I read. They teach.

The weather is nice—a rarity in Chicago this spring—so it’s a quiet morning at the women’s shelter at Breakthrough. Most women are gone for the day, out and about, but one regular, C, an older woman whose soft, gentle voice is rarely heard, is here. Kristine, a staff worker stationed at the desk in the common room, introduces me to J and tells me J, too, is coming. J is wiry and full of nervous energy. She’s an addict, she tells me in a spill of words, has been for years, but she found Breakthrough and has a bed there and wants to finally attack her addiction. She’s started going to AA meetings. “This,” she says, waving her hand at the three of us gathered to pray and read Scripture, “will help me. Prayer always helps me.”

I always begin our time together by asking if anyone has any passage or story in particular they would like to hear from Scripture. J says she wants to read about beginnings, since she herself is embarking on a new start. I read Genesis 1 and then I ask if they would like to hear the beginning of Jesus’ story here on earth. Both do, and I turn to Luke 2 and read. J has to leave for a meeting, so I ask C what she would like me to read next. She puts her finger on my Bible and points at the next chapter. “You want me to keep going?” I ask, and she nods.

So I read Luke 3. C whispers, “Keep going.” Luke 4. She smiles and gives a little nod of encouragement. Luke 5. Another smile-nod. Luke 6.

Luke 2-6! These are long chapters, covering (among other things) Jesus’ birth, baptism, and temptation; his calling the disciples; his healing people with demons and leprosy and paralysis and withered hands. The grand teachings of chapter 6 include “blessed are the poor, the hungry, those who weep…; love your enemies; be merciful; don’t judge; produce good fruit”… And all these teachings are followed by the parable that begins: “‘Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?’” Jesus talks about the house built on rock and the house built on sand. He ends by saying, “‘The one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.’”

I finish reading chapter 6 and check the time. It’s past 11. We’ve been reading for over an hour. “Sorry, Carol, we have to stop here,” I say. “Do you have anything particular you want to pray about today?”

She reaches over again and touches my Bible, pointing to that parable. “Let’s pray about that,” she says softly. “I don’t want to be that house that falls.”

“Me neither,” I tell her. “Me neither.” And we pray that we will be followers of Jesus who do what he tells us to do.

Every Monday, I read…

and they teach.

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Hosanna… Save us, we pray

The word “Hosanna” features prominently in the Palm Sunday story. It’s shouted by the followers of Jesus who are heralding his entry into Jerusalem as the beginning of his triumphant reign, who were not expecting what was to come just a few days later. I’m sure those who’d shouted “Hosanna” at the sight of Jesus on the donkey’s colt probably looked back five days later–perhaps standing at the edge of a crowd shouting “Crucify him!”–and thought, “How hollow our ‘hosannas’ seem now.”

But, oddly enough, their “Hosannas” were very appropriate. I’d always known “hosanna” to be an exclamation used to express praise and joy and adoration, but I learned recently that its origins are quite different: “hosanna” comes from a Hebrew phrase that means “save us, we pray.” It’s the phrase found in Psalm 118:25, which reads, “Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!”

This meaning makes it an appropriate cry for all of Holy Week, not just Palm Sunday or Easter morn. When I first began writing this blog post, I was thinking about this from a very personal point of view. I was tired going into Holy Week, but I knew that most of the young 20-somethings who would come to our parish’s marathon of services on Maundy Thursday/Good Friday/Holy Saturday/Easter morning were chomping at the bit to culminate Holy Week with singing, dancing, and rejoicing–while I just wanted to find a quiet place to be still and rest and cry out to God. “Hosanna,” I realized, was an appropriate cry for all of us, and my whispering it as “Lord, save us!” from a place of fatigue was no less a cry of praise than the exultant shouts uttered by the jumping, dancing younger people.

Today, as I finish this blog post, I cry “Hosanna” with a broader focus, for I am thinking  of the nearly 300 people killed in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. I am thinking of the woman I met with just this morning who is 90 days clean and trying so hard to stay sober. I am thinking of her nephew who was jumped by gang members over the weekend and left with two broken legs. I am thinking of the violence in my neighborhood that is rising along with the temperature.

