Living Reflectively

“What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”  (Ps. 8:4)

Anyone who takes the time to think of how much God loves him or her would be amazed by how unfathomable God’s love for him or her is.

Those who live thoughtlessly:  There are people who live thoughtlessly and, therefore, aimlessly.  For them life is a seemingly unending series of trial and errors.  Such people never realize that God is good.  Their lives consist of their making one wrong impulsive decision after another, yet they have the gall to blame God for the consequences of their mistakes.

Those who live in the past:  There are those who live in the past.  Some huge wrong decision in the past had pulled them down and has kept them down, and they never seem to lift up their heads to consider the possible solutions to their problems.

Those who live for the moment:  There are those who live for the moment, the here and now.  Esau is a very good example of this type of people.  The Bible tells us that one day Esau got back home from hunting in the forest, and he was famished.  He saw that his twin brother, Jacob, had prepared a delicious-looking red stew.  Esau asked if Jacob would be kind enough to give him some of his stew.  Jacob responded that he would give Esau the stew only if Esau would sell him his birthright.  Esau, who was focused only on his hunger at that time, would proceed to sell Jacob his birthright for some stew that would satisfy his hunger that one time alone (see Genesis 25:29-34).

Those who live for the moment do not take the time to consider the consequences of their decisions and actions.  Their motto is, “Do it if it will satisfy a need now.”  Continue reading

It was His Love

hbu cross 2013The cross may have been old and rugged
The cross may have been firm and secure
But it was not the cross that held my Lord up at Calvary
It was His love for you and me

The nails may have been long and sharp
The nails may have been sturdy and straight
But it was not the nails that held my Lord up on the cross
It was His love for you and me

The soldiers may have been fit and trained
The soldiers may have been ruthless and hardened
But it was not the soldiers who hoisted my Lord on the cross
It was His love for you and me Continue reading

Recapturing the Spring of Your Faith

Spring FlowersAs we begin the month of March, everyone in the U.S. is looking forward to the arrival of spring.  For our countrymen in the northeast and eastern seaboard, who have been pummeled by the polar vortex over and over again, spring cannot come soon enough.  Spring is an enjoyable season.  I have not known anyone who does not like spring.   The brightness of the sunshine, the budding of the trees,  the blooming of the flowers, and the chirping of birds unanimously strike a note of hope in the air.

The honeymoon is to a marriage what spring is to the weather.  Newlyweds enjoy the honeymoon, see every reason to love each other intensely, refuse to see any negative trait in the other person, and look forward to a bright future.  Years after the honeymoon, if one of the parties should cause their love to go sour, the result is always devastating.   Our Lord’s statement in Revelation 2:4 conjures up the image of this type of lost love.  He would ask the Apostle John to write to the Church at Ephesus, saying, “… Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have lost your first love…..”

Whereas in the case of married couples the fault of failed love cannot be blamed totally on one party, in the case of our relationships with the Lord, the fault is always ours, for the Lord stays faithful even when we are faithless (see 2Timothy 2:13).  But what would cause someone to lose his or her first love? Continue reading

Love, Lent, and Law

Three events took place in a single week, indeed, in three consecutive days: the beginning of Lent (Ash Wednesday), Valentine’s Day (Thursday), and my first test of the term in Old Testament survey (Friday), which required the students to write down the 10 Commandments from memory. In a way, all three of them had to do with love.st-valentine2

While the work of Anders Nygren (Agape and Eros) and that of C. S. Lewis (The Four Loves) are flawed when it comes to Greek linguistics, both have clearly shown that the English term “lovehas multiple meanings, or, better put, a wide semantic range. The problem that the two authors named above had was that they connected parts of this semantic range to specific Greek words, when in fact some of the Greek words also have quite a range.  Agape, for example, is not only found designating God’s love of human beings in the New Testament, but it is also found as the only word for love in the Song of Solomon, a love that involves body parts and a woman sneaking out for a tryst with her true “love” without Solomon being any the wiser. Yet it is true, as Nygren and Lewis argued, that God’s love for human beings as well as human love for God (which can be seen as the summation of those 10 Commandments) is not an emotional experience, an infatuation, or a sexual desire, as we often see in the contemporary exploitation of Valentine’s Day, but rather a deep commitment, a sacrificial commitment, to the good of the other, that is seen in the true story of St. Valentine. Such a love for God calls us to a time of self-examination and self-denial, which is the meaning of Lent.

We may summarize the 10 Commandments as Jesus did with “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” but then ask, “What does this mean?”  In reality this calls us back to Eden, for love is, at least in part, trust. In this story of Genesis 3 human beings failed to trust God, that is, failed to love God in that they decided to secure their own independent future. The issue in Eden is not so much the breaking of the commandment as the abandonment of love and trust, as the abandonment of dependence upon God; that is the core of Genesis 3. However one reads the narrative, the reality is evident in human life.

