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Archive for the ‘Spiritual Theology’ Category

A note from a friend of a friend that I found very interesting. I’d love to know your thoughts.


Hi folks,

I had an interesting conversation with Elizabeth XXXXXX  yesterday that I thought was worth expanding into a written reflection.

It seems to me that a lot of people’s faith in God rather closely tracks  the vagaries of their personal lives.  Something “good” happens to them,  and they react by praising and thanking God.  Something “bad” happens to  them, and they fall into doubt and confusion.  Their faith bounces up and down like the stock market.  What I’m wondering is, is this the way faith is supposed to be?

It’s easy to raise some objections.  The stock-market God apparently goes to great lengths to grant us parking places when we want them, while calmly allowing 300,000 people to die in an earthquake—though perhaps saving a few of them “miraculously”.  Apparently, the stock market God takes sides in sporting events, deserves the credit for my not being seriously injured in an accident but not the blame for the accident happening in the first place, and can ensure that it won’t rain on the day of the church picnic but can’t (or won’t) prevent a drought that causes thousands to starve to death.  Is this really a true picture of the God we worship?  Speaking for myself, I hope not.

On the other hand, what are the alternatives?  One alternative is one that, roughly speaking, I live by.  My faith in God doesn’t really
fluctuate along with fluctuations in my personal fortunes.  My faith remains high (though not at 100%) regardless of whether something “good” or “bad” happens in my personal life.  This approach has the advantage of avoiding the wild contradictions of the stock-market approach.  One side effect, though, is that I don’t spontaneously announce “Praise God!” when something “good” happens—say, when a medical test allows me to rule out a serious illness.  This isn’t because I’m ungrateful, or because the question of God’s role doesn’t occur to me.  The point is that I know that if the medical test had turned out the other way, I would have accepted it with the same equanimity.  To me, praising God for a negative test result carries an implicit assumption that a positive test result would *not* have been cause for praising God (or at least that praising God for a positive test result would require finding some silver lining in the cloud).  Since I don’t want to promote what I regard as a false view of God’s action, I refrain from exclamations that might be construed that way.

This attitude of mine strikes some people as wrong.  Surely my faith must be dry, lifeless, sterile, intellectual, stoical, and excessively
rational.  Surely I must be failing to engage my heart and my emotions.  Surely I lack a vibrant personal relationship with a personal God who cares intensely about my personal life.  Surely the believer who exults when “good” things happen and whose faith soars as a result, and who gets confused and struggles in anguish when “bad” things happen, enjoys a much more vibrant and meaningful spiritual life.  Surely?

I’m not completely sure how to respond, but one thing I do believe is that  I don’t think my emotions are any less engaged.  The word “emotion” seems to be associated with irrationality and with big up-and-down swings.  In my view, though, calmness, interest, and alertness are all emotions.  When “good” or “bad” things happen, all the knotty problems surrounding  the attribution of God’s action instinctively leap to the surface of my mind, because they are issues that I think about all the time.  One doesn’t constantly think about something that one is emotionally disengaged from.  Just because I have, through deep reflection and long training, arrived at a steady stock price that doesn’t destabilize with each piece of fresh news, doesn’t mean that my faith is “unemotional.”

Nevertheless, stock-market faith seems so pervasive that I have to wonder if we should regard it as “normal.”  That is, someone with a “normal” spiritual life is supposed to engage in soul-searching every time bad things happen, but ignore the deep theological puzzles behind the problem of evil when good things happen and just directly attribute pleasant events to God’s intervention.

Thanks,

Tim

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I am greatly looking forward to this:

Rod Wilson was born in Dublin, Ireland and immigrated as a child to Canada with his parents. He has served as President of Regent College since 2000. Originally trained as a clinical psychologist, Rod pursued theological training after the completion of his doctoral work. He has been involved in the field of counselling and consulting for over 30 years and held various positions at Tyndale College and Seminary in Toronto from 1978-1995: Professor, Dean of Students, Vice-President and Academic Dean. From 1983-1995 he held part-time staff positions in two different churches and from 1995-2000 he was the teaching pastor of a growing church in the suburbs of Toronto, Canada. In 2004, Rod received an honourary doctorate from Trinity Western University in recognition of his gifts of leadership and acuity of vision. He is the author of Counseling and Community and How Do I Help a Hurting Friend?—both award-winning books— and the co-author of Exploring Your Anger and Helping Angry People. He lives in Burnaby, BC with his wife, Bev.

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As promised, here is the text from the homily from last evening’s beautiful ceremony.

Jordan and Angie! I speak for all of us here today, your friends and family, in saying, we are honored to share this day with you. It’s wonderful to see the two of you – two people with such incredible gifts and passionate hearts– come together in the covenant of marriage with one another and God.

