Paradoxical Providence

Are you a Calvinist or an Armenian? The debate between these two theological positions has often been at the forefront conflicts between people who should know better than trying to put God in a box. It seems that some feel if they can just label a theological perspective they can be more in line with the will of God.

I have a question? Is light composed of waves or particles? Physicists tell us that light is made up of both. I believe they understand you cannot force light into one perspective or another. In fact, now there are theories that say there may even be more forms to add to the construction of light. Fine, but the paradox of light being both wave and particle still stands. God does not have problems with paradoxes.

I recently heard a preacher say in a sermon that Jesus’s physical presence did not exist before the incarnation at Jesus’s birth. OK, then how could Jesus be “the same yesterday and today and forever?” (Heb. 13:8 NIV)

We are finite creatures who are limited in our understanding by our experiences, by the wall of predictability, and our minute place in the ebb and flow of eternity. We are beings that strive to impose our will upon defining what orthodox and what is not. I have found in my own life this mindset (attitude or perspective) limits my closeness to God and makes it more difficult to see God’s works and presence that is always, always going on in and around me.

I have adopted a theology I call paradoxical providence. It is a position that acknowledges the limitations of my thinking and allows me to not be troubled by mystery and to not be threatened by the discoveries we human beings become aware of in our pursuit of understanding through science and life.

Is salvation an event or a process? Yes. Does predestination mean that everything is fixed, but then again do I really have free choice? Yes.  Must I be given faith, or can I grow in faith? Yes, both.  Do I have to exclude one position to trust another? No, I do not believe we do.

It is through experiencing spiritual direction and experiencing God in contemplation and Christian meditation that I have come to this perspective. The initial spark that led me to this path came after reflecting on a lecture I attended. The lecture was on providence. The lecturer gave us a verbatim of the interaction between a young chaplain and an angry old man in hospice care. The young chaplain was trying to get the old man to talk about his feelings. The old man cussed the chaplain out. The chaplain continued to try and reach the old man. The old man was having nothing to do with it. The lecturer asked us what we thought about the verbatim. All of us focused on the dialogue. What did the chaplain do right and what did the chaplain do wrong? The discussion last for about twenty minutes. The lecturer then dismissed us without comment.

Much later, when reflecting on this event I realize that all of us had missed the point. The issue was not what was right or wrong. The issue was the young chaplain’s desire and persistence. God’s providence is about God’s desire and persistence in human affairs. It was from this reflection that I realized how easy it is to be distracted by our own viewpoints and miss the wonder of what is taking place, the relational realities that are often found with the paradoxical providence that is the mystery of God.

Lectionary Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent

Zephaniah 3:14-20    Not judgment but Joy

I really do not want to sound pessimistic. I understand that during this time of the year there is a cultural expectation to be joyful and merry and happy, bah humbug. No, really, this time of the year, when we celebrate the coming of Jesus into the world, can be a very difficult time for many people. Perhaps things are going great for you. Good, I am glad for you. However, you need to be aware that there is a multitude of human needs and prob1ems just waiting to invade your peace and bring grief to your life. After all, if you believe the Bible you understand we live in a cursed world. We live in a world awaiting redemption. We live in a world waiting for the return of Jesus.

I am pretty sure that despite the smiles and declaration of “fine”, many of us have things in our life that are not so fine. Some of us face worries having to do with economic, family, or physical difficulties.

Some of us are carrying burdens of anger, confused priorities, or unresolved doubts. Some have deep hurts. Some are depressed and some are just ready to give up.

Yet we come and gather in this building dedicated to hope. Why, why do we gather? Is it because God is dead? No, it is because God lives!

We gather because Jesus, who tried as a traitor, was crucified as a criminal, died as despondent, buried as a blunder, came forth as a conquer, arose as an advocate, and was vindicated as the victor. We gather to worship God incarnate, God resurrected, and God who is Immanuel God with us. This is why we come.It matters not what burdens we carry, what situations we face, we are here to worship the living God of strength and power whose Spirit desires to flow into us and from us to a world that needs what we have been given.

