Monday, April 3, 2017

Felix Culpa

O Happy Fault, O Happy Fault
That gained for us, so great a Redeemer
Fortunate Fall, Fortunate Fall
That gained for us, so great a Redeemer

This past weekend we sang the Audrey Assad song "Fortunate Fall". We have sung it previously, so it wasn't new, but this time it generated a number of discussions. Do we really want to sing that the Fall was fortunate, that somehow sin coming into the world is counted as a blessing? I had two conversations about this on Sunday morning and then my Sunday evening community group spent a fair amount of time talking through this - it was a great conversation. I have appreciated our church in that when something like this comes up, rather than just rejecting it and criticizing, we use it as an opportunity to think deeply so that even if we come to different conclusions, we have all moved closer to God. Speaking about the value of theological discussion, J.I Packer says, "It helps me appreciate the greatness, goodness, and glory of God - lifting up the sheer wonder and size and majesty of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The truth I try to grasp and share is truth that enlarges the soul because it tunes into the greatness of God. It generates awe and adoration."  So, to that end I would like to share a few insights to the song we sang this weekend. Again, you can agree or disagree on this one but hopefully in thinking more deeply, our souls will all be enlarged!  

Although the music is new, the words are not. The phrase used in the song is taken from a Latin phrase most often attributed to Augustine from the 4th century.

Felix Culpa, meaning blessed fall or blessed fault. As sung in the the Easter Vigil of some traditions it is rendered: O felix culpa quae talem et meruit habere redemptorem -  meaning "O blessed fault that earned for us so great, so glorious a Redeemer." Concerning the phrase Augustine took this view: "For God judged it better to bring good out of evil than not permit any evil to exist." Thomas Aquinas stated "But there is no reason why human nature should not have been raised to something greater after sin. For God allows evil to happen in order to bring a greater good therefrom." Saint Ambrose reflected "We who have sinned more have gained more, because Your grace makes us more blessed than our absence of fault does." 

In a nut shell what they each imply is that there was something gained for us that would have never occurred had not Adam sinned. Paul states a similar idea: "...where sin abounds, grace abounds more."  That could mean that grace is just greater or it could mean that there is an enlarged manifestation of grace in the world because of sin's presence. Of course that doesn't mean we should sin - Paul says, "may it never be" nor does it make God the author of sin nor does it mitigate that gravity of sin. What is being said is that something is manifested, made known about God that would not have been seen or experienced if there had not been the Fall. Jesus says that those who are forgiven much, love much. We know grace, and redemption, and what it means to be united in His death, burial, resurrection and ascension because of the cross and the cross came because we were wrecked in our sin. Ephesians 1 tells us that He had planned to redeem us before the foundation of the world.

A friend from my community group wrote this out of our discussion:

I love this liturgy because it captures the magnitude of the cross.  The fall was not merely an accident of a weak creation—it was not a mistake that the Father did not account for.  The Father did not cause us to fall but through His perfection He redeemed it completely to manifest glory through Christ and to bless humanity.  The cross of Christ did not merely restore us to the condition we were in before the fall; but to something greater.  Through it we can begin to grasp a little more of the depth of his love for us and the greatness of His mercy.

I like what C.S. Lewis has to say about it: “For God is not merely mending, not simply restoring a status quo.  Redeemed humanity is to be something more glorious than unfallen humanity would have been, more glorious than any unfallen race is (if at this moment the night sky conceals any such).  The greater the sin, the greater the mercy: the deeper the death the brighter the rebirth.  And this super-added glory will, with true vicariousness, exalt all creatures and those who have never fallen will thus bless Adam’s fall.” — C.S. Lewis, Miracles

God’s plans are perfect and I love this liturgy because it hits on this.  The world we live in is not plan B.  It’s not the result of an experiment gone horribly awry.  It was the plan all along because it is the way that brings the greatest glory to the Father, Son and Holy Ghost AND it’s the way that we find the greatest blessing.  This does not mean that God caused us to sin or that He is culpable in any way.  Our failings our purely our own.  However, it speaks to the greatness of our God that even in sin, the ultimate of all failure, there is no failure to be found because His cross covers it all.

So, is it possible to say that because there is nothing of greater value than the manifestation of the glory, nature and character of God, that even the fall into sin, can be seen as a blessing because through it we know God as our Savior and Redeemer, that we can know Him and glorify Him in a way that would not have otherwise been possible?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


(written on 3/16/17 in the Sonoran Desert somewhere north of Benson)

So back into the desert again for my yearly rhythm of wilderness, solitude, silence and listening. I came again, as I do each time, with some books for reading, a hymn book, journal, and some notes to help me embark on my discipline of resting, sitting, reading, writing .... This year I came eager to get direction, insights, to be challenged, connected, encouraged and renewed and was waiting on "what would the Lord show me this year?"

