The Intimacy of The Divine Life

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In engaging ones self into a spiritual life, there is a longing in the human person for a sense of connection with the divine that is above the life and death factors as we know it.  To do this effectively in Christianity may not happen every day if one is going by feelings.  An enduring habit is to be at a place of listening in the quiet moments where the physical reality is dulled down and not grabbing our attention. 

I remember an interview with Mother Theresa where she was asked how she starts her day.  She said she starts it in prayer listening to God.  When asked what God says she said he is listening too.  How to do this?  How does it work? She said only it is something to be experienced and not explained.  I am left with the impression in part of the resurrection of Jesus that is central to that understanding.  Death and silence were all around in that tomb three days after Jesus was crucified.  But while it was still dark, something outside of the life-death cycle that man defaults to happened.  Jesus happened.  And for Christian faith to develop properly and apply God’s grace going on 2,000 years it is a matter of hope from the resurrection in the dark and in the light, in the quiet and in the noise.  Because of the resurrection, which leads to Jesus ascending to heaven, we are given the Holy Spirit with several graces to live out a resurrected, grace filled life.  As individuals, we can know the Jesus in the power of the resurrection and in a personal way that outshines the allure of anything else as Paul writes below. 

Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead (Phillipians 3:8-11). 

To connect the resurrection to intimacy is connected to the new covenant in Christ which is marital and familial as we look through the Bible. We are to worship the Father in spirit and truth (John 4:23) and be called to the wedding supper of the Lamb as is said frequently in Revelation. Marital intimacy may in a sense more greatly implied by Paul’s comment. 

The Greek word translated know is ginōskō (ghin-oce’-ko). This word carries the normal meanings of the word know as we typically use it in English. In the Greek, however, it also carries the idea of knowledge grounded in personal experience. It is to know and to experience, and that means to understand. In the Jewish religious sense of the day, it was used to describe sexual relations between a man and a woman, as in Adam knew Eve. Ginōskō, therefore, is an intimate knowledge of a person or thing (The More Sure Word, http://www.themoresureword.com/2011/04/19/experiencing-truth/)

Knowing Christ in the power of his resurrection begins in grace. 

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20). 

Notice, it is Paul cooperating with God’s grace but it is Jesus who made and makes the leading move.  The work of grace is God being the primary mover working through faith so we can do good works (Ephesians 2:8-10).  The Greek word for work here is erg  which is a primary but obsolete word; to work; toil (as an effort or occupation); by implication an act: – deed, doing, labour. 

But if we are to know Christ in the power of his resurrection together, how is it lived out in our works of participation?  And what would be the greatest of those works?  Would we still avoid  a striving of our own effort and, if not, how?  For that we look to the words of Jesus, the apostles and early church fathers. 

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Flicking The Light On

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“Let’s put some light on the subject.”  That is a common phrase people use when there is a lack of clarity on what to do in a small thing or how make a big decision.

But sometimes getting clarity on what is common sense becomes a matter of “be careful for what you wish for, you might get it.”  Once someone know what their encounter with truth is and its consequences then they may have to make a change in their life course that stretches them beyond their comfort zones.  Working in a substance abuse treatment center I see often where clients have their toxic drug habits and their toxic relationships for what they are.  From there they see their faith in their abilities or their desire to change wanting and take the stress out on those who call them on their %$# (insert vernacular here).  Lucky me!

When Jesus came not the scene there we see the natural reaction of hard hearted people with light.  “And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).  Just as the world was “formless and void” (Genesis 1:2) before light was made, so were the consciences of enemies of God’s love in need of formation and filling.

As tempting as it is to dust off our hands and say that how God touches the world is a mystery and between Him and the individual.  It is tempting because it could appeal to someone who calls themselves “religious” and a “Christ-follower” to finding an individual spirituality without passing it on. But Jesus called, and still calls, His disciples to touch and be touched by the message of the kingdom as a community experience of in- reach to a fruitful outreach.  Thus He lays down the gauntlet here.

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden.  No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:15-16)

To be a navel gazing Christian as I described above is like hiding in that bushel.  And the navel gazing that keeps us from letting faith working itself out through love can have so many excuses.  Too busy.  Too stressed.  The people one would interact with are too different.

