I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. John 16:12

Do we imagine that this limitation of not being able to bear all the truth, and so our Lord not imparting to us what we are not yet able to understand, only affected the twelve disciples and not us today? In fact, we are now, and always will be, unable to understand some, but not all, of what God wishes to reveal. The “unknowns” I wrote about last week ought to be expected. Always. Eternally. The journey of our finite selves toward the infinite will be, well, infinite.

The grace of revelation, the love in which God unveils himself to us, shows us our true selves as well his divine nature, and opens to us the depth and glory of his love in all its implications for every aspect of our lives. The process is simply never finished. God always has more light, the intense radiance of his own goodness, to shine forth. While no one can look on God and live (Exodus 33:20), this is not because God will strike us down for daring to look at him, though the ancients may have feared such a reprisal. Rather, we are incapable of encountering the unrefracted divine essence and remaining who we are. We know that the pure in heart will see God (Matthew 5:8), but all who see God die. Therefore, a dying will be necessary as we encounter God, and that dying will be to ourselves, the life we have so carefully made for ourselves. The dying may happen little by little instead of all at once, but nonetheless, we know what to expect.

The ultimate promise is for us to encounter God face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12). As this happens we cannot continue to live as we have. Moses was said to have had this type of interaction with God (Exodus 33:11), which transfigured him with the light of God’s presence so profoundly that the Israelites were afraid of his appearance when he descended from the mountain.

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18

Paul compares our own spiritual journey to Moses’ ascent to God on Mount Sinai. We will be increasingly transformed by the glory of God shining on us when with “unveiled” faces we behold God. This being glorified by his presence entails a commensurate dying. The unveiling is the revelation that God gives, which makes possible further change as we “look upon” God. Quite clearly, this is a lengthy process. All God’s revelation to us is partial and a prelude to more ,which will be granted when the time is right.

Spiritually, we remain in a place of utter dependance, that is, within the necessity of faith. Never do we master anything, nor can we have the confidence to smugly conclude, “we have arrived”. The nature of our spiritual remaking requires both faith and humility to even begin, and these virtues are necessary eternally for our lives with God, in Christ, as filled with the Spirit.

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Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 1 John 3:2

John makes a paradoxical statement, saying that we are already God’s children, while at the same time, we do not yet know what we will be. I guess someone could misunderstand John and think he means we are God’s children now but we will be something else later. That’s not what he means. We know we are God’s children because he tells us so. But John is saying we do not know what being children of God really means or is like. Evidently, what we are and are moving toward we do not comprehend, in terms of our own becoming. We are in the midst of a process of transformation and spiritual maturation, but the ultimate end we do not see nor yet understand.

We do, however, know who we will be like, and that is Jesus. He is the one into whose likeness we are growing. However, what is unknown is still very significant. Though we may note that John is referring in part to what our resurrected form will be, that it will be like Jesus’ own glorified state, he is also talking about the whole of who we will be spiritually, in maturity and completeness. In the verses which follow, if you look at what he discusses, he writes about the spiritual change that we must engage in.

For instance, John encourages us to purify ourselves (3:3) and practice righteousness (3:7), all in an effort to put away sin. We do this because Jesus was revealed to take away sins (3:5) and to destroy the works of the devil (3:8). In and through him we are beginning to see a future in which those works no longer hold us. Our efforts to shed vices and grow in virtues is what we do in faith, not by sight, moving toward an ultimate state of being that we do not fully understand. 

If we are being made by God into our true selves, who we were created to be, then we must confess that we do not know our true selves, that is, who will be when we are like Christ. We already are our true selves in the mind, will, grace, and love of God, but this reality is still being realized through the process of our own transformation. 

Even Jesus, who in one sense has been once for all revealed, still needs to be revealed to us because we tend to see him only in as much as we have already been changed by grace. We do not fully see Jesus as the God-man he is, the new Adam. Rather, we tend to see Christ in a limited way, as a reflection of our current imperfection, or maybe a small step beyond our current condition, unable to see who he is fully or who we will be when we are like him.

