“Faith in the Storm,” A Lenten Reflection

We have noted before that the opposite of faith is not disbelief, it is fear.  Faith makes us certain, it gives us confident direction in our choices, and it defines our destination and the path that leads to it.  Fear introduces questioning, second guessing, worry about what might be.  It leaves us wondering and wandering, paralyzed with uncertainty, unable to move forward.  Just when we ought to be declaring, “Thus says the Lord God Almighty…” we hear the devil’s challenge whispered in our head, “Has God really said…?”

Faith in the words of Scripture, is like a man building his house on the rock. The storms come, as storms must come in a fallen world, yet the house stands firm, not because of the house, but because of its unshakable foundation.  Faith in the completed work of Jesus places eternity in our hearts so that even if we suffer loss or pain in the short term, we understand that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Jesus.  When the scriptures speak of placing faith in God, it often resorts to spectacular imagery. Trusting God is being led to a rock higher than our own frailty or failure, it is a strong fortress into which we run for safety, it is dwelling under the wings of the most High God, it is being surrounded by the angel armies of heaven, or knowing that God is like the mountains that surround and protect us.

There are two commands that are repeatedly used throughout the scriptures that give us a worthwhile goal to seek after during this Lenten season, “Do not be afraid”, and “Stand fast” (or “Wait on the Lord”).  Often they are used together as in Exodus 14:13, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the LORD rescue you today.”  If we can allow the Spirit of God to work into our hearts, and minds, and spirits a true faith in the promises of God made present in the work of Jesus, we will have gained something that will see us through the rest of our lives until that day when we stand in the presence of God and see Him face to face.  Begin today with this confession from Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything that I need.”

“From Dust”, A Lenten Reflection

We live in a world that highly values power, the power to dominate, the power to control, the power to change.  But often, when we consider our own circumstances and our current lifestyle, we feel powerless to do anything to make changes for good.  It is difficult for us to admit this personal weakness, but we have to realize that it is the way that God intended for it to be.  In Genesis it records that God formed man of the dust of the earth.  There must have been a dozen other things that we could have been formed of, but God chose the least impressive of all building materials to form our bodies.  But then, and here is the miracle, He breathed His very spirit into this insignificant dust, and it records that man became a living being.  We remain even so today, dust held together by the very breath of God.  The liturgy of Ash Wednesday reminds us of this created frailty, “Remember O’ man, (or woman), you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”  Without the power of God to hold us together we are no better than the dust we were made of, without form, without life, without purpose.

During this Lenten season we need to recognize that these two things are at war within us. The dust that we are made of drags us always down into the earth where we are quickly lost; the breath of God lifts us upward and gives us a vision of a heavenly kingdom where justice reigns.  In the garden of Eden our humanity received two gifts.  From our father Adam we inherited original sin that always seeks to corrupt, to break down, to kill.  From our Father Almighty we received His very image and likeness pressed into our hearts, and it is that divine spark of life that makes us eternally who we are intended to be.  Which of these will we listen to during this season, which of these will we give the control of our lives over to?  Each day is a new choice, to allow ourselves to be dragged down into the earth and return to the dust or to be called up to the throne of God in heaven and become His sons and daughters

Pentecost Sunday

“Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations beginning at Jerusalem.  And you are witnesses of these things.  Behold, I send the Promise of My Father upon you; but tarry at the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high.”  Luke 24:46-49

God chooses to work through created means to bring about divine purposes.  This is a mystery to us, but Paul gives us some understanding of why it is in II Corinthians 4:7 “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.”   The divine gifts of grace, repentance and remission of sins in Jesus Christ are divinely powerful to the salvation of the soul.  No mere human philosophy, science, logic, or natural religion can ever bring such salvation about.  That is why Paul clearly states in I Corinthians 2:1, 4-5 “…I did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God….and my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”  This power of God of whom he speaks is also the Third Person of the Trinity whom we call the Holy Spirit, and it is His sending into our world that we celebrate on Pentecost.

Pentecost derives its name from the Greek word which means the “fiftieth day”.  In Hebrew times it was called the feast of weeks (Shavuot, Deuteronomy 16:9-10) and was counted from the feast of the firstfruits when the barley harvest began (Exodus 23:16).  Leviticus 23:15-16 says “and you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Sabbath…seven Sabbaths shall be completed.  Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath…”  This marked the beginning of the grain harvest.  The Rabbis further taught that this day commemorated the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai fifty days after the children of Israel were led out of Egypt (Exodus 19:1), the event that was foundational in forming the nation as the people of God.  In the New Testament the day of Pentecost comes fifty days after the Resurrection of the Lord (I Corinthians 15:20 says He is the first fruits of those risen to new life), and ten days after He ascended to the right hand of power.  From that position He sends forth the Holy Spirit even as He promised (John 14:16-17, 16:7-15).

