Deuteronomy 30:16-20 "For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him."
The name of the book, Deuteronomy, literally means “second law”, but it is not a new law. Nor is it simply a rehash of the first law. It is a re-giving of the first law from Sinai, but something different is at play. Deuteronomy does not simply repeat the Ten Commandments or the holiness codes; it seems to have an entirely different agenda. It’s not new, but it’s not a repeat. Deuteronomy is interpretive. It is “preached law”. It’s the old law for a new context.
Time and again Moses found himself in a new context, in unchartered territory trying to lead God's people. In our text Moses finds himself standing on the far side of the Jordan River, waiting to cross over, preparing to give his last sermon to his people. In fact, Moses is about to deliver some of the last words spoken just before his death.
Think about the importance of that moment. The Israelites had just emerged from the rule of a brutal dictator, wandered in the desert for forty days and nights, and were now standing on the shores of the Promised Land. It was a second chance, a new day for their people. On this historic occasion, Moses preaches a fiery message to his people, ending with one of the best big bring-it-home sermon lines of all time: Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.
Let's look at that sentence a little closer, because I believe it contains one of the core principles of Christianity. Choose life, Moses said. While doing some research I came across a short story. It's about a friend of the commentator, who was about to commit suicide, and decided instead to open her Bible, at random, and found this passage. When she read, “Choose life”, she decided to do so, and claims she is only alive because of this passage of scripture. The commentator of course says that this isn’t the primary model of how to approach scripture, but it does go a long way to show us what is at stake in our text today.
Our passage here is about choosing God—for the sake of our future, for the sake of our children's future, for the sake of the world’s future. The decision Moses is demanding of Israel is the decision Scripture elsewhere calls faith. Part of what Moses is saying here is: The people can choose to obey God's law or not obey it - there is no middle ground offered. You're either for God, or against him. You're either in-Christ, or you're not.
The New Testament confirms this concept in 1 John 2:6, where the writer says, "By this we know we are in Him: whoever claims to abide in Him must walk as Jesus walked." So, in his last sermon, first and foremost, Moses reminds the people that they can worship the Lord or they can worship something else - and there are plenty of other idols out there in the world to worship. What they must not do, however, is worship the Lord and something else. For to worship anything other than God is to "turn away" from the Lord. (vs. 17)
Either God is the one and only God, or you are worshipping one of the other little gods and goddesses. Choose the God who has lead you to the promised land, Moses is saying, not the crazy idols the Canaanites worship in the land where the children of Israel were headed. As Moses warned earlier in Deuteronomy 29:17, "You have seen their filthy idols of wood and stone, of silver and of gold. And it may be that there is among you...someone whose heart is already turning away." In other words, stay away from all the other idols and everything will be just fine.
That is good advice for us too. We may not have a giant golden calf in our home but we do have things that we idolize or covet or prioritize over God's teachings; it happens to the best of us, we are human, but sadly it happens more often in our world today than it should. We all have our golden calf (things we think give us life and joy and sustenance). But Moses tells us that these things do not lead to life. That in fact they can lead to destruction. Idols can be powerful, controlling, influential things.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our life and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming."
Someone asked me once why I paint so many houses and cottages with warm, glowing windows. At first I didn't know what to say. After all, how does an artist explain why he paints what he does?
I've thought a lot about that question, though, and now I think I have an answer. I paint glowing windows because glowing windows say home to me. Glowing windows say welcome. They say all is well. They say that someone's waiting, someone cares enough to turn a light on.
For a person like me, who grew up in a single-parent household and often had to come home to an empty house, that "someone's home" glow is irresistible. It draws the eye like a brightly wrapped present, a promise of wonderful secrets inside. Can you see a brightly lit window without even the smallest urge to go peek in, to see what the people are doing and what their lives are like? I can't either.
~ Thomas Kinkade
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5).
The salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time?
