Who is My God? Who am I in Relation to God?

A few verses I have appreciated using recently for reflecting on the character of God and what that means for me.

Psalm 135:5-7 “For I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the Lord pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightnings for the rain and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.”

2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

Psalm 30:2 “O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.”

Matthew 5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”

Psalm 119:11 “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

Jeremiah 23:23-24 “Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the Lord.”

1 Peter 24:24-25 “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass whithers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever. And this word was the good news that was preached to you.”

Psalm 73:28 “But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.”

Isaiah 50:7 “But the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.”

1 John 4:18 “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”

Lamentations 3:22-23 “The steadfast love of our Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

Prayer of Thanks and for Clarity

Abba, the grace and love you pour over me is without end. I see the love You have for me even as I grow frustrated at my own weakness and shortcomings. I give thanks that you teach me to love others the way you love me, as imperfectly as I might execute this. I praise God that I witness in Cincinnati a city being transformed by people who are being transformed by you. Abba, Love that Moves Us, Hope that Gives Us Breathe, we offer all good things as proof of your love. Please guide myself and my community in this time as to our purposes; provide us with clear vision and passionate hearts that ache to move the world. We are your people, Lord. In your name I pray, amen.

Contextual Theology of Ministry Compacted

As I began to try to understand my call to ministry, this driving purpose that propels me forward but asks me to try to bring about change without doing harm, I look towards theology. Perhaps others start with theology and head in the direction of ministry. Either way, we wind up in the midst of the theology of ministry, where we must ask ourselves how we can understand what that ministry should look like. Through gaining an understanding of God’s nature and Laws, we begin to understand how our ministry should be shaped. This is the premise of theology of ministry. We cannot do that that without context though; people require comparison to something they already understand or a demonstration to really begin to grasp theology of ministry because otherwise it is incomprehensible.  Jesus shows us these two things clearly in his ministry. We therefore must take a situation or circumstance and, using our understanding of God through the Scripture and other historical writings and teachings, discern how God is present, what aspects we can come to know God in this situation, and what it tells us about what we should do.

Let us look, for example, at slavery. Now we all know that there are various verses in the Bible that offering a variety of insights on slavery at the times those book were written. This is too broad. If we instead narrow down to slavery that is present in the US up until the end of the Civil War we begin to see a very different context. These slaves were stolen or traded from villages who endured inhumane conditions on ships where, if they survived, they were treated as animals and auctioned off. Most were not allowed to marry and any children they had were property of their owners. They could be beaten, raped, tortured, killed and there were basically no repercussions to the “owners.” They could be separated from one another at any moment never to see each other again. These were a people abused and oppressed.

When we try to discover where God is present biblically within the context of these abused and oppressed slaves, we see it is with the oppressed and not with the oppressor. Psalm 82:3-4 tells us, “Vindicate the weak and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; Deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.” God called the Christian people in power to service, gave them direction on how to treat the slaves who matched in every adjective this description. Yet it took 10 million lives crossing an ocean as captives and four hundred years to pass before freedom would be gained. In Deuteronomy 10:18 we are told, “”He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing.” We see in 1 Samuel 2:8 the promise that Christians know, and that the Christian slaves saw in the resurrection of Jesus: “He raises the poor from the dust, He lifts the needy from the ash heap To make them sit with nobles, And inherit a seat of honor; For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’S, And He set the world on them.”

Now that we understand both the historical and biblical context (in compact form), we can discern that from this context, God is one for justice of all who are not treated as a person of free will: orphan, widow, weak, fatherless, afflicted, destitute, needy; all to be delivered out of the hands of the wicked. These individuals aren’t in this state because of their choosing but because of the oppression they suffer and so we know that God also stands against oppression. Lastly, we learn that there will be a resurrection for all these individuals, a place of honor. God will bring reconciliation through resurrection. We also know that Jesus told us that as he does, we are also to do.

In summary, we walk away from this contextual theological analysis of slavery understanding God and our call as Christians in three critical ways. First, God seeks justice for those who are at a disadvantage and we should do the same. Second, God takes side against oppressors and with the oppressed and we must try to make sure that when we act, we always act in solidarity with the oppressed and not with those that oppress. Lastly, just as God promises to do, we have the ability and call right now to treat people with honor, dismantle unjust power structures and bring reconciliation into the lives of our fellow human beings through compassionately loving them.

Where is holiness in my life?

While reading Practicing our Faith I could not help but reflect, as I have this entire class, on how my faith is reflected in my own life. Where is holiness in it? Is it found only in moments of prayer and attendance of church service? I believe it is something that I can personally plug into, but how often do I do so and to what extent? How often is it reflected out to others?

When I consider the rhythms of life and holiness, it is impossible not to think first of Matthew 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” but what feels like a deeply vocational call is something that can be done in the context of any career, not to the exclusion of it. It is something that we experience most often in the process of sharing life, not avoiding it.

