Tag Archives: glory

The Chief End of Man

There have always been Christians and non-Christians speculating on the end of the world. There are those who keep trying to tell us when the Rapture, the tribulation, and the final judgment of all mankind will take place. This has been done ever since the early days of the church.[1] Christians are not alone in this fanciful speculation. Take the movie 2012. We love catastrophic movies and books so much, that we are uncritically accepting the same kind of thinking by the scientific community building their models and guessing on what is going to happen.

My suggestion to all of it is to give it up. Why focus on the end of life and society? The Westminster Shorter Catechism makes clear just what the end of mankind is: to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

What a shift in our outlook this offers. We can cast off all fears of what is going to happen tomorrow. We become indifferent to circumstance. It’s not that we don’t care. It’s that we care about the glory of God above all else. We recognize that our humanness is not something evolved from anything. We know better! We are created beings. Created to display God’s being. We are created in his image.

The difficulty is that we don’t act that way. The church of the Middle Ages recognized this with their Seven Deadly Sins: Pride, Envy, Anger, Sloth, Avarice, Gluttony, and Lust. What’s more, we humans have redefined most of these things into virtues. We can only do this if we cast off God the Creator and replace him with God the created.

Why is it that all governments want to control our lives “from cradle to grave?” Only because we, not just the politicians, have removed God from his throne of glory and replaced him with ourselves. Government is good. It is God-ordained. Yet this can only be true if we remember that the purpose of all human government is to glorify God and to aid each of us to glorify him and enjoy our relationship with our Creator.

Little children look up to their parents. They want to be like mom and dad. Can this be why Jesus said we must become like little children? Could this be the meaning Jesus intended when he said, “Let the children come to me?” Our Father wants us to come to him, to make our concerns known to him, be comforted by him.

I don’t remember a lot about being a little child. However, there is one memory that is seared into my mind and heart. I remember walking with my dad and my hand was too small to hold his hand. So I would grab onto his index finger and squeeze. Holding that finger was my comfort and joy because my dad was everything to me.

My dad would be the first to acknowledge that when I was that age, and even to the moment of his death, he was really a stand-in for my true Father. Holding my dad’s finger made me believe that nothing could happen that would cause me harm. How much greater is it to hang on to our Father in heaven and proclaim, “Hallowed be thy name.”

 

[1] see The Day and the Hour

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Is This the End?

I remember when I was a child reading a book about Chicken Little. Almost everyone knows this parable in some form. The basic story is that one day an acorn falls from an oak tree and hits Chicken Little in the head. His conclusion was the sky was falling, and his mission became to spread the news of the coming disaster. The ending changes from tale to tale and is either positive or negative. On his way to tell the king, Chicken Little tells all the birds and animals he comes across. The last is the fox, who offers his den as protection.

The sad ending is that the fox eats them all. You shouldn’t believe everything you hear. The happy ending (not for the fox!) is they all escape and make it to the king. Be strong and courageous, and things will turn out well.

As with all moralistic stories, they are parables and must be limited in application. Chicken Little was more than merely mistaken. If he had taken a moment to investigate and not make an irrational conclusion, nothing would have happened from it. If the other animals had inquired into what Chicken Little was claiming, they might have realized that the idea of the sky falling is nonsense.

What reminded me of this story is an interpretation of the Corona Virus, which has resulted in tragedy and disruption of life is a judgment of God. The same argument has been made through the centuries for plagues and natural disasters. However, I believe that in each case, we have called the falling sky a curse from God, we border on the flaw of Chicken Little’s irrationalism and the others’ blind acceptance of the claim.

There are thinking people in the church who have called us to not speak of judgment but of compassion, love, and a call to service. I may agree or disagree with their reasoning. Still, I do believe that one of the things I have noticed during this critical time is that many people who are not necessarily religious have given of themselves for the sake of their neighbor. Judgment or not, this arises, I believe, from the nature of all mankind having been created in the image of God.

Whether or not people believe in Christ for their salvation from sin, they have, for the most part, rejected the evolutionary concept of the survival of the fittest. If that maxim was right, we would let the virus run rampant and not mourn those who, in their weakness, die. Yet even atheists, agnostics, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and every other kind of faith you can think of, have joined in the effort to reduce the effect of this and other diseases.

So, I am thanking God for showing us all that we are his creation and that our care for one another is a loving example of his glory.

