Saturday, December 12, 2015

Advent Reflections - December 12


Peace

“After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their
treasures and presented him with gifts 
                                                                     of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”

                                                                     Matthew 2:9-11

Reflection

The astrological event that led the wise men to Jesus was brighter and more spectacular than any other. Through God’s divine providence, it appeared to announce the birth of Christ for those that were watching and waiting. From all practical perspectives, everyone should have noticed the splendor of this unusual event. But the Bible and other historical sources tell us that this was unfortunately not the case. Only a few educated philosophers and astronomers were able to interpret this glorious birth announcement, three of which are revealed in our passage for today. They knew that they were witnessing an extraordinary event. Something was taking place that was beyond the traditional and often narrow view of the natural world, and they wanted to be a part of it.

Sometimes we allow tradition to cloud our perspective of what God is doing in our world. We get so consumed with our narrow view of things that we forget that God's view encompasses so much more. Especially during the Christmas holidays, it’s easy for us to get sidetracked. It’s easy to slip into a complacent mindset that misses the big picture. When this happens, peace tends to elude us and joy becomes a rare. Just as many missed the coming of the Messiah, we miss the unusually bright star in our lives as well because we fail to look up.

As we come to the end of the second week of Advent, let us commit ourselves to look up and see things from God’s perspective. Let us not miss the “bright morning star”. Let us keep our eyes upon the “light of the world”. As He guides us toward Christmas, let our perspective be clear, and our view broad.       


Prayer

God, we confess that sometimes we allow ourselves to be consumed by the cultural views around us. With our eyes focused on the world, we miss the miraculous things that you do in our lives. Help us, Lord to keep our eyes focused upon you and not miss the guiding stars that you place before us. 
Amen 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Imagine: What did John Lennon Know About the Kingdom?

A few years ago, a friend asked me to describe my picture of the Kingdom of God. Without hesitation, I replied, "John Lennon's song Imagine." He looked at me for a few seconds, as if waiting for the punchline and then laughed. I asked him what was so funny and he answered me rather arrogantly, "Come on! That's liberal idealism. Not the Kingdom of God."

So, do I think that the Kingdom of God is nothing more than a idealistic view of the world? Well, let's take a look at Lennon's words and see. 

                                                     Imagine there's no Heaven
 It's easy if you try 
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today



No Heaven? No Hell? Well, before you accuse me of heresy, let's think about this. Before the Fall of man, things existed exactly how God had intended them to be. Life, nature, people, the world and all that existed was the completion and perfection of God's Kingdom. There was no death, so the Earth was our home. Heaven was not something to look forward to. It was reality. Nothing better existed, apart from being God.  There was no need to want or seek anything more than we had. God lived among us. Earth was basically Heaven on Earth, created for man. When sin came into the world, the perfection of Heaven became flawed, thus our need to reside in Heaven after our bodies finally died. Again, it was not the way it was supposed to be. Jesus came into the world to change the path to something different. Something better. Something real.  Heaven became a necessity, a divine plan B until His return. Yes, there is a Heaven, but it was not where we were supposed to live until there was no other option. So yes, Imagine there's no Heaven. Imagine what the Earth was supposed to be like, because in it's essence, it was a reality.   

As for Hell, it was never created for us in the first place. See Matthew 25:41. For the follower of Christ, it shouldn't even be an issue because it was never intended to have anything to do with us. Within the Kingdom of God, Hell has no relevance to us because we would never experience it. If there is a Hell, personally I don't care because I choose to imagine the Kingdom without it.
       
Imagine there's no countries 
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace


Countries only exist because we created them. Again, this is actually a symptom of the Fall of man and sin entering the world. See Genesis 11:1-9. In the Kingdom of God, no countries were ever intended. No borders, so no need for differences, division, war and reasons to dominate each other. No languages to separate us. No nationalities to isolate us. No superiority so that someone else is weaker or less of a human being. And yes, no religion; only a life spent experiencing the presence of the only God in complete unity.  "All the people, living life in peace." Yes! Imagine it!

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world


Imagine that there is no need for possessions, because all we have and want comes from God. Imagine a life where we have no desire to have more than someone else. Imagine giving, without any desire to receive.  No keeping up with the Joneses. No need to worry about money. No power struggles. No selfish ambition or greed. No climbing the ladder of success. No retirement funds. No hunger. No poverty. No homelessness.  No healthcare. No "least of these" See Matthew 25:46 Simply imagine the entire world, living together and sharing everything we have and praising God every minute because He's provided everything we need. Not a bad thing to imagine, is it?

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one


Yes, you can say that I'm a dreamer, and many of you do. That's OK. But I don't think I'm the only one, am I? I think that each and every one of us have these desires for our world. Some of us may have buried them deep down inside, folded up in a file that reads: "Liberalism" "Socialism" "Utopian Nut Jobs" "Idealism"  Maybe it was thrown away all together. But were John Lennon's dreams for the world really that far off from what God wants for us all? I know nothing of his spiritual beliefs, and as far as I know, He didn't follow Christ. But does that make his vision an less real, pure or theological for that matter?
                    
What these words remind us is that it's OK to wonder what the world would be like if the Kingdom of God was here in it's fulfillment. It's what we were created for. It's how things were intended to be. And as followers of Christ, it's our responsibility. Because until Christ returns to earth one day, we're it. The Body of Christ, living and breathing in this fallen world. It's not the responsibility of governments, societies or UNICEF. Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom of God, we keep it going and advance it, and one day, hopefully soon, He will fulfill it. Is it easy? No. Is it realistic? No. Is it possible in? Not until Christ returns, but try. And we Imagine.           