In this text Peter mentions two concepts, two ideas that existed in the environmental fabric of New Testament thinking. The New Testament frequently speaks of the last days, or the last time. The background of this thinking comes primarily from the Jewish idea of time. According to the biblical scholar F. F. Bruce, the Jewish mindset divided all time into two ages. There was this present age, which is altogether bad and altogether under the dominion of evil; and there was the age to come, which will be the golden age of God. In between there was the day of the Lord during which the world would be destroyed and remade, and when judgment would come.
It is this "in-between-time" which is the last days, or the last time. When the New Testament speaks of the last days and the last time, it is speaking of that time when time and the world as we know them will come to an end. Simply put: Christ will return, time will end, the judgment has come (John 5:28-29). We must always remember that no one, no matter how religious or intelligent they seem, knows when that time will be, nor what will actually happen. But we can gather together what the New Testament does say about the last times.
The early Christians believed that they were already living in the last days. "It is the last time," said John to his people (I John 2:18). The writer of Hebrews speaks of the fullness of the revelation which has come, in the last days, through his Son (Hebrews 1:2). As the first Christians saw it, God had already invaded time, and the end was quickening. The last times were to be times of the pouring out of God's Spirit upon men (Acts 2:17). Yet another prophecy the early Christians found true on the day of Pentecost.
We have been living, you see, in the last days for over two thousand years now; faithfully waiting for the return of the Lord that "will come like a thief in the night" (1 Thessalonians 5:2). And it is that, and nothing less than that, to which Christians should focus attention when discussing and considering the end times. Salvation (in Christ) has been revealed to the world and has given us, in this last time, a living hope—an inheritance kept in heaven for you (and me). Amen!
Quite often we hear people say, "I'm unhappy," as though happiness were the object, or purpose, of life. It isn't, nor can it be. Happiness is an effect, a by-product of something else.
Happiness generally comes most often to productive and creative people when they have found and are engaged in work in which they can lose themselves. We are usually happiest when we are unaware of our happiness. We'll be busily engaged in something that demands our full attention and best talents and suddenly discover, during a pause in the work, that several hours have passed in which we've been completely unaware of the passage of time and our surroundings. And, if we think about it, we'll realize that we were living close to the peak during that time and that we were in a very high array of happiness.
Happiness comes when we are doing something for others, too. On Christmas morning, our joy or our happiness can be at a very high level, not because of our anticipation of what we might receive but, rather, in anticipation of watching our loved ones open our gifts to them.
So if we can remember that we are happiest when we are doing things for others, when we are busiest, and after we have accomplished something worthwhile, we need never be unhappy again, at least not for long. We need only find a project on which to work, or put in a good hard day doing those things that need to be done, or find a way to do something for others. Then happiness, like a butterfly, will come and land on our sleeve.
Happiness is not the purpose of life. It is a by-product of losing ourselves in our work and of doing things for others. Knowing that, we need never be unhappy again.
~ Earl Nightingale
Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ (Deut. 15:11)
Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (Hebrews 13:16)
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. (John 15:12)
Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. (Phil. 2:4)
When you give to the poor, it is like lending to the Lord, and the Lord will pay you back. (Proverbs 19:17)
Be generous and share your food with the poor. You will be blessed for it. (Proverbs 22:9)
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (Romans 12:13)
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. (Romans 15:1)
If we say we love God, but hate others, we are liars. (1 John 4:20)
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:34)
‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ (Matthew 25:45)
Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same. (Luke 3:11)
If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? (James 2:16)
Parable of the Good Samaritan... and Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise." (Luke 10:25-37)
Do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend orphans and widows. (Isaiah 1:17)
If anyone is poor among you...do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. (Deut. 15:7)
Show mercy and compassion to one another... Do not oppress the foreigner or the poor. (Zech. 7:9-10)
The Lord upholds the cause of the needy. (Psalm 140:12)
Abraham Lincoln’s Address at Gettysburg: Lincoln was president of the United States of America during the Civil War. As a Christian statesman he hated war but believed it necessary to defeat the Southern States which had left the Union. He made this speech at the dedication of a cemetery where those killed in the battle of Gettysburg were buried.
Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place of those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But in a larger sense we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far and above our power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work they have thus far so nobly advanced.
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us, that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that the dead shall not have died in vain, that the nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom, and that the government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
~ Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), Dedicatory Address at Gettysburg Cemetery, 19 November 1863.
No one, when tempted, should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one. But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15)
I would not be surprised if you've never thought of it like this before, but from the beginning of time it has been man's first instinct to blame others for his own wrong doing. The story of the first sin in the Garden of Eden was, from a certain perspective, a first class dive into the psychology of the human heart.
When God challenged Adam with his sin, Adam's reply was, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate" (Genesis 3:12-13). In other words, Adam was saying, "Don't blame me; blame Eve." And Eve was saying, "Don't blame me; blame the serpent." Since the beginning, we have been experts in evasion of responsibility.
Every trial, every external difficulty, carries with it a temptation, an inner enticement to sin. God may bring, or allow, trials; but he is not, James insists, the author of temptation. Enticement to sin comes from our own sinful natures, not from God. 'Sin,' declared G. K. Chesterton, 'is the most demonstrable of all Christian doctrines.' What he meant by that was, we do not need to prove the doctrine of original sin—the evidence is all around us!
James' concern here is to help the followers of Christ resist the temptation that comes along with the trial. For every trial brings temptation. Financial difficulty can tempt us to question God's providence in our lives. The death of a loved one can tempt us to question God's love for us. The suffering of the righteous poor and the lavish lifestyles of the wicked rich can tempt us to question God's justice, or even his existence.
It was not God who wished to do evil to Job, but the devil. “All right,” the Lord said to Satan, “everything he has is in your power, but you must not hurt Job himself” (Job 1:12). Therefore rather than blame God (who gives only good gifts, James 1:17), Christians should look within at their own desires, which make them vulnerable to testing and temptation. God never orchestrates the events of our lives with an intent to lure us away from Himself. He always roots for us to move closer. That's who God is. The purpose of trials is not to drive us away from God, but to draw us closer to Him. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Kindness should not stop with us—we can extend it outward from ourselves, like the ripples on a pond, toward our family, friends, and loved ones. This is relatively natural and effortless. But for loving kindness to be genuine, it cannot just end with the people we know and like; it has to go further, toward those we do not know and even do not like. This includes people we may be having a hard time with, someone with whom communication is difficult, where negative issues have arisen that are pulling the relationship apart, where there is anger, resentment, or dislike.
When we are affected by someone being dismissive, critical, or hurtful, then it is often because there is a hook in us for that tension to grab hold of, a place where it can land that triggers all our hidden feelings of unworthiness, insecurity, doubt, even self-hate. However, when we extend kindness toward others outside our usual circle, an extraordinary thing happens: the landing place, or the hook within, begins to dissolve.
As a Burmese teacher once told author Andrew Harvey, "Out of compassion for myself, let me let go of all these feelings of anger and resentment toward others."
Prejudice can go very deep. It is only healed when we end the war within and accept those parts of ourselves we find so unacceptable. Then we will have the courage to accept those who are different from us, who have different beliefs, who are a different color, or who live differently. When we can tolerate ourselves, then we can be tolerable toward others and extend kindness to all... equally.
As Gandhi said, "We must widen the circle of our love until it embraces the whole village...until the scope of our love encompasses the whole world."
~ Ed and Deb Shapiro
One of the most important questions you can ever ask yourself is, "Do I want to be "right"—or do I want to be happy?" Many times, the two are mutually exclusive.
Being right, defending our positions, takes an enormous amount of mental energy and often alienates us from the people in our lives. Needing to be right—or needing someone else to be wrong--encourages others to become defensive, and puts pressure on us to keep defending. Yet, many of us (me, too, at times) spend a great deal of time and energy attempting to prove (or point out) that we are right—and/or others are wrong. Many people, consciously or unconsciously, believe that it's somehow their job to show others how their positions, statements, and points of view are incorrect, and that in doing so, the person they are correcting is going to somehow appreciate it, or at least learn something. Wrong!
