Seeking UNity

UnitedLast week was a great Easter celebration.  In my Christian tradition, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus starting on the Saturday night before Sunday.  I like how there is an ebb and flow of seasons in the year that ground us on the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus and tie it to our personal, onward growth in his love. 

Looking around in the faces of so many wonderful brothers and sister in Christ, I see so much of the life of him so strongly reflected in words, deeds and overall commitment to state strong in the face of opposition in a materialistic world.  Christians are called to be a light and the prayer of Jesus calls us to be one.  That is a prayer that has not been greatly answered at this point.

For there is much that divides Christians too.  There has been mistakes on different sides with rhetoric and actions that fall short of the command to “love one another”.  And the world is watching.  Watching with skepticism about that division and maybe rightly so at points. 

But there are ecumenical movements that are going on to change the story.  There was an event last night that I almost went to but my wife went instead to help with the worship team.  I didn’t mind since I have gone to far more than her.   It included worship and teaching from two pastors. One who has had flack from officials in his own denomination for a trip to meet a leader in another part of the Body of Christ.  There was also break out groups where people were able to interact in constructive dialogue.

I am all for dialogue but I am restless for more than that in wanting to see where the action is.  Perhaps the leadership in this specific movement, John 17 Movement, has something in mind.  I would like to make some suggestions partly in the context of a season.  It would end before Advent season begins for the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. 

As far as I know, mid September to the turn of the months of November and December are free.  This could be a season of “Unitas” as a working title for now. 

1: In this season, Christians go to a church meeting of some kind of Christians that ascribe to the tenets of the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed.  But there is a catch, you go by Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant.  If you are a Baptist Protestant Christian then you are not making a splash by going to a Presbyterian Church.  In my case as a Latin Rite Catholic it is not brave to go to a Byzantine Rite Catholic Church.  If you go, seek to understand and bless where you can. 

2: In this season read a book by a respected author in one of the other traditions but not an apologist for that tradition.  It is not a matter of getting converted.  Even more, recommend something like that from your side to a friend of one of the other traditions. 

3: If you have been mean spirited to a brother or sister in Christ, this may be a great season to examine yourself and seek forgiveness. 

4:  Take a break from debating for your version of Christianity.  40 days won’t kill you.  I am not proposing an indifferentism on the things that matter.  Instead I am saying there could be a temporary setting aside of stressful debate. 

5:  On a grander scale, organize a charitable work between your church and one of the other traditions.  This may be a better way to reverse the scandal of division than a joint doctrinal declaration. 

6:  Do something to directly bless those in the other tradition.  I have deep respect for the Southern Baptist Convention writing an amicus brief when the contraception mandate was effecting a group of Catholic nuns known as the Little Sisters of The Poor. 

7: Read the 17th chapter in John’s gospel.  In the minutes before Jesus was arrested he prayed what theologians on different sides call “The High Priestly Prayer”.  He prayed for Christian believers on many issues but this included unity.  What does that mean?  Worth prayerfully considering. 

8: There is a side effect that could happen which can be unpleasant to some.  With responsible, ecumenical dialogue on what “those people” actually believe some people may change how they define themselves as a Christian including where they take communion each week.  If someone from your Side A “converts” (I hesitantly use that term here) to Side B but is still in the Nicene Creed then based on my personal experience here is what you do: get over it.   Give the Holy Spirit some credit unless with a deep breath you honestly think that specific fellowship is objectively unsafe.   

As Christians we should be fueled to honor the beautiful, good and true and I will on that note end a bit with my own path.  I had my conversion to Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior at 11.  I was baptized at 15.  All of this in the Protestant tradition.  At the age of 42 after a few years of questions that I was wrestling with, I inquired through prayer, scripture and history to the point of entering the Catholic Church.  My oldest daughter was received the same night and my wife was received a year later.  As of this writing it appears that my older brother and his wife will be received into the Catholic Church in Advent season. And my second oldest daughter is a Baptist missionary in Argentina with her new husband.  I love them all. 

