I would be re-grounded with the simple Jesus Christ. 

5:  By 35, life as a non-custodial father was hard and unfair.  Bitterness and entitlement over time had set in.  Through a combination of events and also brothers and sisters in Christ that served me “black coffee with no cream or sugar”.  I really let go of my entitlement. And then I got married to my best friend at 36.  Sigh.  The end.  Or so I thought. 

6: By 42, life was sort of looking good outwardly.  I had finally got my bachelors degree.  My wife and I had two beautiful children together.  We had moved from cloudy Oregon to sunny Arizona.  What could I want spiritually when we were also going to a good, local church with a very committed pastor?

But by then, skepticism had been setting in which is good if you distinguish it from cynicism. Below are some questions that had been on my mind for a few years.  

Up on the stage, there should be some focal, physical point of worship to God that is not some fallible human being.  Why has this not been figured out?

Christianity was so divided with so many voices and divided interpretations of the Bible.  There should be some environmental thing or something by which the Body of Christ can be united.  Why not?

I have been praying the Lord’s Prayer for some reason very often the last two months.  Why do I not see something authoritative that I can recognize? 

Jesus had the answer for all of that.  The answers begin with him and end with him.  After months of prayer, study of the Bible and viewing history I realized the reference point was the Catholic Church.  I “came out of the closet” to my wife that I was being drawn by the Holy Spirit to the Catholic Church.  She was not thrilled but I knew, ironically in the words of Martin Luther “Here I stand I can do no other” and was received in 2013.  She was received in 2014. These recent years have been my most grace and joy filled years as a Christian I have ever had.  

  But I am still converting.  I have discovered the beauty in the Catholic Church with approved ecclesial communities that have respective concentrations on some parts of the kingdom, include intensive Bible study and intentional fellowship.  My wife and I recently discerned out of one and I am investigating another. God’s grace sustains me. 

There is a phrase from Buddhists I like that is “If you see the Buddha in the road, kill him”.  There is applicable truth from that in how God is living and active with the gift of mystery to our “figure-it-out” tendencies.   

So with that here are my impressions. 

1: Christianity at its core is not as much on the small details one knows but who you know.  And the Who is the central person by whom one is truly known.   

2:  Jesus is The Way.  But Jesus allows in our lives persons and faith communities by which one finds a way that reflects part of the Way.  This is why I still cherish the Protestant pastors and friends that instilled in me much of my understanding of Jesus. 

3:  God is practical.  He took on flesh and bone in Jesus.  Talking up in the clouds gets old and it should. Likewise on click, inside track Christian- see.  Speak plainly when possible. 

4:  Take the Bible thankfully but not literally.  Sounds blasphemous?  Should I take the library literally? Depends on the genre. 

5: Thomas Jefferson said ”Sit wisdom firmly in her seat.  Question even God.  For if there be a God, he must want honest questioning rather than blindfolded fear.” We are invited by Jesus to ask the touch questions.  And so, dear reader, come to Jesus and bring your honest questions with you.  Jesus can take it and any movement connected to him can take it too.      

So, there your have it.  It is not the end for me.  It is a process by which faith and reason work together.  

—— The Ongoing.

The Tension With Wonder

think-big-start-small-byob-post1If our lives are touched by the grace of God, and we are to go forward in applying it, how is it applied in the context of a relationship with him as things get more complex?  Here I think there is a lesson to be learned from a young Jewish girl two thousand years ago.

As I noted previously, Mary was approached by Gabriel and told that she would conceive the long awaited Messiah of Israel who would bring freedom and it would be in a way that is very expansive.  Mary was indeed full of grace which included a life filled with some sense of purpose.  When God challenges us, those things that are truly of him that we do in grace and do not go away but are like gold refined in the fire.  When we are refined in a divine conversation of God, it is only for our good and that of the world around us as shown below.

“But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her (Luke 1:34-38).

How can this be…?—  It is important to see that this is not a matter of doubt on God’s agenda being carried out for two reasons.

First, since God is impartial, she would have been silenced like Zechariah if she was cynical against the word of God. Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was struck mute for doubting John’s miraculous conception.  The difference is that Zechariah inserted that the natural decay of death was stronger than the author of life.  For him in that moment, natural law was an end in itself.

But for Mary there was the principle of consecration totally to God and such disposition lends the soul for the unexpected and even the miraculous.  There is a strong case to be made that Mary was promised to God as a temple virgin and aged out of serving directly in the temple when she gained her menstrual cycle. 

Far fetched?  Not so much if one sees celibacy as part of a spiritual life and law. For her, consecration unto God was an end in itself and she understood God was permanently there meeting her in that which superseded any other relationships.  I would suggest along with the Sacred Tradition of the early church that she vowed her virginity even through marriage. 

There is reasoning for Mary’s perpetual virginity to not be far-fetched. Imagine there is a wedding shower and there are comments that one day the bride to be will have a baby shower.  Then the bride says, “How can this be?  There is no sign of a stork nest being built outside my window and that is required for having a baby”.  There would be an uncomfortable silence as people wondered who is going to explain the biology of the marital embrace.

The commentary of the Ignatius Study Bible explores this further.

“The Greek text literally says, ‘I do not know man’, which refer to Mary’s virginal status rather than her marital status.  Her concern is not that she is unmarried but that she is a virgin at present and that she intends to remain one in the future.”

There are doctrinal and devotional applications to this interpretation of that verse.  Doctrinally, in the subset  of what is called Mariology, we see a great case for her perpetual virginity which was believed by Luther, Calvin and Wycliff.  There is also scriptural foundation for a husband to know of a wife’s pre-existing vow and endorse it by silence (Numbers 30:11-13).

But for the personal devotion life of the believer there is something important for individual, spiritual formation.  Mary answered back defending the beautiful premise that saving herself for God alone was important to her.  If your calling is to be a spouse, celibate, or single but looking then bring God into that. Cherish his will for your life with an attitude of thanksgiving one day at a time.

The holy Spirit will come upon you—- This line goes toward the profound establishment of God’s kingdom with wording that is reminiscent of the dedication of Solomon’s Temple.  God came in a cloud on that temple and an anointing was put on the king who was referred to as the meshiach or “Anointed One” where we get Messiah.  Mary would be the first person in the New Testament who would be a true worshiper because she would carry the Son of God truly and not as an honorific title for the Davidic dynasty.

Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived.—-  I have long cherished an African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.”  The encouragement Mary receives is that she is not alone and God has a plan for her to be worked out in community.  God calls all of us beyond ourselves first to Him but often in the faces of others.

Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.——  Being at peace in her consecration to God, her mission more specifically in God and her place in community Mary is in a very mature place to give an informed yes and live it out.  Our names, circumstances and callings in life may be different but the principles are there.  We can benefit from all those principles so that we can be flexible when God knocks on our doors and calls us to make a new way for Him.  The absence of welcoming is the only things stopping us from those even quieter conversations with God when he comes.

For further research on point of Mary being a perpetual virgin, I recommend looking at the Protoevangelium of James written in the second century and highly attested by many early church fathers including Ambrose of Milan. This includes a major implication that Joseph took her as his wife but did not know her sexually.

Here is the link.

http://ministries.tliquest.net/theology/apocryphas/nt/protevan.htm

Also believed by a major leader in the Reformation. 

“A new lie about me is being circulated.  I am supposed to have preached and written that Mary, the mother of God, was not a virgin either before or after the birth of Christ” (Luther’s Works, 22:214-215).