1 Corinthians 2:6-16 – Do You Know?

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written:

“What no eye has seen,
    what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”—
    the things God has prepared for those who love him—

these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, for,

“Who has known the mind of the Lord
    so as to instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ. (New International Version)

Knowledge can be a tricky thing. There is so much to the topic of knowing that we have an entire branch of philosophy, epistemology, which theorizes on how we know ourselves and our world.

The Enlightenment era (18th-century) focused on empirical data, that is, what can be known becomes knowable through the verification of our senses and a scientific process of systematic observation, measurement, and experimentation. In other words, knowledge has to do with the natural, not supernatural, because knowing involves our five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.

The Enlightenment project, I believe, severely truncated our personhood. It left us as mere brains on a stick – valuing dispassionate empiricism to the point of devaluing the heart and the gut. For, when all is said and done, there is an immaterial way of knowing, a kind of sixth sense, which can discern truth and reality in a manner that sheer natural evidence cannot.

If we are unaware of this other sense, the spirit, then there is an entire dimension of ourselves and our world that we are unable to discern and know. Grounding our ideas and theories in evidence-based practices is quite important. We need rigorous processes of going beyond opinions and hypotheses to actual tangible evidence. Our world has benefited immensely from the scientific process. And yet, all this is insufficient.

Without a focus on the spiritual, we limit our knowledge and our perceptions of others and the world. And if we ignore our internal epistemic assumptions which are coming from other places than our brain, we can talk and act without knowing why we say and do some things. We can be unsure why we react in particular ways or cannot quite make sense of why we keep overeating or drinking too much or avoiding certain people and places.

In many ways, a major task our earthly life is to keep knowing ourselves better and better. There is a vast inner world that needs exploration, just as much as we need to explore the vastness of our earth and the immense space of the universe.

In science fiction, Star Trek has a way of knowing the seemingly unknowable within us. Vulcans (ironically the most empirical and dispassionate beings in the universe) have a unique ability to perform a “mind meld” which is a technique for the psychic fusion of two minds, permitting unrestricted communication or deep understanding. It is a way of accessing and sharing thoughts and feelings which are obscured or hidden. It is an epistemology that, in actuality, isn’t far from reality.

Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have given up everything else and count it all as garbage. All I want is Christ and to know that I belong to him. I could not make myself acceptable to God by obeying the Law of Moses. God accepted me simply because of my faith in Christ. All I want is to know Christ and the power that raised him to life. I want to suffer and die as he did, so that somehow I also may be raised to life.

Philippians 3:8-11, CEV

That’s because the people of God, believers and followers of Jesus, have been given the Spirit of God. An unusual, unscientific, and mystical union has taken place in which God’s Spirit joins with our spirit and opens a whole new world to us.

There are some things which can only be known, understood, and verified by the spiritual. Incredibly, Christians are given the very mind of Christ. We enjoy an amazing melding, enabling us to become the people we were always meant to be – forgiving, loving, encouraging people who live and love just like Christ – who is in both our hearts and our heads. This supernatural epistemic way of knowing allows us to see beyond the five senses to a multiverse of senses within ourselves and others.

We can only know what God has freely given us if we have God’s Spirit within us and the mind of Jesus Christ testifying what is good, just, and true. This is a knowing beyond language and explanation. It is knowledge requiring a mind meld between the individual and Christ.

Rather than crucifying and putting to death things (and, God forbid, people) we don’t understand, there is a better way. Explore a different way of knowing. Discover the spirit within. Seek to understand the invisible God. Experience a fuller and richer way of life in Jesus Christ through the enlightening of the Holy Spirit.

Soli Deo Gloria

Psalm 53 – Is God Gone?

Bilious and bloated, they gas,
   “God is gone.”
It’s poison gas—
    they foul themselves, they poison
Rivers and skies;
    thistles are their cash crop.
God sticks his head out of heaven.
    He looks around.
He’s looking for someone not stupid—
    one man, even, God-expectant,
    just one God-ready woman.

