I’ve continued to ponder the John Piper sermon I wrote about and his signature catchphrase “God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in him.” As I indicated in my post, this strikes me as true. As I’ve read the Scriptures this past week, I’ve seen this confirmed in the text. I’m thinking of Psalms like this one:
Let those who delight in my righteousness shout for joy and be glad and say evermore,
“Great is the Lord, who delights in the welfare of his servant!” (Psalm 35:27, ESV)
We love God when we praise his great love for us.
John Piper talked about how duty and commitment, while perhaps the beginning and often the glue of love, are not enough for a relationship to flourish. In fact, one is most satisfied in a relationship when there is a deep affection for the other person that is most pleased in their joy.
As I listened to Piper preach at the conference and then again via the recording later, I thought to myself, I want to be that passionate about Jesus. I want to be honestly satisfied in him more than I am now.
Okay, but what does this look like, practically? Is there more to this idea than simply offering lip service to God’s faithfulness? What does it mean to delight in the Lord? Here are three things that come to mind as I meditate on how to delight in God.
Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.Do you see how these idea are linked here? Placing our lives in God's hands and experiencing his faithfulness will naturally lead to delight in him, and God is faithful to draw near to us when we pursue him (James 4:8).
Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:3-4, ESV)
Cultivate a grateful heart.
The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” (Psalm 50:23, ESV)
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. (1 John 4:7, ESV)Loving others is an essential fruit of knowing God. This much is clear throughout the Scriptures, and as I ponder it I know I can be better at loving those around me. We're often told in Christian circles that we have to love each other, but not necessarily like each other. Although there's some truth to this, I'm afraid it misses out this point John is making here: If we love God and delight in him, we will love those he loves, and delight in those he delights in. This means our relationships in and out of the church must move beyond duty to deep affection, an affection that transcends mere differences of theology and personality.
How can I find more delight in God? Trust him, experiencing his faithfulness. Cultivate a grateful heart. Love those he loves. Then I begin truly treasure him and his gifts.
Evangelicalism is quickly going the way of fundamentalism as far as being a useful term.
Although fundamentalism hasn’t always meant “religious person that hates others” it’s practically a lost cause to recover its original intent at this point…and I see the same thing happening with Evangelicalism. This is unfortunate, not only because Evangelicalism has historically distanced itself from fundamentalism as a movement (even before the term became corrupted), but it has its own rich history and distinctives–some of which are well worth preserving.
Although I’m definitely at odds with cultural and political trends within the mainstream of evangelicalism, I’m still willing to claim the label (with some qualifications) in order to better communicate what kind of Christian I am. Here’s where I fall within this diverse and broad movement:
First and foremost, I affirm an emphasis on the evangel, that is, the Good News of Jesus Christ. This necessitates for me strong efforts to evangelize the lost, proclaiming this news and all its implications boldly. It also means an activist approach that sees addressing systemic social issues (poverty, widespread abortion, the abandonment of a socially-constructive sexual ethic, culturally sanctioned violence, etc) as part of the church’s mission.
Second, I affirm an emphasis on the sufficiency and centrality of the Bible for the Christian faith. All that is necessary for salvation is found in the Scriptures, and it is the final authority for faith and practice. This does not necessitate a rejection of the traditions of the Church. Clearly, the traditions of the Church universal are necessary for a full understanding of the orthodox faith, yet the most important things relating to salvation are clear and self-evident in the biblical text.
Third, I affirm an emphasis on ecumenism. Christians are meant to exhibit the unity that is present in the Godhead. We generally fail at this pretty bad. The only way forward is an unrelenting focus on the person of Jesus and a commitment to carry out his will with grace, charity, and patience while focusing on what unites orthodox Christian groups, not what divides us. Evangelicals have been known for coming across denominational lines and even bridging the Protestant-Catholic divide for the sake of the Gospel. This is something I am especially proud to be a part of.
In many respects (especially when it comes to politics and certain methods/ideas regarding evangelism/conversion) I am solidly in the so-called post-evangelical camp.
Nevertheless, post-evangelical is a pretty nebulous term in and of itself, and think I’ve got enough in common with Evangelicalism to legitimately maintain a vested interest in the movement.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of holiness. What it means to be set apart for God, for the new creation to begin.
It seems to me that many Christians basically act as if the new creation has really started yet. That although they are forgiven for their mistakes and are going to heaven, now they play a passive waiting game for Jesus to come back. There is sometimes as sense of powerlessness, that holiness is an ideal that will never be fully accomplished in this life, and so…why even try?
Yet, the Scriptures teach that the new creation happens in real-time as one submits to the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 5:17), that holiness happens as result (1 John 1:9), and that although it is ultimately God’s work, we should strive after this (Hebrews 12:14).
To do anything less than commit ourselves wholeheartedly to the spiritual disciplines (which is really just the practice of submitting to the Holy Spirit in obedience) is essentially saying that we don’t believe holiness is possible or worth effort.
