Tag Archives: Glory

When flames of love lit the morning stars

When from the womb of divine pathos, flames of love lit the morning stars, they burst forth singing with a million angels— and God began the rites of spring. Now in due season— He grants rain for the flourishing of our soul. He summons us by name; calling us to the tilling of sacred gardens— for the springing up of praise and righteousness before all nations.

 

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Epiphany / New Year Prayer II

On this first day of a new year, when history again turns closer to its birthing of the new age when the full glory of Heaven shall fill the earth as the waters cover the sea; May also open ourselves to the Spirit’s sanctifying work, that he may again empower us in behalf of the world around us, as “safe places,” unexpected though much needed, serendipitous, epiphanies of God’s glory— the presence of Jesus.

 

Epiphany

“Arise shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.  For behold, darkness covers the earth, and thick darkness the peoples.  Yet the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.  And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” – Isaiah 60:1-3.

 

The sacred rhythm of Christian pilgrimage

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who blesses us in the heavenly realms with all spiritual gifting in Christ!  One healthy purpose of the traditional liturgical Christian calendar is that it enjoins us towards rightly defining Christian life as a pilgrimage, illustrated as we journey through the seasons of the Christian year.  This yearly sacred rhythm shapes our true identity as a “alien residents” in this present world order, whose true homeland belongs to the future world—which in many ways through the presence of God’s Spirit is breaking into the present moment, granting us and making us “signs” of His coming kingdom.  Now the Christmas season, otherwise called Christmastide (“Festival of Christ”), ends on 5 January.  Then on 6 January we embark through the season of Epiphany, which ends Ash Wednesday, thus marking the first day of Lent.

 

Beginning the year in the light of the Morning Star

I therefore find it timely that we reflect on how this season of Epiphany enjoins us to begin the New Year through the empowering sacred memory of our Messiah—who has come to share in our suffering that we may share His glory.  This is thus a season when the Holy Spirit renews in us a knowledge of His Holy presence— the uniting of our life to His— that in a new way at the beginning of a new year, the Spirit makes us for all around us— an epiphany of the saving glory of Christ Jesus our saviour.  Now what I want us to foremost recall here, is that the season of Epiphany is a season which in God’s providence, always helps us begin the New Year with holy cognisance of His commissioning hand upon us, as those whom He is through the Spirit renewed in His image revealed in Christ, and thus as co-creators of His coming new world, and as ambassadors of His coming kingdom.

 

Beginning the year at the altar of new beginnings

Therefore I pray that on this eve of a new year that the light of the Morning Star may shine brightly upon the path before you.  May the Eternal Spirit lift up your eyes to holy flames of love, where at the altar of new beginnings— the Spirit shall say to you, “Remove your sandals for where you now stand is holy ground.”  During this season of Epiphany, may God grant you vision of His new world, making you for all around you, a joyful sign of His coming Kingdom.

 

Epiphany: the appearing of God’s glory

Let us now then reflect deeper on the meaning of the term, “Epiphany.”  Epiphany is a spiritually and even theologically rich and ancient description of Christian life, and I believe of what the Holy Spirit truly desires to bring about in our life.  The term essentially means “appearance;” we can discern a key root of this meaning in Titus 2:11-13 which reads, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared (epiphinaiō).  It teaches us to say ‘no’ to ungodliness . . . while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing (epiphanian) of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.”  Here Paul defines the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ—on the first Christmas Day, as the great historical definitive “appearing” of Go — hence, an “epiphany!”  Then again he says in the same text that the coming of again of Christ upon the earth— our “blessed hope,” shall also be a great “epiphany.”

 

So the idea of “epiphany” begins with the Christmas manifestation of God’s glory through the birth of Christ; His birth was an epiphany— the appearance of God’s glory!  Yet His second coming will be an even greater epiphany, for at that time His glory will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea!

 

Now during this Epiphany season, the liturgical Scripture reading often calls to mind, two events in Jesus’ life.  First is His baptism in the River Jordan, and second is the miracle of the wine at the wedding feast in Cana.  These two events both illustrate the unexpected manifestation of God’s glory during and through what would otherwise appear as ordinary affairs of life; ordinary events that became nonetheless charged with symbolic and prophetic foretelling of Jesus’ messianic mission and purpose.