And, how good and right it is for us to be standing behind this house in this back yard to celebrate this moment.

It has been delightful to watch this story unfold  – how in your desire to live intentionally and incarnationally, you’ve invested so much in getting connected in this neighborhood and in restoring this house.

I was talking to your neighbor Antwan last night. He asked if I thought you were crazy for moving into this neighborhood. No I didn’t. I got that. But when I first visited this house…I started to have my doubts about your sanity. It didn’t have a floor! It was condemned to rot and be destroyed. But with your commitment, your passion, and love, we’ve watched you two take this house with all of its shortcomings and make it beautiful.

And while this house was being transformed, we’ve watched your relationship develop; you’ve experienced challenges, you’ve worked hard together. You’ve put down some deep roots and you’ve grown in love.

The passages from Scriptures you picked for today, speak to these themes of rootedness and growth:

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought,for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

“I am the true vine,” Jesus said. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.”

You know, we hear the word love used so often and it has so many different meanings depending on its context. But in the Gospel reading that you chose for this occasion, Jesus speaks of abiding in his love, remaining, staying, joining in his love. A love that is unselfish and self-sacrificing. This is true love. Not the fleeting emotions that can waver and shift but the kind of love that is described in the Epistle reading you chose for today – the love that rejoices in hope, is patient in tribulation, the kind of love that seeks to overcome evil with good.

We see the ultimate expression of this kind of love embodied in the life of Jesus. In his ministry among us, his suffering for our sins on the cross, and his defeat of death in his resurrection. True love is that Jesus Christ emptied himself for our sake, that just like this house, we might be his renovated and restored –something condemned, restored to great beauty.

This will be the kind of love that is demanded of you in your marriage: selfless, sacrificial love; love that calls you to lay your life down for the other.

It’s a tall task. Just as you were pushed hard at times to rebuild this home, your abilities to love one another well will be tested even more in building your marriage. You will be pushed. There will be challenges and difficulties. There will be days when you don’t feel much like loving or sacrificing for one another.

This has all been so beautifully transformed from what it was. Look around at this yard. It’s been literally transformed.

I want you to mark my words. If you allow it, your marriage will transform YOU. It will transform your lives into something even more beautiful than what you have done with this place; more stunning than what we are seeing today. Because by keeping your vows, by honoring one another, serving and laying your life down for one another, by trusting God with and for each another, your marriage will become a means by which God will make you Holy.

So REMEMBER – pray together.

Be quick to say these words if they are true:
“I am wrong. I am sorry. Please forgive me.”

I would also like to add, you are not in this alone. Turn around for a moment and look at all these people. All of these people love you. They are FOR you. Take a moment to soak in this.

Jordan and Angie, all of us gathered here today, your family and friends, FOR you. We are here to love and support you.

As much love and support for you as there is, it’s a drop in the vast ocean of God’s love for you. Of God’s support for you.

Believe in the power of what He is doing today. Believe that He is joining you together in a profound, mysterious, and amazing way. The two are becoming one. Believe that today God is imparting grace to you, spiritual power, to strengthen your marriage to overcome anything that would come against it.

Up until this point in your lives, you’ve experienced your relationship with God in specific ways. In just a moment, that’s about to change.

Jordan, God is just about to enter your life in a new and different way. Not for your sake but so that you may love and serve Angie. That you may be an outward and visible sign of God’s love for her, so that she may encounter Christ in you.

Angie, God is just about to enter your life in a new and different way. Not for your sake but so that you may love and serve Jordan. That you may be an outward and visible sign of God’s love for him, so that he may encounter Christ in you.

A profound mystery, this is a portrait of Christ and the Church. This is what it means to be married as Christians.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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[If] we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

– CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory

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The Crossing

Just read a thought provoking post today from Bishop Thad Barnum at his blog entitled “The Crossing.” It struck a chord as I’ve been thinking about how easy it is to do so much in the name of God and yet to never let our hearts be changed and converted. Bishop Barnum’s post explains how storms often come to expose our hearts and our tendencies towards double-mindedness or double-soulness.

Here I stand. At the crossing.

Sometimes I wish it wasn’t so hard to find. That what we see on the outside is what’s real on the inside. Just that simple. But too often the chasm between the two is huge.

And I forget about the crossing.

Sam taught me that years ago. He was the perfect testimony. He came to faith in Christ through the witness of Christian men in our church. And Sam jumped in. Bible studies. Home group. Ministries in the church and our local community. He gave time — which in his profession he had little of. He gave money to the church and beyond. Way beyond.