Monday, November 30, 2015

Advent Reflections - November 29

Hope


"Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting,
   “Clear the way through the wilderness
      for the Lord!
   Make a straight highway through the wasteland
      for our God!”

Isaiah 40:3


Reflection

If you’re like most people, the Christmas marketing onslaught has already begun. Practically from the moment that the last Trick or Treater beckoned at our doorsteps, we seem to be inundated with an onslaught of advertising and commercialism that can cause the person of strongest resolve to submit to the temptation of over consumption. It’s then that we realize that our journey to Christmas has been a hectic blur through a wilderness of activity, shopping, spending and stress that leaves us exhausted and unfulfilled. We take a deep breath, finally uttering that familiar phrase, “Where did the holidays go?” We may have hoped for peace, but in reality, we received very little.  

We blink our eyes a few times, take a couple of deep breaths and just like that, the sun has set on yet another Christmas Day. It’s at that moment that we realize that our path to Christmas has been a chaotic journey through a wilderness of activity, shopping, spending and stress that leaves us exhausted and unfulfilled. We pause to catch our breath, finally uttering that familiar phrase, “Where did the holidays go?” We may have hoped for much, but in reality, we received very little.


In the quiet of this moment, as the rest of the world may seem to be rushing towards Christmas at full speed, let us commit ourselves to slow down. Focus on hope. What do you hope for this Christmas? Despite the things that need to be done and the places that we may need to go, let us allow ourselves to slow our pace. Let us find hope. In the recess of our souls, let us imagine ourselves moving into the slow lane of seasonal traffic. See the road ahead of you. It’s clear and straight. The voice of God calls to us, far beyond the distractions saying, “Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God!”

Prayer

God, in the stillness of this moment, grant peace to us in our minds, bodies and souls. Let us feel the pace of life slow down, despite the rush of the Christmas Season. As we focus on you and you alone, help us to keep the hope of your Son alive in our hearts and let it shine forth for all to see.

Amen

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving and Contentment

"give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread." Proverbs 30:8  

What a counter-cultural statement. It doesn't sound very aspiring, does it? It doesn't paint a picture of someone climbing the ladder of success, and it doesn't exactly seem like someone who thinks they will be financially blessed by God because they're faith is stronger than the next guy. It doesn't sound like someone who has read the latest Christian self-help book. And it doesn't exactly sound very American., or very "Christian" for that matter.    
Contentment is a bad word during this time of year. I mean, isn't that the antithesis of what Christmas marketing is all about? Isn't that the complete opposite of the real motive of gift giving? It's not really about what "they" want, it's about what "we" can get, right? Let's face it. That's the essential motive of all Christmas advertising. Companies rely on the restless discontented spirit of Americans and hone in on that one question that we all ask ourselves, "What do I WANT?"

Every year, it seems earlier and earlier that stores begin packing their aisles with festive Christmas advertising, displays and Christmas themed products. This year it was well before Halloween, which makes me sometimes wonder if we're gradually moving toward one single "Winter Holiday Season”, rather than three individual celebrations. Thanksgiving is basically rolled over by the Christmas steam engine. Kids find it boring and stores find it to be just an unprofitable pain in the ass. Just a low profit holiday stuck between the big money profits of Halloween and Christmas. A Speed bump.

When I was in college, my parents gave me an inspirational picture for Christmas that I eventually hung in my first office. The peaceful image was of a golden sunset silhouetted by a man in a kayak rowing across a calm glassy lake. Beneath the picture was the title Contentment, followed by a small caption that read, “When you can look at the past with pride and the future with hope, you can live comfortably with today”. It wasn't until many years later that I realized how true and essential these words really are.

In his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul says, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” - Philippians 4:11-13 

From these words, we see that Paul understood that we have no real control over the past or the future. The only period of time that we can physically live within is the present moment,.and our present situations in life can only be made peaceful through a complete centered focus on God, not on possessions. The secret of contentment of which Paul speaks, lies in the last verse. “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” In 1 Timothy 6:6-8, he reaffirms his understanding and again links the secret of contentment to an all encompassing focus on God. “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” He then goes on to show us that our physical possessions have absolutely nothing to do with our contentment. For we brought nothing into the world, and we take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” And doesn't this seem to be the essence of what being thankful is all about? It's no wonder that advertisers don't want to focus on Thanksgiving. We just might grasp it's essential meaning and not spend as much because we realize that we're content with what we have.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving, let's commit to actually being thankful; not just saying that we're thankful, but honestly and spiritually giving thanks. Put your Christmas plans on pause. Take a break. In light of recent terror attacks and threats of the beginnings of WWIII, it's not difficult to realize that we have much more to be thankful for than we may realize. If you have life, have a roof over your head and a community of family and friends surrounding you, you have enough to be content. And if circumstances beyond your control have left you alone today, get in touch with me. You have a place around the table!

Celebrate Thanksgiving. Take some time to meditate on what it means to be thankful. Let us remember that contentment doesn't lie in the endless accumulation of possessions. Contentment lies in being "thankful" for what we have been given each and every day; whether good or bad; whether a lot or just a little. Contentment is being in the now; not yesterday. Not tomorrow. Contentment is real-time. A continuous thankful spirit for each moment. Breathing in and out. Life. Now. Contentment.

"Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (1 Thessalonians 5:16)

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Fear and Reformation in League City

Yesterday was Halloween and since it fell on a Saturday, it left me with a lot of time on my hands. When I have idle time, I think. I remember. And realizing that this could well be my youngest son's last Halloween to celebrate as a  "kid", I became somewhat nostalgic. And as I pondered over the many Halloweens that have come and gone, it brought to mind something that happened last year. Since I haven't written anything in months, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to put my thoughts to paper, so to speak.

A week before Halloween last year, I found myself in the grocery store and came across a cute little girl that decided to introduce herself to me. She was simply precious and begin to babble non-stop as most toddlers do. It was awesome! I love little kids and since mom was right by her side, I decided to play along with her cheerful banter. We were laughing hysterically and things were going great until I made an unexpected mistake in the form of a question, "So, what are you going to be for Halloween?" I expected my ears to be met with a cute little giggle followed by an excited declaration of "A princess!" or "Elsa!", "A Minion!" Maybe "A fairy!" What I didn't expect was the confused look on her face as she ran to the safety of her mom and grabbed he leg.

"We don't celebrate Halloween!", mom said with a very self-determined and delightful scowl.

It kind of caught me off guard so I just responded with a cliche "Oh, really?", coming to the realization that I was possibly about to step into territory that was going to send my "Cynical Meter" off the charts.

"No!", she snapped back, as if I had asked an incredibly stupid question. "It's an evil holiday! And we're Christians!"  Duh! Now why the hell didn't they teach me that in seminary? 

I stood there with a tad of disbelief and almost became ashamed of myself for not holding myself to the same self-righteous standards as this upstanding woman. It's amazing how a precious dialogue with a four year old could turn into me feeling like a child molester, or worse yet, a heretic. Man, thanks mom!  I felt like just going to go home, burying myself under the covers and refusing to come out until it was time to drown my sorrows in afternoon coffee!  But no!  I wasn't about to allow this mean lady ruin my day!  Time to have a little fun!

"Well, then Happy Reformation Day to you and your sweet little girl!"

"Reformation Day? What's is that?", she answered back, with that scrunchy confused face that you used to get from your mom when you said something stupid.

I couldn't help but laugh, shook my head and walked away with a polite wave. As I made my way to the front door I heard her mumble something to her four year old, followed by an annoyed, "Idiot!"

"Ignore that, Jake! Ignore it! What would Jesus do?  Let it go!"  I did. And you'll be happy to know that the swelling in my hand from punching the steering wheel in my car went down by the end of the day. "Serenity now! Serenity now!"             

To be honest, I've never understood the Christian fear and panic over Halloween. I always say that if The Devil needs a vacation, he takes it on Halloween. We create enough anxiety fueled damage on our own. And if you choose not to celebrate Halloween, please don't take my words as judgmental. My frustration is with the grouchy woman in the grocery store and her failed attempt at Christ-likeness. But let me encourage you! If you need a reason to keep your porch light on and your front door open next year, just declare "Happy Reformation Day" and give the cute kiddos some candy in honor of Martin Luther. And in keeping with the scary theme of the day, just recite something from Luther's speech at the Diet of Worms. Oooooooh! Scary!

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg Germany. In the striking of a nail, a shock wave was sent through the Church and the world. In essence, this was the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, and how we got to where we are today. Although I have not always agreed with Luther's theology and practices, this day marks a critical juncture in Church history.

The 95 Theses was not a rejection on the Church, but a rejection of the validity of the sale of indulgences (remissions of temporal punishment due for sins which have already been forgiven), that were becoming rampant in the Church. The document also viewed with great cynicism the practice of indulgences being sold, and thus the penance for sin representing a financial transaction rather than genuine contrition. Luther argued that this was a gross violation of the original intention of confession and penance, and that Christians were being misled by being told that they could find absolution for a mere monetary sacrifice. 

You may have heard the expression,"As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs."? Luther insisted that forgiveness was God's alone and thus could not be bought for oneself, or anyone else for that matter, through an earthly system of absolution. This kind of thought would thus limit a Christian's relationship with God and lessen their devotion to him alone. Luther contended that if salvation was by "grace alone" (Romans 3:20-28), what could man do in order to earn their own salvation, let alone that of another.

If you haven't read Luther's 95 Theses, I've posted them below. It's long, but worth the read. It's important to be reminded of these essential movements in the Church that give us the freedom to do what we do and further the Kingdom of God. Imagine the faith and courage that Luther had to have to rebel against the Church and thus chose to honor God rather than man. The system that the Church had instituted with the sale of indulgences was built of fear. Remember the words if 1 John 4:16 that say "God is love...There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love."     

Martin Luther's 95 Theses

"Out of love for the truth and from desire to elucidate it, the Reverend Father Martin Luther, Master of Arts and Sacred Theology, and ordinary lecturer therein at Wittenberg, intends to defend the following statements and to dispute on them in that place. Therefore he asks that those who cannot be present and dispute with him orally shall do so in their absence by letter. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen."