I’m so proud of my missionary daughter I can hardly contain myself.  When I see her, I see the love of Christ and also a love for others.  No macro level divisions change that for me. Nor does my thankfulness for my pastors and friends over my years as a Protestant who invested so much time, encouragement and many aspects of biblical teaching that I still cherish and apply.  I see the good and discern where needed on what truths are transferable in large part due to the lens of love.  Sure, there are other faculties in discernment, but I must keep love.  We must all keep love.  Love never fails.   

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The Holistic Definition

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“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.   

Plenty of Gracia Plena

AnnunciationIt takes two perfect people to have the perfect relationship. Some spouses will compliment the other one saying that the other person’s perfection makes it happen.  That sounds sweet, but it is not entirely accurate when humanity is involved.  But not so if one is divine.   But if one is divine and changes the setting for the human involved then the whole dynamic is different. Grace tends to do that.

A prime example for one who could see the kingdom of God for all it is as part of long-term called out community of God was someone who was “full of grace”.  This is why the first “micro-church” I will address is Mary of Nazareth.  For a teenage girl, she had a lot to say because she was “full of grace” and was a daughter of Zion. Such is the case in the Bible when one comes to Mary. 

Here we see the most perfect collaboration between the infinite God, through an angel, and a finite, specially touched human.  She was specifically a young woman in an age where women were not highly esteemed.  But in relationship to God, she is empowered in a faith journey that is not for cowards of either gender. She has faith and knew what it was to step up in courage. 

There is another part to the historical backdrop in the Bible before getting to Mary: unfaithfulness.  God’s people in the Old Testament were described as unfaithful with those who  struggled righteously and unrighteously living one day at a time.  God starts things anew with someone in Mary that had a context of being faithful to God and called to be on the offense just like what light does with darkness.

  “And he [Gabriel] came to her and said, ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!’ But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.  And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”(Luke 1:27-33).

Hail— The “Hail” is not a casual “hi”.  If one looks at the correspondence of the first century between highly esteemed officials, this word is used only to someone of notable, royal distinction.  Mary had that going on as one set aside by the King of the Universe for a special station in life.

Yet from an Old Testament perspective there is a Zion, or Davidic dynasty, connection.  The following verse from Pope Benedict XVI is pointed out also with that same Greek word, “Rejoice, daughter of Zion; shout, Israel…the king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst” (Zephaniah 14-17).  Pope Benedict also states, “The essential reason for the daughter of Zion to rejoice is stated in the text itself; ‘the Lord is in your midst’.  Literally it says: ‘he is in your womb’ (Pope Benedixt XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives).  What is being heralded in just that word alone is like a shorthand for God’s kingdom to come—- and is coming now in the Christmas Story.

Full of Grace—  The original Greek is Kecharitomene, the perfect passive participle, shows a “completeness with a permanent result. Kecharitomene denotes continuance of a completed action” (H. W. Smyth, Greek Grammar [Harvard Univ Press, 1968], p. 108-109, sec 1852:b; also Blass and DeBrunner, p. 175).  Or one can say she was too full of grace to have room for anything else.  Therefore, to me, she stands as the perfect prototype, as the Theotokos (God-bearer as defined in the Council of Ephesus 431), and how the Bride of Christ is supposed to be.  The words I have commented on here and others to come in the infancy era of Jesus indicated she was without sin.  The Early Church Fathers were unanimous on this point and also Luther for those of you who are Protestants.

“But the other conception, namely the infusion of the soul, it is piously and suitably believed, was without any sin, so that while the soul was being infused, she would at the same time be cleansed from original sin and adorned with the gifts of God to receive the holy soul thus infused. And thus, in the very moment in which she began to live, she was without all sin…(Martin Luther, Weimar edition of Martin Luther’s Works,

English translation edited by J. Pelikan [Concordia: St. Louis], Volume 4, 694).

So here we have royalty for a grand scale and grace with even grander ramifications all set for an expanding influence as demonstrated further.

