Modern-day Mystic

Location: Fredericksburg, Texas, United States

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Divine Waste of Time

I've been actually 'doing ministry' for the past 3 months. I've gotten settled into my first church appointment and getting used to all the 'pastoral' things a pastor does. I'm struggling a bit because for the last 20 years of my life I have been kept occupied with providing evidence of my work. There were papers and tests and the ever popular busy work that teachers used to fill the time in class. Life was simple, do the work --> hand it in --> get graded on it--> repeat. Now I find myself in a situation where I have very little to hand in, but the congregation will still grade me.

How do you count a 3 hour round trip to take communion to someone in a major hospital that asks for it? How does going to the hospital room of person who is sedated and intubated and praying with and for them count? How do I 'submit' the time I spend in meetings and in visiting parishoners in their homes? Yes I can 'produce' some things like Bible studies and sermons that can be quantified and evaluated by an audience, but how do I figure in the 8+ hours a week that are filled with sermon prep.

In the world outside the church my job would rank as one of the most inefficent ones out there. Yet I'm learning in the Kingdom economy that my work has enourmous value. That it isn't a waste of time to go and pray with a person who may never know I am there. That by sitting in the home of a wife grieving the loss of her husband shows she is of great value, that she is worth my time.

Sometimes it is hard for me to work the whole day and not have anything tangible to show for it, no way to prove I am working. But maybe this is what Jesus had in mind when he says what is done in secret is observed by the Father and will be noted in heaven. I'm finding ministry to be a divine waste of time

Monday, March 08, 2010


Black smears of imperfection
dark streaks on porcelain foundation
burned ashes from Celebration
marked by Kingdom Grace
signed for heart's Confession
destruction marred through Faith

Rejoice - the call to die

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Guest

The Holy God - encompassed in a teenager's womb
Sacred Divinity - pressing on the ribs of a girl
Hospitality enfleshed - by a maiden
Her uterus - His first home
Her milk - His first meal
The God of the universe - dependent on the graciousness of a child
Incarnation - of guest and host

*inspired by my Ethics of Hospitality class

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Gospel All

1 Timothy 2:1-7 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
For there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
who gave himself a ransom for all

-- this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

Feeling left out is something we’ve all experienced. You may not have been the last one picked on the playground, but maybe you were passed over when applying for a job or asking someone out on a date. When I was about eight I had asked my best friend to spend the night, she told me her mom said she couldn’t, and then later that night I found out she was already spending the night with another friend…and I hadn’t been asked to join them. Feeling left out hurts, even after the initial experience there is that lingering feeling of ‘not being good enough for them’. This was the situation at the church in Ephesus. Paul wrote this letter to Timothy, a young pastor dealing with a lot of different issues. There were two groups in Ephesus that were particularly complicating life for the Ephesian church.
The first group was the Gnostics. Their main claims were that Jesus was purely a spiritual being, he only looked like he was human and that he had given secret, spiritual knowledge to a select group of disciples. This created an elitist feeling among the Gnostics, they had the ‘true knowledge’ and the rest of the disciples weren’t good enough, smart enough, and spiritual enough to receive it.
The second group was the Judaizers. They would come behind the Gospel messengers trying to convince the new Greek converts that they must become good Jews, before they could become good Christians. Ephesus was a thoroughly Greek city, so for Christian believers to be required to convert to Judaism meant asking them to begin living according to Kosher dietary laws and to be circumcised. For the Judaizers those who were not also Jewish could not be Christian. Both the Gnostics and the Judaizers set up restrictions to keep some people out.
The church leadership in Jerusalem had already decided that the only requirements for those who were Greek to become Christian is that they avoid meat sacrificed to idols and fornication (Acts 21:25). The barriers to become a Christian were set as low as possible, to allow everyone to become believers, but without compromising what it meant to be a Christian. The Jerusalem Church understood that the offer of salvation was extended to all people, Jews or Greeks.
This is the context into which Paul is writing. He uses 4 different words for prayer: supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings. These prayers are for all people, but then Paul gets more specific, instructing Timothy to pray for the kings and officials. It is important to keep in mind that the king is Cesar and the high officials are the ones that have already been persecuting Christians. Yet Paul says we are to pray even for the officials, in this simple statement we have echoes of the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount where he teaches, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your father in Heaven (Matthew 5:44)”.
Paul gives us a further reason why we should pray for everyone, including the leaders, ‘so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity’. Persecution for religious beliefs is not something that most people ask for. We’d all rather live in peace, free to worship in our own manner. In America we take for granted that we can gather for worship without fear of the government throwing us in jail or dying as a martyr. In places like China and the Middle East people can be arrested and executed just for being Christian. So Paul commands us to pray for the government leaders that control whether Christians can live in peace. This doesn’t just mean praying for President Obama, it also means praying for Hu Jintao – the president of China, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – president of Iran, so that Christians in other parts of the world have the freedom to worship God and to witness to others freely.
The greatest motivation for praying for everyone, including kings and those in high positions is that it is right and acceptable to God our Savior. Verse 4 states that, “God desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth. The Gospel can be spread easier when Christians are free to live as Christians, instead of in fear for their lives. Notice the scope that God has, ‘he desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’. Here the exclusionary ideas of both the Gnostics and the Judaizers are contrasted with the very desires of God Himself.
What exactly is salvation and the knowledge of truth? Here Paul inserts what must have been part of one of the earliest creeds.
‘For there is one God;
There is also one mediator between God and humankind
Christ Jesus, himself human
Who gave himself a ransom for all
This was attested to at the right time.

