Reading “The Four Doctrines”….Together

I am beginning a new initiative with the congregation I am the Pastor of (The New Church of Concord). Together, we will be reading through the book, The Four Doctrines.  This book deals with the four basic doctrines of the New Church:

The Doctrine of the Lord
The Doctrine of the Sacred Scripture
The Doctrine of Life
The Doctrine of Faith

This is a wonderful introduction to some of the key teachings of the New Church. If you’re interested in joining us, I will be posting readings on this blog where you can also ask question, share your thoughts, and see what other people are thinking about the readings.

We begin with, The Doctrine of the Lord paragraph numbers 1 – 7. Read these passages and check back tomorrow for some thoughts on these first readings.

The Four Doctrines

Faith: An Internal Acknowledgment of Truth

547050_healingoftheblindmanOn Sunday we had a great discussion about Faith. This is a space and opportunity for people to continue the conversation. Please share your thoughts.  I would also be happy to try to answer any questions you may have that arose from Sunday’s discussion. I will start by sharing one thought of my own. On Sunday we worked our way through several wonderful teachings including the following:

  • Blind faith is not real faith: Spiritual things can be comprehend just as well as natural things. The idea of a blind faith has led to a lot of corruption in the Christian Church. Real faith is an internal acknowledgment of truth.
  • In order to have genuine faith we must have a spiritual affection for truth: Faith is not a passive acknowledgment of the Lord and what He has done for you.  Faith involves an active pursuit of truth.
  • An internal acknowledgment of truth, namely faith, is possible only in people motivated by charity: Truth/faith is simply a tool (the means) through which our love can become active/effective.
  • Before we are prompted by charity our concepts of truth and goodness are not ones of faith, but are a storehouse from which the faith accompanying charity may be formed: However, this storehouse is extremely important! The more genuine truth we have, the richer our faith can be.

All of these ideas are amazing and completely change our traditional concept of faith! However, the one idea that I found most interesting involves the importance of shunning evils as sins. In order to have genuine faith (an internal acknowledgment of truth) we must have an affection for truth and we must be motivated by charity. And yet, neither of these will happen if we are not making the effort to shun evils as sins in our lives.  Real love and charity from the Lord can only flow into us as we remove the things (evils) that stand in the way. So if we want to have faith, we MUST use the truth we know to examine ourselves and shun specific evils we find within us.  This, and only this, will open ourselves up to the Lord’s love and allow Him to give us an internal perception of what is genuinely good and true.  Below are two passages that state this well.

Thoughts?  Questions? Remember, read the entire book, Doctrine of Faith, for a complete understanding of this wonderful topic!

“Everyone from childhood acquires for himself concepts of truth and goodness from the Word, or from church doctrine, or from sermons, concepts which will serve him for that life, and he stores these in his natural memory, in a greater or lesser amount, depending on the affection for knowing inborn in him and increased by various inducements. Yet all of these concepts, of whatever number or value, are only a storehouse from which the faith accompanying charity may be formed. And this faith is not formed except insofar as the person refrains from evils as being sins. If he refrains from evils as being sins, then these concepts become ones of faith, in which there is spiritual life. But if he does not refrain from evils as being sins, these concepts are only concepts and not ones of a faith that has any spiritual life in it.” (Doctrine of Faith 26-27)

“In sum, insofar as someone refrains from evils as being sins and turns to the Lord, so far he possesses charity, and so far he accordingly possesses faith.” (Doctrine of Faith 23)

Creation – Day 4

I’m going to keep this one nice and short. Real faith is only brought to life, or vivified, by love. In the gospels, when a Pharisee asked the Lord what the greatest commandment in the law was, He replied:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all you heart, and with all your soul, and with all your thought. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

mull-sunrise-2-900x600-srgbOn the forth day we see the creation of, “great lights in the expanse of the heavens.” These great lights represent love (the greater light) and faith springing from love (the smaller light). And so, on the forth day of creation we see a representation of a stage in our own regeneration where genuine love begins to be kindled. In the past, our faith came simply as a result of ideas and teachings we had memorized and understood to be true; now our faith is beginning to come from the heart. This is an important turning point! Before this, our spiritual growth was relatively unimpressive – represented by the vegetation created on day two. Now, our spiritual growth will be represented by things that are more living – the fish, birds, mammals, and eventually the human beings we see created on days five and six. This important change happens because love and a faith springing from love (great lights) are now being placed in our own hearts and minds. I’ll leave this day by simply providing some passages from the book Secrets of Heaven:

“With people who are being created anew faith develops as follows: First of all they have no life, for life does not exist in anything evil and false but in what is good and true. Then they start to receive life from the Lord by means of faith – first by faith existing in the memory, which is factual faith, then by faith existing in the understanding, which is conceptual faith, and after this by faith existing in the heart, which is loving or saving faith. Factual faith and conceptual faith are represented in verses 3-13 by the inanimate, but faith made alive by means of love is represented in verses 20-25 by the animate. Consequently this is the first point at which love and faith deriving from it, which are called ‘lights’, are dealt with. Love is ‘the greater light which has dominion over the day’, and faith deriving from love is ‘the lesser light which has dominion over the night’.” (Secrets of Heaven 30)

“Love and faith cannot possibly be separated for they constitute one and the same thing….Since celestial angels possess from the Lord that kind of love, they possess by virtue of that love every cognition of faith, and by virtue of that love the kind of life and light of understanding that almost defies description altogether. On the other hand spirits who without love have a knowledge of the doctrinal matters concerning faith live such cold lives and are in such dull light that they cannot approach even the outer gateway to heaven before running off in the opposite direction. Some claim to have believed in the Lord, but they have not lived according to His teaching. The Lord refers to these people in Matthew as follows, Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does My will. Many will say to me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? and so on. Matt. 7:21, 22-end. From this is clear that those who have love have faith as well, and so heavenly life, whereas those who claim to have faith and yet have none of the life inherent in love do not. The life of faith devoid of love is like sunlight devoid of warmth, as is the case in wintertime when nothing grows and every single thing is inactive and dies off. But faith deriving from love is like the sunlight in springtime when everything grows and blossoms, for it is the warmth of the sun that brings it out.” (Secrets of Heaven 34)

One of the things we’ll consider next time is why real love and a genuine faith that comes from love, takes so long to develop. It seems simple – love the Lord and your neighbor. So why does it take seven long days of creation to finally get this right!?

