Weekly Devotionals

Here to Inspire and Encourage!

Devotionals for Graduate Students: Digging Deep into Our Heritage

Five Ways to Cultivate a Friendship with God: share it with a friend of yours.

  1. Remember that God has taken the big initiative in his calling you into your full humanity. This is the narrative of redemption, one significant act after another of calling us to return to him, culminating in the incarnation, death and resurrection of Christ. Abraham was a friend of God and responded to his call. Love is primary; power is secondary with Yahweh: He invites us into faithful covenant friendship and partnership towards a new humanity, a better world.
  2. He offers us intimate counsel and advice in life along the path of wisdom and holiness. Obedience to his ways is integral to the friendship: Jesus said “If you love me, you will walk in my truth, step into my life and let me light the path ahead.” Grace is on offer for this process through the Holy Spirit. 
  3. Prayer is a two way communication with our loving Father. We listen and we speak in dialogue with the Creator. This is most effective when we practice gratitude and praise before we lay out our needs and requests. We can pray the Psalms which speak of every imaginable human emotion and situation. Their main trajectory is a fruitful life well-lived, authentically, one geared to honouring God. Often as we read and meditate on Scripture, something profound will dawn on us.
  4. Open your heart to his transforming love. Make him central to all you think and do. Know that he is good and has intentions to bless you as well as discipline you into good habits and virtues. Know that he cares about your significant relationships, that he is the God of comfort during loss, sorrow and hard times.
  5. Invite his presence into your daily studies, debates and discussions. This will enhance your creativity, energy and critical insight. Claim his promises to be for you and with you daily, to show you the way through your project. God is interested in your thesis proposal as well as you dissertation conclusion.

Psalm 92. 

It is good to praise the Lord
    and make music to your name, O Most High,
proclaiming your love in the morning
    and your faithfulness at night,
to the music of the ten-stringed lyre
    and the melody of the harp.

For you make me glad by your deeds, Lord;
    I sing for joy at what your hands have done.
How great are your works, Lord,
    how profound your thoughts!
Senseless people do not know,
    fools do not understand,
that though the wicked spring up like grass
    and all evildoers flourish,
    they will be destroyed forever.

But you, Lord, are forever exalted.

October 1, 2021

The devotional theme for this week is reconciliation, appropriate to Canada’s newest holiday National Day for Truth & Reconciliation. Reconciliation involves honesty, humility and forgiveness as practiced, committed virtues. Dr. Ray Aldred’s talk to the GFCF forum last March hit a strong chord on this theme: 410 people have watched the video on YouTube since https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5eiR1F8XWE . We Canadians are in the sober process of reckoning with the sins and injustices of the past and present and moving towards making things right. Romans 5: 6-11 shows how God made the first move on reconciliation. He championed it.

  • Greater humility is associated with greater physical health, greater mental health (self-esteem, gratitude, forgiveness), academic performance, job performance, generosity and helpfulness. People experience more  positive romantic relationships, form and repair social bonds more readily, and are less anxious about death and more compassionate, experience less spiritual struggle. (Mark McMinn, The Science of  Virtue, 104). Mark is a professor of Positive Psychology who believes in the cultivation of the virtues for our overall wellbeing.
  • Forgiveness: Researchers at Duke Medical School observed the connection between forgiveness, pain and psychological distress appear to be mediated by anger, which suggests that forgiveness may help to reduce pain and distress. L. Gregory Jones,  an expert in this area of reconciliation, has written Embodying Forgiveness. People seem to recover from surgery faster and live longer as they practice forgiveness.

Three Axes of the Reconciliation Posture

  • Beliefs about the value of human life, the respect that is due to others, and what this will cost us, and how it places a demand on us.
  • Beliefs about what kind of life is worth living, the Noble/Good Life. This set of ideals permeates all our choices and actions.
  • The dignity we afford ourselves and others, which is based on how we understand our role and usefulness to society, and our place or calling within the larger scheme of things. 

In the quest for mature happiness, rich freedom, human flourishing, resilient identity and substantive meaning, amidst the suffering and tragedy of a broken world, the West is not without a response from its own philosophical, cultural, and spiritual tradition. Agape love posits a stance towards self and the world that is morally courageous and life-affirming, yes, even heroic, enhancing the common good and promoting the wellbeing of the community. It offers to reduce violence, promote justice and improve an individual’s mature responsibility for self and others—in line with a mature happiness that is virtue-, character- and principle-driven. It offers the motivation to do the good that one knows to be part of their better self—addressing our troubling current moral gap.

Here we come back to the compassion that must be formed in one’s heart, a compassion that comes out of a deep experience of solidarity, in which one realizes that the evil , sin and violence that one sees in the world and in the other, are deeply rooted in one’s own heart. Only when you want to confess this and want to rely on the merciful God who can bring good out of evil are you in a position to receive forgiveness and also to give it to other men and women who threaten you with violence. Precisely because Thomas Merton had discovered this nonviolent compassion in his solitude could he in a real sense be a monk, that is to say, one who unmasks through his criticism the illusions of a violent society and who wants to change the world in spirit and truth.   ~Henri Nouwen

October 6, 2021 The Light of the World

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. The person who follows me will not walk in darkness.” Darkness refers to moral/spiritual/identity confusion and misdirection. Jesus is larger, more real and more amazing than any human imagination could construct. That’s why these metaphors are so powerful—exploding in our minds like a supernova. The divine logos became flesh and built a whole new community and a whole new humanism rooted in agape love (Larry Siedentop, Inventing the Individual). He filled bios with his life (zoe) in such a way that believers could be like spontaneous  rivers of living water gushing forth to give spiritual life and hope to others. They see with fresh eyes at his dawn and they should awaken the world. 

Jesus, the energy behind the universe, offers to light up our very humanity, to offer sound and wise direction, improve our goals, purposes. This brings with it hope and clarity of mind and a sense of calling to accomplish the good. He also exposes, repels and disperses corruption, lies and dark motives in our hearts. In his light, we can see better, live better, be better. Corrupt people don’t want the lights on to reveal what they are doing in their back room deals and Ponzi schemes. They don’t want anyone to expose their propaganda, their cheating of the system (Pandora Papers). Deprived of such heavenly light, culture spirals into social decay.

Living in the light of Christ means to live in love, goodness and truth. It is full of colour, inspiration, creativity. Jesus is the nexus between heaven and earth, the presence of God among us. Lord we pray that you will search our hearts to expose the corners of darkness and despair. Wake us up spiritually by your light, your vision for our lives. Please light the way forward for us and lead us in those eternal paths that you speak about in Proverbs. Transform us daily  and shape us by your light and life. Enlighten our research and give us insight and the articulate grasp. Sharpen our minds. Make us a light to our colleagues and the students we teach. Make us signposts of your kingdom on earth.