At this point wouldn’t be setting ourselves up in opposition to the teachings of St. Paul?
Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable.Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.
So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:20-22, ESV)
Photo: Depiction of the Christian Holy Spirit as a dove, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, in the apse of Saint Peter’s Basilica. Gian Lorenzo Bernini - Dove of the Holy Spirit (ca. 1660, stained glass, Throne of St. Peter, St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican)
Although I have my differences with Piper on theology and practice, I have to admit this was one of the most powerful sermons I have ever listened to in person. His passion for Jesus is nothing less than inspiring and infectious.
The theme of conference was “Known” and so Pastor John spoke to us on the fundamental identity of human beings as being made in the image of God. He pointed out that many speculate on what it means to be made in God’s image. Some say it is humanity’s capacity for love or relationships, or that it means we reflect some other aspect of God’s character.
Piper says this is missing the common-sense meaning of what an “image” is and does. Fundamentally, an image draws attention to what it is “imaging.” A statue, for instance, draws attention to the person or object it is a statue of. Even abstract works of art point beyond themselves to something deeper.
Therefore, as beings made in the image of God, we are to draw attention to him; this is called giving God glory.
But, Pastor John admits, this seems to pose a problem. What do we do with the megalomania that God seems to demonstrate by erecting 7 billion+ statues of himself on the planet? Isn’t this abuse? Isn’t God just using me?
Far from it. We are created in such a way that we actually experience the greatest pleasure, happiness, and perfection when we are in genuine fellowship with God, and witness to God’s surpassing greatness in every area of our lives to others.
We point to God not out of a sense of coercion but because we genuinely enjoy and delight in him! So his glory and our good are built to intersect. This is where’s Piper’s famous catchphrase starts to make sense, even to this non-Calvinist:
"God is most glorified when I am most satisfied in him."It's tough for me to do this profound concept justice, but I think I'm convinced that it is what the Bible teaches.
You should really listen to the sermon for yourself.
A cultivated mind is one that is well-tended, nourished, disciplined, and flourishing. How do we cultivate our minds? By taking in ideas, actually thinking through them, solving problems, etc. We “work out” our minds. For the Christian, a cultivated mind is also one that has been carefully grown to have increased sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and see the world as the Divine sees the world.
In his book Scripture by Heart: Devotional Practices for Memorizing God’s Word Korean pastor Joshua Choonmin Kang provides a profound insight when he says,
A cultivated mind can see the universe in a falling leaf, an orchard in seed, an ocean in a drop of water, eternity in a grain of sand. (p. 33)
The Christian worldview actually allows us to step into God’s reality, and to begin to see matter, space, and time as God sees them.
Hiding the word of God in our hearts is perhaps the most foundational step developing the Christian worldview. If the Christian worldview is indeed Truth--and I believe it is--then it is a most accurate lens for examining reality. As we memorize the Bible and mediate on its passages, we allow it change our every perception.
A better grasp on reality means we can think more clearly, draw better conclusions, and experience life in rich dimensions previously unreachable. Things that didn't make sense ("the last shall be first," "power made perfect in weakness," and the rest of the Gospel's counter-intuitiveness) begin to snap in place, and we experience those "oh...I see...!" moments.
We are enlightened by the light of Life.
In a very real way, our minds finally begin to work as they were created to.
All from memorizing Bible verses.
This is because it’s given me a steady structure and emotionally honest framework for prayer.
I can say in all honesty that most days, I love to pray. I am astounded often that the creator of the universe is with me and ready to listen, and desires for me to listen to him as well. I try to cultivate an attitude of gratefulness for the truly wonderful gifts he’s given me: forgiveness, hope, life, the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, though, I don’t feel like praying.
I’m busy, tired, whatever. This is when having a plan helps: set prayers, regular time of day, and Bible readings all picked out.
Discipline begets discipline, so I notice when I’m faithful in the Office it’s easier to control my body, my thoughts, and emotions. I find I sin less for the simple fact that I know I’m going to meet with God in just few hours for confession. I know we will have to talk about what I did and/or thought about doing today.
When things seem to get out of control, when life is crazy, stressful and days seem dim, the Office becomes (by virtue of the Scriptures and ancient prayers it presents) a brighter spot and a source of comfort. When you pray the Office, you know you are not alone. My whispered prayers are joined by millions of others the world over, contemplating the same texts, breathing the same pleas for mercy, thanking the same God for the means of grace.
The Daily Office gave me the gift of the Psalms. All of them. When you pray the Office, you pray the happy, inspiring ones about God’s love and faithfulness alongside the ones that ask God hard questions, like “How long will you judge unjustly / and show partiality to the wicked?” (Psalm 82). You pray the ones that are brutally honest about fervent desires for justice to be done:
O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed,
blessed shall he be who repays you
with what you have done to us!
Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones
and dashes them against the rock!
