Juan 16: El Paráclito

Maple_leaves_11162013Por Stephen W. Hiemstra

Encamíname en tu verdad, ¡enséñame! Tú eres mi Dios y Salvador; ¡en ti pongo mi esperanza todo el día! (Salmo 25:5 NVI)

Es difícil imaginar el terror de los discípulos al otro lado de la cruz. En Juan 16, podemos hacernos una idea.

El capítulo comienza con Jesús frente a una crisis de liderazgo.

Jesús comienza diciendo: Todo esto les he dicho para que no flaquee su fe (v 1). La palabra traducida como flaquee, σκανδαλίζω , significa: hacer que se trajo a una caída, la causa del pecado (BDAD 6682.1). En otras palabras, los discípulos están en riesgo de ruptura como grupo y perder su razón de ser.

Este tema se repite al final del capítulo. En el versículo 32, por ejemplo, vemos una palabra similar a flaquee – dispersos. La palabra griega es σκορπίζω que se traduce en el sentido de: causar un grupo o reunión para ir en varias direcciones, esparcir, dispersar (BDAG 6717).

La importancia particular de esta palabra, σκορπίζω, es que trae a la mente una profecía de Zacarías: ¡Despierta, espada, contra mi pastor, contra el hombre en quien confío! —afirma el Senor Todopoderoso. Hiere al pastor para que se dispersen las ovejas y vuelva yo mi mano contra los corderitos. Las dos terceras partes del país serán abatidas y perecerán; sólo una tercera parte quedará con vida —afirma el Senor—Pero a esa parte restante la pasaré por el fuego; la refinaré como se refina la plata, la probaré como se prueba el oro. Entonces ellos me invocarán y yo les responderé. Yo diré: Ellos son mi pueblo, y ellos dirán: El Sennor es nuestro Dios (Zacarías 13:7-9; también: Malaquías 3:1-3). Zacarías ve la dispersión como un medio para crear un remanente de creyentes.

Entre la flaquee y las referencias de dispersión, Jesús habla de la persecución que viene (v 2), su muerte (v 20a), y su resurrección (v 20b). Toda esta discusión se acompaña confusión de la imagen por la forma en que recibiría la profecía de la muerte de un amigo. El punto clave de esta sección es la discusión del Espíritu Santo, que él describe como el Paráclito (v 7), y el Espíritu de la Verdad (v 13) de Jesús.

A medida que Jesús describe al Espíritu Santo, dos tareas separadas se describen. Entre los no creyentes: él convencerá al mundo de pecado, de justicia y de juicio (v 8). Al condenar al mundo de pecado, lo que demuestra la justicia, y traer juicio, el Espíritu Santo actúa en forma independiente de la iglesia (vv. 9-11). Entre los creyentes: él os guiará a toda la verdad (v 13a). Parte de esta verdad se hará en forma de profecía (vv. 13b,15) y parte consistirá en señalar de nuevo a Cristo (v 14).

Jesús termina diciendo: En este mundo afrontarán aflicciones, pero ¡anímense! Yo he vencido al mundo (v 33). Esta es la paz que sobrepasa todo entendimiento (Filipenses 4:7).

Juan 16: El Paráclito

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Christ and Culture

Christ_culture_110132013By Stephen W. Hiemstra

At Pentecost the Holy Spirit speaks Gospel into culture.   And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to peak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:4 ESV).  Here the Holy Spirit communicates the Gospel among all people groups through languages that previously separated us under the curse of Babel (Genesis 11:7).  Language marks culture.  Much like Pentecost is God’s antidote to Babel, the Gospel is an antidote to culture.

To see this, define culture as the history of our collective decisions[1].  If we consistently made rational decisions based on complete information and an objective decision process, then cultural differences would not exist because we would all act the same.  We are not the same because we make poor decisions and base those decisions on prior experiences.  Consequently, as time passes our societal laws, customs, values, and morals (the lessons learned from our collective history) grow more and more unique.  And this uniqueness separates us from one another.

Because resources are limited and contested, bad decisions, which are more costly than good decisions, leave a larger cultural imprint.  Bad habits trump good ones.  Because pain screams while God whispers, culture can seem like the history of collective mistakes, griefs, shame, injustices, and pain.  Cultural isolation temporarily eases our pain as we look inward, but wounds not cleaned fester.  When the church acts as an instrument of the Holy Spirit, it amplifies God’s voice and speaks Gospel into the context of cultural pain[2].

Culture is to groups what personality is to individuals.  Personality is defined in habitual behavior.  When we tell our personal stories, these stories consist mostly of recounting our wounds, obsessions, injustices, and learning experiences.  It is the rare individual blessed only to recount mountain top experiences.  The ministries of presence, fellowship, and care allow us to amplify God’s voice, like the church more generally, in personal reflection.

What does the Gospel have to do with culture?  If culture is primarily the history of our collective mistakes, griefs, shame, pains, and injustices—in a word, sin, then confession and forgiveness of sin are redemptive and transformative.  Christ redeems us from the guilt of sin and the Holy Spirit transforms our lives abating sin’s pollution.  Our worldly cultures are sanctified.  So Apostle Paul can write:  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).   When the church speaks Gospel into culture, it becomes an instrument of Pentecost.

What if we cling to worldly cultures rather than sanctify them?  In effect, we are arguing that our personal and collective mistakes, griefs, shame, injustices, and pain count for more than Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.  We are relishing our wounds or hiding behind them rather than submitting them to Christ.  Alternatively, Christ is seen as only human, but not divine.  When Paul prays for relief from a personal affliction, God responds:  My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).  When we hold worldly cultures close to our hearts, we frustrate Christ’s work of sanctification, grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), and yield to the itchy ears rather than proclaim the Gospel (2 Timothy 4:3).

What if we become prodigals—insisting on our inheritance without God’s truth and substituting worldly cultures for Christ and His sacrifice?  Think here of overtly idolatrous cultures, such as atheism or hedonism[3].  This is what Paul is talking about in Romans 1:24 when he talks about God giving them over to their shameful desires.  In this context, Paul takes up the mantle of a covenant lawsuit prophet evoking covenantal curses.  Rejecting the new covenant in Christ evokes the curse of law—reaping what we sow[4].  The Good News is that in Jesus Christ prodigals who return home and repent can be forgiven—not getting what we deserve.  The Apostle John writes:  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

At Pentecost we remember that Christ, not culture, is our true shelter from the storm.


