Provoked By Light

clean-slate

There is a lot of talk depending on the situation on someone saying they are converting or are converts.  Typically whoever wants to listen will listen for the emotional impact or tantalizing details if “the really bad sins” were lived out.  There is then a social context of how glorious the testimony is then based on a hierarchy on the norms of culture.  Then the repentance is boxed in.  Instead it should be examined not as an isolated aspect but part of an integral whole for Christianity as seen below. 

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 (Hebrews 6:1-2).

There is a lot to repentance that is missed in our minds if we do not see different contexts to it in the 1st Century AD.  To turn from sin starts as emotional by consequence but it is part of a desire in the heart with grace as the trigger point and faith as a response to God’s word of grace.  But the goosebumps do not have to be emphasized because they must come and go in the life of the Christian or the journey is only an automated process and without the beauty of full, free will.  A healthy repentance comes before any other steps.  Some of those steps may be limited in efficacy in the life of the believer depending on their spiritual disposition.  Repentance in the ongoing believer would be key to maintaining that receptivity and was referred to in the early church as ex opere operantis.

Below are some other factors to consider on repentance. 

1: Repentance means transformation for what is better and what you are designed for.  We are designed by God in love and for love.  Turning from sin is to turn from putting ones self first and look upward to love.  I often like quoting this verse, “Perfect love casts out fear, because fear has to do with punishment” (1 John 4:18). 

2: Repentance transforms us but does not change our inherent design.  No one becomes a god through repentance.  Our DNA stays the same like a caterpillar does when it becomes a butterfly. We are better informed in the word for repentance, metanoia, having related etymology to the word metamorphisis.

3: This next point is tricky.  Sometimes the call of God is to stop leaning on things that prepared us and embrace God for all he is in the now.  The audience for Hebrews were those whose experience was steeped in the beauty of the Old Testament and for a God ordained season included animal sacrifices.  But the fulness of the gospel is to turn from a furry lamb to The Lamb which we see through the narrative of the cross of Christ in the gospels.  For that sort of preparation to be over, those former works are now dead works.  But in salvation we are to go on to good works.  “We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24).  Paul also addressed a dividing line in salvation history saying, “For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6).  A converted people are touched by the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29) but also points to him in words and deeds as fruit of true repentance to what matters. 

True repentance restores us to the design of the original experience that Adam and Eve had before the spiritual death of sin put an end to that maintaining grace.  What is the struggle of humanity without the encounter with Christ is a common striving to get back to what Adam and Eve lost and feeling often a paralyzing shame to yank one to not seeing the way out. 

“How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14). 

“I confess to Almighty God and to you my brothers and sisters that I have greatly sinned. In my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault.  In what I have done and what I have failed to do.”  These are words said in my church each Sunday.  Historically not the first time to approach God my savior.  But always treating each time like the first time is a good idea because we need to be honest, let God do the work allow God to “say the word and my soul will be healed”.  This dynamic is only a breath away in words such as this.  This is where the word of faith comes in. 

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Feeding Line, Dividing Line PART IV Divine Proposal To Action

partially-eaten-bread

 

I have often thought about Abraham Lincoln and the challenge to action.  Once there was a preacher with very eloquent speech who had a sermon for the sophisticated in his community that had flowery wording and gave everyone goose bumps except President Lincoln.  He was asked what he liked about the sermon and his reply was that he did not like it at all for the reason that it did not challenge him to action.  He was in a civil war and he know that eloquence was not the answer for the changes he wanted to make but action and resolve as a nation to change relationally.

What I would like to point to here is that the gospel, when presented in a sacramental context, is more fully the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:17) though it could offend the mind with offensive, even scandalous wording.  

Scandals can have many effects on a population.  They are often talked about where someone has done something shameful.  The central person or people in a scandal would rather they could undo what brought their odd thing out to the public.  One reason is because they become socially radioactive and no ones wants to be around them.  If they are a politician then no one wants to endorse them.

One of the shocking things about Jesus is that he points at himself in the gospels in a way that makes him socially radioactive.  He speaks foolishly to confound the wise with a moment of tension.  A common phrase used in the early centuries was the word scandalon.  We could think of it as a stigma.  Christians then and now see the cross of Christ as essential to expressing the selfless love of God even though it was the electric chair of the 1st century. With this irony the people who think they are wise in the things that matter and make sense are thrown by Jesus who keeps drawing them deeper.  These are the tensions where “faith and reason are two wings by which man takes flight” (Fides Et Ratio, John Paul II, 1991).  He lays out a scandalon to challenge those who would go from open inquirers or smart debaters to full disciples.  Like an x-ray of their hearts using shocking language.