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:5–7, ESV)

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The Paschal Vigil

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5–11, ESV)

What is it like to experience the transition from darkness to light? What is it like to go from chaos to creation, or in this case re-creation? What is it like to go from death to life? What is it to find hope in the midst of hopelessness?

The journey of Holy Week through the Paschal Triduum is a reenactment of this historical reality. The Great Paschal Vigil draws the Church together in darkness. Then through worship, we reach the pinnacle of Christian experience. The services celebrate God’s recreation.

The ancient church recognized the central event of Christianity is not the birth of Christ even though the Incarnation is important. However, the Resurrection is the focal point. Easter is the beginning of all things made new. Easter is the mark when we may be born again. Ancient celebrations of Easter included the lighting of the Paschal Candle which would remain lit throughout the year (until it is extinguished on Good Friday.) Easter was when new converts were finally baptized following a year or more of discipleship and learning. And Easter was the first celebration of the Eucharist following its institution.

Darkness to Light; chaos to re-creation; death to life; eternal hope. These are the things of Easter.

Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern
(O Morning-Star, how fair and bright)

PHILIPP NICOLAI

1599 FREUDENSPIEGEL (SEE USE BY BACH BMV 1)

Translation by Catherine Winkworth

O Morning-Star, how fair and bright
Thou beamest forth in truth and light!
O Sovereign meek and lowly!
Sweet Root of Jesse, David’s Son,
My King and Bridegroom, Thou hast won
My heart to love Thee solely!
Lovely art Thou, fair and glorious,
All victorious,
Rich in blessing,
Rule and might o’er all possessing.

O King high-born, Pearl hardly won,
True Son of God and Mary’s Son,
Crown of exceeding glory!
My heart calls Thee a Lily, Lord,
Pure milk and honey is Thy Word,
Thy sweetest Gospel-story.
Rose of Sharon, hail! Hosanna!
Heavenly Manna,
Feed us ever;
Lord, I can forget Thee never!

Clear Jasper, Ruby fervent red,
Deep deep within my heart now shed
The glow of love’s pure fire;
Fill me with joy, grant me to be
Thy member closely joined to Thee,
Whom all my thoughts desire;
Toward Thee longing doth possess me,
Turn and bless me,
For Thy gladness
Eye and heart here pine in sadness.

But if Thou look on me in love,
There straightway falls from God above
A ray of purest pleasure;
Thy Word and Spirit, flesh and blood,
Refresh my soul with heavenly food,
Thou art my hidden treasure.
Let Thy grace, Lord, warm and cheer me,
O draw near me;
Thou hast taught us
Thee to seek, since Thou hast sought us.

Lord God, my Father, mighty Shield,
Thou in Thy Son art all revealed
As Thou hast loved and known me;
Thy Son hath me with Him betrothed,
In His own whitest raiment clothed,
He for His bride will own me.
Hallelujah! Life in heaven
Hath He given,
With Him dwelling,
Still shall I His praise be telling.

Then touch the chords of harp and lute,
Let no sweet music now be mute,
But joyously resounding,
Tell of the Marriage-feast, the Bride,
The heavenly Bridegroom at her side,
’Mid love and joy abounding;
Shout for triumph, loudly sing ye,
Praises bring ye,
Fall before Him,
King of kings, let all adore Him!

Here my heart rests, and holds it fast,
The Lord I love is First and Last,
The End as the Beginning;
Here I can die, for I shall rise
Through Him, to His own Paradise
Above all tears and sinning.
Amen! Amen! Come, Lord Jesus,
Soon release us,
With deep yearning,
Lord, we look for Thy returning.

Eric Lund and Bernard McGinn, Eds., Seventeenth-Century Lutheran Meditations and Hymns, The Classics of Western Spirituality, (New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2011), 278–280.

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Blessed Is the King

This Sunday, April 5, 2020, is Palm Sunday. Many people celebrate this day as the beginning of Holy Week, the observance of Christ’s passion. It got its name from the gospels which record Christ entering Jerusalem on a young donkey colt. There were crowds placing palm branches on the ground as a sort of carpet upon which the colt walked. And the people were shouting words from Psalm 118 in acknowledgment of the Messiahship of Jesus.