[1]Jonathan Edwards (Freedom of the Will (1754). Vancouver:  Eremitical Press, 2009, p. 38) employs a similar starting point (a recursive decision process) in setting up a discussion of free will.

[2]Contextualization is actively studied in missionary circles.  For example, see,: James E. Plueddemann.  Leading Across Cultures:  Effective Ministry and Mission in the Global Church.  Downers Grove:  IVP Academic, 2009.

[3]Some view modernism from this perspective.  Nikita Khrushchev once said:   Gagarin flew into space, but didn’t see any god there (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuri_Gagarin).  Khrushchev apparently believed that the USSR had constructed a Tower of Babel.

[4]This is more than just a Pauline rant. The hermeneutic of the prodigal in Romans allows Paul to create space for the redemption of Jews who have rejected Christ (Romans 11:11).  Pentecost redeems worldly cultures, even Jewish culture.  Luke (12:10) and Mark (3:29) are less gracious and consider blaspheming the Holy Spirit (rejecting salvation through Christ) unforgiveable.

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Defending the Hope We Have

photoBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Riverside Presbyterian Church, November 17, 2013

SERMON SERIES REMINDER

Good morning! It is good to see everyone again.

Today we finish up our sermon series on John Stott’s book, Basic Christianity.  For those of you who have not had time to read the book, I would encourage you to pick up a copy and take a look—it is well worth the time.

PRAYER OF INVOCATION

Let’s begin with a word of prayer:

Almighty Father, Beloved Son, Holy Spirit, we praise you for your compassionate love and presence in our lives.  Make your presence especially known to us this morning.  In the power of your Holy Spirit, inspire the words spoken and illuminate the words heard.  In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

SERMON TEXT

Our scripture reading today is taken from 1 Peter 3:13-17.  Hear the word of the Lord:

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil (1 Peter 3:13-17 ESV).

Here ends the reading.

INTRODUCTION

Have you ever had a close friend who was a seeker?  You know, someone who is obviously curious about God—seeking—but unable to take the step of faith.

I have—my friend’s name was Dave.  Dave and I used to get together for lunch perhaps once a month to shoot the breeze about politics, bank regulation, and religion—especially religion.  We read C.S. Lewis together, watched R.C. Sproul videos, talked about Billy Graham, and debated back and forth for years.  Dave was curious, but as a retired lawyer he was also skeptical.  He just could not accept the idea of the God of the bible.  At best, he would admit that the existence of God was logical, just not the God of the Bible.

In December 2006, we had lunch together as usual.  Two weeks later, Dave’s wife called me.  She told me that Dave had gotten pneumonia; was on a ventilator; and was not responding to treatment.  Should she turn off the ventilator?  She asked.

I was dumbfounded.  Dave was gone.  He had not accepted Christ.

I felt like I had failed Dave and failed God.  Above my bed hangs an original painting depicting the crucifixion of Christ given me by Dave’s widow.  It was a wedding gift which meant nothing to her but everything to me.  It is for me a reminder of the seriousness of our faith and the need to share it.

As the Apostle Peter (1 Peter 3:15) reminds us:  always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you (2 X).

BACKGROUND

Our scripture lesson today comes from Peter’s first letter to the churches in what is now modern Turkey.  Peter probably wrote this letter from Rome [1] in the early AD 60s before he was martyred by Emperor Nero for the faith [2].

These churches were undergoing severe persecution [3] in the midst of a society that was both multi-cultural and poly-theistic.  Today we might describe their society as postmodern—that is, minus the illusion of modernity.

The hostility of the Roman empire to the Christian message arose primarily because Christians maintained the wild idea that only one God exists and we come to him only through Jesus Christ.  Multiple gods were no problem—they could be bought off with feast days and bribed with sacrifices. You see, the Romans considered themselves very tolerant of foreign gods—at least the tinnie-winnie variety.

TEXT
 
Three points in our scripture reading today have direct bearing our witness.  We are to:
  1. Be zealous for the good (v 13);
  2. Be prepared to offer a defense for our hope (v 15); and
  3. Speak with gentleness and respect (v 15).

Let me address each in turn.

The first point is:  Be zealous for the good. 

It is interesting that Peter sees the Christian lifestyle as our first and most important witness [4].  Listen to what Peter says in chapter 2:

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation (1 Peter 2:11-12 ESV).

Do you catch the spirit of what Peter is saying?  We are to be holy, not only because God is holy, but because it is a witness to those who are not.  In other words, be a holy disease that will infect other people!

Be zealous for the good.

The second point is:  Offer a defense. 

The word used here is apologia (ἀπολογία) which means to offer a defense or to speak against [5].  Our word, apologetics, is derived from the same root at apologia, but is used more specifically to defend a particular doctrine or point of view.

What is interesting about Peter’s statement about apologetics is that his emphasis is on living the word, not speaking it [6].  Basically, Peter spends most of his letter, particularly chapter two, talking about righteous living and he devotes only about one sentence about offering a verbal defense.  In fact, in verse 16 after he mentions offering a verbal defense he returns to his emphasis on living the word:

having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame (1 Peter 3:16 ESV).

Shame them! We are to shame our critics with our good works!  In some sense, for Peter offering a verbal defense is a matter more of spin control than vigorous argumentation.  The point is that while no one is argued into the kingdom of God, having been loved into the kingdom people need to know that Jesus is the source of that love and why it all makes sense.

Offer a defense.

The third point is:  Speak with gentleness and respect.

This third point follows from the first two.  If people notice that you are zealous for the good and can coherently articulate your faith, then you have their attention.  However, if your attitude is wrong then they will resist your message simply out of stubbornness.

Psychiatrist, Milton Erickson, worked with patients using hypnosis and succeeded with patients no one else could reach. What is interesting about Erickson’s approach is that he never gave his patients advice or asked them to do anything.  Instead, he would hypnotize his patients and tell them stories.  For example, instead of advising someone to take an aspirin for a headache, he would tell a story about a man who took an aspirin which cured his headache.  The point is that people’s resistance to advice and suggestions is so strong that even under hypnosis they refuse to listen! (Rosen 1991).

Speak with Gentleness and Respect.

APPLICATION

Let me offer a couple of points about how to share your faith from John Stott’s Basic Christianity.

