Monday, March 28, 2011

Abide in the Teaching of Christ

But now, dear lady, I ask you, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning, let us love one another.  And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments....  Everyone who does not abide in the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God; whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.    (2 John 5-6, 9)

I sometimes wonder if Paul's theology of the cross, and some of his other instructions, have taken us away from the simple message of Jesus.   For that matter, much of church doctrine and theology that has developed over the centuries, since Jesus died, seems also to have taken us away from the simple teachings of Jesus himself when he was alive.

Yesterday, reading St. Augustine's Confessions, I gained some insight into the development of theology.  As a young adult, Augustine wondered about Evil.  Why does evil exist?  This is one of many thought-provoking questions people ask to try to fathom the meaning of life.  His search for an answer led him to the Manichean belief system.  The Manichean's believed in Dualism.  That is, they believed there are two natures in the world, Good and Evil, which are completely separate and at war with each other.  This was apparent in many different areas:  the Old Testament God of Wrath vs. the New Testament God of Love; Matter was Evil, Spirit was Good.  Eventually, Augustine came to understand that this separation of Good and Evil did not ring true.   So, based upon his own experience of God, and in opposition to Manichean dualism, he developed his own theology.  And he declared dualism an heresy.

In general, this is how our theology is developed.  We seek to understand God in relation to life's great mysteries.  Often our beliefs are formed when we run into beliefs that don't match our own understanding or experience.  In this way, we develop and solidify our own belief system, our theology.  Sometimes, we teach our beliefs as the Truth, and declare other belief systems False.  Fundamentally, however, the answer to life's great mysteries is unknown, and can never be known.

Theology is developed in order to bring us closer to understanding God, and it certainly can help.  But, our theology also has the potential to draw us away from God.  The passage above seems to be addressing this concern.  How can this happen? 

It is possible that our theology can become more important to us than a simple faith.  When this happens, then we are in danger of making our beliefs into idols.  If our belief system causes us to judge negatively the differing beliefs of others, and to separate ourselves from others who think differently, then we are in danger of making ourselves God.  When we replace a very simple faith in God (the faith of Abraham, of David, and of Jesus), with an over-arching belief system, we may be violating the two greatest commandments of all:  to love God with all our heart, mind, body, and soul, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

And yet, what is the alternative?  To believe nothing? To accept everything?  I don't think either is necessary.  Jesus taught us the way of God.  He showed us how to live as God wants us to live:  with Love being the primary motivator.  It is a way that children especially find easy to understand.  Adults tend to make things much more complicated, but the teachings of Jesus are all we need, to understand all we need.

Dear God, keep me always on your simple path of love.  Please keep Jesus always in my mind.  Love always, Pam

Monday, March 21, 2011

So That the World Might Be Saved

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him.      John 3:16-17

I was watching the news this morning -- something I don't often do because there are too many troubling stories and not enough uplifting ones.  The plight of the Japanese, and people involved in wars, were the focus of the show I was watching.  As I thought about all the disturbing news, I wondered if God watches to see how we respond to the needs of others.

How do we respond to suffering, especially when it seems to be unending?  Do we ignore it if it does not directly affect us?  Do we hunker down with all our stuff, fearing that the world is coming to an end?  Or, do we help relieve the suffering in any way we can?  As I was thinking about all this, these words from last Sunday's readings came to mind. 

Some people believe that pain and suffering, even natural disasters are caused by God. The Bible sometimes describes a God of wrath who punishes people for their iniquities.  All of Job's friends were certainly convinced that he must have done something wrong to be the recipient of so much misery.  I too have sometimes wondered if a particular person was suffering because of their distance from God.  It is so tempting to judge between good and evil!!  Adam and Eve are not the only ones who want to be God.  I correct myself when I catch these thoughts, but it takes effort.  For me, it takes remembering the teachings of Jesus:

"Judge not, lest you be judged."  
"Only God can judge."  
"Love one another as I have loved you."   

Jesus taught us to replace judgment with love.  When Jesus met suffering, instead of ignoring it, he attended to it and he offered healing.  When Jesus saw masses of hungry people, he fed them.  When Jesus came upon disease or disabilities, which were thought by many to be signs of God's punishment for sin, he had compassion.  He touched their wounds and healed them.  When Jesus met outcasts, even people who had sinned, he sat down and ate with them and taught them about God's love.  He valued everyone, the faithful and the lost; the Jew, the Samaritan, and the Gentile.

For God so loved the world that he sent his Son, who showed us how to love as God loves, so that everyone who believes him shall have eternal life.  Not so that we would be condemned, or learn to condemn, but so that we would know God's love, and learn to love.  So that the world might be saved.

Thank you, Dear God, for loving us so much.  Thank you for not giving up on us.  Thank you for being so monumentally patient as we learn to follow your ways.  Love always, Pam

Friday, March 18, 2011


"... I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline."  2 Timothy 1:6-7

I'm going to begin again keeping a weekly blog of my reflections on faith and life.  I miss this way of connecting with other people of faith, I miss the discipline of pulling together my reflections from the week, but, most importantly, I feel strongly compelled to share God's messages to me.  God's steadfast love and care so amazes me that it seems selfish to not share it with other people.  I think, What if by sharing God's messages to me, someone else comes to believe that God does indeed care for each one of us in such a mind-boggling way?  So, that is the purpose of this blog:  to share my thoughts, concerns, and prayers, and to share the insights that come from being open to God's Holy Spirit.

We each can begin to follow God's will with ever greater intention at any time, of course, but the beginning of Lent is an especially good time to start.  During Jesus' entire ministry, he describes God's will in many different ways.  Essentially, we are to love God with all our heart, all our mind, and all our strength, and we are to love each other as God loves us.  This is God's will for each and every one of us at all times.   It takes continual effort to get close to this ideal.  However, the Christian season of Lent marks the beginning of Jesus' final journey to Jerusalem, during which he begins to tell his disciples about God's will for his life in particular.  Though his disciples don't really understand, Jesus knows This is the fulfillment of God's purpose for him.

God has a particular purpose for each one of us, as well.  Along our journey of faith, we hopefully find out what that is.  We wonder what makes us the way we are.  Why have I, or you, been given these particular gifts?  Why do I, or you, have this overwhelming passion?  And, what unique experiences has God given us that can serve to help others?  Once we understand all this, we need only put two-and-two together, so to speak.  We eventually do understand our purpose.  In theory, we have a choice to accept our purpose or not.  But, in reality, we don't have a choice:  our love for God determines our choice.  So, whether anyone else understands, we accept God's will, come what may.

Dear God, heavenly Father, please be with me as I try to follow your will for me in this, as in all things.  Love always, Pam