As George Steiner in Real Presences might put it, this renews the covenant between word and world, heaven and earth. It is a wager on transcendence, on the presence of God in our lives, in our world.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwYuKlbk6BQ&list=RDRwYuKlbk6BQ&start_radio=1 Amanda Cook, So Will I (a 100 billion X)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqOgyNfHl1U ‘IF’ by Rudyard Kipling read by Michael Cane

October 20, 2021 Strength in Weakness: Through prayer, God is available to us in our weakness and need for wisdom.

Psalm 28 Of David.

To you, Lord, I call;
    you are my Rock,
    do not turn a deaf ear to me.
For if you remain silent,
    I will be like those who go down to the pit.
Hear my cry for mercy
    as I call to you for help,
as I lift up my hands
    toward your Most Holy Place.

Do not drag me away with the wicked,
    with those who do evil,
who speak cordially with their neighbors
    but harbor malice in their hearts.
Repay them for their deeds
    and for their evil work;
repay them for what their hands have done
    and bring back on them what they deserve.

Because they have no regard for the deeds of the Lord
    and what his hands have done,
he will tear them down
    and never build them up again.

Praise be to the Lord,
    for he has heard my cry for mercy.
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
    my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.
My heart leaps for joy,
    and with my song I praise him.

The Lord is the strength of his people,
    a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.
Save your people and bless your inheritance;
    be their shepherd and carry them forever.

A Prayer to Start Your Day in Faith and Openness to God’s Grace

October 28, 2021  The Gospel & Truth

Paul felt the weight of the gospel as he travelled from town to town in the ancient world. What was it about the existential truth of his knowledge of God that moved him to the core of his being? He called it the light of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ. What encouraged him to share it using everything he could muster from his education and encounter with Christ? He wanted to be the fragrance of Christ (II Corinthians 2: 14-17) to all who would draw near and listen to him. He wanted to live in integrity, to be Christ’s true ambassador. He knew something theologically but also from personal experience: Through Jesus, an individual could be changed in dramatic ways, could find rich meaning and hope unheard of before. Jesus made sense of things at a deep level in a way that set Paul free to dedicate his whole life and vocation to the gospel, and to suffer for it. Only God could give him such a message and only God could help him carry it, to communicate to everyone who would listen. This entailed a serious sense of urgency and responsibility. He had gone back to first principles through his conversion, stripped his worldview down and built it up again from Jesus as Suffering Servant.

Christian truth is definitely not easy belief, nor does it come naturally to us. It comes supernaturally. It sometimes even seems paradoxical. God wants to show us a new way to live the truth, to work from a whole new platform. This truth is not mere theory; it is eminently liveable, morally constructive, and fruitful. It changes our outlook, helping us face reality with bracing courage, whatever the cost. The truth of Christianity carves out space for the development of individual gifts, virtues (honesty, humility, forgiveness, compassion), and callings (Romans 12; I Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4). There is much to internalize. Spiritual formation brings about ongoing transformation. I saw such fire in the belly of a young pastor the other day over coffee.

Truth is beautiful, truth is powerful, truth is good. It leads us into trust, unity and communion. The believer’s role is to create space for truth in society. It is also to be the living presence of that truth to friends and colleagues. God has proven to us that he continues to be invested in the lives of human beings: from Abraham to Augustine to you and I today. Jesus of Nazareth offers keen insight into God’s invitation through us towards true healing. Having a faith rooted in such truth is full of surprises (C. Kavin Rowe, Christianity’s Surprise: A Sure & Certain Hope). Proverbs 8: 1-36 speaks of the wise, truth-filled life of integrity, a solid ground on which to live, love and contribute meaningfully. Graduate school is a great place to drill down into the truth of Christ and let it change us forever. Jesus is the truth of God.

Book of the Week–Henry Cloud, Integrity: the challenge to meet the demands of reality.

Soren Kierkegaard claims that we do not understand Christianity until we put some skin in the game.

II Corinthians 4: This Treasure (Glory or Radiance) in Jars of Clay

Paul claims that wecangain perspective on our trials and struggles on the spiritual journey. This journey includes our faithful witness of speaking truth from God to our culture, speaking truth to power, to a friend. The greatness or honour of his calling puts Paul’s intense difficulties in perspective (8-12). He is reckoning at a deep existential level with leaving a prestigious post as a Pharisee (similar to a professor) to be beaten, misunderstood, marginalized as an apostolic missionary for the Gospel. We listen to him to gain perspective on our struggles in being faithful to the same glorious Gospel.

Our Unspeakably Great Treasure  God has given us a high, noble, transcendent message. We must share it boldly, clearly, sincerely—with God as our witness. We should be careful, Paul says, not to dilute, adulterate or corrupt it. People can discern it for themselves, test it with their own conscience to see its veracity. A faithful witness means practicing the presence of the Gospel.

Here it is in verse 6: For God who said, Let light shine out of darkness, made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. Here we have a reminder of Creation (Genesis 1: 3) and the Big Bang where the very first thing to happen is  a release of massive energy and light. Light is better translated radiance like the sun, a continual nuclear explosion. Hebrews 1: 3 puts it this way: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

As we behold the glory of God, we will be transformed. God will change our lives and change us from the inside out. Though the old covenant had its glory, it could never transform lives through the law. God uses the New Covenant to make us transformed people, not just nice civil people. The best and most enduring change comes into our life when we are transformed by time spent with the Lord. There are other ways to change, such as guilt, willpower, imprisonment or coercion, but none of these methods bring change that is as deep and lasts as long as the transformation that comes by the Spirit of God as we spend time in the presence of the Lord. When we spend time beholding the glory of the God of love, grace, peace, and righteousness, we will see a transforming growth in love, grace, peace, and righteousness. It is an inevitable process, as we engage. 

Paul was blinded by Glory, through a dramatic encounter with Jesus: Ironically the light of Christ blinded him with its radiance. He at first was blinded to the light/truth of Jesus and then blinded by the light through his encounter with living agape love in its purest form. Remember that Jesus once said, “He who has seen me, has seen the Father.” Now Paul sees Christ and the Gospel as an infinitely valuable treasure to be valued and shared with the whole world. He is obsessed with this task.

Our Inadequacy & Dependency on God (Jars of Clay) We all feel inadequate to this task: The smartest person is not smart enough; the purest person is not pure enough; the most spiritual person is not spiritual enough; the most talented person is not talented enough. How can we be carriers of the Gospel? We feel weak, vulnerable, imperfect. But as Christians we have been given these precious family jewels to be contained in a large clay jar (our bodies). The secret is that our power as conduits of this life is of God, not ourselves. Thus, we must reckon with a calling that surpasses both our adequacy and training. We depend on God’s sufficiency to deliver on his promises. We live the paradox: We die daily to self so that the life of the Gospel can be born in others. And we know we can count on God for daily resurrection (II Cor 1: 9) and renewed imagination. It involves profound grace upon grace. So we don’t need to look too good or strong for the sake of the Gospel. We have nothing to brag about except the Gospel and the loving God who strikes this New Covenant with humanity through Jesus.