Let me start by saying that you need to share your faith, not my faith or John Stott’s faith.  Your faith is the most important witness for two reasons.

First, you have the most credibility with the person that you are talking with.  How you came to faith matters more to them than anyone else’s journey of faith.  Tell them how and why you came to faith.

Second, the tough part in witnessing is not reading a book;  the tough part in witnessing is not the mechanics of witnessing; the tough part in witnessing is understanding your own faith walk (2X).  The best way to understand your own walk is to talk about it or, better yet, to write it out in the form of a spiritual autobiography.  If you need suggestions, Richard Peace has written a book called, Spiritual Autobiography.  Check my blog (http://bit.ly/19KoqU0) for a review of Peace’s book.

Stott summarizes his book making two points.  Stott’s first point is that the great privilege as children of God is relationship with God (2X); Stott’s second point is that our great responsibility as children of God is growing that relationship (2X).  Stott observes:  everyone loves children, but no one wants them to stay in the nursery (Stott 2008, 162).  It is the nature of relationships either to grow or to decline; relationships never stay in one place.  Stott sees our growth needing to occur in two dimensions:  understanding our faith and practicing holiness (163-166). Clearly, I could talk at great length on both issues, but let’s move on.

FINAL POINT

After my friend, Dave, passed away I felt like I had failed him and failed God in my witness.  However, that was not the end of the story.

Several months after Dave died, his widow spoke to my wife, Maryam, about our visits and she made the point—Dave was concerned about my Christian naiveté—he was hoping that he could convince me to give it up. Of course, he failed—I enrolled in seminary about two years later.

Our privilege as Christians is to share the Gospel but we must leave what happens after that to God.

CLOSING PRAYER

Will you pray with me?

Almighty father. We thank you for blessing us in a thousand ways—more ways than we can imagine.  Thank you especially for granting us faith.  Help us to live out our faith; to be willing to defend it; and to speak about it with gentleness and respect.  In power of your Holy Spirit, inspire the words we speak and illumine the words that people hear.  In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.


[1]Peter (1 Peter 5:13) refers to Rome as “Babylon” (Perkins 1998, 11) which parallels the Apostle John references in Revelations (e.g. Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast (Revelation 18:2 ESV)).

[2] Rome burned in AD 64.  Emperor Nero blamed the Christians and a great persecution began.  Peter was himself martyred by Nero during this period (McKnight 1996, 28-29). Nero’s reign ended in AD 68. Bartlett (1998, 230-236) reviews concerns of recent authors that the Apostle Peter was not the author of this epistle. The arguments against apostle authorship stems from an assumption that a Galilean fisherman probably would lack a sophisticated style, theology, and knowledge of Greek.  This assumption is never defended and stands in contrast with the picture of an articulate Peter speaking on Pentecost in Acts 2 who is able to convince 3,000 men to come to faith through a single speech.

[3]See, for example, 1 Peter 1:6-7 (Perkins 1995, 15-16).

[4]Bartlett (1998, 238-240) appears disappointed with lifestyle ministry, particularly as it affects the role of women.  He assumes lifestyle ministry is submissive and ineffective without demonstrating that a more assertive ministry is consistent with Gospel witness or, for that matter, effective in evangelism.

[5]BDAG (964, 2):  the act of making a defense, defense.  See also:  2 Corinthians 11 and Philippians 1:7.

[6]Bartlett (1998, 291) rightly observes that a defense could include legal proceedings, but the context here is more general.

REFERENCES

Bartlett, David L.  1998.  “The First Letter of Peter” pages 227-319 of New Interpreter’s Bible:  A Commentary in Twelve Volumes.  Vol. XII.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press.

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

BibleWorks.  Norfolk: BibleWorks, LLC., 2011. <BibleWorks v.9>.

McKnight, Scot.  1996.  The NIV Application Commentary:  1 Peter.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

Peace, Richard.  1998.  Spiritual Autobiography:  Discovering and Sharing Your Spiritual Story.  Colorado Springs:  NavPress.

Perkins, Pheme. 1995.  Interpretations, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching:  First and Second Peter, James, and Jude.  Louisville:  John Knox Press.

Rosen, Sidney.  1991.  My Voice will Go with You:  The Teaching Tales of Milton H. Erickson (Orig pub 1982). New York:  W.W. Norton & Company.

Stott, John.  2008.  Basic Christianity (Orig pub 1958).  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans.

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JOHN 15: The Vine and the Branches

Art by Sharron Beg
Art by Sharron Beg

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? … For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel (Isa 5:4-7 ESV).

The metaphor of the vine and the branches is simple, yet disturbing.

At one point when I was working as a chaplain intern in a psyche ward, I overheard a young woman pleading over the phone with her parents to be transferred to another hospital.  The reason?  She had been given a New Testament and had read all the way to chapter 15 of John’s Gospel.  Reading about the vine and the branches she had interpreted the metaphor to mean that, because she had had no children (no fruit in her mind), she stood under God’s judgment. So, she wanted to be transferred to another hospital!

While most of us probably have not understood the metaphor of the vine and the branches quite the same way as this young patient, yet the metaphor is a challenging description of a life of discipleship.  For example, verse 6 speaks to the exclusively of Christ in salvation and judgment: If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned (v 6).  Neither notion is popular today.  Yet even verse 2 is enough to generate serious controversy:  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit (v 2).  Branches bearing no fruit get taken away;  branches bearing fruit get pruned!

Most discussions of this metaphor of the vine and the branches seem to skip both verses and head immediately for verse 7:  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you (v 7).  We all love to ask for things!  Yet, verse 8 makes it clear that it is the fruit that we bear that makes us Christ’s disciples.  Looking back at verse 7, we note that the sentence is conditional–if you abide in me and my words.  The Greek word for abide means stay or remain.  Bearing fruit is evidence that you abide in Christ.  The key to answered prayer is to abide in Christ and bear fruit, as repeated in verse 16.

The love commandment in verse 12 may also disturb a careful reader.  The measure of love is found in verse 13:  Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (v 13).  Jesus did just that–he died on the cross; Jesus is our model.  This implies that a life of discipleship requires sacrifice, maybe even death.  This implication is underscored in verse 14 when Jesus says:  You are my friends if you do what I command you (v 14).  Jesus kept the Father’s commands;  we are to keep his.  It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the love commandment embodies not just warm fuzzy feelings on sunny days but also obedience to the entire witness of scripture–especially the law.