He comes up empty. A string
    of zeros. Useless, un-shepherded
Sheep, taking turns pretending
    to be Shepherd.
The ninety and nine
    follow the one.

Don’t they know anything,
    all these predators?
Don’t they know
    they can’t get away with this,
Treating people like a fast-food meal
    over which they’re too busy to pray?

Night is coming for them, and nightmare—
    a nightmare they’ll never wake up from.
God will make hash of these squatters,
    send them packing for good.

Is there anyone around to save Israel?
    God turns life around.
Turned-around Jacob skips rope,
    turned-around Israel sings laughter.
(The Message)

In 1888, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche published his book, “The Antichrist.” Nietzsche used the phrase, “God is dead,” to express his idea that the Enlightenment, with its thorough rejection of all things subjective and intuitive, and the embrace of everything objective and observable, had eliminated the possibility of the existence of God.

Nietzsche simply named what a modern progressive society had become: drained of divine mystery. He wrote:

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: Who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”

Friedrich Nietzsche

This was the nineteenth century equivalent of making the psalmist’s observation that there is a philosophy extant which states, “There is no God.” He’s gone. And humanity has replaced him with themselves.

Unlike Nietzsche, however, the psalmist takes the perspective not of the human but of God. The Lord looks about for someone wise, someone who truly takes notice to see with spiritual eyes, hear with spiritual ears, discern a spiritual touch, smell the aroma of God, and taste that the Lord is good – rather than relying solely on the five senses.

So, where is God? In the grave? No, he is risen, just as he said.

Just because there seems to be an absence of good in the world, doesn’t mean it isn’t there – or that God is gone.

Any fool can make bold proclamations when they are an epistemology all to themselves.

From God’s perspective, anyone can use their five physical senses. To only use them, and completely ignore other ways of knowing, is, well, plain stupid.

Where is God? Not hanging out with fools, drinking cheap dandelion wine and smoking nasty inexpensive cigars. Rather, the Lord is in the company of the righteous with wise persons who discern God’s presence.

Things are not always what they seem. Violence and oppression in the world are not signaling God is on vacation, doesn’t care, or simply doesn’t exist, at all. We must see beyond or through the world’s crud to a Divine Being who is there, reachable, and very much, cares about the state of humanity.

All our posturing and preening to appear we have it all together is nothing more than a poorly produced television reality show to God. So, if the Lord chooses to change the channel, it doesn’t translate that he isn’t viewing the screen. Only a fool believes no one is watching.

If we ignore God, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised or upset when divine Skittles don’t come raining down from heaven for us to enjoy.

Instead, we are to attend to the spiritual life. There are divine resources available if we will use them. Though they are abundant and free, we still have to ask and receive them with the humility which comes from realizing we aren’t the center of the universe.

Nietzsche is not exactly a person that many Christians would typically acknowledge, let alone refer to, and, for good reason. And yet, he understood that when God is removed from societal norms, it leaves us with a nihilist worldview (the belief that nothing has any inherent importance, and that life lacks purpose).

Christianity and/or a focus on the spiritual life can be, and is, I believe, an antidote to the despair of meaninglessness. If God is truly the ground of moral reality and gives real shape to human purpose, then we have a way to center ourselves. Yet, if God is ignored to the point of being “dead” then there is nothing substantial for humanity to orient their lives around.

Try as we might to create, as Nietzsche did, an Übermensch (superman) in the form of the radically independent and strong person to fill the enormous spiritual void of God’s death, it is merely a façade covering our weakness and foolishness as creatures.

I suggest we consider the psalmist as a reliable source of knowledge – that God is a force for justice and for good in the world – and that we explore what this means for us in our respective lives, families, communities, as well as in our public discourse and personal philosophy.

Is God gone? Not really. We humans just tend to give him the stiff arm.

Almighty God, you called your church to be one, holy, universal and missional people. By your grace you have given us new life in Jesus Christ, and by your Spirit you have called us to proclaim his name throughout the nations. Awaken in us such a love for you and your world that we may boldly proclaim Jesus Christ by word and deed. May all people everywhere come to know you and Christ’s power to save. Amen.