            The answer ... Nothing New!

In my journal from last year, at the end of the week I wrote that I felt the Lord saying,

            "Chris, just pay attention to Me."

It was like the parent who is trying to settle down the child who is running all over the place and unable to hear their parent's voices. I jotted down a couple action points, 2-3 things I believed I should be doing in addition to just making more space to pay attention to Jesus.

Now I am hearing the same thing again - likely because I didn't really pay attention this past year to the extent He longed for me to but also, perhaps, because that is simply the central thing that I should always be focused on.  Could it not only be our central calling but even our only calling.  "Just pay attention to Me," He says, "and everything else will follow." The Lord is patient and just keeps beckoning - pay attention, sit with Me...

Is it really as simple as "pay attention to Me?" It reminds me of the disciples on the Mt. of Transfiguration when the Father said "This is my Son, listen to Him!" That's straightforward and clear! We hear in other places as well - "draw near to Me" or "remain in Me" or "seek first the Kingdom."

A simple plan - clear, focused, inviting - hard to do for hurried souls like mine. What would the year look like if my first and foremost "agenda" item and the guiding element for each day was "pay attention to Him", "abide in Him"? This is more than "devotions" of course - it is a frame of mind and heart that connects all my moments.

From Calvin Miller: "The highest kind of obedience does not come from always asking, "What will You have me to do?" but in the moment-by-moment rehearsal of our love for Christ."

Friday, March 10, 2017


As a church we are going through a mini series on Spiritual Disciplines; this weekend is on solitude. Following the service I am going on my annual trek out into the Sonoran Desert to "flee, be silent, pray always." Sounds very spiritual and committed! In preparation I though I would sit down and do a short blog on the value of solitude. I got to my blog site... embarrassing and revealing! It has been almost a year since my last post which I sent just prior to my last trip in the desert!! Good intentions of faithfully writing and also following up on what God invited me to the last time have apparently fallen by the side of the road.  I came away from the last trip with the words of God echoing in my mind,  "Chris, just pay attention to me!" Spoken with force, longing and grace. Now a year later and I am about to spend another week in the desert. Different building this time as the former place is deteriorating - the new one - still isolated looks like a luxury compared to the usual.

So what has the past year brought - what has come from His speaking to me? If measured in activity and accomplishment - I suppose it has been a full and fruitful year. If measured in depth of relationships, having a stilled and listening heart, being above all things attentive to my Lord ... I don't think I measure up too well.

It is remarkable how clearly we can sometimes hear the beckoning voice of God and how it rings so true and yet move along through the moments of our days, months, a year ... and give our best attention to everything but....!

So once again I return to the desert to let God do surgery on my life as T. Merton describes.

“Society . . . was regarded [by the Desert Fathers] as a shipwreck from which each single individual man had to swim for his life. . . . These were men who believed that to let oneself drift along, passively accepting the tenets and values of what they knew as society, was purely and simply a disaster."

That happens to me everyday as I  choose activity over intimacy, demands over longings, the urgent rather than the essential. The follow up, of course, is to the enter back into society and community and ministry and family; but re-entering renewed and reshaped and that should impact everything around me.  To this end I am seeking his heart as I let Him develop for me a "Rule of Life" in order to bring the rhythms and clarity of the desert into my everyday ordinary moments. To bring solitude into today, not just one week a year.

So may these words of Henri Nouwen mark our alone times with Jesus:

“We enter into solitude first of all to meet our Lord and to be with him and him alone. Our primary task in solitude, therefore, is not to pay undue attention to the many faces which assail us, but to keep the eyes of our mind and heart on him who is our divine savior. Only in the context of grace can we face our sin; only in the place of healing do we dare to show our wounds; only with a single-minded attention to Christ can we give up our clinging fears and face our own true nature. As we come to realize that it is not we who live, but Christ who lives in us, that he is our true self, we can slowly let our compulsions melt away and begin to experience the freedom of the children of God”

Excerpt From: Henri J. M. Nouwen. “The Way of the Heart.”

