Posts Tagged Spiritual Life
While the superstore would never ever admit it, what I witnessed this “Black Friday” morning was a major corporation organizing itself in such a way for which the only reasonable explanation is that they do not believe in the “goodness” or in the “reasonableness” of humanity.
I have not done “Black Friday” door buster shopping for probably 14 years. This year, there is one gift (the initials of it are Nintendo Switch) that I rolled out of bed to try to nab. Alas, to no avail, “online special only” I was told.
Upon entering the store, the door buster cohort and I were literally herded (no other appropriate term here) by Walmart shepherds through a single looping one-way street with a towering median of door buster items. Credit goes to the workers for having the median so well-organized. However, this plan was doomed to fail. People are going to cross the median; they are going to go the opposite way in the one way lane; they are going to get to the thing for which they woke up at 4am.
The amazing observation here is that Walmart anticipated this. Not only did they anticipate our/my consumerism would prevail over circumstances of pandemic proportions, but also the powers that be saw the nasty cocktail of “Black Friday” during a pandemic, and said, “Cards on the table; we don’t trust in the orderly goodness of humanity. We will build a wall and corale them into our loopity loop. We’ll station workers like security guards at every 10 yards.” While the superstore executives would never ever say it publicly (nor would the government), actions speak louder than words. Walmart believes in total depravity.
For those reading who are unfamiliar with total depravity, it is the Christian doctrine found in the Bible that teaches that humanity is not always as bad as it can be, but it is as bad off as it possibly could be.” That is to say, at any given moment, human beings by nature possess an indwelling spiritual bankruptcy that has the capability to be and do great evil.
Walmart anticipated this. They acted as one would expect a believer in total depravity to act. Did the superstore’s plan work? Not at all. The plan disintegrated after the first person had to wait at the first turn. People dispersed and broke every law.
Every external law fails to cure or order the totally depraved soul. Law simply can’t do the job. This is why Paul wrote in Romans 8,
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.(Rom. 8:1–6 ESVi)
Only the God of the Bible through the work of Jesus Christ by the power of the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit can resurrect spiritual life in a totally depraved sinner. Jeremiah the prophet asked,
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?(Jer. 17:9 ESVi)
The answer is God.
“I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”(Jer. 17:10 ESVi)
And upon his searches and tests, humanity is found wanting; we are found incurably wounded with a heart that lies to us about our spiritual condition. For this reason, God sent and revealed his Son, as the Nicene Creed teaches,
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven;
he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,
and was made human.
He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried.
The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again with glory
to judge the living and the dead.
His kingdom will never end.
If the Spirit of God is awakening you to the truth of your own depravity (as he did me), then you are ready to receive the good news,
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”(John 3:16 ESVi)
Thanks Walmart. Thanks for reminding us that we really aren’t as good as we think we are. We aren’t okay. We aren’t law abiding, good little boys and girls. We are sinners. Thanks be to God, for he has spoken to us in these last days by his Son, who after making purification for sins, sat down at the right hand of Majesty and now offers to us a life and salvation sweeter than ten thousand charms (and Nintendo Switches). Merry Christmas! Christ has come!
Will you practice Lent in 2018? I have practiced in the past; however, it’s admittedly been a few years.
To be honest, Lent (and a strict Christian calendar in general) is something that I struggle to reconcile with apostolic teaching from Paul, who wrote,
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Colossians 2:16-3:4).
Paul seems to be instructing that asceticism and calendars are overrated compared to Christ and underwhelming in the battle against the sinful nature. Then, he compels readers to set their minds on their union with Christ in the experience of the gospel; that is, think on heavenly accomplishments rather than earthly shadows for power in the spiritual life.
Before my theological education, I found this liberating. During my education, knowledge of church history, extra-biblical Christian texts, and exposure to a variety of Christians in various traditions caused me to wonder if I was missing out on my historical heritage – I didn’t want to act as if my Christianity was the only Christianity that there ever has been. Having been removed from the academic environment for about 7 years now, I’ve felt pulled in two directions – one existing in my knowledge of the historical expression of the Christian, spiritual life and one existing in my simple, post-conversion liberty found only in Christ and his gospel.
I imagine that some may respond in saying the historical liturgy aims to image the gospel and to orient all of life around it. I can see that, but I can also see how it possibly focuses the mind on shadows of the gospel rather than on the reality itself.