The opening line takes hearers all the way back to Deuteronomy 6, “Here O Israel, the LORD our God is one”. Even today around the world Christians begin both the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed with the same powerful declaration, “I believe in one God…”. Ephesus was a Greek city, which meant it was filled with the pantheon of Greek gods & goddess, with the Ephesians being particularly loyal to Artemis, goddess of the moon and of the hunt. Affirming the oneness of God requires the rejection of every other deity.
The next line begins to lay out what is particular to Christian belief: there is one mediator between God and humankind. In the culture of the time the concept of a mediator was primarily a legal concept. Two parties were involved, generally one was the offender and the other was the one who had committed the offense. If they could not reach a solution to the conflict on their own a mediator was brought in. The mediator risked his own reputation on his ability to find a just solution for both parties. The mediator was unbiased, representing both sides equally.
In this creed, as well as those that followed, the mediator is named and a peculiar fact is noted. His name is Christ Jesus. The title ‘Christ’ is the Greek translation of the Jewish term ‘Messiah’, both meaning ‘the anointed one’. In Matthew the angel tells Mary and Joseph to name the child Jesus, because he will save his people. In these first 2 words we see that Jesus is the one anointed to save his people. John Calvin writes, “For as Man, He was a Mediator; but as the Word, not in the middle between God and man, because equal to God, and God with God, and together one God”. This is why God is addressed as Savior in verse 3. We affirm that Jesus Christ is fully God; therefore God must also be Savior.
Now the question is who are his people? The clause that follows carries great weight, the humanity of Jesus is undeniably affirmed. He was most definitely human. Later creeds expand this concept by speaking of his birth, his crucifixion and his death. Christ Jesus is not identified by his gender, or by his race or religion, he is identified by the humanity he shares with every person. This is why he alone is a suitable mediator between God and humankind. Jesus Christ is fully human and fully divine, which means he is able to represent both parties equally.
The final line of this profession of faith lays out how Christ was able to mediate between the holy God and the sinful humans. He gave his own life as a ransom for all. This is a radical action of the God-man, to sacrifice something on behalf of those who don’t deserve it. Yet if we look over the record of God’s dealings with people we see that it is his very nature to sacrifice and save. Beginning in the Garden with Adam and Eve, God sacrificed animals to provide clothing for His wayward children. In the Exodus, salvation for the Israelites was bought at the price of the Passover lamb. Leviticus is a priest’s handbook about how to make atonement for human sin, with the life blood of clean animals. The Psalmist understood this cost when he wrote in the 49th Psalm, “Truly no man can ransom himself, or give to God the price of his life”.
Salvation out of slavery or captivity always comes at a price. Ever since the Fall humanity has been held captive to the power of sin and death. The price for our freedom was too great for us to pay. As the bumper sticker reminds us, “freedom isn’t free”. The price of our freedom from sin and death was the willing sacrifice of a perfect life. This is what the cross is all about. Jesus gave himself as a ransom for ALL. The offer of this salvation is limited only by the willingness of a person to accept it. God leaves no one out, but desires everyone to be saved.
What makes this belief possible is not actually a what at all, it is a who! The third member of the Trinity enables fallen human beings to start at a place where they can hear the offer of God’s salvation and accept it. This is the concept of prevenient grace that is so fond to Methodists. It is the work of the Holy Spirit that allows new believers to confess faith in the Triune God and profess that Jesus Christ gave his life as a ransom for sinners. Most Evangelists are content to leave believers right here. They are, to use the popular phrase, ‘converted’ or ‘born again’ and that is good enough. The only problem is that this passage doesn’t end here. For those who have declared God as their savior now join Paul and all the other disciples as a herald of the Gospel.
This is part of the reason for the prayers in verse 1 – 2. Have you ever noticed how brand new converts want everyone else to come to the same saving faith they have? It seems that these new believers have the exact same desire that God does; they too want everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of truth that is found in the Triune God. Over time this evangelistic passion fades in most Christians, and we remain content and secured in our own faith. Somewhere along the line we stop praying earnestly for the salvation of the world, at best we only pray for those unbelievers closest to us, and worst not even that.
This passage is a call for Christians to affirm their faith in the one God and the one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all. It is also a call to prayer and active witness of the God whom we have trusted for our salvation. Brothers and Sisters, it is time for us to intercede for the salvation of each person in our world.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Proverbs 31, Lady Wisdom, and Christ

