“Bullied”

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I was both bullied and have, at times, been a terrible bully myself. You probably were too.  To be demeaned, ridiculed, dismissed, mocked — it’s a terrible feeling, isn’t it?  Both when it happens to you, and when you find yourself doing it to someone else.  I guess I just always expected that a day would come when kindness, understanding and mutual respect would prevail, and that bullying would become a thing of the past in both my life and world.  I especially believed this because my life and world were so decidedly and self-consciously “Christian.”

I expected that when someone said that Jesus Christ was their Lord and Savior, that the things that He said that He expected of His disciples would begin to play an increasingly decisive role in their thinking, talking and behaving, something like “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Matthew 7:12). I just expected that as Christians grew in age, that they would correspondingly “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” And while I think that I have, I must confess that my growth in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has not been nearly as complete or as consistent as I imagined and hoped that it would be by this point in my life.  I have consciously been a Christian for 50 years now, and while I’ve come a long way spiritually in that time, I’m still far from finished. I’m still selfish.  I’m still lazy.  I’m still impatient.  I’m still judgmental.  I’m still proud.  What I failed to factor into my expectations of growth is the stubbornness of our old natures.  The Protestant Reformer Martin Luther used to say that waters of baptism was where Adam (our old nature) went to get “drowned.”  But what we would soon discover, he added, is what “a good swimmer” Adam turns out to be!  I should have been ready for this.

Early in my spiritual life I read Jacques Ellul’s book The Presence of the Kingdom with its warning about our propensity, even as Christians, to be spiritual “wolves” when what we’re actually called to be by the Lamb of God is “sheep” (Matthew 10:16).

…Every Christian receives from Jesus a share of His work.  He is a “sheep” not because his action or his sacrifice has a purifying effect on the world, but because he is the living and real “sign,” constantly renewed in the midst of the world, of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God.  In the world everyone wants to be a “wolf,” and no one is called to play the part of a “sheep.”  Yet the world cannot live without this living witness of sacrifice.  This is why it is essential; that Christians should be very careful not to be wolves in the spiritual sense – that is, people who try to dominate others.  Christians must accept the domination of other people, and offer the daily sacrifice of their lives, which is united with the sacrifice of Christ.

I am thinking about all of this right now because of some bullying that I experienced last week in cyberspace. It wasn’t personal.  Nobody called me out specifically by name.  But in several postings I came across recently, Christians of my “ilk”Traditionalist Christians with a high regard for the inspiration and authority of Scripture – were demeaned, ridiculed, dismissed and mocked by those of a more “Progressive” ilk.

It began with some dismissive remarks about a verse of Scripture wrenched from its context and held up for derision. Soon others joined in the fray, tearing other verses from their contexts, and gleefully lobbing them into the slugfest.  They had a real good time.

boyNow, none of it was directed at me or at anything I had posted, mind you, and yet, as I read I found myself back in grade school being pointed at and made fun of. There are 55 years between those experiences of my childhood and now, and not a scintilla of space between the feelings it turns out.  Oh, I’m just as familiar with the way that “my” people do this very same thing to “them,” just as voraciously and maybe even more frequently.  But that’s no excuse.  Paul’s exhortation– “If you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:15) – knows no “ilk.”  Traditionalist Christians like me failing to practice the Golden Rule when talking about Progressives does not create an “exception” to the Golden Rule for Progressives when talking about Traditionalists.  We’ve all – Progressives and Traditionalists alike – got to take Jesus more seriously. Period.

Now, being just as generous as I can possibly be (…the Golden Rule, Doug, the Golden-Rule…), I am going to say that what I think started this particular cyber-snowball rolling downhill was the concern of this one particular hyper-posting Progressive Christian for the naïve and simplistic Biblicism that he has observed in and no doubt experienced in his own painful interactions with more traditionalist Christians like me.  Clearly mystified and perhaps a little frustrated by us Christians who conscientiously seek the Bible’s counsel on questions of belief and behavior, and who are “a priori prepared” to acknowledge the Bible’s authority in matters of faith and practice, this Progressive Christian threw a sucker punch when he didn’t think any of us Traditionalist Christians were looking, knowing that his friends would probably enjoy it — which they most certainly did.  The problem is that the internet is a very public place.  Nothing goes unnoticed.  They weren’t just talking to each other, as if that were a legitimate Golden Rule “exemption.” Their fun was at my expense, and the expense of all of us Christians whose faith is Bible-centered – which, by the way, doesn’t necessarily mean naïve and simplistic.

In my first day of classes at Fuller Theological Seminary back in 1976 – as “Evangelical” a seminary as there is – the New Testament professor who was teaching the Synoptic Gospels class that I was taking constructively opened the door to the critical approach of Scripture by conducting what he called his “five minute Bible Study.” He took one Gospel story and had us look it up in Matthew, Mark and Luke, paying close attention to the variations in the story between each of the three texts.  Accounting for these differences and wondering why each Gospel editor told the story in the way that he did is what it means to take the Bible seriously that professor explained.  And the tools of historical, grammatical and literary criticism were all there, he told us, to help us do this rigorously without any loss of reverence for the Word or obfuscation of the Gospel.

daveI have found this same spirit recently in the writings of David Gushee on how he has changed his mind as an internationally known Baptist Evangelical ethicist on the pressing questions of the Gospel’s message to the church as she continues to sort through the proper way to relate to the Gay and Lesbian Christians in her midst (Changing Our Mind – Read the Spirit Books – 2015).  After explaining how traditionalists have often connected the dots of what the Bible says about human sexuality in such a way that they draw the conclusion that they must conscientiously oppose all same-sex behavior and same-sex relationships, David Gushee went on to tell Progressive Christians about the best ways to engage the Traditionalists who have drawn these conclusions into meaningful and sustained conversation (56-57).

Do not dismiss the traditionalist-cited passages as “clobber verses,” deployed with malice to harm gay people. Certainly there are some who use the Bible in egregious ways to clobber others, but also remember the good-hearted Christian folks who are simply trying to be faithful Christians and aren’t clobbering anyone when they cite the passages they think are most relevant to the issue.

Do not dismiss whole authors (Paul) or sections (Old Testament) of Scripture as if we good, contemporary folks know that they have little to say to our enlightened modern world, at least not if you want to be taken seriously by traditional Christians.