The Lord is with you…she was greatly troubled—-  This is not a goose bump phrase. This phrase in the Old Testament was for servants of God like Moses, Joshua and David who would go into the land promised to them by covenant.  They were used by God for natural warfare for that level of revelation in the Old Covenant.  Mary was to be used, launched in the contexts of covenants, to expand God’s influence through a spiritual warfare but at that moment she did not know that.  She just knew that this greeting indicated a level and form of influence beyond what she would think was her humble state in life could handle.  So there was some fear there. Her scope of knowledge would assume a troubling battle of flesh and steel like a middle-eastern Joan of Arc.

Do not be afraid, Mary… you have found favor with God. — Mary was full of grace but Gabriel elaborated that God’s favor for her and her mission was in grace to overflow by the direct hand of God with one undeniable fact—  the source and summit of the grace and favor for her was external to her in God.

you will conceive—  as the angel unfold’s God’s plan for her life there is a connection to the Incarnation.

you shall call his name Jesus—- Jesus means “God saves”.   The Incarnation means salvation in some way yet to be revealed.

He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High;—-  Here is the framework in that it will be in the pattern of David as the throne is from David.  This savior would be one with a visible kingdom. 

and of his kingdom there will be no end——  The declaration of God Incarnate and being savior of the world happens within a framework of a kingdom that has no end and thus continues.

On the devotional side, how can a modern person relate to these lofty subjects?  Well, we know through the rest of the story that Mary cooperated with a kingdom that is personal, holistic, authoritative and beyond our early lives.  These are ways that God initiates to us for full participation.  But in some ways our calling is not as good as Mary’s, in that moment, but better.  She was to carry God in her womb.  If we respond in the same humility to the gospel of the kingdom, we carry Jesus in our hearts. Could that be better?  Could that be possible?  What’s stopping you?

Portrait of An Assembly

Mountain TempleI used to love a show on CBS called “Picket Fences”.  It was set in a small town in Wisconsin.  It had drama and comedy with lots of social issues covered that represented the cultural dialogue at that time.  One TV critic at the time referred to the small town of Rome, Wisconsin as a “microcosm” of a larger culture.  One might compare it to a lab except there were real feelings involved.

When people think of church in a small level, for better or worse, they may see it a microcosm of the common culture but lose sight if they see it only as a social gathering. This is a mistaken approach because what is missed is the true “cosm” that the “micro” is based on. It is based on a beautiful fellowship in God and we are invited to participate in that which is heavenly and holy.

The truest Holy Family is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three in One. Three Who’s and one What. It is the highest experience of a community of persons we can presently point to.  In those three persons are initiating love, responding in love and a personhood of the love between. 

Church, as founded by Jesus, is meant to be an extension of this divine fellowship where heaven and earth meet. Not because it looks nice nor gives the members goosebumps.  A gathering of people ias Christians is always to point to Jesus and his higher purposes whether it is set of two or three gathered in his name or something even more deliberate.

The normative of such a gathering for higher purposes in the Old Testament was considered a solemn assembly.  One who said they loved God did not want to miss the event.  It was their everything.  It was the qahal.  When the Old Testament was translated into Greek in 200 BC an assembly was translated as ekklesia.  That Greek word was then used again in the New Testament to what we translate now as church.

Which brings us to another theme about church by the time the New Testament events occurred: church was about being called out to something.  The Greeks would refer the a small democratic town leaving the village to a nearby forest for a vote on what we might call a ballot measure.  the “ek” was the out of.  This comes to mind where we read in the Bible where God tells his people to come out and be separate for the world.  The highest point for an assembly is to be consecrated in some way. This was needed because it was a sacrifice. 

There were many sacrifices to be made.  As for the aspects of consecration and reason for a group to have the called out characteristics,  one would need to broaden their perspective to know what to look for.   Such a perspective would be informed by how the New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old is revealed in the New (Augustine).

Below are some of the broader elements of church in God’s eye that are worth considering. Consider it a “Picket Fences” but of the community of God to look for.

 No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly [church] of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect,  and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel (Hebrews 12:22).

Mount Zion—  When there is Zion, there is David who made that mountain a standard for covenant.  Jesus was called the Son of David because he has a kingdom that is modeled after David and how his dynasty was established and flourished.  His dynasty in the sense ended eventually but his line is fulfilled in Jesus.