I say all this to make very clear the impossibility of constructing an individualized way to God. How could I plan what to do when I do not even know who I am supposed to become? We must practice the transforming disciplines of the spiritual life within the witness, traditions, and spiritual guidance of those who have gone before us. We must listen to and heed the guidance of others. We need a mentored life, rather than some self-made program composed of what we individually conclude will be helpful. I cannot mentor myself. I do not know what I need. How can I choose what will further my growth if, according to John, I do not even know what I will be?

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. Proverbs 3:5

In this letter, John himself is the elder spiritual leader, mentored by Jesus, who is now guiding others (1 John 1:1-4). He has learned the hard way that no one can chart the path of his or her own spiritual progress. After all, the disciples of Jesus were, according to their own accounts, inept at understanding Jesus, the Kingdom of God he proclaimed, or even how to be good disciples.They drove children away, wanted to destroy towns, stopped others from doing good in the name of Jesus, and harbored personal ambitions for greatness. If they had been choosing how to become what they envisioned they should be, well, it would not have been Christ-like. We all need to be taught to follow a path we would not choose, one summed up as bearing the cross.

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And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19

God provides and it is enough. Always. Most of our sinfulness can be traced to fears that God’s provision will not be sufficient in some way. We do not rest easy in faith. However, Paul promises that we will have all we need and this assurance covers every type of need. We may tend to think first of our physical and bodily needs, such as Jesus discusses when talking about our concerns for what we will eat, drink, or wear (Matthew 6:25-32). Jesus says his Father will supply these, and in light of this confidence, he urges us to make a priority of seeking God’s Kingdom (Matthew 6:33). Persistently looking for God’s Kingdom, the realm where God reigns as the loving Ruler, entails a focus and interest in what is beyond earthly and physical matters. Will not God supply all that is needed spiritually as well? Yes, he will!

But the righteousness based on faith says, Do not say in your heart, “Who will ascend into heaven?” (that is, to bring Christ down) or “Who will descend into the abyss?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart (that is, the word of faith which we preach). Romans 10:6-8

Paul scoffs at the idea that someone must go to great heights or depths to bring Christ near to us. In Christ, God is supplying all our needs, and he is not somewhere far away or difficult to find. When Jesus proclaimed the reality of God’s reign to the crowds, he said that the kingdom was within them (Luke 17:21). Both the kingdom and its King are close to each one of us already. When God provides for us spiritually he does this within and near, on our lips and in our hearts.

If on the contrary, God provided for us spiritually but placed what we needed far, far away, we would hardly call that supplying our every need in any realistic way. That which will spiritually renew us is not buried deep within hard to understand scholarly books, though they have their value. What will help us spiritually is not from some master teacher who lives high on a mountain in a distant land, though he may have good things to say. The only place we have to go to discover what God has supplied is within ourselves, right where God has positioned us already, by opening our spiritual eyes in humility and expectant wonder.

For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6

Truly this mystical passage from Paul tells us everything we need to know about God’s provision. He celebrates that the ever-creating God is speaking “let there be light” in our hearts, giving us knowledge of his own being and nature in the human face of Christ. God has placed within us the eternal source for our transformation, so that we might grow to be like the Son in whose face we see the radiance of God. 

One of our problems is that we are often convinced that what we need lies somewhere else. We become restless during our spiritual journey, and start thinking that God is not with us here, within us, and giving us all we need. Why would God have me where I am unless what I truly need is found right in this spot? Has God not provided and will he not continue to do so? Our spiritual journey is always about being opened up to what has always been before us the whole time. The seldom taken path that few find is the one within our own hearts where Christ dwells through the Spirit.