Do not dismiss people who cite the Bible against your view simply as fundamentalists or some other derogatory phrase. It’s not helpful, and most of the time it’s not fair. Name-calling rarely advances the search for truth or the health of the Christian community.

Do not dismiss traditionalist Christian sexual ethics as simply part of an overall anti-body, anti-sex, anti-woman, anti-pleasure agenda. Surely this has been a strand of Christian history.  But I can point you to a zillion Christians who love bodies, sex, women, men and pleasure, but who read the Bibles in a traditionalist way on this issue.

Do not simply point to broad themes of liberation, justice, or inclusion of the marginalized as if those important biblical imperatives ipso facto invalidate the need to deal with the texts cited on the traditionalist side.

Do not assume that the issue is settled by making claims to be “prophetic.” This is a big claim, and it helps to remember that some on the other side of this issue are also making it.   Only God can validate who is really being prophetic.

Do not just say that it’s time for Christians to “catch up with the culture” or stop falling “behind the times.” The fact that a particular culture has moved to a particular point does not prove anything, because cultures are quite often wrong.

Concluding his counsel to Progressives who truly want to engage Traditionalists in serious and sustained conversation and not just “bash” them David Gushee wrote –

The argument over sexuality today is a serious one. It requires serious work.  But when Progressives default to these responses and refuse to engage the real concerns of the other side, they come across as fundamentally unserious about Scripture – or theology – or ethics – or Christian discipleship. And I suspect that this is one primary reason for the level of passion about this issue in the Traditionalist side.

Of course, similar lists of guidelines have been created by Progressive Christians to help Traditionalist Christians like me better understand the best ways to engage them in meaningful and sustained conversation about the conclusions that they have drawn on important matters of belief and behavior that differ so significantly from “our” conclusions..  And it seems to me that the sooner we all become more familiar with and more adept at following these guidelines in the spirit of the Golden Rule, the sooner the bullying could be curbed and the real conversations might begin.  DBS +

 

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The Holy Spirit is like a Donkey

Mark Moore, a Stone/Campbell theologian who teaches at a Christian College in Missouri, explains the symbolism of the Holy Spirit as a donkey like this –

blueThe Holy Spirit acts like a donkey. Sure there may be many other and perhaps even better metaphors for the Holy Spirit, but this one just fits so well. For if the Christian life is a pilgrimage or long journey, then the Holy Spirit is what makes the journey possible. On such pilgrimages, it wasn’t uncommon for the person making the trip to take along a donkey as a pack animal. That animal carried the burden of the needed supplies and materials to make the journey a success. In a sense, the donkey was the real secret to making the journey possible. And in exactly the same way it is the Holy Spirit who makes the Christian life possible and successful for us.

 I’m pretty sure that this is what Jesus meant in John’s account of the Upper Room when He repeatedly called the Holy Spirit the “Paraclete.” Between John chapter 13 and John chapter 17 – the section of the Gospel of John that the scholars call the “Farewell Discourse” – Jesus named the Holy Spirit the “Paraclete” 4 times – in 14:14-17; in 14:25-26 in 15:26-27 and in 16:7. Depending on the translation of the Bible that you use, the word that Jesus used to talk about the Holy Spirit – the “Paraclete” – shows up as “comforter,” “advocate,” “counselor,” intercessor”, “teacher,” “helper” or “friend.” But to the best of my knowledge, no modern translation of the Bible ever renders the word as “donkey,” but that really wouldn’t be very far from the actual meaning of the word.

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In the Greek of the New Testament, the word “Paraclete” that Jesus used four times in the Upper Room to talk about the Holy Spirit in the Gospel of John, is a compound word that consists of a preposition – “para” meaning “”from close-beside” and a verb “kaléō” meaning “to make a call.” A “Paraclete” is literally someone who is called alongside to help – like a donkey that carries the supplies that sustain you on a long and difficult journey.  My favorite explanation of the meaning of this word was the way that E. Stanley Jones described the Holy Spirit as the “adequate spiritual dynamic” for the living of the Christian life.  He was very clear that Christianity just doesn’t work without the Holy Spirit’s empowering presence. He wrote –

jonrd I cannot imagine that Jesus, whose coming was specifically to baptize us with the Holy Spirit, would lay before us the amazing charter of the new life [in His Sermon on the Mount], and then fail to mention the one power that could make the whole thing possible, namely, the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. It is unthinkable! (257)

 …There must be a transfusing in order for there to be a transformation. And so Jesus provided the one thing that makes effective everything He said about the new and different way that He was calling His disciples to live, the inner re-enforcement of our moral [and spiritual] natures with an immediate and saving contact with the divine. (258)

The tragedy of the Christian life for so many of us is that we have never been told this. We hear the Gospel, we become disciples of Christ in the waters of baptism, we are told to observe everything that Christ commanded, and then we get patted on the head and pushed out the door while being wished good luck.  It’s not long before we are spiritually exhausted and discouraged. The experience of the Christian life that many of us have had has been compared to a schoolroom full of eager students who are given a difficult assignment by a teacher who then steps out of the room and leaves her students to try to get it done all by themselves (J.D. Greear).  This is not New Testament Christianity.

birdNew Testament Christianity is Holy Spirit-inspired, Holy Spirit-prompted and Holy Spirit-empowered. Jesus Christ never intended us to be Christians or to do church all on our own. This is why on the night before He died one of the last things that Jesus talked about with His friends was the advantage that would be theirs just as soon as the Paraclete – the “Helper” – the “Adequate Spiritual Dynamic” for the living of the Christian life and for the doing of the Church’s Mission – came.

Pentecost is the day in salvation history when the advantage that Jesus Christ promised would be ours just as soon as the Paraclete was given became a reality. But we are missing of Pentecost if we think of it only as a day when we are remembering something that happened a long time ago. “Pentecost is repeated in the heart of every Believer.” That’s what Charles Spurgeon used to say, and this, it seems to me, is the crucial spiritual discovery that every Christian and every church eventually has to make.

