Our true identity in Christ and the momentum of holiness

Our true identity and the momentum of holiness

What can Paul Gauguin and Paul the Apostle teach us about our identity in Christ? Born in France and raised partially in Peru, Paul Gauguin's early years were marked by the death of his father, domestic upheaval, and sweeping cultural shifts. After returning to France to live with his grandfather, he joined the merchant marines, served a stint in the navy, took work as a stockbroker, married, and had several kids. His tumultuous life could have settled into middle-class ease, but then Gauguin … [Read more...]

Why you can (and should) assume the goodness of God

Assuming the goodness of God

A friend recently told me about an acquaintance who's convinced that God is angry with her. She's in a rough patch right now and believes that he's punishing her. I'm not equipped to plumb the mind of God, but I wonder about that. Some people seem quick to assume the anger of God. Perhaps there are personal reasons they feel distance from him, and that distance feels like God's displeasure toward them. If you read the Psalms, you're familiar with the dynamic. But I don't think that God is … [Read more...]

Possessing an eager heart

possessing an eager heart

Reading the story of Abraham and his three angelic visitors, I was struck by the verbs. When Abraham saw the angels standing by the tree, Genesis 18 says that he "ran" to meet them. Once he got them settled, it says he "hurried" to Sarah to have her prepare bread for the guests, which he told her to do quickly. Next it says that he "ran" and selected a heifer for their meal. Just picture him: Abraham, an old man at this point, is hotfooting his way through the account, bolting this way, then … [Read more...]

God made us to love us

God made us to love us

Why did God make us? When you look how the ancient writers of the Church thought about that question the answer might surprise. It’s the same reason he saved us: love. God made us to love us. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live in a relationship of eternal and mutual love. But, as fourth-century theologian Gregory Nazianzen observes, it is the nature of love to seek objects to love. For an uncreated God, that means it is natural to create. “Good must be poured out and go forth,” said … [Read more...]

Trusting God’s messy providence

Into the tangle

If your week hasn’t gone according to plan, this post is for you. Come to think of it, if your life hasn’t gone according to plan, this post is for you. St. Paul offers the Romans (and us) an extremely comforting thought when he tells them that God works all things for our good. Probably most of us believe that, cling to it in fact. We’re just mystified about how he goes about doing it. Look at Joseph’s story. God used him to save Egypt from famine and, by extension, the fledging … [Read more...]

Into the hands of a loving God

The Heart of the Good Shepherd

On July 8, 1741, Jonathan Edwards preached his most famous sermon and probably the most famous American sermon ever, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” The sermon portrays God suspending sinners over the fires of hell with only his arbitrary good pleasure preventing their drop to eternal torment. Edwards paints a frighteningly vivid picture to provoke his listeners to self-reflection, fear, and repentance. “The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, … [Read more...]

3 approaches to dealing with grief

Dark Day of the Soul

What do you do when you lose someone, when tragedy and misfortune befall your family? Pat answers will not serve a suffering heart, but there are helpful patterns for response after one’s private world collapses. When Nectarius, the future bishop of Constantinople, and his wife lost their son, their friend St. Basil wrote to consol them. He penned individual letters to father and mother both, tuned to their particular pain. These tender notes remain touching and edifying almost sixteen and … [Read more...]

Participating in the light of Christ

The Cross and the World

Moses first meets God in the glow of a burning bush. After spending time with the Lord later in the story, he comes down from the mountain with a face that shines so bright he needs a veil. And when he appears in the gospel narratives with Elijah at the Transfiguration, he is awash with the uncreated light of God. These images from the scriptures are, among other things, snapshots in a progression of a life lived with God, a growing, intensifying illumination. The Church celebrated Epiphany … [Read more...]

Simplicity is not all it’s cracked up to be

Peering into the nebula

I once heard a pastor talking about how Jesus’ ministry was all about simplifying things. One of the examples was that Christ took the entire Mosaic Law and summarized it in the Great Commandment. On the surface that sounds reasonable. Cramming the essential meaning of reams of passages into two sentences is quite a feat. But is loving the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength simple? What about loving your neighbor as yourself? People talk about the simplicity of the … [Read more...]

Take heart, Jesus sees

Christ the Savior and Lifegiver

Sight features frequently in the Gospel narratives. On several occasions, Jesus heals those who cannot see. The miracles are signs that he’s the long-promised messiah. They are also signs of spiritual renewal; restored physical sight stands as an outward picture of restored spiritual sight. The once-blind are no longer clouded in spiritual darkness, and those still befogged, like the Pharisees, are the “blind leaders of the blind.” Something I never noticed, however, is the role that … [Read more...]