Tag Archives: spirituality

Who is the Bride of Christ: Part 2

The early Christians, following the lead of Jesus’ parables and through his other teachings, began very early thinking of the church as the bride of Christ.

Take for example:

Revelation 21.9 “Then one of the angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”  And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City of Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.”

Like any relationship, like any marriage, intimacy is more than learning about one another. It is about cultivating a life of shared experiences and appreciation for one another in difficult times.   It is no different with God.

Fast-forward three years from my university chapel altar. Still wearing the grad ring, I had now been offered and accepted the wedding ring.   It was perhaps as I was changing a diaper or settling my bank account that reality hit.  I had a wife, a baby, and a real job.  I had taken on an occupation that confronted racism and poverty while preparing students to do just that. It all started to crush me really. The responsibilities of life outweighed a new realization: I could not solve local problems, let alone world issues, with my skills or cleverness. People were too complex.  The human heart was far more stubborn and habit ridden than I realized.  I was more broken that I had realized.  Now ten years out from that night at the university altar, I am saying that it will take my whole life to learn intimacy with God.

Who is the Bride of Christ: Part 1

I began a journey about ten years ago.  It was a spiritual journey that culminated in a quiet moment within my university’s chapel.  I had followed this deep calling in my life that led me to Jesus and to a life devoted to his way and ministry.  I was mastering the spiritual life at break-neck speed.  My devotional life rocked.  I had read through most of the Bible a few times.  And I kind of sneered when my pastor’s wife lamented in one Bible study that it would take her a whole life to learn intimacy with God.  I wondered why I was flying so high.  Perhaps God had greater things in store for me.

So there I was at our university’s chapel altar.  I was kneeling alone late one night. The stained glass windows were dancing with shadows of flickering candles. I was deep in prayer.  On the floor in front of me lay my graduation ring.  A few minutes prior, I had taken it off my finger and set it before the Lord.  Internally I prayed this prayer: Lord let me be married to you.” Somehow over the course of a few years, I had intuited a long-standing Christian image.  Intimacy with the Father was something like a great marriage. It was the height of my early devotional life.  I was on fire.  I loved God and wanted to know him more.

The early Christians, following the lead of Jesus’ parables and through his other teachings, began very early thinking of the church as the bride of Christ.

2 Corinthians 11.1 “I hope you will put up with me in a little foolishness.  Yes, please put up with me!  I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him”

Apostasy or Selfless Courage?

Apostasy can be a hairy topic in our age.  As our culture and religious structures fray, we should pay close attention to what we tag as apostasy and who we name “apostates”.  You will hear it ninety times out of a hundred, “I grew up in Church, but it not longer speaks to me”, or “I tried Church, but they are all hypocrites.”  After time, usually the “apostate” might offer philosophical or theological reasons for their journey away from Christ and the body of believers.  But it usually starts and ends in the heart.

Contrary to popular opinion, the early Christians (especially those whose writings made it into the New Testament), did not see apostasy through the lenses of walking away from Church or even primarily loss of right belief.  Apostasy was not even explained primarily as a disobedience or walking away from a covenantal promise.

Apostasy for the Early Christians was about a heart disease.  Pride.  And this is exactly where things get hairy. For who can judge the human heart?  And in our newly post-Christian age when civil religion still works like a cancer on both true and false Christianity, it is difficult to weigh whether an “apostate” is enacting a selfish sensuality or a selfless courage.

Judas remains the quintessential apostate in the NT.  He was not an apostate because he betrayed Jesus.  Peter betrayed Jesus, walked away, denied him. Jesus took him back.   Judas was not an apostate because of disobedience (we get the idea that he was already stealing from the disciples).  He was an apostate because of the whole state of his heart.  It was a prideful heart that tried to jump-start a revolution; it was a selfish sensuality revealed by his suicide.

Jesus makes it clear to us: we will be utterly surprised who gets into the banquet and who surprisingly he doesn’t recognize at the gates.  Even though Hebrews 6 says that the apostate can never return, if you read the whole of the passage, you realize that the author is describing a heart state from which a person can never come back.  Yet, until death (and perhaps even after), God works unceasingly to turn a hard heart soft.  This is so that when we see him face to face, we will gladly accept our dependence upon him and avoid the possibility of choosing hell our way versus eternal bliss his.

Well, for the Church we must compare this passage with the teaching in James 5 for example. You will see that in the church, we should be commissioning our wise members to try and bring back those who walked away.  We should veer away from heaping guilt or shame on a person who has “walked away”, admit where the apostate might be offering a prophetic challenge to the church, and challenge them to find a purified version of the faith.  We should avoid the useless false dichotomoy of “our way or the highway” that they have rejected in the first place.

Ultimately there is hope for a generation of apostates to turn away from selfish sensuality and to find the Ancient Way afresh with the selfless courage that many apostates already embody.

Was Jesus Tripin’ at His Baptism?

The Holy Spirit as Dove will be the topic of my PhD dissertation this upcoming year. You could also call it: “Early Christianity as Primal Religion”. By that I mean a type or pattern of religion that includes kinship with nature, a deep sense of human’s finitude, a conviction that humanity is not alone in the universe, a belief that humanity can enter into a relationship with a benevolent spirit world, and a mental structuring of a sacred universe. More on that in another post.

I am interested particularly in Luke’s vision of a dove descending in bodily form. Here Luke suggests to the reader that the heavens opened after Jesus’ baptism, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in “bodily form”. Various interpretations categorize this experience as a symbol or a visionary ecstatic (narcotic) experience.

What if Luke simply meant that an actually bird came and rested on Jesus? What would it mean if an incarnated Holy Spirit alighted on Jesus? And what would this omen have signified to those who witnessed the event?