Hosanna–save us, we pray.

Is perhaps the highest form of praise not a shout of triumph and exultation, but rather a cry for help? a cry that acknowledges we are so deeply in need of saving, so lost in our forgotten, damaged humanity, so deeply confused, so much in need of renewal and redemption that we are helpless in and of ourselves? Is it perhaps highest praise to cry out from that place and express our need for God? to express faith–even the slimmest sliver of it?

Our hosannas–spoken from this place of need–find their hope not in Palm Sunday nor even solely in Easter morn. Our broken hosannas have no place to land in either of those places IF there is no Maundy Thursday and Good Friday in between. In these between days we see God willingly and fully identifying with victims of injustice by becoming one himself, and he did this NOT because he was some kind of masochist but because IN this he was somehow most deeply ONE with broken humanity and THROUGH it he was defeating the very death that has been killing us all.

Our whispered hosannas find their hope in this Suffering Servant-King who still bears scars in his risen body. They find their hope in Jesus the Christ.

Save us, we pray. Oh Lord, we beseech you, save us.

Hosanna

Person: body and soul

Steve-Prince_LivingEpistle_O

This is a print by artist Steve Prince. You can see and buy his beautiful art (including this piece) HERE.

I just finished taking a 10-week course on the Trinity. Early on in the course, the professor shared that she had recently received a question from one of her former students who is now a pastor. A couple of this pastor’s church’s members told her they’d been discussing the incarnation and had wondered if Jesus was still—right now–in his body. The church members told the pastor they had different viewpoints, but they did agree on one thing: it didn’t really matter that much.

The pastor was reaching out to her former professor for help in getting them to see that, yes, Jesus is right now in his body and, oh yes, it matters a GREAT deal!

I was reminded of that story very recently when I met with a young woman who has been sexual abused multiple times by different men. We were talking about false guilt, the sense that somehow she was at fault for this. “I know I need to reject that,” she said, “I know it’s not true.”

I nodded my head vigorously, and then she said something that made me stop. She said that maybe her body—because of the abuse—was not fit for anything better than abuse. And the way she said this and the way she pointed at her body as she said it gave me a clue. “What’s more important to who you are? I asked her. “Your body or your spirit?”

No hesitation. “My spirit. Of course.”

I held up my two, fisted hands in front of her, a few inches from each other. “So your body”—I wiggled my left hand—“and your spirit”—I wiggled my right hand—“are separate? The real you”—I lifted my right hand—“is your spirit? And this”—I lifted my left hand—“is just a shell, not important to who you are, not really you?”

She nodded.

I shook my head. “No,” I said, smiling at her. I clasped my hands together. “This is you, the full you. This is the ‘you’ who will be forever. This is the ‘you’ who will be with God forever.”

I went on to tell her that a big reason we know this is because of the incarnation of Jesus—the current incarnation of Jesus—the now-and-forever incarnation of Jesus. He didn’t just put on a shell for a period of 33 years and then shed it like a piece of worn-out luggage upon finishing a long journey. Jesus was and continues to be human, and being human means being a person: body and soul/spirit. He also didn’t get a new, unrecognizable body upon his resurrection, like a caterpillar sheds a cocoon upon becoming a butterfly. He was recognizable and he bore the scars of the wounds inflicted on his body before his death!*

I have found, in listening to women who have been sexually used and abused, that this last truth is SO important. Jesus still bears scars on his resurrected body, and these tell us that all that happens to us—body and spirit/soul is significant. The scars on the resurrected Jesus tell us that God values us as whole persons, that what happens to our bodies matters to God. The abuse of the body is not less significant to him than wounds to our souls (and is there any way to say that any deep wound—physical or emotional—does not affect ALL our being: body-and-spirit?). Jesus’ scars let us know he understands right now that harm done to one’s body is harm done to one’s very person, and it is seen and hated as violence against one of God’s beloveds. But the scars also offer hope, for Jesus’ scars are not signs of defeat but of healing, the healing of the entire world. So, too, can we know that the effects of sin on our bodies—both the visible effects and those hidden—will be transformed.

