Sola Gratia

Who doesn’t love getting gifts?

 “For by grace you have been saved through faith.                                                          And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…”   ~Ephesians 2: 8-9

Anytime I receive a gift, it is not my doing.

If I earned it, it’s called a wage.

If I deserved it, it’s called an honorarium.

Being Grandma’s favorite means getting stuff the others don’t. It’s those secret conversations that leave you holding an heirloom, an extra batch of cookies, or a crisp hundred dollar bill.

What’s incredible about Grandma’s favor is that you didn’t do anything to get it.

Well, nothing you know about.  Face it.

Grandma’s grace has more to do with who you are than what you are doing.

Sure, you thought it was because you are the first one in the family to go to college…or the only grand-kid who ever goes to church… but Grandmas are far more intuitive than that. The discernment of that denizen of older age sees more with her aging eyes than your pitifully acute, young eyes ever possibly could.

Grandma sees the person you are, the one you are becoming, and who you may yet be.

So, there is this gift given.  It is a sign of relationship; an expression that is both parts knowing and loving you.

A gift has nothing to do with justice. Juries deliver verdicts. Judges hand out sentences. Grandmas give gifts.

Grace is a gift. It is the favor of God bestowed for no other reason than your actually being known and loved by God.

Grandma gives you an heirloom; you treasure the legacy; preserve it and pass along its story to others.

Grandma favors you with a handmade sweater; you wear it proudly.

Grandma grants you a special batch of homemade cookies; you gobble them with yummy noises and grunts of appreciation between mouthfuls.

Grace is a gift from God. The gift says everything about the gift giver, but it is also saying something about the one receiving the gift.

It says you are loved.

And we say “I love you back” by what we do with the gift.

Gifts, after all, aren’t meant to be left in packages with pretty bows.

Gifts are given to be opened; put to use; acted on; employed.

Grace is a gift.

The question was never what did you do to deserve that?

The question has always been, what are you going to do with that?

 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.  ~1 Peter 4:10

 

 

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Sola Fide

When did we give up on faith, exactly?

Since when is Faith, alone, not good enough and we had to send Assurance along to walk it to the corner market?

The anxiety gnawing at our innards; the spoiled children demanding to know what is in the package beneath the tree.  That peculiar drift from faith in Christ toward an insistence of an assurance of salvation astounds.

I’m still waiting for Calvin’s peer review to publish.

Faith does not satisfy like assurance. Faith is covenantal not contractual.

Assurance is binding; demanding. Our ways, human ways, like things strapped down.

Guaranteed.

 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. Isaiah 55:8-9

Leave it to a lawyer like Calvin to draft the closing argument for (his) justification before Christ in the divine courtroom. How clever to use sacred scripture to compile an adjudication; using God’s words against God to pronounce his own sentence, claiming  innocence on the merit of the Judge’s righteousness and demanding the inheritance of heaven!

So odd that among the Greekophiliac biblical scholars and their insatiable taste for tenses, that not one of them remember Paul saying we are “being saved”. Or, that not one has bothered to mention that assurance and faith are apples and oranges.

A witnessing believer declares, “Your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life! Your sins are forgiven and salvation is sure!” when those magic words are whispered: Jesus, come into my heart and save me. 

Somehow, this statement declaring a final judgment is not blasphemy.

                                    Just saving Jesus some time at the end of all things

Yet, should a Catholic priest say to a repentant person:

May God, who has enlightened every heart, help you to know your sins and trust in his mercy…God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

This, we are to believe, is an act of violence against Divine privilege and authority.

Even though Jesus taught us to forgive one another. James teaches us to confess our sins one to another. Jesus delegates to his disciples the function of binding and releasing sin as a function of shaping church (community) culture.

But the sacred scripture is quite clear about one thing.

Christ alone was declared worthy to judge. You cannot declare me “saved.” No one can. Not you. Not Calvin. Certainly not myself. How could any of us make such a claim?  Would you care to know what the Bible actually says about our salvation?

Jesus decides. And only Jesus knows.

See, I am being saved. I am charged to remain faithful. I have the works Jesus began to carry on.

Well there’s an uncomfortable concept. A judgment.

A judgement conducted by the only worthy judge.

No assurance there.

–All that “Lord, Lord we did miracles and such in your name” business.

But there is hope (Paul’s language again).  Faith is more formidable.

Assurance is, well, assuring. But the gospels, and the apostolic teachings, read collaboratively don’t say we are assured of anything.

Faith is a work of trust; it is relational.  It is evidenced, not by a tract discovered in a bathroom stall, signed, and stuffed in a wallet, but by a life living out the works and words of Christ.

