Friday, February 22, 2013

The Scriptures Must First Make Us Miserable

From the pen of Richard Rohr:

When the Scriptures are used maturely, they proceed in this order:

1. They confront us with a bigger picture than we are used to: “God’s kingdom” that has the potential to “deconstruct” our false and smaller kingdoms.

2. They then have the power to convert us to an alternative worldview by proclamation, grace, and the sheer attraction of the good, the true, and the beautiful (not by shame, guilt, or fear which are low-level motivations, but which operate more quickly and so churches often resort to them).

3. They then console us and bring deep healing as they “reconstruct” us in a new place with a new mind and heart. If you seek consolation as the first meaning of a Biblical text, you never get very far, because the small self or ego is still directing the mind and heart. As many have said before me, the truth will set you free, but first it must make you miserable.

Adapted from Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr, pp. 64-65.

What I love about this teaching is that it describes our experience as Christians really well in coming to the Scriptures as both fallen and justified (in Christ). In order for us to receive grace and resurrection life, we must first be deconstructed and killed – every day. My Lutheran friends would rightly point out that this is the purpose of the Law. Law must kill us before grace can resurrect us.

Let us not fool ourselves in thinking that we are always fans of the biblical text; indeed, deeply vast areas within us are still enemies of grace and die-hard rebels against God’s word. It is scandalous to have to admit that this will likely be the case until we die, but we must assert that we will never be fully cured of our God-hating rebellion in this life.

We must become aware of the “self” that we bring to the text of Scripture. This continues to be one of the biggest weaknesses in the evangelical, Baptist, Reformed circles in which I run. What we are unaware of will surely rule us. It is not just “proof-texting” we need to be wary of (going to the Scriptures just to prove ourselves right on something), but also our endlessly subtle attempts to manipulate God and his word for our ends. We must always, always, always remember that God is first; His word comes first and we respond; we must remember that we never “master” the Scriptures, they master us. They read us more than we read them! Let us listen to this divine reading, becoming aware of what motivations and affections are at work within us even in our attempts to know God better (especially here).

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 ESV)

So, you have a quiet time? Why? For what purpose? What are you seeking? What do you want? Are you trying to prove something? Are you trying to convince God, yourself, or others that you’re more godly than you actually are? Get real. Most of the time you and I come to the Scriptures, we’re handling them falsely. You may think that I am too pessimistic, but I don’t think so. Only the real you can encounter the real God. Everything else is false self catering to a false god.

But even here, especially here, there is grace for us. The “God who is there and is not silent” will continue to pursue us, continue to speak to us until we learn to listen. I mean really listen. Shut up and listen. Grace is speaking, and if heard can lift your corpse up from the grave with a lightning surge of resurrection power, birthing new thoughts and affections that literally were not there a second earlier. This is the regular Christian life! Welcome to new creation.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Luther Speaks

I have always loved Martin Luther. His insight into the gospel and his honesty living as a human before God have always compelled me to listen. I wrote a church history paper on him in Bible College calling him the “John Wayne” of church history! He died on this date back in 1546, so I thought it fitting to jot down a few of his thoughts.

Here is a prayer he prayed reflecting on the Lord’s Prayer:

O Father, it is indeed true that we cannot be strong by our own power. How can we stand before your might if you do not yourself strengthen and comfort us? Therefore, dear Father, embrace us, accomplish your will in us, that we may be your kingdom to your praise and glory. But, dear Father, strengthen us in this life with your holy word. Give us our daily bread. Establish in our hearts your dear Son Jesus Christ who is the true bread of heaven. Sustained by him, we may gladly bear and suffer the breaking and the dying of our own will and the fulfilling of your will. Give grace to all your churches. Send us educated pastors and preachers who will not give us the crumbs and chaff of foolish fables, but who will teach us your holy gospel and lead us to Jesus Christ. Amen.

Here are a few of his more choice insults for his opponents:

You know less than does a log on the ground.

Must we believe your nightmares?

You are full of poisonous refuse and insane foolishness.

See this wonderful site for more!

Friday, February 08, 2013

Living the Questions

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now.” (Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, 1934)

I love this quote, because it reminds me that it’s only when we live and love the questions that we become safe places for others who are questioning as well. If suffering does anything in our lives, it produces questions, questions and more questions!

This also points out why God frequently withholds answers to our questions – we are not ready to live them. Being “ready to live them” implies we can handle the answers without assuming that it doesn’t imply that we are in control. God lets us live in the questions because they keep us in a healthy state of dependence, disillusioned of all our independence and control.

When we hate questions we either avoid them altogether in jaded skepticism, or seek to drown them out in prematurely constructed answers. Often we won’t know where we are in relation to questions until someone comes to us with their own questions. Are we patient with them? Do we rush to answer their questions before listening to them ourselves, and the God who dwells there?

It must be said that loving questions does not mean there are no answers. We have God’s revelation in Holy Scripture, where he has revealed everything we need to know for a life of salvation. But too often we assume that God’s revelation silences all questions, when in reality it provides a place for us to take our questions, especially the ones without answers. God hasn’t revealed everything; just everything we need to know for salvation. There is obvious tension and irony here.

Ultimately the reason we need to learn to live and love the questions is because questions point to the irony that is at the heart of all human existence – the foolishness of God hanging on a Cross. The ultimate unanswered question is “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46 ESV). I still don’t know how to answer that.

Let us not rush to answer questions too quickly. Let us marinate in them, listening and watching for our Jesus who loves to dwell with us in all our unfinished places. His grace covers all questions and answers, and may this bring peace to all our chaos today.

[EDIT]: just after I posted this, I came across this very relevant quote from Rich Mullins (posted on the Rich Mullins Film FB page):

“The Bible is not a book for the faint of heart -- it is a book full of all the greed and glory and violence and tenderness and sex and betrayal that benefits mankind. It is not the collection of pretty little anecdotes mouthed by pious little church mice -- it does not so much nibble at our shoe leather as it cuts to the heart and splits the marrow from the bone. It does not give us answers fitted to our small-minded questions, but truth that goes beyond what we even know to ask.” (Rich Mullins)

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Drink Christ

I will be reviewing a book on the public reading of Scripture in the next few weeks, so I’ve been thinking a lot about the act of reading Scripture. I came across this quote today from the church father Ambrose of Milan and wanted to share it!

Drink Christ because he is the vine; drink Christ because he is the rock that poured out water. Drink Christ because he is the fountain of life; drink Christ because he is the river whose running waters give joy to the city of God, and because he is peace, and because out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. Drink Christ to drink the blood which redeemed you; drink Christ to drink his words: the Old Testament is his word; the New Testament is his word. Holy Scripture is drunk and swallowed when the power of the eternal Word penetrates the depths of the mind and the virtue of the soul. In short, we do not live by bread alone, but by every word of God. Drink this word, but according to its own order. Drink it first in the Old Testament; then hasten to drink it also in the New.

Ambrose of Milan (c. 337-397): On Psalm 1, 33 (CSEL 64:28-30)

I like this description because it says two things: 1) when we read Scripture, it is possible to drink Christ and of his living water; 2) there is a definite canonical order to pay attention to in progressive revelation (old to new). Reading the Old does slake thirst, but not like the New. We need both in order to drink Christ.