Yes, evil does seem to have too many opportunities to steal our joy, to get a foothold in our lives. And yes, there will be times in our lives in which the enemy seems to have the upper hand (I know this all too well from personal experience), and this can affect our spiritual growth, but this is not the last word. We who are faithful have a promise, “for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” (1 Jn. 5:4 NIV)

So as God’s children we should say, God is great, God is good, and thus we have hope as we should. This is the message Zephaniah gives to God’s people.

In the passage from Zephaniah, the prophet is speaking to a people who have strayed away from God and have instead turned to idolatry. They are a people who have replaced the morality of God for the morality of pleasure and superstition. They are a people who are soon going to lose the land, their freedom, and some their very lives. Extremely difficult days are on the way.

Zephaniah’s words were of warning, words of worry, words of woe. Yet they are also words of hope.  Zephaniah received from God a word of hope, a word meant to bring happiness in the heaviness of the moment. Words that were intended to strengthen their souls.

However, since the difficulties had not yet brought suffering and pain, many people let the prophet’s message go in one ear and out the other. Soon, however, these words would be needed and heeded.

I do not have to be a prophet to tell you that difficult days, much more difficult than now, are coming our way. Covid-19 has given us a small taste. Global warming, a new arms race between the superpowers, the seduction of the church by political powers, the rapid increase of violent crimes, and a moral outlook that embraces depravity and encourages salacious living is easy for all to see. Oh yes, unless there is a miraculous revival and renewal in our hearts, the church, in our country, and in the world dark days, very dark days are on the horizon.

Yet, in the midst of the coming darkness, there is a very powerful light. A light that can give us the reason for celebration.  A light that calls us to consecration and light that gives us consolation during the struggles yet to come. It is through the words of the prophet that we can find hope in our hearts and strength in our souls.

First, in our passage, we find in the words of the prophet a reason for celebration. The prophet tells the people to shout and rejoice. Why should they shout and rejoice? Because of God’s forgiveness and the promised deliverance through the divine presence.

And while this promise to those living under the old covenant it is also a promise to us under the new covenant given to us by Jesus.  This prophecy, this fore and forth telling God’s word, can and does apply to us.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.2 (Phil. 4:4 NRS). But how, how can we rejoice when things are no good at all? Why, because we have a promise from God. God promises to forgive. God promises to defeat our enemies (our real enemies- the authorities, the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. -Eph. 6:12 CSB). God promises to remove our fears and restore us. I for one can rejoice when I let these words soak into my heart.

This call to rejoice is founded upon words of consecration. Consecration means to set apart, to designate as holy. Zephaniah tells the people God “will renew you in his love.” (Zeph. 3:17 NRS).

If there is one thing I have learned in all my years of serving, seeking, and surrendering to God is that God does love me. God has created me and set me apart along with every other human being. We were created to be holy. We, of all of creation, have been set apart to walk with God. We will not always face the tragedies and sorrows, the grief and pain, the fears, and frustrations of this life. We are meant for more. The Scripture tells us of how God consecrates us, “The same Spirit agrees with our spirit, that we are God’s children. But if we are children, we are also heirs. We are God’s heirs and fellow heirs with Christ if we really suffer with him so that we can also be glorified with him. I believe that the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us. (Rom. 8:16-18 CEB)

These are not just words of consecration but also they are words of consolation. Listen again to verses 19-20. “I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the LORD.” (Zeph. 3:19-20 NRS)

We may think of consolation as a prize given to those who did not win. The word means there is a source of comfort in a time of suffering, grief, and or disappointment. You did not win so you are given a consolation. However, when God gives consolation it is has nothing to do with not coming in first. It has everything to do with the promise of salvation, the promise of restoration, and the reality of restoration that comes only from God’s love and grace.

Let us not forget Zephaniah’s words to us. Circumstances change. Situations change. God does not change. God has told us Jesus will come for the faithful. We can be assured that he will.