*NOTE: Not long after I wrote the above, I read a blog post by Mike Frost in which he eloquently wrote about the body of Christ as part of his Lenten blog series in which he is sharing what he is learning from contemplating a painting of the body of the dead Christ by Renaissance artist, Andrea Mantegnacon. I’ve pasted in part of Frost’s blog post below. If you want to read the entire post (I highly recommend it), here’s the link: “you can tell a lot about a society by the way it treats dead bodies.”

“The baffling miracle of the Incarnation is this: not that Christ’s spirit entered a human body, but that God was human in the initial mitosis, with the fusion of gametes, the splitting of cells, the condensing and compacting of chromosomes within the uterus. Christ was fully human from the beginning so that his death was the death of God, not the death of the body he had invaded or used for such a purpose.

So when I contemplate Mantegna’s depiction of Christ in that painting I try to be present to a terrifying concept: God the corpse. For if this corpse is not Christ what kind of death has he died? A proxy death?

Christ was fully human. He experienced all the limitations of human existence. He was captive to bodily needs and functions of being human. And so his death was truly his death, and his corpse is truly his body.

On Easter Sunday we will celebrate Christ’s resurrection, his victory over death, the triumph of grace, the glory of God. And a month later we will celebrate the most baffling miracle of all — the Ascension — in which a piece of this material world, Christ’s body, ascends into the heavenly realm. It’s all too great to imagine.”

Bringing her some Jesus

Each week I have the privilege of teaching several groups of children a story from the Bible, generally a story about Jesus. Not long ago I began a teaching session with a group of preschoolers, and a few of the kids wanted to start with singing. As we began, I noticed one of the girls looked mad and she wasn’t singing along. When we started a second song, she crossed her arms over her chest and began glaring at me. And when I said, “Let’s do one more,” she burst out, “When are you gonna’ bring me some Jesus, Ms. Jen?”

Well, the truth is that I’m not just bringing her Jesus. I’m bringing her the very best picture we have of God—seen (and touched and heard) in the person of Jesus, God the Son. “If you want to know who God is,” says theologian William Placher, “attend to these stories about Jesus Christ,” for Jesus is the “best clue to who God is.”* Daniel Migliore writes that there is no side of God “altogether different from what we know in the story of Jesus who befriended the poor and forgave sinners. God is self-expanding, other-affirming, community-building love.”** (p8 of Witvliet) So Jesus isn’t just giving us a picture of God the Son; Jesus is giving us a picture of the Triune God, the God who is three-in-one, one-in-three, three persons—Father, Son, and Spirit—fully equal, having one will but distinct in their persons.

So if (since) Jesus presents God to us and he interacts in beautiful, intimate, communal, harmonious ways with the other two persons of the Trinity, then we can know that “divine life consists most fundamentally in interpersonal communion. …God’s life is one of abundant communion, a kind of fellowship … that overflows to include us.”

Can we see those communal, harmonious ways of relation among the Father, Son, and Spirit in the Gospel stories? Yes! Let’s just take a super abbreviated gander through the Gospel of Mark and look at a few examples:

  • The Baptism of Jesus—this is how Mark begins! John the Baptist announces that Jesus will baptize the people with the Holy Spirit, and then, at Jesus’ own baptism, the Spirit hovers over him like a dove and the voice of the Father affirms him as his beloved Son—before he’s done any earthly ministry!
  • Jesus’ miracles. Scholar Gerald Hawthorne emphasized the point that Jesus “depended on the Spirit of God.” He wrote, “The Holy Spirit was the divine power by which Jesus overcame his human limitations, rose above his human weakness, and won out over his human mortality.”*** This means that every single time we see Jesus doing something no human would be able to do (cast out demons, heal the sick with a touch or word, feed great crowds to the full with a single lunch, control nature…), he was doing this through intimate communion with the Spirit.
  • Jesus referred to God the Father AS his Father. “So?” You may wonder, but this was NEW! The writers of the Old Testament Scriptures didn’t refer to God as their personal Father. Jesus does! Hilary of Poitiers, a bishop during the 300s, said this: “The work which the Lord came to do was not to enable you to recognize the omnipotence of God as Creator of all things, but to enable you to know him as the Father of the Son who addresses you.”

