Sunday, June 26, 2016

First Love, Love First

First Lutheran Church, Taylors Falls, this morning
Today Toni, Naomi and I went up to visit the church we served in Taylors Falls from 1992-2005. I so much enjoyed seeing and talking with many friends and former neighbors, people who had invited me (and us) into their lives in a relatively intimate way for many years.

I am so thankful to have had the chance today to go back up there, and for the invitation that was extended to us and to other "former pastors" (we were the only pastor's family able to make it). There was no special event (other than a mid-summer outdoor potluck), no introduction of "the Thorsons" as anyone special, and, thank God, I wasn't asked to take any leadership role. The only time I was up front was when I walked up during the last song to snap this picture on my old phone.

I want to write more about this day and some of the thoughts and feelings surrounding it, but right now my heart is just filled with love for the people in the picture above, and for many others who were not there today. My feelings for the dear ones in that community are matched by those I have in my heart for those in Ladysmith, Glen Flora and Cokato. The love that God pours into our hearts surpasses understanding, and overcomes doctrinal squabbles, and leaps us over any uncomfortable past hurts that any of us may have suffered (or inflicted upon one another). We're all incomplete, we all fail, and none of us has a full picture of God's truth. So we stand, together, in the love of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever.

The current president of the TF church, Don Hansen, had been on a mission trip with the youth recently. The youth and their leaders shared some things that they remembered from the week, and then Don spoke of the temporary tattoo that he had on his arm with the theme of the Youth Works camp on it. That theme was "First Love," but Don said, that when he looked at it on his arm, it said "Love First." I like that. When in doubt, just love. A good lesson for all.

There are a lot more things to say about the morning and about what is going on in my head and heart, but at the moment it's time to take care of some other things.

God's peace to you all.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Everything Depends on Jesus

Everything and everyone depends on Jesus every day.
I tweeted that line at about 7 last Saturday morning. Those few words came to me as a very quick summary of some things I've been studying and praying over for quite awhile.

Now, right away I should say the first thing that comes to mind about those words is that I need Jesus, personally, every day. I need His mercy and forgiveness and grace -- mercy and forgiveness and grace that come to me in spite of my often judgmental "holier than thou" "better than others" ("better than you"?!) attitude. I need Jesus' mercy because every day I complain (usually just to myself, in my heart) about circumstances and situations that God has brought into my life.

Yes, I, and everyone else, needs Jesus' loving mercy. Jesus is God, and there is no God apart from Jesus. He is the only one who can give us the forgiveness and grace that we need. If it were not for Jesus, none of us could ever live honestly free from guilt and shame. With Jesus' grace we can live with great joy, with joy that comes from knowing that our sin has been taken from us once and for all.

But that's not what was on my mind when I wrote the eight words at the top of this post.

It's not just me and other people who need Jesus. It's not just because we need his grace and mercy and forgiveness. It's because the entire universe depends on Jesus, because He is God.

In Matthew Henry's classic Commentary on the Whole Bible, in a section where the author is reflecting on Colossians 1:17, we read this about all things that exist:
He not only created them all at first, but it is by the word of his power that they are still upheld, Hebrews 1:3. The whole creation is kept together by the power of the Son of God, and made to consist in its proper frame. It is preserved from disbanding and running into confusion.
Everything depends on Jesus Christ--whether they know it or not--even if they don't have a brain. "Rocks and trees... skies and seas," "the morning light, the lily white," "the rustling grass" and birds raising "their carols," all of these rely on Jesus every day. If he were to turn away, nothing would exist at all.

Sometimes Christians think of God the Father ("This Is My Father's World") as being "creator," but it's clear from the Bible that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are involved in creating and keeping everything going. The Triune God, Father, Son, Spirit, together, do that creative work and the ongoing work of "sustaining" everything. Every molecule, every quark, every chemical compound, all the laws of physics and biology... everything depends on Jesus (and Holy Spirit) just as much as on "God the Father." It's true. If Jesus were to turn his back for a moment, all things would be gone.*

The universe depends upon Jesus -- because Jesus is God.

