Gregory of Nazianzus on the Paradoxes of Jesus’ Salvation

Gregory of Nazianzus, also known as Gregory the Theologian, was a 4th-century bishop of Nazianzus and, briefly, Constantinople.  Here is an excerpt from his famous Third Theological Oration, in which he explains the paradoxes of Jesus’ salvation of the world in his death and resurrection:

He is sold, and very cheap, for it is only for thirty pieces of silver; but he redeems the world, and that at a great price, for the price of his own blood. As a sheep he is led to the slaughter, but he is the shepherd of Israel, and now of the whole world also. As a lamb he is silent, yet he is the Word, and is proclaimed by the voice of one crying in the wilderness. He is bruised and wounded, but he heals every disease and infirmity. He is lifted up and nailed to the tree, but by the tree of life he restores us; yea, he saves even the robber crucified with him; yea, he wrapped the visible world in darkness. He is given vinegar to drink mingled with gall. Who? He who turned the water into wine, who is the destroyer of the bitter taste, who is sweetness and altogether desired. He lays down his life, but he has power to take it again; and the veil is rent, for the mysterious doors of heaven are opened; the rocks are cleft, the dead arise. He dies, but he gives life, and by his death destroys death.

George Herbert in Lent

Here is an article on why the poetry of 17th-century Anglican pastor George Herbert makes excellent reading for Lent because of his sensitive and insightful treatment of themes of humility, repentance, and lament:

George Herbert in Lent by Timothy George

Hebert’s poem “Love” evokes the entire journey of Lent from humble confession to the joy of hope and welcome by the divine Beloved who has overcome all the barriers of sin.

Love (III)

by George Herbert

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lacked anything.
“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here”:
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”
“Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.” “You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.


Christian life is fasting in order to feast

We can only feast in faithfulness and joy if we are trained by fasting of all kinds.  More generally, we can only appreciate and use God’s gifts rightly if we do so by waiting for the right time and submitting to his methods of training.  Read here to find out how Lenten disciplines of fasting can help train us in this fasting-in-order-to-feast dynamic of the whole Christian life.

Who Is the One We Love the Most?

This text by Lutheran hymn writer Jaroslav Vajda is a marvelous exposition of Martin Luther’s description of the meaning of the First Commandment in his Small Catechism:
“‘You shall have no other gods.’  What does this mean?
Answer:  We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”

Who Is the One We Love the Most

Who is the one we love the most,
the one who has our total trust?
Something or someone is our God,
whose will is willingly obeyed,
to whom we give the years we live.
Let that be you, our God, our Lord!

Count every heartbeat, every breath,
trace every step from birth to death,
track every second to its source,
each drop of blood, each blade of grass,
the rising sun, and every one.
Let that be you, our God, our Lord!

Preserve us from all other gods,
all damned, deceitful, loveless frauds.
Compare them ruthlessly to you,
the only One, eternal true
Creator of all life and love.
You are that One, our God, our Lord!

A love no other god has shown,
your Son upon a cross makes known.
How shall we worship such a God
with more than words and passing nod,
if not with whole heart, mind, and soul,
like yours for us, our God, our Lord?!

You can find a choral setting by Carl Schalk here, which the Chancel Choir of Central Presbyterian Church in St. Louis will sing on March 15, 2015.

Lent 2015: A Season of Lament

During the season of Lent in 2015, we will highlight the way that Jesus’ suffering calls us to the practice of lament.

What is lament?  Lament is a vital Christian form of prayer that brings to God our pain, grief, and outrage at the world’s evil, suffering, and injustice.  Lament is a painful protest, a cry to God to hear and to deliver, and a profession of praise and trust in God’s presence and power to save.  A large percentage of the prayers of the Bible (especially in the book of Psalms) include lament, which teaches us not to flee from suffering but rather to face it and bring it to God and thus to find the comfort and hope that only he can give. For more help in understanding and practicing lament, see the list of resources here.

