Prayer Day 29: A Christian Guide to Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Available on Amazon.com
Available on Amazon.com

Heavenly Father. Beloved Son. Holy Spirit. Thank you for teaching us to pray. Be with us as we take new steps in our journey of faith. Open our minds as you have opened our hearts. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Padre Celestial, Hijo Amado, Espíritu Santo. Gracias por enseñarnos a orar. Se con nosotros mientras tomamos nuevos pasos en nuestro camino de fe. Abre nuestras mentes como has abierto nuestros corazones. En el nombre de Jesús oramos, Amén.

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Jesus: Passionately Pursue the Kingdom of Heaven

Life_in_Tension_web“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matt. 5:6 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

With the fourth beatitude we move from tension with ourselves to tension with God. Beatitudes four, five, and six speak of God’s righteousness, mercy, and purity—which we can never fully attain. Our tension emanates from our finitude compared with an infinite God and our sinfulness compared with God’s holiness. Yet, we go on knowing that we are created in the image of God (Gen 1:28) and redeemed by His Son, Jesus Christ, because we hunger for God’s righteousness—a precious thing in a fallen world.

The fourth beatitude taps into deep physical and spiritual needs outlined in the words: “hunger and thirst for righteousness”.  Hunger in the Greek, πεινάω, means both “to feel the pangs of lack of food, hunger, be hungry” and “desire something. strongly, hunger for something” (BDAG 5758) which bridges both physical and spiritual needs (Matthew 5:6; Luke 6:21).  Likewise, thirst, διψάω, in the Greek means both “to have a desire for liquid, be thirsty, suffer from thirst” and “to have a strong desire to attain some goal, thirst, i.e. long for something” (BDAG 2051). Righteousness, δικαιοσύνη, means the: “quality or state of juridical correctness with focus on redemptive action, righteousness” (BDAG 2004(2))

The  Gospel of John expresses this symbolism best.  Jesus says:

  • “Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35 ESV)
  • On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”  (John 7:37-39 ESV)

The theme of need runs deep in John’s Gospel.  Jesus first reveals himself to a couple of newlyweds in danger of being stigmatized for their poverty (not having enough wine; John 2:1-11). Our need is then contrasted with God’s super-abundant provision—of wine (John 2:1-11), bread (John 6:5-14), and fish (John 21:3-13).

Still, to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” speaks of extreme suffering:   the most basic of human needs have gone unmet. The laments in the Book of Psalms provide the backstory of this beatitude [1].  There we read: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1 ESV) And “How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?” (Ps. 89:46 ESV)  [2]. It is ironic that we are able to experience God best when we wander in the desert.  As God tells Moses:  “And you shall say to him [Pharaoh], The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness.” (Exod. 7:16 ESV)  In other words, God was inviting the Israelite people to rediscover the God of their fathers through adversity—this idea must have blown Pharaoh’s mind! (Card 2005, 16)

The second beatitude affirms that the expectations of human needs will be met and exceeded.  Jesus reassures the disciples later in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or What shall we wear? For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:31-33 ESV)

Amidst our suffering and need, Jesus gives the disciples permission to pray for the simplest needs in life: “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11 ESV). Jesus’ God is one  who cares deeply about his people. Even in judgment God cares for his people: the righteous are separated from the wicked by their attitude about and care for those in need (Matt 25:31-46).

[1] Christian songwriter Michael Card (2005, 19 ) writes at length about lament.  A lament has two parts.  The first part is cathartic–we pour out our hearts to God emptying ourselves of the anger, fear, hatred, and other vile emotions that we harbor.  Once this catharsis is complete, then in part two are hearts are open to remember God grace and mercy to us in the past and we are able to praise God from the bottom of our hearts.

[2] Modern atheism feeds from this painful stream. Modern atheists question God’s provision and care: if God is all powerful and all good, then the existence of suffering and evil suggests that God is either not all powerful or not good or not both—he does not exist. In contrast, Jesus testifies that those who passionately seek righteousness will be satisfied. The Greek word here for satisfy, χορτάζω, means “to experience inward satisfaction in something be satisfied” (BDAG 7954). Far from deserting us, in life Jesus suffered alongside of us, on the cross paid our penalty for sin, and in resurrection became our guarantor.  “While some continue to argue that Auschwitz disproves the existence of God, many more would argue that it demonstrates the depths to which humanity, unrestrained by any thought or fear of God, will sink.” (McGrath 2004, 184).

REFERENCES

Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v.9.>.

Card, Michael. 2005. A Sacred Sorrow Experience Guide:  Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament. Colorado Springs:  NavPress.

McGrath, Alister. 2004. The Twilight of Atheism. New York: DoubleDay.