That's what I meant when I tweeted the line last week.

Blogposts from early June 2016 - "Scientific Theology,"
"The Whole World," and "Big Ideas, Big Words."

*The Christian Frame of Mind provoked three blogposts early this month, and that was just after studying the the introduction! Since then I've read the rest, and have found the ideas put forth in it to be really important and, as far as I can discern so far, pretty much true.

The first main point the author makes after the introduction has to do with the "contingent" nature of the universe. The universe (or "universes," if, as some suspect, there is more than one) does not have an independent existence. "Contingent" is a fancy word that means something depends on something or someone else.

The book's author, a Christian theologian and scientific scholar by the name of Thomas F. Torrance, says that a truly Christian understanding of the universe would include an emphasis, not only on the creation of the everything "in the beginning" by God (Father, Son, Spirit) but also the work the Triune God continues to do at every moment so that the universe continues to exist. Christians sometimes have the (wrong) idea that the world or universe has it's own independent existence, apart from God. The truth is, as T. F. Torrance explains, that through Jesus we come to know that He is absolutely essential to the world's continued existence! By Him everything is "unceasingly sustained in their order and being."

Jesus is way more than a savior. Everything depends upon Him.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

A Day for Whatever

I don't work on Saturdays! It's part of the beauty of being a "part time operator" for Metro Transit. I especially enjoy days when I can do "whatever," days when there are no plans. Here's what's gone on so far:

I got up at 5:30 and was out the door on my bike an hour later. I biked to Rosedale, then bused and biked to Lake Como where the "Roots Marathon Runners" have been training on Saturday mornings. I didn't start jogging until 7:30, about the time the Roots group was finishing up, but I did manage to jog the 1.6+ mile lake loop 3 times, with a stop for water and stretching on each lap. Then I biked and bused home -- getting home by about 9:30.

I could have biked each way. It's only a little more than 8 miles round trip from where we live down to Lake Como. But I do like to use my bus pass, and, usually, when I'm on the bus, I can have interesting conversations, either with my co-worker drivers or with "customers." Today I talked with an East Metro driver on the 65 and, after my jog, I met a customer waiting for a 61 on Larpenteur.

The 61 was late so the "whatever" it seems God planned was my little talk with the customer, a woman who, I think, lives at the Roseville Senior House. As we chatted, and as I helped her find out when the bus was due, since it was about 10 minutes late, she mentioned that her brother had retired from driving at the beginning of this year. He had worked out of the Heywood Garage, the same as me, and had driven express routes like the ones I'll be driving starting on Monday.

As she was talking, I realized I had probably met her brother. I asked her how her brother was doing in retirement, she said he was keeping busy talking with people about the "beautiful new world" that is coming... then she gave me a tract. Turns out that is a Jehovah's Witness, and so is her brother.

One reason I love riding the bus, besides the way I don't add to pollution when i ride it, is that it's a great way to meet people of all kinds. I've met hundreds if not thousands of people driving, and dozens while riding. (Many ethnic and religious groups ride, including hundreds of Muslims.) The person I met today wasn't visibly different than anyone else, but when she pulled out her tract she readily admitted she was a "Jehovah's Witness." Since I know JWs have a particular understanding of Jesus, and consider themselves to be the only ones who are saved, I told her that I know Jesus! And I shared a bit about God's love. I didn't say a lot, but since she said she was JW, I did mention that I know that Jesus is God, an idea which is rejected by the JW organization.

That brings me back to what I've planned to spend some time doing this weekend: Continuing study related to "The Trinity." Toni went up north to her parents' cabin and she brought the dog with her, so I've got time. But I do find it helpful to journal like this, so I end up getting delayed and distracted from that work. On the other hand, the most relaxing times for me are those when I don't have a particular agenda or plan in mind, so I truly appreciate having this time to do "whatever."

"Whatever" for me also included a talking with with one of the young men that's staying with us here at 1490 Lydia. His brother is renting one of the small basement rooms and "C" is there too. He came up shortly after noon and wanted to borrow my phone to call for pizza delivery and we ended up talking a bit. I was thankful that my lack of plans today allowed that to happen.