F.B. Meyer was “probably the most celebrated Baptist minister of the early 20th century.”  He was a man with an active, and to all appearances, quite successful ministry.  But deep inside he knew that he was like a false front building on a studio movie lot.  From the outside everything looked great, but on the back side there was nothing but a bunch of 2×4’s propping up the facade. And so, one night at a preaching conference he got up and went for a long walk.

Meyer

 As I walked I said, “My Father, if there is one soul more than another within the circle of these hills that needs the gift of Pentecost, it is I. I want the Holy Spirit, but I do not know how to receive Him…” Then a Voice said to me, “As you took forgiveness from the hand of the dying Christ, so now take the Holy Ghost from the hand of the living Christ…” So I turned to Christ and said, ‘Lord, as I breathe in this whiff of warm night-air, so breathe into every part of me Thy blessed Spirit.’ I felt no hand laid on my head, there was no lambent flame, there was no rushing sound from heaven: but by faith without emotion, without excitement, I took, and took for the first time, and I have kept on taking ever since.”

In that moment Pentecost went from being an historic event of the Christian faith to the most urgent necessity of his life, and nothing was ever the same for F.B. Meyer or his ministry again. And this is the promise that Pentecost holds for all of us, but we’ve got to want it, and we’ve got to ask for it.  Jesus said that our “Heavenly Father gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.”   Isn’t it time to ask?  DBS+

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Breathe in me O Holy Spirit that my thoughts may all be holy;
Act in me O Holy Spirit that my works, too, may be holy;
Draw my heart O Holy Spirit that I may love what is holy;
Strengthen me O Holy Spirit to defend that which is holy;
Guard me then O Holy Spirit that I may always be holy.

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St. Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430)

 

 

 

 

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“The Presence that Pentecost Promises”

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“Some churches still prefer churchmanship without any supernatural dimensions…
they have become hollow museums whose curators grow content to speak God’s name
without the slightest danger of experiencing His presence.”

                                                                                                                     ~ Calvin Miller                      

It hit me with the force of a 2×4 up the side of the head when I was maybe 15 years old. I was in church, the church of my childhood and youth. I was serving as an acolyte, an altar boy.  I was performing the intricate liturgical choreography exactly as it had been so carefully rehearsed the day before.  I was bending and bowing, pouring and wiping, ascending and descending the altar steps.  And right there in the middle of all that pomp and circumstance, a question popped into my head as if it had been asked of me out loud – “What are you doing?” – or, more accurately – “Why are you doing what you’re doing?”

Paul critiqued those who held to the form of religion in his day while denying its real power (2 Timothy 3:5), and standing there in church that day, I had the sense that he was talking about me… to me. You see, I was terribly concerned about getting the ceremony right, but I was completely oblivious to the real presence that made all of that activity meaningful and all of that effort purposeful. To use Sam Shoemaker’s wonderful metaphor, I was tending to a rather ornate fireplace that didn’t have a fire burning in it!  I had the form of religion, in fact, a very fine version of it, but I was missing its power.

This was the realization that pushed me out of my familiar ecclesial nest when I was a teenager and into the spiritual quest that has been the direction and destination of my life ever since. Just like Jacob wrestling the mysterious presence at Jabbok (Genesis 32:22-31), I wanted God, the living, loving God, and I wasn’t going to settle for anything less until I had tasted and seen the goodness of God for myself (Palm 34:8).

pietyA rather unsettling book that I’ve been reading lately is Ian Stackhouse’s Primitive Piety (Paternoster – 2012).  This is his invitation away from the safe and pleasant world of suburban piety with its stress on moderation and politeness, and into the extreme and paradoxical world of Biblical faith.  He begins it by quoting the Scottish Congregationalist theologian P.T, Forsyth (1848–1921) –

“We tend to a Christianity without force, passion, or effect; a suburban piety, homely and kind but unfit to cope with the actual moral case of the world, its giant souls and hearty sinners. …We have churches of the nicest, kindest people, who have nothing apostolic or missionary, who never knew the soul’s despair or its breathless gratitude.”

This was the kind of Christianity in which I was a participant and of which I was a steward when I was 15. Later I would sometimes hear it depreciatingly described as “churchianity,” and while there was certainly some truth in that, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with that designation of it then, or now.

I don’t like the implication that Christ and Church are two separate things. I wholeheartedly agree with Irenaeus of Lyons (born c. 120/140 – died c. 200/203) who said that anyone who has God as his Father has the church as his mother, whether they like it or not, and even whether they know it or not. And I’m just not comfortable with the accusation that my personal spiritual emptiness was somehow the fault of some kind of failure on the part of that church of my childhood and youth.  I can now see quite clearly how Jesus Christ was named as Savior in word and sign every Sunday morning that I was there growing up. The problem wasn’t that the Gospel of God’s redeeming love for me, and for all in Jesus Christ, wasn’t being proclaimed in that place in those days, it was rather that, for whatever reason, it just wasn’t getting through to me.  But one day it did, and it happened while I was in a worship service at that church!  That’s where God found me.   And while my journey has since led me away from that place, and that way of being a Christian, I now understand that it was where my spiritual journey began, and I can appreciate the way that it set the table for my soul.

What I went looking for when I was 15 was the reality of Christianity, the God who was behind the creeds, beneath the rituals, and before all of the structures and systems. I wanted the fire and not just the fireplace, and where I found it was in the presence that Pentecost promises.

I am always a little troubled by the way that Christmas and Easter pack the church, but Pentecost passes with hardly a ripple. The Gospel event and experience that Pentecost marks is no less central to Biblical Christianity and no less critical to our salvation than are the events and experiences that Christmas and Easter annually commemorate.

When John the Baptist saw Jesus approaching him to be baptized, John said two things about what Jesus had come to do as the Messiah. “Behold that Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29) was the first thing.  This is how Jesus Christ saves us from what’s in our pasts.  And, “this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33) was the second thing that John the Baptist announced that Jesus as the Christ had come to do.  This is how Jesus Christ saves us to a different kind of future.  The forgiveness of our sins and the renewal of the Holy Spirit is what Jesus Christ came to accomplish, and they are what were in fact offered to people on Pentecost Sunday morning when Peter preached the Gospel in the power of the Spirit for the very first time (Acts 2:38).