 The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?”  Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.  Whoever eats[s] my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.  Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:52-58)

This is where Jesus sends the inquirers in Capernaum to the edge.  The doubters get the scandal wanted. By reason only many walk away though with integrated faith and reason some remain.

How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?— This is a response by people that are closed off to mystery.  The premise is that God’s ways would have to fit into the intellect of humanity.

unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood—  This is loaded with messianic expectation fulfilled in Jesus.  The term “the Son of Man” is used in Daniel 

As the visions during the night continued, I saw coming with the clouds of heaven one like a son of man.When he reached the Ancient of Days and was presented before him, He received dominion, splendor, and kingship; all nations, peoples and tongues will serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, his kingship, one that shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).

Jesus has a dominion that does not end but a relationship with the chosen of God that does not end and is kingly, communal, and universal.

eats my flesh—  This time in the Greek text there is a transition.  Up to this point Jesus has been using a more polite term that would be used for biting or chewing but now he uses the word for gnaw (trogo) like an animal.  Jesus is upping the level of offensiveness to make his message even more scandalous for an important reason: if one gets Jesus only intellectually, then it is not a divine or transcendent encounter and would empty the cross of Christ of its power.

Jesus sees that the wise must be shown up for their lack of faith.  Again, faith and reason are meant for each other.  “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning (1 Corinthians 1:17).   What Jesus lays down in the gospel is a message that does not rest of eloquence because eloquence will not change lives but an inconvenient encounter with Christ does.  What Jesus lays down about consuming him is meant to be the default understanding of Christianity of an encounter in all its fulness and was seen so since early Church history.

What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the body of Christ and the chalice is the blood of Christ. This has been said very briefly, which may perhaps be sufficient for faith; yet faith does not desire instruction (Augustine, Sermons,  272).

Nobody eats this flesh without previously adoring it (Augustine, Explanation of the Psalms 99).

Mirror Image? Or Mirror Mirage?

God Allows U-Turns

I remember a few years ago how there was a lot of excitement in the first few weeks after Pope Francis was elected based on many things he said and did.  One anecdote that I recall today which did not get as much notice as it deserved was that all believers in Jesus Christ are continually called to conversion and that included the Pope himself. This statement went well with what he later answered on who is Jorge Mario Bergolio (his given name), “A sinner”.

For one to say that they are a sinner and converting may seem like two self-contradicting statements but really this is a paradox of two co-existing truths.  To be honest about ones faults and their constant need of holiness in the person of Jesus is true freedom in that the condemnation is not on you and you don’t have to expend energy on lying to yourself and/ or others on how you have it all together.

In the second to last passage in the Sermon On The Mount Jesus addresses those with a fake relationship with Jesus.  I would add that it was to those with a very convincing facade of conversation to the less discerning.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’  Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.’ (Matthew 7:21-23).

Notice that Jesus did not disagree with the facts of their case.  We could safely assume they could have given true prophesies.  So did King Saul when he took a break from trying to kill David.  So did Caiphas weeks before being party to the crucifixion of Jesus.  Judas likely drove out demons yet he was the great traitor.  To some points of view in their day they could have been called “the Lord’s announced”.  But that does not mean that they were what I would call “the Lord’s favored”.

For the people that are unconverted and have a formed enough conscience, they can compensate by lying to themselves.  In this modern age where it seems everybody is a psychologist there are excuses for being so self-absorbed and not changing to be as one is meant to be.  So if ones conscience is informed on the need to more than moral absolutes but an absolute Lord in Jesus, then there does not have to be a false prophet from outside when the one in the mirror will do just fine.

Where the false prophet of convenience will say “I’m okay, you’re okay”, one with a hardened heart will say just, “I’m okay”.  This was addressed with bad news and good news by Apostle John in his later years.

“If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.” (1 John 1:8-9).

But what if we say that we are with sin?  Then the truth is in us but not just by pulling ourselves into a Judeo-Christian moral paradigm.  If we say the opposite and the truth is in us in the meaning of the New Testament then we have Jesus in our hearts.  Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6).

What does Jesus mean then about doing “the will of my Father in heaven”?

Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.” (John 6:29).

Jesus does not call us to demonstrate a flashy life.  Nor does he call us to live a miraculous life for miracles sake.  Jesus calls us to honesty in our need for Him.

But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’  I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:13-14).

On a personal note.  I have been there.  I hesitate to admit it, but I may be there again.  And that is how a transformed life must be: Jesus in our hearts, renewed, so He can be more fully in our lives.