Disturbing also is John’s discussion of the world.  Jesus says: If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you (v 18).  The life of Christ’s disciple is to be modeled after Christ–the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The good news is that we are promised the Spirit of Truth, the Helper–the Holy Spirit–who will bear witness to Christ (vv 28-29).

QUESTIONS

  1. What is the metaphor used in verses 1 and 2?What are the different parts in the metaphor?  What does it say to you? (Also see Isaiah 5:4-7)
  2. Verse 3 uses the words clean. Why?  (Hint: prune and clean are the same word in Greek)
  3. What does the word, abide, mean in verses 4-7?What does it mean to you?
  4. How does Jesus extend the metaphor introduced in verses 1-2 in verses 4-7?
  5. How is God glorified? (v 8)  What does glorified mean?
  6. What does it mean to abide in Christ’s love? (vv 9-10)
  7. What is Jesus’ commandment? What is its measure? (vv 10-14,17)
  8. What is the difference between a servant (δούλους) and a friend? (v 15)
  9. What view of election do you get in verses 16 and 27?

10.Why does the world hate us?  (vv 18-25)

11.Who is the helper? (παράκλητος; v 26)

12.What are we to do? (v 27)  Why?

JOHN 15: The Vine and the Branches

Also see:

JOHN 16: The Helper 

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1 

Roadmap of Simple Faith

Bothersome Gaps: Life in Tension

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at:http://bit.ly/2018_Trans

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Juan 15: La Vid y Las Ramas

Art by Sharron Beg, Clothesline
Art by Sharron Beg (www.threadpaintersart.blogspot.com)

Por Stephen W.  Hiemstra

¿Qué más se podría hacer por mi viña que yo no lo haya hecho? Yo esperaba que diera buenas uvas; ¿por qué dio uvas agrias? … La viña del Senor Todopoderoso es el pueblo de Israel (Isaias 5:4-7 NVI).

La metáfora de la vid y las ramas es simple, pero inquietante.

Una Historia

En un momento , cuando estaba trabajando como pasante de capellán en una sala psique, escuché a una joven suplicando por teléfono con sus padres para ser transferidos a otro hospital. ¿La razón? Le habían dado un Nuevo Testamento, y había leído todo el camino hasta el capítulo 15 del Evangelio de Juan. Leer sobre la vid y las ramas que había interpretado la metáfora en el sentido de que, debido a que ella no había tenido hijos ( no hay fruta en su mente ), se situó bajo el juicio de Dios. Por lo tanto, quería ser trasladado a otro hospital!

Mientras que la mayoría de nosotros probablemente no han entendido la metáfora de la vid y las ramas de la misma manera que un paciente joven, sin embargo, la metáfora es una descripción reto de una vida de discipulado. Por ejemplo, el versículo 6 habla de la exclusiva de Cristo en la salvación y el juicio:  El que no permanece en mí es desechado y se seca, como las ramas que se recogen, se arrojan al fuego y se queman (v 6). Ninguna idea es muy popular hoy. Sin embargo, incluso el versículo 2 es suficiente para generar controversia seria:  Toda rama que en mí no da fruto, la corta; pero toda rama que da fruto la poda para que dé más fruto todavía (v 2). Las ramas que no llevan fruto consiguen quitados; las ramas que llevan fruto conseguir podado!

Versículo Siete

La mayoría de las discusiones de esta metáfora de la vid y las ramas parecen saltar ambos versículos y la cabeza de inmediato para el verso 7:  Si permanecen en mí y mis palabras permanecen en ustedes, pidan lo que quieran, y se les concederá (v 7). A todos nos gusta pedir cosas ! Sin embargo, el verso 8 deja en claro que es el fruto que tenemos que nos hace discípulos de Cristo. Mirando hacia atrás en el versículo 7, se observa que la sentencia es condicional – Si permanecen en mí y mis palabras permanecen. La palabra griega para cumplir significa quedarse o permanecer. Fruto es la evidencia de que permanecéis en Cristo. La clave de la respuesta a la oración es permanecer en Cristo y dar fruto, ya que repite en el versículo 16.

Inquietante

Inquietante tambien por un lector atento es el mandamiento del amor en el versículo 12. La medida del amor se encuentra en el versículo 13:  Nadie tiene amor más grande que el dar la vida por sus amigos (v 13). Jesús hizo exactamente eso – él murió en la cruz, Jesús es nuestro modelo. Esto implica que una vida de discipulado requiere sacrificio, tal vez incluso la muerte. Esta implicación se subrayó en el versículo 14, cuando Jesús dice:  Ustedes son mis amigos si hacen lo que yo les mando (v 14). Jesús guardó los mandamientos del Padre, hemos de mantener el suyo. Es difícil evitar la conclusión de que el mandamiento del amor no sólo encarna cálidos sentimientos difusos en los días soleados, sino también la obediencia a todo el testimonio de la Escritura – sobre todo la ley.

Inquietante también la discusión de Juan del mundo. Jesús dice:  Si el mundo los aborrece, tengan presente que antes que a ustedes, me aborreció a mí (v 18). La vida del discípulo de Cristo ha de ser el modelo de Cristo – lo bueno, lo malo y lo feo.

La buena noticia es que se nos promete el Espíritu de la Verdad , el Consolador – el Espíritu Santo – que va a dar testimonio de Cristo (vv 28-29) .

Juan 15: La Vid y Las Ramas

Sitio del autor: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Sitio del publicador: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Boletín de autor: http://bit.ly/Advent_Mas_2018

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Head and Heart

Head_and_heart_11132013By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In early 2008, the French investment bank, Société Générale, announced that a single trader fraudulently lost over $7 billion making it the world’s largest rogue trader incident. The loss led France into recession.  Later that spring at a risk managers’ conference in Chicago, I overheard chief risk officers in the halls quietly shaking their heads and saying that rogue traders simply could not exist because of standard corporate checks and balances.  Basically, the trader had made so much money prior to the losses that other staff simply looked the other way when the imprudent risks were being taken.