I could give many more examples from Mark alone, but this post is getting too long, so I’ll end with an idea for you:

Pick a Gospel to read through. Every time you encounter the word “God,” read “Father, Son, and Spirit” or “Triune God.” We generally tend to see the word “God” and automatically think of God the Father; see if this exercise affects how you see Jesus and the Spirit and how you view the Trinity.

 

*quoted in A More Profound Alleluia in “The Opening of Worship: Trinity” by John D Witvliet, page 7

** quoted in A More Profound Alleluia in “The Opening of Worship: Trinity” by John D Witvliet, page 8

***The Presence and the Power, p. 35

No Tug of Will

In fullness of time

the Spirit overshadows,

the love of the Father descends

and the Son becomes human,

for all to see, to touch, to hear, to know God:

Father, Son, Spirit.

Three-in-one; one-in-three.

Communion, diverse unity.

“My Beloved,” the Father says to the Son,

The Spirit’s wingbeat thrums love,

And the Son, close to the heart of God, fully lives,

As truly human

And truly God.

God-come-down

bears humanity up.

Re-union in the one human-divine person of the Son,

Who is filled by Spirit,

and Loved full by Father.

The redemption of humanity a trinitarian work:

One will

one love

one hope for all the throbbing world

In fullness of time fulfilled.

I wrote the above poem in response to all the readings on the Trinity I’ve done this quarter (I’m very, very grateful, Dr. Nordling). This past week I read part of A More Profound Alleluia. Here’s some great stuff from it (p. 7-8): “The doctrine of the Trinity means that God is not different from what we see in Jesus. …Jesus is a faithful witness, a transparent window into divine life. …Trinitiarian doctrine of God sturdily reinforces our understanding of God’s lavish grace … toward us. … The Triune God not only models salvation but accomplishes it. … Trinitarian theology stresses that God’s life is one of abundant communion, a kind of fellowship … that overflows to include us.”

 

Trinity poem

holy-trinity-icon2_2Our little lives and minds so naturally focus on the me-my- mine

Sometimes our interest expands to the we-us-ours, but we’re mostly prone to “other” others, to “they” them, to keep “them” at arm’s length, outside the inclusive circle.

At times we step closer with “you,” but we are most comfortable with its imperative and accusative forms.

Ultimately, the “me” trumps all.

And so our minds boggle and balk at the Holy Trinity, the unity of Father-Son-Spirit in mutual dance, at the distinction and oneness of I-You-We forever and always embraced.

It’s a glorious mystery that beckons us to deeper secrets, for this Holy Circle, without disruption to its perfect sphere, extends hands to us and sees no “they.”

We are pulled into the dance, into abiding, into embrace, into partaking the nature of God.

We are filled yet made wholly us, and we learn that what we thought merely a fairy-tale hope–that ALL could be family, that peace could encompass ALL–is True.

The hope is Real.

For this the Son put on flesh: that we might know Father, Son, Spirit, our beautifully dancing God; that we, drawn in, might see all as “we,” and paradoxically discover—in the giving of “I” to “us”—that the “me” is best known.

The above is a poem I wrote about a year ago that I revised last week after reading these words by Catherine Mowry LaCugna. She was describing Rublev’s icon of the Trinity (seen above): “…the position of the three figures is suggestive. Although they are arranged in a circle, the circle is not closed. One has the distinct sensation … that one is not only invited into this communion but, indeed, one already is part of it. A self-contained God, a closed divine society, would hardly be a fitting archetype of hospitality.” #trinityclassns

More thoughts on the Trinity

leaning tower

THOUGHT 1

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” (from the Nicene Creed)