That's enough for now.

What are you doing today? How is the Lord blessing your time? Let me know if you can!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Just Adrenaline?

I got home from my first shift a little more than an hour ago. Today, as has happened 3 times now, I volunteered to drive routes that were completely new to me. The dispatchers gave me, and others, the option to do it or not, but I like adventure, so, after a bit of consideration, I said yes. All went reasonably well, and when I got back I felt very positive. I had been yawning when I got into work today, but now I'm energized. It's been a good day so far.*

In yesterday's My Utmost for His Highest devotional, Oswald Chambers wrote about putting "everything in your life upon God, going out to sea on the great swelling of His purpose." He warned us about spiritual sluggishness, and called us to examine points in our lives where we have started to "lose interest spiritually."

If we see we lack energy in some areas of our lives, O.C. says there may be some moment or "point" in our spiritual walk where we "did not do something" we knew we should do. He also says that when we obey, we learn more about the ways of our Lord, and when we refuse we end up losing insight and discernment.

O.C. writes this in harmony with what Jesus teaches in John 13 where Jesus, led by the Holy Spirit, does something he did not need to do: He washed his disciples' feet--and then says "I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you." There is joy in this going above and beyond what others expect! Once we've experienced it we want more.

There is a danger, however, in getting to addicted to the positive feelings we get when we serve, or when we leap out to do new things. We can, out of zeal, do things we're not called to do.

O.C. writes:
The counterfeit of obedience is a state of mind in which you create your own opportunities to sacrifice yourself, and your zeal and enthusiasm are mistaken for discernment. It is easier to sacrifice yourself than to fulfill your spiritual destiny, which is stated in Romans 12:1-2. It is much better to fulfill the purpose of God in your life by discerning His will than it is to perform great acts of self-sacrifice. “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice…” (1 Samuel 15:22).
Today, as I leapt out to do a good deed, I think it went okay, but because there were some things that could have gone better** I'm pausing to consider if, in the future, instead of just doing what someone (like the dispatchers) give me the option to do, just because I like adventure, it might be better to pause a bit and check: Is it just adrenaline that's pushing me out? That's not a good reason to leap.

This is a small example. There are much more serious decisions we can make just because we think we "should" or because we think it would be fun. It's best when we pause and ask the Lord: Is this truly what you desire in my life, now.


* Yesterday, June 8, marked one year since I began training with Metro Transit.

** It went okay this morning on this completely new route, but I can see how it might have been otherwise. I rushed out without carefully examining the route details, so I didn't know about where a park and ride was, and didn't know about a construction detour. Thank God for passengers who let me know which way to go!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Big Ideas, Big Words

I've managed to read a little more of The Christian Frame of Mind, moving on from W. Jim Neidhardt's introduction, but there's a point from the intro that was eye-opening for me, and I wanted to take a moment to share it before its newness fades.

As I've been re-entering the world of theologically deep study, I recognize that many of my Christian friends, and even I myself at times, have had some prejudice against any Christian teaching or "doctrines" that can't be taken directly from the words of the Bible. We have preferred to open our Bibles and prayerfully read the words that are there on the page, relying on a prayer-filled "common-sense," or "Holy Spirit led" insights to bring us to common and practical applications of what God is saying to us, either as individuals or as groups.

Most of the men and women I have studied and prayed with over the past 30 years or so would only rarely use words like "incarnation," or "trinity" or even "theology," preferring instead to just use words that are there in our English translations of the Bible -- and those words simply aren't there, except, perhaps, in the footnotes. And now as I speak things like of "Incarnational Trinitarian Theology," I'm sure I will sound, to some, like I'm slipping away from Biblical teachings and moving, instead, to some sort of un-Biblical sophistication. Or maybe I'm just wanting to show off. Or maybe I'm just a nerd.

There's a prejudice, out there in the land of Christian spirituality--a prejudice against the hard "theological" work that I'm doing these days--and I can almost hear the silent objections to what I'm thinking and writing about even now.