Creation – Day 3

baby_plant.28104733Below is the text of a sermon I gave on the third day of creation. What I’ve come to love most about this third day is the image of the “tender plants”. The “tender plants” represent our first efforts to produce something good and true in our life. Relatively speaking these first efforts aren’t that impressive; there is still a LOT of ego and selfishness mixed in with our efforts. But, the Lord still loves these tender plants! He sees the good in our first efforts and works to nourish that goodness.

The Tender Plant
Sermon by Rev. Matthew Genzlinger

Last week we saw that the first day of creation represents a beginning stage in our own regeneration when we first begin to realize that goodness and truth are something transcended.  We recognize that from ourselves we don’t know what true goodness is; and with this acknowledgment comes the epiphany that the Lord exists and that everything good and true comes from Him – Let there be light!  On the second day of creation is says that a distinction was made between waters below an expanse and waters above an expanse.  And we were taught that this distinction represents a realization on our part that we have an external man and an internal man.  The waters below the expanse represent the more secular facts that we absorb through input from our physical senses; while the waters above the expanse represent all of the genuine goodness and truth that comes to us from the Lord alone through our internal man. Now we move on to the third day of creation which begins with God saying, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place.” (Genesis 1:9)

If you read the Scriptures with any regularity, it will soon become very evident that water is usually used as a symbol for truth.  On the wall in our foyer, as you enter into the sanctuary, you’ll find the Lord’s words from the book of Revelation: “I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.” (Revelation 21:6)  And in the Old Testament we read verses such as this one from Isaiah: “The earth will be full of the knowledge of Jehovah, as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:9)

Knowing that in the Scriptures the Lord uses water to represent truth, we can begin to see that the third day of creation represents a time when we begin to gather together truth or knowledge from the Lord.  We’ve realized that the Lord exists and that all good and true things come from Him; and so now we’re ready to spend time gathering into our memory all of the wonderful things the Lord has to teach us.

One of the simple things that is striking about this idea of gathering knowledge together, is just how important it is to do this. Imagine for a minute that you wanted to build your dream home.  Money, location, time – none of these things were an obstacle.  You could build whatever size and style home you wanted, anywhere in the world.  As excited as you might be to begin building this beautiful dwelling place for you and your family right away; it would be absolutely vital that you start by collecting good quality materials with which to build.  Regardless of how badly you wanted your dream home to exist and be finished, the quality of the final product would very much depend on what kind of materials you gathered together before the building process even began.  The same thing can be said of our own regeneration.  Gathering knowledge from the Lord about what is good and true certainly isn’t the ultimate goal in life.  But it is important, and we need to realize that.  When we take the time to learn from the Lord, it’s like we’re gathering up the tools and the materials that we’re going to need if we want to allow the Lord to create us anew.  This is why going to church, reading the Word, studying the heavenly doctrines is so important.  When we do these things we are gathering the waters together into one place.

Once these waters have been gathered together, the third day of creation also sees the first appearance of real growth: “Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth the tender plant, the plant bearing its seed, and the fruit tree making the fruit that holds its seed, each in the way of its kind”; and it was so.” (Genesis 1:11)  Now I’d like just read again part of the passage from the book, Secrets of Heaven, that describes what is meant by these three progressive degrees of growth we see in day three: “When the earth (a person) is so well prepared as to be able to accept heavenly seed from the Lord and to produce good and truth in some degree, that is the time when the Lord first causes the sprouting of something tender, called the tender plant or grass. Next He stimulates something more useful that reseeds itself – the plant bearing its seed. Finally He germinates something good, which reproduces fruitfully – the tree making the fruit that holds its seed, each of these in the way of its kind.” (AC 29)  So in general we see that these three types of vegetation represent three progressively better ways that we start bringing the Lord’s goodness and truth into our lives.  We’ve gathered together some waters, some knowledge from the Lord about what is good and true, and now we’re making an effort to actually use this knowledge to produce something good.  We’re beginning to repent, to shun evils as sins, and to look to the Lord in doing something that is useful.

It’s interesting, as a little aside, to note that this progression through three kinds of vegetation is also spoken of in one of the parables the Lord told in the gospel of Mark: “The kingdom of God is like one who tosses seed into the earth and sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; how it happens, the person does not know. For the earth brings forth fruit of herself, first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.” (Mark 4:26-28)

There’s a lot to reflect on when it comes to these types of vegetation created on the third day, but I would like to invite you to focus for a minute on the description of the very first thing that grew – the tender plant.  The reason that a tender plant is used as a description of our first efforts to produce something good, is because our first efforts are often not very fruitful.  We may do some useful things that resemble what is good; but on the third day of creation we still have a long way to go before we are created anew and are living a genuinely good life.  As one of the passages we read pointed out, the “tender plants” that we first produce are often small and relatively lifeless because we still have a lot of arrogance and ego involved in our efforts.

Now because this is true – because our initial efforts are not that impressive – we might be tempted to look down on these tender plants and ridicule them, focusing on how small and insignificant they seem.  But what I would invite you to reflect on today, is the fact that even thou our first efforts are relatively feeble, the Lord still loves these tender plants.  The Lord sees the good in them and He sees the potential in what they can become.  This is important for two reason.  First, it gives us permission to be a little bit more gentle with ourselves.