Because he cared for the needy. It hurt him to see people suffering.

One year, two, three, and he grew in Christ. Off he went on mission trips to remote parts of the world. Wanting to help. Needing to serve. Big heart.

Sam.

His name came up to serve in church leadership. Who could be better? He met all the criteria. Strong in belief. In conduct. In service. In leadership.

Sam.

Until the testing came. And it came hard. By the time we heard about it, it was too late. He’d left his job. Left his wife. Left his teenage kids. Left his church family. Sam was gone. The guys closest to him at church pursued him. They still do. Even to this day. So many years later.

Some said it was an affair. Others said something big happened at work. Was he caught doing drugs? Smuggling money? A cover up of some kind? It almost doesn’t matter. Whatever it was, it was big enough to expose his heart.

And that’s what testing does.

In the Parable of the Sower, the seed has to land in the heart. The good soil. If not, when testing comes, we fall away. (Mk 4:17)

The foundation has to be on rock. Not sand. So when the storm comes, we stand strong.  Unshaken. (Mt 7:25)

Jesus taught us this. The world is full of trial and trouble. What matters is that we’re ready for it. That what He has done in us is real. To the heart. And what He will do for us is see us through the storm. He will give us what we need to endure. To persevere.

That’s His promise.

James said it. All we have to do is ask. In the midst of the mess of this world, we ask the Lord “who gives to all generously and without reproach” and He gives us the wisdom we need in the moment. (Jas 1:5) As long as we ask in faith. And from faith.

Because our faith is real. He has penetrated our hearts.

But that’s the problem, isn’t it?

Sam looked so real. He said the right words. He did the right things. He leapt beyond himself for the sake of others. He wept at the reading of Scripture. He showed us what it means to have a passion for the things of God. He testified in church and outside church. He looked so real.

None of us dreamed that he lived in two worlds. One on the outside. One on the inside. And the one on the inside so dark and secretive, controlled and well-protected for so many years that maybe he never dreamed the storm would come. A big storm. Bigger than him.

Exposing him. Tearing his two worlds apart.

Double-minded, that’s what James called it.

A word meaning “two-souled.” It’s deeper than being two-faced, divided between the image outside and the heart inside.

It goes to the division of the soul. As if, deep in our core, we can be two.

And we can’t. Not before God. Never, never can we serve two masters and get away with it. (Mt 6:24) No matter how in control we think we are.

Because storms come. Storms expose.

Sam became exactly what James said, “like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.” (Jas 1:6) The storm hit and he was gone. His wife, teenage kids and church family bereft without him. His kids burned by their dad wondering if being a Christian is really even worth it.

Sam.

He taught me to stand at the crossing.

That it’s not enough, as a Christian leader, to help people believe in Jesus Christ, know the Bible, learn to pray, belong to the church, grow in service and ministry, give from our resources, serve the poor, the needy, the voiceless.

All of it can be done and the heart never touched. The gospel never real. The salvation given us in Jesus Christ never known in the depths of who we are. Outward Christians. Right words. Right deeds. Playing games. Two-souled.

So I make myself stand at the crossing.

Between the outside and the inside. And I beg the Lord to have mercy on us. To help us cross. So that Jesus Christ is real to our heart. In the depths of our soul. Before the storms come.

So we’re not like Sam. Disciples on the wrong foundation. Rooted in the wrong soil. Double-minded, two-souled, rudderless people at the time of testing. But just the opposite. We know Him. He knows us.

We’ve made the crossing. We’ve found real.

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The writings of St. Gregory of Sinai in the Philokalia provides us with these directions: “The measure of partaking of food that is free from sin and pleasing to God has three degrees: abstinence, adequacy, and satiety. To abstain means to remain a little hungry after eating: to eat adequately means neither to feel hungry nor weighed down. But eating beyond satiety is the door to gluttony through which lust comes in.”

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God is a compassionate God. This means, first of all, that our God has chosen to be God-with-us.

When do we receive real comfort and consolation? Is it when someone teaches us how to think or act? Is it when we receive advice about where to go or what to do? Is it when we hear words of reassurance and hope? Sometimes, perhaps. But what really counts is that in moments of pain and suffering someone stays with us. More important than any particular action or word of advice is the simple presence of someone who cares. When someone says to us in the midst of a crisis, “I do not know what to say or what to do, but I want you to realize that I am with you, that I will not leave you alone,” we have a friend through whom we can find consolation and comfort. In a time so filled with methods and techniques designed to change people, to influence their behavior and to make them do new things and think new thoughts, we have lost the simple but difficult gift of being present to each other.

– Nouwen, Compassion (p. 11-12).

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