That's where what I read in the introduction to The Christian Frame of Mind comes in. W. James Neidhardt, following T. F. Torrance and others, say, and I agree, that you can't get God's truth simply by reading a few sentences or paragraphs in the Bible. You need to have some pretty big ideas already firmly fixed in your mind. I think those ideas actually come when we're born again by the grace of God, and by what Jesus has done for us, but that's another story.

Here's an example from the book's introduction:
"... God's grace may be thought of as an invisible conceptual reality defined as 'God giving himself to humankind, so that they can know him an love him, so entering into a relationship with him which... is totally undeserved...' God's grace is not "visible" in the Old and New Testaments accounts of God's activity toward humankind -- at least not in the sense that it is continuously acknowledged. Rather, the concept of grace brings 'invisible' meaning to these accounts." (page xxiii in The Christian Frame of Mind)

The word "grace," of course, is there in the Bibles we read. But the fact is that neither the word, nor the idea of "undeserved favor" is there in every verse. Proper Christian Bible study, though, will hold that "invisible" idea in mind as we read all the Bible's books and chapters and verses. Christians do mostly understand that there's danger in taking things "out of context," that is, without a big picture view of what the Bible is all about. Some Christians, however, don't understand this, and they get into trouble. An extreme version of this was seen when Donald Trump says that his favorite Bible verse is "an eye for an eye."

Some big ideas, however, that we can see in the whole story of the Bible can't simply be summarized by one or two words that we can actually find in a word found in Bible itself. I already mentioned two of them. "Incarnation" is one. "Incarnation" is a summary of what happened when God came into human flesh, being born of a woman, but the word "incarnate" is not there. "Trinity" is another. You can find the words "Father," "Son," and "Holy Spirit" in the Bible, but not the word "Trinity." The big idea is there, and you can't understand Jesus without the idea, but you can't find the word in the Bible.

That's what Neidhardt and Torrance mean by saying some things are "invisible."

Does that mean we should avoid those ideas or those words? I don't think so. If we do, we'll miss the Bible's big story, and forget what the Bible is all about.

Now, most of the men and women I've studied and prayed with over the years actually do have big ideas like "incarnation" and "trinity" in their heads, but they (and often we) haven't wanted to use those words, at least not too much. For some reason, we like the idea of being simple-minded and unsophisticated. But, as I've already said, the danger is that we can take verses, and even chapters and books of the Bible "out of context," that is, without a big picture view of what the Bible is really about. (It's late and I'm rambling here.)

As I've been studying, I'm learning the importance of how important big ideas are. Perhaps these are examples of what Jesus meant when he said, "I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear." Perhaps ideas like "incarnation" and "trinity" and even "theology" are a part of what Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would bring to us. Here's a fuller quote from Jesus speaking in the Gospel of John chapter 16:
12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you..." 
I've spent a lot more time thinking and writing about this tonight than I planned. I need to be up and out of bed in an hour and a half, on my way to work. Fortunately I've got really light duty in the mornings these days. I'll hope to say more about that later.

Peace to you in Jesus' name.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Important, and the Ordinary

"If we have God’s assurance behind us, the most amazing strength becomes ours, and we learn to sing, glorifying Him even in the ordinary days and ways of life." (June 4

The assurance O.C. mentions comes from the Lord who says: "I will never leave you nor forsake you," and we respond: "The Lord is my helper; I will not fear..." (Hebrews 13:5-6)

Yesterday's My Utmost for His Highest devotion speaks to me because I am one of those who has heard God's assurance and I have believed His Word, but I still am somehow wanting more. Not more wealth or material security, but more "significance," or,perhaps better said, a more consistent and constant feeling that what I am doing with my time (when I spend it well) is good and important. I'm continuing deep study of God's ways and other things but then I find I need to buckle down and take care of the little things, like what I did yesterday, going through things we have stored in the garage.