 

Opening ourselves to epiphanies of God’s kingdom

Now there are two important lessons here for us.  First is that just as the first and second coming of Christian signify the two grand “epiphanies” of God through these two historical personal comings of Messiah, so also in many ways and in the ordinary affairs of life, does God also grant “epiphanies” of His saving presence.  Yet are we open to these unexpected, serendipitous, epiphanies of God’s glory, signs, whereby the Holy Spirit reveals “in-breakings” of God’s kingdom into this present moment?  May the Holy Spirit open our eyes to His presence breaking in around us— granting us renewed faith, courage and inspiration in our daily witness of Christ as living “signs” of the coming kingdom.

 

Letting God’s Spirit makes us epiphanies of His glory

The second lesson here is that the season of Epiphany serves to reminds us how God desires to empower us through the sanctifying work of His Spirit, as a living “epiphany” of God’s presence— of His immanent glory, for and in behalf of the world around us.  Charles grants us vivid vision into this meaning of Epiphany in one of his hymns whereby we sing, “Dayspring from on high, be near; Daystar in our heart appear.”  Wesley’s reflection on Epiphany thus evokes in us a right response to the hymn we earlier sing on Christmas Day, “Oh, to all Thy self impart, formed in each believing heart! Hark, the herald angels, Glory to the new born king!”

 

We may call this, the spirituality of Epiphany.  Epiphany spirituality enjoins us to open our life up to the sanctifying work of God’s Spirit with the prayer that wherever we are, God may make us a manifestation of His glory— that our way of life as followers and disciples of Jesus, bear glorious and prophetic witness to the presence of the resurrected Christ.

 

Becoming a “safe place“ for people around us

I shall now draw you attention to a relevant quote from the late Roman Catholic priest Henri Nouwen:  “When we become free from the need to judge or condemn, we can become safe places for people” around us.  Let us reflect on Nouwen phrase, “safe places.”  I believe that Nouwen’s use of “safe place” as a metaphor for a Christian’s life within the challenging contingencies of daily hustle and bustle, provides us a salient clarity into further meanings of Epiphany spirituality. I believe that as Nouwen so eloquently reminds us, the Spirit seeks to make us a “safe place” where people may encounter through our own priestly presence— the presence of the living Christ.

 

The Spirit thus seeks to moreover sanctify us as a serendipity; an unexpected but oh so needed overflowing of grace and refreshing, to those around us who may otherwise sense no hope of such serendipitous surprises.  Yet as Nouwen also points us, to become such an epiphany, the Spirit evokes in us our call towards extending forgiveness and thus forego our own innate tendency to judge the person before us whose behaviour or appearance falls short of our expectations.

 

During this season of Epiphany, may we therefore indeed open ourselves to the Spirit’s sanctifying work, that he may again empower us in behalf of the world around us, as “safe places,” unexpected though much needed, serendipitous, epiphanies of God’s glory— the presence of Jesus.  Moreover, here at the beginning of the new year, when history again turns closer to its birthing of the new age when the full glory of Heaven shall fill the earth as the waters cover the sea; May also open ourselves to the Spirit’s sanctifying work, that he may again empower us in behalf of the world around us, as “safe places,” unexpected though much needed, serendipitous, epiphanies of God’s glory— the presence of Jesus.

“Run Oh Fleet of Foot!  Run I say!  For I put the wind behind you!  I pave before you a highway of holiness; a path of righteousness which no man can obstruct.  No unclean thing is found there for there I set my angel who wields the sword of flaming love.  Arise now for your light dawns; in covenant faithfulness I make you a witness of my Name.  I call upon heaven, earth and all creation as witnesses to my word, and I will do it.  Be not weary for along the way I provide an oasis from where flows a brook for the reviving of your soul, and the replenishing of words which i give you for the healing of the nations.”

 

The Spirit showed me a blade of grass

The Spirit showed me a blade of grass. “You have heard all men are like grass; the wind blows and they are no more.” True that is concerning men of this age. Yet there is a blade of grass, that though it be so small, it’s glory will shine to the farthest reaches of the universe because my image it bears.”