  1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ``Repent'' (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
  2. This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.
  3. Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortification of the flesh.
  4. The penalty of sin remains as long as the hatred of self (that is, true inner repentance), namely till our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
  5. The pope neither desires nor is able to remit any penalties except those imposed by his own authority or that of the canons.
  6. The pope cannot remit any guilt, except by declaring and showing that it has been remitted by God; or, to be sure, by remitting guilt in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant remission in these cases were disregarded, the guilt would certainly remain unforgiven.
  7. God remits guilt to no one unless at the same time he humbles him in all things and makes him submissive to the vicar, the priest.
  8. The penitential canons are imposed only on the living, and, according to the canons themselves, nothing should be imposed on the dying.
  9. Therefore the Holy Spirit through the pope is kind to us insofar as the pope in his decrees always makes exception of the article of death and of necessity.
  10. Those priests act ignorantly and wickedly who, in the case of the dying, reserve canonical penalties for purgatory.
  11. Those tares of changing the canonical penalty to the penalty of purgatory were evidently sown while the bishops slept (Mt 13:25).
  12. In former times canonical penalties were imposed, not after, but before absolution, as tests of true contrition.
  13. The dying are freed by death from all penalties, are already dead as far as the canon laws are concerned, and have a right to be released from them.
  14. Imperfect piety or love on the part of the dying person necessarily brings with it great fear; and the smaller the love, the greater the fear.
  15. This fear or horror is sufficient in itself, to say nothing of other things, to constitute the penalty of purgatory, since it is very near to the horror of despair.
  16. Hell, purgatory, and heaven seem to differ the same as despair, fear, and assurance of salvation.
  17. It seems as though for the souls in purgatory fear should necessarily decrease and love increase.
  18. Furthermore, it does not seem proved, either by reason or by Scripture, that souls in purgatory are outside the state of merit, that is, unable to grow in love.
  19. Nor does it seem proved that souls in purgatory, at least not all of them, are certain and assured of their own salvation, even if we ourselves may be entirely certain of it.
  20. Therefore the pope, when he uses the words ``plenary remission of all penalties,'' does not actually mean ``all penalties,'' but only those imposed by himself.
  21. Thus those indulgence preachers are in error who say that a man is absolved from every penalty and saved by papal indulgences.
  22. As a matter of fact, the pope remits to souls in purgatory no penalty which, according to canon law, they should have paid in this life.
  23. If remission of all penalties whatsoever could be granted to anyone at all, certainly it would be granted only to the most perfect, that is, to very few.
  24. For this reason most people are necessarily deceived by that indiscriminate and high-sounding promise of release from penalty.
  25. That power which the pope has in general over purgatory corresponds to the power which any bishop or curate has in a particular way in his own diocese and parish.
  26. The pope does very well when he grants remission to souls in purgatory, not by the power of the keys, which he does not have, but by way of intercession for them.
  27. They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.
  28. It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone.
  29. Who knows whether all souls in purgatory wish to be redeemed, since we have exceptions in St. Severinus and St. Paschal, as related in a legend.
  30. No one is sure of the integrity of his own contrition, much less of having received plenary remission.
  31. The man who actually buys indulgences is as rare as he who is really penitent; indeed, he is exceedingly rare.
  32. Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.
  33. Men must especially be on guard against those who say that the pope's pardons are that inestimable gift of God by which man is reconciled to him.
  34. For the graces of indulgences are concerned only with the penalties of sacramental satisfaction established by man.
  35. They who teach that contrition is not necessary on the part of those who intend to buy souls out of purgatory or to buy confessional privileges preach unchristian doctrine.
  36. Any truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence letters.
  37. Any true Christian, whether living or dead, participates in all the blessings of Christ and the church; and this is granted him by God, even without indulgence letters.
  38. Nevertheless, papal remission and blessing are by no means to be disregarded, for they are, as I have said (Thesis 6), the proclamation of the divine remission.
  39. It is very difficult, even for the most learned theologians, at one and the same time to commend to the people the bounty of indulgences and the need of true contrition.
  40. A Christian who is truly contrite seeks and loves to pay penalties for his sins; the bounty of indulgences, however, relaxes penalties and causes men to hate them -- at least it furnishes occasion for hating them.
  41. Papal indulgences must be preached with caution, lest people erroneously think that they are preferable to other good works of love.
  42. Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend that the buying of indulgences should in any way be compared with works of mercy.
  43. Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who buys indulgences.
  44. Because love grows by works of love, man thereby becomes better. Man does not, however, become better by means of indulgences but is merely freed from penalties.
  45. Christians are to be taught that he who sees a needy man and passes him by, yet gives his money for indulgences, does not buy papal indulgences but God's wrath.
  46. Christians are to be taught that, unless they have more than they need, they must reserve enough for their family needs and by no means squander it on indulgences.
  47. Christians are to be taught that they buying of indulgences is a matter of free choice, not commanded.
  48. Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting indulgences, needs and thus desires their devout prayer more than their money.
  49. Christians are to be taught that papal indulgences are useful only if they do not put their trust in them, but very harmful if they lose their fear of God because of them.
  50. Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the indulgence preachers, he would rather that the basilica of St. Peter were burned to ashes than built up with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep.