These are heartbreaking, violent, and often confusing words for all of us. Yet these Psalms give us permission and a path to bring all of ourselves–even and especially the angry, doubting and dark places–into the context of God’s faithfulness. After all, the Psalter is also a retelling of the whole Biblical narrative, including Christ, if we know where and how to look.
I don’t have all the answers yet, but after about five times through the Psalter so far this year I’ve gained some peace through these poems. I’ve begun to understand what it means to honestly long for God’s justice without succumbing to the temptation to exact revenge for myself. I’ve begun to learn how to pray to God even when I might be angry with him. God is big. He can take our questions and our frustration and even our possibly less-than-pure motives and by grace enable us to “walk in the light of life” (Psalm 56:13).
Rhythm and blues. That’s why I pray the Daily Office.
As the Fall season hits full-swing, tiredness and burnout can appear more swiftly than we think. It is vital remember that in this state your ministry will probably suffer. It is very difficult to give out of a place of spiritual, physical, or emotional emptiness, much less have inner peace.
A fairly recent discovery for me has been the realization that stress is simply a form a fear. Stress comes when we wonder “what will happen if?” What will happen if I get sick, if my vacation doesn’t go how I planned, what if I have family conflict, what if I can’t accomplish everything I would like to accomplish at work and at home today, or tomorrow, or this week, or this month.
The thing is, Christians aren’t meant to be living in fear of what could happen.
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness… do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. " (Matthew 6:33-34 ESV)
Peter said that it is okay for us to cast all of our cares on God, because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). It is interesting that at the start of this verse Peter tells us part of doing this is humbling ourselves. It isn’t easy to let go and let someone else take the reins, but we have to. We have to realize that God is one doing the work through us. Our job is to be really, truly, submitting to him.
One of my favorite passages of all time is from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. The Apostle wrote,
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7 ESV).
A vital part of how we find peace in the midst of all the stress (which remember is really fear) is–unquestionably–prayer to God. This is where we worship God, where we ask him for the desires of our hearts, and most of all where we request to know and follow his will, not ours. God is faithful to meet us in prayer, and it is in him we find peace.
I encourage you to stay grounded in prayer to God each day as the foundation not only for your ministry (whether it be vocational or otherwise), but for your walk with Christ in general.
Less fear is nothing other than more trust in Christ to be all that you need.
In Mentor Like Jesus, entrepreneur and investor Regi Campbell has set out to encourage a generation of men to invest in others. This is both a theological/philosophical argument for the merits of a mentoring approach to helping to people follow Jesus, and a practical look at how to do that with intentionality and precision. Campbell writes,
Mentoring isn't about coming to know something; that would be education. Mentoring isn't about learning to do something; that would be training. Mentoring is about showing someone how to be something. (emphasis mine).This little book gives excellent suggestions for how to accomplish this (the main point: show people Jesus), along with tons of great practical advice (mentor a group, have a defined period of time, require mentorees to mentor others, etc).
The tone of the book is conversational, and it’s a quick read at only 152 pages.
The inclusion of the mentoree perspective from one Campbell’s mentorship “graduates” Richard Chancy is a great touch. Chancy gives a window into what a great mentoring experience should be like for the person being mentored.
I didn’t need to be convinced of the value of the mentoring model for discipleship; I’ve long thought that it makes sense considering the examples of Jesus and the Apostles (especially Paul, who seemed to have mentored a few young men). What I have been struggling with is a model for doing this in the local church, where mentoring is rarely considered a top priority initiative. Mentor Like Jesus has given me this, by reminding me that everyone can be be a mentor, and it starts with me.
If I had to level one criticism at Mentor Like Jesus it would be that Campbell is so focused on men, yet Jesus also seemed to have mentored women (Luke 10:39). What are implications of this for men and women’s mentoring ministries in the church? What are the practical considerations women might need to consider as they form their own mentoring groups?
One other possible weakness in the book is the emphasis on men in certain stage of life (married with an established career), when high-school and college-age guys need mentors too.
Despite Campbell’s silence on these issues, I wholeheartedly recommend Mentor Like Jesus to every Christian as an inspiring and useful primer to developing intentional mentoring relationships…just like Jesus did.
It’s only been in the last twelve months or so that I’ve realized the power of physical discipline for taking my spiritual discipline to the next level. It should be obvious, yet for me it hasn’t been. Discipline the body, discipline the mind.
Discipline the mind, and you’ve taken the first step toward success in many of the twelve spiritual disciplines.
St. Paul said,
But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:27, ESV)
Because physical discipline yields tangible results, we begin to better understand discipline in general, and can apply that knowledge to the spiritual realm. I recently starting exercising on a regular basis, and I’ve learned:
- It takes less time than you think to start seeing the fruit of discipline, but more time than you think to completely uproot bad habits.
- Start slow, don't bite off more than you can chew.
- Community is essential for my success in being a disciplined person.
- Being willing to learn from people wiser than myself is a non-negotiable.
- Just showing up is half the battle.