As I think of the different stories we read about Jesus and the way he transformed people’s lives, so few of them took place within a place of worship. Most were when Jesus entered into solidarity with others through meals, at a well, in the streets, at the fishing boats, etc. Jesus was a man who again shows us that to experience relationship with God comes from spending time with God, with our community, and with serving others.

Practical Spirituality

Spirituality must be practical. It sounds so common sense and yet how often do people end up feeling distanced from it, as if it is impractical or inapplicable to their everyday life? Dorthee Solle and Fubert Steffensky are quoted from Not Just Yes and Amen: Christians with a Cause, as saying “We can neither deceive God nor impose something on him. We can only slowly forget God, and that would be terrible since then we would slowly be forgetting ourselves as well.” (Bass, 68) To avoid this circumstance we must take practical steps to make sure the spiritual is part of our everyday; that it is part of what we do, how we do it and ultimately who we are.

First of these steps is to make sure that the things we do are life giving. Biblically, this is a theme that runs like a vein through all the scriptures, to give life to others and ourselves. This includes caring for and respecting our body as well as the body of others. It can also be useful in discerning when to say yes and when to say no to something as opposed to defaulting to an answer without any affording it any consideration. One of the places where we as a society are experiencing a deficit in this area the most is in hospitality. “It is tragically evident in homelessness and widespread hostility to immigrants.” (Bass, 3) In the most basic of forms, this means that we make sure that where possible, we always take into consideration not just charity but also empowerment and justice.

Second is to make sure that in times of change, we are not alone, that we are in community. Again, evidence of this struggle can currently be seen in the abundant self-help section of any store. “Dislocated and disconnected, we suppose that self-help offers our best hope. Lacking shared beliefs, we conclude that our private preferences are the closest we can come to the truth of matters.” (Bass, 4) But this is not the path of the Christian. Although we may retreat and spend time alone with God, we find context for what we hear from God and ourselves within community. Practically speaking, we see some of this direction given in Hebrews 10:24-25 “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Lastly but just as critically, is to practice; to put into action ones faith. “Practices, therefore, have practical purposes: to heal, to shape communities, to discern. Oddly, however, they are not treasured only for their outcomes. Just taking a full and earnest part in them is somehow good in itself, even when purposes that are visible to the human eye are not achieved.” (Bass, 7) All those earlier steps are critical at this juncture (and should continue) because we need our practices to always be life giving. We need to make sure that we are operating not alone but in truth and finally, that we are practicing together, in community when possible. This allows us to not only keep one another on track and accountable but to be hospitable and invitational to others who want to join our community.

Referenced: Dorothy Bass, Practicing Our Faith Second Ed.

Prayer of Thanks and for Change

My only God, Creator of all that is and will ever be, you wrap me in your love, you fill me with your Spirit, you pull me under your wing and give me comfort. When my eyes are open to my poverty, in your time you give me abundance. You are present when I seek you fully and your grace has shown no limits. I give thanks for the God you are, of both grace and justice, choice and presence. Continue to transform my heart so it is more like yours, so that I give freely what I have been given. Praise The Lord our God, amen.

Vocation and the Laity, Works and Grace, Luther and De Sales

Luther’s foundational belief was that we are saved only by the grace of God, not by our works as the Church had come to emphasize in his time. This meant that the individual had a direct line to God through which God’s grace was extended, not via the ecclesiastical system but through Jesus himself. Additionally, Luther argued that almost all “callings” had equal value through faith before God (a few vocations are excluded from this). In other words, we are all Christians and there doesn’t need to be and shouldn’t be a division between the spiritual and temporal: that’s why he condemned the monastic vows and commended life outside the isolation of the monastery. It doesn’t matter what one does but how it is done: to love other’s within their calling.

Francis De Sales was a Catholic who affirmed many of the ideas of faith in the ordinary life instead of the monastic pursuit. He oriented around simple steps of devotion anyone could take and like Luther, it was based on the idea that the foundation of this was love. He explained that it wasn’t as hard to get to heaven as many were told, and that it was more a series of steps toward purification and growth than maintenance of that state. This deviates from Luther, I believe, in being more works based than grace based but still has much more grace in it than I think they were used to at this point. Francis was totally confident in the redeemable nature of humans and God’s overflowing love, that we have a natural drive towards this love. Francis saw nature and grace as a merged attribute. Finally, Francis De Sales does tend to come across as a path that seems more about the individual than Luther, with charity being more surface and compassion having less depth. This is a first impression. I think this would be difficult to really discern without further research.

As I read about Francis De Sales I can see why it appeared more people turned to monastic callings from his teachings than Luther’s. Francis seems less concerned about division from each other and God and more concerned about the journey toward God. Luther seemed much more concerned about the division he saw for some people between God and those people, because of the journey of other’s towards God (in other words, the monastic and ecclesiastic groups within the Catholic Church).