Our failure to embrace Pentecost with the same interest and enthusiasm with which we embrace Christmas and Easter is a problem. In fact, I would argue that it is the reason why we have such a truncated Gospel in the church and a spiritual experience as Christians that is so far below what the New Testament describes and offers.  And the only remedy to this, as far as I can see, is for us to consciously and consistently embrace the presence that Pentecost promises.

It is the work of the Holy Spirit to take the objective work of Jesus Christ as Savior and to subjectively apply it to our lives and to the world. The Holy Spirit comes to kindle the fire in the fireplace of the church, and in the fireplaces of our hearts.   But this doesn’t just happen.  The Holy Spirit can be quenched, grieved, resisted and even blasphemed by us, and so we’ve got to ask.  God gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him (Luke 11:13).

If you, like me, are discontent with the “mechanical sacramentalism” and the “dead biblicism” of so much of the church, and if you, like me, ache for “the dynamic reality of God’s presence,” then “it is time that we took Pentecost seriously and eagerly receive a new infusion of the Holy Spirit.”

Pentecost is this coming Sunday – May 15th. Come to church as if it were Christmas or Easter, and come expectantly.

DBS +            

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Why I Got Baptized by Immersion

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It was just Easter in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Now, there are two reasons why we observed Easter as a church way back on March 27 and why our Orthodox brothers and sisters just got around to observing Easter last Sunday (May 1) –

The first factor, the calendar, has to do with the fact that the Christian Orthodox Church continues to follow the Julian calendar when calculating the date of Pascha (Easter). The rest of Christianity uses the Gregorian calendar. There is a thirteen-day difference between the two calendars, the Julian calendar being thirteen (13) days behind the Gregorian. The other factor at work is that the Orthodox Church continues to adhere to the rule set forth by the First Ecumenical Council, held in Nicea in 325 AD, that requires that Pascha must take place after the Jewish Passover in order to maintain the Biblical sequence of Christ’s Passion. The rest of Christianity ignores this requirement, which means that on occasion Western Easter takes place either before or during the Jewish Passover. http://usa.greekreporter.com

On the grounds of tradition (This is my SJ “Ignatian” spiritual inclinations coming out – see: Prayer and Temperament – Michael & Norrisey -The Open Door – 1991), I’m much more Eastern Church than I am Western Church on this, but not enough to make a big fuss about it.  In fact, in recent years I have found that this calendar variation between when Eastern Christians and when Western Christians observe Holy Week has actually proven to be spiritually beneficial for me. You see, I’m a little busy during Holy Week when we observe it as a church.  And so getting another chance to walk the way of the cross from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday each year when I’m not the one who is responsible for planning, preparing and presenting the worship services has been a real gift to me.  By lurking at the edges of the Eastern Orthodox community of faith during their observances of the events of our salvation in Christ accomplished during their later Holy Week services, I have found that I have been able to worship myself.

This is what I was doing in a Greek Orthodox Church on a Good Friday afternoon. I was there to hear the Gospel story of Jesus Christ’s saving death read in its entirety in a harmonization of what Mathew, Mark, Luke and John told us, and to witness all of the ritual acts which embody it for those faithful Christians in that spiritual tradition.  I followed along in my copy of the Holy Week Orthodox Service Book that I have, and watched with fascination as the icon of Christ on the cross was venerated and then eventually taken down.  Nails were literally pulled from the wood and the image of Christ that hung there was reverently detached, shrouded and carried through the Sanctuary in a symbolic burial procession.  It eventually wound up on a table in the front that was meant to be symbolic of the tomb, and then a curious thing happened.

prayWorshippers – the young and the old, men and women, the strong and the infirm – began to line up, and when they got to that table in the front that was symbolic of the tomb where the body of Christ had been reverently placed, they got down on their hands and knees and crawled beneath it! Now, I had not anticipated this, but watching it happen, it was clear to me what was going on.

By passing under that table these faithful people were personally identifying themselves with Christ’s death and burial in full anticipation of His resurrection. This was their symbolic way of entering into Christ’s death.  I get this, in fact, this is why I was baptized myself by immersion when I was 17 years old after I had crossed the threshold of “owned” faith after having been baptized as an infant by my parents in their genuine act of “affiliative” faith. My parents brought me to church long before I was even capable of knowing what was happening to me and they had me ritually marked as already being the object of God’s affection and attention in Jesus Christ.  It was a promise that they made then and there, a promise that they would raise me in the faith of the church so that I would one day have the opportunity to make it my own.

To that end they had my sisters and me in church every Sunday morning, and when I was 12, they had me confirmed. I didn’t resist, but this was still more about them and their hopes for me than it was about me and what I actually believed.  But God was faithful in this gradual unfolding process as well, and the moment eventually came when what I had been so carefully taught was true through all those years of going to church became real for me.  I crossed the threshold of personal faith nurtured by the community of faith.  The promise of my baptism as an infant with all of its hope for my faithful future became the defining fact and experience of my life as an adolescent. I finally accepted Jesus Christ for myself as Lord and Savior.  I gave the title of my life over to Him.  I committed myself to trying to be who He wanted me to be and trying to do what He wanted me to do.  And with that decision of faith made, I believed that a fundamental change occurred inside me.  I had been born again.  The person I had been died and the person God in Christ always intended me to be was brought to life, and the more I thought about this, and experienced this, the more what the New Testament said about baptism by immersion began to make sense to both my head and my heart.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:3-5)

blueIt was believing this, and experiencing this, that finally led me to be baptized by immersion during my senior year of High School. Now, I wasn’t immersed because I thought that I had to be in order to be truly saved. No, I was immersed because the New Testament said that it was a command, and because the New Testament said that it involved some really important promises. Years and years after my baptism by immersion I read the Radical Reformer Menno Simons’ observation about baptism being the least important thing that Christ commands us to do as our Lord.  The commands of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-6-7), in the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:27-40) and in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) are all so much more important than His command for us to be baptized.  But because the command to be baptized comes first in the Christian life, at its very beginning, on its very threshold, our obedience to it establishes the proper disposition of our hearts to be obedient to all that Christ has commanded.  If we are evasive and resistant about the very first thing that Jesus Christ asks us to do as Lord, what will we do when the things that Christ asks us to do start getting really serious (e.g. – “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” – Luke 9:23)?

And then there are the promises.

“Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

According to Peter in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, Christian Baptism has reference to both forgiveness – being saved from our sins; and the gift of the Holy Spirit – being saved to newness of life. Just as water cleanses and refreshes, so water baptism is a symbol of both purification and renewal.  Water baptism points to the forgiveness of our sins as the “washing” or “bath of regeneration” (Titus 3:5).  But water Baptism also points to the Baptism of the Spirit that is often compared in Scripture to a well of life-giving water gushing up and flowing out from somewhere deep inside us (John 4:14; 7:38; Isaiah 44:3; Ezekiel 47:1-12; Revelation 22:1-2).

My decision to be immersed in 1970 when I was 17 was not just a decision that was born of my strongly felt need to be personally obedient to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, but it was just as much a decision that was born of my deep need to be consciously rooted and continuously grounded in the promises of forgiveness and renewal in the Holy Spirit that are instrumentally attached to the act of Baptism in Acts 2:38.

Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer, said “there is on earth no greater comfort than baptism” and he proved this in his personal life and experience. Luther admitted that when he was in the distress of affliction and anxiety he comforted himself by repeating, “I am baptized! I am baptized!” In so saying, “I’m baptized!” Luther affirmed, and rightly stated that he belonged to God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. By this we learn that who you are, and whose you are, are important components of baptism. (http://pilgrimindy.org)

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And this same desire is what I saw in the act of all those people who were passing under the table of Christ’s tomb on Good Friday afternoon. It was an act motivated by their profound awareness of just how much they desperately needed what it was that Christ had accomplished by dying on the cross and then by being raised from the dead.  I need it too, and that’s why I am so glad that I can say, “I am baptized! I am baptized!” And if this is something you think you want, or need, then let’s talk.  Water Baptism may be something that you really need to consider for your comfort and assurance. DBS +

 

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Second-hand Spirituality

The vast majority of people on our churches have a second-hand spirituality; they live off the spirituality of others. Because people attend our weekend worship services, participate in our programs, give money and serve, we assume they are in a vital personal relationship of loving union with Jesus.  We assume wrong.  They are not.  Ask the people you serve about their time with Jesus each day: How often do you meet with Him around Scripture and prayer? What do you do, and for how long?  How might silence, solitude, Sabbath, spiritual companionship, and study fit into your life?’  Ask for specifics.  You are in for a shock.

Most people in our churches are living off other people’s spirituality. In fact, many are imitating a spirituality with Jesus for which they have little first-hand experience.  It is easy to live of the life of God in someone else than to have our own direct experience.  Anointed sermons and worship can keep people excited about Jesus and in the pews, but that may still be second-hand.  The question is: Are our people developing and growing in their own personal, immediate relationship with Jesus during the week?

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Pete Scazzero
http://www.emotionallyhealthy.org/

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Serving as part of A Walk to Emmaus team like I did last weekend reminds me of the necessity for periodic experiences of spiritual renewal. Paul told the Ephesian Christians to “be filled with the Holy Spirit” (5:18).  This verse is a plural command in the passive voice in the present tense.  It is a command – something that is required of us and not just recommended to us.  It is plural – it is not something addressed to you alone, but to everyone everywhere who knows Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.   You are not in this all by yourself; you are part of a community.  It is passive – not something you do but something that is done for you – it’s a gift of grace and not an achievement of your efforts and work.  And it is in the present tense – which is to say that it is a continuing process – it is literally telling us to “keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit.”  When the Evangelist Dwight L. Moody (1837 – 1899) was asked if he believed that Christians could be filled with the Holy Spirit, he said “yes,” and then quickly added, “But I also believe that Christians leak.”

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A Walk to Emmaus is like a stop at the gas station to fill the tank of your car. The minute you turn the key and drive off you are beginning to deplete the supply and you will have to replenish it again when it runs low if you want to keep going.  And this is the real value of an experience like a Walk to Emmaus.  It teaches us where and how to fill our tanks.  Spiritual vitality is not the result of our initiation into some mysterious, magical and mystical secrets of the Faith.  No, spiritual vitality is the result of our cooperation with the work of the Word and the Spirit through the ordinary means of grace – Prayer from our hearts, the regular “intake” Scripture into our heads (informationally) and our hearts (formationally), the Church’s life of regular worship and fellowship, especially around the Lord’s Table, and in routine acts of service and compassion following in the steps of Jesus Christ.

beardSeraphim of Sarov (1754 –1833 im Him), is one of the great Saints of Russian Christianity. He is sometimes called the Russian St. Francis of Assisi, and he said that if you will “acquire the Holy Spirit, a thousand souls will be saved.” What he meant by this was that just one Christian, spiritually alive and growing, is the instrument that God can use to renew His church and transform the world.  In other words, the mission of the church depends on Christians who are spiritually alive and growing.

In a couple of weeks it will be Pentecost (Sunday, May 15), our annual celebration of the initial outpouring of the Holy Spirit which began the dispensation of the Holy Spirit in which the church continues to this very moment. The right question for Pentecost is not do you believe that it happened once long ago and far away, but rather, is it happening in you here and now?  Pentecost is our annual reminder that the fullness of the Holy Spirit is available to all who ask (Luke 11:13), but we’ve got to ask (James 4:2).  This is why 15 times of the Walk to Emmaus we pray this same prayer, a “Prayer to the Holy Spirit” –

fireCome, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created. And you shall renew the face of the earth. O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy your consolations. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

If you are dry, then join me in praying this prayer in the coming weeks as together we move towards Pentecost as a church. Seasons of renewal to refresh us spiritually are part of the package — but they don’t just happen, we’ve got to ask… DBS+

 

O God, you cause abundant showers to fall on your chosen people.
When they are tired, you sustain them, for you live among them.
You sustain the oppressed with your good blessings, O God.
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Psalm 68:9-10

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“Clinging and Held”

monkey

“My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.” ~ Psalm 63:8

False dichotomies – they’re everywhere.

In this political season I am already weary of Presidential candidates staking out their positions on the pressing issues of the day in strict either/or sorts of ways.  Why can’t I want our national borders to be secure and for immigrants who have fled oppression and poverty to be treated compassionately and find safe refuge and some real opportunity here?  Why can’t I be concerned about the threat of global terrorism and the plight of Syrian refugees at the same time?   And do I really have to choose between wanting to “Back the Blue” and truly believing that “Black lives matter”?