The truth is, all of us hate to be corrected. We all want our positions to be respected and understood by others. Being listened to and heard is one of the greatest desires of the human heart. And those who learn to listen are the most loved and respected. Those who are in the habit of correcting others are often resented and avoided.
It's not that it's never appropriate to be right—sometimes you genuinely need to be or want to be. Perhaps there are certain philosophical positions that you don't want to budge on such as when you hear a racist comment. Here, it's important to speak your mind. Usually, however, it's just your ego creeping in and ruining an otherwise peaceful encounter—a habit of wanting or needing to be right.
A wonderful, heartfelt strategy for becoming more peaceful and loving is to practice allowing others the joy of being right—give them the glory. Stop correcting. As hard as it may be to change this habit, it's worth any effort and practice it takes.
When someone says, "I really feel it's important to. . . " rather than jumping in and saying, "No, it's more important to. . . " or any of the hundreds of other forms of conversational editing, simply let it go and allow their statement to stand. You'll discover the joy of participating in and witnessing other people's happiness, which is far more rewarding than a battle of egos.
~ Richard Carlson
'T is you that are the music, not your song.
The song is but a door which, opening wide,
Lets forth the pent-up melody inside,
Your spirit's harmony, which clear and strong
Sings but of you. Throughout your whole life long
Your songs, your thoughts, your doings, each divide
This perfect beauty; waves within a tide,
Or single notes amid a glorious throng.
The song of earth has many different chords;
Ocean has many moods and many tones
Yet always ocean. In the damp Spring woods
The painted trillium smiles, while crisp pine cones
Autumn alone can ripen. So is this
One music with a thousand cadences.
By Amy Lowell
My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance; and let perseverance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)
What were the "trials" that James's readers were enduring? Poverty must certainly have been among them. James's letter is filled with references to poverty and wealth, and he makes clear that at least the majority of his readers are poor. James 2:6-7 makes pretty clear that unfair persecution was one of the causes of the poverty that the early Christians were experiencing. Rich people, who were "slandering" the name of Christ, were "exploiting" the Christians and "dragging them into court." See also 5:1-6, where James accuses rich people of "hoarding wealth in the last days" and "killing" the "innocent" by withholding wages from them.
By stressing that the trials were of "many kinds," James deliberately casts his net widely, including the many kinds of suffering that Christians undergo in this fallen world: sickness, loneliness, disappointment, mourning, uncertainty. Why can believers react to trials with so strange and unexpected a response as joy? Because we know that trials perfect our faith and make us stronger.
I like what Luke Timothy Johnson, a New Testament scholar and historian of early Christianity, points out about the trials we face: "The difficulties of life are intended by God to refine our faith—heating it in the crucible of suffering so that impurities might be refined away and so that it might become pure and valuable before the Lord." The "testing of faith" here, then, is not intended to determine whether a person has faith or not—it is intended to purify faith that already exists.
Testing produces, first of all, perseverance (also interpreted "patient endurance"). The picture of the Greek word here is of a person successfully carrying a heavy load for a long time; eventually steering
them in the right direction. Like a muscle that becomes strong when it faces resistance, so Christians learn to remain faithful to God over the long haul when they face trials of many kinds.
James believes we should rejoice because trials give us an opportunity to develop the virtue of "patient endurance," which will in turn lead to a mature and complete Christian character. This is how Christians are to live. This is not to say that we cannot call pain, pain; difficulty, difficulty. Paul makes it very clear that he could recognize pain, call it what it is, and experience it with the full depth of human anguish (1 Cor. 4:9-13). He also left us the example of fleeing from persecution when it was appropriate (Acts 17:10-14). Yet even in such situations he, with James, could look beyond them to "an eternal glory that far outweighs them all—reminding us to fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Cor. 4:17-18).
Coronavirus: Responding in Prayer:
Heal those who are sick with the virus. May they regain their strength and health through quality medical care.