I confess that I "fear" that I'm not going to be able to show a lot of good through what I do. I believe that the study I'm doing is significant and needed in today's world, but the process of bringing these truths into the light is so time consuming. If there is any fear in me of "what people can do to me," (as the Hebrews passage continues) it's the fear that, in the end, the work that I and others are doing in theology will be set aside and the Christian world will just go on speaking and believing things that just aren't true.

But when I'm reminded, once again, of God's promise to never leave or forsake me, I don't need to be afraid that my work will be lost or unfinished. If the God we know in Jesus will always be with me, there will be reward, and significance, in some way, whether I see it or know it myself right now. And He has me in His care. I will say, in faith, that I will not be afraid, and I will press on with both the important and the ordinary things of life.
Have you heard God's assurance that He will always be with you? And will you respond, with your own heart, and your own words, "The Lord is my helper; I will not fear"? Take some time to do that as you reflect on the ways in which you're tempted to be afraid. Do that now.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Whole World

"...Human relationship are an integral part of what persons really are. You as a person are not a cut-off, isolated, individual, like the Newtonian particle, separated from other autonomous particles. Rather, you as a person are interrelated with others, your parents, your friends, even people with whom you disagree. Those interrelationships constitute the very stuff of personal being."

That's a quote from the introduction of The Christian Frame of Mind. The basic idea of the book, and a conviction that has been a part of my thinking for a very long time, is that there's no reason for science and faith to stand in opposition to one another. The God that we learn about in Jesus Christ is also the God who created everything that exists.

In the introduction quoted above, W. Jim Neidhardt speaks of Christian scientists who search for "deeper way[s] of interpreting nature," deeper ways that could only be understood through a faith-filled belief that God's creation is related to God, not just something that came into being by itself. The scientific breakthroughs of believers like Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell eventually led to Albert Einstein's theories, theories that bring a sense of harmony and interrelationship between seemingly separate things, such as, for example, space and time.

The idea, as I understand it, is that if there is One God who created everything, all "seemingly separate things" should be related in some way. It follows then, that there should be no battle between Christian teaching and science. There is no field of study that is stands on its own. If one looks deeply enough, there will be connections between them. Even studies in areas as different as physics and psychology and theology will, at some level, be connected because there is One Creator.

All things are related to one another--so are all creatures, and all people (as in the quote that opened this blogpost). There's a deep connection under us all, a connection that can be understood by us, though never completely. In some way, that deep connection is "of God." It's "divine." God does, truly, have "the whole world in His Hands."

There will always be more to learn about this. But that learning is truly good. All studies are to be honored if we're going to honor our Lord.

It's good to study and expand our understandings. What are you curious about? How will you learn? You never need to be afraid of learning more. The creator of everything, God, is good. And He is Love. We know this, only, because of Jesus.


This photo is from page xv of the introduction of The Christian Frame of Mind.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Scientific Theology

"Theology and science should be seen as 'allies in a common front where each faces the same insidious enemy, namely, man himself assuming the role of Creator . . .' "
(Torrance, Theological Science, xiii)
" from Wikipedia article Thomas_F._Torrance#Theology_and_science).
Last night I went over to the University of Northwestern Library and checked out The Christian Frame of Mind: Reason, Order and Openness in Theology and Natural Science, a book that's listed as recommended reading for a Grace Communion Seminary course on the "scientific theology" of T.F. Torrance. I'm not enrolled in the course but I'm feeling a sense of call to learn more about the teachings of this man who is continually mentioned as a "master theologian" by those who teach Incarnational Trinitarian Theology, a way of thinking about God that does not imagine "God the Father" as ever being separate from "God the Son" and "God the Holy Spirit."*

In the introduction to The Christian Frame of Mind, Dr. W. Jim Neidhardt writes about the connection between T. F. Torrance's theological method and the thought of Albert Einstein! I can't wait to learn more.


* Some Christian theologians, unfortunately, teach that God the Father punished God the Son for the sins of the world -- a teaching that does not honor the eternal loving relationship within God's self, a relationship that created and sustains everything that exists. I'm learning how absolutely essential that relationship is. And if we don't understand it we won't appreciate the true nature of God's love.