We look for … the life of the world to come. There is, obviously, a future sense to this, a final resolution brought about by Jesus’ return. There is a “not yet,” as our world now is not as it will be when the King has come. Right now our world operates at a tilt. The Cornerstone is present (Mark 12:10-11), but our world is shifted off-kilter, like the leaning tower of Pisa. Since the entire thing is at a slant, we don’t even realize we’ve adjusted to it. It feels natural, but this walking at a slant to the Cornerstone wears on us. We, the holy catholic and apostolic Church, baptized by and in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, can walk straight NOW, can walk and move and have our very being in the Cornerstone, made straight by the Cornerstone. We’ve been enlivened by the Spirit, moved from death to life. Even though the world around us lives at a slant to eternal reality, we can live eternal reality now—the eternal reality that says love is preeminent, that stuff and accolades and success won’t last, that says love of God and neighbor is the only measure that matters, that values community and mutual submission rather than individual accomplishment, that views all people as made in the image of God… Living eternal life now isn’t easy; everything around us is going to make us feel as if we are the ones walking through life tilted. But Jesus said that when we do what he told us and act on his words—loving our enemies, living with extreme generosity, refraining from judgment and condemnation…–we are like a man who has built his house on a rock (Luke 6:46-49). It’s straight and sturdy, and will not be shaken. Let’s look for and live the life of the world to come.

 

b7755749-434d-4288-a1e9-806b6ee57074_1.6e6b8ba050dc9d5a2d8ef42b12758831

Pair of ducks=paradox 🙂 

THOUGHT 2

The many paradoxes of Christianity (Triune God, hypostatic union of Jesus, free will and foreknowledge…) are not as paradoxical as they seem to us. In Trinity Matters, Dancause uses this illustration to picture our limited understanding. Imagine a cone passing through a 2-dimensional world. Though the cone is 3-dimensional, as it passes through this world, it will only be able to viewed as 2-dimensional. If the cone passes through vertically, it will be seen as a circle of varying sizes. But if it passes through on its side, it will be seen as a trying of varying sizes. It will appear to be two completely different things. Yet it is one, fully integrated shape. The issue is not the shape; it is the limited view of those who live in the 2-dimensional world. Same with us and God. The issue is not contradiction within God. The issue is our limited and broken viewpoint.

He writes of is as “’flat’ ways of looking at the same ‘extra dimensional’ thing. The circle and the triangle contradict each other at one level, but on a higher level, as with the example of the cone, they actually define each other as one entity.”

The more I study God and Scripture, the more I realize my world is one little piece on the edge of a vast puzzle that stretches far, far beyond in all directions! This relational, 3-in-one/1-in-3 God extending relationship to all he has created will blow my mind—and my heart—whenever I let him, and I think in Kingdom come I will constantly be saying “Wow!” (location 1958 in Kindle edition)

THOUGHT 3

I confess that I used to think of the Incarnation as the Son being sent off to a horrific kind of boot camp (or worse). It grieved the Father and the Spirit, but it was necessary. I also thought of the Son as experiencing this all alone and thus carrying, for all eternity afterward, this experience and trauma that the Father and Spirit couldn’t identify with. I was definitely believing in some subordination within the Trinity—along with some other unorthodox ideas (maybe tri-theism?).

Karl Barth helps me with this. “Barth describes incarnation as the Son of God’s journey into a far land. …the Son of God effects reconciliation since the journey is that of God himself revealed in the Son. ‘…the Son’s journey is God’s own journey and that the Son’s self-humiliation in birth, life, and death is an expression of God’s transcendence. God is exalted in the humility of the Son.’” (p. 128 of The Doctrine of God by Veli-Matti Karkkainen).

Are there any ways you’ve discovered you’ve thought wrongly about God?

 

And even more thoughts on the Trinity–clearly entire books have been written on this!

theosisandjustification

This painting goes with thought 2. It’s an Eastern Orthodox icon depicting the theosis of the saints. What is “theosis”? See THOUGHT 2 below.

THOUGHT 1: “To really live”

What does it mean to really live? A religious scholar asked Jesus a similar question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” If I were to put “eternal life” in my own words, I would think of it as life that is not bound by a particular time or season or set of circumstances but is forever life, full and rich and deep forever.