  51. Christians are to be taught that the pope would and should wish to give of his own money, even though he had to sell the basilica of St. Peter, to many of those from whom certain hawkers of indulgences cajole money.
  52. It is vain to trust in salvation by indulgence letters, even though the indulgence commissary, or even the pope, were to offer his soul as security.
  53. They are the enemies of Christ and the pope who forbid altogether the preaching of the Word of God in some churches in order that indulgences may be preached in others.
  54. Injury is done to the Word of God when, in the same sermon, an equal or larger amount of time is devoted to indulgences than to the Word.
  55. It is certainly the pope's sentiment that if indulgences, which are a very insignificant thing, are celebrated with one bell, one procession, and one ceremony, then the gospel, which is the very greatest thing, should be preached with a hundred bells, a hundred processions, a hundred ceremonies.
  56. The true treasures of the church, out of which the pope distributes indulgences, are not sufficiently discussed or known among the people of Christ.
  57. That indulgences are not temporal treasures is certainly clear, for many indulgence sellers do not distribute them freely but only gather them.
  58. Nor are they the merits of Christ and the saints, for, even without the pope, the latter always work grace for the inner man, and the cross, death, and hell for the outer man.
  59. St. Lawrence said that the poor of the church were the treasures of the church, but he spoke according to the usage of the word in his own time.
  60. Without want of consideration we say that the keys of the church, given by the merits of Christ, are that treasure.
  61. For it is clear that the pope's power is of itself sufficient for the remission of penalties and cases reserved by himself.
  62. The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.
  63. But this treasure is naturally most odious, for it makes the first to be last (Mt. 20:16).
  64. On the other hand, the treasure of indulgences is naturally most acceptable, for it makes the last to be first.
  65. Therefore the treasures of the gospel are nets with which one formerly fished for men of wealth.
  66. The treasures of indulgences are nets with which one now fishes for the wealth of men.
  67. The indulgences which the demagogues acclaim as the greatest graces are actually understood to be such only insofar as they promote gain.
  68. They are nevertheless in truth the most insignificant graces when compared with the grace of God and the piety of the cross.
  69. Bishops and curates are bound to admit the commissaries of papal indulgences with all reverence.
  70. But they are much more bound to strain their eyes and ears lest these men preach their own dreams instead of what the pope has commissioned.
  71. Let him who speaks against the truth concerning papal indulgences be anathema and accursed.
  72. But let him who guards against the lust and license of the indulgence preachers be blessed.
  73. Just as the pope justly thunders against those who by any means whatever contrive harm to the sale of indulgences.
  74. Much more does he intend to thunder against those who use indulgences as a pretext to contrive harm to holy love and truth.
  75. To consider papal indulgences so great that they could absolve a man even if he had done the impossible and had violated the mother of God is madness.
  76. We say on the contrary that papal indulgences cannot remove the very least of venial sins as far as guilt is concerned.
  77. To say that even St. Peter if he were now pope, could not grant greater graces is blasphemy against St. Peter and the pope.
  78. We say on the contrary that even the present pope, or any pope whatsoever, has greater graces at his disposal, that is, the gospel, spiritual powers, gifts of healing, etc., as it is written. (1 Co 12[:28])
  79. To say that the cross emblazoned with the papal coat of arms, and set up by the indulgence preachers is equal in worth to the cross of Christ is blasphemy.
  80. The bishops, curates, and theologians who permit such talk to be spread among the people will have to answer for this.
  81. This unbridled preaching of indulgences makes it difficult even for learned men to rescue the reverence which is due the pope from slander or from the shrewd questions of the laity.
  82. Such as: ``Why does not the pope empty purgatory for the sake of holy love and the dire need of the souls that are there if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a church?'' The former reason would be most just; the latter is most trivial.
  83. Again, ``Why are funeral and anniversary masses for the dead continued and why does he not return or permit the withdrawal of the endowments founded for them, since it is wrong to pray for the redeemed?''
  84. Again, ``What is this new piety of God and the pope that for a consideration of money they permit a man who is impious and their enemy to buy out of purgatory the pious soul of a friend of God and do not rather, beca use of the need of that pious and beloved soul, free it for pure love's sake?''
  85. Again, ``Why are the penitential canons, long since abrogated and dead in actual fact and through disuse, now satisfied by the granting of indulgences as though they were still alive and in force?''
  86. Again, ``Why does not the pope, whose wealth is today greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build this one basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor believers?''
  87. Again, ``What does the pope remit or grant to those who by perfect contrition already have a right to full remission and blessings?''
  88. Again, ``What greater blessing could come to the church than if the pope were to bestow these remissions and blessings on every believer a hundred times a day, as he now does but once?''
  89. ``Since the pope seeks the salvation of souls rather than money by his indulgences, why does he suspend the indulgences and pardons previously granted when they have equal efficacy?''
  90. To repress these very sharp arguments of the laity by force alone, and not to resolve them by giving reasons, is to expose the church and the pope to the ridicule of their enemies and to make Christians unhappy.
  91. If, therefore, indulgences were preached according to the spirit and intention of the pope, all these doubts would be readily resolved. Indeed, they would not exist.
  92. Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, ``Peace, peace,'' and there is no peace! (Jer 6:14)
  93. Blessed be all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, ``Cross, cross,'' and there is no cross!
  94. Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, death and hell.
  95. And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace (Acts 14:22).
    

