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

Let me let you

dry flower 5Normal morning, but my boys’ running around/picking at each other/roughhousing scraped my nerves way more than usual, and I shot sparks like a cat whose fur has been rubbed backwards. “Can’t you take it outside?” I grumped. They subdued—momentarily. Then it all repeated, and I hollered, and they finally settled—sort of.
But my nerves were still prickling, and I could tell it wasn’t going to take much to set me off again, so after rough pecks on my boys’ cheeks and gruff reminders: “I still love you even when you’re driving me crazy, even when I fuss,” I pulled out Jesus Calling (the kids’ version) and read it aloud to all of us.
I could have stopped after the verse: “Then I will ask the Father to send you the Holy Spirit who will help you and always be with you,” but the second paragraph amped up the lesson with this: “…you may be tempted to go it alone. But that is when you are in the greatest danger. The evil one is waiting for you to let your guard down, to step away from My protection. Ask My Spirit to help you every step of the way—during hard times and easy
times.”
The kids’ ride pulled up as I read the last sentence, and they rushed out the door, and I turned to all the tasks that must get done this morning before I can sit and read and write—the other tasks that must get done before I pick up dry flower 2the kids from school and another sort of tasks begin.
I’d forgotten the lesson already. I hadn’t given it even a second to soak in, to penetrate my mood and my heart.
I zoomed from fridge to stove to sink, moving quickly, my thoughts zooming as well till I suddenly realized where my thoughts had gone.
I was bringing up little ways I felt slighted by people in my life. I was revving up to have a good old pity party, a time of “woe is me” while my physical movements would only get faster and I’d be left feeling worn out but also itchy.
Does anyone else do that?
The Spirit brought me up short—I know it sure wasn’t me—and I recognized what I was doing. Still I resisted.
Then this phrase jumped into my mind. “Let me let you rest.”
“Let me let you”?
dry flower 4The phrase stopped me. I got the first part: “Let me…” Yes, I was being stubborn. I needed to stop and let the Holy Spirit do Spirit work in my soul.
But the second part? “…let you”?
I left the kitchen, looked up “let,” and found these definitions:allow to, permit to, give permission to, give leave to, authorize to, sanction to, grant the right to, license to, empower to,enable to, entitle to.”
I bolded the ones above that made my shoulders and my will relax.
Let me let you rest.
The tasks still await me. But though my hands may be busy, my heart can be still.
I have been allowed, permitted, granted the right, empowered, enabled, and entitled to rest in the Presence of Christ.

Open Doors link

I simply have to share this story published by Open Doors, an organization that empowers and supports persecuted Christians worldwide. The title of the story is “Iranian Jailer Transformed because of Faithful Prisoner.”

Noushin (name changed for safety), a house church leader in Iran, was terrified she would be imprisoned for her faith. She was afraid she would buckle under duress and reveal the names of her fellow believers or deny Christ. But when she was imprisoned, she experienced the peace and direction of the Holy Spirit in ways that amazed not only her but the man who interrogated her.

Please follow the link above to read the entire story, and if you’re a follower of Christ, remember He is in YOU as well. You have the same Holy Spirit indwelling you.

Living Confessionally, Part 4: Inviting the Holy Spirit’s Conviction

I’ve had two recent conversations about confession. In both the other person told me they are often not sure what to confess. They want a specific recognition of sin in their lives beyond the “we have not loved (God) with our whole heart/We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves.” The prayer of confession* also refers to sinning against God in “thoughts, words, and deeds” and by “what we have done” and “left undone.” What, in particular, are these—and how do we become more aware of them in our lives?

It’s generally not too difficult to recognize when we commit one of the “big” sins: an outright lie; a lustful thought; an outburst of anger; blatant, hurtful gossip, etc.** But the less obvious ones, the ones that pop up like weeds from our inherent self-focus/self-love, are often overlooked. Our bishop at Church of the Resurrection, Stewart Ruch, calls self-love/focus the “seed of sin.” It’s a very prolific seed, and the “small” sins it sprouts are harmful, no less harmful than the “big” ones. But they are also insidious (I love that word—it actually sounds evil!), working subtly and gradually. Many of them can even disguise themselves as something culture sees as good (like selfish ambition). How can we recognize these in our lives?