Well, Jesus turns the question back on this scholar and asks if he can find the answer in the Law of Moses. The man can. He answers, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus tells him he answered correctly and then says, “(D)o this, and you will live.”

So this is life, eternal life: loving God (with my entire being) and loving neighbor as myself. So simple, yet so terribly difficult for me to do. Impossible for me to do this.

But I am not asked to do this and then left powerless to actually do it.

The Nicene Creed refers to the Spirit of God as the “giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son…” Jesus, immediately after he was resurrected and reunited with his followers, breathed on them. This is the same breathing found in Genesis, when God “breathed” into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life and in Ezekiel when the breath of God causes the bleached bones to live again!

I sometimes feel like a clod of dirt or like a pile of dry, dusty bones. I am not enlivened with the love of God and neighbor. I find myself, like the religious scholar, asking, “And who is my neighbor?” and then shaking my head at my inability to love the person God points out to me.

But I have been breathed on! I have been given the gift of the Spirit by the Father and the Son, and the Spirit “gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6) to me—fills me with love for God and neighbor! New Testament scholar Gerald Hawthorne wrote, “The significance of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus extends to his followers in all of the little and the big things of their existences. … Jesus has freely and lavishly given (the Spirit) to those who would be his disciples today!”*

To live eternal life right here, right now—to live like Jesus among and with all people! Give us life, Holy Spirit, to live like that!

*The Presence and the Power by Gerald Hawthorne, p. 242. Also found on Amazon.com.

 

THOUGHT 2: “Justification by faith AND becoming like God”

Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen describes the differences between the Eastern and Western wings of the church in the third century in this way: “The Eastern tradition expressed itself in Greek, and its distinctive doctrine of salvation was conveyed in the terms of deification or divinization (from the Greek term theosis, “denoting God”), which means “becoming like God.” The Western wing of the church, with its center in Antioch, used Latin and focused primarily on moral obedience and justification by faith.”*

That fascinates me! I was raised in a church culture that was very focused on justification by faith and moral obedience, so the idea of having my Christian faith expressed as “becoming like God”—that through Christ’s work and the Father’s love and the Spirit’s presence/power, I am being made more and more like God (2 Peter 1:4)—this still feels like a very strange thing but also a beautiful thing! Does anyone else identify with this?

*The Doctrine of God: A Global Introduction, p.72

I found a couple of helpful blog posts when I was googling “theosis.” I’m including the links here in case anyone would want to explore further. Both are very readable.

https://www.orthodoxroad.com/understanding-theosis/

https://interruptingthesilence.com/2011/07/09/theosis-the-human-vocation/

 

THOUGHT 3: Three reading suggestions on the Trinity

I am reading Trinity Matters: In Faith, Work, & Love (…and even theology) by Steve Dancause right now. If you are at all interested in reading about the Trinity, I highly recommend Dancause’s book, along with Darrell Johnson’s Experiencing the Trinity and Michael Reeves’ Delighting in the Trinity. All are readable, filled with joy, and concerned with concrete implications and applications for followers of Jesus—both individually and corporately.

Here are just a few quotes from the first few pages of Dancause’s book to whet your appetite.

“If we don’t deep down trust that Jesus is God alongside the Father, then why would we obey his commands? For example, why would we love our enemies—an extremely difficult thing to do—when it is easier to model our treatment of enemies on Old Testament passages that we find easier? And if we don’t believe that the Holy Spirit is God alongside the Father and the Son, then why would we submit to the Spirit’s desire to transform us?”(230/3415, Kindle edition)

“The Church faces catastrophic decline in the developed West. Even in areas where some churches seem to be thriving, our general reputation is woeful. Why? Because we (the Church in Western society as a whole) don’t follow the teachings of Jesus as paramount. We prefer sectarian politics, sacred tribalism, legalism, academic philosophy, or a health-and-wealth gospel over a radical faith in Jesus who is God and perfectly reveals God’s character. We have settled for weak views of the Trinity.” (238/3415)