You were within me but I was outside myself, and there I sought you! In my weakness I ran after the beauty of the things you have made. You were with me, and I was not with you. – Prayer of St. Augustine

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Our Two Debts

The phrase that “Jesus paid a debt he did not owe” is both a true and untrue statement depending on what we believe is owed and to whom. Of course, we are using figurative language which compares our sinful situation to that of owing money, but it is nonetheless useful to think of ourselves as owing two debts.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23

First, we ought to think of ourselves as debtors to God because of our disobedience and falling short of his glory. We “owe” God obedience, love, and fidelity, for he is the one who creates and loves us, giving us life so that we might live in him and for him. We “owe” God our very selves, but we have taken ourselves for ourselves, and like the prodigal son, have gone off into a far country with everything our Father gave us (Luke 15:13). Since we have not given God what we owe, we have an outstanding debt that we cannot repay. Even being sorry for what we did does not restore what we took from God.

So what does God do about this debt? According to Jesus, he forgives the debt as illustrated by the king in who wipes out the vast sum owed by one of his servants (Matthew 18:27). Likewise, the father welcomes back the prodigal and doesn’t ask where the money is, or demand that it be paid back. God simply forgives the debt of our disobedience. If God were paid back in some way, then it would not be forgiveness.

On this basis we are told to forgive “as we have been forgiven” (Ephesians 4:32, Luke 23:34). We are also to petition that God forgive us our debts just as we forgive our debtors (Matthew 6:12). If God forgives without restitution, then we should be like God and do exactly the same for all who have wronged us.

Though God in mercy forgives what I owe him, that is not the only debt I owe. The one to whom I owe this second debt is not about to forgive it, but rather demands it be paid in full.

For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. Romans 7:14

Through the same disobedience that created my debtedness to God, I sold myself into slavery under sin. Satan orchestrated this selling of myself into sin and death. In my disobedience, even if I was unaware of the consequences, I made myself a slave to the devil and he now lays claim to my life. He now “owns” me because I exchanged my God-given life for a sinful one.

For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. Mark 10:45

The only hope for us as slaves is that someone free us, to ransom us from this cruel master who deceived us into giving our lives to him. The devil is not about to let us go after having ensnared us. However, our Savior Jesus Christ came to ransom us from captivity, to defeat and destroy sin, death, and the devil’s work, and so free us completely.

Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. Hebrews 2:14-15

When we say that Jesus paid a debt he did not owe, we mean that he paid the debt of death that sin requires and which the devil holds over us. Jesus is not paying a debt to his Father, for the Father forgives us. Though we were under Satan’s cruel reign because we sinned and sold ourselves in slavery, Jesus offered himself in our place, one who owed nothing to the devil, for he had never followed him, but who nevertheless submitted to a sinner’s death in our place. He allowed himself to be taken down into the grave, but the Father raised him from the tomb breaking the power of sin, death, and Satan in one cosmic stroke of love overcoming evil.

Understanding the difference between these two debts profoundly shapes our view of the gospel and of God. Jesus does not ransom us from his Father, or his wrath, as some suggest. Our enemy is the devil, sin, and death. God in Christ is giving us eternal life, forgiving us for our disobedience, and in Christ freeing us from the prison of sin and death. For our sakes, Jesus entered into that prison and released the captives. This is the good news of our salvation.

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Free in Christ

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

Mine is not an essay on current debates about freedom, choices, or responsibilities with respect to anything concerning the pandemic. Freedom in Christ is not at all what our world calls freedom. But maybe that is the point. The word may be the same in English, but the discussions could not be more different.

In our world personal freedom is the unrestrained ability to do what one chooses, and is therefore the exercise of one’s own unfettered will. This is the liberty enshrined in our nation’s documents. But this is not true freedom because acting according to one’s own will means doing what I want rather than God’s will, which makes me a slave to sin and “free” from righteousness.

When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. Romans 6:20-21

I need to be free from sin and enslaved to righteousness. To be free in Christ is to have no ability to do what one chooses but only as God chooses. Consequently, to be truly free is to be a slave to God. Certainly, we all are capable of choosing various options whether we are Christians or not, but that is not really freedom or having a free will. Having an independent will that is enslaved to sin is not having a freed will which only does what God says.