Working as a chaplain intern in an emergency room (ER) in a Washington hospital in 2011, I noticed a disturbing link among the patients.  More than half of all patients admitted to the ER had problems stemming from relational problems and poor life-style choices.  Overweight patients came in with diabetes, asthma, joint problems, and cardiac problems.  Men passed out on the street from excessive drinking or other drug abuses.  Elderly patients were dropped off by relatives late on Saturday afternoon—too late to find a ride home over the weekend.  Young men and women fearful of contracting AIDS came in to be tested.  Among psyche patients the link was even more pronounced.  For the most part, the doctors treated the presenting diagnosis and released them.

The common denominator in each of these examples is that the bankers and the patients did what felt good at the time, as psychologists would predict.  Behavioral psychology teaches that even an amoeba will response to a positive stimulus by repeating the behavior that evoked the positive stimulus and doing less of the behavior associated with a negative stimulus.   This is the standard behavioral learning model.  In this respect, the Apostle Paul lamented:  For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out (Romans 7:18 ESV).

Matthew Elliott[1] (141) asks an interesting question:  how can Jesus command us to love one another (Mark 12:30-31) if love is simply an emotion found in the heart?  How can I obey this commandment if my emotions are just a product of who I am?  Elliott’s answer:  If emotions are merely physiological impulses, they can be ignored, controlled or trivialized, while, if they have as their essential element thinking and judgment, they are an essential part of almost everything that we think and do (31).  In other words, what we think affects how we feel—especially over time.  We get emotional about the things that are important to us[2].

If we accept Elliott’s cognitive thesis of how emotions work, then emotions are a poor guide for behavior when our theology is wrong or weakly held.  If my life centers on the great ME instead of the great I AM, then my emotions will naturally reinforce my theology.  In other words, bad theology leads to bad emotions, which, in turn, leads to bad behavior.  Jesus said:  the tree is known by its fruit (Matthew 12:33 ESV).

Sadly, inattention to theology leads to the same result.  The story of Hannah Arendt’s coverage for the New Yorker of the Adolf Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in 1961 is instructive[3].  Arendt was a German Jew, student of philosopher Martin Heidegger who wrote her dissertation on Augustine, and a holocaust survivor who escaped from the death camps.  Arendt went to the Eichmann trial thinking that, because he was the architect of Hitler’s final solution, she would meet a hate-mongering, fire breathing Nazi.  Instead, what she found was a petty bureaucrat who was unable to think for himself.  She was dumbfounded and devoted the rest of her life to a study of evil.  What was the conclusion of her study?  Wickedness may be caused by an absence of thought[4].  When we refuse to think for ourselves, we find ourselves doing things we are later not proud of and hanging with the wrong people[5]The tree is known by its fruit (Matthew 12:33 ESV).

At one point, a colleague that I had counseled thanked me for saving his marriage.  What had I done?  Very little–we talked for only 5 minutes.  We prayed together and I asked him to pray for his wife.  He did.  He later reported that he could not remain angry with his wife after praying for her.  In other words, feelings of love followed actions of love.  So when Jesus commands us to love our neighbors he is talking about actions—practiced theology.  Hopefully, the feelings will follow.


[1]Matthew A. Elliott.  Faithful Feelings:  Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament.  Grand Rapids:  Kregel Publications, 2006.

[2]Andrew D. Lester.  Anger:  Discovering Your Spiritual Ally.  Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2007, page 29.

[3]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adolf_Eichmann. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hannah_Arendt.

[4]Hannah Arendt.  The Life of the Mind. New York:  Harcount, Inc, 1977, page 13.

[5]Eichmann was sentenced to death by a civilian court in Israel and was hung for crimes against humanity in May 31, 1962.

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Stott Outlines Gospel; Speaks Plainly

StottJohn Stott.  2008.  Basic Christianity (Orig pub 1958).  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Apostle Peter reminds us:  but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (1Peter 3:15 ESV).

Our ability to respond to Peter’s admonishment is clearly challenged today.  Outside of the criticism of our faith arising from the advocates for modern science, we are confronted in our shrinking postmodern world with a host of alternatives to Christianity from other religions and from complex and confusing voices in secular society.  In the midst of this whirlwind of controversy, John Stott’s book, Basic Christianity, offers us a plainspoken starting point.

Stott outlines the Gospel in eleven chapters.  After a brief introduction, he presents has four parts:  1. Who Christ Is, 2. What We Need, 3. What Christ Has Done, and 4. How To Respond.  The first part focuses on the claims, character, and resurrection of Christ.  The second part focuses on sin.  The third part focuses on Christ’s death and salvation.  The fourth part brings us to count the cost, make a decision, and live the Christian life.

John Stott (1921-2011) was rector (pastor) emeritus of All Souls Church, Langham Place, London and founder of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.  He was one of the authors of the Lausanne Covenant which started as a 1974 Christian religious manifesto promoting active world-wide Christian evangelism and continues to influence missions work today.  My first acquaintance with Stott came in 1983 when I visited Bonn in Germany as an economics student and a friend gifted me with Stott’s book—Gesandt Wie Christus (1976).  At the time, I assumed Stott was German.  Needless to say, Stott is still one of the world’s best known evangelical writers.

Stott acknowledges the enormity of the task of defending the faith–apologetics.  For example, he recounts a conversation with a young man having trouble reciting one of his church’s creeds because he could no longer believe it.  Stott asked him:  If I were to answer your problems to your complete intellectual satisfaction, would you be willing to change the way you live?  The answer was clearly no.  His real problem was not intellectual but moral (25).  This conversation is not an isolated event–advocating a disciplined life-style today is a tough sell. Why give up self-control to Christ and live a disciplined life when in Alice’s Wonderland every headache can be solved with a different colored pill?

Stott’s final chapter on being a Christian is most interesting.  He writes:  Our great privilege as children of God is relationship; our great responsibility is growth.  Everyone loves children, but nobody…wants them to stay in the nursery (162).  We grow in two dimensions—understanding and holiness—which work out in our duties to God, to the church, and to society (163-166).  This growth includes growth in our prayer life.  Stott advises readers to respond to God in prayer in the same manner that he speaks to you—do not change the subject.  If he talks about his glory, worship him; if he talks about sin, confess it; if scripture blesses you, thank him for it (164).  Stott’s comments about the spiritual practice of daily examine flow right out of this discussion.  In the morning, commit the details of your day to God’s blessing and, in evening, review what happened during the day.

