Thursday, September 5, 2013

John Calvin's Emblem

Recently I was helping with a renewal event at a church here in Cedar Rapids, and one of the speakers, knowing I was a Presbyterian pastor, asked me to talk to the audience about the crest, or emblem, of John Calvin.  Providentially (as we say in the Reformed tradition), the Lord had prepared me to be able to speak to the dedication and passion that is expressed in this intriguing statement about John Calvin’s personal faith.
“Cor meum quasi immolatum tibi offero, Domine, prompte et sincere” were the words emblazoned over the pulpit from which Calvin preached and taught at St. Peter’s Cathedral in Geneva.  In English, “My heart as sacrifice I give you, Lord, eagerly and honestly.”  It is a statement indicative of the passion Calvin has for God and for serving God.  His heart has been ignited by faith in Christ, which is why the heart is shown as already aflame even as it is being offered to God.  In this we see Calvin’s view of faith as more than some kind of contractual consent between the believer and God.  Rather, Calvin understands faith to be a tangible “touch” that we experience as a fire in our inner most being!  It enlivens, indeed, it illuminates us with an experience of faith that begins and supports an ongoing growth in the fruits of the Holy Spirit, in other words, a growing healthy spiritual life.  Thus, to have faith in Christ is to enter into a most real, aware, and sensory experience of being a living, breathing human person.
One of the interesting things about Calvin’s motto is that later quotes tend to leave out the phrase, “quasi immolatum” or “as sacrifice.”  Almost everyone still refers to the flaming heart pictured in the emblem, but rarely is it retained in the motto itself.  While this is probably just an innocent development in the passing down of the motto, it does raise the idea of a “cooler,” or less emotive sense of faith.  For many, their experience of Christ, church, and faith are much less than sacrificial and “fiery.”  For many of us, we’ve never felt that “fire in our bones,” as the prophets describe it.  When Pascal experienced the reality of God in his life, he just repeated the word, “fire, fire, fire.”  Is it possible that those words “as sacrifice” have been discarded to fit the “cooled religious feelings” of Calvin’s theological descendents?  How many Reformed, Presbyterian, and congregational ministries can be called “passionate” in today’s churches?  How many Presbyterians, especially in the United States, have any sense of “fire” in their faith? 
Let me submit to you that this is the key to both our personal walk with Christ as well as our experience of being part of a church; that is, is your heart “aflame” with faith?  Is your faith in Christ something that grabs you deep within, something that makes you feel your heart beat, making you aware of the power of life coursing through your arteries and veins?  We can talk about what we should believe, and we can discuss the things we should do.  We can have a basic understanding of who Jesus is, and even have a finely honed orthodox knowledge of Christian beliefs, but it means nothing if we haven’t at some point experienced faith as a “majestic meekness” and a “sweet burning in my heart,” as Jonathan Edwards phrases it.  The writer to the Hebrews is even more descriptive of the experience of grace and faith when he says, “…let us be thankful and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”

So, is your faith in God like cooled off lava, having hardened into the religious impressive equivalent of polished basalt or sculpted obsidian – beautiful, but hard and cold?  Or does your faith bear with it the gift of the living God, who breathes life into your soul, causing your heart to stir with the fires of love, joy, and peace; things that lead to life – life overflowing?!   

Friday, June 28, 2013

Equal But Not The Same: Same Sex Marriage As The End Of Rationality.

In light (or darkness) of the Supreme Court rulings this week upholding the "right" to same sex marriage, it is interesting to see how the proponents of this innovation appeal to a basically Christian principal, that is, "Everyone is equal," but then apply it in a very anti-Christian way. The clarion call of the same sex marriage lobby is actually referring to the assertion that "everyone is created equal" in the Declaration of Independence, where Jefferson and the Founders base this truth in the existence of a Creator who orders all life and nature. This same Creator has made clear that the order for marriage is "one man and one woman." Therefore, homosexual marriage can be deemed legal, constitutional, or whatever category humans may want to make up, but none of this dissuades God or changes the reality of the creation that the Creator has made.
Yes, this is a "religious" rationale for what marriage should be, but marriage is essentially a religious act, and no secular basis for defining marriage has emerged, except that, whatever it is, it should be available to all sexual orientations. At this point in the societal and legal descent regarding the definition of marriage, the rationale is now open to the practice of any configuration of persons. On what basis does a society that holds a polymorphic view of marriage ever withhold the right to marry? There is no basis, except as an expression of hatred toward any who do not accept a radically secular approach to society. Radical secularism is fascist, having no rational framework for an objective, reasonable, and natural understanding of human existence!

Though the framers of the Constitution obviously never intended it to overturn what they believed to be a fundamental building block for society, the present emphasis upon a strictly secular reading of the Constitution compels an approach to marriage that resists definitions and boundaries. Therefore, religious views (and for that matter, any view that actually defines who, what, and how many should marry) are apriori rejected and judged as wrong. So, fully expect that the next steps in the devolution of marriage in our society will be formal sanctions AGAINST anyone who holds a religious view limiting marriage to an heterosexual expression. (I state it this way because though same sex marriage is targeting specifically a Christian view of marriage, it also will condemn Islamic and animistic religious views as well.) Even now I find a growing willingness for same sex marriage proponents to openly condemn and encourage the intimidation of any person (me), group (Christians), or institution (church) that does not accept the legitimacy of same sex marriage, or any of the other impending marriage innovations (group, cross species, inanimate affective, adult-child, and mono-affective, etc.). 