As we go through the life long process called regeneration, there are certainly going to be times when we need to be hard on ourselves.  Times when we need to admit that we’re not living up to the Lord’s standards and we might need to give ourselves a spiritual slap in the face. However, it’s also true that there are many times when we end up being too hard on ourselves.  Perhaps we don’t feel like we’ve done a good enough job raising our children; or we feel like we haven’t really contributed to the world in any meaningful or useful way.  There are many times when the hells can make us feel like complete failures because of mistakes we’ve made in the past or because we just don’t see much worth in the life that we’re living.  At times like this, it can be very useful to just remember that we are on a long journey, and just because our lives aren’t perfect doesn’t mean that we’re not progressing or that the Lord has somehow given up on us.  They might not always seem that impressive, but we all have tender plants, bits of spiritual life, that the Lord loves and is always working to foster.  We need to recognize these little bits of goodness in our own lives and see that they are part of the Lord’s creation.

Now the other, in some ways more important reason we need to reflect on these tender plants, is because of how they can help us change the way we view other people.  As I was studying and reflecting on this beautiful image of the tender plant, I couldn’t help but reflect on how often we fail to see the beauty of these tender plants in the world around us, and specifically in other people.  As finite and rather judgmental human being, we are so good at finding other people’s imperfections.  We’re professionals when it comes to noticing and picking out people’s weaknesses.  And yet we fail to look for the good that does exist in others, even if it is relatively small and tender.  We’re told that angels have from the Lord this wonderful willingness and desire to look for what is good in other people, no matter how small it may be.  They actually overlook people’s faults and their evils, and instead they focus on what is of some value.  This is something that we can all think about.  Instead of looking at people and seeing a lack of perfection, or a lack of something better; the Lord would have us notice the tender plants that do exist, to appreciate them, and then do everything we can to support them and to help them grow into something even better.

So today, I would invite you to go home, reread the third day of creation, and reflect on what an important step this is in our regeneration or spiritual rebirth. It’s not as grand and as exciting as the days to come, but it is a vital step.  Gathering waters together into one place.  We need to make the effort to learn and to gather together as much knowledge as we can from the Lord.  This pool of knowledge will act as an important source of guidance from which the Lord can draw as we continue our journey. And then just try.  Take a first step and try to use what you’ve learned to produce something good.  It won’t be perfect, there will still be a lot of ego in our efforts, what we produce will be small and tender.  But that’s okay.  As a beginning, as a first try, in the Lord’s eyes it will still be good.  We’ll see next week that if we continue in our sincere efforts those tender plants will give way to the creation of great light in the sky, to living creation, such a birds and mammals and eventual to a human being created in the image an likeness of God.  Reading from the book of Genesis: “Then God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth the tender plant, the plant bearing its seed, and the fruit tree making the fruit that holds its seed, each in the way of its kind”; and it was so. And the earth produced the tender plant, the plant bearing its seed in the way of its kind, and the tree making the fruit that held its seed in the way of its kind. And God saw that it was good.” Amen.


Genesis 1:9-19

Secrets of Heaven 27: “When we learn that we have an internal man and an external man, and that truth and goodness come from the internal man – or rather from the Lord by way of the internal man into the external man, even though this is contrary to appearances – this information, this knowledge of truth and goodness, is stored away in our memory. The knowledge takes its place among the facts we have learned (scientifica), because anything instilled in the memory of the external man, weather natural, spiritual, or celestial lodges there as a fact (scientificum), and from there the Lord draws on it. This knowledge is the ‘waters gathered into one place’ and named seas.”

Secrets of Heaven 29: “When the earth (a person) is so well prepared as to be able to accept heavenly seed from the Lord and to produce good and truth in some degree, that is the time when the Lord first causes the sprouting of something tender, called the tender plant or grass. Next He stimulates something more useful that reseeds itself – the plant bearing its seed. Finally He germinates something good, which reproduces fruitfully – the tree making the fruit that holds its seed, each of these in the way of its kindDuring regeneration we naturally suppose at first that the good we do and the truth we speak come from ourselves, when the reality is that all good and truth come from the Lord. If we imagine they come from ourselves, then, we are not yet in possession of the life of true faith, although we can receive it later. We cannot believe yet that they come from the Lord, because we are being prepared to receive the life of faith.  This stage is represented in the story by things that have no living soul. Animate creatures represent the stage of living faith to come….This is the third step in our regeneration and the stage at which we repent.”

Secrets of Heaven 9339: “The life of hell with a person cannot be destroyed suddenly; for if it were destroyed suddenly the person too would perish. Nor can the life of heaven be implanted suddenly, for if this were implanted suddenly the person would again perish. There are thousands and thousands of hidden ways, scarcely a single one of which is known to mankind, by which the Lord leads a person from the life of hell to the life of heaven….Therefore, to enable heaven to come into being in a person, it is necessary for him to receive Divine Truth in the good he has from the Lord. This can be brought into effect only gradually.”

Creation – Day 2

On Sunday (October 5, 2014) I started a three part series of worship services on the Biblical story of creation. I’m finding that I just can’t cover all seven days of creation in three sermons – way to much great stuff! So on October 5th, 12th and 19th I’ve decided to only talk in detail about some of the days of creation. In between services I’ll provide teachings and my thoughts on the rest of the days of creation here. Please ask questions; and I would love to have you comment below with your own thoughts. My plan is not to try to cover everything. I’ll just offer some general teachings that I hope will get you thinking for yourself about this fascinating topic.

man in praise

Review of Day 1: As with any series, it can be hard to jump in part way through. So I’d recommend
that you start by going to my previous blog post where you can read or listening to the first sermon I gave in this series. We dealt with the general concept of a “spiritual sense” to the Biblical story of creation and then focused on day #1 – Let there be light! To review, the first day of creation represents a first step in our own regeneration (spiritual rebirth) that is taken when we begin to realize that goodness and truth are something transcendent. We see that our “good” is not good (I love this idea!), and with this comes a realization that the Lord exists and that He is the source of all that is good and truth – “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3)

Day 2: “And God said, Let there be an expanse in the middle of the waters, and let there be a distinguishing of the waters from the waters. And God made the expanse and He made a distinction between the waters that were under the expanse and the waters that were above the expanse; and it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening, and there was morning, the second day.” (Genesis 1:6-8) The book Secrets of Heaven (Emanuel Swedenborg) explains the spiritual meaning of this second day of creation in this way:

“After the Spirit of God, which is the Lord’s mercy, has brought out into the daylight knowledges of truth and good, and has shed the light of dawn to reveal that the Lord does exist, and that He is good itself and truth itself, and that no good or truth exists except from the Lord, a distinction is at that point made between the internal man and the external man, and so between cognitions which reside with the internal man and factual knowledge which belongs to the external man. The internal man is called ‘an expanse’, and the cognitions residing with the internal man are called ‘the waters above the expanse’, while the factual knowledge belonging to the external man is called ‘the waters below the expanse’. Before we are reborn, we do not know even that an internal man exists, let alone what it is, imagining there is no difference between the two. This is because we are absorbed by bodily and worldly interests and merge the concerns of the internal man with those interests. Out of distinct and separate planes we make one obscure, confused whole….The second thing therefore that we begin to notice while being regenerated is that the internal man exists. We become aware that what resides in the internal man are goods and truths which are the Lord’s alone.” (Secrets of Heaven 24)

What strikes me most about this passage is the idea that on “day 2” we begin to recognize a kind of duality within ourselves. On Day one, we simply recognize that what is good and true is something transcendent and that the Lord exists. Now we begin to realize that within our own being – inside of our own heart and mind – there are two levels of consciousness. We have an “internal man” and an “external man”.

It’s hard to define these two parts of us in a short blog post. In general our “external man” seems to be the part of us that receives input from the world around us through our physical senses. The “waters below the expanse” are the facts or memory knowledge (the Latin here is scientifica) that our external man contains. Our “internal man”, on the other hand, seems to be the part of us that is capable of receiving input from within. The “waters above the expanse” are the higher concepts of what is good and true (the Latin here is cognitiones) that our internal man possesses. On the “second day of creation” we begin to see more clearly that the concepts of goodness and truth that exist in our higher more internal self are from the Lord alone.  Note that another distinction is being made between what is from the Lord (and therefore genuinely good and true) and what is from ourselves (and therefore NOT genuinely good and true).

So why is the realization that we have an internal man and an external man so important to our spiritual development? One idea that I keep coming back to is the fact that in order to grow spiritually we need to choose to subordinate our external man to our internal man. This idea is taught throughout the book, Secrets of Heaven:

“In order that the External Man may be reduced into order, it must be made subordinate to the Internal Man, and it is made subordinate when it obeys. So far as this is effected, so far the External Man also is wise. This is meant by the old man with its evil affections needing to die in order that the man may become a new creature.” (Secrets of Heaven 9708)

People are said to be in spiritual captivity when inwardly they are maintained by the Lord in goodness and truth, but outwardly they are kept by hell in evil and falsity, as a result of which there is conflict between the external man and the internal man….During this state, by an influx (or flowing into them) by way of their interiors, the Lord fights on their behalf against the afflux (or flowing towards them) of evil and falsity from the hells. At this time they are held like captives; for as a result of the influx from the Lord they wish to be guided by truth and good, but the afflux from the hells makes it seem to them that they are incapable of it. This conflict takes place to the end that the external man may be brought into obedience to the internal man, and in that way natural things may be made subordinate to spiritual ones.” (Secrets of Heaven 7990)

All things whatever residing with the external man are nothing else than a body of servants, that is, they exist to serve the internal man. This is how it is with all facts, which belong solely to the external man; for these are acquired from earthly and worldly things by means of sensory impressions so that they might serve the interior or rational man; and that this interior man might serve the spiritual man, the spiritual man the celestial man, and the celestial man the Lord. Thus these exist in subordination to one another as things that are exterior beneath those that are interior; and thus also every single thing exists subordinate to the Lord.” (Secrets of Heaven 1486)

I’ve always loved the definition of spiritual growth and regeneration seen in these passages. We have a part of us – an external man – that receives input from the world around us through our physical senses. We also have a part of us – an internal man – that is capable of receiving an internal influx of goodness/love and truth/wisdom from the Lord alone. If we want to grow spiritually our job is to control our external man! We need to force the lower, more external part of us, to be subordinate to the higher, more internal part of us. And what’s wonderful is that when we do this, the Lord can gradually form our entire being (internal and external) into an image and likeness of Him. Our external man isn’t necessarily bad or evil, as long as we allow it to be guided by the Lord through our internal man. While the ideas are not exactly the same, this reminds me a bit of this old Cherokee tale:



There is a lot more that could be explored with this second day of creation, but I’ll stop here. For me personally, the more I reflect on this idea that we have an internal man and an external man, the more I see just how important this is. Without this knowledge we can’t really progress in our spiritual development….at least not past day #2.

I’d be happy to try to answer any question you might have. I’d be even more happy to read any of your own thoughts on the second day of creation!

Creation – Day 1

I’ve started a series of sermons and blog posts on the Biblical story of creation. Below is the text of a sermon I preached on October 5th where we introduced the general idea of a “spiritual sense” to seven days of creation and looked specifically at day #1 – Let there be light! You can listen to the sermon here.

Let There Be Light – A sermon by Rev. Matthew Genzlinger

One of the wonderful realities that can bring new life and relevance to our reading of the Scriptures, is the fact that every story in the Lord’s Word has a spiritual sense – A deeper meaning. Much like the parables that the Lord told in the New Testament, the story of creation was not given to us as a literal account of how God created the physical world. The Biblical story of creation is a kind of parable that internally deals with how the Lord creates us anew. Seven days of creation, representing seven stages or steps that we all go through during the course of our own spiritual rebirth or regeneration. If you search the Scriptures you’ll find that elsewhere the image of “creating” is used to describe how the Lord forms us into spiritual people. Psalm 51: “Create in me a clean heart, O God.”  And from the book of Isaiah, “Every one that is called by My name, I have created him for My glory.” (Isaiah 43:7) So with this in mind, during the next three weeks we are going to explore the spiritual meaning of the story of creation. How does this seemingly archaic narrative actually contain a wealth of wisdom about who we are and what the Lord has created us to become?