The human will is not free outside of Christ, though we certainly can make endless choices outside of Christ. No one, not even God, is forcing us to decide for or against one thing or another in any of our decisions, but that does not mean we are free. Only in Christ can our will be set free because true freedom is the liberating opportunity to become one’s fullest self. Our fullest self is through finding fullness in Christ.

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. Colossians 2:9-10

Until we are in Christ, we lack the opportunity to be our true self, no matter what choices we make. Without Christ, all the options before us are merely choices about how to live imperfectly, or in other words, deciding how to sin. Apart from Jesus we are in bondage to sin and slaves to corruption, so by definition we are not free. Simply being able to choose is not freedom; choosing well is. Without Christ we cannot choose well. In Him, we have been set free to choose the good, which rather than affording us a whole range of options, is actually only one course of action.

For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. 2 Corinthians 2:14-15

Paul describes being “urged” or “compelled” by the love of Christ to no longer live for himself but for others in godly, other-focused love. Does he have a choice? In one sense, yes . . . but the love of Christ is only giving him one option – to not live for himself just as Christ himself did not live for his own interests. In actuality, Paul’s choice is made for him. He is free from sinful living for the only good choice there is, which is to imitate Jesus.

Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does. Jean-Paul Satre

Satre understood that freedom of choice is not a blessing, but a curse. Only Christ can save us from this hell in which we endlessly make choices, none of which are true and good. When we are free in Christ the curse of human freedom is lifted and we are free to do what has been chosen for us – to love God.

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The Relevance of the Trinity 2

Last week we looked at how the absolute oneness of God, though in three persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, makes it possible for us to hear the words of Jesus not as separate in any way from words of God Almighty, no different than those of the Father. Similarly, the work of the Spirit within us is the same divine working as that of Christ. We believe that there is no hierarchy of greater or lesser within God, but we see an equality of the divine attributes within God. Though the Son dies on the cross and not the Father, the love displayed in the cross is the Father’s love as well as the Son’s. This is the same love instilled by the Spirit who brings to our minds all that Jesus taught, namely, that we are to love one another. 

This week I want to show one reason, though others could be given as well, for why we need to hold to the Trinitarian idea of the “threeness” of God. Those who have sought to speak and think about God without this “three” have so leaned toward emphasizing the oneness of God as to suggest that we simply experience God in three different ways, modes of interaction, or as three types of works, but that God is in reality simply one.

However, without God being three-in-one, truly three as well as one, all talk of the love of God becomes problematic. John states that God is love (1 John 4:8), which does not mean that God is loving, or that God desires love, though both are certainly true, but that God is what love is. God is love itself. This is only a meaningful statement if, within the life of God as fundamental to the reality of God’s being, there is a love flowing between persons. Love cannot exist in one who is truly, eternally alone, because we know that the very nature of love is that is goes from the lover to the one loved. If God is only one, there is no love in God, but at most a great loneliness which desires another to love. If God is one only, then God’s eternal life is not love, but a longing for love. We would then conclude that God created not out of love, but from a need to love, to fill a void in God’s own life. 

Clearly, we believe the opposite. Christian teaching holds that God is love, an eternal relationship between the Father, Son, and Spirit, which is not lacking in any respect, but out of which God created freely as an expression of a full love rather than from a need. We were created, not because God needed more to love, but that God wants to share with us his complete, perfect, and eternal love, that which God has in all eternity within himself. His joy is that we might know his love and share in it.

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. John 15:9

Consider how both the oneness and threeness of the Trinity is essential to understanding this statement by Jesus. Without God being three persons, to claim that the Father loves the Son is misleading because the Father and Son are not two between whom love can flow. Consequently, the essence of love is not other-centered but self-centered, if God is a single reality only loving himself. Agape love is not the love of God in this case. Instead, God must be a plurality of “persons” for there to be meaningful love of the Father for the Son, a love in which we can participate and share. 

But God must also be one or the love with which the Father has loved the Son is not the exact same love with which the Son loves us, and in which he asks us to abide. Only if the Son is fully God and equal to the Father can a single, undivided, and eternal love be passed to us. Of course, that love is poured into us by the Spirit, who is also fully God and shares in the eternal love of God.