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Invitation to Author Talk and Workshop on May 31, 2015 (Trailer)

Available on Amazon.com
Available on Amazon.com

Invitation to Author Talk and Workshop on May 31, 2015 (click to view trailer)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Have you ever been called a friend of God? James, the brother of Jesus, called Abraham a friend of God (James 2:23). In Genesis 12:1-3, God blessed Abraham with these words:

“Now the LORD said to Abram,Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 12:1-3 ESV)

The purpose of Christian spirituality is to live into God’s blessing and, in doing so, to bless those around us.

I would like to invite you to join me in discussing Christian spirituality on Sunday, May 31, 2015 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church of Annandale, Virginia.

Please come a bit early so that we can start on time.

Refreshments will be served and I will have copies of my book, A Christian Guide to Spirituality, available. Afterwards, I will hang around to talk and sign books. A Christian Guide to Spirituality is also available online on Amazon.com.

If you have not previously visited First Presbyterian Church of Annandale, please check out the directions on their website. The church is located in a residential neighborhood so directions are necessary.

In closing, I hope that you can join us on May 31. Thank you for listening.

Check out video trailer (view)

First Presbyterian Church of Annandale
7610 Newcastle Drive
Annandale, VA 22003-5422

www.FPCAnnandale.org

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McGrath Chronicles the Rise and Fall of Atheism, Part 3

Twilight_review_05042015Alister McGrath. 2004. The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World. New York: DoubleDay. (Goto part 1; goto part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Because human beings cannot live without hope, nihilism itself points to God. As Freud himself admits, we were created to worship God!  In effect, atheism contains the seeds of its own destruction. The paradox of Christianity is that the cross has become a symbol of hope [1].

McGrath’s argument for the twilight of atheism is found in chapter 7 where he notes an unexpected resurgence of religion. He starts with his own experience as a former atheist and 5 additional points:

  1. The intellectual argument against God has stalled,
  2. Suffering in the world is an argument for God, not against God,
  3. Atheism lacks imagination,
  4. Renewed interest in the spiritual, and
  5. The remarkable growth of Pentecostalism (6-7).

Each of these points deserves discussion.

The Intellectual Argument Against God Has Stalled. McGrath writes:

“the philosophical argument about the existence of God has ground to a halt.  The matter lies beyond rational proof, and is ultimately a matter of faith, in the sense of judgments made in the absence of sufficient evidence…The belief that there is no God is just as much a matter of faith as the belief that there is a God.” (179-180)

Part of the appeal of atheism was that it was logical consistent and, presumably, based on scientific reasoning while Christianity was not.  McGrath writes:

“the arguments of Feuerback, Marx, and Freud really offer little more than post hoc rationalization of atheism, showing that this position, once presupposed, can make sense of things.  None of the three approaches, despite what their proponents claim, is any longer seen as a rigorously evidence-based, empirical approach that commands support on scientific grounds” (182).

If atheistic arguments require as much faith as those supporting the existence of God, then observers need to make their decision based on something other than logic.  In fact, McGrath observes an interesting parallel between the atheist arguments against God and the classical arguments for God’s existence set forth by Thomas Aquinas (181).  Once this parallel is acknowledged, it is clear that the atheist argument is no stronger than the argument for faith.

Suffering In The World Is An Argument For God, Not Against God. The classical argument against God is a question.  How can an all-powerful, benevolent God allow pain and suffering?  Either God is not all powerful or he is not benevolent.

While this is a good question, McGrath asks: who planned the Holocaust  and who slammed the doors shut on gas chambers? (183)  If the new gods of modernity and postmodernity are so good, why is the past two hundred years so full of genocide and murder?  By contrast, the God of the Bible is a god who suffers alongside his people—“who bears our sin, pain, and anguish.” (184)  The modern experiment, while attractive in theory, has utterly failed in practice and we now know from personal experience what happens when human beings start to think of themselves as gods.

If the logical argument whether to accept the atheist or the Christian religion is a draw, then the practical experience of the modern era clearly favors Christianity, not atheism.  The Berlin Wall was built to keep people in, not to keep people out.

Atheism Lacks Imagination.  McGrath writes:  “Atheism invited humanity to imagine a world without God.” (188)  John Lennon even wrote a song, Imagine—nothing left to kill or die for, on this theme before he was murdered (173). Yet, no one needed to image a world without God anymore—they need only look at the history of the Soviet Union.  And the more people learned about it, the less they liked what they saw (187).  Those with the most imagination, artists and musicians, often found themselves sent to prison camps—the gulags of Siberia. Meanwhile, Christian writers, artists, and musicians continue to flourish (1986).

Renewed Interest In The Spiritual. The fathers of atheism predicted that the world would outgrow the infantile illusions of religion, but in fact the opposite has occurred.  In no place is this more true that in the former communist nations of Eastern Europe and Russia itself (189).