We actually begin before the first day of creation: In the beginning God created heaven and earth. And the earth was void and an emptiness, and there was thick darkness over the faces of the abyss. I hate to start out with such a bleak image, but this initial description of the earth is a picture of what we are like before the Lord begins to create us anew.  Every one of us starts off spiritually as a dark abyss. We are a void when it comes to any real goodness.  We are an emptiness when it comes to any real concept of what is true.  And so this “thick darkness” that exists over the faces of the abyss, is very simply a representation of our own lack of understanding when it comes to spiritual things and to the reality of a heavenly life. We’re confused, we’re disorganized and at first nothing seems very clear.  Interestingly, the Lord uses this same language to describe our unregenerate states in the book of Jeremiah: “My people are dense, they do not know Me….I looked at the earth, and there – a void and emptiness; and to the heavens, and these had no light.” (Jeremiah 4:22-23)

As gloomy as these first images are, we do need to remember that the very next sentence says that, the Spirit of God was constantly moving over the faces of the waters. This represents the Lord’s mercy. Although we certainly start off in a very un-ideal state, the Lord in His infinite mercy is always present; implanting and stirring something good within us. It’s actually quite wonderful that the very first image in all of the Scriptures is of the Lord’s infinite love hovering over us, wanting to help us become something more; something more than the “void” and “emptiness” that we start off as.

And God said, Let there be light, and there was light.  And God saw the light, that it was good; and God made a distinction between light and darkness.  And God called the light day, and the darkness he called night.  And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Genesis 1:3-5) Since ancient times, light has always been used as a symbol for the illumination of the mind. In this case we’re taught that the phrase, “let there be light” represents a time when we first begin to realize that goodness and truth are something transcendent – that goodness and true are something higher than ourselves.

To help us understand what exactly this means, I’d like to invite you to take out your yellow handout.  I’d like us to reread together the first passage at the top of the page, from Secrets of Heaven 20. Because there are two point made in this passage that are so important: “The first step in our regeneration is taken when we begin to realize that goodness and truth are something transcendent. People who focus exclusively on externals do not even know what is good or what is true; everything connected with self love and love of worldly advantages they consider good, and anything that promotes these two loves they consider true. They are unaware that such ‘goodness’ is evil and that such ‘truth’ is false. When we are conceived anew, however, we first begin to be aware that our ‘good’ is not good.” (Secrets of Heaven 20) I found this idea so powerful!

Early on in our spiritual journey, one of the things that makes our lives so dark is the fact that we assume that what we believe, what we are doing, and the goals that we are striving after, are all good and true. We have that young self-confidence that tends to lead to an inflated ego and a world view that puts us at the center of everything.  Even in this very immature spiritual state, the Lord loves us and is guiding us.  But in order to advance spiritually, in order to start on that 1st day of our spiritual rebirth, we need to come to the basic realization that from ourselves we do tend to strive after very selfish and worldly things; and so therefore from ourselves we really don’t know what is good and what is true!

And so one of the things that we see here is that even this very first state of regeneration, this first day,  requires humility. We need to be willing to swallow our pride before the Lord and admit that we’re not as knowledgeable and as full of goodness as we once thought we were.  And I’m willing to bet that we’ve all had at least glimpses of this state before. Think about a time in your own life when in a real state of humility, you’ve recognized that things just aren’t working out the way you had hoped they would.  Maybe our grand plans for life have failed; or perhaps we realize that we’ve been chasing after goals and achievements that really aren’t fulfilling us.  Maybe we start to recognize that what’s mattered most to us in life, what we’ve been calling “good”, isn’t actually that good.  Now it’s not necessarily fun to experience states like this, but in the Lord’s eyes this process is absolutely vital.  When we finally have the humility to start recognizing that our good is not good, that real goodness and truth are something higher; that is when the Lord can first speak the words, Let there be light!  Let there be light – now I can start to show you what genuine goodness and truth really are.

I want to come back now to our yellow handout and continue with another really important point in this passage: “When we are conceived anew…we first begin to be aware that our ‘good’ is not good. And as we advance further into the light, it dawns on us that the Lord exists and that He is goodness and truth itself.”  This is a very big deal.

Sometimes when we speak of spirituality or the concept of being a religious person, we talk about it as if being “spiritual” entails merely thinking about things is some higher, transcendent way.  And yet what we have to always remember is that religion or spirituality – whatever you want to call it – is ultimately about entering into a living relationship or conjunction with God.  In a book called Heaven and Hell we’re taught that angels are in heaven to the extent that they are conjoined to the Lord.  And in the Scriptures we often see that a spiritual life is defined by our willingness to approaching the Lord and follow Him.  In Matthew we read, “Come unto Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

And so in this first state when a kind of spiritual light is beginning to enter our minds, it’s very important to notice that this light does not help us to see that there is a higher goodness and truth in some esoteric, mysterious way.  On the 1st day of our new creation, what we begin to realize is that there is a God.  That the Lord Himself exists and that He is the source of all that is good and true.  It’s not just something, but someone who is higher than us, and who is love and wisdom, goodness and truth itself.  And again, this is so important to start thinking about. On day one the first light we receive may not provide us with a full understand of who this God is and how we can be conjoined with Him. But the goal of this whole process of regeneration that is represented by the seven days of creation is to enter into a living conjunction with a God who loves us and who we can ultimately learn to love in return. “And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called night.  And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” (Genesis 1:5)

You can see just from looking at this first day of creation, that once we recognize that the first chapter of Genesis is not about the creation of the physical world, but a kind of parable, we can begin to see all sorts of beautiful and relevant ideas come to the surface.  In fact, there is so much spiritual wisdom within this seemingly archaic narrative, that there is no way we can cover it all in three weeks.  So I’m going to give you some homework.