As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”” (Luke 19:37–38, ESV)

It seems a stark contrast between the glory of Palm Sunday and the crucifixion which would occur in a few days. I want to suggest that the divergence is not as great as most of us generally think. For years attending church, and for years as a preacher, I have never really preached beyond the short story of Palm Sunday as presented in Matthew through John. However, I have come to believe that I stopped reading too soon.

It is appropriate to worship Christ as King and the words of Psalm 118 do speak of the Messiah. I am not sure what the people were expecting from the Messiah, but Luke gives us a clue when he writes, “for all the mighty works that they had seen…” If I were present on that day, I probably would have expected the Messiah to deliver us from all other nations who had oppressed us, especially the Romans.

But what happens next changes that for me.

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”” (Luke 19:41–44, ESV)

Jesus was not cheering. Jesus was weeping because he knew that the Hebrew nation was in for a shocking reality. Jesus did not come to deliver the people in the way they thought, or in the way they wanted. Jesus did not come as a politician or a warrior. He had repeatedly told his disciples that he came to be a servant. Take a moment to reflect on what service Jesus provided:

Payment for sin and reconciliation to God.

Cleansing from unrighteousness and granting justification.

Bringing peace and love back into a broken world.

Yes, Jesus did come to be the Messianic King to sit on the throne of David forever. However, the throne was not going to come easy. He was worthy because he was sinless. But as a lamb without spot or blemish, he was not fully effective until he died as the one great sacrifice offered to God.

The word passion makes us think of emotion. On this one day, we see Jesus in melancholy riding a donkey, weeping over the people God had loved but who had not loved him back, turning over tables cleaning the abusers from the temple, the house of prayer.

Palm Sunday is a day to rejoice the Jesus is the Christ. It is also a day to weep for all in humanity that refuses to acknowledge his as such. The deeper joy will come in a week. But for now, our hearts ache for the suffering of Jesus and the suffering of all those who do not know him or love him.

My next entry in this blog will reflect on the amazing world-wide shift that would occur from the death of the King to the death of a covenant.

 

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Covid-19 Questions, part 1

I last wrote about our true comfort in all times of crisis, times of joy, and the times in between. I do believe that we can find comfort even in the present time of fear and uncertainty. Yet, I can’t help some nagging questions that lie in a corner of my mind.

Let me quote St. Ignatius of Loyola:

     Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.
And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.
From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it.
For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created. (Saint Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, (New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1914), 19.)

This passage he calls Principle and Foundation. The principle is two-fold. First is to state the purpose of God in creating human beings. We are made to praise, reverence, and serve the Lord. This is close to the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s first question:

What is the chief end of man? Man’ s chief end is to glorify God, (1 Cor. 10:31, Rom. 11:36) and to enjoy him forever. (Ps. 73:25–28). (The Westminster Shorter Catechism: With Scripture Proofs, 3rd edition., (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).)

I know that most Protestants might feel uncomfortable with the statement “by this means to save his soul.” It does sound like works salvation. However, James speaks openly about works and faith.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” (James 2:14, ESV)

So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?” (James 2:17–20, ESV)

Thus, to say that the works of bringing praise, reverence, and service to God saves us is correct if taken that these things are works coming out of our faith.

The second principle states the purpose of everything else that God created which is to be used to accomplish the first principle. I don’t believe that all of creation is strictly utilitarian. However, the intricacy, beauty, diversity, and all other aspects of creation bring us pleasure. How much more God’s pleasure seeing humans created in his image appreciating all things. I believe that our delight in food, drink, music, nature, and more is to praise God. Our gratitude for all things does reverence God. Our service in caring for all of creation brings glory to God.

This two-fold foundation may be the hardest thing for humans born in sin, even by faith to live by. All of us are on a journey from faith to sanctification. The third paragraph of Ignatius’s foundation is a description of life fully committed to the principles stated. Read it again meditating on its meaning in the context of your life. The most difficult language to accept is he he says, “it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things.” For me, the word “indifferent” is where my mind tries to block out what Ignatius is saying using every excuse I can work up.

The problem is that I want to stop reading at the word and insert my interpretation of what Ignatius means without allowing him to tell me what it means. The mental process is like the person who while listening to a sermon hear some small part they don’t like and shut down and not listen anymore.

In my next post, I will address this call for indifference. I will attempt to change the negative connotation of the word to a positive one. Then I will ask the questions I have been thinking about. Let me assure you, my questions may or may not have an answer.

 

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