We are humbled; it is a great honour and privilege to speak for God, to carry this treasure in our bodies/lives, to share this truth, to perform this truth through love and mercy. So we speak the truth in love out of a genuine heart and stand back to watch how God uses it. It is not secret knowledge like the Gnostics claim, but plain text, open to investigation by either seeker or skeptic. It is living language

Suffering is part and parcel of this witness. Paul holds a PhD in suffering for the work of the Gospel (8-12). Death-like trials become mere afflictions as he contemplates the gravitas of his calling. In this way, our wasting bodies amazingly can be the vehicles of eternal glory. These afflictions can work in us to produce an eternal weight of glory (16-17), one that outweighs the whole world, as one author said. We ought never to give up, lose heart, or run away. Our ultimate trajectory is Eternity/Transcendence/the Ancient Way/the Tried and True Path. Daily we seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. In this line of reflection, I am reminded of a moving commencement speech by actor Denzel Washington on the theme: “Put God first in everything you do.” Here’s the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BxY_eJLBflk  

The invisible is actually the eternal, imperishable, enduring, more real than the physical world, because the physical world depends on it. This is thick, meaning-full language. Jesus has made the invisible God visible to us. Fantastic news! Prayer: God shine your light, the radiance of the Gospel, into my darkness, and the darkness of my friends and family. May the light of your radiance shine through my life to enlighten others about your reality and purpose for humankind. 

Book of the Week: Philip Yancey, Reaching for the Invisible God.

Lecture on Tolerance by Brian Bird, UBC Law: https://youtu.be/LqQV5yfGdqk

II Corinthians 5: Living in Light of Eternity Makes a Better World December 11, 2021

What does it mean to live within an eternal frame or what Charles Taylor calls a social imaginary? An artist might say that we need a renewed spiritual imagination. What will inspire us to live a good life? Below we explore with the Apostle Paul something of what this looks like in real terms:

a. II Corinthians 5: 1-10: Paul challenges us to visualize our mortality in light (terms) of eternity. One is reminded of that famous soliloquy from Hamlet: “To die, to sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub. For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil.” Death holds a certain kind of terror over us as we see played over and over on such shows as Grey’s Anatomy. Paul recognizes this, but contrasts the earthly dwelling of our physical bodies (the temporal, embodied self) with a future new body which Jesus had promised his disciples in John 14: 3. From one viewpoint (materialistic) when they perish, people seem to be swallowed up by death (nihilism, meaninglessness, termination, separation from loved ones, the abyss, a black hole, the grave). Death is often depicted in literature as our ultimate foe. Life seems so short, so ephemeral (Psalm 90) sometimes, so fragile. The play ‘Wit’ powerfully depicts the existential struggle for meaning of a prestigious English professor, Dr. Vivian Bearing, as she dies of stage four ovarian cancer. She is alone, humiliated but the therapy, without family or even an emergency contact. All seems bleak and nihilistic as she tries to take some comfort in the works of John Donne. But Paul believes in a resurrection hope (one worthy of our longing) into a glorious new bodily dwelling (v. 4), one fit for the presence of God. Within this frame, one is instead ‘swallowed up’ by life, ushered into a new life: Jesus claimed to be the Way, the Truth and the Life and he meant it. Resurrection is known as the great reversal on death in Christian thought. In v. 5, the Holy Spirit is given as the guarantor (engagement ring) of this profound promise for believers. Because of this promise, as Paul peers into eternity, he remains fearless in the face of his adversities. He is all-in with the Gospel; he will strive to please God as long as he lives. He is captivated and driven by love, since Christ died for all to reconcile us to himself (see Part b. below, and Philippians 1). This is one of the implications of the eternal weight of glory talked about in chapter 4. Resurrection is a weighty hope for the future. This reality is invisible to many, but can be seen and understood through faith by those who have the ‘spiritual eyes’ to see that God’s promises are real, sure and authentic.

As it turns out, there is so much more to us than meets the eye. We are not destined to “become the stuff of worms.” Our lives have these exciting eternal consequences (I Corinthians 3: 12-15), and that offers great purpose, thickness and direction. We live on a knife edge of the now and the not-yet, we live in light of eternity, the weight of glory. God is at work right now, preparing us for these new bodies, this new world to come where his sovereignty is visible and tangible. Our trials are part of the refining process–to become fit for heaven. This is the message of transcendence (the more of life now and future): we are not reducible to time-space-energy-matter or scientism. We are not on our own, autonomous, alone, carrying the world on our shoulders (Alan Noble, You Are Not Your Own: Belonging to God in an Inhuman World), just individual bots choosing our way through life, inventing our own reality and hoping for the best. There is much more gravitas to life, more to expect and anticipate in light of the work of Christ.

b. II Corinthians 5: 11-21: The Knowledge and Ministry of Reconciliation (a Core Concept)

Paul continues to write in the motif of this radically fresh perspective. In Christ, there is a new creation (new relationships, a new identity). This is a welcome, hopeful message in light of our weighty eternal destiny. This is the glory of Christ, the glory of the New Covenant. We are called to become Ambassadors of Peace to a divided world, speaking words of reparation, kindness and consolation: Be reconciled to God and to one another. Tim Keller’s book, The Uncommon Good: Living Faithfully in a World Divided speaks about this culture, which is rooted in agape love. The time to exercise this agreement and this calling is now. Paul is compelled and constrained by love and compassion (14) for this cause; he embodies it deep in his bones and in his posture to the world. The hope of resurrection and reconciliation channels his energies into a formidable power for the good, towards a more peaceful world, into living large for others in light of the Gospel. He champions truth and reconciliation in this life and death struggle. He sees no problem going the extra mile for someone in need, even risking his own life, reputation, wealth and wellbeing. Every one of us can have peace with God, and as we die to ourselves (selfishness/narcissism), we are set free to give to others moved by love. This is the essence of community empowered by the Holy Spirit, the very presence of Jesus among us to lead us and empower us on this path. This is a choice for life, a choice for spiritual intelligence.