Seeing God…even in rocks

Whether a fourth-century Desert Father or a twenty-first-century century soccer mom, outdoors human persons feel wooed by God and by the empty-yet-full, heart-deep pulse of creation. Emotions of peace, well-being, relaxation, at-one-ment emerge when we take notice of creation; although frequently, a sense of disease, of being urged toward something-or a call to initiate change, growth, reconciliation-may also be evoked. More often than not, God’s attempts to attract us through creation and its images are fulfilled.

Kay Northcutt. Kindling Desire for God: Preaching As Spiritual Direction (Kindle Locations 387-390). Kindle Edition.

The above quote brought to my mind the wonderful truth upon which it is founded.

Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. (Rom. 1:20 NRS)

Almost daily, whether I am walking the dog, going to check the mail, or driving to some appointment God is revealed in sunrises and sunsets, clouds and storms, trees and bushes, leaves and flowers, birds and bugs, and sometimes rocks. God seems to be always reminding me of God’s presence in the things of nature that surround me.

These reminders always bring me a sense of consolation. These moments of stillness and beauty are what help bring peace and calm to me often when the world around me is filled with confusion and frustration.

One moment still brings a sense of joy in memory. My wife and I had gone on a much-needed getaway to the Garden of the Gods in Colorado. In the lodge we were staying at we could see Pike’s Peak to our left and the magnificent scenery of the Garden of the God’s straight out our sliding glass door. On the first morning of our getaway, it had snowed during the night. We awoke to snow-covered mountains and two snowshoe rabbits playing just outside our door. I wonder now if angels had placed those two rabbits there for us. The beauty was breathtaking. I can remember the Lord speaking to my heart, “Do you like my work?”

“Yes, Lord,” I replied in prayer. “Yes, I like it very much.”

Why do pastors fight?

I talked with a friend a few days ago and during our conversation, my friend mentioned that a group of pastors had their annual meeting, and it was filled with controversy and strife. They were fighting, bickering, and maligning each other over how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. Not really, but their warfare against each other had to do with things almost as mundane and trivial. They likely would not think so, but I certainly do.

This discussion led me to look a bit deeper into what is an all too common situation in these last days. Why do pastors fight? I cannot help but wonder if this pugilistic mindset might be rooted in having their certainties questioned. Maybe they are struggling with the feeling that they may no longer be relevant in our culture. Maybe they fight in these meetings because they are taking such a beating in the churches they are attempting to serve.

Or maybe, subconsciously they are frustrated that God is not doing what they deep down feel God should be doing. They believe if they just are a bit more dogmatic, if they whistle just a little louder in the dark, then maybe, just maybe God will show up.

The problem is God has never left.

I fully understand. I once believed it was on my shoulders to defend God and America from liberals, backsliders, and the devil (in that order). I, too, felt the need for certainty. I, too, went to a meeting with the attitude of doing battle. I am so sorry Lord.

Theology is important. Doctrine is important. Orthodoxy is important. However, when secular tactics, hurtful words, and a disregard for the reality that every human being is loved and desired by our Lord becomes our method and mindset, we are doing more harm than good for the will of God. I will (really will, not just ministerially speaking) pray for an awakening of humility and faith for all who serve the body of Christ.

Spiritual What?

Growing into the first commandment is a journey toward experiencing all of God loving all of me, and all of me loving all of God. This experience then spills out into the lives of others as we love our neighbors with our loved-by-God self.

Skurja, Catherine. Paradox Lost. Whitaker House. Kindle Edition.

Over the past two decades, I have noticed a severe problem in the Church. I have observed this in three different denominations. What I have noticed is a definite lack of individual spiritual formation especially with adults. It seems that we have hit a state of thinking that listening to a preacher and/or attending a Sunday school class that uses a book that is more of a motivational instrument than a tool of spiritual formation and/or a class in which 80% of the time is visiting and 10% listening to someone else pray and 10% going over the material in the book. There is no attempt (other than an occasional, limited and seldom promoted study of spiritual disciplines) to seriously focus on spiritual formation.

Why is this? I have some theories.