When I turn to the Scriptures for clarity, the only “icons” we’re given are the Eucharist and Baptism. We weren’t given any specific fasts or specific festivals or holy days. In fact, this 2013 article by Nicholas V. Russo casts all kinds of doubt on any solid proto-Nicene Lent tradition. At the most, one can say that the early church employed fasts and certain days as tools to prepare catechumens for Baptism. These lesser things served the people and the true apostolic ordinances.
Today marks the beginning of Lent for many of my brothers and sisters. My hope for them is that they aren’t only living in the shadow but also in the reality of the union we share in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have died. Our life is hidden in Christ with God. I want to know more of this death and life with which I have been united. I’m just not certain that Lent is the way. I’ll remember my Baptism; I’ll sit at the Lord’s table, I’ll hear the word of redemption in Christ; I’ll gaze upon the Head of the church, and try to yield to his Spirit, whose aim it is to conform me to Christ.
7. You Sent Them Out Unarmed
As mentioned in my response to number 8, I think we do a fairly good job with regard to imparting quality doctrinal teaching and biblical literacy to our students. They study the Bible in our student ministry. They study doctrine in our student ministry. However, I think that Marc (the author) errs a bit too much if he indeed thinks that catechesis is THE solution. Catechesis or some sort of intentional discipleship is necessary to any ministry for growing believers; however, I am discovering more and more that a young person also needs to experience God in the spiritual life. I am not speaking of the Schleiermachian feeling based liberal theology that has birthed this hip nuance youth workers now call Moral Therapeutic Deism. What I am saying is that our young people need both to know the Triune God and to meet with the Triune God. He or she needs both instruction about God and his doings as well as to fellowship with him through spiritual disciplines and the life of the church. Personally, I sense that our student ministry is at the beginning of entering into a kind of discipleship that seeks to direct students to know God well and to experience his presence too. Here, there is an embrace of both catechesis and the spiritual life.
Now, I sense that our student ministry has some weaknesses too that we need to strengthen. First, while we dive deeply into the biblical text and doctrine every semester, I feel that the way in which I go about selecting biblical books to teach, theological themes to explore, or doctrines to learn is a bit aimless. This is what I am saying, I have six years with a student, 7th grade through 12th grade. Instead of a somewhat spontaneous selection of teaching content, I would like to see a discipleship plan or map for the whole six years . . . maybe even a couple of maps. The book Sustainable Youth Ministry speaks about the importance of developing a long-term teaching plan. This has been something that I have not yet implemented in our student ministry, but which I need to implement. I don’t want to totally remove spontaneity from the teaching curriculum of the youth ministry – come on, it IS youth ministry – but a plan or a map would give general direction for the six years of discipleship that we have with any given student. What do you think? We have six years with a student. What should be THE things that we cover, knowing that we will have Communities of Bible Study on Sunday mornings, Sunday Night Connect (our evening meeting), and Summer Small Groups, as well as at least 6 weekend retreats? This would be wonderful for our leadership team to help me think through. Second, we must continue to couple the knowledge of God and the experience of God hand-in-hand as a student ministry. I want our students experiencing God by answered prayer. I want them to fast and deepen their hunger for God. I want them to practice silence so that they listen to God in his word and to listen, as well as test, their own hearts and minds. I want them to practice personal bible study. I want them to be faithful in the sacraments of the church. I want them to participate in evangelism, real evangelism, where you actually share the gospel of Jesus Christ. So at Scofield, we are arming our students, but we can still do better. It isn’t simply a matter of them not being ignorant or biblical illiterate – which are not okay either – but it is also experiencing what we know about God to be true in our lives.
Concept of “Burden” in the OT and NT Greek Scriptures with Some Insights into the Apostolic Fathers: Part 4
The Term αἴρω
This term when employed to communicate the concept of משא attaches the nuance of lifting or raising a burden.
For example, consider Num. 4:15, 24, 47 (“the service of burden”); 11:12; Matt. 9:6; 11:29; 16:24; 27:32; Acts 4:24; Col. 2:14; 1 Jn. 3:5.