Saturday, April 16, 2016


The weekend we are on Matthew 5:17-20 and are discovering that the righteousness the Lord calls is to is a righteousness that is completely different from the Scribes and Pharisees - it is a righteousness RECEIVED - not worked for. I have spent the better part of my life creating a righteousness of my own devising, working it out in my own strength - it is exhausting and unfulfilling even though it often earns pats on the back and the words "well done" by those around me. Jesus came and offers His righteousness - He just wants to dress me in it - receive.

My family gets frustrated buying me gifts because usually if I need something I just go get it. They try to figure out what I need and of course I have already taken care of it - on my own and so I miss receiving. Its how I live - do it myself - do it well - believing all along that this is what God wants of me - that what I offer earns His praise. What a terrible lie to have believed for so long. He offers something so much better.

This week I am heading out into the desert for my yearly time of solitude and silence. As I have reflected back in preparation for going I have realized that I o to be still and listen and I end up bringing a bunch of work to accomplish and a list of tasks to do.... and the I miss Him. I have been asking today as I pack to go, "why are you bringing me out to the desert, Lord?" The answer I am hearing is - "Chris, its not to do more work, rather its to cast off the lie and instead receive. Receive My righteousness, My undeserved acceptance, receive My deep delight in you, give it a rest and let Me do the work in and through you."Once again I am reminded - intimacy before ministry. Receive!

My All in Thee

Lyrics by Charles Wesley and Eric J. Marshall

When gracious Lord, when shall it be
That earth will find her all in Thee?
The fullness of Thy promise, prove
Seal me with Thy eternal love

Thee, only Thee I'm fain to find
I cast the world and sin behind
O my Redeemer, hear this plea
And let me find my all in Thee

Show me Your Way, my love, my Lord
Draw me to grace, so strong and sure
I run to Your mercy, where I am free
Let me find my all in Thee

Lord I am blind, be Thou my sight
Lord I am weak, be Thou my might
A helper of the helpless be
And let me find my all in Thee

Show me Your Way, my love, my Lord
Draw me to grace, so strong and sure
I run to Your mercy, where I am free
Let me find my all in Thee

Please mend my soul, my frame, my life
A contrite heart, Thou won't despise
Take now this pain and misery
And let me find my all in Thee

Show me Your Way, my love, my Lord
Draw me to grace, so strong and sure
I run to Your mercy, where I am free
Let me find my all in Thee

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


At the Vineyard we have begun our series "By Every Word" while at the same time embarking on a 40 day reading of the New Testament. Yesterdays reading was Luke 4:14-9:50 and the word astonished showed up three times! We had first seen it when Jesus was found teaching in the temple as a boy - his parents were astonished by what he said. Now in our reading it says they were ALL astonished. Although some other translations use the word amazed I have found that he word astonished has captured my attention.

I cannot remember the last time I was astonished. I could make the excuse that I haven't seen the miracles that were happening in these chapters of Luke but then there are daily  miracles in my life when I understand that "from Him, and through Him and to Him is everything." But there is more - they were astonished at His teaching. I have His teaching in front of me every day - speaking to me with His authority,,,, but I am not astonished by it.

So, today I am reflecting on my great lack of astonishment in the face of such good gifts as His constant care and work in my life and His Word. Perhaps it is as we considered last Sunday - I have just forgotten how much I need it - I have been too filled up with other things and it has dulled my appetite for His word and clouded my eyes to His work. Or perhaps I don't let the Word penetrate deep enough and don't readily give thanks for His work...

So Lord, today, "open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Your word."ps. 119

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

By Every Word

In the middle of this month the Vineyard will begin our New Testament Immersion: a 40 day journey through the New Testament. As a church we will be reading through the whole New Testament and then having a variety of "hands on" opportunities to interact with one another over what the Spirit shows us as we read and wait on His Word. At the same time we will take a short 8 week break from our teaching series in Matthew and embark on a winter series titled: By Every Word in which we will look closely at what we really believe about the written revelation and examine how we can understand it and be transformed through our interactions with it.

I have been pondering recently about why I so dearly love the Word of God. From my earliest memories it has always been there. Coloring pages from Sunday School with the verse on top, family devotions as a child from Our Daily Bread, Bible memory contests in the boys Sunday School class at the Wheaton Evangelical Free Church, my Bible verse memory trophy from Awana, the Jr. high Bible quiz team. Do they still do those? There were also times of falling asleep as a little kid with my head on my Bible, my first leather bound Scofield Bible from my Dad that still sits tattered on my shelf, the old woman who sat next to me at Maranatha when I was 12 and showed me - from the Word- why I could know that I had eternal life. And there were those unforgettable times when I just heard a verse and began to weep or experience calling or conviction or when I shared a passage and saw the light go on in someone else's heart.