..the living God— God is alive and not an idol.  He is not subject to man’s desire to make him in man’s image.  We know from Adam and Eve, however he did it, we are formed unto him.

..the heavenly Jerusalem—– Heaven is where you go to for Jesus the King and Jesus the High Priest.  And going there one does to some extent when they are in prayer with other believers.

countless angels in festal gathering—- Angels are God’s way of delegating heavenly power and authority to those who will inherit salvation.  The are a part of Christian fellowship whether one can seem them with the carnal eye or not.  I can add my own anecdote that my first time as an adult going to mass there was not a doubt in my mind that there were angels there.

the assembly [church] of the firstborn enrolled in heaven— This would be called the communion of the saints.  Those who are in heaven and witness to our running the race of faith and also who intercede for us under the merits of Jesus (Revelation 5:8).  The Church Triumphant is who we are “surrounded by a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1).

and God the judge of all— This is not a bad thing.  God is a judge who gives us a chance to reap the benefits of discipline.  This was covered earlier in Hebrews 12 on how much we can submit in discipline to the “father of our spirits and live”.  God is judge and father.  It appears to be a paradox but not a contradiction.

and the spirits of the just made perfect—  This state is referred to as the Church Suffering or Purgatory.  To speaks of salvation for the members of God’s people as only an imputed, or legal designation, righteousness falls short for all of the grace that God the Father has for his children.  The gospel has for the converted the opportunity to accept “the engrafted word of God which can save your soul (James 1:21).  For further scriptures on this I recommend the fire references of 1 Corinthians 3 and the prayers for the dead shown in 2 Maccabees 12:24.

and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel—  An important distinction in Greek is that “and” often can be translated as “with”.  I would point out that this description of church ends on the highest note:  pointing to the saving nature and work of Jesus that is ongoing in our temporal reality but planted in eternity. That salvation in Jesus is in the context of joining. To join with Jesus is to receive him on his terms.  Jesus said he was the bread that came down from heaven and that the one who eats his flesh and drinks his blood receive eternal life (John 6). 

The important thing to note is that the advancing kingdom of God has an aspect that transcends what we can measure with our senses but still is true. As one looks at the passages of the New Testament before Jesus one can appreciate who he was by those who knew him in a manner of the senses and beyond. The traits are there.  This is why for them then and in modern times we need eyes to see and ears to hear and all the while without fear. For this family God stared is supposed to walk in that “perfect love [that] casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment” (1 John 4:17). 

The Final Word

The Final Word FB LogoIt is an honor to receive what we call a personal invitation.  Ironic that what we call a “personal invitation” is something sent to us through the postal service.  We can really highlight this if someone important comes up to us and says they are pleased to meet us can come to their home.  “I have been personally, face-to-face invited to….”. 

In this historical message of this in Christian thought, that is the beauty of the incarnation.  As I write this my wife is putting up the Christmas decorations around the house and somewhere will be the line from scripture and many yuletide songs of “peace on earth and good will towards men”.  This is the story: Jesus, the Son of God, Word with God and is God (John1:1) could not just be explained the light and send an impersonal invitation.  Actions speak louder than words, and thus, the act of incarnating himself on earth is the beginning of the message of Jesus’ presence on earth through a real mother, in a real town in the context of a marginalized blue-collar family. 

He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God.And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.John testified to him and cried out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’”  From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace, because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him (John 1:11-18).

This passage is a center of much theological tension or debate this past 2,000 years.  Water down a key word here or there and Jesus is either so lofty that he drops truth like a dry letter or is so earthy that redemption on the cross has limited or no effectiveness.  Jesus has from birth and now forever the 100% existence of being 100% God and 100% man.  And dear reader, if you say that you completely understand it, I may have written something wrong.  Why is it a mystery?  From an evangelistic rationale, I could point to the three theological transcendentals: beauty, goodness and truth.  Respectively, the drawing of ones heart to things above, what is rightly ordered and what is applicable. These are impulses of the heart and not formulas of the mind.  The incarnation of Jesus as divine Logos made flesh speaks to those conditions of humanity.    

to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God– – This is outlined in a few chapters later by Jesus.  It is a birth that is real, spiritual but not mad made. Man has something to do with it as a vessel but it is not initiated by fleshly means since it is grace.  The “grace on top of grace” is because the prior grace was emphasized through men but now and forever would be through Christ the unique mediator.  If we are tied to religious expression that neglects that understanding, we neglect God and his intent. 