2010: Living the Glory of Christmas

2010: Living the Glory of Christmas

“There were shepherds . . . the glory of the Lord shone around them . . . But the angel said to them . . . ‘To you– is born this day . . . a Savior’. . . So they hurried off and found . . . the baby lying in the manger.”  Luke 2:8-14

We can find within the traditional Christian calendar used in the more historic churches as well as in the worship of the ancient churches, a profound understanding that the spirit of Christmas ought to help us begin every new year with a renewed vision of God’s glory—which is the true glory of Christmas.

First off, for the believer, Christmas is not just a celebration of Jesus’ birth on earth but a celebration of His birth in our hearts.  And that having been born in us even also as a seed, He lives in us for this reason:  that we may be restored to His likeness.  It is this very work of Christ in us that partly defines the glory of Christmas.  Christ is born in our hearts for far much more than to bring us into heaven.  He is born in us to unite us to Himself, that we also manifest His likeness and hence the glory of God.

It is for this reason that right after Christmas comes the season of Epiphany: the beginning of every new year, is a season of Epiphany!  Epiphany means, “appearance;” epiphany means the manifestation of Christ.  Until Christ again, bodily returns to earth when we shall see Him in His resurrected body, he is now primarily manifest when His likeness is manifest through humans who offer their lives to him for this very purpose:  to be an “epiphany” of Christ.

When we can see in the weakness of human flesh, the glory of God, it is then we see an epiphany of Jesus.  It is then we encounter a living manifestation of the life of Jesus, changing a person from the likeness of Adam and into the likeness of Christ.

So the question we must ask ourselves is this: would we like to begin the new year with an “epiphany” of Christ in us?  Do we want to see in the new year, a new manifestation of His life in us?  Would we like to let others see this manifestation of Jesus?  Because when they do, then we are sharing the hope of the world through our very life.

So let again revisit the story of Christmas, and again reflect on the glory of Christmas.  All over the world, it is common for homes to put up brightly lit, tinsel-covered, glorious Christmas trees, and brightly coloured lights and candles and decorations.  Perhaps in some way, all this is part of what we call the “glory of Christmas.”

But let us also be mindful that the true glory of the first Christmas, is not in these things.  It’s not in the “Christmas tinsel.”  The true glory of Christmas is rather found in things very plain, simple, and humble.  Now Christmas is about how God came down, and lived among us.  But how far did He come down?  It’s an important question, because in Jesus, we see God for who He is. 

How far down did He come?

  1. I. HE CAME ALL THE WAY DOWN.

In a small village, He was born in poverty and scandal.  The son of a teenage peasant girl named Mary.  She was pregnant, but not married!  Her protruding belly branded her— an adulteress.  For her husband to be— was not His natural father!  Yet the day came, Jesus was born!  In an animal stable.  They laid Him in a manger, a feeding trough for donkeys!  So the air smelled with urine and donkey dung.

First to greet Jesus’ birth were the shepherds.  These were not white haired clean-cut looking Kiwi sheep herders.  They were rough, smelly, and dirty.  Most were not, morally upright people.  I sought to identify a “functional equivalent” for these shepherds— to help us reflect, on who they might be, in our setting.  But not wanting to offend anyone, I’ll suggest: you imagine who might fill that role.  But I would say: the kind of places they would frequent may be similar to what we have here in the Geylang area!  Living in dormitories or one-room rented flats.

Most of these shepherds were not out looking for God.  They were neither pious, nor devoutly religious people.  Yet to them the angels came, and proclaimed: “To you!  Is born this day . . . a Savior, who is the Messiah.”

Then Jesus grew up.  In a “kampong,” called Nazareth.  It was so bad, they used to say, “Could anything good, come out of Nazareth?”  Nazareth was in Galilee.  95% of Galileans were poor.  Jesus was one of them, and became a carpenter.  Then at age 30 He one day went into the Synagogue, and proclaimed: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me, to bring good news to the poor. . . to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

Then for the final three years of His life, He ministered to His fellow Galileans.  He never wrote a book.  He never held a political office.  He never owned a home.  He lived on handouts.  Except for Jerusalem, He never visited the big cities.  He had no credentials but Himself.  But He attracted all kinds of people.  The poor, the rich.  Prostitutes.  Political revolutionaries.  Religious people.  Political leaders.  But above all, the oppressed and downtrodden.  Everyone invited him for dinner.  He enjoyed a good meal, with just about anyone!