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Review of The Age of the Spirit: How the Ghost of an Ancient Controveresy is Shaping the Church by Phyllis Tickle with Jon M. Sweeney


For those hoping to engage in The Age of the Spirit by Phyllis Tickle and Jon Sweeney with a desire to obtain a deeper understanding of the Holy Spirit, you may come away disappointed and left with as many questions as when you began reading. The Spirit is shrouded in mystery and it is with humility and compassion that the authors guide the reader to be content with this ancient conundrum. As declared by the book’s subtitle, the reader will walk away with a deeper understanding of “How the Ghost of an Ancient Controversy is Shaping the Church”. For if the Church is truly moving into a new era; The Age of the Spirit, is it not even more imperative that the Body of Christ have a more firm grasp on the Trinity and the Spirit’s place within? Have we reached a crossroads in history where we can no longer remain content with unanswered questions?     

As Dylan so prophetically declared to the past generation, “The Times they are a Changin”, Tickle now declares change for a generation of Christians just as frustrated, confused and in search of answers. Understanding cultural change is difficult to comprehend when staring in a mirror. One often has to look behind at the historical vehicles that have transported to a particular point in time. By carefully reflecting on the historical ups and downs that have occurred within the Church, Tickle helps the reader understand that the mysteries enveloping the third person of the Trinity are no different for those who sought solutions over 2000 years ago. They make it very clear from the beginning that in order to understand where we are, we have to have a firm grasp and understanding on where we’ve been, who we’ve been and how we’ve arrived where we are today. Ironically, before we begin to look ahead, we must first look behind. It is with this logic that the authors build the structure of The Age of the Spirit with historical clarity and simplicity.    

From the apparent subtle changing of words within the Nicene Creed (see below) in 689 CE that led to the spark of the Great Schism, to the birth of Pentecostalism on Azuza Street in 1906, Tickle illustrates how the differences of interpretation and understanding of the Holy Spirit can cause division that, at times in history, have seemed almost irreparable, but also create unstoppable movements that change the very fabric of who we are as Christians. Whether intentional or not, she paints a historical illustration that makes clear why we see so much division within the Church today, and how we struggle with the same issues. 

“Filoque”, the Latin word for “and from the Son”, is as Patrick Leigh Fermor is quoted as saying, the “tintack which split Chistendom”. How could such a seemingly insignificant altering of words create such chaos that could possibly be the main contributor to our confusion over the Holy Spirit’s place within the three-in-one Godhead? Could this re-wording of an ancient creed in 689 be the cause of heresy, theological division, political upheaval and even the birth of new religions? Has the struggle come down to the simple issue of as Tickle sees as “One-God-in-Three-Parts and the impenetrable question of Spirit: what it was, what it was in devine relationship, what it was in function, how it was to be known – Separately? En masse? How?”  

It is with reading the The Age of the Spirit, that the reader will be forced to re-examine the mysterious third Person of the Trinity and ask ourselves who the Spirit is, what the Spirit is, and what place does the Spirit have within the Trinity and the Church itself? Tickle makes it clear that if we are in fact moving into a new age within the Church, and witnessing a movement of “religionless Christianity”, the mysteries of the Holy Spirit must be wrestled with.  For at no other time in history have we confronted the reality that God is not “out there” waiting to be found, but rather supernaturally among us, living and breathing.  

No longer does the Church need to rely only on hierarchical authority, historical forefathers, political structures or even scripture to face the mysteries of the Spirit. In fact, Tickle has reminded us that the Spirit is wanting to be known. So it is with joy and excitement that the Body of Christ begins the process of discerning, critiquing and understanding the Spirit’s movement within. We must embrace the Spirit, wrestle with the Spirit, put our arm around the Spirit and walk with confidence into what the future holds. The Age of the Spirit could very well be the catalyst for the future. Tickle and Sweeney have opened the proverbial dust covered chest in the closet to reveal the treasure that has been waiting to be discovered. 

The Nicene Creed

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

With the Father and the Son
he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. AMEN.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Holy Week Reflections: Sanhedrin


“If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”

John 18:30

Trumped up charges. Deception. Misinformation. Half truths. Embellishments. Lies. Lies. Lies.

A reflection of modern day culture.

Lies. 

"We cripple ourselves with lies." - Jim Morrison 

Lies are cowardly and weak because we use them as a weapon which the other person cannot see. It's covert destruction. Incognito weapons of mass deception.

The origin of lies? Selfishness. The culprit? Culture.  

We live in a culture that teaches us from the very earliest years to look of for number one. We grow up with a self-centered mentality that learns to defend itself at any cost. The means of self-preservation become irrelevant. And lies become one of the means that causes the most pain. Not only do lies destroy the victim, they eventually destroy us as well. We can only get so much blood on our hands before someone notices.

Then you become branded:  LIAR

You become a member of the Sanhedrin.

"Crucify him!" because.... "A lie cannot live" - Martin Luther King Jr.  Lies lead to death.

"What is truth?" - Pontius Pilate

 "I am the....truth."

Jesus came into this world as the quintessential example of truth. When the world is presented with absolute truth, nothing can distort the truth but lies, because truth is truth. By lies, distortions, half truths and deception, Christ was presented as a criminal to be accused so that those in power would not be.  Lies led to death.

"Let's get him, before he gets us!"  

Lies cannot exist during Lent, because Lent is about self-evaluation. If we lie, we only lie to ourselves. Lent is a mirror, more clear than any reflection we can behold. Lent is about presenting the truth, not of others, but ourselves. If we lie, we don't falsely accuse someone else, we falsely accuse ourselves.

Lies lead to death. But through Him, we have life. 

Lord, You who were falsely accused, guide us in perfect truth as we make our way through this season of Lent. Help us to choose truth, not lies. Help us to choose life, not death. Help us to reflect complete truth to ourselves so that we can come before you completely blameless. And in doing so, help us to reveal truth to a culture built on a foundation of lies. Amen    

Monday, March 30, 2015

Lenten Reflections: Holy Week


"The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Hosanna in the highest heaven!" 

Matthew 21:9

Saturday night, the lights of the city were in view. 