Matthew 16:1-4 – Interpreting Jesus

Christ the Ruler 400 C.E.
Christ the Ruler, from the Santa Pundenziana Basillica in Rome, c.400 C.E.

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.

He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away. (NIV)

It is a mystery that two persons who come from the same family, have the same training and experiences, can take such different perspectives on God, and go in completely different directions in their lives. Maybe it is not so much about shared events and circumstances as it is about how those experiences are interpreted by each person.  One gives herself to God, the other doesn’t. I believe the fulcrum of history rests on the person and work of Jesus Christ. In saying that, I just offered an interpretation of Christ which many people do not share.

We all have our slant and analysis of Jesus and his ministry in some way. Everyone has epistemic assumptions and metaphysical presuppositions which inform the way they look at the world, and how they discern Jesus.

The Jewish sects of the Pharisees and Sadducees in the ancient world took a different metaphysical spin on Christ’s ministry than did his disciples. The two groups were skeptical and wanted incontrovertible evidence of Messiah credentials from Jesus in the form of a sign.

It is important to note about the Pharisees and the Sadducees that they came from opposite ends of the political and theological spectrum.  The Pharisees were the Jewish conservatives, greatly concerned for Scripture and tradition. The Sadducees, on the other hand, were the liberals of their day, much more concerned with the Temple sacrifices and controlling all aspects of Jewish worship.  Most of the priests in the first century were Sadducees, whereas most of the scribes (who copied the Scriptures) were Pharisees.  They did not see eye to eye on much of anything, except Jesus.

To them Jesus was an untrained, sinner-loving, non-Temple endorsed teacher from lowly Nazareth who could not possibly be the Messiah.  The Pharisees did not like how Jesus handled the Torah; and, the Sadducees didn’t like all the nonsense Jesus was spouting about identifying himself as the true Temple.  In short, Jesus was a threat to the status quo.

So, they “tested” him, that is, they tried to tempt and trap Jesus into giving them a sign – they wanted him to do something dramatic to prove his credentials as Messiah. Just as Satan tempted Jesus to jump from the Temple and demonstrate he is Super Messiah, so the Pharisees and Sadducees asked for something that Jesus would not give them.

Instead, Jesus let them know they completely misinterpreted who he is and what he is doing. In fact, Jesus said they have all the evidence they need with the prophet Jonah.  Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so Jesus would be three days and three nights in the belly of the earth.  Just as Jonah would rise from certain death, so Jesus would rise again.

Jesus insisted they needed to rightly decipher and act on the evidence they already had – which raises (pun intended) some critical questions for us, as well: Are we searching for something more than Christ’s resurrection?  Are we looking for some sign or some more information before we will act?  Do we think we need a class on spiritual gifts before we can serve?  Are we obsessed with how to do any kind of ministry or mission, instead of satisfaction with knowing what it is we are to do?

No further sign is given because we already have the redemption of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Word of God.  We have everything we need to do the will of God.  So, we must discern our situation appropriately and cease believing we need all the answers to God, Jesus, the Bible, and Christian ministry.

It is imperative we go out and be missional people with an action/reflection model of obeying what we already know and then reflecting on it so we can go back out and do it again better. For the best interpretations come from a lived experience of putting our metaphysical notions into practice and trying them on for size – and finding that Jesus is enough.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

John 14:15-17 – Love and the Trinity

Trinity Love

[Jesus said] “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (NIV)

“The best love is the kind that awakens the soul and makes us reach for more, that plants a fire in our hearts and brings peace to our minds.”–Noah, from the movie, The Notebook

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7)

Love makes the world go around. Love is the invisible spiritual and emotional atom giving our lives substance, energy, and meaning. God is that atom, constantly creating love within himself in an explosion of attentive fatherly protons, gracious messianic neutrons, and active Spirit electrons.