And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.- – I would like to return to the theme I pointed to earlier in that God is not out to wow us.  The “still, small voice” is in Jesus.  The prior grace that Israel knew a grace to prepare us for the higher one at best.  And this grace now would be experienced. Christ is described several times to have had compassion.  Compassion means to suffer with.  His heart was drawn to the hungry so he gave them bread and fish.  In turn, we are able to connect with Jesus as Christians by living an intentional lifestyle in carrying our own cross and even adding our own to his.  “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).  It is a part of intimacy with Christ that we can “know him and the power of his resurrection and [the] sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death” (Philippians 3:10). 

The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me– – This is more profound than it likely appears upon first reading.  Yes, John the Baptist is right, Jesus is greater than him.  But if one sees Jesus only through the eyes of the flesh then this must be incorrect.  After all, John was conceived three months before Jesus.  Though the timelessness of Jesus is implied by the earlier versus of John it is worth pondering in the journey of ones conversation to Jesus that we how “eternity stepped into time”.  Jesus is not a being for today but forever. 

while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ– – The Greek word for truth was alithia.  This was inspired by the Lithia River in Greece which meant “forget”.  When one puts the suffix “a” before it the meaning is “not forget”.  We remember what we experience.  While we do not demand as Christians to be “wowed” or coerced into faith, the ongoing experience of salvation is a joint journey to experience grace of the Lord Jesus Christ together.  To be “followers of the Way”.    

No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him– – Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:7).  This unveiling is part of a long term journey of growth under the fatherhood of God.  The more we “behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:29) the more we peer into the agape love of the Father’s heart and give full yielding to the redemption through the Cross. 

In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe, who is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being,
and who sustains all things by his mighty word. When he had accomplished purification from sins, he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:1-3). 

 

Below is a link to a song called “Final Word” that think connects to many of the themes I wrote here.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kuUF152hV9o

Conversion to The Fundamental Good

Fundamental_Form_logo

Flash in the pan experience can take us only so far if we want to change the fundamental things in us.  We have to go deeper for it to matter.  Transitions that matter for the person have to go from the inside out.

For two disciples of John the Baptist there were two days of transition that were ending one time of discipleship and getting ready for another.  They saw the baptism of Jesus but for whatever reason following Jesus was not meant to happen that very day though much was illuminated about him.  But for them a conversion of heart began.

But the next day, like many who hear the gospel and understand it, is a time of action to make conversion real or inaction that makes it all like a goose-bump that fades.

 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon (John 1:35-38).

Look, the Lamb of God!– -Just like the passover lamb was the game changer in the time of Moses, so from this point forward everything changes.  And just like the time of Moses where the lamb had to be consumed in all, so Jesus must be received fully. Jesus is being pointed to as one who would in fact give of himself fully.  Such giving seems foolish to the world.

What do you want?– – Jesus asks them something that could be considered a test.  Their response can say a lot of what they are looking for in light of the teaching they already had. When God draws us to himself in the context of initial or ongoing conversion, it is fitting to reflect of what we want and if it really matters.

Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?– – They come to Jesus on the right terms in obedience and are teachable to the Teacher.  This is what matters.  What is more, by asking the “Rabbi” where he is staying they want more than a quick answer but to abide, metaphorically, in the schoolhouse.

But coming to God with the requests that matter and are thus consistent with his nature is also a partnership initiated by God the Father.

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. (John 6:44-45)

Come, and you will see– – – Unlike many other times, Jesus does not answer the questions with a question.  This could be seen as a matter of the simplest questions being the best ones generally.