The Remarkable Growth Of Pentecostalism.  The Pentecostal movement started as a revival in Los Angeles in 1906 but now accounts for about a half billion believers (193-195).  McGrath sees 2 factors accounting for the popularity of Pentecostalism:

  1. “Pentecostalism stresses the direct, immediate experience of God and avoids the dry and cerebral forms of Christianity.” and
  1. “The Movement uses a language and form of communication that enables it to bridge cultural gaps effectively.” (195).

McGrath sees Pentecostalism as the single, most significant alternative to Roman Catholicism and as the “new Marxism” of the third world.  That honor used to go to the churches of the Protestant Reformation who seemed to have lost their sense of the sacred and have become significantly secularized (195-197).  McGrath contrasts the dry rationalism of protestants—theological correctness whether left or right— to the living faith of the Pentecostals (214-215) [1].

All good things must come to an end.

McGrath ends with a lengthy account of the life and exploits of Madalyn Murray O’Hair.  Madalyn is best known for her lawsuit in 1960-63 to end prayer in U.S. public schools (248).  She went on to found the society called American Atheists from which she apparently stole an enormous sum of money (253).  What is less well known is that her son, William J. Murray, on whose behalf her lawsuit was filed, grew up to become a believer, a writer, a Baptist minister and an advocate for return of prayer to public schools (248) [2].  What could be more ironic?

Alister McGrath’s The Twilight of Atheism is a wonderful book and a great read.

 

[1] “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4 ESV).  Also see: Jesus:  Joy in Sorrow (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-Xg).

[2] McGrath writes: “How can God’s existence be doubted, when God is such a powerful reality in our lives? And how can God’s relevance be doubted, when God inspires us to care for the poor, heal the sick, and work for the dispossessed?” (216)

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_J._Murray

REFERENCES

William J. Murray. 1995. Let Us Pray: A Plea for Prayer in Our Schools. William Morrow & Company.

William J. Murray. 2000. My Life Without God: The Rest of the Story. Harvest House Publishers.

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McGrath Chronicles the Rise and Fall of Atheism, Part 2

Twilight_review_05042015Alister McGrath. 2004. The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World. New York: DoubleDay. (Goto part 1; goto part 3)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

A defining moment in my understanding of my home country occurred in February 1979 when I visited Berlin and saw the Berlin Wall[1]. Driving through East Germany on the autobahn, we stopped at a rest stop for lunch. When I attempted to engage an East German traveler in conversation, he began to shake and could hardly speak. When I later saw the crosses on the wall where people had been shot trying to escape, I understood with deadly seriousness why the man was afraid—I was a American and he could be imprisoned for nothing more than talking with me.

McGrath tells the story of the rise of atheism, in part, through biographical sketches. Let me highlight three: Karl Marx (1818-1883), Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900).

Karl Marx. Marx famously referred to religion as the “opium of the people”. He opposed religion and advocated its abolishment because:

“Religion…dulls the pain of an unjust world, enabling the downtrodden people to cope with its sorrows and distress, and indirectly encouraging them to collude with the existing order” (66).

Today’s overwhelming preoccupation with the material world is, in part, a reflection of Marx’s belief that “ideas and values are determined by the material realities of life.” (63) Marx’s cynicism had a very personal root. His father enthusiastically converted from Judaism to Protestantism after moving to a different village in Germany because it was good for business. Marx’s father insisted that he do the same (62).

While only 11 people attended Marx’s funeral with Friedrich Engels delivering the eulogy, millions died in Russia, China, and elsewhere over the next century as communist governments attempted to implement his ideas[2].

Sigmund Freud. Freud thought of religion as wishful thinking, an illusion (74). He is best known as the father of modern psychoanalysis. McGrath reports that he was an atheist before he became a psychoanalyst and became a psychoanalyst precisely because he was an atheist—for Freud, his atheism was a presupposition[3]. McGrath writes:

“His infatigable harrying of religion reflects his fundamental belief that religion is dangerous, not least because it constitutes a threat to the advance of the Enlightenment and the natural sciences. Freud’s approach to religion rests upon the perceived need to explain why anyone would wish to take the extraordinary step of believing in God, when there is obviously no God to believe in…Freud declared that religion was basically a distorted form of an obsessional neurosis. The key elements in all religions, he argues, are the veneration of the father figure (such as God or Jesus Christ), faith in the power of spirits, and a concern for proper rituals.” (70-71)

Interestingly, Freud drew his impression of religion, not from scientific study, but from an adaption of Ludwig Feuerbach idea that: “the concept of God was fundamentally a human construction, based on the ‘projection’ of fundamental human longings and desires” (68). Feuerbach was himself, like Marx, a student of Hegel and also a student of Schleiermacher (53)—the patron saint of theological liberalism in the 19th century. Feuerbach was largely unemployable as a theologian, in part, because he “lampooned Christianity as ‘some kind of insurance company.’” (54)

Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche is best known for the will to power which has become the core principle of deconstructionism. For example, Vanhoozer (1998, 57) writes that “Nietzche, a non-realist, contends that meaning, truth, and the world itself are human constructions.”  This implies that those in power determine the construction of meaning and truth. McGrath (151) writes of Nietzsche: “If there is no God, or if God has become a culturally discredited notion, then there is no absolute values or truths.”  The death of God is accordingly the death also of meaning and the beginning of nihilism (149).