1) In one denomination, many of the “clergy” are 2nd career and they treat the ministry like a secular career. There is much more emphasis put on “how to get a bigger church” than on how can I help people get closer to God.

2) For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (2 Tim. 4:3 NIV) This is what I call the Hobbit syndrome.

3) Seminaries that put a higher value on a critical study of Scripture, a strange desire to conform to the culture, and a willingness to pursue any new, novel theology without regard to past orthodoxy, and almost no attempt to develop skills in spiritual formation in the students.

I am sure there are other reasons, but I believe these are the big three. I pray things can change.

What is in a Name….

A short time ago while in the clutches of desolation, I thought about changing my name back to my pre-adoption name. My adopted name is Montoya. My birth name was Hogue. I was adopted at the age of four, so the Montoya name has been mine for over six decades.

Why did I want to change my name? One of the enemy’s tools used in desolation is the tool of mean memories. Mean memories are those events in our personal history that bring us pain, sorrow, and at times regret. The name Montoya is perceived as a Hispanic surname. I am not Hispanic. When people meet me, see the blue-eyed, once blond now gray-haired person I am, and hear my name is Montoya many ask, “Montoya, what nationality is that?”

Usually, when asked this question, I find the person asking often has a prejudice against Hispanic people. Once, while in Bible college, I was supervising a cleaning crew when I walked up on two new student workers I had not met. I heard one say to another, “The name of our boss is Montoya. I cannot believe I am going to have to work for a wetback.” I introduced myself and both students’ faces turned red.

In the last church, I served (in a small town on the edge of West Texas) the prejudice was so strong that no one in the church came to meet me at the district meet and greet we had. I quickly found out that the prejudice in this church was so strong that they could not stand to have a pastor with a perceived Hispanic surname. This church made my life a living hell for two years. I could give many more instances where I faced hostility due to my last name. These are all mean memories.

I am so thankful for Ignatius fifth rule of discernment: Fifth Rule, in time of desolation never to make a change; but to be firm and constant in the resolutions and determination in which one was the day preceding such desolation, or in the determination in which he was in the preceding consolation.

The enemy is always trying to get us to believe we are shameful, guilty, and worthless. No matter how strong our faith, the enemy can get us to think this way. I know this aspect of desolation all to well. When I came to my senses and realize why I would even consider changing my surname I knew what was happening.

Yes, I have faced difficulties because of my last name. Yes, dealing with prejudice towards one’s person is a painful process. Still, my last name was given to me by a father who tried his best to love me, an adopted son. Also, I have come to appreciate the culture from which this name came. The Hispanic people have a rich heritage. They are some of the most hard-working and compassionate people I have ever met. I have every reason to be proud of my name. I am not about to let the enemy win this battle.

Prejudice is a poison. It is a sickness of the heart and mind, a cancer of the soul. It is perhaps the antithesis of the command our Lord gives us to love our neighbor. I fully understand that as love grows colder, I will likely face this ugly mindset again and again. However, our Lord has given me the power to choose how I deal with such enmity. I choose to claim, my name is David Montoya and I have been claimed by Christ. I know the enemy hates to hear that!

Lectionary Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent

Malachi 3: 1-4 The Compassionate Correction of Christ

This is the second Sunday of Advent. The candle we lit is often referred to as the candle of love. I believe above all else Christmas is about love. John 3:16 the most quoted verse in all the Bible states, “For God so loved”.

Love is the reason Jesus entered this world in the first place. During this season (during every season) our lives should reflect a growing compassion love. It should be out of love, not entitlement or expectation or any ego needs that we give gifts and send cards. It should be out of love that we celebrate the birth of the baby in Bethlehem. It is so easy to love Jesus during this time.

The baby in the manger is so innocent, so cute, so non-threatening. However, love is more than warm fuzzy feelings and a sweet sense of security. Love is commitment. Love is accountable. Love has responsibility and sometimes love must be corrective. Sometimes, to borrow a phrase, love must  be down right tough.

