Thursday, July 9, 2015

Luther on Faith...

The great art and power of faith consist in seeing that which is not seen and in not seeing that which is nonetheless felt, aye, which oppresses and depresses a person; just as unbelief sees only what it feels and does not at all like to cling to that which it does not feel.

Therefore God does not confront faith with trivial things but with such things as all the world cannot bear, like death, sin, the world, and the devil. For all the world is not able to stand up against death but flees from it, is frightened by it, and is overpowered by it. But faith stands fast and battles with death, which devours all the world, and gains the victory over it and devours the insatiable devourer of human life.

Is not faith, which can hold its own against such mighty enemies and attain the victory, an almighty and unspeakably grand matter? Therefore St. John well says 1 John 5:4: "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." Not that this is done in peace and undisturbed quietness, for it is a battle that is waged not without wounds and blood. Aye, in this battle the heart feels sin, death, the flesh, the devil, and the world so severely that it thinks it is surely lost, that sin and death have won, and that the devil has gained the upper hand. It feels little of the power of faith.

—Martin Luther*

*Unsure of origin of source. Located on PrayNow application from Concordia Publishing House

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Impostors and Ragamuffins (or Simul Iustus et Peccator)

First, a selection of quotes from Brennan Manning from his chapter - Paste Jewelry and Sawdust Hotdogs - in his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel.

Impostors in the Spirit always prefer appearances to reality. Rationalization begins with a look in the mirror. We don't like the sight of ourselves as we really are, so we try cosmetics, makeup, the right light, and the proper accessories to develop an acceptable image of ourselves. We rely on the stylish disguise that has made us look good or at least look away from our true self. Self-deception mortgages our sinfulness and prevents us from seeing ourselves as we really are - ragamuffins.

The noonday devil of the Christian life is the temptation to lose the inner self while preserving the shell of edifying behavior. Suddenly I discover that I am ministering to AIDS victims to enhance my résumé. I find I renounced ice cream for Lent to lose five excess pounds. I drop hints about the absolute priority of meditation and contemplation to create the impression that I am a man of prayer. At some unremembered moment I have lost the connection between internal purity of heart and external works of piety. In the most humiliating sense of the word, I have become a legalist. I have fallen victim to what TS Eliot calls the greatest sin: to do the right thing for the wrong reason.

At Sunday worship, as in every dimension of our existence, many of us pretend to believe we are sinners. Consequently, all we can do is pretend to believe we have been forgiven. As a result, our whole spiritual life is pseudo-repentance and pseudo-bliss.
The appeal of paste jewelry and sawdust hot dogs is powerful....[t]o the extent that I reject my ragamuffin identity, I turn away from God, the community, and myself. I become a man obsessed with illusion, a man of false power and fearful weakness, unable to think, act, or love.

I have a confession. My impetus for reading this chapter was to help me ponder why certain things other people do bother and disturb me.  Things such as posting photos on social media about how wonderful they are, and all their self-congratulating.

Then honesty and truth show themselves to me.  I ultimately realize this post may be more about me and my pretensions.  I like what I have heard Brennan Manning say in interviews and various lectures he gave - how he's broken every one of the 10 Commandments... 6 times on Tuesday.  I, too, am guilty in like manner.  And I'm positive that's not hyperbole.

Even after I came to this realization, my prayer was "Christ, have mercy." But even then I realized I was praying with a bit of self-righteousness.  Still angered by others, and just wishing some of those that share their public self-congratulations could get a hint of my apparent humbleness and piety.

And it's not just this time, but so many other times when I pray something as similar as "Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner." I ask myself, "Am I really asking for mercy and forgiveness, or am I really doing my own version of the humble brag?"

It's at these times I realize the truth of what Manning wrote earlier in The Ragamuffin Gospel:  "At the cross, Jesus unmasked the sinner not only as a beggar, but as a criminal before God."

There's no escaping this guilt as we are all not merely beggars, but absolutely guilty of our crimes.  Yet there is true redemption by the love and mercy of God.  We are truly forgiven. In Christ Jesus.