This Second Creation of the New Covenant is something God does in us, transforming us, using our will and our choices in this new social imaginary. It is gift, a grace. The old is gone, the new has come. Emmanuel, God is with us in a new way. Agape love changes everything as depicted by Larry Siedentop in Inventing the Individual; and David Bentley Hart in Atheist Delusions. It changed the ancient world of brutality and terror to one of mercy, civility and humanitarianism. Revelation 21: 5 records that “God makes all things new.” He sets up a new destiny for human beings. God himself is reconciling the world to himself and we can help Paul and Jesus fulfil this mandate. What a story to carry, what boldness. Jesus took the sin of the world on his back, in order that we might be made new and live a life of righteousness (truth, justice, compassion and mercy). Verse 21 says: “He made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God.” Jayant articulated this as the “great exchange” (Isaiah 53:10). It is the greatest mystery of all time. This changes how we think about ourselves, as we seek God with our whole heart (Jeremiah 29:11). We no longer think or act as those hiding or cowered with guilt, resentment, shame or condemnation. Yale theologian, Miraslov Volf, argues the case for reconciliation and forgiveness in his profound book, Exclusion and Embrace (recently updated) for which he won a peace prize. We now recognize grace as key to our future and we honestly turn our back on sin, alienation and pride. We don’t need them to flourish. Our despair is transformed into hope and trust in God to produce good fruit in the lives of others and our own. Glory to God in the Highest and Peace to People of Good Will!

January 4, 2022

Ruth Haley Barton on Principles of Community: from Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership (176-9).

  1. Community We are in essence a spiritual community gathered in unity around the presence of Christ. What we do flows out of who we are in Christ. This is a core value we can offer to others.
  2. Spiritual Transformation Each of us as individuals is committed to spiritual disciplines in community that support and catalyze our own spiritual transformation. We check in with each other to encourage each other’s spiritual rhythms and progress.
  3. Lived Experience We agree not to teach (or talk about) theories or spiritual wishful thinking. We will only teach and discuss that which we are experiencing ourselves at some level.
  4. Discernment We are committed to the habit of discernment—seeking to be attentive and alert to God’s activity among us day by day. Together we can seek to respond faithfully. We agree to proactively seek God’s guidance for specific direction and decision-making.
  5. Truth-telling We believe that all truth, no matter how delicate or painful, contributes to a wise discernment process. Truth leads to freedom, spiritual transformation and deeper levels of discernment. The Holy Spirit is available to guide us into all truth, and we seek to share truth, as we see it, in love and gentleness. Honesty and integrity works for the common good.
  6. Celebration We believe that celebration is the spiritual discipline associated with gratitude. We look for opportunities to celebrate God’s presence with us, his blessing and his activity among us. 
  7. Kindness This is a basic characteristic of mature spirituality. It requires a certain tenderness with, and support of, each other that is gentle.
  8. Brokenness We acknowledge the profound role that brokenness plays in unfolding the spiritual life and building spiritual community. We share each other’s weakness prayerfully. This releases God’s power among us, within us and beyond us (II Corinthians 12: 7-10).
  9. Listening to our Fear and/or Resistance to Growth in our Faith Managing our fear can take us deeper within community and give us courage as God calls us forward in faith beyond our comfort zone. Fear can also alert us to real dangers and cautions along the journey. Fear can also alert us to our need to grow in trust of God and one another.
  10. Conflict Transformation Through a community covenant/commitment/culture, we can much more maturely work through conflict or disagreement. We need wisdom to handle such experiences because conflict comes with the territory of life and relationships. We can be changed for the better through conflict if we seek God in the process of resolution.

“The sufferings of Christ on the cross are not just his sufferings; they are “the sufferings of the poor and weak, which Jesus shares in his own body and in his own soul, in solidarity with them” (Moltmann 1992, 130). And since God was in Christ, “through his passion Christ brings into the passion history of this world the eternal fellowship of God and divine justice and righteousness that creates life” (131). On the cross, Christ both “identifies God with the victims of violence” and identifies “the victims with God, so that they are put under God’s protection and with him are given the rights of which they have been deprived” 
― Miroslav Volf, Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation

Community Covenant can be a tremendous place of healing for empty, wounded, selfish individuals, including the disenchanted workaholic or high achiever. People find a place of dignity, worth and celebration. It can become a house of meaning. Christoph Schwöbel captures its gravitas:

The true measure of freedom is love as the relationship which makes the flourishing of the other the condition of self-fulfilment. Human freedom becomes the icon of divine freedom where the freedom of divine grace constitutes the grace of human freedom … That most poignant image of hope, the Kingdom of God, expresses the relation of free divine love and loving human freedom. They go together in depicting the ultimate purpose of God’s action as the perfected community of love with his creation. The fulfilment of God’s reign and the salvation of creation are actualized together in the community of the love of God. (St. Andrew’s University Theologian, Christoph Schwöbel, “Imago Libertatis: Human and Divine Freedom”, 1995, 80-81)

Cliffs of Mohr, West Coast of Ireland

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My graceis sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (II Corinthians 12: 7-10 NIV)

Paul’s has been speaking much in his letters about his multiple and various sufferings and trials: imprisonments, shipwreck, beatings, loneliness, hunger, and more. But this seems to be something that stayed with him throughout his ministry. We don’t know exactly what it was, except that it is likely to be a physical handicap of some sort. There is a beautiful humility about the way he gives glory to God in this midst of carrying this ‘thorn in the flesh’. Like us, he probably prayed many times to be relieved of this menace: Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy. This response by the Lord to Paul shocks us, it gets our attention: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” It is one of the most profound statements in the Christian community throughout all time. It is a deep, deep truth about discipleship, ancient and modern.

I am convinced that God wants to work in and through our lives in the most profound ways (beyond your and my imaginations). His grace is waiting at the door. Paul is showing us how to open ourselves spiritually to the work of the Spirit. Our weaknesses and hurts can be redeemed, can become our friends. They can become a window into heaven, a tool of the Gospel, because it is all about the journey down the road of suffering. So when you sense your vulnerabilities in work or relationships (where you are at the end of your strength and patience), invite God’s presence right into the centre of them. This will produce a revelation of your humanity and God’s transcendence at the same instant. May you experience small and large epiphanies of grace this week and continue to give glory to him. This is the ultimate paradox: when I am weak, then you are strong.

Prayer: Lord take my life, which right now feels like it is going off a cliff, and by your grace show me your power. Heal me from my sins and help me to be grateful for all you have done for me. Thank you for my weaknesses and trials, for I see you more clearly now and feel you more closely. Give me your perspective on my life and ministry.

February 18, 2022  Grace is Truly Amazing!  II Corinthians 8

These concepts are connected in a lively, profound, existential fashion: grace, generosity, goodness, giving, gratitude and gift. They are all essential parts of the upside-down economy of Christianity. When we truly experience grace, it leads us towards generosity and it is intertwined with inescapable gratitude. The gifts of grace literally fill creation from sunrise to sunset, from desert to mountains, lakes to oceans. Christ is our great exemplar of grace: he gave up so much for us in the incarnation, teaching, crucifixion, resurrection and ascensionnow as intercessor for us. 