But light is invasive.  There is no flick of a switch that makes darkness turn out the light.  But if one has established themselves to be salt of the earth (see last post), then the next turning point is to “preach the gospel at all times, if needed, use words” (St. Francis).  To lean forward towards those who do not know Jesus is to be one who shows clarity by the clarity of the gospel that is being applied to your own life first.   An example of this light being done right is in how the personal sin you hate the most is ones own.  You pass on what you have.

So for the believer or the unbelieving reader going over these words I want to say emphatically that people of Westboro Baptist Church who scream homophobic epithets are by no means a light of Christianity.  By some of the working definition I outlined above they are clanging symbols who have not love.

But examples who live out such good deeds are too numerous for me to write here.  I could speak of close friends who were still my friends when I was unworthy of their friendship.  There are some heroes like Mother Theresa, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Andre Bissett, St. Pope John Paul II…and possibly you.  What is stopping us?

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When I was a teenager and then much later into adulthood at Portland State University, I saw my share of street preachers.  They were not short on the ability to project and get the attention of the people.  Much of the time it was not positive attention.  

The ways that the negative attention happened were many.  There were political statements mixed in with Bible verses, there were the “sexy” sins set apart to make people feel bad enough to convert (this never seemed to happen in my observation) or the emphasis especially to know facts and figures of the Bible.  Especially when I was a teenager, I wanted to be like them; then I put aside such childish things.  

This is not to say that I am ashamed of the message of following Jesus.  I both like and love Jesus.  But if one is going to bring a message that brings essential transformation, then the essentials should be emphasized in speech and example.  The examples stated above were none of that either with moderate or loud volume.  

Peter had a different view of bringing the message of Christianity to the people.  

1 Peter 3

14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.

This patter is few and far between, but not impossible.  I would like to show here some concepts  that Peter is telling the Christian to have in their toolkit.  

1: But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated.   This is powerful because, as the apostle John says, “Perfect love drives out fear…because fear has to do with punishment.”  Do you know that God loves you and wants what is best for you?  Then bear that in mind if you are worried about being rejected. Imagine that there is a coliseum around you of people that have gone before you, faced rejection for a the testimony of what Jesus did in their lives, and have their reward now.  

2: but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.  This is powerful too because the human nature is prone to experiencing God and thus explaining Him out of too much of a logical box.  Yes, I believe like St. John Paul II that faith and reason are two wings that give the spirit flight, but if we clog up Christianity from being a relationship with God and others through mental assent (Uh, sure, I know that verse…”) then what does the believe have to offer the world?  

But what does it mean to sanctify Christ as Lord?  Isn’t He already holy?  

Yes, he is holy.  But the nature of our hearts is to treat God Incarnate as inconvenient and a scandal to a life lived for convenience.  Repentance is about getting over that and it starts with you before you preach it to someone else.  

yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.

If Peter could see the handiwork of The Westboro Bapstist Church, he would be tempted to slice someone’s ear off.  But if he were to see a certain little lady in Calcutta  by the name of Theresa he would weep with joy.  A quote from Pope Francis that comes to mind is that he wants to see a “Church that is poor and for the poor”.  

These latter two parties that I mentioned tend to evoke warmth and positive reflection even from a skeptic of the Church.  Too many of them, one could malign the supposed priest down the street but don’t you dare tell a dirty joke about Mother Theresa!

On the gentleness and reverence point, I would like to end with a challenge to all of us who call themselves a follower of Christ.  When dealing with the unbeliever and/or the skeptic, being quick to listen.  It is possible that God may be bringing valid criticisms on where you or many of us have missed the boat in walking the faith like we talk it.  Besides, in a world of so much hurt, perhaps my worst critic has a poverty of being heard on what has hurt them.  

Pope Francis said when he was in the papal conclave as a cardinal that the Church needs to stop being so self-referential.  I would add that in out presentation be mindful of referring to the grace of Jesus in your life and not the latest philosophical line, the “it” political party or just another Judeo-Christian ethics lesson.  Be real as a fellow work of God in progress an let Him take care of the rest.