Here is the manuscript that I used to preach my sermon on Proverbs 31:10-31. There are some really interesting changes to how I viewed this passage.

I come to this passage in a very unique position. I am a young woman preparing to become a wife in less than 6 months. As I initially read the text I was overwhelmed by the perfection of the Proverbs 31 woman. It was like June Cleaver plus Martha Stewart plus Mother Teresa. She is the perfect wife, the perfect mother, the perfect business woman, the perfect social justice activist, and the perfect international relations liaison. To top it all off she was the perfect Jewish woman, she feared the LORD and she instructed other in the wisdom and love of God. I’ve heard many women, frustrated by their inability to live up to this perfect standard, say that such a woman just isn’t possible. I’m inclined to agree from my own limited experiences. So as I read this poem over and over one question, “How does she do it all??” I kept getting hung up on verse 26, “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue”. I knew, call it woman’s intuition, that understanding this verse was the key to understanding why the woman in Proverbs 31 was so successful in everything. So I began to meditate on this verse, I studied the words in Hebrew and it lead me to a shocking discovery. The wisdom that the Proverbs 31 woman teaches is only God-given. Think Solomon’s dream asking for God’s wisdom. The phrase ‘the teaching of kindness’, is a compound word in Hebrew that only appears once in the whole Bible. The word is torah-hesed. Each of these words alone carries a mountain-load of significance to the original audience. Torah is the commands of God, given to Moses, that tell the Israelites how to live a life pleasing to God. Hesed, often translated as loving-kindness, is the description of God’s love toward humanity. It is an unconditional-loyal-strong-kind love. In the New Testament this is the sacrificial, agape love exhibited by Jesus. The Proverbs 31 woman had the wisdom of God enough to teach ‘torah-hesed’ to those around her. She seemed almost too good to be true. Once I began reading what others had to say about the Proverbs 31 woman things began to make sense.

It has been suggested that this Hebrew poem is actually a summary of the rest of the book of Proverbs. These 22 verses are set up as an acrostic poem, with each verse starting with the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet, which allows this section to be easily memorized (at least if you know Hebrew, it doesn’t work as well in the English). I believe that the Proverbs 31 woman can also be understood as summary of Wisdom that is personified beginning in chapter 1 and continuing through out the book.

“Wisdom cries out in the street; in the square she raises her voice”. Lady Wisdom, as she has become known in church tradition, offers instruction of how to live a godly life. The key to this life is the refrain, ‘The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” that appears three times in the book of Proverbs. Such fear of the LORD is the final virtue of the Proverbs 31 woman. Proverbs 3:15 exclaims that ‘wisdom…is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her’, the Proverbs 31 woman is introduced by the same phrase, “she is far more precious than jewels’. If we come to read the Proverbs 31 woman as Lady Wisdom her perfection becomes an absolute requirement. Everything that Wisdom attempts is accomplished according to the will of God. This is why the Proverbs 31 woman is able to manage her family life, her business, social justices, and religious responsibilities so well that her husband praises her, “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all”.