A couple of verses from the Psalms have been a great help for me as I’ve thought about this problem. Psalm 139 opens with these lines: “You have searched me, LORD, and you know me.” It goes on to show how intimate this knowledge is and the section ends with this statement: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” This “knowledge” is about me—ME! God’s knowledge of me is far, far greater than my own knowledge of myself. He knows me in ways I am completely unable to know myself. That can seem terrifying—but it’s actually very, very helpful. Each of us has major blind spots in our lives; we can point out faults in others but remain unable to see the very same sins in ourselves. Psalm 19:12 says, “…who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults.” The last two verses in Psalm 139 say, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” In the New Living Translation that last verse reads, “Point out anything in me that offends you”; the Message paraphrases it “Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about;”.

I’ve discovered the Holy Spirit really does answer that prayer and does so in very gracious, gentle ways—in exactly the ways that make me recognize and face my sin without completely crushing me. The Spirit is also incredibly creative in this process: I’ve become aware of insidious sin in my life through a particular word that keeps popping up in my mind, through sermons I’ve listened to, books I’ve read (even fiction), my children’s struggles…

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord.***

*The first blog post in this series has the prayer of confession in its entirety.

**It can be helpful to simply read some of the lists of sins in Scripture and ask the Spirit to reveal those in our lives. Here are links to some of them: Galatians 5:19-21, Colossians 3:5-6, Proverbs 6:16-19.

***This is the Collect for Purity from the Book of Common Prayer.

Lessons from my children

DSC_1377It was a Saturday morning after a late Friday night. Husband out of town. Schedule packed with kids’ activities and cleaning my messy house (I don’t mind laundry or dishes, but whole-house cleaning brings out my nasty).

I was still in bed but mentally working through my to-do list when I heard my younger three coming down the stairs. I hopped out of bed… and discovered I’d gotten up on the wrong side.

I was grumpy—from the get-go!

They came in with iPad in hand, a Youtube Disney music video blaring.

More grumpy. “Can’t you guys start off the day with a book or a game? Why do you have to go straight to screen time?”

“We’ll just watch this one video, and then we’ll be done, Mom.”

I grunted my assent and went upstairs to begin de-cluttering so I could then clean.

Five minutes.

iPad still going.

Ten minutes.

iPad still going.

Deeper grumpiness, and the homework-and-craft-covered dining room table wasn’t improving my mood.

I stomped downstairs. “I told you guys to stop watching videos after that first one.”

Wide, innocent eyes. “It’s the same video, Mom.”

I looked at the screen, and, yes, it was the same 36-minute long Youtube video.

“You knew I didn’t mean you could watch a video that’s more than a half hour long!”

Still wide-eyed.

“Seriously!”

Suddenly one of my sons was right in front of me. He put his arms around my neck and held his face up for a kiss.

And, honest to goodness, this is what came out of my mouth. “I don’t want a kiss right now. I’m trying to fuss at you and your brother and sister.”

Seriously!

More encouragement from one of my kids. Em hung these creations of hers on the fridge yesterday. Such good reminders.

More encouragement from one of my kids. Em hung these creations of hers on the fridge yesterday. Such good reminders.

That was when the Holy Spirit smacked me upside the head.

What I’d said sunk in, and I looked down into the face of the son who is getting a lot better at reading my moods—and who wants to fix me when I clearly display my brokenness.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart. You’re right. I do want a kiss.”*

I said my “sorry”s for my grumpiness, got my kids doing something more productive than watching videos (though they would certainly disagree with my evaluation), and went back to straightening.

But though I was more aware and cautious of my mood, I was still in it.

When I went upstairs to check on how Maddie was doing at cleaning her room, she asked me, “Mom, would you want to have devotions with me?”**

Another Holy Spirit moment: I answered, “Mads, that’s a great idea.”

We read it together on her bed.

Then we looked at each other. “That was exactly what I needed to hear,” I told her. “Thank you.”

She nodded wisely. “That happens a lot for me, too.”

In one morning I received the kiss of forgiveness and the olive branch of restoration.

Oh, the lessons I learn from my children.

 

*The reason I didn’t use a name for this child is that he is at the age when he doesn’t want too much affection in public (“Only side hugs, please, Mom.) and doesn’t want to be called “honey,” “sweetheart,” or “baby” unless it’s inside the walls of our home. So if you’re reading this and you actually know my family, don’t mention this story to any of my kids and please don’t repeat it to any kids they know. If you do, my days of hugging my son may be over for a really long time. 

