Category: Systematics

Why Appreciate a Pastor?

I was forwarded an email yesterday about “Pastor Appreciation Month.” I think I vaguely knew that this was a thing, but I had no idea that it was upon us. Apparently, one of the ways that my church can show appreciation to me is to give me a gift certificate for a discount on books. It’s a nice gesture. But honestly the last thing I need is more books. I already have a dozen waiting to be read and I have probably reached that stage of life and ministry where I am less optimistic than I once was that a book holds the key to whatever intellectual, pastoral, or administrative deficiencies I daily inflict upon my church. But, again, a nice gesture. And it got me pondering a rather simple question: Why appreciate a pastor?
Well, the short answer is because while being a pastor is incredibly rewarding in many ways, it’s also kinda hard. Not harder than being a farmer or a nurse or a builder or a business person or a professor, I should hasten to add. Just harder in different ways. I spent some time this morning enumerating some of the things that I, personally, find most challenging about this utterly unique position that I never imagined I’d find myself in.
I want to be explicitly clear at the outset that this is not a plea for sympathy or some kind of passive aggressive dig at my church for not being sufficiently appreciative. Nothing could be further from the truth. My church is generous and supportive to a fault. But for those who only darken the door of a church a few times a month and wonder what on earth pastors spend the rest of their time doing or how it could possibly be hard to work for twenty minutes once a week (wink, nudge), here’s some of what might be going on in your pastor’s brain when they stand up on Sunday morning. It’s what’s often going on in mine, at any rate.
To be a pastor is to wonder and worry about the future of the church. It’s natural, when one’s professional identity is tied up in the ongoing existence of an institution, to feel this anxiety. Not admirable, perhaps, but natural. These are not the best of times for the church in the West. The church is (rightly and wrongly) associated with all kinds of sins, past and present. People have walked away and continue to walk away in droves. The research and the statistics show only downward trajectories. This can be a demoralizing space to inhabit. It can also be invigorating, I should add, because it can clarify priorities and sharpen theological vision. But it takes work to see the glass as half-full when the world “out there” often sees the thing that you have given your life to as irrelevant at best. And many of us, if we’re honest, have no idea how to “fix” this or turn around trends that aren’t terribly encouraging.
To be a pastor is to often feel incompetent. It’s no secret that people can expect a lot from pastors. A pastor should be a gifted orator, a compelling theologian, an efficient administrator, a sensitive counsellor/caregiver, an intuitive asker of the right question at the right time, a thoughtful event planner, a cheerful networker, a social butterfly… The list goes on and on. A friend of mine was recently on a search committee for a pastor. When I saw the job description at the end of the process, I cringed and said, “Jesus wouldn’t qualify for that job!” Larger multi-staff churches can adopt a divide and conquer approach to this impossible list of demands, but smaller churches can’t. Often it’s one or two people that are expected to cover all that terrain. And speaking personally, after ten years in this gig I know for a fact that I am terrible at some of those things. It’s easy to feel like you’re constantly disappointing some people at least some of the time.
To be a pastor is to constantly fight the temptation to measure your worth and success in the role by unhelpful (and un-Christian) metrics. How many people are in the pews? How many of them are under fifty? How much criticism or praise did the last sermon receive? How many disinterested yawns? How many programs, articles, baptisms, meetings, and pastoral visits can I point to in order to justify my position? How’s the budget looking? Who hasn’t been around in a while? Are the customers satisfied?
To be a pastor is to sometimes feel like you are having faith on behalf of others. Not only are churches emptier and older than they were a generation or two, those who come aren’t necessarily buying what the church is selling. They’re there for community or some other felt social need, but they’re not at all sure about this “faith” business. It all feels rather exclusive and intolerant. Sometimes it can feel like people are relying on me to keep a faith that they couldn’t.
To be a pastor is to often straddle the fault lines of difficult issues. Our cultural moment is dominated by a constellation of hot-button issues (race, sexuality, gender, identity, etc.). And of course, people bring their issues to church. These issues have the potential to tear families, communities, and churches apart. They have done so in the past. As pastor, people look to you to have something definitive (or at least helpful) to say. But to be a pastor is not simply to dutifully pronounce upon the correct theological conclusions about issue x. It is also to feel a deep (and appropriate) obligation to the real human lives who are wrestling with these issues. It is to know that sometimes it’s best not to have something definitive to say for the sake of preserving a relationship. Sometimes it’s best to withhold judgment. And sometimes? Well, sometimes you just don’t have a damn clue what to say. Sometimes you just don’t know. But saying “I don’t know” isn’t something pastors are supposed to say.
To be a pastor is to watch people suffer. This one is perhaps the most difficult for me. Watching people descend into the abyss of a debilitating disease, watching age steal people’s minds and bodies, listening to the heartache of parents whose kids are carving a path of chaos and destruction through the lives of everyone around them, watching marriages fall apart, watching faith and hope wither… These things take a psychological toll. Prayer and listening and co-suffering love all matter and make a difference. And to remind people of Christ within them, the hope of glory is the truest thing I will ever say. I am as convinced as I ever was that the church must be a place where human suffering can be interpreted and lived theologically, where it can be anchored in and tethered to the suffering Christ. But it’s easy to feel profoundly helpless in the middle of it all.
This has been a bit bleak, I know. I’m (sort of) sorry about that. It doesn’t even remotely tell the whole story. And it can feel kind of small and petty when set alongside the trials faced by pastors in situations of persecution and trial around the world. But I still think it tells an important part of the story at this particular time in this particular place. I know many pastors who have walked away from the role because they found it too exhausting or frustrating or whatever. I know other pastors who struggle to put on a brave, happy faithful face on Sunday morning while inside they are falling apart. If nothing else, the preceding might inspire you to say a prayer for your pastor as they clear their throat behind the pulpit next Sunday morning. Or to remember that grace is among the best forms of appreciation.