Elie Wiesel once said: “For me, every hour is grace, and I feel gratitude in my heart each time I meet someone and look at her or his smile.” He is a Romanian-born American writer, professor, political activist, Nobel laureate, and Holocaust survivor. He authored 57 books, written mostly in French and English, including Night, a work based on his experiences as a Jewish prisoner in the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps.

Paul stirs the hearts/lives of the Corinthian believers with this theme of grace and generosity. His trajectory is building community among fellow Christians in the ancient world. Survival was much more challenging than today. Grace practiced involved empathy, forgiveness and reconciliation and he commends them for their growth in all these ways. He also reveals unending possibilities for blessing others, even beyond their own Greek city-state. Psychologists tell us that a grace orientation is related to decreased levels of depression and anxiety, increased levels of general mental health. Grace is efficient, it works for our good. It changes us as we practice it as a life-long pursuit, when we let it get a grip on us, pull us forward into maturity. This requires incredible patience, but here is life-giving power to change us for the better over a lifetime. Imagine a whole lifetime of grace at work within us. 

Grace, it must be said, is impossible to fathom, fully grasp, describe or contain. We first must be receivers in order to understand it, to recognize our neediness, sometimes to be shocked by its truth. As a counter-cultural concept (compare modern language of self-sufficiency), it is quite humbling to reckon with. It is a gift all the way down to one who does not deserve it and who could never fully earn or repay the generosity. It produces hope, forgiveness, gratitude and wisdom. God’s grace is the hub and source of all human virtues, inspiration for the common good. He is the great giver (Psalm 40: 17). You may have read the beautiful work What’s So Amazing About Grace? by Philip Yancey. I highly recommend it.

Grace means there is nothing I can do to make God love me more, and nothing I can do to make God love me less. It means that I, even I who deserve the opposite, am invited to take my place at the table in God’s family. Grace means that God already loves us as much as an infinite God can possibly love.

All of us in the church need “grace-healed eyes” to see the potential in others for the same grace that God has so lavishly bestowed on us. 

Religious faith—for all its problems, despite its maddening tendency to replicate ungrace—lives on because we sense the numinous beauty of a gift undeserved that comes at unexpected moments from Outside. Refusing to believe that our lives of guilt and shame lead to nothing but annihilation, we hope against hope for another place run by different rules. We grow up hungry for love, and in ways so deep as to remain unexpressed we long for our Maker to love us.

Jesus’ death, he said, broke down the temple barriers, dismantling the dividing walls of hostility that had separated categories of people. Grace found a way.

― Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace?

Some questions to ponder about grace:

  1. Why is it so difficult to accept the idea of grace?
  2. How does grace help us grow spiritually and emotionally?
  3. What is the link between seeing ourselves as broken and accepting grace from God?
  4. To what extent does grace shield us from negative emotional experiences such as loneliness and shame? 
  5. How does grace change us and what are its implications of how we live together? 

May Sarton, in her poem “Now I Become Myself,” uses images of the natural world to describe a different kind of giving, grounded in a different way of being, a way that results not in burnout but in fecundity and abundance. When the gift I give to the other is integral to my own nature, when it comes from a place of organic reality within me, it will renew itself—and me—even as I give it away. (Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak, 49)

Theologian John Barclay comments that receiving God’s grace is the center of human wholeness:

  • Superabundant, supreme, lavish in its scope.
  • Comes from a singularity of pure, unfathomable benevolence.
  • Timing is key—we have to be open to receive it, allow it to seep under the cracks of our armour. Some would say grace tracks us.
  • This gift is full of incongruity. How could anyone be this crazy generous?
  • It changes us, seeping into our character, transforming us, healing us.
  • It is from God alone, not reciprocal or circular. We will never earn it, deserve it or repay it. Never. It leaves us in a significant debt of gratitude. We can pass it on to others to some extent.

Mark McMinn, The Science of Virtue (155f):

  1. The Christian doctrine of grace is foundational to how we understand a person.
  2. Grace transforms how we make meaning and live into our beliefs.
  3. It requires one to be immersed into a life of forgiveness. 
  4. Grace frees us from self-focus and allows us to experience the love of God and neighbour.

The pilgrimage towards true self will take time, many years and places. The world needs people with patience and the passion to make that pilgrimage not only for their own sake but also as a social and political act. The world still waits for the truth that sets us free—my truth, your truth, our truth—the truth that was seeded in the earth when each of us arrived here formed in the image of God. Cultivating that truth … is the authentic vocation of every human being. (Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak, 36)

Week of March 7, 2022 Never Stop Living into your Faith, Walking in Resurrection Power

The contemporary era, as the end-product of the modern attempt to suppress morality, has created individuals who no longer raise the question of good and evil, and who are entirely ignorant of what used to be called “the examination of conscience”…. The attempt to eliminate the antinomy between good and evil through a denial of their differences should logically lead to carefree indifference towards these categories. Modernity has replaced the objective category of the good with what it calls values, that is, a smattering of subjective goods, each of which derives from individual judgment. By their subjectivity, values spell the death of the good, even if language confers upon them the majesty of the defunct good…. Values are a form of solipsism or mere whim, depending on the degree of clarity of thought one might find in them. A purely subjective “good” is binding on no one but oneself, and can be differentiated only with some difficulty from sentiments, affections, or self-interest.  (C. Delsol, Icarus Fallen, 2003, 22, 27)

—Defining the Moral Good  For contemporary [humans], the notions of solidarity and fraternity, and the different expressions of harmony between classes, age groups, peoples, are still associated with goodness. The [person] of our time is similar to the [person] of any time insofar as they prefer friendship to hate and indifference, social harmony to internal strife, peace to war, and the united family to the fragmented family. In other words, they seek relationship, union, agreement, and love, and fear distrust, ostracism, contempt, and the destruction of their fellow…. The good has the face of fellowship, no matter what name it is given, be it love, the god of Aristotle, or the God of the Bible. (Chantal Delsol, 2003, 62)

—The certitude of the good finds its guarantee in the attraction it induces. It is easy to love the good deed or the good person. Oxford philosopher Iris Murdoch notes that we all have a live picture of a good man or good woman who inspire us. Agape love is seen by Christians as the greatest good of all goods (I Corinthians 13–the hypergood). They claim it is best represented in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary. Examples of a good person: the peacemaker, the healer, the comforting person, the conscientious one, the generous hospitable one, the one who speaks the truth even when it costs, the listener, the one who takes responsibility for the common good, the one committed to justice nonviolence and care for the poor. II Peter 1 has a list of such virtues which operate within the good person; it shows a spiral of virtue leading upwards in maturity, becoming better. It is all about robust, liberated engagement. Charles Taylor talks about recovering the language of the good in his important tome, Sources of the Self. I will release a teaching video on this work in a future YouTube webinar later this month.