On a different note, as far as the idea regurgitated over and over in same sex marriage discussions that no one can judge anyone else because Jesus turns no one away, it is important to not be silly about this. No, it is not my place to judge another, but I have enough awareness and the ability to recognise wrong doing and react accordingly, especially regarding issues that God has spoken clearly about. Thus, if a person enters a mall and begins to randomly shoot people, I am able to discern immediately that this is a wrong action, that the person is acting in a sinful manner, and that I may intervene in their behaviour to stop them from doing it. In fact, if I say to myself that I have no right to judge them or restrict them, it is obviously clear that my response is also wrong, and even sinful. 

Also, Jesus would never turn anyone away is not true, since Matthew 25 describes Jesus turning many away at the Last Judgement. Plus, people choose now whether to follow Jesus and obey his words now, and many choose not to follow and obey. Since Jesus made clear his view that marriage is only for one man and one woman (Matthew 19:3-8; Mark 10:2-9), then it is impossible for us to be obedient disciples if we are seeking to not only disobey a clear Word of the Lord, but even to claim we know better than God in our disobedience. 

And with this, I am done commenting about this issue for the foreseeable future!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Wichita State Basketball: Proof There Is A God!

My old alma mater, Wichita State University, (or is it my alma mater and I'm the one that's old) has defied all reasonable expectations and played its way into the Final Four of the NCAA Basketball tournament.  Of course, I've got to mention this in my blog, because this isn't a regular occurrence in my life.  The last time WSU made it to the Final Four, I was 12 years old, and it turned out to be a rather ugly affair as they played one of John Wooden's UCLA super teams in the semi-final, getting soundly trounced by a team that was just beginning the Kareem Abdul Jabbar (Lew Alcindor at the time) era.

The really cool thing about this present team is how they have faced so many obstacles that would have made it easy for them to go easier on themselves. First, last year's team was talent laden, but also filled with seniors. Of course, they all graduated and were gone this year. No one on this year's team was a regular player last year. Then a plethora of injuries hit this squad after about ten games. Three of their main players missed significant time this year, with one starter not able to return at all. And then, despite overcoming these  problems, the team suffered what many teams do in a long season, a late season slump where things just aren't clicking as they should. This is when they dropped some games to far lesser opponents, which of course, caused many people to say the season was pretty much over, and that, considering all things, they had handled things fairly respectably. They were runners-up in the Missouri Valley Conference to a stellar Creighton University team with their stand-out candidate for college player of the year, Doug McDermott. Everyone would have been very happy with what they had achieved, and no one would have thought less of them if they had lost to Pittsburgh in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Just making the tournament this year was a great feat for this team.

But they did not see things this way! This group wanted to be more than just okay, more than just "pretty good considering the obstacles." They wanted to do great things, and still believed they could. They were not willing to settle for anything less than their very, very best. So they handled Pittsburgh, then upset mighty Gonzaga, stayed the course with beating Lasalle, and then shocked everyone by beating an Ohio State team that had been playing as well as anyone in college basketball over the last month.  Now, it's on to play the current juggernaut of college basketball, the University of Louisville Cardinals, in the semi-final of the Final Four in Atlanta!

Even now, that they could beat Louisville seems extremely unlikely, but the WSU Shockers are the epitome of "unlikely" right now. My reasonable adult mind wonders if this is really possible, whereas my 9 year old son is not surprised by any of what's happened. He is a big fan of Toure Murry from last year's team, and a big fan of Demetric Williams and Tekele Cotton on this year's team. In his mind, victories over Gonzaga and Ohio State were quite natural and expected. Now he thinks the same regarding Louisville, and is looking forward to Wichita State playing in the championship game. Apparently, he is thinking on the same wave length as all the players on the WSU team, which is of course they can beat anybody anywhere.

Thanks for a great season, Wichita State, but thank you even more for showing what can happen when we challenge ourselves to be as great as we believe we can be, and not to settle for everyone else's expectations to be just good enough.

I like the way Carl Hall, nicknamed the "Beast," who plays the inside game for WSU, summed up everything about this team.  In the West championship game, as Ohio State was making its furious comeback from 20 points down, with just a couple of minutes left on the clock, and the game's outcome no longer a sure thing for the Shockers, Carl Hall gathered his team mates together at the foul line and said, "No matter what happens, I want you to know that I love you all."  This is the mark of a team that is already a champion, a team that doesn't need a trophy to believe in itself and what can be accomplished!  So, to all the players and coaches on the 2012-2013 Wichita State University basketball team, as you face the mighty Louisville Cardinals this next Saturday, "No matter what happens, I want you to know that I love you all."

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Staying Alive

Yes, my long absence from the blogging world is coming to an end.  I will be taking up the pen, or should I say, the keyboard again in order to express profound and pithy comments about a variety of subjects in the world.

In this entry, however, please note that I have added my one and only recorded sermon of the past two years to my sermon list.  I have been preaching almost every week, but the little church I do this with does not have recording equipment set up, and I am not quite vain enough to insist upon changing this situation.  Nevertheless, one of the worshipers brought his video recording equipment last Easter, and I'm just now getting around to posting it.  The recording is missing a beginning and an end (a description which could apply to many sermons), but contains about 95% of the sermon as delivered.  It is longer than my usual sermon, but, hey, it was Easter!  
For those of you who like my preaching, enjoy!  For those of you who are being forced to watch due to compulsions beyond your control (such as a pastor search committee), mercy upon you!
I'll be writing more soon.  After all, since I ceased making frequent comments in the blogosphere, my denomination, the Presbyterian Church USA, decided to relate more to today's "post modern" world by becoming clearly and officially "post Christian."  A rather daunting step of arrogance and rebellion, especially if one still believes God has anything to do with faith and life, but still a step that will provide much material for cause and comment.

In the meantime, Keep The Celebration Going!