Look, this guy:
Me, a couple of years ago.
and this guy:
Me, a couple of weeks ago
are two completely different people, physically and spiritually.
How do we become healthier physically, sharper mentally, and deeper spiritually? By disciplining the body, mind, and spirit.
By God’s grace I’m both the most physically and spiritually disciplined I’ve ever been. The two are much more intertwined than we’d often like to admit.
It was quiet outside the small, cylindrical building. Vividly green desert plants lined the bottom of the cement wall. Bright Arizona sun glinted off of embossed metal letters around the wooden door.
NOT LIGHT BUT FIRE
DARKNESS NOT CLARITY
PRAYER NOT READING
It was my first stop of the day. Not entirely sure what to expect, I breathed deeply, pulled on the door handle and entered.
It was dark inside, but hazy light filtered through some stained glass in the ceiling. Recessed benches lined the wall, and in the center of the room a pillar made of wood and glass rose from the floor.
The silence was weighty.
A small candle caused the pillar to glow from the inside and I approached with curiosity.
There was something else in the pillar, a silver container with a cross on top, and in an instant I knew what it was. Of course. This is the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament.
Without another thought I fell to my knees on the small prayer bench in front of the ciborium.
I was struck silent. My usually incessant internal monologue ceased and gave way to a particular kind of reverence and awe.
I think I experienced true holy fear for the first time.
Here in front of me was the consecrated Host. The Body of my Lord and my God. The personal presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit–somehow distinct yet also unmistakably one–was tangible to me.
The thick atmosphere that seemed to surround me wasn’t silence, it was the glory of the Lord.
When words came, I could only seem to manage these:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, have mercy on me, a sinner.
* * *
Jesus was present in that moment, in a dramatic and powerful way. That morning something else was impressed on heart: a reminder that Jesus is always present inside of us through his Spirit.
Learning to live in ever-awareness of this must be part of what it means to walk with Jesus daily.
Rachel Held Evans and others have been posting about the recent trend for Millennials (those currently in the 18-29 age bracket) to end up in the high church traditions–Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, etc.
Here’s why I came to embrace the way of ancient Christianity.
1) It points me to Jesus.
The ancient liturgical traditions each have specific theological reasoning behind them. Each one, whether it be saying a corporate confession of sin, “passing the peace,” or even the style of vestments used are meant to communicate something about God. They function as a continual guide during worship back to meditating on Jesus.
2) It connects me with history.
The past matters for the high church traditions. We worship with prayers, songs, and actions that have been practiced since the Apostolic era. This connects us with with all those saints that have gone before us, keeping us grounded in what God has done and living in the reality of the “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1).
3) It fosters communion.
Not only do we actually have Holy Communion each week, but the liturgical way is in fact much more interactive than the typical “sing, sit, listen” pattern in mainstream Evangelical services. “Liturgy” means “work of the people,” and together we stand, kneel, join hands, make the sign of the sign of the cross, respond with written and spontaneous prayers. There’s a rhythm of back-and-forth in most liturgies that reminds us we’re all engaged in the work of worship, and brings us closer together as a community centered around the person of Jesus.
4) It gives me tools to grow.
The ancient traditions include robust devotional tools for daily prayer, meditation, and discipline. The most important for me have been the Daily Office (set prayers and appointed Bible readings for morning and evening), prayer beads, the Church Year, beautiful and ancient art, and of course the writings of the Church Fathers.
5) It reintroduces me to the Triune God.
Fully Trinitarian prayer is a beautiful thing. Without a high degree of intentionality, it’s quite easy to leave out certain members of the Trinity in our daily spirituality. This can sometimes be a especially true when it comes to the Holy Spirit. In the ancient ways of worship, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all addressed according to their function within the Godhead, and we are often reminded that they are together one God. This simple prayer has been incredibly influential on my spirituality:
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.
- Technically, the church I attend is really kind of "broad-church," that is, it incorporates elements of both very simple liturgy and more ornate rituals. We're between high and low church (with a preference toward high compared to most Evangelical services). We've got this cool casual-yet traditional, informal-yet-liturgical thing going on that I love. For instance, we ring bells to start the service (high church), but we sing Hillsong and sometimes the clergy wear jeans. ↩
Cemented in the Protestant doctrinal ethos is the great Reformation declaration, Sola Fide! We are justified before God by faith in Jesus Christ alone, not by any efforts or works of our own. Even this faith is a gift from God. Justification for most Protestants (especially those in Reformed circles) means the declaration before God that we are made right with him by virtue of Christ’s merits.
It is a forensic in nature…that is, it is an objective, legal pronouncement outside of ourselves that does not require any actual righteousness on the part of the one being justified.
For most Protestants, the natural implication of this is that the one that is justified is simultaneously saved and (it is often asserted) eternally secure in their salvation. Consequently, Protestant language about justification often uses the terms “justification” and “salvation” and their variations interchangeably. If one is “justified” they must also be “saved.”