John Stott’s Basic Christianity provides a well-ordered accounting of the Gospel that is worthy of study and reflection.  His summary—God has created; God has spoken; God has acted—is brief but compelling (18).  The Apostle Peter’s admonition sounds initially like evangelism.  But, if the truth be known, the accounting of our hope in Christ benefits us at least as much as anyone we meet.

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The Problem of Pain, Psalm 51:10

Slave Ship, Art in Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, Charlotte, NC
Art in Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, Charlotte, NC

The Problem of Pain, Psalm 51:10

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Centreville Presbyterian Church, Centreville, VA,  August 24, 2003

Greeting

Good morning!

A key point when we face pain and suffering is that God remains with us.  We are not alone.

The prime example of this principle comes in the story of Daniel[1].

Now after Daniel survived a night in the lion’s den, King Darius was astonished that Daniel was still alive.  So, he summoned Daniel into his throne room and asked Daniel why the lions had not eaten him.

“It was easy, your Excellency,” Daniel said. “I went around and whispered in each lion’s ear — ‘After dinner, one of our elders will say a few words.'”

Scripture

Create in me a pure heart O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me. Amen

 Psalm 51:10-12 RSV

Illustration

Let’s start this morning with a little mind experiment.  Think of someone that you respect.  What is special about this person?  Are they strong? Are they good looking?  What led you to respect them?  Chances are that many of the people you have in mind have suffered serious pain in their lives.

Larry’s Funeral

In July I attended a funeral of a colleague, Larry.  Larry was special.  No one was a stranger around Larry.  Larry had the glow.

At the funeral people talked about Larry’s lust for life and his joy.  Larry was known for his singing.  He was known in the office because he remembered co-workers’ children and asked about them.  About third of the church was filled with colleagues of Larry from other parts of town.

At the funeral, people talked about Larry’s strength.  He was a father and a grandfather.  He could throw a football an entire city block—twice the distance of his own brother.  What really stuck out at this funeral was the long list of testimonials—Larry clearly touched many lives.

Why do I mention this?

Larry was black and confined to a wheelchair for the time that I knew him.  Underprivileged, handicapped, and killed at age of 48 by the disease that crippled him, Larry was no stranger to hardship.  In spite of everything, he persevered in winning the golden crown award in the fellowship of saints.

Challenges Grow Us

We respect people that overcome difficult challenges.  In his book, Where is God When It Hurts, Philip Yancey reports that leaders, such as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, George Washington, and Queen Victoria, were all either orphaned at an early age or experienced severe childhood deprivation[2].

Why God?

The problem of pain sums up with the question:  If God is all powerful and all loving, why does he allow such pain and suffering? In shining light on this question, I will divide my comments into three parts.  First, I will look at the nature of pain.  Second, I will review Biblical views on pain and suffering.  Finally, I will conclude with a few words of wisdom.

What is Pain?

Pain communicates.  When we put a hand on a hot stove, our hand seems to shout:  get me out of here[4].  When we do something stupid and suffer ridicule from our friends, we experience a different kind of pain.  In the physical world or a social context, pain demands immediate attention.  It teaches us what to do and what not to do.

In discussing the spiritual side of pain, it is helpful to distinguish avoidable from unavoidable pain.

Avoidable Pain

Avoidable pain challenges our intelligence more than our faith.  When we drive without a seat belt and have an accident, God is not normally blamed.  Instead, the wisdom of wearing a seat-belt becomes painfully obvious.  Not all avoidable pains in this life, however, are equally obvious.

Sin.

The relationship between sin and pain is well understood.  Sin occurs when we do something that we should not do.  The obvious case is murder.  The immediate consequence of murder is the pain of imprisonment or death.

Iniquity.

Iniquity is more insidious than sin.  Iniquity occurs when we fail to do something that we should have done (Proverbs 3:27).  Iniquity can not only produce pain, but also a consuming guilt and shame.

When I think about iniquity, I remember a puppy that we had when I was in high school.  This puppy was very enthusiastic and slipped out of the house one morning as I was walking to school.  That morning I was late and the puppy did not catch up to me until I was quite a distance from home.  Upset with him, I sent him home.  Obediently, the dog immediately ran across the road and was struck dead by a passing car in front of my eyes.  I had done nothing wrong, but what I failed to do cost that innocent puppy his life.

More than sin, iniquity challenges modern society.   Consider, for example, the effect of technology on our ability to work 24-7.  As work fills our lives with good things, we have less time to raise our children, care for our elderly parents, and commit time to God.  The workaholic has no special proclivity to sin, but finds iniquity a constant challenge.

The Learning Process.

In the example of the workaholic, it is ironic that something good (like work) should lead to something bad (like iniquity).  This problem arises because the normal learning process breaks down.

Psychologists describe learning as responses to positive and negative stimuli.  We are attracted to positive stimuli and we avoid negative stimuli.  In other words, if it feels good, do it!  Or, as my doctor always tells me, if it is hurts, don’t do it!

The learning process breaks down when a positive stimulus is associated in the short run with pleasure and in the long run with pain.  Such phenomena are described as social traps.  Smoking, alcohol or drug addiction, cheating on our spouses and compulsive attention to work are all social traps.  In each case, the immediate gratification of our desires leads us where we would not normally choose to go.  Because the learning process breaks down, social traps require spiritual instruction.

Unavoidable Pain

Because God gives us the freedom to make decisions, bad decisions can generate avoidable pain.  The problem is that we cannot always avoid pain caused by other people’s decisions and the natural world has rules that all of us must respect.  Accidents happen.  Unavoidable pain is accordingly a consequence of free will and life in the natural world (Lewis, p. 34).  Still, the tendency to blame God for our pains has been with us since the time of Job.

In his book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis (p. 90) describes suffering as: any experience, whether physical or mental, which the patient dislikes.  Like Lewis, I use the terms pain and suffering interchangeably because of personal experience.  When my wife, Maryam, began her battle with breast cancer eight years ago, her surgery and physical recovery were completed within weeks.  The immediate pain went away.  The scars on her soul and mine, however, never completely healed.

Perceptions of Pain

During World War II, anesthesiologist Henry K. Beecher noted that only about one in three soldiers injured on the battlefield requested morphine while about four out of five civilians with similar injuries made this request.  This led him to conclude that physical injuries and the perceived pain are not directly linked (Yancey, p. 177).