Defining Evil   We turn to the Greek concept of diabolos–“the person who separates, divides through aversion and hate; the person who makes unjust accusations, denigrates, slanders; the person who envies, gossips, admits their repugnancy.” The absolute Evil identified by our contemporary world takes the form of racism, exclusion or totalitarianism. The last in fact appears as the epitome of separation, since it atomizes societies, functions by means of terror and denouncement, and is determined to destroy human bonds (Chantal Delsol, Icarus Fallen, 61).

Psychiatrist Scot Peck attempts to define the evil personality in People of the Lie–the narcissist, manipulator, one who refuses to take responsibility for the flourishing of others, who blames others for their negligence, sins and crimes. One can find evil incarnated in a dictator, a con man, the lazy person, the one who enslaves others as in sex trafficking, the greedy person, the one who breeds distrust and sows division and hatred in a group or a nation, the bully, the one who exhibits the power of ego, the one who refuses negotiation and compromise over differences, the one who wants to remake the world in terms of their own self-interest. Overall, it is a flight from responsibility (E. Lévinas). Former British Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams says this person refuses contemplation of God, his beauty, goodness and justice. “War is to be dreaded because it destroys body and soul, in our present circumstances, it points to hell” (R. Williams, The Truce of God, 2003, 42). Further notes from Williams, “Isolation is the refusal of humanity; and it includes the isolation of my or our needs from those of the human world. Beyond it stands the Luciferian impulse to destroy reality for my sake, the impatience with the weary burden of creatureliness…. We must say No to the temptation to diabolic detachment, the privacy of Satan; and we must learn the patience of attentive love.” (R. Williams, The Truce of God, 2003, 43)

March 18, 2022 You Are What You Love Colossians 3: 1-17

In II Corinthians 10, Paul emphasizes the paramount importance of the Lordship of Christ in the lives of his followers. It is essentially about being made alive in Christ; our imaginations are completely captivated. As we see the point he is addressing in his letter to the Colossians chapter 3, it boosts our understanding of ‘taking captive every thought to make them obedient to Christ. That’s a tall order. Paul says that we need to become more heavenly minded in order that we can be fruitful, (earthly good). It is a new stance, a new take on life, a new relationship with the transcendent. We have radically stripped off the old clothing, the old dysfunctional life with its bad habits and addictions (anger, rage, malice, cheating, slander, lies, blue language). It was a downward spiral toward despair, shame, resentment and depression. Paul tells us to ‘Make a break for it.’ In Christ, we have put on brand new, spiritually empowering clothing. Why should we dabble in the default old scenarios when there is so much to discover in the new? We are moving forward and upward on this mountain of faith, doing life differently.

Jamie Smith, in his You Are What You Love, writes that we are restless, longing, craving something new, a new way of doing business. Are we hungry for God, for his glory, for our spiritual flourishing? Augustine said that “love is like gravity”; it is the ultimate, the most weighty thing about the world. It is the key component of a  meta-economy of grace. Jesus is the embodiment of such a love. N.T. Wright captures the sentiment, “What we are here for is to become genuine human beings, reflecting God in whose image we are made.” Paul elaborates in Colossians 3: 9 & 10, “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and put on the new self, which is being renewed in the image of its Creator…. Christ becomes everything, the very core of our identity.” We now have a new source of identity, a source of hope, a larger, more substantial purpose. 

Here’s what the new self is like: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness. It involves a whole new language. These are some of the core Christian virtues/life goods. As we are transformed, we find our cravings shift towards them. Agape love is the super good (super glue) of them all. It shapes us dramatically from the inside out. It pulls us together, gives us peace at last, and helps us heal our relationships—move us towards unity and trust.

Faith is Reformation says J.K.A. Smith (65) “The church—the body of Christ—is the place where God invites us to renew our loves, reorient our desires and retrain our appetites.” This is the new self, the new story of our lives and our lifestyles. This reorientation puts our restless hearts at rest and leads us into worship. God creates us, calls us, pulls us forward in discipleship. The final call to the believer is to do everything in the name of Jesus Christ. This results in having your feet planted on solid ground.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mimsIXaxDNI A Timely Reboot of the Moral Economy

From his research on liberating the self in late modernity, Dr. Gordon E. Carkner delves into the question of how we can ‘reboot’ our moral economy today. He draws on the insights of eminent Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor. In his project Sources of the Self, Taylor recovers a language and ethos of the moral good deeply relevant to our pluralistic world, a boon for individuals and society. Dr. Carkner gives a concise overview of this landmark contribution to ethics, the moral imagination and human agency. It is a retrieval project, a re-articulation of these ancient goods and how they operate powerfully in our daily lives. Taylor offers fresh understanding of the crucial ‘qualities’ that empower the human will, awakens us from our moral autism, and challenges us to reconnect with critical sources of the moral.

April 11, 2022 Hey Week

Easter is when Hope in Person Surprises the Entire World

On Good Friday, love embraced suffering as Jesus drank the bitter cup that led to his humiliation, alienation and violent death. All was broken, disillusionment reigned. Hope seemed utterly lost. But his resurrection on Easter morning is something brand new—a singularity that cannot be explained by anything prior. Evil, nihilism and despair did not win. Resurrection remains an epiphany, a brilliant, inbreaking possibility for change, forgiveness, reconciliation and renewed relationships. To practice resurrection and lean into its power calls us to a new level of being (Eugene Peterson). It castes a long shadow into the future.

Andy Crouch in Culture Making captures the gravitas: “The resurrection of Jesus is like a cultural earthquake, its epicenter located in Jerusalem in the early 30s, whose aftershocks are still being felt in the cultural practices of people all over the world, many who have never heard of, and many more who have never believed in, its origins…. The resurrection is the hinge of history—still after two thousand years as far-reaching in its effects as anything that has come since…. The second Adam’s influence on culture comes through the greatest act of dependence, the fulfillment of Israel’s calling to demonstrate faith in the face of the great powers that threatened its existence comes in the willing submission of Jesus to a Roman cross, broken by, but breaking forever its power.” 

Jesus the Messiah is a re-interpretation, the hermeneutic of a new reconciled humanity, drawn from all the nations of the globe, committed to bless and make peace, to embody agape, to live shalom, to shine moral light into a dark world. There is no other who can compare. He is the eternal flame of the kingdom of God—the realm of forgiveness, mercy, love and indestructible life.

Truth & Consequences  “Our task as image-bearing, God-loving, Christ-shaped, Spirit-filled Christians, following Christ and shaping our world, is to announce redemption to a world that has discovered its fallenness, to announce healing to a world that has discovered its brokenness, to proclaim love and trust to a world that knows only exploitation, fear and suspicion…. The gospel of Jesus points us and indeed urges us to be at the leading edge of the whole culture, articulating in story and music and art and philosophy and education and poetry and politics and theology and even—heaven help us—biblical studies, a worldview that will mount the historically-rooted Christian challenge to both modernity and postmodernity, leading the way… with joy and humour and gentleness and good judgment and true wisdom. I believe if we face the question, “if not now, then when?” if we are grasped by this vision we may also hear the question, “if not us, then who?” And if the gospel of Jesus is not the key to this task, then what is?” 
(N.T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus)

He is Risen Indeed!

