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Who Needs a “Jubilee of Mercy”?

“Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world: have mercy upon us.”

UnknownEach one of us, many times during our lives, have raised our voices and cried, “Lord have mercy.” Mercy is the kind of forgiving treatment of someone who could be treated harshly. From a Christian perspective, it is the gift that God or another person offers to someone by not treating him/her in the way they deserve.

For many, this cry for mercy is a perpetual line of their daily prayers. It expresses our deepest inability to cope with the pain in our hearts or the desperate frustration with the challenges of our sinful human condition.

We all long for mercy. The tragedy is that we are not prone to offer it to others.

This past March, Pope Francis announced, to the surprise of many, a holy year. From Dec. 8, 2015 to Nov. 20, 2016, Catholics throughout the world are called to celebrate a “Jubilee of Mercy.” The celebration of a jubilee originated in Judaism and it was the occasion to offer forgiveness and reconciliation.


The Lord’s Supper: A Roman Catholic and Reformed Evangelical Dialog (Video)

Who should participate in the Lord’s Supper? How frequently should we observe it? What does this meal mean? What happens when we eat the bread and drink from the cup? What do Christians disagree about and what do they hold in common? These and other questions are explored in my book, Understanding Four Views of the Lord’s Supper. 51Uh-nniC6L._AA160_This volume in the Counterpoints series from Zondervan allows four contributors to make a case for the following views: • Baptist view (memorialism) • Reformed view (spiritual presence) • Lutheran view (consubstantiation) • Roman Catholic view (transubstantiation) All contributors use Scripture to present their views, and each responds to the others’ essays. This book helps readers arrive at their own conclusions. It includes resources such as a listing of statements on the Lord’s Supper from creeds and confessions, quotations from noted Christians, a resource listing of books on the Lord’s Supper, and discussion questions for each chapter to facilitate small group and classroom use.

After this book was published in 2007 I engaged with my friend Fr. Thomas Baima in a

The Wilderness and the Desert: Images for Christian Living?

41XiJWC3cPL._AA160_Two of the most lasting images used by the Christian church to describe the spiritual life, especially among the desert fathers and mothers, are wilderness and the desert. Had I not learned these two images in the early 1990s I am not sure I would have profited so deeply from my own spiritual journey.

First, the feeling of God’s absence became real to me during the late 1990s and all through the first decade of this century. I had known God’s presence in some remarkable ways previously but around 1998 this sense of his presence began to recede. I felt what the ancients called abandonment. I felt like I was wandering in a wilderness, a desert. I felt God was testing me. I felt a devastating absence for prolonged times. I read the account of my Lord suffering in the wilderness and identified with his heart in some ways.

Second, these images suggest an arid spirit but in reality I learned the opposite to be the case. I was being powerfully renewed in the desert. In Exodus, when the

An Evening for Ecumenical Conversation @ St. Procopius Abbey

P1250149On Monday, February 9, St. Procopius Abbey (Lisle, IL) hosted a wonderful evening gathering dedicated to Catholic-Evangelical ecumenism. Several hundred guests, representing scores of Catholic and Protestant parishes throughout the Chicago area, gathered to listen to two long-time friends engage in a ninety-minute conversation about Christian unity. Taking their cue from the current actions, and written initiatives, of Pope Francis the two conversation partners addressed the possibilities and problems inherent in this new ecumenism. The Very Rev. Dr. Robert Barron, Rector/President of University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary, and the Rev. Dr. John H. Armstrong, a Reformed Church minister and adjunct professor of evangelism at Wheaton College. Dr Armstrong also serves as the founder and president of the ACT3 Network in nearby Carol Stream, Illinois, who sponsored the event. Both Fr. Barron and Rev. Armstrong shared personal stories and answered questions. The dialogue was moderated by Rev. Dr. Chris Castaldo, Lead Pastor of  New Covenant Church in Naperville. Dr. Castaldo also moderated the Catholic-Evangelical Dialogue between Dr. Armstrong and Francis Cardinal George, hosted by Wheaton

Debating Doctrine and Preserving Unity: What Conservative Christians Can Do (2)

Unknown-1In the story that I related yesterday I ended with a friend who was teaching an adult class in his church and a couple that had quit attending because my friend did not embrace a six-day, twenty-four hour, recent creation of the earth. My friend asked me to pray as he responded to this relational breakup.

