The Nicene Creed

The small group I co-lead is studying the basic beliefs and practices of the Christian life, and we’re currently looking at the doctirne of the Trinity. I’ve heard it argued that the Trinity is THE central doctrine of Christianity, setting us apart from all other religions and cults. I believe this is true, because as I look at all the other doctrines I’ve studied in various theology classes, I see that they basically elaborate on this foundational truth, telling us more about this one God in three Persons and our relationship with Him.

Of the two historic creeds most widely used throughout Christendom, the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, the one with the clearest declaration of belief in the Trinity is the Nicene. I think that’s why it’s my preference of the two creeds, and I love it’s fuller, richer description of the deity of Christ and the person and work of the Holy Spirit. The following is a contemporary translation used in many denominations, including the Roman Catholic Church.

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of Life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.*
With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic** and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

* Eastern Orthodox churches omit “and the Son”
** i.e., universal

Be Thou My Vision

In honor of St. Patrick, here is another of my favorite hymns. When this post originally went out on Friday, I unintentionally plagiarized, because I neglected to include the source of the following description! The Cyber Hymnal is a searchable online database of thousands of hymns, with lyrics, MIDI files, scores, pictures, history and more. I loved the story of Patrick at Slane Hill found on that website, so here (with correct attribution, this time!) is the entry for Be Thou My Vison from The Cyber Hymnal.

Words: Attributed to Dallan Forgaill, 8th Century (Rob tu mo bhoile, a Comdi cride); translated from ancient Irish to English by Mary E. Byrne, in Eri, Journal of the School of Irish Learning, 1905, and versed by Eleanor H. Hull, 1912, alt.

Music: Slane, of Irish folk origin. Slane Hill is about ten miles from Tara in County Meath. It was on Slane Hill around 433 AD that St. Patrick defied a royal edict by lighting candles on Easter Eve. High King Logaire of Tara had decreed that no one could light a fire before Logaire began the pagan spring festival by lighting a fire on Tara Hill. Logaire was so impressed by Patricks devotion that, despite his defiance (or perhaps because of it), he let him continue his missionary work. The rest is history.

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

The House Of My Soul Is Narrow

O Lord,
The house of my soul is narrow;
enlarge it that you may enter in.
It is ruinous, O repair it!
It displeases Your sight.
I confess it, I know.
But who shall cleanse it,
to whom shall I cry but to you?
Cleanse me from my secret faults, O Lord,
and spare Your servant from strange sins.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430)

The word picture Augustine uses to describe the state of his soul brings to mind a musty old basement so filled with cobwebs and dirt and old boxes and various other pieces of junk that you can hardly find a place to walk. As soon as you open the door and look inside, you know that it will take hours upon hours of hard work to make it usable. Perhaps Augustine chose that word picture because he knew that spiritual growth is a long-term process that will not be completed until we see the Lord face to face.

But praise God that He is able to cleanse and repair our souls! This “extreme home makeover” is no problem for Him! He will even get rid of the junk we can’t see! The last two lines of the prayer are a quote from Psalm 19:

Who can discern his errors?
  Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
  may they not rule over me.
  Then will I be blameless,
  innocent of great transgression.

- Psalm 19:12-13 (NIV)

This passage reminds me of 1 John 1:9:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

– 1 John 1:9 (NIV)

Obviously, I’m only able to confess the sins I see. But God promises here to purify me from ALL unrighteousness in my life, not just the unrighteousness I see. If I come to Him in repentance whenever I’m aware of sin in my life, He will be faithful to get rid of the dirt I can’t see. Even if it takes the long-term process of spiritual growth, I can have complete confidence that He will make me clean and usable for His glory.

An Empty Vessel

Behold, Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled. My Lord, fill it. I am weak in the faith; strengthen Thou me. I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent that my love may go out to my neighbor. I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust Thee altogether. O Lord, help me.

Martin Luther (1483 – 1546)
(as quoted in Ken Gire’s Between Heaven and Earth)

Martin Luther’s prayer reminds me not to stop at confessing my sin, but move beyond that to a place where I trust in God’s transforming power. Sometimes when God shows me a weak area in my life or convicts me of a sin, all I look at is that flaw. “What a horrible person I am! I’m hopeless!” I forget in my heart what I know in my head: that God has the power to not only cleanse me, but change me. When I wallow in self-condemnation and defeat, it amounts to nothing less than unbelief — it’s like saying Christ’s death on the cross was not enough to provide forgiveness and new life for me.

God is able to fill my emptiness, give me strength for weakness, and warm my cold heart, but He will only do that when I place my faith in Him. When I trust Him to change me, my flaws and failures can become wonderful opportunities to experience His power at work within me.

Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant…But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us…But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
– 2 Corinthians 3:5-6, 4:7; 12:9 (NIV)

The Motive for Loving God

When I was a child, I used to look forward to the evenings when my Aunt Angie would come to have dinner with us while my Uncle Bill was at his Kiwanis meeting. Why? Because she usually brought me a gift! But when I grew up, that changed; I liked visiting with her simply because I enjoyed her personality and her vibrant heart. I think this pictures, in a small way, what Bernard of Clairvaux is getting at in the following excerpt.

The motive for loving God is God Himself… He is such that a love to Him is a natural due… Our love is prepared and rewarded by His. He loves us first, out if His great tenderness; then we are bound to repay Him with love; and we are permitted to cherish exultant hopes in Him…

He has no better gift than Himself. He gives Himself as prize and reward; He is the refreshment of the holy soul, the ransom of those in captivity.

– Bernard of Clairvaux, from On Loving God
(as quoted in 90 Days With The Christian Classics)

Bernard’s comments lead me to ask myself this: do I really love God, or do I just love what He gives me? To put it another way, do I appreciate His gifts merely because of what I get out of them, or because they show me His heart? Gratitude is vital, but a “grown-up” relationship with God also includes loving Him for who He is and valuing Him because He is valuable in and of Himself.

On this Valentine’s Day, may we see God Himself as our prize and reward, as Bernard did!

 I said to the Lord, "You are my Master!
      Every good thing I have comes from you."
...Lord, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing.
      You guard all that is mine.
The land you have given me is a pleasant land.
      What a wonderful inheritance!
- Psalm 16:2, 5-6 (NLT)

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