This morning we’ve just touched on the general meaning of the first day of creation.  To review, it represents a first step in our own regeneration that is taken when we begin to realize that goodness and truth are something transcendent.  We see that our good is not good, and with this comes a realization that the Lord exists and that He is the source of all that is good and truth – Let there be light.

The second day of creation is very much related to this.  On the second day of creation God creates an expanse in the middle of the waters, and He divides the waters that are below the expanse from the waters that are above the expanse.  Your homework is to read about this second day and reflect on what it means.  What is this expanse?  And again, what part of our own regeneration is represented by the waters below and above this expanse?  To help us with this homework I’m going to be writing something about this second day on our blog.  I would invite you to read it and use that forum to ask questions and to share your own thoughts on this as well.

Having experienced this morning a little bit of the reality of the spiritual sense of the creation story, I thought it would be nice to end this morning with a passage from the book Secrets of Heaven which teaches us that this spiritual sense exists throughout the entire Word of God: “The Word of the Old Testament contains heavenly arcana, with every single detail focusing on the Lord, His heaven, the Church, faith, and what belongs to faith; but no human being grasps this from the letter. Judging it by the letter or sense of the letter, nobody views it as anything more than a record, in the main, of external features of the Jewish Church. Yet at every point there are internal features…That every single detail, even the smallest, down to the tiniest jot, means and embodies matters that are spiritual and celestial is a truth of which the Christian world is still profoundly ignorant, and for this reason it pays insufficient attention to the Old Testament….As long as the mind confines itself to the sense of the letter alone one cannot possibly see that its contents are such. Take for instance these first sections of Genesis: From the sense of the letter the only subject matter people recognize is the creation of the world….Who thinks anything different? However, the fact that these things contain arcana which have never been revealed up to now will be sufficiently clear from what follows – especially clear from the fact that the subject of Genesis 1 is, in the internal sense, the NEW CREATION of man, that is, in general his REGENERATION. (Secrets of Heaven 1-4)  Next week we will look at the third and fourth days of creation and what they have to teach us about our own new creation and growing relationship with the Lord.  Amen.

Not wanting to lead yourself

I do not want to lead myself. Imagine getting to a point in your life where you genuinely cringe at the thought of allowing your own heart and mind to lead you. This is the state of innocence that the angels are in. They are keenly aware of the fact that only the Lord knows what is good and true. Because they know and perceive this, they want nothing more than to be led by Him. They avoid being led by themselves like the plague.

This is such a different state of life than we often find within and around us. Spend a little bit of time on Facebook, read the paper, reflect on your own motives and goals during the day. It won’t take long to recognize that so much of our time and energy is spent trying to do things “our way”, and trying to convince others that “our way” is the superior and only legitimate way to go. We think so highly of our own point of view that we relish the opportunity to share it and to convince others of its validity. Come on, we’ve all had those moments where we’ve said something quite brilliant or clever on Facebook and wait with great anticipation for even a random stranger to “like” it : ).

Recently I’ve been reflecting on just how important it is to change this kind of attitude in order for real spiritual growth to happen. There is something enjoyable and strangely addictive about leading yourself. Our egos don’t want to give up control and allow someone else to lead. To the natural man there is no greater high than being “right” and being adored by others for the apparent wisdom you display. And yet, I’ve noticed more and more that this kind of arrogant desire to lead myself and to put my own ideas up on a pedestal for the world to admire always ends up leading to a dead end. It may feel good for a time but long-term it only results in emptiness.

dragon1I won’t go into the details, but last week I had a moment where I felt the horror of being led by myself. After allowing my ego to get a little bit out of control, I suddenly saw what life is like when we insist on doing things our way. The possibility of being led by myself – by my own thoughts and loves – genuinely felt terrifying. In that moment there was nothing I wanted more than to be led by the Lord: I wanted Him to lead my affections; I wanted Him to lead my thoughts; I wanted Him to lead my actions. Being led by myself felt like a monster that I wanted to do everything I could to escape.

How different the world would be if we all had as our goal in life to truly be lead by the Lord and not by ourselves. What if in every moment, every decision and every temptation we could all learn to say: “I’m not interested in arguing my point of view or in trying to convince people that I’m right and they’re wrong. I’m not interested in trying to do things my way. What I’m interested in is letting go of my opinion, my outlook and my loves. What I’m interested in is focusing all of my time and energy on allowing the Lord to teach me what to love, think and do.

Getting to a point in my life where I genuinely hate the idea of being led by myself, but love being led by the Lord – That would be wonderful; that would be heavenly! This is a lesson that I hope to continue to learn for myself and to teach to my children.

a-lamp-unto-my-feet-renee-dumontAs innocence consists in being led by the Lord and not by self, so all who are in heaven are in innocence; for all who are there love to be led by the Lord, knowing that to lead themselves is to be led by the proprium, and the proprium consists in loving oneself, also that he who loves himself does not suffer himself to be led by another. Therefore, so far as an angel is in innocence, he is in heaven, or to the same extent, in Divine Good and Divine Truth, for to be in these is to be in heaven. Consequently, the heavens are distinguished in accordance with this innocence. Those who are in the outermost or first heaven are in innocence of the first or outermost degree; those who are in the middle or second heaven are in innocence of the second or middle degree; while those who are in the inmost or third heaven are in innocence of the third or inmost degree, and are therefore the veriest innocences of heaven, for more than all others they love to be led by the Lord as little children by their father. For the same reason the Divine Truth that they hear immediately from the Lord or mediately through the Word and preaching, they take directly into their will and do it, thus committing it to life. This is why their wisdom is so superior to that of the angels of the lower heavens. These angels of the inmost heaven, being such, are nearest to the Lord from whom they have innocence, and are so separated from the proprium that they live, as it were, in the Lord. In external form, they appear simple, and before the eyes of the angels of the lower heavens they seem as little children, that is, as very small and not very wise, although they are the wisest of the angels of heaven; for they know that they have nothing of wisdom from themselves, and that to acknowledge this is to be wise. What they know is as nothing compared to what they do not know; and they say that knowing, acknowledging, and perceiving this is the first step towards wisdom. These angels are naked, because nakedness corresponds to innocence.” (Heaven and Hell 280)

“The Hunt For The Good Sermon”

I enjoyed this article in the Wall Street Journal for many reasons: The Hunt For the Good Sermon.