Syndicated from Rumblings

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The Point of the Book of Job

The point of the book of Job is to teach us that the mystery of evil is a mystery of a war-torn and unfathomably complex creation, not the mystery of God’s all-controlling will. Given how Christians are yet inclined to look for a divine reason behind catastrophes and personal tragedies, ...
The post The Point of the Book of Job appeared first on Greg Boyd - ReKnew.

Syndicated from Greg Boyd – ReKnew

Season After Pentecost (Proper 23[28]) – The Epistle Passage: The gospel according to Paul in the book of Hebrews, from a medical/theological standpoint

“Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
Yesterday I floated the idea that sinfulness might be seen as a type of illness – perhaps the type of illness that Amos the prophet saw in some of the Jewish people of his time. Or the type of illness that Job’s friends thought he had – a punishment for not living a holy and Godly enough life. Paul, being a Jew, saw a divide between the soul – that is the body life and existence – from the spirit – the immortal and everlasting which remains after physical death and which we define as soul. Illness would directly impact the Jewish concept of soul, the living force that makes our body function. To a lessor extent illness might affect the spirit, what Jesus came to save through his crucifixion. Sin would more directly affect the spirit as the Jews would see it, but they also believed that sin could affect the soul, that is the physical body. It is much easier in our modern times when we believe the body and soul are vitally connected. However, that makes the “word of God” much sharper than even as Paul presents it. Paul continues.
“And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” (Verse 13)
When we talk about the physical body and illness, we are placing our understanding of how our brain – our intellect – affects our body. Paul may not have had that nuanced understanding. However, his statement still holds true; the Divine does see all the connections and interconnections of our total body and the God-breathed-in life force that continues after our body ceases. And what ever your understanding, beloved reader, of the body/soul/spirit, each of us must account for how and what we did with all that we are. [The verses that follow seem to move us away from the discussion of sinfulness and illness, but let us seen where it might pop up.]
“Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Verses 14 – 16)
Did Jesus ever get physically ill? We know Jesus never sinned; but did his body come down with a fever? Did he ever get a headache? Did he ever have an upset stomach? We are not told. We ARE told that Jesus was tested as we are. And if physical illness tests us, might it have tested Jesus?
Maybe my tenacity in trying to hold to the theme I started the week with is leading me down thought paths that seem new and unique. Or maybe my own health struggles are providing me with a different type of lens to see scripture. All I know is that I am coming up with more ponderings than sureties. Paul assumes that our needs are to do with not sinning and living faithfully. But the human experience is more than that. Our bodies provide us with temptations and weaknesses, and Paul would readily agree to that. But we cannot always control what our body does – how it reacts to a contagion or illness. What we do when the human body is ill and not under our psyche’s control. Jesus, during his ministry on earth, healed the people who he encountered that were ill – especially when the illness resulted in deviate behavior. So if “ no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare” to the eyes of the Divine, that might not necessarily be a scary thing. I love believing that the Divine sees my illnesses and has mercy on me, forgiving me where my weaknesses have left me vulnerable. It is a hope that I know others who are gravely ill hope for. And I do not see the Divine withholding that from us. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Whose Suffering?

This is an excerpt from a sermon preached on October 7, 2018.   Job 1-2:1-10 While the question of why people suffer is at the heart of Job, there is another question I’ve been thinking about as I read the first two chapters of Job this week. I’ve been thinking about this question because our…
Syndicated from Spacious Faith