Heal us from our fear, which prevents nations from working together and neighbors from helping one another.
Heal us from our opinions, which can make us claim invulnerability to a disease that knows no borders.
Be with the doctors, nurses, researchers and all medical professionals who seek to heal and help those affected and who put themselves at risk in the process. May they know your protection and peace.
Jesus Christ, healer of all, firmly hold our hand in this time of uncertainty and sorrow.
Be with those who have died from the virus. May they be at rest with you in your eternal peace. Be with the families of those who are sick or have died. As they worry and grieve, defend them from illness and despair. May they know your comfort.
Whether we are home or abroad, surrounded by many people suffering from this illness or only a few, Christ Jesus our Lord, stay with us as we endure and mourn, persist and prepare. In place of our anxiety, give us your calming peace. In Jesus' name. Amen.
The surest way to suppress our ability to recognize the revelation of God is to take things for granted. Indifference to the divine mystery of life is perhaps our greatest shortfall. As civilization continues to advance our sense of wonder continues to decline. Such decline is an alarming symptom of our shortsighted, mortal condition.
Modern society will not perish from a lack of information, but from a lack of compassion.
The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without God is not worth living. What we lack is not a will to believe, but a will to dig deeper - to go the extra mile - to seek until we find - to sincerely search for whatever it is we lack. Awareness of God's divine presence begins with faith and wonder. It is the result of what a person does on the inside. "The kingdom of God is within." (Luke 17:21)
The greatest hindrance to such awareness, to discovering the kingdom within, is our lack of motivation to learn more, our failed attempts to understand more, and our inability to pray more.
J. E. Royle
In all areas of life there seems to be pressure to accept the current edition, the newest thing-a-ma-jig as the superior. The argument of “newer-is-better” assumes that a modern idea should be preferred to an ancient one simply because it is modern. This way of thinking has a long history, going back at least to the Athenians of the Apostle Paul’s day who “liked to spend all their time telling and hearing the latest new thing” (Acts 17:21).
The peer pressure to keep up-to-date is powerful in our society. The results of this pressure can be seen all around us. Take the clothing industry for example. The stores today do not sell clothes (they do, I know, but stick with me). From a broader perspective what they are selling is fashion. Back when companies first started selling clothes, the fabric was extremely durable and designed to last for years (Levi jeans, for example). Clothing does not change; shirts, pants, coats, socks, etc. Fashion, however, changes from year to year and from season to season.
One resource I find myself still using on a regular basis is John Bartlett’s book of Familiar Quotations, first published in 1855. All of the quotes in the book you can probably find online, but what you won’t find is the underlined, smudged, paper smelling pages of my old companion. There is something beautiful about that book; timeworn with dignity.
I imagine every person will come face to face with this hard reality at some point in their lives—that newer doesn’t always mean better. Especially after years have gone by and we gift to one of our friends or relatives something of value. Whatever that item of value is, at one time, it meant a lot to us. And now, as we give it a new home, we hope it isn't just put on a shelf to collect dust. And why would someone do something like that? Well… it isn't new anymore.
Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings?
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. (I Corinthians 3:1-9).
Paul has just been talking about the difference between the person who is spiritual, and who can therefore understand spiritual truths, and the person whose interests and aims and ideas do not go beyond earthly and physical life; one who is unable to grasp spiritual truth.
He now accuses the Corinthians of being still at the earthly and physical stage. The fault that Paul find with the Corinthians is not that they are made of flesh—all people are—but that they have allowed this lower side of their nature to dominate all their outlook and all their actions.
What is the proof of that? What is it about their life and conduct that makes Paul hurl such a rebuke at them? The proof is their spiritual strife, their factions, their divisions. This is extremely significant because it means that you can tell what a person's relationship with God is by looking at a person's relationship they have with others.
If a person is distant from others it is a good possibility that that person is distant from God. If a person persistently sows seeds of division it is a good possibility that that person is divided from God. If a person loves God wholeheartedly they will love others unconditionally.