**We gave Maddie the kids’ version of Jesus Calling for Easter. I highly recommend it for kids aged about 8 and up. I used it a couple years ago with high school students, and many of them still preferred the kid version over the adult one.

A poem (though I’m NOT a poet!)

Though I did nothing to produce the flame,

I want to “contribute,”

so I pile on “good works,” busy-ness, “rightness”

till the fire nearly smothers.

The result: a smoldering smudge

that burns my eyes, sears my nostrils—

All the “good” doing no Good at all

And my vision is bound by Self.

I “do” more, petition with frantic edges, praise with listless duty

and, deep down, miss the pure flame

utterly outside my power to create.

I arrive weary at Christmas Eve service,

just in time to see the bishop wave the incense,

sending up wisps of white

that fade from sight but waft sweet scent—

even to my row near the back.

“Nothing magical,” the bishop explains.

“Just a symbol of the psalmist’s cry,

‘Let my prayer be set before You as incense.’”

I breathe deep and wonder-

What could transform my smoldering smudge

To this?

I examine the Psalm and find no commands to

do, work, fix.

Instead, verbs requesting action on God’s part,

Not mine.

“Set a guard,” “Do not let…” “Leave me not.”

“I cry out to You,” the songwriter begins.

And ends, “My eyes are upon You.”

Such kind deliverance.

The truth releases me to

Receive,

Listen,

I sense Holy Spirit hovering.

Wing beats unceasing

fan buried flame

lift the wordless wail.

Set free in stillness,

The Hallowed wind sweeps me

To the edge of myself

And I fall

Deep into the intercession of

Pierced-flesh-and-spilt-blood.

Flame–and incense–rise.

NOTES: 1. If anyone reading this is a poet and has suggestions (and would be willing to share them), I would LOVE to hear them. 2. Because I don’t really feel this is “finished,” I didn’t record this one.

Resting Place

No connection to today's post--I just like the look of joy on Mad's face!

No connection to today’s post–I just like the look of joy on Mad’s face.

I went to a women’s service at our church yesterday. For two days I’d wrestled with a strange melancholy. I’d tried and tried to understand it, but couldn’t. I’d searched my soul, confessed the self-focus I saw, and asked the Holy Spirit to reveal other issues. I’d looked at the level of my mommy martyrdom—yes, there was some, but it wasn’t high enough to explain my strange sadness. I thought of things going on around me: my renewed research on sex trafficking, a friend going through a very difficult time, the transition to being a mom of a teenager…

Nothing jumped forward as a principal cause.

I tried reminding myself that others were dealing with horrible losses and troubles. They had real reason to be sad. I did not.

That didn’t help.

Is it all right to sometimes not know the reasons for our lows? Is it all right to simply be sad sometimes without clear cause?

I think it might be, if only because of the ways the Lord ministered to me yesterday morning without my ever learning the why and what of my mood.

The speaker for our service had chosen II Chronicles 20 as the text. King Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah knew a great enemy was coming against them. They chose not to trust in their own might or in the might of allies. Instead, they turned to God. They fasted and prayed and cried, and finally Jehoshaphat stood in front of his people and said, “Oh, Lord, we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (vs. 12b).

Well, I’m not really faced with a decision right now, but the not-knowing certainly fits me right now, I thought.

At the close of the service, we sang “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say” by Horatius Bonar, one of my favorite hymn writers.

I heard the voice of Jesus say

Come unto Me and rest

Lay down thy weary one

Lay down thy head upon My breast

I came to Jesus as I was

Weary, worn, and sad

I found in Him a resting place

And He has made me glad.

It was as if the Holy Spirit whispered the words to my heart. Weary?—yes. Worn and sad?—yes, yes. I didn’t know why (still don’t) and that’s all right.

Because, finally, when I rested and simply said, “I’m sad, Lord. I don’t know why. Here’s my sorrow,” He gave rest to my soul.

And He made me glad.

*The second and third stanzas of the hymn are truly beautiful as well. Here’s the link. And if you’d like to hear/sing it, here’s a Youtube video with words and music.