JERUSALEM: Next Exit

We stretch our legs and cast off the dust that we had been carrying for 40 days.

Our long journey will soon come to an end.

It's been a "long and winding road", hasn't it?

Palm Sunday. The embodiment of Lent and all that we've been through and experienced. Utmost joy and deepest pain rolled into one. Celebration and mourning. Two birds killed with one stone.

The overwhelming welcome for Jesus and His followers would soon give way to a roller coaster ride of events and emotions that would leave Jesus rejected, beaten and killed, and the disciples scattered, confused, dejected and terrified. They had no idea what was to come.

A joyous "Hosanna!" would soon morph into a bitter and cynical "Crucify!"

The one they called "Messiah" and begged, "Save us!", would soon become someone that they saw no salvation in whatsoever.

We are no different. Standing at the gates of Jerusalem, cheering with self-righteous cries of group-think, we change what and where we find our salvation.

Yesterday morning we shouted, "Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord." 

This week we'll join the crowds: "Crucify Him!"     

Lent will soon come to an end. We will cast off the dust that we've carried since Ash Wednesday. Our mourning will turn to joy. Celebration. Culmination. Long awaited redemption.

But reality stares us in the face with those who rejoiced over 2000 years ago. Rejoicing is short lived and transparent.

We join the crowds. We condemn. We spit. We beat and torture. We crucify.

Let's not kid ourselves. We still have a few difficult days ahead of us. Have we learned enough from Lent to carry us to Golgotha? I can see it in the distance. Can you? Does Christ look better to us on his thrown, or on the cross?  

Lord, as we join with the crowds in declaring, "Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.", help us to not turn our backs. Help us not join the crowds. Help us to stand on our own if we have to. We know how easy it is to follow others, even when it means betraying You. Keep us close. Let us suffer with You as we celebrate as well. Because it is in our suffering that we find our perfect joy. Amen 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Lenten Reflections: Naked

"...just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too.."

Romans 6:4 

Resurrection

Redemption

Hope

Restoration

Life eternal


These truths stand naked in front of us, just as Christ stood naked before our eyes on Easter morning. In truth, there is no room for covering up. We create spiritual clothing. Coverings to shield the world from who we really are. Coverings act as barriers between God and humanity. Coverings act as barriers between ourselves and others. A shirt of pride. Pants of arrogance. A dress made of fear. Shoes of selfishness. A suit of individualism. 

Coverings conceal our shame so that the true self is kept from being revealed. 

Within the Kingdom of God we all stand naked. Truth becomes obsolete because we no longer need to seek it's definition. Truth simply is what is: Truth is truth.

Through Christ truth is simply reality. Coverings fall to the floor and we stand completely unashamed before God and others. Complete unity exists when there is nothing between us. 

Just as Christ stood naked, raised from the depths of the earth, we too will one day stand naked, raised from the earth. 

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

Lent reveals to us the coverings that we adorn. As we make our way through the Lenten season, we hope to loose these coverings, one by one. As we approach Easter, we embrace more truth about ourselves and others, so that as the sun rises on Sunday, we will rise with Christ; naked and unashamed. 

Lord, we cover ourselves with spiritual clothing. Coverings that hide the true self. Coverings that lie and avoid the truth. As we move closer to Easter Sunday, enable each of us to shed any coverings that hide the true person that we are in you, so that with you we may stand naked and resurrected. Amen     

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Lenten Reflections: Truth?


"What is truth?" Pilate asked" - John 18:38

A lie brings satisfaction. Somewhere deep within the recesses of our soul, a carefully crafted lie will appease the deepest desire that screams to be filled. Lies inflate our ego. Lies fill us with pride. Lies transform us into something that we're not. A Lie is existence lived in reverse. Backward reality.  

Lies create a false reality in exchange for the living breathing life that surrounds us. Lies reject the positive in exchange for the negative. Lies feed us, but we remain starving.

Satisfaction, but still longing. 

Filled, but empty. 

Selfless, but selfish.

Finished, but just beginning. 

Creation, but left with destruction. 

Life, but death.
 
We stagger around, in constant states of confusion, choosing whatever lie that will bring temporary satisfaction. Rather than embracing the truth of God that will bring lasting peace, we choose lies and accept the turmoil that eventually develops. This is the root of all rebellion. 

Like a drug, lies perpetuate a temporary existence in exchange for permanence. Chaos in exchange for peace. Life in exchange for death.

During Lent, we confront the lies that consume our lives and come face to face with the realization that we very often choose fantasy over reality. Lent produces for us a mirror that reveals to us someone we hardly know. 

Lent reveals to us that it was not only the Sanhedrin that condemned Christ unjustly, but you and I did as well. It was not only Pilate that rejected truth in exchange for lies, but we do the same thing on a regular basis. Lent is coming to grips with the unsettling reality that we sent Christ to His cross, and to this day, we crucify those around us, we're just more subtle about it.

Lord, as we continue to make our way through Lent, we realize that we often choose the lies over your truth; maybe more often than we know. We also realize that within the Kingdom of God, there are no lies. Help us this day to reveal the Kingdom, and in essence, reveal your truth to the false cultures around us. Amen.       

   

Monday, March 9, 2015

Lenten Reflections: Pilate

"Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” - John 18:37 

We offer cheap and ineffective defenses when we are threatened. Like scared little children, we defend our tiny little kingdoms and preserve what little control we have. The irony is that we are usually not threatened at all. The external factors that we consider threats, usually have nothing to do with us. The truth is, most of the world that revolves outside of our fortified cities doesn't really care about us and what we've built for ourselves. That's just reality. 
 