We have always to remember that God may use human vessels to bring to others the message of Christ's truth and love; but it is God alone who lifts the hearts of people to new life. As God alone created the heart, so God alone can re-create it.
Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining (1 John 2:7-8)
John speaks here about a commandment which is at one and the same time an old commandment and a new commandment. What is the old commandment of which John speaks? It was old in the sense that it is already there in the Old Testament. In Leviticus 19:18 the Law says, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." The commandment already existed in ancient Law. It was old in the sense that this was not the first time that John's hearers had heard it.
But this commandment was new in that it had been raised to a completely new standard in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. It could be argued that people did not really know what unconditional love was until they saw it in Jesus. A hamburger can become a new thing to a person when they taste it after it has been prepared by a master chef. A piece of music can become a new thing when orchestrated by a master conductor. An old thing can become a new experience in the hands of a master. And love became new in Jesus Christ.
In Jesus love became new in the extent to which it reached. In Jesus love reached out to the sinner and the outcast. Love became new in Jesus because He widened its boundaries until there were none outside its embrace. In Jesus love became new in the lengths to which it would go. Nothing anyone could ever do to Him could turn Jesus' love to hate. He could even pray for the mercy of God on those who were nailing him to the Cross.
In Jesus love reached a standard which it had never reached before, and it is by that standard that Christians far and wide are commanded to follow.
The theme of theology is the content of believing; the theme of depth theology is the act of believing, its purpose being to explore the depth of faith, the substratum out of which belief arises. It deals with acts which precede articulation and defy definition.
Theology speaks for the people; depth theology speaks for the individual. Theology strives for communication, for universality; depth theology strives for insight, for uniqueness. Theology is like a sculpture, depth theology is like music. Theology is found in books; depth theology is found in hearts. The former is doctrine, the latter an event. Theologies divide us; depth theology unites us.
Depth theology seeks to meet the person in moments in which the whole person is involved, in moments which are affected by all a person thinks, feels and acts. It draws upon that which happens to man in moments of confrontation with ultimate reality. It is in such moments that decisive insights are born.
The insights of depth theology are vague; they often defy formulation and expression. It is the task of theology to establish the doctrines, to bring about coherence, and to find words compatible with the insights. On the other hand, theological doctrines tend to move on their own momentum, to become a substitute for insight, informative rather than evocative. We must see to it that each has an independent status, a power and efficacy of its own which enables it to contribute something in the cooperation.
And yet man has often made a god out of a dogma, a graven image which he worshiped, to which he prayed. He would rather believe in dogmas than in God, serving them not for the sake of heaven but for the sake of a creed, the diminutive of faith. The vitality of religion depends upon keeping alive the polarity of doctrine and insight, of dogma and faith, of ritual and response, of institution and the individual.
~ Abraham Joshua Heschel
"The words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you.” (Matthew 15:18-20)
It may well be that from a Jewish perspective this was the most startling thing Jesus ever said. For in this saying he does not only condemn Scribal and Pharisaic ritual and ceremonial religion: Jesus actually wipes out large sections of the book of Leviticus. This saying of Jesus cancels all the food laws of the Old Testament.
Once and for all Jesus lays it down that what matters is not the state of a person's ritual observance, but the state of a person's heart.
No wonder the Scribes and Pharisees were shocked. The very ground of their religion was cut from beneath their feet. This statement was not simply alarming; it was revolutionary! If Jesus was right, their whole concept of religion was wrong.
They identified religion and pleasing God with the observing of rules and regulations which had to do with cleanness and with uncleanness, with what a person ate and with how they washed their hands before eating; Jesus identified religion with the state of a person's heart, and said bluntly that these Pharisaic and Scribal regulations had nothing to do with religion.
What matters to God is not so much how we act, but why we act; not so much what we ritually do, but what is in our heart of hearts. It is Jesus' teaching (and it is a teaching which confronts every one of us) that no person can call themselves good because they observe external rituals; only when a person's heart is pure can they entertain such a thought. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8).