April 25, 2022 What Does Character Have to Do with Success?

Just recently, I was re-reading my underlined notes in the book Integrity: the courage to meet the demands of reality by Henry Cloud. I like the book; here are a few points worth pondering: Gord Carkner

Integrity speaks of an overall wholeness in all aspects of character. It involves balance in one’s life and understanding good boundaries. It speaks of honesty in integration of, and reckoning with, one’s fears and biases, judgments, history, pride, arrogance, paranoia, insecurity, and laziness. The integrated person can confront problems in themselves and others without collapse or alienation. This person knows how to build trust, connection and understanding, go the extra mile for someone, keep the big picture in mind. They operate with love and limits, grace and truth; as managers/supervisors, they go hard on the issues and soft on the person if confrontation is needed. Another characteristic is perseverance which means courage and stamina when confronted with challenges and difficulties, working with emotional reserves, good judgment and creativity. This person is so oriented to reality that they are great problem solvers, able to recover motivation, hope, clear thinking, drive, alternative thinking and proactivity. They understand gifts, talents and competencies and how to put them to work in a sane fashion, and take responsibility for outcomes. As they work with others, they realize that love, compassion, justice, freedom, honesty, faithfulness, and responsibility are not optional, but as necessary as gravity for the common good. They also realize that narcissism, grandiosity, omnipotence, extreme selfishness, explosiveness, overestimation of one’s talents or importance, feelings of entitlement, or egocentricity are harmful for group relations and make for a toxic, poisonous, destructive workplace. Authenticity/genuineness/sincerity is a good summary concept for all these character traits.

May 15, 2022 What Do We Learn From Jonah?

Often we feel as people of faith that we cannot really impact the world around us. Sometimes this is caused by our own cynicism, pride and bitterness just like it was with Jonah, the Hebrew Prophet. The bigger question is whether we are here for others, no matter their persuasion about God, or how they come across to us. Tim Keller preached a brisk sermon on this topic back in 1990. Here are his main points which should heighten our awareness of possibilities for our Christian witness to friends, family and colleagues.

  1. Every human being has a deep spiritual longing but this is often distorted/thrown into disarray because of fear. The Bible says that we are all inherently religious (Romans 1); all are seekers. It is often true that we all get religious when we face extreme conditions like cancer or accidents, the death of a loved one or a failed examination. Some will deal with God if they have to, but it is not out of love and trust. Rather, we bargain with him for our very survival; we pray when we are in trouble just as the sailors did with Jonah. They wanted to live and not drown–they were in terror. They were prepared to use any god who could help them in their crisis. It is true: everyone is clinging to something that gives them meaning amidst their fear and the prospect of nihilism (sometimes a fear worse than death).
  2. We believers are called to take our faith and use it for the public good. We are told that we can change things, make a better world. This is a stance of genuine good faith. Jonah finally woke up from his self-righteousness and it changed his whole outlook. He reckoned with his personal call and took action–risked drowning and eventually went to Nineveh (Assyrians) to deliver God’s message. No longer was he so absorbed in his own self-image issues, worries and irresponsibility that he couldn’t help in a crisis. We dare not sleep through the real problems and conundrums of our world (war, fires, floods, pestilence, poverty, corruption) or hide the grace available to everyone who seeks it. Society is expecting more from us: They are saying, “Get up and help us.” Jonah finally stepped out in self-sacrifice for the common good. He did the right thing, not the easy thing
  3. A Faith Test from this Narrative: How do we treat hurting people, people who are different than us? Is our faith more than just an intellectual viewpoint that changes nothing, shows no compassion? If we keep our faith private, avoid all risks and vulnerability, is it the genuine Christ-like item? At the end of the day, is our reputation and standing before others more important than our integrity before God, who offered the ultimate sacrifice?
  4. Sermon Location: The Church Before the Watching World: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0C8332LojE

Colossians: A Testament to a High View of Jesus

Paul is the author, writing from prison in Rome around 60 A.D. Epaphras is a key pastor of this young church. He was converted by Paul in Ephesus and carried the gospel to Colossae. He returned to see Paul and tell him about some of their struggles. This letter is Paul’s response. Among the young believers, there is some questioning of the status of Jesus. Could he really be God in human flesh? Paul rebuts this attitude/heresy in eloquent fashion. His goal is to encourage the believers to see that Jesus is the definitive imago Dei, the fullest representation of God to humankind. He is also the fulfilment of ancient promises of a Messiah to heal Israel.

[By] incarnation in the body of the crucified one implies that God’s freedom does not, after all, entail a transcendent aloofness from the world, but a form of involvement with it in which the divine being and freedom are staked. God subjects Godself to the risks, vulnerabilities and ambiguities of historical existence, including the risk of rejection, suffering and death, as well as of misinterpretation. God’s freedom and sovereignty must be of a radical kind: the freedom to give oneself in relation; to be with and in creation in ways that are costly to God, but which do not abrogate God’s sovereignty, freedom and transcendence. (A. McFadyen, 1995, 42)

Many people today sense God calling them to be something more than they presently are and experience, calling them upwards out of their self-pity, narcissism, consumerism and sullenness. Perhaps they are even called to launch a journey, innovate a solution to a problem, make a medical breakthrough, or follow a life-changing quest to improve the world. Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (2005, 96) asks insightfully, “What makes human life significant, more than animal? Not clothing, not acquisition of coverings for the naked ego, but the conscious participation in an order of compassion.” In his thoughtful work, The Truce of God, Williams wants people who have become fearful, disengaged, and alienated to take responsibility for their world as constructive peacemakers, community builders and servant leaders. It means just treatment of the poor, widows and orphans. This is Jesus’ legacy for a new world. He shows that God is committed to the goodness of creation and history. At the same time, he reveals God’s inner loving, self-giving trinitarian life, which is open to human participation.

June 21, 2022: Psalm 139 a Stance on Identity, a Wager on Agape Love

Psalm 139, one of the most popular in the Book of Psalms, is an intimate picture of God’s love for each individual. The Psalmist reflects on just how interested God is in every detail of his life, his being. As Paul states in Romans 8: 31-39, nothing can come between us and God’s tender care and concern. Love’s fire starts with God and our ability to receive love from God and others. Knowing this total love, we can step into a new level of confidence. There is every reason to trust God and lean into his love, whatever our circumstances. It is clear from verses 1-6 that God knows us far better than we know ourselves. His commitment to our wellbeing, to our protection from harm, is crystal clear. Then we are able to love ourselves in the light of God’s love for us.

