Follow me now at craigobrien.ca

stocksnap_waeipjnwc3

I’ve made a jump to my new site.

My latest post, You thought it was irreducible, is now up at craigobrien.ca. To keep receiving my latest posts sign-up.

God doesn’t need us and He loves us…

stocksnap_a46t4v2fn6

“Let there be light.” With those words God turned thought into reality.  The Apostle
Paul writing to the Corinthians attributes the power of a mind grasping the knowledge of God in the Gospel of Jesus to the grace of God saying once again “Let there be light.”

1Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.  2 Corinthians 4:1-6

When God sparks the realization of “who He is” the understanding ushers people into a brand new world. I have appreciated Carolyn Weber’s confession, a memoir of discovery and faith, Surprised by Oxford, because of the beautiful way she expresses her journey from Canada to Oxford, and her journey from unbelief into vibrant faith.  In the text below she recalls a moment when the words out of her own mouth gave surprising form to the faith forming in her mind and heart. Her class was discussing Milton.

“I think Milton is trying to feel his way through the dark.” It just came out, as I had just done from the wardrobe. Obviously it, too, within me had been grappling for the surface. I tried not to look surprised. Professor Nuttham stared at me intently. “Go on,” he said. Linnea and Fred looked at each other, and then at me, nervously. Again Dr. Deveaux’s image came to mind. I realized that the answer swelling up in me came from a very real, very personal place. “He is going blind on one level. I can only imagine how particularly horrendous that would be, especially for a writer. But does he fear going blind, being blind, on another level even more so?” I heard myself saying, “Why, exactly, is he ‘justifying these ways of God to men’? For whom is he writing? God doesn’t need justification. He certainly doesn’t need us. God doesn’t need anything.”
The room stayed quiet. “Yet, it doesn’t make us superfluous or unimportant, the fact that God doesn’t need us,” I rushed on. “Actually, quite the opposite. It’s because He loves us in spite of not needing us that makes His love so, well, awesome.” Dr. Nuttham raised his eyebrows; slang was not encouraged in tutorials. “In the original sense of the term,” I quickly clarified. He lowered his brows in acceptance. Inside me lights began to go on, an electrical surge; though out of habit, I checked the swell in my heart. “Yes, I see what you mean,” ventured Linnea. “I tend to confuse what I desire, what I think I need, with what I love or pretend to love. Even with the best intentions, everything, at some point, gets muddled. Can anyone love perfectly?”


“For man,” I replied, “the trees grow so close together! I know I can’t always tell the vines apart, especially in the dark. But there is no pretense in a love that is not based on need of the giver, that is not based on consumption of the other, but only on magnification.” Everyone stared at me with that initial Yeatsian silence. I surprised everyone, including me. Where had all of that come from? I paused, collected my nerve, and then threw caution to the wind and added, “I think Milton is trying to show us the difference between Eden and heaven. Like the rest of us, he’s trying to feel his own way along that continuum.” Everything in the room stayed very, very still. I willed the clock to chime, but it didn’t.

“Despair is the greatest sin,” Dr. Nuttham finally responded slowly. “It involves forgetting that God is there. Forgetting that He is good and that all He is and does extends from and works toward this perfect goodness. That doesn’t mean that He allows evil, or creates it, or perpetuates it. That’s our entwinement. Rather, He uses even our evil toward His good. We all need forms of remembering this first great love . . . writing, reading, creating, being.” He paused, looking surprised too. Then he added, “I see,” and smiled at his own inadvertent wording. He continued smiling softly as he rose to make tea. Linnea leaned in and whispered, “Whoa.” She put her fingers to her mouth and puffed, as though to sign that I had been smoking the funny stuff before class. I made a face back at her. But I had to admit, I did feel a little high.

Surprised by Oxford, Carolyn Weber

 

A humble mind & love

stocksnap_5nmf3nxuvj

“At some thoughts one stands perplexed, especially at the sight of men’s sin, and wonders whether one should use force or humble love. Always decide to use humble love. If you resolve on that once for all, you may subdue the whole world. Loving humility is marvellously strong, the strongest of all things, and there is nothing else like it.”
Brothers Karamazov, “Conversations and Exhortations of Father Zossima” by Fyodor Dostoevsky

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” 1 Peter 3:8

Humility is a choice. Its a choice made in response to God as revealed to us in the Gospel.  When we see Jesus coming from the throne room of heaven to take up the cradle of Bethlehem we can seek grace for humility. When we see Jesus coming from the communion of the Father and Spirit in order to be the Son on the cross we must seek grace for humility. Such love constrains us! Humility is a choice made in response to the knowledge of God.

 

 

 

 

An old but relevant celebration of the mind!

clouds-over-the-pacific-ocean-from-an-airplane-picjumbo-com

Over 1600 years ago St. Augustine wrote on the power of memory and its role in our relationship with God.

Great is the power of memory, a fearful thing, O my God, a deep and boundless manifoldness; and this thing is the mind, and this am I myself. What am I then, O my God? What nature am I? A life various and manifold, and exceeding immense. Behold in the plains, and caves, and caverns of my memory, innumerable and enumerably full of innumerable kinds of things, either through images, as all bodies; or by actual presence, as the arts, or be certain notions or impressions, as the affections of the mind, which, even when the mind doth not feel, the memory retainteth, while yet whatsoever is in the memory is also in the mind–over all these do I run, I fly; I dive on this side and on that, as far as I can, and there is no end.