Rather than love the Lord our God and believe the teaching of Jesus, we say, “Blessed are the rich, for they will be given positions of influence.”  Rather than love the Lord our God and believe the teaching of Jesus, we say, “Blessed are the strong and powerful, for they will defeat their enemies.” This is also the story of the Old Testament. Israel turned to foreign gods, to fertility gods, and we turn to Mammon, which we have renamed Wall Street, or economic/financial security. Israel turned to other gods, to gods of power such as Ba’al and the gods of Assyria, and we turn to Mars, whether in the personal form of little Mars, the small image of Mars,  the pistol in our purse, or the national form of “national security.” Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”  Well, how about, “Love your enemies”?  Well, how about, “Sell what you have and give to the poor”?  We work hard at explaining why these and many other teachings of Jesus do not apply to us, or are merely personal and internal. Oh yes, we say, they were taken quite seriously by Francis of Assisi, by A. W. Tozer, and by other great followers of Jesus down the ages, but they are not for us. We want to experience the love of God, and so we have an exciting worship event with a great band. This sounds more like the love of Valentine’s Day than the love that Jesus talked about. And such infatuation love wears off quickly; it takes the type of love that the spiritual tradition speaks so much about to last a lifetime. Jesus is committed to our good, and to show it he did not have good feelings, but he had the painful feelings of stretching out his arms upon the cross. This is the type of love that has lasted not only for a lifetime but for millennia. If we love him, if we really love him, we will keep his commandments. After all, his commandments are his interpretation of the 10 Commandments – we see that in Matthew 5. If we love him, we will keep his commandments, which means we will meditate on the Gospels, and we will seek to follow his teaching. If we need help, we have two millennia of spiritual writers to help us, starting with the Apostolic Fathers and the Desert Fathers and continuing to this day.

So Valentine’s Day and the 10 Commandments are not really that far from Lent. Lent calls us to examine our hearts and ask ourselves if we really love Jesus. That is, it calls us to ask if we are really keeping his commandments. The more seriously we take his teaching, the deeper our examination becomes. The deeper our examination becomes, the more we repent and make decisions to live the radical type of life that Jesus calls us to. And as we step forward into this life, those around us will surely call us fools, as they did Jesus and most of the saints, but we will also experience God’s love, or, to put it a different way, the joy of the Holy Spirit. That is, if we send a genuine Valentine to God, we will surely get one back. St. Francis was not a miserable, mean-spirited, poor man of Assisi, but God’s joyful fool, happy beggar, and lover of God’s world. That is why he started a massive renewal in his day, for the love of God flowed through him.

Why I Don’t Want to Love

Many people around the country this week were preparing for and celebrating Valentine’s Day. So I thought I would read two biblical passages about love. These passages reminded me of why I don’t want to love: John 17:20-26 and 1 Cor 13:8-13.photo 4(1)

In John 17, Jesus reminded me that my love of fellow Christians is supposed to reflect at least something of the love Jesus shared with the Father. I realize that I cannot actually demonstrate the real love shared amongst two members of the Trinity; for that love is perfect love. However, this passage is a reminder that I am to show a radically different love toward fellow Christians than our culture generally understands. I am to demonstrate a love that is described in another passage, 1 Corinthians 13. This passage reminds me of how much I don’t want to love.

Continue reading

A Theology of Reading? by Charles Halton

[This is Charles Halton’s first term of teaching for HBU; he teaches from a distance, partly online and partly by flying in from Louisville; we are excited to have him as part of the theology team and look forward to more from him.]

Our world is awash in words. They fill books and blogs, novels and noirs, mags and ads, texts and tweets. Think of how many hours a day you spend reading and writing them. It’s probably more than you think. Especially if you include all the instances of passive reading when words flash on screens or phrases leap off billboards and lodge themselves into your subconscious. But even if we only include this semester’s textbooks, reading involves a significant chunk of your life.

How does all this time and energy relate to your theology?

It doesn’t. The eye scans the page, the brain forms meaning, it’s what we do. It’s atheological, like swallowing. Or so I thought until I read Alan Jacobs’s A Theology of Reading: The Hermeneutics of Love.

The title caught my eye. A theology of reading? That makes little sense. A theology for reading, that’s more like it. A theology for reading would help me understand the correct thoughts I should have as I weigh the ideas conveyed in books. Help me determine if the author is orthodox, heterodox, a heretic or somewhere in between. Enable me to see through the lies of advertising and the propaganda in politics. A theology for reading is focused on the content of what we read and if there is a need for theology when reading it’s here.

But that’s not Jacobs’s view. He taught me that theology encompasses the entire act of reading. It doesn’t merely determine the way in which we accept or reject the messages we read. Reading is a theological act–start to finish–and it’s a topic that deserves our sustained reflection.

When a scribe asked Jesus to name the greatest divine teaching he replied:

“Love the Eternal One your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is nearly as important, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The rest of the law, and all the teachings of the prophets, are but variations on these themes (The Voice).

Writing is produced by people–your neighbors. This sounds elementary and it is. But the implications that Jacobs draws from this connection are profound. Writing is the extension of a person. It’s a vehicle that, albeit imperfectly, connects two minds over the distance of time and space. Whenever you read you are in some sense encountering a neighbor. This, in turn, means that avoidance of error in understanding the author is not the main goal of reading, even when it’s a textbook. It means that reading should be pleasurable, even when it’s a dull and dry syllabus. It means that you should love the piece and expect the best for it, even when you disagree with it. Reading with love exposes you to risk but it’s a risk that a theological reader must embrace.

Some of this may sound controversial and in a way it is. You probably approach reading as if it weren’t theological, like I once did. After I came to understand that a theology of reading–one that is centered upon love–is essential to reading Christianly, I found Jacobs’s ideas quite orthodox. You’ll have to read Jacobs’s book to see how he unpacks all this but if you do I bet you’ll never read in the same way again. It looks like I may have added another book to your already long list this semester. But, alas, that’s one of the risks of reading.

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