We are arrogant creatures at heart.

We defend what we don't have.

We protect what doesn't need protecting. 

What we defend is really not threatened.

Christ was no threat to Pilate, yet he chose to defend what needed no defense. Fueled by lies, deception and half truths, he chose to believe the propaganda that his kingdom might be destined for destruction. 

Pilate stockpiled pride.

He horded arrogance.

He was prepared for the future. 

In many ways, we're no different from Pilate. We believe the false threats and choose to put our faith in ourselves. We look our for #1. But what we fail to realize, is that while we build trust in ourselves, we diminish trust in Christ. Because.....

"I've got this God. You just keep the world spinning and me and my family will be just fine!"    

The world says THREAT. We defend.

The world says FEAR. We react.

The world says PREPARE. We stockpile and hoard. 

The world reveals the ENEMY. We shout CRUCIFY!  CRUCIFY! CRUCIFY! 

And wash our hands of the enemies blood. 

Lord, with our faith and trust rooted in You and You alone, we know that we have nothing to fear. No threat to our kingdoms. No reason to defend. No reason to protect. Help us to break down the cheap defenses that have been constructed. Yes, the world is a fearful place, Lord. It's easy to yield to the pressure. It's easy to believe the lies. Help us to be attune to You truth and only Your truth, as we make our way through this journey of faith. Amen   

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Lenten Reflections: Teardown

"The tongue also is a fire....no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison." - James 3:6,8

We love to tear each other down, don't we? We tear each other down because it elevates the self. The self then puffs itself up and stands proudly over the other, victorious because of the pain it caused. Blunt words without thought. Slamming insults. Verbal daggers. Wounds of war. Demolition. By one or two carefully chosen words, ones sense of worth can be reduced to nothing, while the other's worth skyrockets.  

"Loser!"

"You're really being a bitch!"

"You're weak."

"Fat ass!"

"Is that the best you can do?"

"You drunken whore!"

"I'm so ashamed of you."

"I hate you!"

"Faggot!"

"This is all your fault!"

"Man, you're so freaking stupid!"

"Libtard!"

"Teabagger!"

"Don't be a wimp!" 

"Shut up!"

"Crucify Him!"

"Hail, King of the Jews!" 

"He saved others, but He can't save Himself!"  

But among all the insults, the daggers that we thrust at one another, we stand and proudly declare, "I'm a Christian." 

Christ follower. Little Christ. Christ-like. Made in His image. 

And yet the one in which we claim to follow came to live among us only to be torn down, so that we would not need to tear each other down ever again. 

"Hypocrite!"   

Lord, You came to be torn down, so that we would no longer feel the need to tear each other down. You came so that words would not destroy us; that death would not destroy us. Help us to realize that within the Kingdom of God, there are no verbal daggers. Teach us, Lord, to live our lives following Your better example. Amen   

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Lenten Reflections: Guilty

 
"I offered my back to those who beat me,
    my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face
  from mocking and spitting."

Isaiah 50:6


The Roman soldiers were not the only ones who rejected Christ. Their actions may have been the most obvious, but they certainly didn't stand alone. They were just more honest in their rejection. They were blatant in their denial. There were many who beat with words under their breath. Pulled hairs from the proverbial beard. Mocked. Spit. But just far enough away from the crowds to remain anonymous. Group-think is a powerful enabler for the coward.

Lent reveals to us that we are no different in our corporate rejection of Christ. We choose to deny Christ incognito. Covert denial disguised in a system that we call American Theology. The "Church" has become the "Christians" favorite hiding place, and the the most effective manner of justification. But no matter how well we hide it, we deny Christ each and every day.  

We deny Christ by the way we live our lives, under the banner "CHRISTIAN".

We deny Christ when we wake up each day, and ignore God's divine presence.

We deny Christ when we rush to work in anger and self-absorption. 

We deny Christ at work when we work endlessly to control every aspect, refusing to rest.

We deny Christ when we treat others as if we're better, and they are less.

We deny Christ by our faith, because we refuse to trust. 

 We deny Christ when we refuse to reveal our true selves to others.

We deny Christ when we hate our enemy and refuse to forgive. 

We deny Christ when we celebrate war and cheer for "our team".

We deny Christ when patriotism trumps righteousness and spirituality. 

We deny Christ when we consume more than we can afford.

We deny Christ when we consume more than we give.

We deny Christ when we ignore the homeless and deny justice to the less fortunate.

We deny Christ when we shut ourselves inside and refuse to know our neighbors.

We deny Christ when we take pleasure in death of any kind. 

 We deny Christ when we refuse to build community with others.

We deny Christ when we lose our tempers and belittle others.

We deny Christ when we drink too much, smoke too much, eat too much, sleep too much, buy too much, work too much, want too much.....we deny Christ too much.

We deny Christ when we ridicule Him, spit on Him, beat Him and crucify Him.

We deny Christ by ______________________________.

We deny Christ.

Guilty as charged.     

Lord, we stand before You guilty; guilty as those that ridiculed You, spit on You, beat You and killed You, because we are those people as well. We deny You each and every day by the lives we live. In our guilt, forgive us, Lord, and lead us to live humble lives under Your merciful Lordship. Help us to forgive ourselves and receive Your forgiveness with joy. Amen