The implications are important. If there were a real bird, it probably evoked awe, since entities of the air, clouds, winds, sun, moon, stars, and birds all were seen as mysterious and sometimes dreadful omens. Yet, that a dove rested upon Jesus indicates a Lordship over the dominion of the air. The dove makes it safely through the perils of the demon possessed sky.   Athanasius, writing one to two hundred years later makes a similar claim about the nature of Jesus’ death:

“Again, the air is the sphere of the devil, the enemy of our race who, having fallen from heaven, endeavors with the other evil spirits…but the lord came to overthrow the devil and to purify the air and to make a ‘way for us’ up to heaven…This had to be done through death, and by what other kind of death could it be done, save by a death in the air, that is, on the cross…” (Athanasius, On the Incarnation 4.31-34.)

The point: for the early Christians, Jesus was good Lord not only over the ruling elite, even the Roman empire, but also he ruled over the whole cosmos, all of nature. Jesus and his possy at the last supper were probably not singing “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”.  So, as we hurl into the 21st century, as we regain our vision for the sanctity of creation in a global world, we can and must look to the early Christians for a guiding vision of Jesus and his heart for this world.

On Sustainability

(So, now, I will continue my posts on the importance of nature in our world today).

We live in a interesting moment of history.  All across the world, religions are awakening to the sanctity of the earth.  It is a global shift that some are calling the “eco-zoic” era.  I like that.  Post-apocalyptic movies like “The Day the Earth Stood Still” are making a field day with this type of thought: The earth can and will sustain herself beyond our mess…whether humans remain a viable species is the question.  Will mother earth wipe out us children because of the way we treat her?

Unfortunately for Christians, we often have a sense that this earth will burn, so why take care of it? By the way, that is a mark of modern Christianity.  The earth in the eyes of the early and Medieval Church was viewed far more as a sacred source of life.  Ever read “Canticle of Brother Sun”?

So the question now is this: can we turn ship?  What will it take to get masses of people to stop trashing the soil and destroying the oceans? There has to be a way.

So let me suggest this: it is not about a change of mind, it is about a change of heart.  This is where vibrant faith steps in. The green movement has already changed our minds in North America. What we need now is a life change. It is the change of a thousands of small decisions on the part of millions of people.  It is a change that everyone must be able to make.  A sustainable lifestyle for millions will only spring from a deep reverence for the earth and for all who live upon it.  It must not be based in guilt or fear but love. It can be based in Christian scripture, and we can find the way in Jesus’ heart.  This must be the core of our curriculum, not another top ten list of things to do to save the earth.

A good place to start: go spend some time with a few good friends in a park…

Hot Christian Sex

I read an article yesterday entitled: How Christians Spoil Sex.  The editorial was actually reviewing another article, which was promoting hot Christian sex.  The CNN reviewer gave it another twist by highlighting the ways Christianity (or sick Christianity) ruins our chance (perhaps for all of us) to experience erotic collisions.

Maybe I am not hearing the conversation right.  But I wonder why nobody is making this point: maybe the cultural pressure for hot sex is what is spoiling it.  Watch ten movies. The majority of them will depict hot sex.  The majority of our nation, I think it is fair to say, is likely thinking right now about hot sex.  We’ve pumped our eros full of steroids and blame religion for holding us back.  And then we go after it (hot sex) and realize that the pursuit of it usually ruins us.

There is no question that forms of Christianity have implanted within us an allergy against anything sexual.  It is also true that forms of Christianity have downplayed our bodies.  But I don’t think it is helpful to anyone if Christians carry the “Christians can have hot sex too” banner.

We should be saying things like: Christians don’t treat others like objects through which we can get hot sex.  Christians revere the image of God in each person.  Instead of a neurotic search after passionate love-making, we should be saying: Christians experience the heights of ecstatic union with their lovers amidst the earthiness of our inhibitions and awkward but beautiful bodies and through a transforming patience harnessed upon average experiences.

Vibrancy for a married couple depends on a robust and healthy sex life.  Vibrancy is not dependent upon hot sex, though sometimes, as a married Christian, you find your way there.

Spiritual Reflection for a Global World: Finale

Our world is full of disaster and conflict.  Yet, somehow, God never-ceasingly fills our disaster and conflict with good things and good words.  It is our job to become people who can see and hear them.

I will leave behind now, my small series on Spiritual Reflection with a last word and the final step.

The last word is this:  even Jesus could not convince the religious elite that their ears and eyes were closed.  We will never convince them either.  Our role is to simply become people who take the space and time to worship, listen, argue, and apply what God gives us.  We are limited creatures.  God made us that way.  So, all we have to do is be faithful to the times that we are given and with the words and deeds that God uses in our everyday experiences to capture our attention.

Finally, after awe, careful and honest listening, and utilizing our logic, we enter into the double movement of “Affirmation and Application”.   Now, rather than refusing to accept our divine call (which emerges into our consciousness through formational attention), we can pivot from our fractured past into a future lived under God’s providing hand.  Now, we can move to the “Application of our Yes”.  We no longer have to live in worry. With our past words and deeds, we have not disobediently undone the promise of blessing in our life by the accumulation of disobedience.  We can firmly and gently enter into the implementation of our unique-communal life call inwardly confirmed that we are walking the path toward our destiny.  Like I mentioned before, this process of Spiritual Reflection for large decisions might last months, sometimes years; or, for small disclosures the process might last seconds or minutes.  Life sometimes demands split-second reflection.

Whatever the case, in order to live a life fully awakened to the revelation of our life call and the reality of its obstacles, we must build enduring spiritual eyes and ears.  Then, with the appraisal process integrated and digested into the core of our spirits, we “will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom 12.2).