Theologically I have never been content with a single “system.”  I am captivated by the Bible’s “furious opposites” – God being three in one, Jesus Christ being fully God and fully man, being saved by grace and faith, spiritually knowing that I am secure and that I  must persevere, reading Scripture as a Word from God and the words of men.  I helpfully engage with as many Calvinist thinkers as I do from my own Arminian wing of the Faith.  I want my knowledge of God to be informed by the very best Baptist, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Wesleyan, Pentecostal, Neo-Orthodox and Progressive thinkers available.  I want them all in my head and my heart.

And in my spirituality I find that one of the things that I really need to hold together is both the primacy of the initiative of God and the necessity of my own obedient response. I have long thought that the popular contrast between “monkey religions” – those where the offspring have to actively cling (“synergistic”), and “cat religions” – those where the offspring are passively carried (“monergistic”), both miss half the truth  I am so much more convinced by and comfortable with Richard Foster’s description of the spiritual life as “the path of disciplined grace – it is ‘grace’ because it is free; it is ‘disciplined’ because there is something for us to do.” This came home to me with particular force while I was recently getting ready to preach on Psalm 63.

Psalm 63 has been described as a stream with three bends in it. Each one of those bends gets introduced with the two words: “My soul.”  This is a very specific literary form.  It’s called “soliloquy,” and a “soliloquy” has been described as someone preaching a sermon to themselves.   It’s what happens when you take something that the Bible says and then try to apply it directly and honesty to yourself.  In a soliloquy you ask yourself, “How does what the Bible says here fit in my life?”  “What does this truth tell me about what’s going on in my heart?”  It’s like holding up a mirror to yourself to see what’s really there.  The soliloquies of Psalm 63 allow us to eavesdrop on the three conversations that the Psalmist had with himself about himself.

The first soliloquy is in in verse 1.  That’s where the Psalmist prayed: “My soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” The editorial preface to this prayer tells us that it’s a Psalm of David that he wrote when he was in the wilderness of Judah.  That’s a barren place where it’s real easy to die of thirst. Spiritually, I’ve been there.

plantI’ve read about an unusual plant in a display case at the New York City Botanical Garden. It sits on a shelf without soil or water, and every spring it sends out some little exploratory roots looking for sustenance.  And every year, finding nothing in that display case in which to root itself or with which to nourish itself, that plant pulls its roots back into itself and it shrivels up again into a lifeless ball, resolved to hang on for another year when it will try again.  Spiritually, I have been that plant.  There have been seasons when my soul has been stuck; when I have been stalled; when I have been parched; when I have been barren.  Psalm 63:1 is part of my own spiritual repertoire.

The second “soliloquy” of Psalm 63 shows up in verse 5.  This is where the Psalmist told himself – “My soul is satisfied as with a feast of fat and rich food.” Clearly this is the polar opposite of what the Psalmist said about himself in verse 1.  There he was starving, here he is sated.  There he was parched, here he is quenched.  And spiritually, this is familiar terrain to me as well.  My soul has known seasons of fullness.  My life is rich with days when I have been abundantly blessed, long stretches when I have been extravagantly supplied.  The question that Psalm 63 raises in me is – “how?” How does this dizzying reversal happen?  What moved the Psalmist from his emptiness in verse 1 to his fullness in verse 5?  In my own spiritual experience, I’ve gone looking for what is it that has brought me through the “dry and weary stretches where there is no water” to that “feast of fat and rich food”?

 “My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me,is what the Psalmist said in his third soliloquy in verse 8. This is the destination of the journey that Psalm 63 maps out for us spiritually. The way that we get from the spiritual wasteland of verse 1 to the spiritual banquet of verse 5 is by the experience of simultaneously “clinging” and being “upheld” that gets named in verse 8.  Now, some would argue that these two postures are incompatible opposites.   We’re either cats or monkeys.  We’re either carried or we cling.  But here in Psalm 63 that dichotomy is shown to be false.  Psalm 63 is a hymn from the way of disciplined grace, and the urgency for getting a good handle on this is underscored for us by the research that’s being done on the spiritual well-being of church folks – people like me.  George Barna and his team has found out that –

 Fewer than two out of 10 churchgoers feel close to God on even a monthly basis (20%). Additionally, while almost two-thirds of those who value church attendance go to learn more about God, fewer than one in 10 (6%) who have ever been to church say they learned something about God or Jesus the last time they attended. In fact, the majority of people (61%) say they did not gain any significant or new insights regarding faith when they last attended.

 When Willow Creek Community Church up in Chicago, one of America’s numerically largest and spiritually most dynamic congregations, surveyed 6000 of their members they discovered that 25% of them – a staggering 1 out of every 4 – said that they were “stalled” and spiritually “dissatisfied.” Now, Willow Creek is a church that most of us who are in ministry envy for their creativity and vitality, not to mention for their quantifiable success, and if 1 out of every 4 people who sit on the pews of that church that’s doing everything “right” feels like they are spiritually withering on the vine, then what chance do the rest of us have?

church

Maybe the most important thing that the Willow Creek survey of the spiritual well-being of its membership found out was that the big mistake that those who said that they were spiritually stuck and dissatisfied were making was looking to the church alone to fuel their spiritual growth. They admitted to thinking that the believed that if they just showed up and got involved in the church’s activities that they would then just automatically and invariably thrive spiritually.  But it doesn’t work like that.  It never has.  As the Reformer Martin Luther once pointed out, Christians are not “gluttonous bellies” who can sit on the church’s pews thinking that God will drop the spiritual equivalent of “roasted geese” into our upturned and open mouths.

And so these days Willow Creek is being very clear with their people that they are going to have to do more than just attend the weekend services a couple of time each month if they expect to have spiritually dynamic lives. They tell their guests and members alike that “much of the responsibility for their spiritual growth belongs to them.”  Willow Creek tells people that the only way to personal spiritual vitality is for them to learn how to “self-feed” through their own personal spiritual practices. In fact, this is the very thing that the Psalmist said moved him from the spiritual desert of verse 1 to the spiritual banquet of verse 5.