Where is God extensively?, asks the writer in verses 7-12. He is ubiquitous, everywhere we could possibly exist or travel; he is inescapable, unfathomable–height, depth, breadth, history, future beyond measure. The poetry is rich, imaginative and beautiful. Even the darkest spaces cannot keep God out; his Spirit can seek us out and find us anywhere we go, even the depths of our struggles (our desolation). God can reach us in our brokenness as Henri Nouwen writes in The Wounded Healer. That’s comforting for someone who loves God, but intimidating for someone who is trying to escape him. Give up, the Psalmist writes, you cannot run from God as you might hide from the police. That is almost impossible to fathom.

In verses 13-17 we reflect on our creational roots. There is hardly a more intimate passage in Scripture of God’s loving, caring attention to creation detail. He creates the cosmos and us out of love, not need. The image is of a parent interested in every square inch of their child’s body, every breath, every aspect of their growth and development, every first step or word. God knows us psychologically, biologically, spiritually, socially. He is all in with us. His thoughts about us are very precious, very special indeed. He has good thoughts of us and hopeful plans for us. One thinks of Psalm 119 where the writer exults in every precept of God, every aspect of his will, every hope for redemption of humanity, every good intention of God’s heart. D. Stephen Long writes, “God is good in the most excellent way.”

The tone then turns in 19-22: anger against injustice, unrighteousness, trickery, lies and deception, all manner of skulduggery. This is the other side of love–jealousy for human right living. His walk of intimacy with God, like Adam’s conversation in the Garden of Innocence, leads him to indignation against evil. But he finishes in a state of fulsome humility: Search me too Lord, and see if wickedness in any way has me by the throat, or in its trap. Lead me along those eternal, well-trodden paths of the saints of yore. Agape goes on for eternity. To move beyond cynicism, we must embrace God’s love, transcend evil, step into his river of love, believe it with all we have, live it as if it were the truest truth possible. This will result in epiphany and personal transformation, freedom and life more abundant. Love is grounded in God, not human desires. That is really good news for us.

We all live and long for a social vision of what we think society should look like: some vision of the good life, some picture of flourishing. Our most fundamental orientation to the world is love. We adopt ways of life that are indexed to such visions—it captures our imagination. This is the weight of our love. ~ James K.A. Smith

August 2, 2022 Summary Notes: ‘Why Character Matters’ by N.T. Wright

The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed in four key habits of mind (virtues): justice, temperance, courage and prudence. This is a good start. We do become what we habitually do and think—build into a lifestyle. You know that when you practice the skills of your grad program in the lab or in writing. Your academic muscle does not develop overnight. Your collegial relationships in the department take time and care and dialogue and mutual support. Christians, of course, believe in many more virtues, with humility a key one (Philippians 2). When we put others first and work towards unity 1000 times, we begin to form a happy discipline, a habitus. The pilot who landed his plane on the Hudson River a few years ago successfully did so because of long, rigorous training and experience in flight under all weather conditions. His disciplined skill and coolness saved many lives. Vice and irresponsibility are easy but in the end trap us, take us downward in a spiral out of control. Virtue is hard, consistent work but sets us free in the long run. To be habitually kind is a beautiful thing and such a blessing to others.

There is a large overlap between Christian and other virtues. Faith is hard and we have to work at it through trust and obedience. That’s what ‘Lordship’ means in the Sermon on the Mount. Christian virtues, in distinction, are not for the purpose of looking good, but for the corporate, common good of the larger body and for society. There are four distinct Christian virtues: patience, humility, chastity and charity. Patience, as you know, is one of the toughest to master, but so helpful to constructive relationships. I know this as a father. These are the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5) which are rooted/grounded in love. Paul writes somewhere, “Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this Greco-Roman culture of self-interest, power-hunger, crushing the weak, and greed, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds (your entire outlook and modus operandi); learn the arts of compassion, mercy and peace-making, forgiveness.” This is the road to authentic freedom; someone once said that love is not our duty but our destiny. We can learn its language (I Corinthians 13) to benefit ourselves and the whole world.  

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, was known as someone  who often stopped to chat with homeless on his way to the cathedral. This was humility and compassion hard-wired into his lifestyle. He was also a great scholar and writer: The Truce of God.

This is not about perfectionism, but it is about following Jesus (God reveled in human flesh) just as we are on a daily basis. The cross is the evidence that God is love at his core.

September 10, 2022 How Do You See Jesus of Nazareth?

The New Testament makes the amazing claims that Jesus is, in the flesh, the wisdom of God and the power of God (I Corinthians 1:24), the nexus and integral relationship of faith and reason. As the divine logos (John 1:1-4), he is the transcendent word made flesh, and the underwriter of all human thought and language. Truth ultimately is found embodied in a person of credibility, not a mere philosophy or ideology. Jesus is deep reason personified, the raison d’être or meaning of it all. The narrative is clear. The incarnation is a communicative action (K. Vanhoozer, 2009), a theo-drama, not just letters, words, propositions or sentences. The Jesus Story is wisdom writ large, spiritually saturated with insight that offers a foundation for addressing our past, present and future. Effectively, it forms the basis for reconciliation of our differences and healing of divisions in the immediate future. It is both a key conversation, as well as a great gift to humanity at large.

We are called to seek such wisdom, and build our lives on it. Dare we allow it to take our minds captive to his Lordship, his sovereign care (II Corinthians 10)? We are called to change the way we think and perceive reality—our entire world and life view is at stake here. In other words, we need his oversight, and his scrutiny as we think hard, act astutely and pursue noble character, and push out the bounds of knowledge: this includes the virtues as a lifelong pursuit. He is intensely interested in our new ideas and thoughts for a more just, peaceful, imaginative and fair world. He can help us bring it to fruition.

Jesus is the omega point, the ultimate fulfillment, of every human spiritual, religious, moral and philosophical aspiration. The Apostle Paul claims such as he opens a dialogue with the Greek philosophers on the Areopagus in Acts 17. He connects with them through their own poets and philosophers. It is the incarnation that shows Jesus has healed the broken semiotic relationship between word and world (J. D. Hunter, 2010). This is an alienation that is endemic to late modernity. Imagine, the Creator of all things, all peoples, has come to live among us, invite us into dialogue and fellowship. He is public truth, subject to scrutiny by people of every persuasion, and every form of scepticism or agnosticism. He adds the “something more”, re-enchantment of our reality, the chance to make sense of life itself in fresh relief. Jesus is the wisdom of God, the shalom of God in the flesh, full presence, providing for us a fruitful path of existence. He offers the energy, momentum and purpose our lives need, taking us beyond mere survival to abundant flourishing. When Paul asks us to find our identity in Christ, he is deeply serious.

Dr Richard Middleton on a Biblical Theology of the Gospel
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