To fully understand what is being covered here, consider the beautiful things in life that are appreciated in themselves.  If I take out my keys, and one asks why, I answer that I am going to my car.  Asked more, I could say which freeway.  If I finally say that I am going to have coffee with my daughter, the question why would not make sense.  This is because certain things, the fundamental goods, are without need of being put in a definable box.  If Jesus was just somebody to do business with, then the meaning is dry. But this beautiful movement forward is both greatness in the person and a dynamic of the Holy Trinity at work. Jesus is The Fundamental Good and fellowship is an end in itself.

they went and saw-  Taking these verses, one could think this is a small real estate story.  But, considering they were sent off to “behold the Lamb of God” we can see these disciples took in that day something deeper about him.  Ideally, the ongoing process of the believer is to keep your eyes open to God.  This is where the believer stays in a state of purity.  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).  It is not seeing God’s plan but seeing God.  Again, God is the Fundamental Good.

they stayed with him that day— To experience the passover lamb in the Old Testament is not a fast food experience but is communal.  What we see here are the apostles John and Andrew coming to the man they call Teacher and connecting with him in a meeting of dwelling.  The natural follow up for the convert is to join Jesus where he is and stay there.

There is something to be said about joining Jesus such as in the context of prayer: It is normal.  That is to say, much of the lifestyle of being a Christian that has a relationship is not sensational.  The day before this narrative was sensational.  Some heard a voice and some perceived the Holy Spirit to come down on Jesus as a dove.  But to an uninformed eye, these were just three men that were under the same roof, likely sharing a meal and talking.  No flash and no snappy one liners.

On the hour of their decision to follow Jesus they believed with obedience in coming to to him, inquired, saw and stayed.  Coming to Jesus is nice, staying is everything.  Getting a quick question answered gives knowledge.  But dialogue with Jesus grants wisdom.  Such dialogue we can have today if we just ask and immerse ourselves in the presence of the Lord.  The reader may ask if it is an audible voice to which I would say that is not necessary.  This is because today and every day we can approach Jesus while Jesus approaches us and that is an end in itself.  Jesus can be our Fundamental Good- – if we let Him.

Preparing For A Meeting 

Mountain Temple“I like your Christ but not your Christians”.  So is quoted Mahatma Ghandi regarding his encounter with western Christendom.  His encounter with Christianity could be said to be one that was English culture, English customs and English power all in a very imperial and oppressive context.  This was not an encounter with the Christianity of Jesus but his broadest view he had was skewed.  If one uses the ministry of John the Baptist as a lens, one can get a preview of how to perceive all the gospels.  It is no coincidence that Jesus as an adult in all four books is directly preceded then personally hailed by him.  If one get John right, then one has a better chance to get Jesus right.  But if we stay in a premise that puts Jesus as any other reactionary figure, we will only react to the ups and downs of life with a blunted experience of Christianity.

[t]he word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert. He went throughout [the] whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“A voice of one crying out in the desert:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

make straight his paths.

Every valley shall be filled

and every mountain and hill shall be made low.

The winding roads shall be made straight,

and the rough ways made smooth,

and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke 3:2b-6).

A voice of one crying out in the desert-  It should not be lost on those who seek something more than what the world offers that the view it takes to convert has to be from outside of ones assumptions of complacency.  To cry out from especially our realization of lack is hard.  But it is harder to be hungry for God if you are full of yourself.

Prepare the way of the Lord- The mystery of what comes next after one repents is moot- – if one does not repent.  Calling out ones failings to the mercy of God is getting out of God’s way to bless you.  The crossing of the Red Sea is also implied.  It was the great Exodus.  In Greek it was the exhoda which is the “way out” of the bondage of Egypt.  However, the “way” of the Lord is hoda meaning “way”.  Jesus identified himself as the “way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).  Jesus is more than a way out of physical slavery but of spiritual slavery which is far worse.  The early Church were “followers of the way” because they celebrated the latter freedom in Jesus with each gathering.  It is almost like a scriptural undertone of messianic expectation for then but it applies to those who turn to Jesus now.  We are called in conversion to embrace the meaning of preparation.  Doing such, we might as well have the joy of the Lord along the way between those times of grace one can experience.