First, in today’s busy and high paced society I often find myself struggling with the idea of “entertaining” people in church.  This article speaks to this, quoting something that Shane Claiborne said on Twitter: “We won’t lose students because we didn’t entertain them, we will lose them because we haven’t given the FULL gospel.”  Did Jesus entertain people?

Emanuel Swedenborg wrote the following about preachers who are deprived of their office in the spiritual world: “I afterward heard many reasons why those preachers were deprived of their office. I was told that the chief reason is, that they did not prepare their sermons from the Word and thus from the Spirit of God, but from their own rational light, and thus from their own spirit. They begin, indeed, as a prelude, with a text from the Word; but this they merely touch with their lips, and then abandon as tasteless, immediately selecting something savory from their own intelligence, which they roll about in their mouths and turn over upon their tongues as something delicious. Such is their teaching. It was said that as a consequence there was no more spirituality in their sermons than in the songs of birds, and that they were merely allegorical adornments, like wigs beautifully curled and powdered on bald heads.” (Swedenborg – True Christian Religion 810) What a great passage!  Preachers especially seem to be in danger of developing an unhealthy need to “entertain”.

The other thing that struck me was Eugene Peterson’s comment, that one of the most serious threats to biblical preaching is, “pragmatic vocational embrace of American technology and consumerism that promised to rescue congregations from ineffective obscurity.”  It’s true.  Mr. Wilson ends his article with this related comment: “The obsession with measurable ‘results,’ the rebranded promise of some technique or strategy: Preachers are bombarded with this stuff every day (four keys to success, six marks of a healthy church, seven principles of growth). Many ignore it and get on with their work in “scripture, sermon, and sacrament.” Praise God for that.”

So how do we break away from this obsession?  Person by person.  I’ll start.

Shift of Motivation – I’ve had enough…I’m leaving!

We’re in to week #5 of our New Church Journey Program called, Shift: Small Changes. Big Difference.  This program follows the story of Jacob from the Old Testament.  This week’s topic is “Shift of Motivation”.

Genesis 30:25-43, 31:1-55: This week’s story involves Jacob finally deciding after twenty years that it is time to leave Laban.  He gathers together his wives, children, livestock, and possessions and prepares to return to the land of his fathers.

“Laban” represents something in our own lives called mediate goods.  Mediate goods are not 100% good in themselves, but they appear to be good for a time.  Mediate goods are useful, but only because they have the ability to lead you to something better.  One example of a mediate good is the belief that the good you do comes from yourself.  This is not true.  However, if the Lord did not permit you to be motivated by this to begin with, you would never get to the point of acknowledging what is genuinely good – that all good comes from the Lord alone.  Being motivated by the desire for rewards is another example of a mediate good.  What would be genuinely good would be for people to be motivated by a desire to serve the Lord and their neighbor.  But we will never get to this point unless the Lord allows us to first be motivated by the thought, “What can I get out of this: Praise; fame; people will think I’m important; heaven?”

Jacob living with Laban for twenty years represents times when we are motivated by these mediate goods.  This is okay because it’s a normal and necessary part of the process.  However, eventually something starts to change.  Jacob and Laban are not getting along with each other as well as they used to.  After twenty years the Lord finally says to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.” (Genesis 31:3)

There comes a time in everybody’s life when it’s time to “grow up” and move beyond some of the mediate goods that have been motivating them.  The Lord calling Jacob and telling him to return to the land of his fathers, represents a beautiful calling that the Lord gives to us: It’s time to let go of the more selfish and worldly thing that have been motivating you for so long; it’s time to move on to higher things that are closer to the Divine and His heavenly kingdom.

This is a call that we all experience in our own way.  It can be hard to put into words, but have you ever felt that something just isn’t working in your life anymore?  Perhaps you don’t feel satisfied with the direction things are going; maybe you’re tired of facing the same problems over and over again.  For me personally, I feel like I’ve felt this call at times when life seems like a big game, and I’m tired of playing it!  I’m tired of living life to please and impress those around me.  I’m tired of having my life revolve so much around money and my need to pay the next bill.  I’m tired of trying to keep up with the busy world around me that insists on chasing after so many empty joys and delights, and that defines “success” in such finite and limited ways.  I love you Laban and I appreciate all you’ve done for me, but after twenty years I’ve had enough…I’m ready to move on.

This week’s topic is about recognizing when it’s time to make a change.  Read the passage below and reflect on all the “mediate goods” that tend to motivate you in life.  Can you hear the Lord calling you to something higher…something better?  What would it look like to finally be able to leave “Laban” behind and instead allow your heart to be motivated by higher realities that are much closer to the Divine and His heavenly kingdom?  I think it would be an incredibly freeing experience…and that it would allow me to be a lot more useful!

The question is, how do you make that choice to leave Laban?  Remember that Laban wasn’t so keen on letting Jacob leave.

“Then the Angel of God spoke to Jacob in a dream, saying, Jacob.  And I said, Here I am.  And He said, Lift your eyes now and see, all the rams which leap on the flocks are streaked, speckled, and grey-spotted; for I have seen all that Laban is doing to you.  I am the God of Bethuel, where you anointed the pillar and where you made a vow to Me.  Now arise, get out of this land, and return to the land of your kindred.” (Genesis 31:11-13)