McGrath has a more sympathetic view of Nietzsche than many commentators. He sees atheism losing its appeal ironically because it has discredited its opponent—the church.  If religion is no longer a credible, cultural alternative, then its protagonist—in this case, atheism—likewise loses its relevance. This insight McGrath credits to Nietzsche (219).

Nietzsche, though a darling of many postmoderns, is usually panned by commentators because Nazi Germany put his ideals to direct use.  In a nation of equals, a person of supreme ability (übermensch or superman) can arise to assume leadership. Nietzsche’s will to power accordingly provided the intellectual bona fides for the idea of a führer (leader) which was employed directly by Adolf Hitler[4].  Death and destruction quickly followed.

Although the death toll due to Nazi death camps (circa 3 million by one account[5]) looks small relative to the deaths precipitated by the communists, the point is that atheism in its official manifestations has been a plague on humanity. So why have today’s secular culture and even the postmodern church so readily embraced the ideas that led to these horrors?

If God is dead, then we cannot have been created in his image and human rights are an anachronism, not an inalienable right. Without the existence of God, the intellectual underpinning of social justice is vapor in the wind. The Berlin Wall was a tangible reminder of how different life can become when God’s presence is not acknowledged—I will never forget[6].

Alister McGrath’s book, The Twilight of Atheism, is a helpful book to spend time with.  As my review suggests, interpreting McGrath requires background in modern and postmodern history and philosophy. Here in part 2 of this review, I have focuses on the some of the personalities of the High Noon of atheism.  In part 3, I will turn to McGrath’s argument for the Twilight of atheism.

 

[1] I was a foreign exchange student in 1978/79 at Göttingen University (www.uni-goettingen.de).

[2] Estimates are cited in the range from 85 to 100 million people killed (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_killings_under_Communist_regimes).

[3] Jung, a Christian and student of Freud, was more sensitive to the needs of human beings for God in maintaining the careful balance between order and chaos.  He writes: “This is why the medicine-man is also a priest; he is the savior of the body as well as of the soul, and religions are systems of healing for psychic illness.” (Jung 1955, 240).

[4] For example, Metazas (2010, 168) writes:  “Hilter worshiped power while [he viewed] truth [as] a phantasm to be ignored.”

[5] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extermination_camp

[6] East and West Berlin were separated by only about 100 yards, but they were night and day different. West Berlin was busy and loud, a lot like visiting Manhattan, New York during the day. East Berlin was deserted and silent like visiting a graveyard at night.

REFERENCES

Jung, Carl G. 1955. Modern Man in Search of a Soul (Orig. Pub. 1933).  Translated by W.S. Dell and Cary F. Baynes. New York:  Harcourt, Inc.

Metaxas, Eric. 2010. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy—A Righteous Gentile Versus The Third Reich. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Vanhoozer, Kevin J. 1998. Is There a Meaning in This Text:  The Bible, The Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

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Prayer Day 28: A Christian Guide to Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Available on Amazon.com
Available on Amazon.com

Almighty Father. We praise you for creating heaven and earth; creating all that is, was, or will ever be; and creating all things seen and unseen. We look out on your creation and praise your name. Keep us safe in your hands: seal our hearts; strengthen our minds; and shelter our bodies from all evil. In our hour of weakness, may we ever turn only to you. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Padre Todopoderoso. Te alabamos por crear el cielo y la tierra; por crear todo lo que es, lo que fue, o lo que nunca será; y por crear todas las cosas visibles e invisibles. Observamos tu creación y alabamos tu nombre. Mantenos a salvo en tus manos: sella nuestros corazones; fortalece nuestras mentes; y refugia nuestros cuerpos de toda malvadad. En nuestra hora de debilidad, haznos retornar siempre y sólo a tí. En el nombre del Padre, del Hijo, y del Espíritu Santo, Amén.

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Jesus: Lead Out of Meekness

Life_in_Tension_web“For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Rev. 7:17 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Meekness is an aspirational character trait and the mark of a natural leader. Tension arises within us because perfection in meekness is not within our grasp. Tension arises between us because leadership involves care and defense of the weaker among us. Tension arises with God because God pushes us to grow pushing our limits while our meekness forces us to live with the pain that growth entails.