The Protestant Reformation was a widespread theological revolt in Europe against the abuses and control of the Roman Catholic Church. Reformers such as Martin Luther in Germany, Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland, and John Calvin in France protested various practices of the Catholic Church and promoted a return to biblical doctrine. The inauguration of the Protestant Reformation is generally considered to be Luther’s posting of his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church on October 31, 1517.
As a background to the history of Protestantism and the Reformation, it is important to understand the Catholic claim of apostolic succession. This doctrine says that the line of Roman Catholic popes extends through the centuries all the way from the apostle Peter to the current pope. Because of their belief in apostolic succession, Catholics place church teaching and tradition on a level equal to Scripture itself. This is one of the major differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants and was one of the foundational issues leading to the Protestant Reformation.
Opposition to this Roman Catholic teaching came to a head in the sixteenth century when Luther, a Roman Catholic monk, challenged the authority of the pope and, in particular, the selling of indulgences. Rather than heed the call to reform, the Roman Catholic Church dug in its heels and sought to silence the Reformers.
Eventually, new churches emerged from the Reformation, forming four major divisions of Protestantism: Luther’s followers started the Lutheran Church, Calvin’s followers started the Reformed Church, John Knox’s followers started the Presbyterian Church in Scotland (using Calvinistic doctrine), and, later, Reformers in England started the Anglican Church.
At the heart of the Protestant Reformation lay four basic questions: How is a person saved? Where does religious authority lie? What is the church? What is the essence of Christian living? In answering these questions, Reformers developed what would be known as the “Five Solas” (sola being the Latin word for “alone”). These five slogans separate Protestantism from Roman Catholicism; they summarize the Reformers’ theological convictions about the essentials of Christianity.
The Five Solas:
1. Sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”):
The Bible alone is our highest authority.
2. Sola Fide (“faith alone”):
We are saved through faith alone in Jesus Christ.
3. Sola Gratia (“grace alone”):
We are saved by the grace of God alone.
4. Solus Christus (“Christ alone”):
Jesus Christ alone is our Lord, Savior, and King.
5. Soli Deo Gloria (“to the glory of God alone”):
We live for the glory of God alone.
There are many aspects of this complex movement. I would encourage everyone to read more about it.
Looking at his disciples, Jesus said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God... (Luke 6:20)
To feel good about yourself in Jesus' time, you needed to be wise, rich, and pure in your detailed observance of the law. These were the paramount values of his society. To be such meant to enjoy the proper status deserved by a full Israelite. It demonstrated that you had been blessed by God and were pleasing to him.
Jesus, however, turned all these values upside down. Jesus took a little child and had him stand beside him to show that the greatest was the least (Luke 9:47-48). He rejoiced that God had hidden his truths from the wise and revealed them to little children (10:21). The first will be last and the last first (13:30). He who exalts himself will be humbled and the humble will be exalted (14:11). Purity of heart which was in the reach of everyone's wallet replaced ritual purity which only the rich could afford.
These are the values of the kingdom. They are not the values of the world. They are shown in Jesus—who welcomed children—who ate with sinners—who entered Jerusalem on a colt—who renounced class, power, and domination. And among these great reversals Jesus included the reversal 'Blessed are you who are poor'.
The New Testament scholar Donald Guthrie points out that this is the first statement in all literature that calls the poor blessed. Jesus contradicts the view that riches were a sign that one was blessed by God. He sees rather that riches were a very likely sign that one had ignored the needs of the poor (Luke 12:20-21; 16:19-26).
The poor are blessed not because poverty is a charmed state, but because the kingdom of God is for them too (of course the kingdom is for everyone). But Jesus means that the changes that the kingdom of God brings will be of such special relevance and blessing to the poor that what it means for them will define its meaning for everyone. To truly feel good about yourself, we must die a death to the false teachings of the world, and instead devote ourselves to the teachings of the Lord.
Jason E. Royle
Welcome to my blog. I'm an open-minded theologian committed to Christ-like compassion & understanding.
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