“When a person is being regenerated, he is kept by the Lord in a kind of mediate good. This good serves for introducing genuine goods and truths; but after these have been introduced, it is separated from them. Everyone who has learned anything about regeneration and about the new man, can understand that the new man is altogether different from the old; for the new man is in the affection of spiritual and heavenly things, and these produce its feelings of delight and blessedness; whereas the old man is in the affections of worldly and earthly things, and these produce its feelings of delight and blessedness; consequently the new man has regard to ends in heaven, but the old man to ends in the world. From this it is manifest that the new man is altogether different and diverse from the old. In order that a person may be brought from the state of the old man into that of the new, worldly passions must be put off, and the affections of heaven must be put on. This is effected by innumerable means, which are known to the Lord alone, and many of which have also been made known by the Lord to angels; but few if any to man. Nevertheless all of them both in general and particular have been made manifest in the internal sense of the Word. When therefore a person, from being the old man is made a new one (that is, when he is being regenerated), it is not done in a moment, as some believe, but through a course of years; nay, during the person’s whole life, even to its end; for his worldly passions have to be extirpated, and heavenly affections have to be insinuated; and the person has to be gifted with a life which he had not before, and of which indeed he knew scarcely anything. Seeing therefore that the person’s states of life have to be so greatly changed, it must needs be that he is long kept in a kind of mediate good, that is, in a good which partakes both of the affections of the world, and of the affections of heaven; and unless he is kept in this mediate good, he in no wise admits heavenly goods and truths. This mediate or middle good is what is signified by “Laban and his flock.” But a person is kept in this middle good no longer than until it has served this use; but this having been served, it is separated. This separation is treated of in this chapter. “ (Swedenborg – Secrets of Heaven 4063)

Shift of Expectations – Why Was Leah Given Before Rachel?

We’re in to week #4 of our New Church Journey Program called, Shift: Small Changes. Big Difference.  This program follows the story of Jacob from the Old Testament.  This week’s topic is “Shift of Expectations”.

Genesis 29:21-35 & 30:1-24: This week’s story involves Jacob working seven years for Rachel, only to be tricked into marrying Leah first!  Even after Jacob marries Rachel as well, Rachel is barren for many years.  On the surface this seems like such an unfair story with many challenging twists and turns.  But on a deeper level this story relates an inescapable truth about how we experience life.  I’m going to start with some fairly abstract concepts, but if you can understand what is represented in this story it can change your outlook on life in a very powerful and practical way.

Rachel is the one that Jacob falls in love with and she is, “Beautiful of form and appearance.”  Rachel represents our love for the interior truths in the Lord’s Word.  Falling in love with Rachel is like developing a deep affection for the many ideals that the Lord’s Word places before us.  These ideals (or interior truths) inspire us to want to be a more loving person, a more courageous person, a more humble and useful person.  They help us to understand more clearly what it means to be human and to follow the Lord.  So if “Rachel” represents such high/interior ideals, why in the world was Leah given to Jacob first?

Ideals cannot be achieved overnight.  Even though we may see them and desire them, there are a lot of things within our own hearts and minds that prevent us from making them a reality.  Selfishness and an unwillingness to change often make ideals things that we both want and don’t want.  On one level ideals seem so nice, but on another level we are unwilling to give up the things that stand in their way.  I would love to be in more ideal physical shape….buuuuuut, I don’t want to get up early and go to the gym, or stop eating so many delicious snacks.   I would love to live in a less judgmental world….buuuuut, I don’t want to give up my own need to always be right and more important than others.  It may seem unfair, but Jacob being forced to marry Leah before Rachel represents this unavoidable reality that there are gaps between the ideal and where we are right now.

As impolite as it is to point this out, Leah was the uglier sister!  Her eye sight wasn’t very good and while it doesn’t come right out and say that Leah was ugly, Rachel’s beauty is emphasized.   This seemingly rude commentary on Leah is very important to what she represents.

More often than not, the steps we need to take in order to eventually achieve our ideals, are much less attractive than the ideals themselves.  Because we are not perfect and we do have a lot of selfishness inside of us, the Lord knows that we will not be able to make any progress in life without some less elevated and less attractive goals to work on along the way.  Leah was said to be “weak sighted” because when we are in this state of life we don’t see as clearly what the ideal is or how to achieve it.  In many ways, I think that you can tie this in to the fact that Jesus healed many blind people in the New Testament.  Early on in our spiritual development we are “blind” to the more interior truths of the Lord’s Word and how these truths lead us to be truly human – created in the image and likeness of God .  The Lord works with us in our blindness, but He is always leading us to see things more clearly.

You take something like marriage.  I may want to have a wonderfully ideal marriage, but the reality of the situation is that I have a lot of things within me that are standing in the way of this: Arrogance, a need to always be right, a love of dominion, lust, anger, and more.  Because I’m a long way off from being an “ideal husband” (Rachel), the Lord allows less attractive and more external goals and truths (Leah) to lead me for a time.  For example, sometimes I might work on being a good husband simply because I want to look good to others.  At other times I might not yell at my wife because I want to set a good example for my kids.  Sometimes I might choose to stick it out simply because I know the Lord tells me to, and I want to obey His Word.  These may be some pretty external reasons for working on my marriage, but the Lord knows that they will allow me to eventually have an ideal marriage that is much more internal.  The same thing can be said about developing an ideal faith in the Lord, and anything else that has to do with our spiritual growth and eternal happiness.  “Leah” represents our affection for more external truths and ideas that may be “weak sighted” and “less attractive”, but are still an important step towards more internal things.  You may gaze upon the mountaintop, but you must walk up a sometimes challenging path to get there.

I hope this helps you to understand what is represented in this story by Leah being given to Jacob before Rachel.  It’s a pretty big concept and hard to explain well in a short Blog post.  So do feel free to ask any questions and I’ll do my best to answer them.  Also, feel free to give your own thoughts on this representation.  Tomorrow I’m going to write Part Two for this topic where I’ll offer some thoughts on how this story can teach us to have more patience with life, ourselves, and each other.

“With a person who feels an affection for internal truth, that is, has a desire to know the more internal arcana of the Lord’s kingdom, those arcana are not in the beginning joined to him even though he knows them and sometimes even though he acknowledges and seemingly believes them. For worldly and bodily affections are still  present, and these cause him to take them in and seemingly believe them. But insofar as those worldly and bodily affections are present those truths cannot be joined to him.”
(Swedenborg – Secrets of Heaven 3834)