“If we have seen the Father, it is because we have seen him through the Son, and if we have received the Holy Spirit, it is through the faith of, and our faith in, the Son. There is simply no better place to find God than in Jesus. In Jesus, we are invited into the life of the triune God who exists as an eternal act of perfect love. In Jesus we see clearly not only what God looks like, but also what true humanity looks like. Since Jesus is fully human, sin, separation, and death no longer define human nature for those who are in Christ. Jesus is indeed more human than we are opening the way for us to live into our own human fullness.” (292)

 

#trinityclassns

More thoughts on the Trinity

two pups

This picture is of our two young rescue dogs, who don’t always get along this well, but we’re working on their full “reconciliation” 🙂

FIRST THOUGHT

For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human. For our sake he was crucified under Pointius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. from the Nicene Creed

Torrance (in The Christian Doctrine of God) writes, “The incarnation of the eternal Word and Son of God is to be understood … in an essentially soteriological way. Divine revelation and atoning reconciliation take place inseparably together in the life and work of the incarnate Son of God…” This rescue mission involved SO much! We needed to KNOW God. We needed to know our need. We needed to be reconciled to God, to be made at-one with God, at-one with each other. We needed to be saved from and saved to. All This—worked in and through the incarnation of the Son of God.

 

SECOND THOUGHT

A few weeks I told all my children’s groups the story of Jesus in the temple at age 12. He, his parents, and others from their hometown had traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover at the Temple. When the group left for the homeward journey, Jesus was somehow left behind, and Joseph and Mary, his parents left the group and returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days of searching (I can’t imagine how panicked they must have been), they found him in the temple and Mary fussed at Jesus: “Why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been searching for and very worried!”

Jesus answered, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my father’s house?”

In all but one of the Jesus’ prayers, he calls God “Father.” This address was new, different, intimate. And in the prayer he taught us to pray, we, too, are told to call God, “Our Father.”

Hilary of Poitiers, a bishop during the 300s, writing in reference to Jesus’ high-priestly prayer (“Father … I have finished the work which you gave me to do … I have manifested your Name unto men.”), said this: “The work which the Lord came to do was not to enable you to recognize the omnipotence of God as Creator of all things, but to enable you to know him as the Father of the Son who addresses you … The end and aim of this revelation of the Son is that you should know the Father … Remember that the revelation is not of the Father manifested as God, but of God manifested as the Father.” #trinityclassNS

THIRD THOUGHT

“How abysmal and desperate the lost condition of man is, may be discerned in the fact that it needed nothing short of the Lord God himself to become one with us in our sin and death in order to redeem and save mankind.” The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being Three Persons by Thomas F. Torrance, p. 142

Several years ago, a couple of lovely older women knocked on my door. They’d come to talk with me about God—their beliefs about God. The conversation stayed on areas of agreement for a few minutes, but then Jesus came up: specifically, who Jesus was. Our volume stayed low, the tone of our dialogue was kind, but we were definitely of different opinions about Jesus. Still the exchange was cordial, even though one of the women was listing in rapid fire verses that she felt supported her view that Jesus was not truly divine. He was an exalted human. I had a few verses “at the ready,” so to speak, but I didn’t want to get into a tit-for-tat battle. I said a few things, and then held off for a couple minutes, letting her speak. An overwhelming feeling began rising in me, almost physical in its intensity, and when it burst out of me in words, I was surprised. “I just don’t see what a human savior is going to do for me! I need something greater than that! I need God himself to save me!” I don’t remember actually thinking those words before I said them; they just came out. It wasn’t angry, it sounded kind of desperate. We were all startled, and after the other woman talked a bit more, she said they needed to move on. I asked them to please visit again soon, but I never saw them after that. 

Two questions:

-What’s a time you’ve been very aware that your need for salvation/rescue is so great it could only be done by God himself?

-If you’ve had conversation with people who don’t accept the full divinity of Jesus, how have you responded well?