Flicking The Light On

Lighthouse

“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?

Blame Game

blame-game

The worse the decision is that someone makes the greater the allure of two false promises: it is not that bad or bad at all followed by it was too bad for redemption in tandem with further notion that it is not that bad to deny culpability or displace it.

We see that further as we look at the fall in Eden.  I usually like to go with brevity for a blog format.  It seems that this time the passage of scripture calls for a large portion to be unpacked at once.

Genesis 3:8 They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

The evening breeze” is important when we refresh ourselves on Jewish thought about the day cycle.  In their mindset, one the night comes, the new 24-hour cycle begins.  As the new day comes in, it is a good idea to be real with God.  To do an honest examination of ones conscience is to allow God to meet us in our vulnerability in real engagement and thus real engagement.

But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”

As noted in the last blog, the temptation to sin was in part based on God not having their interest at heart.  In the fallen nature mindset where sin is perpetuated in the individual what is assumed is an inevitability in how “fear has to do with punishment” (1 John 4).  “Because I was naked” is an additional part of sin in not being in a state of grace where you are clothed by the esteem of ones Heavenly Father.

11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”

God is not at a loss on what happened.  Confession is good for the soul and here is another, not the first, opportunity for Adam to be real.  Instead he displaces to someone else.

12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.”

He is being sneaky and also connecting to a divisiveness that causes a self-righteousness.  He is noting her different designation as a qualifier on how bad she is and to qualify himself as not responsible.  Adam’s “gift” to the world is using a scapegoat and here in misogyny.

13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”

The devil made me do it excuse here is actually original but not the last time it would be used in this world.  Fallen people love to give the devil way too much credit so they don’t have to take responsibility.  We need a structured code by which we can be real now and with it the forgiveness and healing we need.

14 The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,
cursed are you among all animals
and among all wild creatures;
upon your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.

15 

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.”

But still the devil gets his due.  “And dust you shall eat” is a way of saying that the days of him being able to partake of the spiritual things are over.

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers. This is a powerful statement that prefigures the great contrast between spiritual light and spiritual darkness.  We see this in John “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world [Jesus Christ], and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).  Eventually light overcomes darkness but not any from the power of mortals.  It has to take much more than that.

But the woman is not off the hook as God works backwards from the passing the buck game.

16 To the woman he said,

“I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.”

This is not a pronouncement of inferiority of all women as much as people would like to use this verse to hit Christendom over the head with the woman-hating label.  This is introducing to the physical ecosystem that the law of sin and death they were warned about would apply. Before the fall and after the ultimate redemption when Christ comes there is no more mourning, sickness or death.  The inevitable thing to happen for the human race to continue would be for her to not be a nun but to be a mom and lots of times.  The paradox is that she is going to have a desire for her husband though the desire conceives babies and babies cause pain.

17 And to the man he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
and have eaten of the tree
about which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;

18 

thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.

19 

By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”

Notice that God is actually harder on the man with a much longer, dire announcement.  Notice also that God is telling Adam his part of suffering pain in the fallen ecosystem.

20 The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living.

It is after the fall that there is an individual name for her.  Before this, they shared the common identity of the dirt that started them albeit for her indirectly.  Before, they had diversity. Now they have diversity and division with a dash of adversity.  Sin tends to do that with a community of two or a billion.

But still there are seeds of hope.  The “seed of the woman” prefigures Christ coming through what Greek speaking Christians would call the “Theotokos”—the God Carrier.  Also known as the Virgin Mary.  Or in my book, the original Warrior Princess.  Further, God gives them skins of animals in place of their fig leaves.

21 And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.

In Jeremiah we read how “All our righteousness is as filthy rags”.  The animals skins could come through the animals’ deaths.  Their deaths speak of atonement through sacrifice.  And sacrifice through God points to the redemption through Jesus who made His sacrifice once and for all.

What people miss in stories like this is that God is a grace fanatic.  Satan gives us the easy way out of God’s will and the hard scenario for the way back.  God gives us His presence that is constance before and after our sin if we will open our eyes to Him in humility.

22 Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— 23 therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.

he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever

But in Christ, we can through the understanding and partaking of the sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist.

As a new Catholic and long-time Christian, I can’t help reflecting on what Pope John Paul called the New Evangelization that in the coming years there will be a re-presentation of the good news of Jesus as Eucharistic in that people in full communion with Jesus and His Church can indeed receive Jesus in “body, blood, soul and divinity”. Again, God is a grace fanatic.