The sending of the Holy Spirit is an empowerment of each individual believer to fully live the Christian life, and more importantly, the empowerment of the Church to proclaim the testimony of Jesus Christ with power and authority.  It is the formation of the Church as the people of God.  We must not lose sight of the divine truth that the Holy Spirit was sent upon the Church as a whole, with each member receiving Him in particular.  The modern stress on individual expressions of the Holy Spirit as a personal, rather than corporate gift, finds no place in the text of the New Testament.  As the Apostle Paul says so clearly in I Corinthians 12:7, “the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.”

The sanctuary color for Pentecost Sunday is red, the symbol for divine fire, and the lectionary readings remind us that the Holy Spirit is the promise of the Father now poured forth to bring about the New Covenant inaugurated by the shedding of the blood of His Son Jesus.  It marked the transition from the gospel ministry of Jesus to the Acts of the Apostles according to the promises of Jesus in John 14:12 “the one who believes on Me, greater works than these shall he do because I go to my Father.”, and Acts 1:8 “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit is come upon you, and you shall be my witnesses…unto the uttermost parts of the earth.”  Pentecost is the beginning of the work of God within each of our hearts to make a people chosen for His purpose and sent out to proclaim His salvation in every corner of our world.

The Role of Form in Our Worship: A Conversation

The following is a conversation between Pastor Joshua Moore of Red Door Church in South Royalton and Dan Isadore (M.Div.), a recent graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and Associate Director of the Pittsburgh Experiment.  Josh and Dan hope to have regular discussions on various theological topics and important issues facing Christians today.

Josh: Dan, Bryan Chappell says in his book Christ-Centered Worship: 

“Liturgy tells a story.  We tell the gospel by the way we worship.”

My question would be, I guess, what is the role of form in our worship services and how it is different from content?  That is, the propositional content proclaimed throughout the service in preaching and teaching?

Dan: Funny you should ask that.  I’ve been reading and thinking about it lately.  I’m pretty convinced that form is the point of theology.  The goal of the Word in reference to creation is to become flesh.  Words aren’t ends in the themselves; they are acts meant to nudge us into certain forms or ways of being.  Corporate worship, I think, should be the place where we engage in disciplines that help form us or en-flesh the Word in life.

So liturgy is time to practice for life.  But liturgy is also living life in disciplined forms.  We gather to engage each other in these forms of life brought into being by the Word, and that also becomes practice for participating in these forms of life in our day-to-day existence.  That, I’m convinced, is how we need to engage in evangelism today.  By living into these forms in the world , we provide people an avenue to experience the Word before we attempt to explain Him.

So, where I’m at right now, to be Christian is to practice and live a “form of life” rather than to adhere to a body of doctrine of propositions.  I’m thinking of Matthew 7:24-27.

Josh: So what does the above imply about Christians or groups of Christians who would not articulate the faith in a way that lines up with historical Christian orthodoxy?  If we believe that right living flows from right thinking, can we have the proper forms of life without the proper belief for it to flow out of?  Or, would you argue that the forms can also influence thinking?  That the relationship between thinking and living works both ways; that the forms of worship and life can have as much impact on our thinking as our thinking can have on our form of life?

Dan: Bonhoeffer said,

“only the obedient believe.”

I think that’s right.  right belief only comes en route.  Obedience is the context of true knowledge.  Jesus says as much: “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who love me.  And he who loves me will be loved by my Father and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21).

It’s as we follow Him that we get to know Him.  We can hear of Him, but obedient interaction brings what is witnessed to by words into my experience.  1 John, I think, is an epistle that deals a lot with this area.  Knowledge is experiential.  It’s interactive.  It absolutely involves the mind, but not in an abstract, detached way.  I think of it in terms of a human-to-human relationship.  What is it to know another?  It’s to interact with them in an appropriate way.  You can know about someone from afar, but you wouldn’t say that you know them (pro athlete or a movie star, for instance).  You only truly know someone when you interact with them: talking, laughing, eating, traveling, giving and receiving, helping and being helped by.  Knowing involves embodiment.

And I often think that our minds are trying to catch up with our experience, rather than vice versa, Thought is reflection on the happening, or rather what is happening in the happening.  The truths are not the thoughts; the truths are the reality.  So within the Christian tradition, the Truth is not a confession or a creed; the Truth is a Person.  We don’t “have” the Truth; we follow Him, with heart, mind, and body.  And it’s only in the following that truths about the Truth come to us.  But first those truths hit us, and then we reflect.  And our reflection may be more or less faithful to the reality.

Josh: So how would you sum this up for us?

Dan:  To sum it up I think explanation and articulation follow the experience of being acted upon by Christ.  Confession and beliefs are downstream from our spiritual disciplines; our forms are ways of consciously opening ourselves to the transformative action of God.  This is also why I think that there are no prerequisites to following Jesus.  He must change you.  So you come and follow Him with me, and it’s from within that following that your beliefs and behaviors get shaped in ways and times unique to your person.  The main thing is to just jump into the forms.  Start loving your neighbor.  Start reading scripture in community.  Start praying.  Start confessing.  Start eating together.  That’s the main thing in my eyes.  Inside these ways God works on us, waking us up little by little.

Josh: Good stuff.  Thanks for taking a moment to share with us Dan.