 

**Did you notice the hashtags in the above post? If you’re on Instagram, check out #trinityclassns. You’ll find LOTS of posts on the Trinity, written by my classmates in our Trinity class at Northern Seminary, which is taught by the wonderful Dr. Cherith Fee Nordling.

to live by the Spirit

“…for Paul ‘knowing God’ comes by way of ‘knowing Christ’ (cf. 2 Cor. 4:6); and ‘knowing Christ’ comes by way of ‘the Spirit’s wisdom and revelation’ (Eph. 1:17). At the heart of all this is Paul’s conviction that Christian life means to ‘live by, walk in, be led by’ the Spirit. Living the life of the Spirit means for the Spirit to bear his fruit in our individual and corporate lives; and that fruit is nothing other than God’s character, as lived out by Christ, being reproduced in his people.

“Hence to be a Trinitarian of the Pauline kind means to be a person of the Spirit; for it is through the Spirit’s indwelling that we know God and Christ relationally, and through the same Spirit’s indwelling that we are being transformed into God’s own likeness ‘from glory to glory’ (2 Cor. 3:18)” (“Paul and the Trinity: The Experience of Christ and the Spirit for Paul’s Understanding of God” by Gordon Fee, 71-72).

I remember sitting in a women’s Bible study when I was in my late 30s & lamenting the fact that I was trying SO very hard but I didn’t see any increase of the fruit of the Spirit in my life. In my day-to-day life of parenting four young children, I felt more frustration, anger, & tension than joy, peace, & gentleness. One older woman patted my hand and said, “You need to have more time away from the children,” & several others nodded their heads. But I knew the children weren’t the issue.

I’ve often wished I could go back to myself as a young mom—or even earlier than that—& tell her that her understanding of the Trinity was a great part of the problem. The Spirit as an actual person of the Trinity was not real to her, so she generally assumed the work of sanctification had been given to her much like homework in a distance education course. At regular intervals she was supposed to check-in to give a progress report, resulting in feelings of either shame or pleasure (generally shame) at her progress (or lack of it).

But to know the Spirit as a Person, a Person constantly present in her life—IN her like breath in her lungs, constant and life-giving; as the One who joyously offers wisdom, who comforts her in the difficulties of life and doesn’t see them as “small”; as the One who gladly takes on the work of forming fruit in her life and who longs to help her experience the glory-to-glory of knowing, more and more deeply, the beautiful love of God for her and the entire world…

She had no deep knowing of this, of the Spirit’s presence with her.

I wish she had, but as I look back at that woman, I SEE the work and presence of the Spirit in her life. I see fruit and growth and an expanding heart.

I see the Spirit at work even when she was unaware.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of our God and the fellowship–the communion and intimate friendship–of the Holy Spirit be with you all–with US all.

Amen

NOTE: This post is from a series of assignments I am doing for a class on the Trinity that I am taking at Northern Seminary. (It’s AWESOME!!!) Each week classmates and I post reading reflections on Instagram. If you’re interested in checking out more thoughts on the Trinity, go on Instagram and search using the hashtag #trinityclassNS (or just click on the link!)

*The quotes at the beginning of this post are from an article by Gordon Fee (his daughter, Dr. Cherith Fee Nordling is teaching the class) in which he is exploring the Trinity in Paul’s writings. Here are a couple more from that same article that I want to share.

“God sends the Son who redeems; God sends the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, so that we may realize God’s ‘so great salvation’—and the experienced evidence of all this is the Spirit of the Son prompting us to use the language of the Son in our own relationship with God” (56)

“…salvation in Christ is not simply a theological truth, predicated in God’s prior action and the historical work of Christ. Salvation is an experienced reality, made so by the person of the Spirit coming into our lives. One simply cannot be a Christian in any Pauline sense without the effective work of God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” (57)

“Fundamental to Paul’s Judaism is that God’s people are expected to ‘know God,’ which of course has little to do with doctrinal articulation and everything to do with knowing God relationally, in terms of his character and nature. Paul carries this fundamental understanding with him, but insists on putting it into perspective: our knowing is preceded by God’s ‘knowing us’ (Gal. 4:9; cf. I Cor. 13:12). (71).