After two weeks this friend reached out to the husband in this story. he writes that this man has been his friend for decades. They met for breakfast together.  My friend writes, and I know this to be true from first-hand knowledge, “John, this is a subject that I have studied deeply for several decades.” After the breakfast meeting he wrote to me saying, “Ironically I found that the relational side of things was, to some degree, restored through our time together. However, the cognitive side seemed blocked. This brother was not open to ideas that contradicted his view. His presumption seems to be that his view is Scriptural (hence others could not measure up). I chose to only share enough to help him see that there are

Debating Doctrine and Preserving Unity: What Conservative Christians Can Do (1)

UnknownA very good friend, who is mature and wise from solid life experience, recently taught what he describes to me as “a somewhat ecumenical message in my adult Sunday School class (while unpacking the Greatest Commandment).” He told his class that when true believers disagree on peripheral matters we are to remember that we are in the family of God and that our Lord prescribes a loving way to humbly engage with one another. If we engage with each other in the way our Lord taught us then we are able to both teach and learn.

One of the examples my friend used in his adult class was the subject of differing views of creation that are held by Christians. (The discussion was much wider but this issue was the one that troubled a few.) At the end of this class someone with whom my friend has ministered in their local church context for well over thirty years (he adds he felt this relationship had been at a fairly deep level) came forward to ask a question. He wanted

The Way of Jesus (2)

GBK Uganda brighter croppedWe welcome once again Rev. Dr. George Byron Koch as our guest blogger.

As the Church moved out from Israel into the surrounding cultures, and the leadership of the Church became more and more Gentile, this understanding of following the Way, which was very Jewish and rabbinic, changed into a process of analysis and proposition construction—the development of theology, doctrine and Christian tradition. That is, the focus moved from how one behaved to what one believed—from following the way of a person and His teachings, to believing in a set of logical propositions: From acting to asserting.

This began innocently enough: Paul in his speech on Mars Hill (Acts 17) to contextualize the Gospel for Gentile listeners (who were, incidentally, Greek philosophers). Or when Origen wrote Contra Celsum (“Against Celsus,” ) a defense of the Way put into philosophical categories and syllogisms, because the Way had been ridiculed by the Greek philosopher Celsus as silly and lacking the philosophical foundations and rigor of the Greek schools.

The creeds are key examples of this focus on propositions. Whether the

The Way of Jesus (1)

GBK Uganda brighter croppedWe welcome Rev. Dr. George Byron Koch as our guest blogger for today and tomorrow.

I remember the first time I learned that the early believers, long before they were called “Christians,” referred to themselves as followers of “the Way” of Jesus. I heard it as an apt and beautiful poetic metaphor—which I assumed they had invented for themselves.

I have since learned that the expression actually has deep Jewish and rabbinic roots, and this has opened my eyes to something truly fundamental in following Him—something we have often forgotten, or didn’t fully realize we knew. It is a rich treasure. Let me open it up.

First, the great rabbis over the centuries, as well as at the time of Jesus, had passionate and dedicated disciples. When disciples agree to abide by the teachings of a rabbi, they are said to “put his yoke” upon them. When Jesus says, “Put my yoke upon you,” He is literally offering to become your rabbi, your teacher and model. That was and is the expression used by the rabbis to define

Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?

Philosophers have debated this question for millennia: “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Christians have an answer, indeed the only answer that I believe satisfies both the mind and the heart.

the-love-of-god-tara-ellisIn the distant past there was only God. The ineffable and eternal God, existing in the triune fellowship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He was/is a God of eternal love. God is a triune fellowship of selfless, perfect, other-centered love. Further, there is no conscious life outside of God, the Father-Son-Spirit. God alone constitutes the complete whole of reality.

This is what we confess in the Creed and this really is central to Christian faith: “I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.”

But in God there was never anything lacking. The picture is perfect. It is one of a ceaseless peace and joy flowing in love within the circle of the three persons in the divine trinity. God did not, simply put, create everything that is because he lacked anything or needed you or me. He created us out of a

Faith Energized By Love

UnknownAs I have been reading and writing on love for more than thirteen months now I am awestruck by so much that is transforming my own  life.

Here is but one example. A Pauline text that has deeply moved me can be read in Galatians 5:1-6:

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you.  Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law.  You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.  For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.  For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love