In this post Day of Pentecost time, as well as the anticipation of Trinity Sunday, we are reminded of the connection between God the Son, God the Father, and God the Spirit. Yes, as today’s Gospel lesson demonstrates to us, Christians serve a triune God – one God in three persons. Many metaphors have been attempted (attempt is the right term for my atom analogy) to try and explain the Trinity. The truth is, although some images are helpful, they all fall short. That is because I can no more explain God than I can explain my wife and daughters. Just as females are an enigma to males, so God moves, acts, and speaks in ways that are ofttimes puzzling to humanity. Maybe that is why Jesus said the world does not discern or accept the Holy Spirit. Far too many folks like nice tidy answers to clear questions. Jesus babbling about some person living in us appears highly nonsensical to a chunk of humanity.

So, for me, I continually come back to what I know and understand about the Trinity: It is an intimate fellowship of love. In love, the Father and the Son have sent the Spirit to be with us forever – the Spirit of truth. In a world where evidence-based reasoning typically eschews any sort of intuitive knowledge, there are many learned people who believe spiritual matters are best left to guys like me. Yet, we severely truncate our ability to know anything if our epistemic presuppositions are bereft of knowledge beyond our five senses. For Christians and many other spiritually sensitive people, we discern there are senses beyond taste, touch, sight, smell, and hearing. Indeed, for those with spiritual eyes to see and ears to hear, there is a vast multi-dimensional world far above and beyond the habitation of our three-dimensional space. And love binds it all together.

I once asked an extremely secular-minded friend about love. He talked of loving words and actions that are derived from biological instinct and well-developed brain chemistry. After he spoke at some length about this, I simply asked him, “Does that kind of understanding about love help you in your relationships, especially with your girlfriend?” He looked at me like I had caught him with his hand in the cookie jar. “It doesn’t – and we are not doing so well in our relationship.”

I am not here to make digs at secular thinkers. In fact, I deeply appreciate the many friends I have whose worldviews are quite different than mine. I just have personally discovered that the Bible rings true for me (and it did not for many years when I was younger) and that the Trinity is a reality because of the Holy Spirit’s witness of truth in me.

Trinity Love 2

Love is a matter of the gut and the head as well as the heart. Love can no more be relegated to limited spheres of being than a mule can be tamed with nicely asking him to settle down. Love is much too big, expansive, and powerful to be contained. So, it resides within God because God is the only Being which can hold it. God’s words and actions are not merely loving – God himself is love. And God lovingly bestows that love to us in measures and in ways we can absorb it and know it. Just as people can die of a broken heart, so their hearts can burst if filled with such overwhelming love. The Father and the Son have graciously given the Spirit to be a kind of steward of love within us – dispensing love with great care and attention in ways we feel it and may not be able to explain it with words.

I take great solace in the fact that the Holy Spirit is my Advocate. We all have times in our lives when we just cannot seem to get anywhere – or do not have the ability to express what we want. In such times, we need an advocate, someone who has the weight to be heard by others – someone who has our back when we are experiencing limitations. The Spirit is such a person. And the Spirit advocates for us in loving ways for all parties involved. The only thing impossible for God is to be unloving and unkind; it is not in his nature. Because of divine love, God sent the Son, then the Spirit, to be with us forever so that we would never be alone and always have someone to champion our well-being.

Living in obedience to the God of Love is sheer joy and delight. Laboring for the Lord seems almost effortless when we have a true vision of God high above, surveying all creation with eyes of love for his people – as well as a vision of God below and right next to us, listening with rapt attention to our every word and himself delighted with each movement we make.

Look upon us, O Lord, and let all the darkness of our souls vanish before the beams of your brightness. Fill us with holy love, and open to us the treasures of your wisdom. All our desires are known to you, therefore, perfect what you have begun and what your Spirit has awakened us to ask in prayer. Turn your face toward us and show us your great love and glory. Then shall our longings be satisfied, and our peace shall be perfect.

–A Prayer of St. Augustine, 354–430 CE