Leadership Temptations. The unique thing about meekness is that it is invisible until tested. After his baptism, Jesus: “was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4:1-2 ESV) The devil posed 3 tests:

1. Turn a stone into bread;

2.  Become my vassal; and

3.  Throw yourself down (Luke 4:4,7,9).

What is surprising about this story is that Jesus does not remain silent. He has been fasting and wandering the desert. Still, his answers are descriptive, not hauty. Jesus responds to the devil by citing 3 verses taken from the Book of Deuteronomy [1]. Nouwen (1989, 7-8) sees these tests as common leadership temptations. Namely, the temptation to be relevant, powerful, and spectacular [2]. He (82) observes that: “Christian leadership…is not leadership of power and control, but a leadership of powerlessness and humility in which the sufferign servant of Good, Jesus Christ, is made manifest.” In a word, Nouwen sees the Christian leader as meek, like the one who sent him.

Tension Within. The Apostle Paul talks about pursuing “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.” (1 Tim. 6:11 ESV) He does not claim to have succeeded in obtaining them. Instead, he talks about inner tension:

“For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Rom. 7:18-19 ESV)

If Paul as an apostle of Jesus Christ cannot in his own power attain all the gifts of the spirit, including meekness, then we also must recognize that the journey of faith will have its ups and downs, and not dispair when we cannot attain perfection in Christ.

Tension With Others. A common complaint among pastors is that their job is 24-7. They are always on duty and called to be a good example. It is like living in a transparent tent in the middle of a parking lot. I always feel compelled, for example, to drive the speed limit when I am wearing a clerical collar—a heavy cross to bear living in the Washington Metro area! People are watching. Pastor, are you really meek?

A friend of mine asked: Isn’t meekness a personal attribute? How can you be meek when you are responsible for other people? One response is that Christian leadership is sacrificial. During his time in prison, for example, Bonhoeffer continued to function as a pastor being allowed to counsel other immates, even the guards (Metaxas 2010, 448). Sacrificial leadership can be painful and, yet, may never be appreciated. Several levels of meekness may be required.

Tension With God. Sacrificial leadership can also lead to suffering, which is never fun. Jesus was meek. But on the cross he also had a moment of dispair crying: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34 ESV) Yet, in this moment of dispair he cites Psalm 22 which later ends in praise: “You who fear the LORD, praise him!” (Ps. 22:23 ESV)

We can be meek in the face of suffering, in part, because we know that the future is in Christ—we know that suffering is not the end of the story. The implication of the resurrection of Christ is that we too will share in his victory. As the Apostle Paul writes: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55 ESV)

[1] “…man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” (Deut. 8:3 ESV) “It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.” (Deut. 6:13 ESV) “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test…” (Deut. 6:16 ESV)

[2] Scazzero (2006, 75-78) phrases these temptations more personally as the temptation to perform, to possess, and to be popular.

REFERENCES

Metaxas, Eric. 2012. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Nouwen, Henri J. M. 1989. In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company.

Scazzero, Peter. 2006. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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Blessed are Those Who Mourn

New Life
New Life

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon, Virginia, May 20, 2015 (translated from Spanish)

Welcome

Welcome to Luncheon for the Soul this afternoon at Trinity Presbyterian Church. My name is Stephen.  I am a volunteer pastor from Centreville Presbyterian Church.

Today’s message focuses on the need to take a new attitude about grief.  When we are in pain, do we turn to God or lean into the pain? (2X)

Prayer

Let’s pray.

Heavenly father.  Thank you for your presence among us this morning.  We especially give thanks for life, our health, and the riches of fellowship that we have in your church.  In the power of the Holy Spirit, open our eyes and give us ears that hear.  In the precious name of your son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

New Testament Reading

Today’s text comes from the Gospel of Matthew 5:4.  This is the second beatitude and a part of the introduction of the Sermon on the Mount.  Hear the word of God::

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4 ESV)[1]

The Word of the Lord.  Praise be to God.

Introduction

Who do you mourn for? (2X)

I remember in my case the death of my sister, Diane, in 2007.  I am the oldest in the family so she was 2 year younger than I.  For this reason the loss of my sister was especially difficult, but also because we were friends our whole lives.  My father was a student during much of my youth and we moved around a lot during those years.  Consequently, Diane was my only real friend until I was 8 years old. We learned about life together. Now, Diane was in heaven and I was alone with my memories.  The following year, 2008, I began my seminary studies.  Were those 2 events related?  Maybe yes; maybe no.  At this point, I believe they were.

What have you learned during your experiences of loss? (2X)

Old Testament Reading

The second beatitude comes directly from Isaiah 61:1-3 where it reads:

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion– to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.” (Isa. 61:1-3 ESV)

We remember this passage well because Jesus read it during his call sermon in Luke 4.

Who receives consolation in these verses?  Two groups stand out:

  • “all who mourn” and
  • “those who mourn in Zion”.

The context of these verses is the Babylonian captivity which came in response to the sins of the Judeans.