But public opinion turned against Him.  Threatened by His revolution, the leaders sought to kill Him.  His followers left Him.  They nailed Him to a cross, between two thieves.  He died disgraced, in total shame.

20 centuries have come and gone.  Yet today He is the central figure of the human race.  All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected humanity on this earth, as much as that one solitary life.

He is the true King of Heaven and Earth.  In Him, the Kingdom of God has come.  One day the kingdoms of this world shall cease, but His kingdom shall never end.  When He first came, there was no room in the inn.  But when He comes again, the whole world will not be able to contain His glory.

The greatest event in human history was the birth of Jesus Christ.  This event divided history, into two parts:  before and after Christ!  The creator of all things, shrank Himself down. so small, as to become a single fertilised egg.  And we “beheld His glory!”  This– is the glory of Christmas.

“He made Himself nothing.”  He “emptied Himself” of all His glory.  Why?  To show us, what He is like!  That God– is humble!  He is approachable!  He is touched by our suffering!  He is giving!  “He is the image of the invisible God!”

Yet there’s more!  For in Him, we now see– our true humanity!  He became like us, that we might become like Him!  He is not only the image of God— He is the image of the perfect man, and woman.  If you’re a Christian, He is the image of what God re-making you and I to become.  He is changing us into His likeness.  Therefore, He says to you and I:

  1. II. GO AND DO LIKEWISE!

All through the Gospels, that’s the word Jesus keeps speaking to us: “Go, and do likewise!  He says, “This is how I’ve lived my life.  Put your feet in my footsteps, and follow me!”  People were asking Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?  Who do I show kindness to?”  And He said, “All people.  Rich or poor.  Every skin colour.  Locals.  Foreigners.  Whatever you think their sin is, it’s not the issue: be a neighbour.  And make sure you be a neighbour to people you tend to despise.  These especially, are your neighbours.”  “Come down!  Go, and do likewise!”

The other day, I was boarding the LRT in Sengkang.  I was behind the yellow line, waiting for passengers to exit.  But there were these “China” foreign workers blocking the entrance, positioning themselves to be “first” inside the coach.  Since I was doing the “right thing,” I gave a “look,” to let them know, they were doing the wrong thing!  But the Lord spoke to me.  And I realised that, these are foreigners; they don’t know all the “rules,” but God loves them.  What they need is kindness, and forbearance; not correction.  Anyone can judge!  But are you willing to die for them?  Jesus was, and He did.  “Go and do likewise!”

Last week we met a Taiwanese woman at a coffee shop.  We talked for over an hour.  She’s been here for about two years, and suffering from culture shock.  She said we were the nicest people she’s met since coming here.  But I know she’s suffering culture shock.  Are we sensitive to these “strangers” in our midst?

Now let’s reflect on the situation here in the Geylang area.  Let’s evaluate our perspectives.  Because, if we compare Geylang to Shenton Way, there’s the probability that there is a whole lot more “sin” going on in Shenton Way than in Geylang.  Why?  Because throughout those tall buildings is marital adultery, fornication, lying, stealing, cheating, backstabbing, politicking, slander and malice!  Those things are just not as visible.

Geylang is more like an open wound, caused by the sickness of our whole world.  But by sheer geography, this community comprises, “our neighbours.”  And because we’re bound to “bump” into people who are different, Jesus says, “Go, and do likewise.”

We are also surrounded by people of other religious persuasions.  But they are not spiritual “competitors,” or “enemies.”  They are also, our “neighbours.”  How we understand people, determines how we treat them.  Do we see them as so depraved they deserve our contempt, or as people whom God loves?