Universalism by John Wesley Hanson

I just finished reading John Wesley Hanson’s Universalism. It was a short and easy read. Well, easy insofar as it wasn’t very theologically academic. It was difficult in that the edition I purchased was a print-on-demand from Amazon…the transcription was so poor I found typos and grammatical errors every few sentences. This lead to a lot of double takes, but honestly didn’t interfere too terribly with the process.
I’d like to share the last couple pages of Hanson’s book, because he basically outlines the previous 200 pages in a very succinct and compact way. A way that is potentially more palatable to my social media friends who have no time to sit down and read a dry book on universalism. I added a few thoughts of my own to his points, and tried to clarify some things that my be confusing, but for the most part, this is quoted from his work. I believe his work is now considered in the public domain. Please inform me if this isn’t the case, as I will swiftly remove this.
The whole premise of Hanson’s book is that universalism, as manifested in Christian theology, is not, and was not, considered heretical to Christians from 0-500 A.D. He outlines the history of the belief among prominent and minor Church Fathers (and Mothers) and shows that universalism was actually the dominant belief of Christians, and if we are going to be honest with ourselves, we cannot truly claim the belief to be heretical.
“If we want to be true and honest Christians, we must go back to those earliest ante-Nicene authorities, the true fathers of the church.” ~ Max Muller
1) During the First Century the primitive Christians did not dwell on matters of eschatology, but devoted their attention to apologetics; they were chiefly anxious to establish the fact of Christ’s advent, and of its blessings to the world. Possibly the question of destiny was an open one, till Paganism and Judaism introduced erroneous ideas, when the New Testament doctrine of the apokatastasis was asserted, and universal restoration became an accepted belief, as stated later by Clement and Origen, A.D. 180-230.
2) The Catacombs give us the views of the unlearned, as Clement and Origen state the doctrine of scholars and teachers. Not a syllable is found hinting at the horrors Augustinian endless terror, but the inscription on every monument harmonizes with the Universalism of the early fathers.
3) Clement declares that all punishment, however severe, is purificatory; that even the ‘torments of the damned’ are curative. Origen explains even Gehenna as signifying limited and curative punishment, and both, as all the other ancient Universalists, declare that ‘everleasting’ (aionion) punishment, is consonant with universal salvation. So that it is no proof that other primitive Christians who are less explicit as to the final result, taught endless punishment when they employ the same terms.
4) Like our Lord and his Apostles, the primitive Christians avoided the words with which the Pagans and Jews defined their versions of endless punishmen: aidios or adialeiopton timoria (endless torment), a doctrine the latter believed, and knew how to describe; but they, the early Christians, call punishment, as did our Lord, kolasis aionios, discipline, chastisement, of indefinitie, limited duration.
5) The early Christians taught that Christ preached the Gospel to the dead, and for that purpose descended into Hades. Many held that he released all who were in ward. This shows that repentance beyond the grave, perpetual probation, was then accepted, which precludes the modern error that the soul’s destiny is decided at death.
6) Prayers for the dead were universal in the early church, which would be absurd, if their condition is unalterably fixed at the grave.
7) The idea that false threats were necessary to keep the common people in check, and that the truth might be held esoterically, prevailed among the earlier Christians, so that there can be no doubt that many who seem to teach endless punishment, really held the broad universalistic views in more academic works, as we know the most did, and preached terrors pedagogically to the laypersons.
8) The first comparatively complete systematic statement of Christian doctrine ever given to the world was by Clement of Alexandria, A.D. 180, and universal salvation was one of the tenets.
9) The first complete presentation of Christianity as a system was by Origen (A.D. 220) and universal salvation was explicitly contained in it.
10) Universal salvation was the prevailing doctrine in Christendom as long as Greek, the language of the New Testament and its writers, was the language of Christendom, rather than Latin, as used by Augustinians.
11) Universalism was generally believed in the first three centuries, when Christians were most remarkable for simplicity, goodness, and missionary zeal, giving communally to all, freely sacrificing their lives as martyrs (thus, one does not need the fear of eternal torment to evangelize or love others).
12) Universalism was least known when Greek, the language of the New Testament was least known, and when Latin was the language of the Church in its darkest, most ignorant, and corrupt ages (ie: medieval period).
13) Not a writer among those who describe the heresies of the first three hundred years intimates that Universalism was then a heresy, though it was believed by many, if not by the majority, and certainly the greatest of the fathers (Origen, the Gregorys, Clement, Basil, etc.)
14) Not a single creed for five hundred years expresses any idea contrary to universal restoration, or in favor of endless punishment. All of the creeds we use in modern times, that were written in the Patristic period, were created and written by proponents of universal salvation. These are some of the very creeds biblical inerrantists use to claim in our contemporary times that universal salvation is a damnable belief.
15) With the exception of the arguments of Augustin (A.D. 420), there is not an argument known to have been framed against Universalism for at least four hundred years after Christ, by any of the ancient fathers, even those who did not believe Universalism.