Beecher’s conclusion makes sense because morphine calms a patient’s anxiety.  We can infer from Beecher’s observations that soldiers and civilians differ in their morphine use primarily because their sources of fear differ.  For the soldier, a trip to the hospital meant that he would likely survive the war.  For the civilian, the trip to the hospital meant pain and potential disabilities.  In effect, the soldiers’ joy in leaving the battlefield came associated with physical injuries that would terrorize a civilian.

Because fear magnifies our pain and suffering, pain management and a full recovery require that we deal with the spiritual side of healing.

Biblical Views of Pain and Suffering

God works to grow our faith and relationship with Him.  Sin thwarts this objective but God typically does not immediately punish us.  The point of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was to redeem us from God’s judgment and to bring the hope of eternal life—the Good News of the Gospel.   The Biblical view of God’s relationship with His creation can accordingly be interpreted as an antidote to the pain and suffering of the natural world.

The Beatitudes

To understand how Christ’s earthly ministry could end with the cross and the resurrection, it is helpful to begin with the Beatitudes—the happy attitudes.  In Mathew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus begins with:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
”Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted
(Mathew 5:3-4 NIV).

Notice that Jesus starts his sermon with suffering[7].  What could be more ironic than: happy are those who suffer?

Billy Grahm on Pain

In his book, The Secret of Happiness, Billy Graham describes the mourners in the second Beatitude as those who mourn of their own spiritual inadequacy before God[8].  This is not a spirit of self-pity.  Rather, it is someone who has sensed the presence of a Holy God and found the comparison with self unbearable.  Mourning of spiritual inadequacy is accordingly followed by mourning for repentance (P. 20-21).  More to the point, we are all born under sentence of death, mourn under pain of death, and need the comfort of redemption.  Suffering accordingly plays a key role in our understanding of Christ’s redemptive ministry.

Pain And Suffering As A Wakeup Call

The Beatitudes give us hope that redemption, not suffering, is at journey’s end.  It is accordingly not surprising that the Bible disputes the common notion that God uses pain to draw attention to our sins.

The clearest example of this principle is found in chapter 9 of the book of John.  When Christ heals the man born blind, he answers the question of sin directly: who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind? Jesus answered:  Neither this man nor his parents sinned, …but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life (John 9:1-3 NIV)[9]As in Christ’s ministry to the blind man, the point of our pain and suffering is not to draw attention to sin but for God to build a stronger relationship with us (Yancey, p. x).

Spiritual Warfare

In the Bible, great pain accompanies great joy.  In Mathew’s account of Christ’s birth, Mary and Joseph flee in the middle of the night to Egypt to avoid King Herod’s attempt to murder the Christ child[10].  Although we love to celebrate the joy of Christmas, the original Christmas story was marred by genocide and the stench of death.  Great pain accompanies great joy[11].

Ludwig Van Beethoven

Consider the life of Ludwig Van Beethoven.  During the period when he was losing his hearing, Beethoven wrote his ninth symphony, the Choral Symphony, taking the text from Friedrich von Schiller’s poem, Ode to Joy.  On its opening night in 1824 Beethoven conducted the orchestra. The music was so beautiful that some of the musicians cried.  Yet, Beethoven heard none of it.  He was so deaf that when the symphony ended a member of the orchestra had to get up and draw Beethoven’s attention to the audience who had already begun to applaud.  Had Beethoven given into depression in his deafness rather than looked to God for inspiration, the world would have been robbed of one of its greatest musical treasures.

Beyond Pain

Just like we must look beyond the pain of crucifixion to see the joy of the resurrection, we must look beyond the suffering in our own lives to see the perfect future that is in Christ.  Just as James writes:

Consider it pure joy, my friends, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-5 NIV).

This Biblical view of pain accordingly turns the stimulus-response world of human psychology upside down.  Normal learning is disrupted because a positive response (that is, joy) follows a negative stimulus (that is, suffering).  In Christian psychology, the cross we bear always precedes the crown we wear.  This is why Paul writes: but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:23).

Words of Wisdom

In confronting pain and suffering, we are not alone.  We are not alone!  As the Apostle Paul writes:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 35-39 NIV)

Like Daniel in the lions den (Daniel 6:10-24), we testify to our faith by how we cope with pain and suffering.

Why Me?

The temptation in time of great adversity, of course, is to turn inward[13] and ask:  Why me?  The consequence of turning inward is that we end up blaming God for our problems and we become slaves to fear.

Stressful Year

During about a 12 month period in 1992-93, I lost my job, my son was born with a kidney defect, and my wife went through her first battle with breast cancer.  This was the hardest year of my life and I reacted by retreating into my work.  Out of deep seated fear, I worked every waking hour to learn new skills and to advance my career.

Initially, this approach worked.  I found a better position and was later promoted.  As time passed, however, the office situation changed.  Technical skills became less important and I found myself less able to adjust—I lacked self-confidence and fear prompted me to turn ever more inward.  It took me almost a decade before I was able to trust God enough to pull out of my shell.  While these years were not exactly wasted, I vowed before God that I would never again let myself become a slave to fear.

Where is God Leading Me?

Instead of asking why me, a better question to ask is:  where is God leading me?  Focusing on God’s plan for our lives is not only better theology; it diverts our attention away from our suffering and directly reduces our pain.  The change in attitude is also critical.  We are no longer victims of our own fears, but servants of an almighty God who are both willing and able to cope with the adversity.

An important byproduct of our own suffering is an increased capacity to minister to those suffering around us.  As the Apostle Paul wrote:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV).

The strength that we gather from a life at the foot of the cross therefore allows us to be available to those who suffer around us.  Can you listen?  Can you empathize?   In the words of Paul: Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15).

Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi [14]

Lord, grant that I may seek rather

To comfort than to be comforted,

To understand than to be understood,

To love than to be loved;

For it is by giving that one receives,

It is by self-forgetting that one finds,

It is by forgiving that one is forgiven,

It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life. Amen

Benediction

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Amen.

(Romans 15:13 RSV).

 Footnotes


[1] See chapter 6 of the Book of Daniel.

[2] See chapter 6 of the Book of Daniel. Zondervan:  Grand   Rapids, Michigan.  P. 141.

[4]God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains:  it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.  Lewis.  P. 93.

[7] It is interesting that in the much shorter version of the Sermon on the Mount found in Luke 6, Luke also highlights these two among the four Beatitudes he lists.  Mathew lists nine Beatitudes.