The Word has brought comfort, guidance, encouragement and answers. At times it has just overwhelmed me with pictures of God and other times it has sat unlooked at and I have been the poorer for it.

Man shall not live on bread alone but By Every Word! When I am not eating and chewing on and relishing in the good taste of the Word I begin to languish and doubt and ultimately become disoriented in this confusing world. When I take it in, I don't always understand it and it's flavors are sometimes foreign to me but it satisfies, ministers the presence of God in my life and it's voice is always familiar - the voice my God and my redeemer.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Learning My Own Sermon

Woke up on Thursday morning – asked the Lord to be in my day and committed myself to paying attention to Him in all of my ordinary moments – just as I had spent three weeks preaching about. – then off to the church office where I had blocked out the day to finish my message and some desk work. Of course this is “important” “valuable” work and time well spent!  Somewhere along about 1:30pm I just got stuck in my sermon prep and instead of working through it I decided to find a diversion – the men’s bathroom in the sanctuary needed a new float mechanism – maybe I will just do that …  Master plumber that I am I shut the water valve off by the back of the toilet, pulled out the float, put in a new one, reconnected the water line and turned the water valve back on – simple… except there wasn’t any water coming through. HMMM – turned the valve off again and pulled off the water line to see if it was clogged – nope – looks good, and then I noticed that there appeared to be something blocking the actual valve coming from the wall; that’s when it happened -  without warning – a couple pebbles along with the interior parts of the valve shot out the top of the valve followed by an unstoppable explosion of water halted only by the ceiling of the bathroom!! I turned the valve shut – but it just spun round and round as the bathroom began filling with water. In a feat of incredible strength I stopped the water with my left thumb, grabbed my wet cell phone and began dialing the office upstairs – no answer! So I began to shout for help in between the occasional moments I could not hold the water back and it would blast up in my face.  Finally I just let go and raced upstairs for the water box key, back down the stairs and outside to shut off the water and then back inside only to see water pouring out into the sanctuary – wrong valve –back outside, around the building and finally shut it down…..

Completely soaked I began to mop up the mess which also included the basement bathroom since the water had found its way down there through the ceiling… I went over to see the Ace “helpful hardware man” down the street  - I didn’t even have to tell him the problem as he looked at me – completely soaking wet holding out the old valve. That was embarrassing! Back to church, a couple trips up and down the stairs and I replaced the valve – all is well again – I better get back to ”valuable” work at my desk… except that somewhere along the line I had locked my keys in my office!  GRRR! Using a credit card – a trick I learned in college – I finally got the door open – 15 minutes later.

I could say things got better as I applied myself to my work but it didn’t. I was so wet I didn’t want to sit at my desk – and I wasn’t of a very spiritual mind at the moment anyways – so back to another diversion – the kitchen sink drain in the Discipleship House had been draining super slow. All I can say is that after much investigation I discovered that just under the sink cover plate there was probably 30 years of buildup completely blocking any drainage – I would include a picture but it was far too disturbing  for public distribution– I scooped it out,  - yuck - scrubbed it down and got it running clean and free again.

Back at my desk – after several hours – I sat down and started back into my message – we are on the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1. No wonder I was stuck.  This was not how this day was supposed to go – have I done anything of value?  I read though the genealogy again – lists of people, generations, some very faithful and some not so nice and more than a few who were of a very poor reputation … and then Jesus!    I was suddenly reminded of all these lives lived, lives full of opportunities, failures, strengths, weaknesses and years and years of ordinary moments…. And Jesus was born into that family tree and into those same moments and moved through His days like us, and probably experienced ordinary, maddening days like mine had been. Their stories were much like ours and the genealogy showed that the Lord was in those lives and days All the moments are part of the whole picture, part of my shaping,, all enfolded into God’s greater story.

Then I remembered our series on “Sanctification of the Ordinary” – that all our work was of value and how we were reminded to use the ordinary moments – even the difficult and frustrating ones – as an opportunity to turn freshly to Jesus – to see Him in all those places and also to learn to stop amidst all the moments and remember that He is the one who does the work – to be refreshed in the stopping.

And so finally I stopped and rested and reflected and listened.  Sermon prep, toilet and drain repairs, locked doors, wet trips to the hardware store – all were gifts –opportunities to pay attention to Him, to be more like Him, to reflect Him no matter what work I was doing.

I Cor. 10:31 -    So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do,
do all to the glory of God.