16) While the councils that assembled in various parts of Christendom, anathematized every kind of doctrine supposed to be heretical, no oecumenical council, for more than five hundred years, condemned Universalism, though it had been advocated in every century by the principal scholars and most revered saints.
17) As late as A.D. 400, Jerome says ‘most people’ (plerique) and Augustine says ‘very many’ (quam plurimi), believed in Universalism, notwithstanding that the tremendous influence of Augustine, and the mighty power of the semi-pagan secular arm were arrayed against it.
18) The principal ancient Universalists were Christian born and reared, and were among the most scholarly and saintly of all the ancient saints, as many were the founders of famous seminaries, theological/philosophical libraries, and conducted
themselves in a loving manner, as testified by contemporaries and historians.
19) The most celebrated of the earlier advocates of endless punishment were heathen/pagan born, and led corrupt lives in their youth. Tertullian, one of the first, and Augustine, the greatest of them, confess to having been among the most vile, and believed they deserved to be punished for it.
20) The first advocates of endless punishment, Minucious Felix, Tertullian, and Augustine, were Latins, ignorant of Greek, and less competent to interpret the original meaning of Greek Scriptures than were the Greek universalistic scholars. The prior relied on faulty and erroneous Latin translations.
21) The first advocates of Universalism, after the Apostles, were Greeks, in whose mother-tongue the New Testament was written. They found their Universalism in the Greek Bible and passed down through disciples of the Apostles. Who should be correct, they or the Latins?
22) The Greek Fathers announced the great truth of universal restoration in an age of darkness, sin and corruption. There was nothing to suggest it to them in the world’s literature or religion. It was wholly contrary to everything around them. Where else could they have found it, but where they say they did, in the Gospel? Many in these modern times think universalism is paganistic, but that is quite the opposite: Christian theology is the first to have birthed universalism.
23) All ecclesiastical historians and the best Biblical critics and scholars agree to the prevalence of Universalism in the earlier centuries. Many scholars who once wrote of the lack of Universalism have corrected themselves apologetically after further research and discovery.
24) From the days of Clement of Alexandria to those of Gregory of Nyssa and Theodore of Mopsuestia (A.D. 180-428), the great theologians and teachers, almost without exception, were Universalists. No equal number in the same centuries were comparable to them for learning and goodness in Christian theology.
25) The first theological school in Christendom, that in Alexandria, taught Universalism for more than two hundred years.
26) In all Christendom, from A.D. 170 to 430, there were six Christian schools. Of these four, the only strictly theological schools, taught Universalism, and but one endless punishment.
27) The three earliest Gnostic sects, the Basilidians, the Carpocratians and the Valentinians (A.D. 117-132) are condemned by Christian writers, and their heresies pointed out, but though they taught Universalism, that doctrine is never condemned by those who oppose them. Irenaeus, in his famous ‘Against Heresies’ condemned the errors of the Carpocratians, but does not reprehend their Universalism, though he ascribes the doctrine to them.
28) The first defense of Christianity against Infidelity (Origen against Celsus) puts the defense on Universalistic grounds. Celsus charged the Christians’ God with cruelty because he punished with fire. Origen replied that God’s fire is curative; that he is a ‘Consuming Fire’ because he consumes sin, but not the sinner. The sinner, he saves.
29) Origen, the chief representative of Universalism in the ancient centuries, was bitterly opposed and condemned for various heresies by ignorant and cruel fanatics. He was accused of opposing Episcopacy, believing in pre-existence, etc., but never was condemned for his Universalism. The very council that anathematized ‘Origenism’ eulogized Gregory of Nyssa, who was explicitly a Universalist as was Origen. Lists of his errors are given by Methodius, Pamphilus, Eusebius, Marcellus, Eustathius, and Jerome, but Universalism is never named by one of his opponents. Fancy a list of Ballou’s errors and his Universalism omitted; Hippolytus (A.D. 320) names thirty-two known heresies, but Universalism is not mentioned once. Epiphanius, ‘the hammer that crushes heretics,’ describes eighty heresies, but he does not mention universal salvation, though Gregory of Nyssa, who as we have said, was a strong universalist, was, at the time Epiphanius wrote, the most conspicuous figure in Christendom. Why, if Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, two of the most influential figures of their time, who were both strong universalists, were never called out for their universalism if it was considered heresy?
30) Justinian, a half-pagan emperor, who attempted to have universalism officially condemned, lived in the most corrupt epoch of the Christian centuries. He closed the theological schools, and demanded the condemnation of Universalism by law; but the doctrine was so prevalent in the church that the council refused to obey his edict to suppress it. Lecky says the age of Justinian was ‘the worst form of civilization has assumed.’
31) The first clear and definite statement of human destiny by any Christian writer after the days of the Apostles, includes universal restoration, and that doctrine was advocated by most of the greatest and best (here meaning the most influential, those we know lived their lives according to the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount, those who did not want to persecute heretics [such as the likes of the vicious Augustine], etc.) of the Christian Fathers for the first five hundred years of the Christian Era.
In one word, a careful study of the early history of the Christian religion, will show that the doctrine of universal restoration was least prevalent in the darkest, and prevailed most in the most enlightened of the earliest centuries — that it was the prevailing doctrine of the Primitive Christian Church.
~John Wesley Hanson, Universalism~