How are we postured to people who are “not like us?”  Who are “different from us?  Not as “prim and proper” as us?  But we’re all, “diamonds in the rough.”  For inside the heart of every person, lies a “spark” of God’s glory!  That’s why we’re “redeemable.  That’s why we matter to God.  So we’re called not to judge but to see people through Christ’s eyes.

Over these past days, I felt the Lord impress me with this thought:  Revival in this church is linked to how deeply in our heart, we’re willing to embrace this community.

Because, for however long it may be— this church, like other churches here, is for this moment, God’s hope for this area.  God sometimes keeps a person or people in a certain place until lessons are learned that He wants to teach in that place.  So therefore, “for such a time as this,” this part of the land, of the “good earth,” is part of the “pasture,” for this church.

It is part of the “pasture” where the “shepherd,” meaning this church, has to “be a neighbour,” to the lost sheep.  I’m not talking about going out and “witnessing.”  I am rather referring to our posture towards “our neighbors.”  The posture of our heart towards people who are different from us, especially people we tend to brand as depraved, “immoral,” or of a different religious persuasion, or simply find different from us.  The problem, is not what’s “out there, around us.  It’s here, in our heart.  It’s our posture to human beings— created in the image of God.

So that when opportunity arises, we are kind, and what is manifest is not “judgment,” or irritation, but the warmth of Christ.  That’s what it means to be a “Christian:” a little “christ,” a disciple of Jesus Christ.  That to all men, and all women, the warmth and love of Christ is manifest.  I would challenge us that for 2010, let’s strive not to be all the more known for Christianity.  But rather to be known as “Christ-like.”

  1. III. AND HE SHALL LIFT YOU UP.

Humble yourselves and He shall lift you up!  Become a magnetic house of healing!  Jesus said, “When you give a banquet, do not invite your friends . . . or rich neighbors,” or anyone who can repay you.  But rather, “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.  And you will be blessed!”  (Luke 14:12-14).

You set your self to become a “different kind” of church.  A magnetic house of healing.  A church without walls.  Let your fruit “hang over the walls,” for the poor in the land.  Don’t worry about not attracting the right kind of people you’d like to bring here, to these premises.  But become a “magnetic house of healing,” and God will fill the church.  He fill it, if we’re open to all kinds of people who healing.  And along the way, God will send a few rich people along the way also, because there are some who’d believe and be attracted to what your doing.

If you embrace the whole community with all you heart, be a neighbour to this whole community, “You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. . . . you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” (Isaiah 58:11-12)

  1. He came all the way down.
  2. Go and do likewise.
  3. And He shall lift you up.

Monte Lee Rice (December 2009)

Martin Luther’s doctrine of love, suffering, faith and true ministers of God’s Word

Martin Luther’s doctrine of love, suffering, faith and true ministers of God’s Word

“Now it it not sufficient for anyone, and it does him no good to recognize God in his glory and majesty, unless he recognizes him in the humility and shame of the cross.”

(Martin Luther, Luther’s Works XXXI, 52; Heidelberg Disputation, par 20)

“That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as if it were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened. . . . He deserves to be called a theologian however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.

(Luther’s Works, XXXI, 52; Heidelberg Disputation pars 19, 20)

THEOLOGIES OF GLORY VERSUS THE TRUE THEOLOGY OF THE CROSS

In April 1518 Martin Luther traveled to Heidelberg in order to attack what he identified as a wrong kind of thinking about God and a wrong kind of thinking about the Christian’s relation and faith in God.  This wrong kind of thinking Luther called a “theology of glory.”

This event when Luther attacked this wrong kind of thinking about Christian life and faith, is called the Heidelberg Disputation.  Luther delivered this lecture about six months after he nailed his Ninety-five Thesis on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, thus igniting the Protestant Reformation.  During this lecture, Luther contrasted “theologies of glory” with the true “theology of the cross,” which underlies his entire outlook on the Christian life, and how he understood God’s involvement in the Christian’s life.

THE WRONGNESS OF ALL THEOLOGIES OF GLORY

According to Luther, “theologies of glory” encourage Christians to seek “God in heaven,” but not in and through the “sufferings” of this present world.

Christians who embrace nothing but a “theology of glory” are according to Luther, like Moses who said to God, “Show me your glory” (Ex 33:18-23).  These kinds of theologies only seek to know God in his majesty, as He is in heaven.