“Blessed is the one whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.1 (Job 5:17 NIV)

It is easy midst of the busy-ness that is the Christmas season to forget the reason Jesus came was because of a great human need. We were all going the wrong way. We were all headed away from God and toward an end without hope. Jesus came to give us a chance to be called and corrected. He came to point the way to the way things were meant to be.

But there is a problem. The way things ought to be often conflicts with the way we want things to be. When this happens, love must take corrective action.

In the passage we have read from Malachi, God lets the people know God is going to come and bring correction. God is going to clean and purify. God is going to set things right. Just as a parent who loves a child will correct, even punish the child, to try and change disobedient behavior, so is God is coming to bring correction. God is going to make us righteous. Not because God is an angry, vengeful, hard taskmaster, but because God knows our conditions better that we do and God desires to bring us to an understanding of what we really need.

God seeks to bring us to this state because of his love. Proverbs 3:12 states, “for the LORD disciplines the one He loves, just as a father, the son he delights in.” (Prov. 3:12 CSB)

How does God, the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit go about preparing us for what is to come? There is a process.

First, because God has loved us, Jesus has come to let us know our lives apart from God are wrong. Jesus’s words have the power to convicts. When Jesus came to Peter and demonstrated the power of God was with him, do you remember Peter’s response? Peter stated, “Lord go away because I am a sinful man. Jesus’s presence convicts us when we are not walking with God.

In helping people with spiritual direction one of the rules of discernment is that when we are in sin, the Holy Spirit troubles our conscience. When explaining the ministry of the Holy Spirit Jesus again tells us, “When he (the Holy Spirit) comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: (Jn. 16:8 NIV)

Conviction is a call to change. There is a classic hymn, Love Lifted Me, that goes, “I was sinking deep in sin” and that is our condition until love lifts us out of the pit into which we sink.

Our Lord’s word is truth. It is the truth that frees us and restores us.

Why are you alive? Why were you born? To work for a company who could care less about you other than what you add to their bottom line? To be a consumer so you by all the things that advertisers have created a desire for? Are you here just to become a client, a patient, a statistic, or number?

You have been created for God. Jesus seeks to bring us to this understanding.

Jesus states to the disciples, “I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. (Jn. 17:11 NIV)

Did you catch that? That “they may be one as we are one. “We are meant to be one with God. We are not just animals. We are not just employees, consumers, or numbers but the beloved of God.

Jesus lifts  us up so we can see our situation, our real need, our true purpose. He lifts us up and encourages us.

A lot of people live with deep guilt because of what happens in their lives. Guilt is not from God. Conviction that leads to contrition yes, but not guilt, For every verse of Scripture that reminds of our sin there are verses of Scripture that remind us of our destiny. For every recollect of our imperfection there are promise we will be made whole. For every defeat an offer of victory, for every thou shall not there is a but you will. Some think the Christian faith is about restriction, but it is about release.

It is a faith in and for love 1 Cor. 13:4-8 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

Jesus lets us know that he will accept us because he loves us. Even when we make a mess of it we can turn to him. But please understand this, Jesus will not force himself on us.  The decision to trust is always our choice.

Jesus told a parable about a prodigal son. The son’s actions caused him shame and suffering. But the we are told he came to his senses.

God will let us walk down the path we are going till we come to our senses.

There is a Christmas song about the coming of Santa Clause.

It goes, ”You better not pout, you better not cry, listen here I’m telling you why, Santa Clause is coming to town”. The song is to remind children they had better’ be good.

I have written a different line.

You had better not doubt, you had better comply, listen here I’m telling you why, Jesus Christ is coming-to town. He knows that we’ve been sinful, he knows how much we ache, he know how hard it is to be good so he gives us the gift of grace.

Jesus came to this world the first time to show people how to love and be loved by God through example and explanation When He comes again it will be hold this world accountable to how we have loved. The question is will we be ready? Who can endure when he comes? Those who have accepted his discipline, those who have trusted his love, they will endure.

What Have You Done for God Lately?