But, why does God mourn? (2X) God mourns for our sins because our sins come between us and a Holy God (Gen 6:5-6)[2].  Our sins separate us from God.  Therefore, when we mourn our own sins God promises to offer us consolation.  Jesus Christ says:

 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4 ESV)

Analysis

There is a second reason why the second beatitude offers God’s consolation.  Grief is a kind of lamentation. A lament is a song (or prayer) of mourning and there are many laments in the Book of Psalms.

A lament has a important form consisting of 2 parts [3].

In the first part of a lament one tells God everything that burdens your heart.  All the pain, all the fears, all the anger.  It is important to be very honest with God.  It is good to be even angry with God because God is great and your anger makes it obvious that you take God really seriously. This part of the lament is finished when all the pain has been emptied.  At this point, the soul is quiet.

The second part of a lament arises exactly because the soul is quiet.  At this point, it is possible to recall the blessings of God in your journey of faith. This part of a lament consists primarily of praise. So it is ironic that a lament is for many people, many times the path to salvation. Here we see the consolation of the second beatitude:

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4 ESV)

Who do you mourn for? (2X)

In my case, I was in the process of lament when I started by studies in seminary.  But, up to this point, I never put those two things together in my thoughts.  Did God use my pain to draw me closer to himself?

More Analysis

When we grieve it is true that we experience real loss. We need here to make a decision:  will we turn to God or lean into our pain? (2X)

This decision is important because pain is a powerful emotion which has the capacity to cause changes in our identity.  It is a Garden-in-Gethsemane moment in our lives (Mateo 26:36-43). In a real sense, our identity is a collection of all the decisions about pain in our lives.  Ultimately, is our identity in Christ or in our pain? (2X)

Over what do you grieve? (2X) Jesus reminds us:

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4 ESV)

Closing Prayer

Let’s pray.

Almighty God, beloved Son, ever present Spirit, we praise you for your gracious love and consolation in times of pain and loss.  Cleanse our hearts of these losses, the fears, the shame, and the evil passions that cause us to sin.  In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.

 

[1] “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” (Luke 6:21 ESV)

[2] “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” (Gen. 6:5-6 ESV)

[3] Card, Michael. 2005. A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

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Dichosos Los Que Lloran

New Life
New Life

Por Stephen W. Hiemstra

Se presentaba al Almuerzo para el Alma, Miércoles, 20 de Mayo, 2015 Iglesia Presbiteriana de Trinidad, Herndon, Virginia.

Bienvenido

Bienvenido al Almuerzo para el Alma aquí este tarde a la Iglesia Presbiteriano de Trinidad. Mi nombre es Esteban (o Steve or Stephen o cualquiera otra cosa). Soy un voluntario pastoral de la Iglesia Presbiteriano de Centreville.

Nuestro mensaje de hoy enfoca en la necesidad de tener una actitud diferente a través de duelo. ¿Cuándo somos en dolor, nos volvemos a dios o a nuestro dolor? (2X)

Oración

Vamos a orar.

Padre celestial. Gracias por tu presencia entre nosotros esta mañana. Agradecemos para la vida, la salud, y las riquezas de amistad que es tu iglesia. En el poder de tu Espíritu Santa, abra nuestros ojos y danos oídos que oyen. En el nombre de Jesucristo, Amen.

Texto de Neuvo Testamento

El texto de hoy viene del evangelio de Mateo 5:4. Eso es la segunda beatitud y una parte de la introducción del sermón de la montaña. Escuchan la palabra de Dios:

“Dichosos los que lloran, porque serán consolados.” (Mateo 5:4 NVI)[1]

La palabra de Senior.  Gracias a Dios.

Introducción

¿Para quién lloras tú? (2X)

Recuerdo en mi caso la muerte de mi hermana Diane en 2007. Soy el mayor de la familia, entonces ella estaba dos años más joven que yo. Por esta razón la pérdida de mi hermana fue especialmente duro por migo, pero también porque nosotros fuimos amigos para toda la vida. Mi padre fue estudiante durante casi toda mi juventud y movimos mucho durante esos años; entonces, Diane fue mi única real amiga hasta que fui ochos años. Entendimos la vida juntos. Ahora, Diane fue con Dios y yo fui solitario en mis memorias. En el próximo año, 2008, empieza mis estudios en el seminario. ¿Son los dos eventos relativos? Tal vez; tal vez no.  Hasta ahora es difícil de decir, pero creo que sí.

¿Qué aprendí usted de tu experiencia de pérdida? (2X)

Texto de Antiguo Testamento

La segunda beatitud viene directamente de Isaías 61:1-3 donde se escribía:

“El Espíritu del SEÑOR omnipotente está sobre mí, por cuanto me ha ungido para anunciar buenas nuevas a los pobres. Me ha enviado a sanar los corazones heridos, a proclamar liberación a los cautivos y libertad a los prisioneros, a pregonar el año del favor del SEÑOR y el día de la venganza de nuestro Dios, a consolar a todos los que están de duelo, y a confortar a los dolientes de Sión. Me ha enviado a darles una corona en vez de cenizas, aceite de alegría en vez de luto, traje de fiesta en vez de espíritu de desaliento. Serán llamados robles de justicia, plantío del SEÑOR, para mostrar su gloria.” (Isa. 61:1-3 NVI)

Recuérdanos esta pasaje bien porque Jesús leyó la en Nazaret durante su primer sermón en Lucas 4.

