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.”