“Perhaps we do not know what love is, nor does this greatly surprise me. Love does not consist in great sweetness of devotion, but in a fervent determination to strive to please God in all things, in avoiding, as far as possible, all that would offend Him, and in praying for the increase of the glory and honor of His Son and for the growth of the Catholic Church.” 
— St. Teresa of Avila, p. 54-5, Interior Castle

(Disclaimer-I believe in the catholic (universal) church, not catholic just in the Roman Catholic Church)

What have you done for God? This may seem like a strange question but I believe it is a question we should be asking ourselves every single day. 

God gives us the commandment to love our God and our neighbors. When we do acts of kindness and compassion to others and our motivation is to love as God loves, then we are doing something for God. When we seek, out of love for God, to do what God requires (He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly1 with your God. Micah 6:8 NIV) we are doing something for God.  When we study the Bible for the purpose of knowing God in a deeper way, we are doing something for God. When we give generously (not legalistically) above what is asked of us we are doing something for God. When we seek to nurture and support faith in others then we are doing something for God.

So, again I ask myself, “What have you done for God lately?”

 

It is Getting Colder

The University of Michigan did this big study on 14,000 college students and what they found was, with the rise of social media and technology, there’s actually a sharp decline in empathy and compassion. The study shows that we as a society care 40 percent less about other people than we did in the 1980s. That’s shocking: we care 40 percent less![1]

The study lists three theories why:

One is that we are more obsessed with ourselves.

Two is that when we are not interacting personally, it makes it easier for us not to care.

Three is that social media exposure to hard times actually desensitizes us.

And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. (Matt. 24:11-12 NRS)

Many, many people in this country were taken in by the deceptive message given by the former president’s words about “America First.” This includes far too many who claim to follow Jesus. Either they could not see the selfish intent of these words or else they did not care.

Jesus said the second most important commandment was to love our neighbor as ourselves (this command did not have an exclusion clause for immigrants). Jesus also gave a rather pointed parable to explain who our neighbor in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

I have discovered that the enemy of humanity is more patient, deceptive, clever, and hateful than most of us understand. This enemy is committed to separating us from God and each other. It seems like this horrid foe is succeeding in its plan. Love does seem to be growing cold.

I do not know if the church has the will or the desire to counter this trend. Currently, I am looking for a new church home. Even though I have been wounded time and time again by institutional local churches and denominational leadership I still believe in the one catholic church. I will seek the Lord’s discernment as to where I will find community. One of the major factors in making my decision will be, “Does this church demonstrate compassion?”  I will look for churches that are not seeing numbers but nurture. I will look for a church that participates in issues of social justice and community care. I do hope I find such a community.

We are not likely to prevent the coming coldness, but a least we can be a small candle that helps slow it down.


[1] https://www.relevantmagazine.com/culture/technology-killing-relationships/

I Cancel Culture-d Myself

I decided to make what some might call a radical choice in my life. I made this decision after a time of discernment and evaluating the circumstances in which I live. It has been over a week since I removed myself from the majority of social media in my life by closing my accounts rather than just pausing them. In fact, the only online presence I have kept is this blog. No more Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Linkedin, or Reddit. So far, I feel wonderful and thankful for my decision.

Why did I do this? I did it for my own spiritual and emotional health. I found that social media had more negative effects on my life than positive. I found I was tempted less with anger, frustration, and grief without all the political backbiting, likes, hates, sick jokes, the if-you-love-Jesus repost this, and the often-offensive suggestions and pictures. In fact, I feel, cleaner, less anxious, and even (dare I say it) happier.

I know my choice to go this course is not for everyone. I basically have “cancel cultured” myself. But what about my 600 followers? I don’t think they will miss me very much and even so, I really don’t like the idea of having followers. I don’t mind readers. I don’t mind contacts. But followers, no.

I have not stopped using technology, I just want to be sure the technology I use is helpful to my desire for Kingdom living rather than a hindrance. I fully understand that I need to be connected to others, but for now, I will try and do it the old-fashioned way by building relationships that are based on actual contact rather than just virtual.