Without a Trinitarian understanding of God all our talk about love changes. When God is Father, Son, and Spirit, three “persons”, then a real dynamic of selfless love has always flowed within God’s own life and being. Additionally, when God is one God, and there is no distinction in authority, power, or attributes, but the Father, Son, and Spirit are co-equally God in this selfless, eternal loving of others, we see that love truly unites all in a divine bond. This is the holy and godly pattern for which we were created. This love of God erases all our petty divisiveness and hierarchies, separation and estrangement, and binds all humanity into the life of God’s own love. 

In our deepest reflections, the goal of our spiritual growth is to participate in the Trinity, that our own individual lives can be bound together in oneness with God and each other, as God is himself distinctly Father, Son, and Spirit, and yet one God. This is the mystery of our own destiny.

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The Relevance of the Trinity 1

The traditional teaching about the Trinity may sound to many like a lot of irrelevant and abstract discussion which has nothing to do with what matters to ordinary believers. We might think the subject is just what scholars and theologians talk about and has no value for the rest of us. However, no idea could be more mistaken. Let me try to demonstrate that everything which matters to everyday Christians would be thrown into disarray without a Trinitarian understanding of God. 

Put generally, the non-traditional views of the nature of God either overly emphasize the oneness or the threeness of God, sacrificing the paradox of Three-in-One. This week I want to look at one reason why we must hold to a thorough sense of the oneness of God, and next week I will examine a reason to affirm God’s threeness. 

When the oneness is not adequately held, we imagine the Father, Son, and Spirit in a ranking of descending power, divinity, and authority. The traditional affirmation is that Jesus is God just as the Father is God, and that whatever essential realties constitute this “godness” are equally true for the Father and Son, and for the Spirit as well. This understanding has profound implications for the most basic sayings of Jesus.

For instance, if Jesus, who is God the Son, is not equal with the Father in all attributes, essence, fullness, and in all that it means to be God, then consider how differently we would hear these two statements, the first from Jesus and the second from Paul about the God the Father.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. John 14:27

And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7

In the first verse Jesus is telling his disciples that he gives them, and consequently us too, his peace. But exactly what peace is that? Paul writes that the peace of God is incomprehensible, and he says this Father’s peace we have in Christ. If Jesus Christ is not as much God as the Father is God, which has been typically the misunderstanding of some non-trinitarian thinking, then the peace Jesus gives cannot be as full as the peace of the Father. Do we have two versions of peace? One could reasonably conclude that Paul is talking about an incomprehensible peace which is of the Father, that though it may be found in Christ, surpasses the peace that is from Christ. Or if Jesus actually gives us the incomprehensible peace of the Father, then he should not have called it “my peace” because he cannot give peace as the Father can, if indeed he is not on the “same level” as the Father.

Is the love of God the Father, with which he loves the world (John 3:16), the same as the love of Christ with which we are told to love one another (John 13:34)? If the Father is greater and the Son less, and perhaps the Spirit even less still, together forming a divine hierarchy of power and degrees of greatness, then we cannot interchangeably speak of the love of Christ with the love of God as one single, divine love, poured into our hearts by the Spirit (Romans 5:5). Without the Father, Son, and Spirit being one God, coequal in all that it means to be God, the life we have in Christ (Galatians 2:20) may not be the fullest life possible, if Christ is not fully God in every way possible. Without the divine Oneness of God the work of the Spirit is not on par with the work of Christ, and neither is equal to the Father’s work. 

Instead of this confusion, we all take for granted that the love of Christ is the love of God. In other words, everyday Christians rely on the Trinitarian doctrine of the oneness of the Three-in-One to understand the teachings of Jesus and view the work of the Father, Son, and Spirit. The church may not have started establishing some of the specific Trinitarian language for speaking about God until the church councils, the first being Nicea in 325 A.D., but the church had been assuming such an understanding all along. This is what those ancient Christians recognized and affirmed in the creeds they created. The faith they had lived and professed required one God in three Persons, coequal in divinity, or what they had been living for centuries would make no sense. Therefore, when anyone advocated other ways to think and speak about God, those ideas had to be rejected to keep the faith that which had been passed down from the apostles. 