[9] Likewise, Job learns to depend on God in adversity (McGee, pp. 188-89; Job 42:1-3 NIV).  Similarly, Paul write:  “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV).

[10] Mathew 2:16-18. Exodus 1:15-22.

[11] Similarly, in speaking of the second coming in Romans 8:22, Paul describes it as the pain of childbirth which is immediately sweep away by the joy of holding a newborn baby.

[13]If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!  Ecclesiastes 4:10.  Also, Cloud and Townsend, p. 216.

[14] Graham. p. 24.

References

Cloud, Henry and John Townsend.  1992. Boundaries.  Zondervan:  Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Cross, John G. and Melvin J. Guyer. 1980. Social Traps.  University of Michigan Press:  Ann Arbor. 1980.

Graham, Billy 1955. The Secret of Happiness, Garden City, NY:  Doubleday & Company, Inc.

Lewis, C.S. The Problem of Pain.  MacMillan Publishing Company:  New York.

McGee, J. Vernon.  1991. Job.  Thomas Nelson Publishers:  Nashville, TN.

Skinner, B.F. 1971. Beyond Freedom and Dignity.  New   York:  Bantam Books, Inc.

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Card Explores Lament; Aids with Grief

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

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Grief is a postmodern embarrassment.  American society has abandoned the idea of Sabbath rest; even the pre-eminent American holiday, Thanksgiving, is being pushed aside to make more room for holiday shopping.  As the pace of life keeps accelerating, the rhythm of life allows little room for honest reflection; honest emotions.  Grief often comes as a kind of alien invasion.

In this context, Christian musician, Michael Card, observed after 9/11—we, in the American church, had no songs to sing in response to the horrific attack (7).  Songs to sing?  When Jerusalem was burned to the ground by the Babylonians, the Prophet Jeremiah wrote the Book of Lamentation.  Lamentation is a song of grief.

Introduction

In his book, A Sacred Sorrow, Card set out to rediscover the lost art of lamentation.  He studies lamentation in the OT and NT focusing on the characters of Job, David, Jeremiah, and Jesus.  A key verse in this study is found in Exodus 7:16 [Moses said to Pharaoh] The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the desert. The desert in this context is interpreted literally but also figuratively. It is often in the desert that we meet and learn to depend on God.

Biblical Walk

In this sense, grief is a walk in the desert that can lead us to God.  In our grief we almost invariable get angry at ourselves and at God.  Lament helps us turn from self-pity to access our anger and express our grief—the only healthy response to death.  Lashing out at God means we finally take him seriously.  In turn, God honors our anger.  Many of the Psalms are laments which explicitly model both the expression of rage and the subsequent turning to God.  Here lies the path of our salvation:

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you (Isaiah 43:1-5 ESV).

Card cites this passage from Isaiah and makes the important point that God promises to be with us. He does not promise to give us a care-free life or life without pain—grief exposes the carefree life promised by the postmodern lifestyle as a lie.  When we pray, it is accordingly important to ask for and treasure God’s presence. God’s gifts follow his presence.

Assessment

A Sacred Sorrow by Michael Card deepened my conscious relationship with God.  In addition to A Sacred Sorrow, Card also has an A Sacred Sorrow: Experience Guide which is usefully studied in addition to this book. Between the two, the experience guide is more accessible.  Both are worth reading and studying either alone or with a small group.

Card Explores Lament; Aids with Grief

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Tell Story; Find Peace!

Spiritual_autobiography_11012013Richard Peace.  1998.  Spiritual Autobiography:  Discovering and Sharing Your Spiritual Story.  Colorado Springs:  NavPress.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the rites of passage for seminary students is to write and talk about your walk of faith.  The first time it comes up it is intriguing and highly personal.  After a while the task becomes more laborious and a bit intrusive.  Why do committees keep prodding me about my journey of faith?  Richard Peace’s book, Spiritual Autobiography, provides some welcome guidance.

Peace cites three things that one can learn in writing a spiritual autobiography:

  1. To examine your life in order to understand the ways that God has been active.
  2. To notice the activity of God in your life and in the lives of those around you.
  3. To share with others what God has been doing in your life (7).

Later, he also observes that writing a spiritual autobiography provides a sense of direction to life (61).  Along the way, Peace uses the example of the life of Abraham to illustrate his points.  He also draws on the lives of Augustine (Confessions) and C.S. Lewis (Surprised by Joy) at different points in his writing.

As explained in his introduction (How to Use This Guide), Peace organizes his book into three broad sections:  “A Small Group Guide”, a description of “How to Prepare a Spiritual Autobiography”, and “Leaders Notes” (7).  Peace recommends breaking up a group study into seven sessions:  pilgrimage, call and blessing, encounters, relationships, testing, presentation, and celebration.  The preparation covers the role of the autobiography, content, process of writing, special issues, and the “spiritual discipline of noticing” (3).

Peace writes on spiritual autobiography following 20 years of teaching a class at Fuller Theological Seminary entitled:  “The Pursuit of Wholeness”.  As a professor of spiritual formation, Peace is responsible for helping aspiring pastors develop their own spiritual awareness and voice.  It is interesting that Peace occupied the Robert Boyd Munger chair.  Munger was also a faculty member but is best known for a sermon:  My Heart–Christ’s Home.  Munger was also my pastor when my father studied at Berkley University and when I was a toddler.

For me, the chapter on the content of a spiritual autobiography was an eye-opener.  Peace advises the writer to divide one’s life up into periods either by age or by periods reflecting the search for God (65).  In turn, divide these periods into sub-periods—eight to twelve altogether (67).  Examine these periods for encounters with God, crises of faith, and growth outcomes (71).  Then, describe the periods with information that you remember or gather from journals, photos, and letters.  Peace’s explanation of this process is worth the ticket of admission because it is a method for uncovering unresolved issues—the pains of life that form us and, if they are unprocessed, limit our growth intellectually, emotionally, behaviorally, and/or relationally (76-77).

Pain’s book, Spiritual Autography, is most helpful in understanding and talking about the faith that you already possess.  We paint the world in colors that we draw from the palette of our own experiences.  When we can talk about those experiences, we own them; they no longer own us.  Pain’s writing is accessible to maturing Christians and small groups should consider using it as a Lenten study.

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