Roman Catholics, on the other hand, see justification as an entire process. What many Protestant Evangelicals would separate out into categories (Justification, Sanctification, Glorification) Roman Catholics see as the journey of “being saved” in the present from all sin in their lives. It is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ.1
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that one may reject Christ and lose one’s salvation post-conversion. Because the RCC tends to emphasize right living as the fruit of a continual choice to follow Jesus, it can come across to Protestants that they practice a theology of “works salvation”–that they depend on themselves to earn or merit their initial justification and ultimate salvation. It is extremely unfortunate that this misunderstanding persists, among both self-identified Protestants and Roman Catholics.
Most Protestants identify the kind of the faith that saves as “living faith” that also produces good works.This is surprisingly close to the official Roman Catholic position. One RCC theologian says,
The faith that leads to salvation is an act of acknowledging our utter dependence on God and committing our lives totally to him…It is also part of Catholic teaching to consider “faith” as a way of life rather than a major decision that happens once, twice, or a few times in one’s life. Catholics realize the importance of the initial conversion…but they also emphasize the challenge of living out faith…by God’s grace…2
This is confirmed in Roman Catholic doctrinal statements. The Council of Trent, for instance, affirmed that we are
said to be justified gratuitously (i.e., by grace), because none of those things which precede justification, whether faith or works, merit grace itself of justification, for ‘if it is a grace, it is not now by reason of works, otherwise (as the same Apostle says) grace would no longer be grace’ [Rom 11:6].3
It’s taken even further in other places:
We are therefore said to be justified by faith, because “faith is the beginning of human salvation,” the foundation and root of all justification; “without which it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6) and to enter the fellowship of his sons.4
This part sounds down right Reformed, if I may be so bold:
…far be it that a Christian should either trust or “glory” in himself and not “in the Lord”, whose goodness towards all men is so great that He wishes the things that are His gifts to be their own merits.5
Allow me to drive this home with one final quote from Catechism of the Catholic Church:
…the merit of good works is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God, then to the faithful. Man’s merit, moreover, itself is due to God, for his good actions proceed in Christ, from the predispositions and assistance given by the Holy Spirit…Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion.6
I hope it is plain at this point that the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and her theologians do not advocate a “works righteousness.” Any “merit” that human beings have as a result of their good works is consistently understood to be attributed directly back to Jesus Christ.
Roman Catholics do teach strongly on the necessity of constantly choosing to follow Christ in order to persevere to the end, however this isn’t so different from what many orthodox Baptists, Methodists, and others have taught for generations.
Let’s leave the caricatures and generalizations behind us.
What we have here are issues of semantics and emphasis…obstacles that are easily overcome if we approach each other with charity, grace, and the love of Christ.
Essential further reading: Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church (If Roman Catholics and Lutherans can come to an agreement on this…what are the rest of us waiting for?)
- See the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1989: "Justification is not only the remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal of the interior man" See also, Salvation by Faith and Works by yours truly. ↩
- Schreck, A. (2004). Catholic and Christian: An explanation of commonly misunderstood Catholic beliefs. Cincinnati, Ohio: Servant Books, p. 24-27 ↩
- Ibid, 28-29 ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- See the Catechism of the Catholic Church on merit. ↩
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
This petition causes no small amount of distress to self-identified Protestants and Evangelicals the world over. I hope I’ve already demonstrated that Roman Catholics are not engaged in worshiping the saints when they ask them for prayer, so that particular issue won’t be in view here. However, Marian devotion can still be confusing to those of us that have backgrounds in the free churches or conservative Evangelical traditions. What’s up with making such a big deal out of Mary? Have Roman Catholics elevated her to the status of (a) God? What do Roman Catholics think about the role of Mary in salvation?
Let’s get started!
First it’s important to establish that in Roman Catholic theology, Mary truly is of secondary importance when it comes to basic Gospel message. However, just like the nation of Israel, Mary has a special place in God’s plan to save the world through Jesus, and thus worthy of special honor. After all, Mary’s devotion and humble obedience to the Father meant that she carried the Incarnate Word in her womb. In her humility, she continually directed praise and worship back to the Father and her son, Jesus. Nevertheless the Scripture also records that she and others knew that all generations would call her blessed (Luke 1:46-48).
Evangelicals have at least something to learn here. Although many of us will disagree with the degree to which Roman Catholics honor Mary, if we only remember and honor her once a year (for a few days around Christmas) are we really being faithful to Scriptures? I think we have often over-reacted in our attempt to correct perceived excesses from our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters.