Assurance-speak must be the language of the insecure, the anxious and uncertain. Assurance defies mystery. It is the prodigal’s demand for an inheritance now. Those who fear judgment have not experienced a mature relationship; a perfect love.

Faithfulness is an enduring; a process; a growth.

Faith is the substance that substantiates hope.

Faith is the evidence of what is yet unseen.

Faith is found in sincere, personal relationships.

They do not say of a good, loyal husband, “He was assuring to his wife.”

Hearing those words, that he was assuring to his wife, implies he is yet trying to convince his wife of something she is not quite sure is believable.

Sola Fide.  It is enough.

I won’t depend on magic words to seal my salvation any longer.  I will no longer demand Jesus come into my heart and life. Instead, I will answer the call of Christ and follow Him. I will come into His heart and His life.

And working out that salvation, not by my works, but through His works which He began and continues through us, I will know Him better; hear Him better; trust Him more.

Then, on that day, I will trust fall backward into the arms of Christ, or else into just judgment. Who knows?

Jesus.

Sola Scriptura

“…and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” -2 Timothy 3:15-17

Getting back to my faith roots.

Scripture was my first love.  In the concrete walled halls of a small Baptist church school I fell in love with story.  Bible was the first class of the day. Memory verses were important, but it was the flannel graph figures whose lives resurrected against a velvet gray each day who captivated my imagination: from the great patriarchs of the Hebrews to the socially disenfranchised who found both mercy and healing in Y’shua‘s words and touch.  Some heard the stories and came away angry or confused at the cruel, punishing deity on one side of the book and the Utopian idealism of the ragged rabbi of Galilee depicted in the other.  Not me.  I heard the epic in a different way.

Always being smaller, slower, and socially awkward John the Evangelist dialed straight into this introvert’s frequency.

What will we play?  My words dismissed by the group as if unspoken.

When the Alpha would speak, play began.

We played the flute for you, but you did not dance. – Luke 7:32

Say again, John, all after “He was in the world…but the world did not know Him.”

He came to His own…but His own… did not accept him. –John 1:11

The jealous protective fiery response of the deeply loving, ever rejected God begins with a deep wound which could not be reconciled; a bustling playground vacated at the sound of the approaching happy-excited running-steps.

 When they heard the sound of God strolling in the garden in the evening breeze, the Man and his Wife hid in the trees of the garden, hid from God.

God called to the Man: “Where are you?”    –Genesis 3:8-9

So my mind was attuned to the God of the Bible who gives in grandiose ways and protects by exaggerated means, just to convey affection to those who seem unreachable and unresponsive.  And yet I remain keenly aware of the unresponsive ones who likewise find God unreachable and non-responsive; repulsed by the over-the-top gestures which seem to erupt out of nowhere with little to no context.

No one understands the Autistic God of the Bible quite as I have.

So I did not find the extravagant act of God: being found in appearance as a man, self-humbled, self-limited, becoming obedient to the point of suffering humiliation, even death, on a cross, such a difficult thing to grasp.  The words of the cross echoing the same confused cry spoken through creation and prophet since the world began: Love me!

The God-breathed text of the old covenant whispers the same audacious promise God speaks from the cross. It is as much a promise for us as it is a promise God made to Himself: that one day God will no longer be rejected- no longer alone.

Loved, and Loving, in eternal reciprocity.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” -Revelation 21:3-4

Solus Christus

″For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.″ 1 Timothy 2:5

Today I begin alone-ness.  The first day in nearly 20 years I am a man without a church; a pastor with a congregation of one.

It is a good day.

All those years ago I believed I would be the pastor people wanted: Biblically savvy, Powerful preacher, Wise in counsel.

People didn’t want that pastor. I did.

I’m not even sure I was that pastor.  I think I just wanted to be.

Probably, I wanted to believe I was.

People wanted the Entrepreneurial administrator.

or maybe

People wanted the effective Proselytizer.

Well, whatever it was the people wanted, I wasn’t it.

There were so few baptisms in my pulpit days. Most weddings the bride and groom made me feel as if I were part of the ornamentation rather than the officiant. Why did it seem I was the only one excited about communion on any given Sunday?

Maybe the stole was stolen; an office that never was meant to be mine. It is quite possible that this call felt in my heart to pour out my self into the cause of loving God and blessing others was meant to find some other means of expression. It is possible that Christian formation, the art of discipling, has become so dumbed down that persons with an awakened inner passion can no longer be connected to any kind of diverse and creative ministry comprehensive of all the talents God gifts to us. Do the roles needed for the Church’s work today even remotely provide offerings as diversified and varied as those divine graces?