Every valley shall be filled- The natural question is on what it would be filled with.  The best filling of this void is not by a thing or event but by God who is the great I AM.  “Our hearts are restless until we find rest in you” (Augustine).  Jesus’ name means God saves and as we see a few verses later salvation is what all will see.

every mountain and hill shall be made low– – My first thought in reflecting on this line is that the elite would be brought down since John had his own dealings with the religious elite of his day.  Mary addressed this in her fiat “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. (Luke 1:52).  But if one sees in the Old Testament how hill and mountain are used, there is a historical interpretation.

Who may go up the mountain of the Lord?Who can stand in his holy place?

“The clean of hand and pure of heart,

who has not given his soul to useless things,

what is vain.

He will receive blessings from the Lord,

and justice from his saving God.

Such is the generation that seeks him,

that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.”

Selah (Psalms 24: 4-6)

Who may go up the mountain of the Lord?Who can stand in his holy place?– – It is a psalm of celebration in approaching the temple of God with the Ark of the Covenant.  This reference is shorthand that an encounter with God is a tangible presence that can be sensed from the deepest part of the heart.

For the Old Testament this was the closest way a personal encounter with the divine could be expressed due to the standards of that day. The presumption was formality with a specific focus on ceremony about God but not God directly.  Jesus changed everything because in Him “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). God was untouchable but in Jesus the divine is touchable.  John the apostle elaborated on this.

What was from the beginning,

what we have heard,

what we have seen with our eyes,

what we looked upon

and touched with our hands

concerns the Word of life—

for the life was made visible;

we have seen it and testify to it

and proclaim to you the eternal life

that was with the Father and was made visible to us—

what we have seen and heard

we proclaim now to you,

so that you too may have fellowship with us;

for our fellowship is with the Father

and with his Son, Jesus Christ (1 John 1:1-3).

So how is this mountain made low?  It is in how Jesus is the eternal Word of the Blessed Trinity and he chose to become flesh in a leveling of the field (John 1:14).

The winding roads shall be made straight- A frustrating thing occurs on a winding road.  One would wish they can go from Point A to Point B like the birds fly.   Such is the role of increasing simplicity in someone who is increasing in their relationship to God.  God does not self-reveal as a calculus equation.  God is beyond our understanding so the straight path is giving up the pretense we can put God in an overcomplicated box.

the rough ways made smooth– -Rough ways is a loaded term.  If someone is walking on ground that is uneven or filled with thorns then such is the stuff that the human body takes in only with endurance to get the walk over with.  A smooth path in relationship is how one can see the other in a way that is against the design of the person.  The smooth path to God is the honest one.

all flesh shall see the salvation of God– John is speaking to both of the comings of Jesus.  Jesus would soon be on the scene and His presence would be on foot, on the cross, in communion and someday in the clouds.  In the last one, Jesus would go from being seen by many to all.

that seeks the face of the God of Jacob- – This is noteworthy in returning to the theme of God’s presence.  Jacob had a tangible wrestling match with God and he was transformed with the new name of Israel.  God transforms the proud to be humble and the humble to those exalted.  Ultimately shown in the end with Jesus with his name being the greatest name, a transformation can happen if we truly seek his face.  “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9)

Do I wish I was a pilgrim that day at the exchange of the life in Christ I have now?  Even the idea of following Jesus in only up to the cross?  No, due to the life in Christ I can have with him now.  There is knowing him after the flesh like then, but receiving him in the greatest reality that can be experienced now is far better.

And as much as I can have hope in that, I would like to leave you with the hope of the Christian faith in completely coming to full circle in the future in Jesus. This is the ultimate “way of the Lord” we prepare for in onward growth that is so fitting to those called by his name.

     Who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.

Rather, he emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

coming in human likeness;

and found human in appearance,

he humbled himself,

becoming obedient to death,

even death on a cross.

Because of this, God greatly exalted him

and bestowed on him the name

that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend,

of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue confess that

Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father (Phillipians 2:6-11).