Syndicated from Interdependently Independent

We Are Placed Among Things That Are Passing Away

Grant that I, Lord, may not be anxious about earthly things, but love things heavenly; and even now, while I am placed among things that are passing away, hold fast to those that shall endure…
I read these words in my prayer book this morning. I have prayed these words before, at times rushing past them mechanically, at times supplying a quick inventory of the things in my life that tend to make me anxious, at times pondering the heavenly things that I ought to be loving instead of the earthly things that so easily take hold of my fickle affections. But I’ve never spent much time on that middle clause: “even now, while I am placed among things that are passing away.”
I paused there this morning. I thought back to the previous evening where I had prayed with a group of older saints. I thought about how we had made a long list of the people we cared about whose bodies were falling apart, whether because of age or illness or neglect. People who are, when it comes right down to it, passing away. “We’re all on our way there,” one person grimly remarked. I cleared my throat awkwardly. Well yes, of course we’re all on our way. But who wants to be reminded that they are one of the things that are passing away?
I’ve been thinking this morning about things that are passing away (things other than, of course, my self)— things that so naturally produce anxiety, in our world and in my own soul. About my kids who are growing up way too fast, about the choices and the challenges they will face in the world. About all of the anxiety that the passing from childhood to adulthood brings along with it. About friends and family and the inevitable losses that we will all face. About money and influence and power and politics and all of the tawdry charades that dominate the daily news. About how history so reliably repeats itself, and how so much of it comes to nothing in the end. About controversial issues and ignorant opinions and truth and lies and the grinding task of sorting through them all. About our relentless demand to be entertained. About the church and of the familiar forms and assumptions that are passing away. About the things that I cling to for identity and status in the world and how these things will, inevitably, fade away. I thought about what it might be like to be unremembered.
I looked out my rain-streaked window and grumbled to God that I would rather be placed somewhere other than among things that are passing away. I would prefer to be placed among other, better things—things that are being renewed, for example, or at the very least things that are staying the same long enough for me to get a handle on them. It is surely a truism that human beings bear the unique burden of possessing both the knowledge of life’s transitory and fragile nature, and at the same time having an inextinguishable longing for eternity lodged stubbornly in our hearts.
But grumbling rarely gets me very far, whether to God or to anyone else. Probably better to focus on how I might learn and grow and maybe even change, even now, while I am placed among things that are passing away. There are no shortage of potential lessons to commend themselves. To cling less tightly to things, perhaps. To invest less in what ultimately matters very little. To be relieved of the burden (and forgiven of the sin) of imagining that I am my own little god tasked with managing my own little domain of grievances, trials, and tribulations (real or, more likely, imagined). To have more grace. To smile more. To resist allowing my attitudes and responses to be yanked around by machines that feed on outrage and division. To not expect from things that are passing away what can only come as gifts from God. To be at peace with my neighbour, with the world, and with God.
And, of course, to hold fast to what will endure. Which is what, exactly?
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Cor. 13:13).
Grant that I, Lord, may not be anxious about earthly things, but love things heavenly…
The heavenliest thing to love is, of course, God. And God is love. So love is both mode and meaning, both witness and way. Love is our habit and our home, while we are here, placed among things that are passing away.

Syndicated from Rumblings

Season After Pentecost (Proper 21[26]) – The Epistles Passage: The divide between the health of the soul/spirit and the health of the body/psyche

“Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. “ (James 5:13)
Why is it that sometimes the best advice also sounds like the most trite and shallow advise? Indeed if someone is suffering, prayer is a good thing. But prayer does not always relieve suffering. It is not like a bandage that suddenly turns the suffering into “everything being okay.” It is not that simple. And what makes the first piece of advice son “flighty” is the admonition that those who are cheerful should “sing songs of praise.” It just seems like superficial advise.
“Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven.” (Verses 14 – 15)
And if the “prayer of faith” does not “save” them – does not heal them? Then what? And why is forgiveness of sins tied in with being sick? I am suspicious that Old Testament thinking about the body is behind some of the writer of James’ suggestions. Being one who has physical ailments, and is educated in ailments of the mind & the spirit/soul, I dislike very much improper and harmful cause-and-effect theories concerning all three.

“Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” (Verse 16)
I consulted with the commentary by Albert Barnes, and as usual his careful discussion and analysis helped me see this passage from a different perspective. Perhaps Barnes’ analysis is not exactly what the writer of the book of James meant; but I am not questioning that. What Barnes helped me see is that it is very possible that the writer of the book of James is giving a quick reminder to his readers who would have understand his brief exhortations are under girded with a much longer preaching at another time/in another place. The writer of the book of James lightly touches on what has a much broader and deeper consideration behind it.
“Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.” (Verses 17 – 18)
If one compares the admonition to pray, praise, and confess with Elijah’s devotion and depth of faith, it comes much closer to what I would have expected in the first place.

“My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (Verses 19 – 20)
If then illness comes from having a sinful nature or by what ever means falling into sin where previously there was no sin, then the turning back from that will be an event for great rejoicing. And if we are to bundle together sin and ill health, then the saving from sin will also return one to health. It is, however, bile on my tongue to lump the two together. I would rather commend the concerned believer who leads a fellow believer back from the edge of sin; or extol a believer who has turned someone from a sinful life to a being a true believer. It makes me uncomfortable to intermingle health and faith belief. Perhaps in that far off (or not so far off) day when I have a chance to discuss such theological issues, I can better see what thinking went into such passages. Or maybe, having been informed of the divide that there is, biblical writers might revise their theology. For now, beloved reader, let us work towards health in both spheres of human experience. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