The Proverbs 31 woman exists as a poetic paragon that calls all people, men and women alike to move toward godliness in all parts of their lives. There has never been a woman who has lived up to the standard set by this passage, but there was one man who did. In the New Testament Jesus Christ has wisdom as a defining characteristic of his ministry. The second halve of Luke two tells the story of a 12 year-old Jesus speaking among the teachers in the temple, astounding them with his wisdom and understanding and Luke ends the chapter with the epithet that “Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor”. In every encounter with the religious officials Jesus demonstrated an uncanny ability to know the deeper truth behind their questions. The Gospels as a whole record that Jesus was perfect in everything he said or did. It is on this claim that our belief of his ability to atone humanity is staked.

The claims of Jesus fully embodying wisdom are not limited to the Gospels but are carried throughout almost every epistle. Colossians 2:3 proclaims that, “in Christ himself, are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”. Looking back to the prophets we see Isaiah, speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, describe the Messiah with the marker, ‘the spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD (11:2). Looking forward to the final reality, we find in the heavenly court of Revelation, the praise to the Lamb seated on the throne extols, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (5:12).

The connection seen between Lady Wisdom and Jesus Christ is not a recent development. Instead it is almost as old as the church itself. Thomas Aquinas, whose great master piece is known as the Summa Theologica has this to say about Wisdom and the Trinity, “though the Son, or Word of God is properly called ‘conceived wisdom,’ nevertheless the name of Wisdom, when used absolutely, must be common to the Father and the Son; since the wisdom that is resplendent through the Word is the essence of the Father, and the essence of the Father is common to Him with the Son.’ John Wesley says of Wisdom, “It is a great question what this wisdom is. Some understand it of the Divine wisdom; others of the second person in the Godhead: and it cannot be denied that some passages best agree to the former and others to the latter opinion. Possibly both may be joined together, and the chapter may be understood of Christ considered partly in his personal capacity, and partly in regard of his office, which was to impart the mind and will of God to mankind.” As believers in the triune God, we can also extend this wisdom to the Holy Spirit.

Throughout Scripture Wisdom is taught as an attribute of God. God has full wisdom, making Him omniscient – a term the Early Church Fathers borrowed from Greek philosophy, literally meaning a love of wisdom. This divine wisdom is not exclusive to the Trinity, but as James encourages is accessible to those who humbly request wisdom from God (1:5). Thus we can affirm that God is the source of wisdom, Jesus Christ the embodiment of wisdom, and the Spirit the gives wisdom to those who are in Christ. Throughout both Testaments an invitation is issued to those who would be wise: come to God and receive it. Wisdom is a divine gift that God longs to share with humanity.

How God gives this wisdom to the humble seeker varies. Sometimes it comes in a vision or a dream like it did for King Solomon. But far more often wisdom is tucked into the pages of Scripture, waiting to be found by those who would read God’s self-revelation. Another place of wisdom is in the shared tradition of the Church, in the lives of all the godly men and women who have walked the Christian life before us. Yet another source of wisdom comes to us in the living body of the church. I’ve never been to a church that didn’t have a least one person who had the gift of wisdom. The funny thing is, everyone in such a church knows exactly who it is, because the role of wisdom is always to direct others to a clearer understanding of, and devotion to, God.

The perfection of the Proverbs 31 woman is meant to attract us to the ultimate source of perfect wisdom, the Triune God. The call of Christian discipleship is to become like Christ, which includes growing in the wisdom of God, to perfectly know and love God, and our neighbors the way Christ does. The woman described in Proverbs 31 stands as an example of what that looks like lived out to its fullest.


Ephesians 1:17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

Disclaimer only if necessary to clarify ***

I do need to add a slight aside about the recent attempts to introduce Goddess Sophia as the feminine equivalent of God. Lady Wisdom, proclaims that in 8:22 that she is only a creation, so those that would encourage worship direct to Goddess Sophia (as wisdom is translated into the Greek), create an idol. Lady Wisdom’s role in Proverbs is to direct the hearer to the proper worship of God, not to be worshipped. She teaches that every aspect of life must be lived according to the will of God. ???