¿Quién recibí consolación en este pasaje? Hay dos grupos:

  • “todos los que están de duelo” y
  • “los dolientes de Sión”.

El contexto de estos versiculos fue la cautividad en Babilonia que venía en response de los pecados de los judías.

Pero, ¿para que llora Dios? (2X) Dios llora para nuestros pecados porque nuestros pecados vienen entre nosotros y un santo Dios (Gen 6:5-6)[2].  Nuestros pecados separaran nos de Dios.  Cuando lloramos sobre nuestros pecados Dios nos prometía que él va ofrecer consolación. Jesucristo dice:

“Dichosos los que lloran, porque serán consolados.” (Mateo 5:4 NVI)

Análisis

La segunda beatitud tiene una segunda razón para ofrecer consolación.  El duelo es un tipo de lamentación.  La lamentación es un canto (u oración) de llorar y hay muchas lamentaciones en el libro de Salmo.

La lamentación tiene una forma importante que tiene dos partes[1].

En la primera parte de una lamentación se diga toda que es en tu corazón al Señor. Todo el dólar, todos tus miedos, toda tu ira. Es importante a ser muy honesto con Dios. Esos es bien a ser ira aun con Dios porque Dios es grande y tu ira significa que tú tomas Dios realmente serios.  Esa parte de oración es completa cuando toda la pena había dicho. En este momento el alma es tranquilo.

La segunda parte de una lamentación viene exactamente porque el alma es tranquilo.  En este momento eso es posible a recordar tus bendiciones de Dios en tu camino de la fe.  Esta parte de la lamentación consiste de alabanzas de Dios.  Entonces, encontramos que irónicamente, una lamentación es por muchas personas muchas vezas el camino de salvación. Aquí vemos el consolado de la segunda beatitud:

“Dichosos los que lloran, porque serán consolados.” (Mateo 5:4 NVI)

¿Para quién lloras tú? (2X)

En mi caso, yo estaba en el proceso de lamentación cuando comencé mis estudios en el seminario. Pero, hasta este momento no puse estas dos cosas juntas en mis piensas. ¿Dios utiliza mi dolor me acercarse a sí mismo?

Más Análisis

Cuando lloramos es verdad que nosotros sentimos una pérdida real.  Necesitamos hacer una decisión: ¿Nos volvemos a Dios o a nuestro dolor? (2X) Esta decisión es importante porque dolor es una emoción muy poderoso y tiene la capacidad de hacer cambios de nuestra identidad. Eso es un Jardín-de-Getsemaní momento en nuestra vida (Mateo 26:36-43). En un sentido real, nuestra identidad es una colección de todas las decisiones sobre dolor en la vida. ¿Últimamente, es nuestra identidad en Cristo o en nuestro dolor? (2X)

¿Para qué lloras tú? (2X) Jesucristo nos recordamos:

“Dichosos los que lloran, porque serán consolados.” (Mateo 5:4 NVI)

Oración Para Terminar

Oramos.

Dios todopoderoso, amado hijo, omnipresente Espíritu, alabamos por tu gracioso amor y consolación en tiempos de dolor y pérdida. Limpia nuestros corazones de las pérdidas, los miedos, la vergüenza, y las pasiones malvadas que nos llevan a pecar. En el precioso nombre de Jesús, amen.

 

[1] “Dichosos ustedes que ahora lloran, porque luego habrán de reír.” (Luke 6:21 NVI)

[2] “Al ver el SEÑOR que la maldad del ser humano en la tierra era muy grande, y que todos sus pensamientos tendían siempre hacia el mal, se arrepintió de haber hecho al ser humano en la tierra, y le dolió en el corazón.” (Gen. 6:5-6 NVI)

[3] Card, Michael. 2005. A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

 

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McGrath Chronicles the Rise and Fall of Atheism, Part 1

Twilight_review_05042015Alister McGrath. 2004.  The Twilight of Atheism:  The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World.  New York:  DoubleDay. (Goto part 2; goto part 3)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Religion is composed of our core beliefs.  Just like every house must begin with a foundation, these core beliefs, hence religion, are not optional—everyone has them. Atheism, which means no gods[1], is a particularly curious religion because it is defined by what it is not. In this sense, it is parasitic drawing its strength from its host [2].  Because the line of argumentation in atheism is much longer than for traditional religions, atheism requires more intellectual energy to maintain. Nevertheless, atheism is popular because it makes fewer practical demands of its followers than traditional religions [3].  For that reason new flavors of atheism keep popping up like ticks on a dog.