Why lament in Lent?  This is especially appropriate for the season of Lent, since Jesus’ ministry of self-sacrificial service naturally highlights sin in our lives that needs to be named, lamented, and put to death.  Jesus’ suffering also helps us see the effects of suffering caused by sin’s curse that Jesus lamented and bore for us and that he calls us to lament and bear as well. This series also follows from and reinforces the prior season and sermon series on Jesus’ care expressed in evangelism and outreach.  First, lament teaches us to see, name, and feel the suffering of others, and so it teaches empathy in the process.  This reinforces the outward-facing posture that Jesus models and calls us to adopt toward the world.  Second, lament provides an indirect apologetic and a sort of bridge-building experience because it demonstrates to non-Christians (and to Christians, too!) that trusting and following Christ is not an attempt to escape from hard realities of the world but rather leads us to acknowledge suffering and evil directly, and it also reveals the logic and fittingness of God’s solution to the world’s suffering and evil in Christ.

Why now?  In addition to all the usual kinds of suffering we all experience, Central Presbyterian Church has experienced much loss and pain in the recent past.  Furthermore, we live in a city that has been endured a lot of trauma following the shootings and protests in Ferguson and elsewhere in the last six months.  Lament will teach and equip us to respond to grief and suffering in the way that God himself directs in his word.

Bible Memorization (It’s Not Just for Kids!)

It is hard to overstate the importance of committing verses and passages from Bible word to memory.  Transforming our mind is an essential aspect and engine of spiritual growth, and storing God’s word in our mind can be a powerful means by which God reshapes our thinking.  Thus, the psalms writes, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).  It is so fundamental to following Christ that Dallas Willard, a Christian philosopher and esteemed writer on spiritual formation, once said,

If I had to—and of course I don’t have to—choose between all the disciplines of the spiritual life and take only one, I would choose Bible memorization. . . .because Bible memorization is a fundamental way of filling our minds with what they need.

If you would like some practical motivation and help in starting (or returning to) this life-changing spiritual discipline, you can find many resources to help you here.

The Season of Epiphany

On January 6, the church enters a new season of the liturgical calendar.  The colors at the front of the church change from white to green to signify the season of Epiphany.

When we say, “I’ve had an epiphany!” we mean that suddenly we see something profound that changes everything.  Something is shown or revealed to us that we were missing.  During the season of Epiphany, the church has traditionally focused upon events in Jesus’ life that show us his identity as our Savior and Lord.  According to the most ancient traditions, Epiphany begins with reflections on the visit of the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12), which shows his royalty and mission to all nations, the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34), which shows him to be the beloved Son of God and promised Redeemer King, and the marriage feast at Cana (John 2:1-12), which shows his power to bring the promised age of purification by his blood and new abundance in God’s renewed creation.

The Epiphany theme of seeing/showing means two things for us.  First, we have the chance to see Jesus for who he is.  He is our protecting and defending King, the Savior for all peoples, the beloved Son of God who makes us beloved children of God, the Spirit-anointed Christ who also gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit, the host of the great banquet to which we are invited, and.  All we long for and all we strive for is found in him if we will have eyes to see.

Second, we have the calling to show Jesus to others.  In fact, it is in seeing Jesus for who he is that we become able to show Jesus to others. When we see we are saved by his grace and not our own righteousness, we are able show him through lives of humility rather than pride.  When we see all he has done to meet our needs, we are able to show him by caring for others’ needs.  When we see how he has welcomed us in, we are able to show him through our hospitality.  When we see how we have been forgiven, we are able to show him by forgiving.  When we see how richly Jesus has loved us, then we will be able to show Jesus by loving others.

Daily Worship Guide: December 22-27, 2014

This daily worship guide for the 4th week of Advent reflects the theme of Jesus as the redeemer who delivers from sin and its evil effects and renews all things from the sermon on Romans 8:18-25 in corporate worship on December 21.  Using this worship guide will help us extend and deepen the focus of corporate worship over the course of a whole week.  (This guide can be downloaded as a PDF or Microsoft Word document file here.)

Key themes: Salvation from the evil effects of sin in all creation; the cosmic scope of Jesus’ power and authority to save; the renewal and glorification of the whole creation Continue reading

Daily Worship Guide: December 15-20, 2014

This daily worship guide for the 3rd week of Advent reflects the theme of Jesus as the redeemer who reconciles God and man from the sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 in corporate worship on December 14.  Using this worship guide will help us extend and deepen the focus of corporate worship over the course of a whole week.  (This guide can be downloaded as a PDF or Microsoft Word document file here.)

Key themes: God’s reconciling and uniting the world to himself and reconciling and uniting human beings to one another through the person and work of Jesus Continue reading