The Psalmist said that he was in the habit of mediating on the things of God late at night (63:6-7), and recounting all the help that God had provided for him in this way, his remembrance of how God’s wings had overshadowed him, the Psalmist said that he responded with prayers of trust and songs of praise. He also said that he “looked for God in the sanctuary” where he beheld God’s “power and glory” (63:2), prompting him to bless the Lord and lift his hands in praise (63:4).  What’s being described here is a pattern of spiritual practice, personal and private, corporate and public.  This is the life of “disciplined grace.”

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So, where are you? Verse 1 or verse 5?  Are you in the dry and weary wasteland, or at the feast of fat and rich food?  Both are part of the journey of our souls, but one is surely preferable to the other.  And if you agree, then learning how to cling and letting yourself be held is the real key.

clingingEmilie Griffin is a spiritual writer whose books have long helped me grow. In 1983 she wrote a beautiful book on prayer that she called ClingingShe said that she liked that word “clinging” because it was an image of “attachment to God” that conveyed our “dependency on him” (xi).  She said that found the concept of “clinging” in the writings of some of the great Christian Spiritual Masters – Karl Rahner – “Love is a complete pouring out of oneself, a total clinging from the last depths of one’s being,” that results in the discovery that we don’t “grasp” god so much as God “seizes” us (xiii); Thomas Aquinas: “The will of one who sees God’s essence must cling to God” (xiv); and Augustine: “When at last I cling to you with all my being…then I shall be alive with true life, for my life will be wholly filled by you” (xiv).

Emilie’s book Clinging is an invitation for us to “hold on and trust.” She writes: “We must depend on God. We must rely on Him, embrace Him.  We must cling.  We must cling to the one reality that does not crumple, the one rock that will not be washed loose in the tide and onslaught of anything.  We must cling to the one reality that will hold firm, though the earth be destroyed and the mountains are flung into the sea and the sun put out… We must flee into Him, hide in Him…” (83). And when we do, just like Psalm 63:8 tells us, when we “cling” we will find that we have been “upheld” by God all along!  You see, our “clinging” doesn’t cause God to “uphold” us.  No, our “clinging” only allows us to recognize the way that God has been “upholding” all along.

The more we cling, the more we experience strength not as what we do, but as what God does in us…By this clinging we become aware of a closeness to God that can hardly be spoken of… Ours is not a helpless tagging onto a powerful Other, but instead it is an embrace that is completely and unreservedly mutual… Not only do we cling to God, but God clings to us… it is a mutual embrace. We are not flirting with God, trying to gain His attention, trying to win His favor.  He is the One who loved us first.  He began this relationship…. When we cling, then, we are responding, we are returning the embrace in which He holds us. (84-86)

To force a choice between the monkey spirituality of “clinging” and the cat spirituality of being “upheld” is a false dichotomy.  Biblical spirituality is rooted in both the initiative of God (“Grace”) and the necessity of our response (“Faith”).  We would not be asking “what must we do?” (Acts 2:37), if what God has already done for us in Jesus Christ wasn’t absolutely clear and already on the table (Acts 2:22-36). DBS+

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“My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.”
~ Psalm 63:8

 

 

 

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On the Mountaintops and in the Valleys

walkI will be the Spiritual Director this week for the Dallas Emmaus community’s Men’s Walk #262. I couldn’t be more excited!  This will be 12th or 13th time that I have been a Spiritual Director for a Walk to Emmaus in the Houston, Amarillo or Dallas Communities over the past 26 years.  This is something that I just love to do because what happens on a Walk to Emmaus puts me in touch with what Paul described as “the power of Gospel for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).   Through the years, it has been on Walks to Emmaus, more than almost anywhere else, that I have seen the difference that Jesus Christ makes in a person’s life.

I took my own Walk to Emmaus in February of 1990. It was Men’s Walk #47 in the Houston Community, and it came at exactly the right time in my life and ministry.  I had tried to get myself invited to a Cursillo weekend with the Episcopalians shortly after I was ordained in the early 1980’s.  But nothing I did could garner me an invitation.  It wasn’t time yet, and so I carried on.  And then, seemingly out of nowhere, ten years later, a friend of mine from my Hospice work in Houston arranged for me to go on my Walk.

Walks to Emmaus do different things for different people.   For me it helped to integrate my head with my heart.  I love God with my mind.  My spiritual temperament puts the premium on believing thinking.  At my first seminary in California, during a spiritual life emphasis week on campus, one of my professors told us about his favorite spiritual discipline.   He said that late at night after his family had all gone to bed, that he would slip into his study, put some classical music on the stereo and settle into a big overstuffed chair with a big volume of theology – maybe some Barth, or some Brunner, or some Hodge – to read. “Theology – thinking God’s thoughts after Him – moves me to prayer,” he told us with real emotion in his voice, “and it makes me want to sing the praises of our God.” Most of the class groaned, thinking that this was just a ploy to get us to read that week’s assignments.  But I nodded my head in agreement.   I “got” him and what He was saying.

What my Walk to Emmaus did for me was to take the Christianity that I believed was true with my head and made it very real to my heart. Those 12 inches between our heads and our hearts can be the longest journey that some of us will ever undertake, and it was on my Walk to Emmaus in 1990 that I found a way to faithfully navigate it for myself. A story that Martyn Lloyd Jones of the Westminster Chapel in London in the middle of the 20th century told describes what happened to me on my Walk to Emmaus perfectly–

 boyA little boy was walking down the road beside his father. He knew that his father loved him.  He knew that this was true and just knowing it was enough for him.  But then his father suddenly reached down and swept his little boy up into his arms.  He hugged him tightly, kissed him on the cheeks and whispered in to his ear, “I love you so much!” And then looking his little boy straight in the eye, that father said to his son with all his heart, “I am so glad that you are mine.” And then the father put his boy down and they continued walking down the road.

 That’s the difference between knowing that something’s true and knowing that it’s real, and this is exactly what happened on my walk to Emmaus 26 years ago. The Christianity that had long been true for me suddenly became very real to me as well.