How to Be a Bad Theologian

I’ve been thinking this morning about, of all things, hockey pools. For those unfamiliar with this phenomenon, a group of friends get together before the season and pick which NHL players they think will score the most points in the upcoming season. You assemble your roster and then watch to see how they perform against other people’s rosters in the year ahead. I’ve been doing this with a bunch of guys over the past few days. I tend to be pretty terrible at hockey pools, but it’s all good fun.
There are a number of reasons for my historically absymal performance in hockey pools. I tend to disproportionally pick with my heart rather than my head. I pick my favourite players or players I would most like to see succeed in the year ahead, whether because their personal story appeals to me or they play the game in a way I admire or they avoid some of the typical moronic behaviours or pro athletes (although I did pick Evander Kane, so, apparently I’m ok with the odd strategic departure from my ideals). I also tend to pick players from my favourite team (the Calgary Flames; cue mockery). Both of these are variations of what psychologists call confirmation bias. My picks align with what I want to be the case in the hockey season ahead.
My most basic error may, however, be less psychological than theological. This sounds weird and forced, I know—just the sort of thing that an amateur theologian might come up with on a dreary and weary Friday morning. But stay with me for a minute. My strategy for making my picks, such as it is, involves little more than calling up last year’s statistics, analyzing who got the most points or most points per game, and then unimaginatively extrapolating this to the future. What players have done is the basis of my assessment of what they will do in the year ahead. There is little room in my “system” for newness—for the impressive rookie who blows everyone away (i.e., Matt Barzal, last year) or the journeyman who has an utterly unexpected return to form (i.e., Eric Staal) or the career season that nobody saw coming (i.e., half of the Vegas Golden Knights).
In sum, my picks betray a failure to consistently adhere to the theological premise which forms the spine of the Christian narrative: the way things have been does not determine or even accurately predict how they will be. Newness is not only possible, but promised.
It’s one thing to make a theological error when it comes to something as trivial as a hockey pool. It’s quite another to make it in other more important areas of life. But we do this, too, don’t we?
We view the troublesome teenager as little more than the aggregate of their past mistakes rather than allowing for learning, maturity and growth.
The prospects for a marriage are constrained by the habits and heartaches of what has come before rather than possibilities for new expressions of love to take shape and flourish.
Our evaluation of the trajectory of civil discourse and mutual pursuit of truth is ground down by the unrelenting negativity of what we observe and have contributed to in the past, rather than a hope, however feeble, that human beings can rise above the tribalism and posturing that comes so naturally to us.
Our longing for justice and peace—for our neighbourhoods and for our world—is stifled by long acquaintance with their absence rather the the astounding visions that fired the imaginations of prophets like Micah, Amos, Isaiah, and Jesus of Nazareth.
Our assessment of the possibilities for church—our church or the church—is more dependent upon sociological trends of decline that we see all around us than on the promise of Christ that he will be with us always, even to the very end of the age.
To be a pessimist is, perhaps, to be a bad theologian. Come to think of it, maybe even to be a realist is to be a bad theologian. It’s one thing to not allow for newness in a hockey pool; it’s quite another to rule it out of a world loved into being by the One who says, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

Syndicated from Rumblings

Season After Pentecost (Proper 17[22]) – The Psalm Passage Gospel Passage: Praise and the Beloved Believer of the Lord God

“My heart overflows with a goodly theme; I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe. You are the most handsome of men; grace is poured upon your lips; therefore God has blessed you forever.” (Psalm 45:1- 2)

I’m up against in, beloved reader. Commentator after commentator insists that this psalm speaks of the Messiah, the Son and Sent of the Divine. So of course it should be filled with superlatives, praising the Lord God and the Triune Lord on all aspects of the Divine. Except . . . there is one or two little problems. First, it is introduced as a “wedding song” and concerns the sons of Korah. Second, the psalms exhorts the warrior to strap a sword onto his thigh. The portion chosen for the lectionary excludes that, as it does verse 10 where the psalm addresses the lady of the couple. The commentators so artfully discern this as directing women to focus on the Lord God as their spouse and not think of human relationships. This makes sense if we cast the Song of Solomon as a love ballad concerning believers and the Lord God. Which actually I did several days ago. But, oh beloved reader, it rubs my strictness of biblical interpretation to allow this psalm to be other than what the psalmist wrote about.
It is filled with praise for the Lord God.
“Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever. Your royal scepter is a scepter of equity; you love righteousness and hate wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions; your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia. From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad; . . .” (Verses 6 – 8)
It truly was my intention to let this psalm stand as a praise of the Lord God, lifted up by devoted believers. But I still chafe at some of the verses being so . . . . re-appropriated!
“. . . daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor; at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.” (Verse 9)
It is easier to just move on to the next psalms passage, the one attached to the previous Old Testament passage, Deuteronomy chapter four. Here I feel on more solid ground.
“O LORD, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?
Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart; who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors; in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the LORD; who stand by their oath even to their hurt; who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent. Those who do these things shall never be moved.” (Psalm 15)
But this is less praise of the Lord God and more a description of those who love and follow the Lord.
Back at the beginning of the week, the thrust of my comments centered on how the Lord God instructs us, what type of language the Divine uses to woo us into belief. There was the compassionate passionate invitation to faith from a loving committed God. And there was the stern commands of an authoritative God. And I posed the question, which type of invitation from the Divine would most draw you in? Because, beloved reader, the way you are drawn into the Lord often determines the way you praise the Lord. Do you see yourself in a Lover/Beloved relationship the Divine that has all the outward signs of commitment and matrimony? Or do you see yourself as worthy of being in relationship with the Divine because you have passed all the tests of character that have been given to you? I have to wonder and ponder what your answer might be. Shalom!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 15[20]) – The Gospel Passage: “Eating” and “Drinking” with good sense and judgment