Holy Spirit Help

Yesterday a friend and I were emailing back and forth about the idea of applying the “Opposite technique” (last blog post) to our prayer life—and to our “doing” lives as well—and she wrote this: How are we to do that? We cannot give what we don’t have. I personally churn negative/yucky/critical/judgmental/poopie thoughts all day long, um… why cannot I churn the OPPOSITE?!

Later I read that day’s devotional from Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon. This is part of what he wrote:

All that the believer has must come from Christ, but it comes solely through the channel of the Spirit of grace. Moreover, as all blessings thus flow to you through the Holy Spirit, so also no good thing can come out of you in holy thought, devout worship, or gracious act, apart from the sanctifying operation of the same Spirit. … Do you desire to speak for Jesus—how can you unless the Holy Ghost touch your tongue? Do you desire to pray? Alas, what dull work it is unless the Spirit makes intercession for you! … Let us do him the due homage of feeling our entire weakness apart from him, and then depending alone upon him…

Hmm. We cannot DO the opposite technique without the power of the Holy Spirit, and first the Spirit must reveal to us that our natural inclination is “yucky” (or “poopie,” your choice!).

This reminds me of a visit to a coffee shop last week. I ordered my favorite hot, sweet drink. The barista who made it is the son of a good friend, and when he handed me my cup, he said, “You do not want to know how much bad stuff we put in there! That thing is loaded!”

“Stop!” I told him. “You’re right! I don’t want to know!”

That’s the Spirit’s first job—to reveal to us what we don’t want to know about ourselves.

The problem is that we often think we’re supposed to take it over from there.

But the rest of the transformation—the thinking/doing the opposite of our natural inclinations, is ALSO the Spirit’s job.

To which I say, Hallelujah!

O God, send forth your Holy Spirit into my heart that I may perceive, into my mind that I may remember, and into my soul that I may meditate. Inspire me to speak with piety, holiness, tenderness and mercy. Teach, guide and direct my thoughts and senses from beginning to end. May your grace ever help and correct me, and may I be strengthened now with wisdom from on high, for the sake of your infinite mercy. Amen. -a prayer by Saint Anthony of Padua

Pondering Philippians 1:6, part 2

Just a fun picture of PJ and Chai. She is so patient! One of the girls--I think Kelly--took this picture.

Just a fun picture of PJ and Chai. She is so patient! One of the girls–I think Kelly–took this picture.

One day last week, I threw the ingredients for bread into the mixing bowl of my bread machine and hit the start button for the dough cycle. Two hours later the machine finished its work and I lifted the lid, ready to punch down the risen dough and form it for its second rise.

But I’d forgotten to add yeast. The dough, flat and sodden, lay at the bottom of the mixing bowl.
I am often like that dough, struggling to rise but lacking the power. I am full of desires to do more and be more, but when I try to figure out the “what” or “how” on my own, I either slip into despair at my inability and failures OR I get puffed up over my itty-bitty accomplishments (until I eventually I fail and then fall into despair.)
But all was not lost for the sodden dough in my bread machine. I added the yeast and started the machine again. Two hours later the top of it bounced when I touched it, and an hour after that, light, fluffy rolls made my kitchen smell wonderful!
And all is not lost for me! When I strive-and-fail, strive-and-fail, I forget this truth: I was NEVER meant to provide the power for my growth; the Holy Spirit is my yeast! The Spirit provides the power to rise!
Jude verse 24 is another verse that reminds me that GOD is the one who holds me. I chose to use the Amplified version of Jude 24 for this blog entry because it uses the word “falling” (it’s in bold—my emphasis) and that seemed appropriate:
“Now to Him Who is able to keep you without stumbling  or slipping or falling, and to present [you] unblemished (blameless and faultless) before the presence of His glory in triumphant joy and exultation [with unspeakable, ecstatic delight]—
25 To the one only God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory (splendor), majesty, might  and dominion, and power and authority, before all time and now and forever (unto all the ages of eternity). Amen (so be it).”
Isn’t that awesome! My own desires to be more/do more–there is no way they can compare with Christ’s goals for me! He says he want to present me before the Father faultless and in ecstatic delight! And He reminds me that He is ABLE to do just that.
HE is able! Not me!
His Spirit–the Comforter–is with me (John 14:16, 26).
And THAT is why I can be confident that God will complete the work He has begun in me (Philippians 1:6).