And so I am very excited about this weekend, but, if the truth be told, I am also a little apprehensive because for all of its spiritual promise and potential, an experience like that which a Walk to Emmaus facilitates in people is not without some spiritual dangers. It’s just so easy to get spiritually manipulated, to get caught up in something before you know it.

paperI remember being in the Hollywood Bowl at a Jesus People Rally back in the early 1970’s, getting real amped-up spiritually by the music and the crowd, when a chant suddenly broke out, a kind of spontaneous call to worship. “Get high on Jesus!” one group yelled, while another group answered back, “Jesus is better than hash!”  And I can distinctly remember thinking to myself that I’d never heard this in church growing up.  It wasn’t in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer – 1945. And I recall wondering, or was it worrying, about whether or not this was really something that we should be saying about Jesus and what He does for us as Christians?  But all of that quickly passed.  I mean, here was this group of really enthusiastic fellow Christians who seemed to be saying that this elevated state of emotional euphoria that we were experiencing was what Christianity was all about, or at least one of its better benefits for us as believers.  And, to be sure, I was feeling it – the rush of that place and that moment, and it felt good.  So much so that it eventually swept me up in the commotion, and it carried me along so that soon I found myself chanting right along with the rest of the crowd –“Get high on Jesus!” and “Jesus is better than hash!” even though I had never been high and I wouldn’t have known what hash was if it had come up and shook my hand!  Looking back on it all now, it all seems so silly.  But it was sure powerful in the moment, and that’s what I worry about on spiritually intense weekend retreats like Emmaus, and in spiritually intense setting like summer camps and conferences, and at spiritually intense events like revivals and evangelistic “crusades.”  We can get caught up in these moments and wind up in places we never intended to go.  That, and we can get addicted to the feelings of spiritual elation that they generate in us. We can become dependent on them.  It’s real easy to become a spiritual experience junkie, having a “moment” once, and then spending the rest of your spiritual life trying to replicate it, thinking that these emotions are the surest sign of the Spirit’s presence and work in your life, rather than the fruit of the Spirit that the Scripture explicitly names (Galatians 5:22-23).

frannyIn J. D. Salinger’s novel Franny and Zooey, one of the main characters takes up a spiritual practice detached from any kind of real faith commitment, constantly saying the “Jesus Prayer” because of the affect that its repetition produced in her.  Eventually the other character in the story names and condemns this practice as a blatant example of “spiritual greed.” He says –

As a matter of simple logic, there’s no difference at all, that I can see, between the man who’s greedy for material treasure—or even intellectual treasure—and the man who’s greedy for spiritual treasure. …(But) treasure’s treasure, …and it seems to me that ninety per cent of all the world-hating saints in history were just as acquisitive and unattractive, basically, as the rest of us are.

This is what I worry about when it comes to intensive spiritual programs like Emmaus that provide their participants with powerful spiritual experiences. As important as my Walk was to me, and as glad as I am to be able to periodically facilitate it now for others as part of a prayerfully formed team, I do so with my eyes open wide. I affirm the spiritual benefit that special spiritual experiences and events can produce in a person’s life, while at the very same time being fully aware of the way that they can actually get in the way of real spiritual growth if they’re allowed to become ends in themselves. The most balanced perspective on these exceptional spiritual “moments” that we are given that I have ever come across is something St. Augustine said – “I do not seek them, and when they are present, I do not reject them, but I am entirely prepared to do entirely without them.”

Now, that sounds to me very much like the same kind of spiritual advice that is given in the last Emmaus talk of the weekend. That’s when the Lay Director gets up and tells the pilgrims not to make Emmaus the object of their devotion or the content of their witness when the weekend is over, but rather to focus on the Christ whom they have come to know better because of the weekend.   The question that needs to be asked as the Fourth Day begins, the Lay Director says, is not how can I get more involved in Emmaus, but rather, how can I get more meaningfully involved in my local church? The best fruit of a Walk to Emmaus that I have ever seen as a local church pastor was the pilgrim who came into my office the week after his Walk with a letter in his hand that was the spiritual equivalent of a blank check. He told me that that letter was his prior acceptance of any task that I might need him to undertake for Christ and His church, right then and there, or at any time in the future. It was a remarkable gesture, the perfect “fruit” of a Walk to Emmaus. And he kept that commitment.   Later when I asked him to chair a task force that was going to require both time and effort to do its work, he accepted the assignment with enthusiasm and guided its work to completion with great wisdom and real grace.

It’s not on the mountaintops of exalted emotion and spiritual euphoria that the measure of what’s going on in our hearts will be taken, but rather in the valleys below where life is “daily” and the demands are unrelenting. The language of “mountaintop” experiences to describe the experiences of spiritual intensity and insight that we are given from time to time as Christians comes from the Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration.

Jesus“Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain” (Mark 9:2) is how the story begins. On that mountaintop those three disciples saw and heard things that are astonishing for us even now to consider. Who could blame Peter for wanting to stay right there on that holy ground? He wanted to build three tents to keep the experience going. But just as quickly and unexpectedly as the whole experience began, it was over. And “as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus charged them to tell no one what they had seen” (Mark 9:9) is how the story ends. They couldn’t stay on the mountaintop. What happened on the mountaintop was to inspire them. What happened on the mountaintop was to inform them. What happened on the mountaintop was to sustain them. But their lives and their work were in the valley below.

I expect that the Walk this week will be a mountaintop experience for me, for my partners on the team, and for the pilgrims who will be participating. I expect that it will remind me of my first love (Revelation 2:4), and that it will restore to me the joy of God’s salvation (Psalm 51:12). But the measure of this weekend will not be what happens this weekend — it will be what happens next Monday, and what happens on the Monday after that, and then what happens on the Monday after that. The spiritual life is not about a burst of enthusiasm and intensity on a mountaintop, as welcome and valuable such an experience may be. No, the spiritual life is about “a long obedience in the same direction” through a valley that can be dark and winding at times, but that finally leads us home. DBS+

 

When I think of retirement, I don’t think about playing golf, or taking up a hobby, or taking lots of trips. No, I think of my study at home and the time that I’ll finally have to read and ponder Thomas Aquinas’ Summa, Karl Barth’s Dogmatics and Carl F.H. Henry’s God, Revelation and Authority word by word and cover to cover. This is just how I am wired, and because I am, I also know its dark side.  I know that it’s easier for me to read a book of dense theology than to feel an hour of God’s presence.

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