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (John 6:51 – 52)
You know, beloved reader, it occurred to me that we have a unique view of this passage because we know what happens to Jesus. We know the story of the Last Supper. We know the motif that Jesus will fulfill at the end of his life. Here, as far as the disputing Jews are concerned Jesus is proposing something totally outside of their understanding, and extremely disdainful considering their dietary laws. Surely at some point the disputing Jesus must have figured out that Jesus was making a metaphor concerning full and total acceptance of what he was preaching.
“So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” (Verses 53 – 55)
So we pass from the disconcerting image of eating human flesh and blood to idea that what Jesus was preaching about had impact for life and death, and an existence beyond this world. And that Jesus was not just a mortal person but something beyond that.
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.” (Verses 56 – 57)
Let us step back for a moment and consider this. Believing in what Jesus is saying is a choice. I find it interesting that the writer of the gospel of John says the Jews were disputing amongst themselves – it does not say disputing with Jesus. But amongst their own group. Can we take this to mean that some of them understood what Jesus was trying to explain to them? That perhaps some of the believed? I would like to hold out the possibility that some did understand the message that Jesus was giving them. That they understood in the same way that Ezekiel ate the scroll offered to him, that they taken in and absorb the ways and wisdom of Jesus.
It also occurs to me that it does not take the wisdom of Solomon to know enough to follow Jesus. As I alluded to before, Solomon offered sacrifices in the “high places” meaning the places where offering to other deities were done. Jesus, looking back over the ancestral Jews, commented that they made choices that did not give them eternal life. And that for the traditions and rituals that the Jews of Jesus’ time abided by would not save them at the last day. Jesus was offering them the only thing that would redeem them and make them acceptable to the Divine.
“This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” (Verse 58)
I said last time we talked, I am optimistic that the majority of people in the world are kind and caring, making choices that reflect concern and undertaking for others. Choices, and more over balanced choices, are they way to make our way through the world and come out at a place where there is eternal life and a world to come. What we choice to believe has consequences, as does how we live out our beliefs. Consider carefully, beloved reader, and make good choices. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 14[19]) – The Epistle Passage: When sins are deep

“So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.
Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.
Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:25 – 30)
Lying, sinful rage, stealing, evil talk – that is quite a list that Paul has started here. While I do not like reading a list of all the terrible things a person can do, what I do appreciate (if that is a sentiment that fits with this topic) is that all of these sins are ones that start with our thoughts and attitudes. Because if it not the human body that is inherently sinful but the human mind and spirit. Yes, we can direct our bodies to do all sorts of actions; but the starting point is always the intent to be contrary to the law of love. And, as Paul so eloquently puts it, to grieve the Holy Spirit of God. That, I think, is the greatest sin. Know what will displease the Divine and doing it anyway. Unfortunately it is a common trait amongst humanity. We may not at the time or in the moment realize what we have done, but the outcome is the same.
“Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” (Verses 31 – 32)
And from grieving the Divine it is a short step to causing pain etc for others. Or it may be that causing upset to others is the first intention, and that what it does to the Divine Spirit is a secondary outcome. Doesn’t really matter which end you start at in sinning – the Divine or your fellow human – the end outcome is the same.
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Chapter 5, verses 1 – 2)
It does, but it should not, amaze me how many ways we can go wrong in living in this life. And I am including myself. Even if you think you are following Paul’s good examples and teachings as the above, you can still “grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” Did you think, beloved reader, that if you do as Paul says as above you would be sin free? (I know I am being tough here, but bear with me.) Verses 31 to 32 tells us what should avoid doing. But it is the first two verses of chapter 5 that set the benchmark. We may do all the right things and be caring gracious people, and yet miss the mark of being “imitators of God” and being “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”. Does that mean we should give up and not try? By no means!!!
Let me tell you, sinning does not take away the “seal for the day of redemption”. And grieving the Holy Spirit of God does not mean we are lost forever. Throughout this passage Paul is talking about what his readers/audience had done. It is not a condemnation, not a “you missed up so all is lost.” It is an exhortation to see what humanity has done and to mend its ways. If we have grieved the Holy Spirit, we can also make the Holy Spirit rejoice when we set ourselves the task of being the best imitator of God that we can be.
Yes, our sins may be deep. But we are not stuck in that depth. We are not condemned to live at a depth of sin so great that we are lost to the Divine. Take courage, beloved reader. Christ loved us enough to give up himself so that we might be saved and redeemed. Even if we have to be re-saved and re-redeemed every day. The depth of the Divine’s love is deeper than the deepest of any sin. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 13[18]) – The Psalms Passage: Asking for forgiveness for the small and big sins in life