So great is the force of memory, so great the force of life, even in the mortal life of man. What shall I do then, O Thou my true life, my God? I will pass even beyond this power of mine which is called memory: yea, I will pass beyond it, that I may approach unto Thee, O sweet Light. What sayest Thou to me? See, I am mounting up through my mind towards Thee who abides above me. Yea, I now will pass beyond this power of mine which is called memory, desirous to arrive at Thee, whence Thou mayest be arrived at; and to cleave unto Thee, whence one may cleave unto Thee. For even beasts and birds have memory; else could they not return to their dens and nests, nor many other things they are used unto: nor indeed could they be used to any thing, but by memory.

I will pass then beyond memory also that I may arrive at Him who hath separated me from the four-footed beasts and made me wiser than the fowls of the air, I will pass beyond memory also, and where shall I find Thee, Thou truly good and certain sweetness? And where shall I find Thee? If I find Thee without my memory, then do I not retain Thee in my memory. And how shall I find Thee, if I remember Thee not?

The Confessions of Saint Augustine, The Tenth Book.

Augustine’s celebration of the mind and memory moves me to consider the purpose of the mind in my experience and knowledge of God.

Jesus intends to create pathways of memory to bring us to Him.

“And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.'” Luke 22:19-20

“These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”  John 14:25-26

The Psalmist cries out that his memories are useful for identifying his thirst for a new and current encounter with the Living God.

“I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done I ponder the work of your hands. I stretch out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like parched land.” Psalm 143:5-6

I’ve been thinking about some friends who are new believers in Jesus Christ. If you are a new believer in Christ Jesus you have a short memory of God’s grace towards you. Grace is God’s activity on your behalf to do for you what you could not do apart from Him (Dallas Willard). You do not yet have a lengthy history with Jesus and His grace. So your mind like all believers must be renewed and the Holy Spirit is working to that end. I want to daily recall the Gospels and see Jesus again. The reading of His Word in the Gospels is not a mere activity to dutifully complete. No, the reading of His Word is the work of my mind under the influence of the Holy Spirit that can usher me again into the very presence of God. So it is with many of our disciplines:

The reading of His Word is an act of remembering drawing us to Jesus.
The listing of His blessings and giving thanks remembers and brings us to Jesus.
The confession of my sins is an act of memory bringing me to Jesus.
The lament for what I grieve is an act of memory bringing me to Jesus.
The giving of the tithe is an act of memory bringing me to Jesus.
The gathering with other believers is an act of memory bringing us to Jesus.
The singing of a song is an act of memory bringing us to Jesus.
The telling of a testimony is an act of remembering bringing us again to Jesus.

All these acts are meant to engage the mind not for the production of sentimentality or condemnation. Instead our growing memory of God’s grace towards us is meant to usher us again into the reality of His Kingdom, the promise of His full redemption, and acknowledgement of His Presence with us as Lord.

Remember.

Its what you do next…

conversation - photo credit - David Marcu

Whether its at work, at home, or in your social circle, when you realize that you are the source of another person’s pain, its what you do next that matters. Truly I hate that moment. Most of us who are conscientious hate it too. These are the moments when our self-defence rituals kick in: blaming, shaming, and fear dancing! We don’t want the conflict. We don’t want a share in the pain. We want it to be the other person’s problem. And so if you are at all familiar with that script it probably means you are going to argue with God when He interrupts your worship.

23“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, 24leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.  Mathew 5:23-24

When self-justification takes over as our lens for relationships it makes us confident that the real problem is someone else’s problem. “They” have a problem because “they” are wrong, “they” are too sensitive, “they” are too reactive.

But reconciliation is our problem. Jesus wants us to see conflict and pain through the lens of reconciliation not self-justification. When self-justification is our lens for seeing people and conflict then even our worship will be framed by self-justification. We will turn the worship of God into a moment in which we are self-justifying ourselves before Him. We are using God instead of loving God.

That’s why Jesus shows his disciples how God interrupts worship. “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you… leave… Go… and be reconciled…” Why would we suddenly remember? I believe the Spirit of God calls us into the ministry of reconciliation. The Gospel shows us the King’s Mission of reconciliation and brings us into it. A true worshipper saved by Jesus is going to have moments in which worship is interrupted by Jesus for reconciliation within the realm personal relationships.

This passage is one of the reasons why I think our worship gatherings are meant to be way more dynamic and active than they are!

The good news: obedience to Jesus leads us into new options for relationships. You are not in charge of what the other person does next after you approach them. You are only in charge of what you are “doing next” because God approached you in worship and reminded you of the pain another is experiencing in relation to you.

So what are you going to do when you go to them? Try this:
1. I was meeting up with God and He reminded me of you.
2. I think you may be pained by me in some way.
3. Would you like to let me in on what you are feeling and thinking?
Then wait, listen and respond appropriately.

Some of your possible responses: Agreeing with them. Acknowledging their pain. Sharing in their sorrow. Asking forgiveness. Confessing your own. Granting forgiveness. Making amends. Making restitution. Praying together. Creating new boundaries. Waiting. Worshiping God together through Christ.

Reconciliation is a miracle work through the grace of Jesus and it cannot be rushed, but it must be started when the Spirit of God interrupts your worship. When God interrupts your worship, its what you do next that matters.

Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. 17He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. Ephesians 2:16-18

Photo Credit: David Marcu