Lord Jesus, we are silly sheep who have dared to stand before You and try to bribe You with our preposterous portfolios. Suddenly we have come to our senses. We are sorry and ask You to forgive us. Give us the grace to admit we are ragamuffins, to embrace our brokenness, to celebrate Your mercy when we are at our weakest, to rely on Your mercy no matter what we may do. Dear Jesus, gift us to stop grandstanding and trying to get attention, to do the truth quietly without display, to let the dishonesties in our lives fade away, to accept our limitations, to cling to the gospel of grace, and to delight in Your love. Amen.

In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Jefferson and the Constitution

I like Thomas Jefferson. A lot. He was by no means infallible, but he is one of my favorite founding fathers to read.  Despite some of his serious flaws (especially on slavery), his thoughts on government are worth the read.

I am one of those folks who do not place the Constitution of the United States on the level of Holy Writ. This understated view of the Constitution seems to fly in the face of current day political views - especially those on right wing of the political spectrum.  The US Constitution, in my opinion, is merely a document prepared by some men who were admittedly wonderfully gifted, but were not sent from God on high as some may want us to believe.

So in this vein, I'd like to share a letter Jefferson wrote regarding what he believes to be limitations of such a document as US Constitution. This letter written to Samuel Kercheval - a fellow Virginian - is worth the read.

Here are some highlights from the letter:

"...Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the arc of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment….

...Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors….

...Each generation is as independent as the one preceding, as that was of all which had gone before. It has then, like them, a right to choose for itself the form of government it believes most promotive of its own happiness."

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Korah's Rebellion and God's Grace...

In reading through the book of Numbers (chapters 16 - 17) this morning, I was struck by how Israel's, yet more specifically, Korah's rebellion and how it goes hand in hand with worship and God's divinely established order.  Korah and his company ultimately thought they could do better than God.

Luther addresses God's graciousness after Korah's rebellion and how he is gracious to a sinful human race:

To grace all things are possible. Korah stirs up a great rebellion, and he himself perishes. But this great miracle follows. . .his sons are nevertheless preserved. Later they became renowned by reason of most excellent virtues, since they composed very beautiful psalms which can easily stand comparison and vie with the psalms of David. Yet they were descendants of Levi and Korah. . . Accordingly, God always observes this rule. He sets forth His threats; yet He chooses something good from evil men and sinners, just as He preserves some out of the whole human race, which is lost because of sins. (Luther's Works. American Edition. 8:227-228)

 God has set forth a divine service - the way He has chosen to deal with His Church.  Much of modern Christendom has gone the way Korah and thinks it can do 'worship' better - on it own terms.  This modern iteration of the church ultimately trusts itself than God's Word.

Yet God, in His mercy, has given us His Son.  And yet while we were still sinners, Christ died for us and has forgiven all our iniquities.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Sola Fide or Sola Electio?

“…in the Swiss town of Zurich, a more radical social as well as religious Reformation was influenced by Zwingli, who disagreed with Luther on a number of points, including interpretation of the words ‘this is my body’ in the Eucharist, leading to the Swiss notion of communion as a symbolic memorial service in contrast to the more literal Lutheran conception. In Geneva, the Frenchman John Calvin developed an altogether more logical, rational system of theology. Calvinism constituted a ‘second Reformation’ to complete what was perceived as only a partially effected reformation under the first generation of reformers. While there were different theological currents with Calvinism, it has chiefly come to be seen as distinct from Lutheranism with respect to the key notion of predestination. In Calvin’s views, not only could one not achieve salvation by good works (as in the Catholic view); one could also not achieve it by faith (the Lutheran view). Rather, the omnipotent God had predestined every individual to be either one of the elect (the saved) or among the damned; there was nothing mere mortals could to influence their predetermined destiny.”

[an excerpt from Mary Fulbrook’s “A Concise History of Germany” – on the Reformation happenings in Germany and its environs in the 16th century; italics mine]

So where does all this talk of sola fide from Calvinistic circles come from?  If they truly subscribe to the idea of double predestination then instead of sola fide, is it more accurate to say that Calvinists subscribe to sola electio?