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.” ( (Psalm 51:1 – 5)
I can’t say that I agree with everything the psalmist says here. Actually it is only one thing that I disagree with – that when a child is born it is already guilty of sin. Sin means deciding against God and belief in Jesus Christ, and deliberately choosing to not follow the law of love. Infants and small children have no concept of choosing for or against God. And no concept of the consequences. I firmly belief that the mercy and compassion of God covers children until that point in their lives comes when they realize there is a choice, and that they showed chose. I was about twelve years old when I came to that point. There is no one preset age. But I digress. I guess what I mean is that this psalm is for the adults in the crowd who have come to the place in their lives when they have decided.
“You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.” (Verses 6 – 8)
Here again the psalmist and I diverge slightly. Verse 8 implies that it is good that the Lord has disciplined us and we should be glad of it. Coming to see and realize one’s sins and ask/receive forgiveness is a good thing. I just don’t think has to be or necessarily is “bone crushing” but I allow the psalmist poetic license. But you know, if the psalmist is King David and he was seeing the magnitude of the sins he committed, maybe he did feel that his bones needed to be crushed a little bit!
“Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.” (Verses 9 – 12)
This week our theme has been small and large things, minor and major issues and consequences. There is no greater issue than the committing of sin, and no larger need than forgiveness. And actually in the Divine’s sight there is no such thing as small and large sins, no matter how much we may like to categorize levels of “being bad” and assessing people according to the mistakes and missteps they make. If God’s compassion, grace, mercy, salvation, and redemption (to include all the aspects of forgiveness) is sufficient – then we should not give into temptation to judge. That would be sin!
“Yet he commanded the skies above, and opened the doors of heaven;
he rained down on them manna to eat, and gave them the grain of heaven.
Mortals ate of the bread of angels; he sent them food in abundance.
He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens, and by his power he led out the south wind;
he rained flesh upon them like dust, winged birds like the sand of the seas;
he let them fall within their camp, all around their dwellings.
And they ate and were well filled, for he gave them what they craved.” (Psalm 78:23-29)
The Divine knew that his creation humanity would need forgiveness. If the Divine who created Adam and Eve was/is as knowledgeable as believers believe, then the Divine knew that the Tree of Knowledge would be their downfall. And yet it was created. So the need for forgiveness (and all that it entails) was pretty much brought into being at the same time. The Lord God provided food for the Hebrews in the desert, and Jesus said that was a lessor thing than the Bread of Life that the Divine Lord God established.
The Hebrews asked for sustenance in the desert and it was given. It is the next logical step to ask for something more lasting. Do not be afraid to ask, beloved reader. Ask for what you need, in small or large measure. If it is necessary to your continuing to be a child of God, it will be given. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Season After Pentecost (Proper 13[18]) – The Gospel Passage: Issues in life great and small, clear and unclear

“So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” ( John 6:24 – 25)
In other words, “What did we miss?” The success of the loaves and fishes was so great that the crowd was seeking more instant food. Jesus decided to put a stop to that and instead directed their attention of more important matters.
“Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (Verses 26 – 29)
Was this an earnest inquiry? Did the crowd truly want a way to gain eternal life – that is, salvation and redemption? According to some commentators I read, yes the inquiry was sincere. And Jesus’ answer was to tell them it is not works – that is, human endeavors – that bestows salvation but belief in Jesus as Messiah.
“So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?” (Verse 30)
It is this question that makes me doubt the sincerity of those gathered. One commentator posits that it was not the seeking and believing crowd that asked this but those pesky Jewish leaders that were constantly seeking and demanding signs and proofs yet not believing when it was presented to them.
“Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'” (Verse 31)
It is also this statement that makes me wonder about this second set of question askers. We seem to be right back at the issue of food being provided. At first glance it seems to connects to the miracle of the loaves and fishes that Jesus performed. But the miracle, according to a commentator I read, is attributed to Moses and not to the Lord God that Moses believed in. And not to the Lord God who lead the Hebrews out of Egypt. Jesus again tries to readjust the “crowds” thinking. That what the “ancestors” received was food; what Jesus is offering sustains not the body but the soul.
“Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (Verses 32 – 33)
I want to add an “aside” at this point; it seems to me this is a fairly disjointed passage. The “crowd” at various points seems to take on different perspectives and attitudes. The writer of the gospel of John does not clearly identify who is in this crowd or what type of members it is composed of. And that it segues into such a clear yet mystical statement by Jesus of his mission on the earth leaves me wondering if we have not been reading a montage of conversations.
“They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (Verses 34 – 35)
We started out at the beginning of this passage being given the crowd’s (that is one type of crowd) perspective on Jesus’ track record of miracles, and this crowd wonders what they have missed in “awesome factor” and food. Then this crowd focuses in on the underlying message of Jesus’ miracles, that he represents a Divine Lord who offers salvation and eternal life. And they want this. But then the crowd (or is it another crowd) asks for proof that Jesus is who he says he is. Is he (Jesus), they ask, like Moses who was on a Divine mission from God? When Jesus answers, I am not really sure anymore which crowd he is addressing; the sincere crowd or the questioning crowd? And that the gospel writer does not seem to give much direction as to who is who makes me wonder if the point was not to give Jesus the opportunity to set down doctrine and theology.
However, beloved reader, in the middle of the muddle we have a clear statement that the work of believers is to believe in the One who was sent and that the Sender is the Divine. In the middle of a muddle it’s nice to have a solid direction. May you, beloved reader, set aside the small issues of life and focus in on the larger more lasting & eternal issues. And may the Holy Spirit make it clear to you. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

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