Christians who are entrapped by this false “theology of glory” imagine that the best of God’s works, or even more so, God’s works altogether are thus always beautiful, fine, attractive.  But Luther taught that the in fact, God’s works are directly the opposite.  For God in fact will make us “nothing” and even “stupid” if that is what it take to reveal His true love to us (LW, XXXI, 33, HDT, par 4).

But these Christians who can only embrace a “theology of glory” are those who have forgotten God’s reply to Moses, telling him he is to rather see His “backside.”  That reply according to Luther, is what he calls, the “theology of the cross.”  Christians are to therefore rather focus in this present life, on finding God in the things that are lowly, despised, weak, foolish, and rejected.

Hence, Luther wrote, “Now it not sufficient for anyone, and it does him no good to recognize God in his glory and majesty, unless he recognizes him in the humility and shame of the cross.” (Martin Luther, Luther’s Works XXXI, 52; Heidelberg Disputation, par 20)

THE ROOT OF THEOLOGIES OF GLORY IS NOT GOD’S LOVE BUT HUMAN LOVE

Luther taught that the root of this false “theology of glory” is not God’s kind of live but “human love.”  In contrast to God’s love, human love is essentially selfish and seeks only one’s own best interests but not the interest of others.

According to Luther, this perverted kind of love makes people incapable of receiving God’s grace (LW, XXXI, 57, HDT, par 28).  Moreover, Luther believed that this “human love” causes people to love only that which they can immediately enjoy.

Much of Luther’s lecture at Heidelberg consisted of this contrast between God’s love and human love.  Luther’s main point was that, “The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it.  The love of man comes into being through that which is pleasing to it.” (LW, XXXI, 57).

Luther thus pointed out that the flaw of human love is that it is basically passive rather than active. It constantly seeks to receive rather than give out.

Human love therefore results in covetousness.  People who are thus preoccupied with receiving, are basically receivers and not givers.  Yet God is a giver, and his entire aim towards us in Christ is to transform us into givers.

Amongst Christians, all works that are prompted by this “human love” are “deadly sins” (LW, XXXI, 43, 45 HDT, par 28).  And amongst Christians, a main symptom of these sins is perverted love, which is caused by not having a fear in God (LW, XXXI, 47, HDT, par 8.)

THE TRUE THEOLOGY OF THE CROSS

In contrast to this wrong “theology of glory,” Luther called Christians to embrace the true theology, which is the “theology of the cross.”  Comprehending the “theology of the cross,” begins by asking God to remove from us that root of “human love,” and replace it with God’s kind of love; namely, “God’s love.”

“God’s love,” said Luther, seeks not one’s own interest but the interests of others.  It is love “born of the cross.”  It is therefore a “love of the cross.”  It “turns in the direction where it does not find good which it may enjoy but where it may confer good upon the bad and the needy person.” (LW, XXXI, 57, HDT, par 28.)

Luther went on to say that without the true eye of faith, it is impossible for Christians to perceive and discern the true works of God.  Without the eye of faith, Christians perceive God’s works as “unattractive” and “evil.” (LW, XXX, HDT, par 3)

Luther went on to teach alongside this “theology of the cross,” the “theology of paradoxes.” By the “theology of paradoxes,” Luther meant that sometimes God works in us by forgiving us and encouraging us, but sometimes He works in us by putting us down, by taking away our hope, and by leading us into desperation (LW, XIV, 95).

For this reason, Luther wrote, “You [God] exalt us when you humble us.  You make us righteous when you make us sinners. . . .  You grant us victory when you cause us to be defended.  You give us life when you permit us to be killed” (LW, XIV, 95).  Luther went so far as to say that sometimes God allows His works to create bad results (LW, XXXI, 45, HDT, pars 5, 6).

Luther therefore encouraged Christians to look for God’s work in and through whatever suffering might fall upon them.  Luther therefore wrote, “He, however, who has emptied himself through suffering no longer does work but knows that God works and does all things in him.  For this reason, whether God does works or not, it is all the same to him.  He neither boast if he does good works, nor is he disturbed if God does not do good works through him.  He knows that is sufficient of he suffers and is brought low by the cross in order to be annihilated all the more.” (LW, XXXI, 55).