The life we have, if we are going to call it truly eternal, that is, actually divine and of God, must be the one life of God which is ours by the will of the Father, granted to us in Christ, and brought into us through the Spirit who dwells within. Whether we realize it or not, we understand the most glorious claims of our faith necessarily within a Trinitarian framework. None of us can understand how God can be Three-in-One, but we can understand that God is Three-in-One, and so make no distinction between the love, life, peace, promises, works, grace, mercy, hope, or anything else whether it is attributed to the Father, Son, or Spirit. 

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Barriers to Life

They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. Ephesians 4:18

In general, we ought to pay close attention when scripture does not say what we expect it to say. In this case, would we not expect Paul to say the Gentiles are alienated from the life of God because of sin? Why does he say it is because of ignorance and hardness of heart?

Obviously, we know that sin, that is, the numerous ways in which we fail to live according to God’s glory (Romans 3:23) and transgress what God has said (1 John 3:4), causes us to be “foreigners” or “alienated” from the life of God. But we should also recognize the close connection between sin and ignorance (Luke 23:34). No one sins with full understanding since none of us have complete knowledge concerning the reality of our actions, the consequences of sin for us and others, nor the fullness of God’s will. Though we may not be completely ignorant, we are also not free from it. The devil is the father of lies (John 8:44) and is successful in deceiving all of us (Revelation 12:9) because of our respective degrees of ignorance. We do not recognize that his enticements are false. Our falling to temptation is in part because of ignorance.

This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. John 17:3

Since eternal life is knowing God in Christ, we should not be surprised Paul says that our ignorance, our being unfamiliar and unaware of God as God truly is, constitutes what excludes us from the divine life. Ignorance precedes sin and so is the root of not having the life of God.

No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. John 1:18

To address this profound human ignorance of the true nature of God, Christ comes to us as the visible image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). The Light shines in the darkness, making known the God who could not be known well otherwise. If ignorance excludes us from the life of God, the revelation of God in Christ opens the way to that life.

We might wonder about the other cause that Paul mentions, our hardness of heart. John states this another way, that humans love darkness rather than light (John 3:19). Neither apostle is saying we cannot be brought to this life, but that we are not inclined to accept it. Besides the fact that we do not know God, apparently we are also not particularly interested in knowing him.

But is this really a separate obstacle, or is this not also related to our ignorance? When we do not know God we cannot understand how wonderful it would be to know him. If we do not know God is loving and good, but think of God as harsh, judgmental, spiteful, or similarly terrifying, we will have real reluctance. Of course, we do not know what we are missing. Our preference for the darkness is because we have not known the light. We are not ready to embrace quickly what is foreign, strange, and alien to us, though God is good and would give us life. This is why Paul mentions ignorance first and hardness of heart second.

To win us to himself, God has not only revealed himself in Christ so we might come to knowledge of the true God, but he seeks to overcome our resistance due to false beliefs about God. This heavenly persistence, the long-suffering kindness of God, is what we call grace. God is patient in his mercy, untiring in his pursuit of us, and well-aware that our ignorance presents a real barrier to his desire that we trust him. The vulnerable, naked, dying Jesus, who forgives rather than cursing, who loves even from the cross, who responds not with vengeance but the free gift of salvation to all, is the startling revelation of God that can finally tear down our ignorant fears stemming from the lie of the serpent in the garden, namely, that God is not to be trusted (Genesis 3:4-5).

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Changing Sight

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? John 14:8-9

From Jesus’ response to Philip’s question it is evident that we may see the Father and yet not see the Father. Is that not what had happened? The disciples had seen the Father through Jesus and in him, and yet had not recognized or known what they were seeing. This problem of not seeing what is right in front of us is also inherent in Jesus’ previous exchange with Thomas.