If you sense a calling, it is the pulpit or nothing.  Well, maybe you can teach a Sunday School class.  There’s always a shortage of those…and nothing else in the “Help Wanted” ads of contemporary Christendom.

Today is a good day.  I overreached in my desire to grab hold of God’s will for my life.

Today I walk in Christ alone.  A great journey is just beginning.  Care to walk a bit with me?  Company might be nice.  This is a journey to discover my true vocation.  Is there a place in the Church for me? Does the Church even need people like me?    

Maybe.

Maybe not.

For now, I am extra Ecclesiam… and walking.  I think it’s going to be a long walk.

Better bring a jacket.

Your Package Has Arrived

Package-Delivery

Gracious God,

Today is a long awaited package that has just arrived.

The return address tells me this gift is from You.

That’s the thing about packages from far away.

When I open it, I find the sender is very near.

 

Inside this day will be

each person that I meet

every moment that decides what the next will look like.

 

Inside this day I will learn

when to speak

when to listen

when to linger with my thoughts

when to share my ideas and feelings

 

This package has challenges and decisions

carefully wrapped in bubble wrap and packing peanuts.

I’ll be cautious with those.

 

Inside this gift I also hear the whisperings of your Wisdom.

 

And I find beneath the packing paper ordinary and unnoticed tasks,

that were nearly overlooked.

 

I’m glad I didn’t miss those! They are the simple joys.

 

Inside this package I am also unwrapping

New possibilities

And

Sabbath moments

 

It’s very clear to me, gracious God,

That what you have sent is a care package

To restore my Peace and Harmony.

 

In this day you have given as a gift to me,

My long awaited package,

I find your Goodness.

Thank you.

 

Amen.

package delivery

Adapted from “Morning Prayer” by Pat Bergen, C.S.J. (Xavier University)

It Was the Singing

Muni-bus-packed-with-kids-by-Alie-Slavin

There is a poem by Ian Crichton Smith

TWO GIRLS SINGING

It neither was the words nor yet the tune

Any tune would have done and any words.

Any listener at all.

As nightingales in rocks or a child crooning

in its own world of strange awakening

or larks for no reason but themselves.

So on the bus through late November running

by yellow lights tormented, darkness falling,

the two girls sang for miles and miles together

and it wasn’t the words or the tune. It was the singing.

It was the human sweetness in that yellow,

the unpredicted voices of our kind.

Source: Scottish Poem Book

May you find yourself, this day, together with another – singing.

Singing with raucous voice released by darkness and adventure and the courage that comes with company,

In the human sweetness, with the unpredicted voices of shared struggle and shared hope.

Amen.

bus-etiquette-300x157

Hospitality

Welcome Mat

In my tradition

wrong or right

we teach one another to

invite Jesus into your heart

or

into your life.

(Though it might be better said

that Jesus invites us all into His life

is a blog post for another time.)

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. ~Luke 10:38

Hospitality was the first virtue of Christendom.

It is really quite simple.

Make the stranger feel at home in your home.  Put the tired traveler at ease.

But today we are terrified. Paranoid. Worried over many things.

All the doors are bolted; even the ones to our heart.

Convinced that the stranger is only after what is ours we build motels and hotels for our peers

and with our imagination play “pretend like -” to create fairy tale make believe shelters big enough for all the homeless people where taxes and charities and 1 per centers dig deep to provide food, clothes, showers. Then sleep easy in our dreamland.

The art and practice of hospitality has been lost.

 the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. ~Luke 10:41 

The service of hospitality.

All that was needed was for one to welcome Jesus into their home: this is heart and life.

Welcomed into the vault where we lock up all our treasures.

A beautiful sentiment lost on a generation far away from all things hospitable.

Because, how do we tell ourselves: our friends and children

Invite Jesus into your heart!  Welcome Jesus into your life!

when we no longer know how to entertain a guest? what to do with the stranger?

They have no idea what inviting anyone into their life should look like.

So…

Would Jesus even feel comfortable in your life?

Does He feel “in the way”?  A bother?  “Asking too much?”

How often is this guest attended to, and what is not provided or offered because of the silent politeness of the visitor?

What would a heart and life look like if we actually tried to make Jesus “feel at home”.

I think we’ve left Jesus on the front porch.

Don’t worry. It’s screened-in. The mosquitos won’t get him.”

We’ll bring him some iced tea and a few magazines.”

Make yourself at home” isn’t hospitable. It’s neglect with a polite smile.

She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying…”there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” ~ Luke 10:39,42

Hospitality