Faith in God thus involves faith in God when the natural circumstances contradict God’s love towards us.  So Luther wrote concerning the promises of God, “Faith is holding fast to the deep and hidden ‘yes’ under and above the ‘no’ by firmly trusting God’s Word.” (LW, XVII, 203; German/Latin translation).

Luther continues to teach that to see God at work through our sufferings requires a revelation birthed by the Holy Spirit.  Only the Spirit can grant us “faith” in God’s hidden work through suffering.  So Luther wrote, “No one can correctly understand God or His Word, unless he has received such understanding from the Holy Spirit.  But no one can receive it from the Holy Sprit without experiencing, proving, and feeling it” (LW, XXI, 299).

A TRUE THEOLOGY OF THE CROSS REVEALS GOD’S LOVE

Because Luther preached that God only works in us through this theology of the cross, Luther characterized the church as a hospital for the incurably sick.  As Chrstians, our life in the hospital is that as “ministers” to one another.  We therefore cannot live for ourselves but rather, in Christ, “Every man is created and born for others” (LW, XVI, 346; German/Latin translation).

Therefore Luther said that if we do not use everything we have to serve our neighbour, we rob him of what we owe him according to God’s will (LW, XXXII, 224).  But, “Since Christ lives in us through faith . . . He arouses us to do good works which He does as the fulfillment of the commands of God given us through faith” (LW, XXXI, 56, HDT, par 27).

GOD’S LOVE IS EVIDENCED NOT BY RECEIVING BUT BY GIVING

According to Luther, to know that Christ lives in us, ought to lead us to primarily lead us to only one practical implication:  that He is in us that we might be a “Christ” to others.

This is precisely Luther’s comment and reading of Galatians 2:19-20, where Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”

If our focus is correctly on allowing God to replace our “human love” with His love, then we are simply not preoccupied with receiving things from God to use for our own pleasure.

Rather, recognizing we are “ministers” in God’s “hospital, our concern is on becoming a “Christ” to others.  This is Luther’s understanding of what it means to live in union with Christ; to be indwelt by the Spirit of Christ.

For this reason, Luther wrote, “Surely we are named after Christ not because he is absent from us, but because he dwells in us; that is, because we believe in him are ‘Christs’ to one another and do to our neighbors as Christ does to us.” (LW, XXXI, 368).

I gathered these extracts from Luther’s writings from an Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen’s article, “Theology of the Cross: A Stumbling Block to Pentecostal/Charismatic Spirituality?”

Kärkkäinen offers some closing reflections:

1. God’s love seek out the weak things to make them new.

“For Luther, God’s love means . . . loving something . . . that exists in weakness and shame, in order to make it something new.  That is what it means to be God: to create something out of nothing.

Evangelical theology in general and Pentecostal/charismatic in particular has not paid much attention to the category of love, but rather has focused on the grace of God.  Luther’s theology of love, combined with the biblical . . . view of God’s passionate love, could help evangelical to say something [more] worthwhile about agape.

2. Faith is proved when our hands are empty but our hearts are full.

Luther’s theology of the cross takes suffering and death seriously, so seriously that it also takes hope seriously: it is constitutive of God to make new life out of death, out of nihil.

The concept of ‘faith’ also has to be critically scrutinized by Pentecostals/charismatics. . . .  there is reservation in talking about faith as an ‘empty hand’ (George Muller) that reaches to God and his mercy.  Faith is not so much needed when one sees God’s miracles; faith is needed when we are facing the dark side of life . . .

3. The church is not a showplace for the successful but a hospital for the suffering and needy.

And finally . . . another lesson to learn from Luther: the church is not a showplace for the successful but a hospital for the suffering and needy!

Extracted from:

Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, “Theology of the Cross: A Stumbling Block to Pentecostal/Charismatic Spirituality?” The Spirit and Spirituality: Essays in Honour of Russell P. Spittler, eds. Wonsuk Ma and Robert P. Menzies (New York, NY; London, UK: T & T International, 2004).