As previously stated, I’ve already addressed prayer to saints, but many Evangelicals take note that for Roman Catholics, there’s a special emphasis on asking Mary for her prayers. Why? Not because she some sort of superhuman or divine being, but because her special maternal relationship with Jesus has implications for us also. If we are indeed united to Christ in a special way as believers (and for Roman Catholics, through the Church and the Sacraments) then Mary becomes a “spiritual mother” for us also. So among all the saints, there is a unique relationship between those Jesus calls a “friend and a brother” and his mother (John 19:26; John 15:15; Hebrews 2:11). For Roman Catholics, this is expressed (with all the saints in heaven) as a ministry of intercession for those Jesus loves. As an intercessor and the one who freely chose to bear Jesus, she is a source of grace (gifts), however this grace is understood to be ultimately from God the Father through Jesus the son.
Because of Mary’s special role in the plan of salvation and because of her ministry of intercession, some in the Roman Catholic Church have given Mary titles like “Mediatrix” (Mediator) or even “Coredemptress.” These kinds of words sound especially bad to us Evangelicals (they definitely rub me the wrong way)–after all, isn’t there only one mediator between God and man for salvation (1 Timothy 2:5-6)? To this Roman Catholic teachers and theologians give a resounding, “YES!" Yet God does use other human beings daily to show us his grace, love, mercy, and to pray for us. These are mediated experiences. Although Jesus is the One High Priest, the Bible also states that every Christian now has a priestly, intercessory role–God graciously allows us to share in the work of Christ (1 Peter 2:9). Only in this sense does Mary “mediate” between us and God.
The Second Vatican Council said it this way (emphasis added): [The intercession of Mary] in no way obscures or diminishes the unique mediation of Christ, but rather shows its power. For all the saving influences of the Blessed Virgin on men originate, not some inner necessity, but from the divine pleasure. They flow forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rest on his mediation, depend entirely on it, and draw all their power from it. In no way to they impede the immediate union of the faithful with Christ, Rather, they foster this union.1
Brother, sister. Self:
You’re always striving, always trying. Maybe tomorrow will be better.
Still trying to get there. Still trying to get something. Still no rest.
You want to be liked, you want to matter. Some recognition, reputation would be nice. Maybe an accomplishment to your name.
You want to know you’ll be able to feed your kids. You want to be prepared.
You want to be safe.
You want the wrong things.
You’ll never have any of it. Not really. Not in a way that can quench your thirsty soul. Not in a way that will go with you past the grave.
You do have real needs. To know and be known. To let go. To be rescued from cosmic evil. To be reconciled with God and humanity. To find meaning.
To have hope.
For these things and more,
Jesus is enough.
The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God was written by popular pastor Timothy Keller (from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City) with his wife Kathy, and is based on an acclaimed sermon series he delivered on the topic of marriage and Christianity. It is hands down, without a doubt, the best work on marriage I’ve read.
I’ve long been appreciative of the teaching of Tim Keller. I was first exposed to his work via The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, a book that played an important part in confirming my faith during a time of serious doubt and questioning. I was immediately impressed with Keller’s ability to communicate profound concepts in a concise and clear way, without oversimplifying.
Although clearly written from the Christian worldview, any married couple could benefit from reading The Meaning of Marriage. Indeed, any single person would benefit from reading this book, because it so deftly turns the tables on the conventional wisdom and deeply ingrained cultural norms regarding marriage. It should be required reading not only for those that are currently married (no matter for how long), but also for that are pursuing marriage and anyone seeking a deeper understanding marriage.
Tim and Kathy Keller tackle some really tough issues in this relatively short work (about 200 pages) but they’ve done the research. Their claims on what constitutes a Biblical marriage and how marriage has historically been understood are well documented and the notes in the back are very helpful.
I was particularly impressed with the brief history of marriage. The Kellers' assertion that humanity has rarely known a time when marriage did not exist primarily for the common good of the community is fascinating. Their discussion on how “old marriage” is actually more freeing than new cultural norms alone makes The Meaning of Marriage worth reading.
Add to this a thoughtful, non-legalistic treatment of gender roles, a robust affirmation of singleness (an idea we can’t emphasize enough as a Church these days), frank discussion on the role of sex in marriage, and you get what I think is probably the most readable, comprehensive, biblical book on marriage that’s out there.
This is going to be my go-to engagement-slash-wedding gift.
You can read one of my favorite sections of the book, “You Never Marry the Right Person,” here.
I believe that God can and does use all circumstances to ultimately bring glory to himself. I am grateful for the prosperity and freedom I enjoy here in the U.S., however I am hesitant to elevate God’s purposes for America above his purposes for any other country for the following reasons:
Although governments and laws play a role in God’s plan (Romans 13:1-7), the church is God’s ambassador. She extends across national boundaries, ethnic lines and cultural barriers.
God’s blessing and favor on nations is contingent on their obedience to him, and is never lasts forever even if they turn away. If America as society has turned away from God we have no reason to boast in our current status.
God is clearly blessing and using citizens of many other nations for his glory as well (S. Korea, China) why say America enjoys privileged status?
The bible teaches that we are to live as aliens in a foreign land. That means our national affiliations can never become part of our core identities the way our allegiance to the Kingdom of Christ should be.