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Redeeming our mother(s)

In seminary I have been taught a lot about how coming to know God as a loving parent through the name and relationship of Abba (Daddy)/Father does a lot in helping heal the wounds that our earthly male parents (biological, stepfathers, and male role models) have inflicted (knowingly or not). From personal experience a better understanding of God as Father has helped me to forgive my own father, and wounds that go back to childhood (7 years old) are finally closing (admittedly the scars will remain, but I'm not subconsciously controlled by those early encounters). One of the things I've observed is that wounds are better healed by someone similar to the original inflicter (men tend to heal wounds that other men inflict better than women can, and vice versa).

In October I selected the Nazareth as one of the sites in Israel that I was responsible for leading the devotion. For the next 3 months I soaked in the words of Mary's encounter with Gabriel, and the amazing faith that is voiced in her magnificant. Little did I know that as I preached that January in Nazareth I would find myself much closer to Mary than I realized. I voiced the declaration of my faith as a young, newly engaged woman, that desired to love God with my whole heart....and I began to wonder. If God as Father (IE. 'masculine' ) could redeem, restore, and heal my understanding of men in general, and fathers in particular, how are the mother images restored for Christians.

In the tradition of Christianity three contenders have arisen as contenders to that job. The first is Mary, Theotokos (Greek - literally, God-bearer). Mary as the mother of Jesus (aka God) can provide mothering to all Christians, ministering to the pain inflicted by the women in our lives. This is the view of Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox (at least as I understand their teachings). The second option is that the church is our 'mother'. St. Augustine argues that no one can have God as their Father, without also having the church as their mother. The final possibility is that the feminine imagery of God found in Scripture (IE. Jesus statement in Luke about desiring to gather the people of Jerusalem 'like a hen gathers her chicks'). Granted that the feminine imagery is scare in Scripture and must be handled carefully to prevent goddess worship (IE. the Sophia movement).

Obviously each of these has limitations. But then so does portraying God strictly in masculine terms (no matter how Biblical they are - God is not a human male). The problem with Mary is that, despite her heroic faith (evidenced through her whole life), she is still just one woman, with all the imperfections that come with that condition. We have several accounts in Scripture that her 'mothering technique' was less than perfect (see Jesus in the temple at 12 and the wedding in Cana). The problem with the church is that it is an impersonal institution stretching across time, geography, languages, and experiences. How can something so amorphous speak to the wounds inflicted by a 'mother' of a single believer?

The last option is for the Church to begin using the female imagery Scripture uses to describe God in worship. There are places were God refers to himself (blast the limitations of the English language) as a mother to Israel (Isaiah 66:13).

In true Wesleyan fashion I think the answer is both/and. God uses the lives of Christian men, and the witness of the Church and Scripture to minister to the wounds inflicted by men. So too should the lives of Christian women (beginning with Mary) and the witness of the Church and Scripture minister to the wounds inflicted by women. It's time for the Church to learn and teach more about the feminine nature of God.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Trinitarian Language

In the church's struggle to come up with adequate language to describe/explain God a new favorite has emerged to replace the more traditional person language of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The new attempt is to refer to them as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. While these are validly true descriptions of the actions of God I'm beginning to question how far the church should go in this direction. Yes it reduces the patristic overtones that traditionally are used to squeeze out the feminine perspective. But my fear is that by limiting the God-head to what God does we have done to God what we have already done to ourselves.

Much has already been written about the anthropocentric tendency to identify ourselves by what we 'do'. I'm a 'doctor', or a 'teacher' or a 'stay-at-home-parent'. But such descriptors limit us to one dimension, primarily the vocational sphere. Our job (or lack there of) only tells a part of our story. It mitigates the fact that we are also children, friends, Christians, and people with a variety of interests, hobbies, gifts, relationships and experiences.

As Christians the primary direction of our faith is built upon a relationship with the Father, through the access gained by the Son, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. If we lose the relational nature of the Trinity will we also lose our relationship with the Trinity???

I really am interested in the thoughts.