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Friday, March 8, 2013

The Suffering of the Cross

Adapted from a conference by Saint Thomas Aquinas, ca. 1265 A.D.

Q. Why did the Son of God have to suffer for us?
A. Because there was a great need,
first, as a remedy for sin, and
second, as an example of how to act, and how to fashion our lives.

Christ on the Cross is the example of love: Greater love than this no man has, than to lay down his life for his friends.

Christ on the Cross is the example of patience: he was led like a sheep to the slaughter and he did not open his mouth. Great patience occurs a) when one patiently suffers much, or b) when one suffers things which one is able to avoid and yet does not avoid.

Christ on the Cross is the example of humility.

Christ on the Cross is the example of obedience. For just as by the disobedience of one man, namely, Adam, many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one man, many were made righteous.
Christ on the Cross is the example of despising earthly things and following the King of kings in whom is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Do not be attached, therefore, to clothing and riches. They stripped him of his clothes
Nor to honors. They ridiculed and beat him, and spat in his face.
Nor to greatness of rank. They crowned him with a crown of thorns.
Nor to anything delightful. They gave him only vinegar to drink.

Q. Is it not true that Christ exemplifies every virtue on the Cross? Is it not true that the Cross itself is the perfection and fullness of God?

Don't Let Money Have Power Over You

Proverbs 15:16 “Better is little with the fear of the Lord, than great treasure and trouble therewith.”

1 Timothy 6:6, 8 “Godliness with contentment is great gain. And having food and raiment, let us be therewith content.”

Philippians 4:11 “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned that in whatever state I am, therewith to be content.”

It’s Lent.
I’m thinking about voluntary sacrifice, after the model of Christ.
I’m thinking about money, and time, and commitment to God, too.

I’m thinking that God’s economy differs quite a bit from commonly accepted economic theory. Here’s an “In God’s Economy” question to lift up that point.

Debt and savings each have their incumbent obligations. Which obligations are easier to get free of?
The obligations of debt, of course. With hard work and responsible planning one can get free of debt and its obligations. But who wants to get out from under the obligations that go with accumulated savings? Who wants to be free of those worries?

Here’s the rub. The message of Jesus, indeed of the whole Bible, is that when money, whether it be money saved or money owed,...when money defines your choices, you are not truly free, and your choices cannot truly be Godly choices.

“You cannot serve both God and mammon,” says the Holy Word.

To the contrary, when your choices are driven by the principles of God – mercy and grace, justice and love, compassion and righteousness – when money is not in the equation, blessing abounds.

Please do not misunderstand. I am not suggesting poverty. The Bible tells us to work, and earn, and take care of our families,... and as “our brothers keepers” to take care of them too.

Having money has power.
Not having money has power.
Don’t let money have power over you.
Don’t let its gain or its lack steal your heart from God.
Don’t let it compromise your “good-doing.”

Learning to Thrive

To really enjoy life, enjoy it with someone else. From the creation story at the very beginning of the Bible to the final description of eternity with the Lord at the end of the Bible it is clear that God made us and all things in relationship.

When God created, God created two, a man and a woman. Throughout the Bible God calls individuals into community, into relationship with each other, into relationship with God, himself.

It seems to me then that God’s purpose is that we not only learn to live with others, but that we learn to thrive in relationship with others. What is the greatest commandment again? but to love God, and your neighbor as yourself.

My challenge to you, if this thought resonates with you, is to not merely try again on improving your existing relationships, but that you also reach out, perhaps to one who would benefit from your mentoring, to someone younger, or someone less experienced at your specialty. Make a new good friend. Thrive on the energy their life brings to your life.

How to improve your existing relationships? Basically, pretty much stop talking and start listening. Then let what you hear, not what you know, govern your next step. One of my facebook friends, a guy, posted this. Hey fellas, don’t you think it time to listen to your wife? She’s smarter than you. Jesus says it best, and more gently: Put others before yourself.

How to reach out as a mentor? Basically, pretty much stop talking and start listening, listening to the people around you, listening to their dreams and frustrations, listening for where a the helping hand of a servant friend (which is NOT a word of advice!!) could make a difference.

Basically, learning to thrive in relationships boils down, then, to spending less time with one’s own ideas and more time with the ideas of others. It requires facing one’s insecurities, momentarily stepping away from things and ways that provide comfort, and accepting the challenge to appreciate another just as he/she is.

To thrive, just go for it.

To Eternity and Beyond

The great quote out of the mouth of Buzz Lightyear in the Movie Toy Story is “… to infinity and beyond.” It is a quote expressing endless possibility, a quote sure to catch the fancy of every dreamer, of everyone wishing and hoping for a better tomorrow. In a way, to the ears of my spirituality, it connects with that yearning for eternity God planted deep in my heart. Surely the fire under your hopes and dreams is stoked when you entertain with Buzz Lightyear the thought of “… to infinity and beyond.”

Well, that is what Jesus Christ calls us to, invites us to enter, and makes possible for us. The maker of time, more huge than the whole cosmos, wants us to be a part of his eternal being, … and wants us to engage with him in fulfilling his eternal purpose, which is to establish his glory by bringing all creation into perfect harmony with him.

Could it be possible that I might participate in God’s great purpose … “to infinity and beyond,” or might I say “… to eternity and beyond?”

I’m a forward looking person. All my life the thought of living into the future has been a prominent one. The thought is constant, but the reality so often eludes me. Why?

The first realization I have come to about this is that I have to take the first step.

The second realization I have come to is that I almost always skip the first step, and the second step, and generally the third, fourth and fifth steps as well.

The third realization I have come to is that I am never really able to live into the future because of skipping the first several steps.

So, if the crowning achievement of our lives is to be one with Christ and engage with him in fulfilling his eternal purpose, what is the first step? And the answer is … fitness, personal fitness. We have to be personally equipped for the journey -- spiritually, physically, financially, academically.

Athletes don’t start with playbooks, they start with pushups. Astronauts don’t start with algorithms, they start with mental toughness. So too, those in the Lord’s service must start with fitness.

- Financial fitness (free to serve, whether like Mother Teresa or like Bill Gates)
- Physical fitness (strength and stamina to meet God’s every assignment),
- Academic fitness (truth sufficient to dispel all criticism, heresy, and doubt), and
- Spiritual fitness (in constant communication with Christ, the commander and source).

The first step in serving Christ is your personal fitness -- body, mind, soul, and spirit. Get fit. It is a Godly thing to do, and the first step to “… eternity and beyond.”