The Term ἀναφέρω
This term, to my knowledge, never translates the term משא when comparing the MT with the LXX; however, there is a conceptual parallel between the terms, and if considered, it attaches the nuance of carrying, bringing, the moving up from a lower position to a higher position of a burden, the offering of a sacrifice, or the bearing or taking up as a burden. In the NT and in the Apostolic Fathers, this mostly refers to the offering of sacrifices (literal or devotional) to God or to Christ offering himself up as the sacrifice for sins.
For example, consider possibly Isa. 53:12 (נשא); Mark 9:2; Heb. 7:27; James 2:21; 1 Pet. 2:24; Heb. 13:15; 2 Clement 2:2; Barnabas 12:7; Heb. 9:28; 1 Clement 16:12, 14.
I have been and continue to gather insight from a wide variety of folks concerning the topic of Radical Christianity. My next series of blog posts will consider and evaluate such a label. The reason for such an inquiry is personal really. I (think) that I want to be labeled as such; that is, I want to be the opposite of apathetic, indifferent with regard to my faith commitment to Jesus Christ and his Church. However, being the opposite of apathetic is not really enough for me; I want to be “on fire” for Christ and his mission. He has given his life for mine, and I want to give my life for his glory and mission. But as you can see, I (as well as many others, I think) struggle to really say what a Radical Christianity looks like. I have some more specific thoughts, but I do not want to give them away just yet—you’ll have to stay tuned.
The term “radical” can have a positive or negative connotation depending upon how the term resonates within a person. I visited one of my favorite sources in order to get a formal definition of the term. Here’s what www.dictionary.com had to contribute:
There are other glossary options under the “noun” heading, but all of them are very similar to what has already been stated.
1. of or going to the root or origin; fundamental: a radical difference.
2. thoroughgoing or extreme, esp. as regards change from accepted or traditional forms: a radical change in the policy of a company.
3. favoring drastic political, economic, or social reforms: radical ideas; radical and anarchistic ideologues.
4. forming a basis or foundation.
5. existing inherently in a thing or person: radical defects of character.
9. a person who holds or follows strong convictions or extreme principles; extremist.
10. a person who advocates fundamental political, economic, and social reforms by direct and often uncompromising methods.
I did edit the definition so as not to include unrelated glossary options (e.g., Mathematics, Botany). Here is another source, The Oxford American Dictionaries:
1. (especially of change or action) relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough : a radical overhaul of the existing regulatory framework.
- forming an inherent or fundamental part of the nature of someone or something : the assumption of radical differences between the mental attributes of literate and non-literate peoples.
- (of surgery or medical treatment) thorough and intended to be completely curative.
- characterized by departure from tradition; innovative or progressive : a radical approach to electoral reform.
2. advocating thorough or complete political or social (or religious) reform; representing or supporting an extreme section of a political party : a radical American activist (parentheses mine).
- (of a measure or policy) following or based upon such principles.
3. of or relating to the root of something (several examples from Mathematics, Language, Music and Botany are listed).
4. [usually as an exclamation] informal very good; excellent : Okay, then. Seven o’clock. Radical!
1. a person who advocates thorough or complete political or social (or religious) reform; a member of a political party or part of a party pursuing such aims (parentheses mine).
I find the definition of the term “radical” to be very interesting and provocative when applied to Christianity. In one sense, it calls for thorough upheaval of tradition; in another sense it calls for an extreme return to foundational principles.
I recently listened to Max McLean’s dramatic rendition of Martin Luther’s historic Here I Stand speech at the Diet of Worms in Worms, Germany on April 18th, 1521. As an evangelical, I am a child of the Reformation—whether I like the entirety of that label or not. It appears that Luther’s mind, heart and actions were radical—he took the risk of challenging corruption within a religious tradition and called for a return to what he saw as foundational to Christianity.
Fast forward to our time and the state of the Christian Church. How has this radicalism affected the universal Church, the local church, and the Christian life and practice of individual believers? Positively? Negatively? Does our apathy and indifference need to be cured by radical commitments and actions? What is the relationship between on fire radicalism and some kind of Church or local church authority? Can the two co-exist? If so, how? Is the Church the place for radicalism? Or is the world the place for radicalism? Or both? Is radicalism too American rather than something distinctly Christian? As you can see, I do not want to restrict the idea of Radical Christianity to individual practice alone, but also as it is attached to and affects the Church. Nothing we Christians do affects only our own selves.
I hope you’ll join me on this journey. May it lead each of us to a heart that is loyal to the one true God, to his people and to his mission.