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:5-6

Thomas wants to be shown the way even though he has already been shown the way. Jesus is the way, and for years now Thomas has seen it . . . but not seen it. This problem of limited perception is pervasive. For all those looking for the Kingdom of God, is it not right before our eyes, in our midst? (Luke 17:21). Pilate asks “what is truth?” while the One who is truth stands before him (John 18:38). The woman at the well does not know that talking with her is the One who can give her living water (John 4:10).

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26

Instead of asking if she believed this Jesus could have asked the grieving Martha do you see this? Do you see me? She is mourning her brother’s death while life itself is there in front of her. She is not seeing the eternal, true reality, but only the passing, temporal situation.

I do not intend to criticize Martha at all, for she helps us to become aware of our own limited perspective. The passing and temporary is much easier to see because it is perceived with our physical eyes, while what is real and permanent . . . the Father, way, kingdom, truth, living water, resurrection and life . . . can be right in front of us and still be missed.

The spiritual journey may be accurately described as the blind receiving sight. Those who sat in darkness have seen a great light (Isaiah 9:2). We go from not seeing to seeing, and when we do, we start to recognize the “unseen” spiritual realities as what is true and trustworthy, and the things of this world as mere fleeting shadows. The scales which fell from Saul’s eyes were far more spiritual in nature than anything physical (Acts 9:18).

But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 2 Corinthians 3:14

An obscured vision, likened to a veiled face, is what Paul says blinds his fellow Jews when they read their scriptures without the benefit of Christ. This applies generally to us all as we look at the world, our lives, and everything else. Without Christ we will not see anything eternal, but only what is passing away. If we were in heaven would we know it? Probably not unless we know how to recognize heavenly things before we ever get there. For those learning to look at the eternal, heaven has already come to earth – as the Lord taught us anticipate in our prayers.

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Free From Fear

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. 1 John 4:18

Sometimes this verse is quoted as if just hearing these words, that love casts out fear, or reading this statement, will in fact drive out fear. If this were the case, then it would not be love which casts out fear, but our knowledge of love. Simply our knowing about love would be the key to freedom from fear. Yet often we have heard these words and found ourselves still living with fear, and maybe wondered why. Perhaps then we assumed we needed to believe these words more, and so tried to generate more confidence in what John writes. However, that would not be love casting out fear but confidence in the statement that love casts out fear removing it from us.

We must look again at what John is saying, that love itself is what removes fear. The knowledge of this love as a fact, even if believed wholeheartedly, will not suffice. Knowledge and faith, though both necessary and good and love will not exist apart from either of these two, cannot do the work of love. Knowing that the Light will drive out the darkness will still leave a person in darkness until they come into the Light. In the same way love itself, not hearing about it or believing in it, but participating in it, makes the difference.

The reality that God loves us is not the sole emphasis of John, for he says that the one who fears has not been perfected in love. Perfected here means completed or having reached maturity. John is well aware that a person may hear his words and still be full of fear because there is a perfecting in love that is necessary. This is beyond simply hearing the truth of God’s tremendous love for us. The love of God is perfect, that is, full and complete. He is not saying that the person who still has fear does not believe enough in the love of God, but that the love of God has not reached its maturity or completion in that individual

Therefore, our release from fear does not occur simply by knowing of God’s love for us, but when that love reaches a maturity in us as we live it out. If we want to drive out fearfulness, then we must strive to love with the very same energy of God’s love that fills the universe, and do so from within ourselves. God is certainly the source of this, but our engagement is also necessary. 

This means joining in a love that dies to self, for God’s love is selfless. Our life which is from God and is self-giving and self-abasing, not a typically human existence centered on protecting and elevating ourselves, is what really banishes fear. When we learn to love freely as we imitate God, who as Father, Son, and Spirit, is eternally pouring forth love for others, we stop being afraid. If learning to love is a process and not an instant change, then we must recognize that our fears will be cast out in proportion to our own growth in this other-focused love of God. Hearing of it is the start; practicing it will change our hearts and free us from fear.

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