It is perfectly normal to sometimes feel as if you have been abandoned by God. This doesn’t mean you are in some sort of grave sin.
It doesn’t mean you are going to hell.
It doesn’t mean you’re not a “good Christian” (whatever that phrase means anyways).
Listen to what the Psalmist wrote:
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me. (Psalm 13, ESV)
The feeling that you have been abandoned–however frequently it occurs to believers at every stage of spiritual growth–is most certainly a lie.
And those who know your name put their trust in you,
for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you. (Psalm 9:10 ESV)
The Psalmist knew these feelings well, and he also knew the antidote. He knew the key to fighting these terrible feelings was remembering the great things that God has done. No matter what happens, we can trust God, because he revealed himself to us fully in Jesus.
Jesus, who took nails and thorns and your betrayal, and turned them into something lifegiving…
Jesus, the man who endured death and came out the other side victorious over it…
All for the love of his people, those that would believe in him.
Do you feel abandoned by God? Remember that feelings are just that–feelings–and are not always reality. Continue to return to Reality.
I’ve often heard accusations against Roman Catholics of idolotry–even a subtle polytheism–because of the language that they often use of “praying to the saints.” It’s common to hear further allegations that Roman Catholics engage in “conjuring the dead,” an occult practice that is forbidden in the Scriptures.
In fact, Roman Catholics do not worship the saints, and are not engaged in occult practices.
Rather, they ask the saints for their prayers, acknowledging the mystical union that binds all of God’s people, living and dead.
Theologically, this is rooted in the reality of the resurrection and unity of the church. Believers do not cease to exist when their earthly life is over. Instead they depart to the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8), and are very much alive and still part of the Church as they await their new, resurrection bodies. Roman Catholics look to Jesus' words in Mark 12:26-27 (“He is not the God of the dead, but the living…") as well as the appearance of Moses and Elijah to Jesus to further support the idea that departed Christians (saints) are in fact alive (Mark 9:4).
Although there is a degree of separation between the living and the dead, it is at least suggested in the Scriptures that this “veil” may be thinner than we think (Hebrews 12:1).
Roman Catholics believe that we may ask departed saints for prayers, just as we might ask a living friend or family member to pray for us. A Roman Catholic might ask, “If it is helpful for our living brothers and sisters to intercede for us, wouldn’t it also be just as helpful (if not more so) to ask for intercession from one who is already united with the Lord in a deeper way?”
Roman Catholic theologian Alan Schreck admits, “The Bible says very little about the intercession of the saints in heaven."1 However, he points to images in the book of Revelation of departed Christians offering the prayers of those on earth to God as a sweet-smelling incense (Revelation 5:8). Roman Catholics also argue from early Church history that this has always been the understanding of the community of the faithful. They cite the writings of theological giants and church leaders like St. Jerome and St. Augustine, both of whom condoned prayer to the saints and spoke of it as a normal Christian practice.
Augustine simultaneously warned against worshiping the saints, seeing a clear difference between asking for intercession and offering saints the kind of worship reserved for God alone.
The Roman Catholic Church, no doubt, has seen much superstition and ungodly folk practice come from the abuse of this belief. However, Protestants are not immune from the corruption of even the most godly doctrines (think: the distortions of the doctrine of God’s provision in the Prosperity Gospel movement). Abuses of a doctrine or belief do not automatically relegate such thinking to the realm of the occult.
On the contrary, it becomes clear as we make the effort to understand the Roman Catholic point of view that official Roman Catholic doctrine has not left historic Christian orthodoxy on this secondary matter of faith.
- Schreck, A. (2004). Catholic and Christian: An explanation of commonly misunderstood Catholic beliefs. Cincinnati, Ohio: Servant Books, p. 167 ↩
Fear is the antithesis of spiritual formation, because spiritual formation is ultimately about becoming more like God, and God is love. The spirit that he gives us is one of love, not fear (2 Tim 1:7).
The Apostle John writes that perfect love (John 15:13; 1 John 4:18) casts out fear. Fear keeps us from abandoning ourselves to Jesus, yet, because of what he has done our behalf we no longer have any cause for fear, even as we share in his suffering (Phil. 3:10). We are not afraid; instead we have great hope and confidence (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
The Good News of Jesus means we are now free from all kinds fear, to live in faith, hope, and love.
Two all-original songs, performed with my wonderful wife, Amber.
The same way that our natural bodies need more than one nutrient to remain healthy and grow, our spirits are also nourished by multiple sources. This means that even though you may be very disciplined in Bible study and prayer, it is not enough. You also need to fast and practice solitude.
This holds true for more than the disciplines. You might be very involved in a small group, but still need to pursue a mentoring relationship. You appreciate your pastor, but have tuned out all other voices for spiritual guidance.
No one practice, person, or even group can provide for us the entirety of our spiritual formation.
I have failed at being consistent with daily devotions. I have failed a lot.