Alister McGrath begins his book, Twilight of Atheism, with a citation from Winston Churchill:  “The empires of the future will be empires of the mind.” Atheism is one of these empires which McGrath defines as: “rejection of any divinities, supernatural powers, or transcendent realities limiting the development and achievements of humanity.” (xi)[4].

McGrath states his purpose in writing as:

“To tell something of the story of the rise and fall of a great empire of the mind and what can be learned from it.  What brought it into existence?  What gave it such credibility and attractiveness for so long?  And why does it seem to have lost so much of its potency in recent years?” (vii).

McGrath has in view, not every form of atheism, but rather official state atheism that began its ascent with the fall of the Bastille in 1789 and crashed with the Berlin Wall in 1989. McGrath goes on to write:

“The fall of the Bastille became a symbol of the viability and creativity of a godless world, just as the fall of the Berlin Wall later symbolized a growing recognition of the uninhabilitability of such a place.” (1)

Dr. Alister McGrath is the Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford and, most recently, the new Gresham Professor of Divinity [5].  The Twilight of Atheism is an expansion of a speech given at Oxford Union in February 2002 (xiii).  He writes in 11 chapters divided into two parts—The High Noon of Atheism (chapters 2-6 and Twilight (chapters 7-11).  The chapters are:

    1. The Dawn of the Golden Age of Atheism,
    2. The French Revolution,
    3. The Intellectual Foundations: Feuerbach, Marx, and Freud,
    4. Warfare: The Natural Sciences and the Advancement of Atheism,
    5. A Failure of the Religious Imagination: The Victorian Crisis of Faith,
    6. The Death of God: The Dream of a Godless Culture,
    7. The Unexpected Resurgence of Religion,
    8. Disconnection from the Sacred: Protestantism and Atheism,
    9. Postmodernity: Atheism and Radical Cultural Change,
    10. The Atheist’s Revolt: Madalyn Murray O’Hair and Others, and
    11. End of Empire: The Fading Appeal of Atheism (v-vii).

These chapters are preceded by an introduction and followed by a list of references and an index.

Like another other religion, atheism has its priests. McGrath writes:

“Intellectuals became a secular priesthood, unfettered by the dogmas of the religious past, addressing a growing audience who were becoming increasingly impatient with the moral failures and cultural unsophistication of their clergy.  At some point, perhaps one that can never be determined with historical accuracy, Western society came to believe that it should look elsewhere than to its clergy for guidance.  Instead, they turned to the intellectuals, who were able to portray their clerical opponents as lazy fools who could do no more than unthinkingly repeat the slogans and nostrums of an increasingly distant past.” (49)

Ouch!  My guess is that the Scopes Trial in 1925[6] was probably a tipping point for American characterization of clergy as unsophisticated.

The idea in my mind that atheism was a real religion was planted by McGrath’s discussion here .  McGrath writes:

“the philosophical argument about the existence of God has ground to a halt.  The matter lies beyond rational proof, and is ultimately a matter of faith, in the sense of judgments made in the absence of sufficient evidence…The belief that there is no God is just as much a matter of faith as the belief that there is a God.”(179-180)

In other words, atheism is a religion.  The reason why we care about this characterization is that religions dressed up as something other than what they really are has important implications for other atheistic religions that followed and transformed postmodern culture. For example, a non-religion, religion can be taught in public schools while a formal religion cannot be taught. Unmasking the priests of an informal religion is a critical point in responding to their claims.

Alister McGrath’s book, Twilight of Atheism, is an erudite but accessible and fascinating read. It is refreshing to see such clear and logical writing. In part 2 I will focus on McGrath’s High Noon of atheism in terms of 3 key personalities—Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche.  Then, in part 3, I will turn to McGrath’s view of the Twilight of Atheism.

 

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atheism

[2] McGrath writes:  “Voltaire’s insight is of fundamental importance to our study of the emergence of atheism.  His argument is simple: the attractiveness of atheism is directly dependent upon the corruption of Christian institutions.  Reform those institutions and the plausibility of atheism is dramatically reduced.” (27)

[3] This is unlike Christianity, for example, which requires that believers model their lives after Christ.  Following a review of the sadistic and salacious work of the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814), McGrath notes that “Atheism made sexual experimentation legitimate and interesting.” (35)  In other words, rather than making demands of its followers, atheism offers them a kinky sort of freedom.

[4] Limiting is the key word here because a brief survey of any television guide will leave one in awe of the number of supernatural illusions referenced.  However, like other pagan gods before them, zombies, ghosts, witches, wizards, werewolves, and vampires make no particular demands on those that believe in them and model their lives after them.  Instead, they offer the illusion of eternal life and supernatural power without accountability.

[5] http://alistermcgrath.weebly.com

[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scopes_Trial

 

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