I have for the past year been attempting to pray the Daily Office, an Anglican tradition of daily prayer in the morning and evening. Prior to that, I had been reading through The NLT One-Year Chronological Bible, a fifteen-minute per day plan.
Some days and weeks and months are great; others make me feel as if I’ve forgotten the very meaning of the word discipline. Still, I’ve generally been able to pick up where I left off after a day or two and keep going.
An important truth that I’ve begun to see in this process is that something is better than nothing. Just like some exercise is better than no physical activity, even taking the time to just read one chapter or a simple three-minute pause to listen to the Holy Spirit is better than simply doing nothing when you forget your normal quiet time or unexpected events shift your schedule during the day. Consider saying the Lord’s Prayer as you get ready for your day or mediating on a Bible verse you have memorized on your lunch break.
Remember, too, that we do not exist in a legalistic relationship with God. This doesn’t mean we abandon discipline, but it does mean we should approach God as a loving, grace-giving father. We needn’t allow guilt over not meeting our devotional goals on occasion keep us from seeking the Lord at every opportunity.
I’ve found it interesting–and disconcerting–that in many evangelical circles there is a high degree of suspicion regarding Roman Catholicism. “Are Roman Catholics even Christians?” I’ve heard some ask, “Isn’t the Roman Catholic Church kind of like a cult?”
I’ve noticed quite a few misconceptions about Roman Catholic belief and practice among my friends and acquaintances, so this series will be an attempt to set the record straight and establish that yes, the Roman Catholic Church is indeed a Christian Church1, and Roman Catholics are Christians. We will also examine some of the more misunderstood and/or controversial Roman Catholic doctrines together.
As human beings, we naturally tend to be afraid of things that are unfamiliar or that we do not understand. We must not allow fear to play any part in our interactions with any person or group, whether they are Christian or not. Fear has nothing to do with love! “Perfect love casts out fear” (John 4:18). Coming to this and all conversations with humility and charity is key to honoring our Lord Jesus and fellow human beings made in the image of God.
I enter into wholehearted agreement with Alan Schreck when he says, “Satan as been able to use…lack of understanding (both among Catholics and others) to divide Christians from one another and to divert their attention and energies away from proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ and advancing his kingdom on earth."2
A few myths that need to be dispelled right off the bat:
- Roman Catholics don't believe that Jesus is raised from the dead (some people mistakenly think this because of the prominence of the crucifix in Roman Catholic piety)
- Roman Catholics worship Mary and other saints
- Roman Catholics believe they can save themselves apart from the work of Christ
- Roman Catholics believe that only Roman Catholics are saved
- The historical reality of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ
- Salvation comes through Jesus Christ alone
- There is one God existing as a Trinity comprised of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
- The Bible is the inspired word of God
- Only the true God is to be worshiped; idolatry is strictly forbidden.
- All people that accept Jesus as Lord and Savior are brothers and sisters in Christ
Over the next several weeks we will look at some of these issues in more depth.
As we continue to discuss those things we have in common with Roman Catholics as well what does separate us, remember the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus, “that they all may be one” (John 17:21) and the Apostle’s words,
"There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." (Ephesians 4:4-6, ESV)
- No, I'm not converting to Roman Catholicism. Yet, I am passionate about unity in Christ's church. One of the most divisive and hurtful things we can do to our other brothers and sisters is "de-church" them because we do not fully understand their beliefs, even when they stand within the boundaries of historic Christian orthodoxy. ↩
- Schreck, A. (2004). Catholic and Christian: An explanation of commonly misunderstood Catholic beliefs. Cincinnati, Ohio: Servant Books, p. 2 ↩
As a parent it can be so frustrating just to get a child to sleep. You’ve worked all day, had some time with the kids, battled your way through bath-and-bedtime. Now you’d just like a few moments of silence to unwind, maybe some adult conversation with your wife or husband. But…
Your precious little one just…Will. Not. Go. To. Sleep.
You bounce, you rock, you pat them on the back. You tell stories and sing songs. You’re exhausted and you realize this is taking an hour. You’re not going to get to watch that movie, read that book, finish that project. Relaxing for part of the evening is definitely out.
This is the fifth night in a row your little one has refused to go to bed. You’re exhausted, bored, frustrated. This is the life of a parent of small children. There have been seasons where this has been every night with my daughter.
Finally, she starts to calm down. She settles into my arms. I keep rocking, afraid to breathe too loudly. Her eyes stop darting to and fro and rest on mine. I wonder what this little person could possibly be thinking. I remember how beautiful she is and pray for her as we continue to gaze at one another. I still don’t know her thoughts but somewhere deep inside I feel that she loves me.
“I love you, baby girl,” I whisper as softly as humanly possible.
Her tiny hand slowly loosens its grip around my thumb as she finally succumbs to slumber. I keep rocking her for a few minutes, because now I don’t care about doing the dishes or writing a blog post.
I just know that in this frustrating, exhausting, mundane moment, there’s also a measure of love that is worth it all.