Monday, October 17, 2016

Jesus Didn't Leave Us With a Clear Belief System but with Breath and Body...

The following are excerpts from chapter 8 of Jesus Manifesto by Frank Viola and Leonard Sweet. If you don't have time to read it all, jump down to the highlighted portion at the end:

The Forgotten Tree
"...The glory of the gospel is that we who are fallen, tarnished and marred have been invited to live our lives in the exact same way that Jesus lived His life: by an indwelling Lord...

(In the garden of Eden) God wanted humans to eat from the tree of life...(which) meant receiving the uncreated life of God into oneself...Today the tree of life is the Lord Jesus Christ.

Living by God's life is very different from living by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil...

...The Pharisees' attempt to promote high moral values was based on the knowledge of good and evil. For this reason, the Lord Jesus - who had a reputation of being a 'friend of sinners' - constantly collided with the leaven-dispensing Pharisees.

Jesus pushed the boundaries of religion to their limits. He was also a fierce critic of the priestly temple system of His day...If you examine Jesus' exchanges with the Pharisees, you'll discover a common thread. The Pharisees would ask a question on one level, and Jesus would answer it on a completely different would appear that Jesus was answering a different question.

Why is this? It's because the Pharisees' questions were coming from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And Jesus' response was coming from the tree of life - the life of God.

The Bible teaches the highest possible moral values. But the Bible is fundamentally not about morality. Following the Lord Jesus Christ involves living out the highest moral values. But following Jesus is fundamentally not about morality. Conversion to Christ involves a moral transformation of life. But conversion is not fundamentally about morality either...It is Christ, not religion, that saves us. is all too possible to confuse an academic knowledge or theology about Jesus with a personal knowledge of the living Christ Himself. These two stand as far apart as do the hundred thousand million galaxies.

...the fullness of Christ can never be accessed through the frontal lobe alone. That's why Jesus did not leave His disciples with CliffNotes for a systematic theology. He left them with breath and body. He didn't leave them with a coherent and clear belief system by which to love God and others. He gave them wounds to touch and hands to heal. He didn't leave them with intellectual belief or a 'Christian worldview.' He left them with a relational faith and an indwelling presence.

...unless the cutting edge of your life and ministry is Jesus Christ, you're building castles in the sand and skating on invisible ice. That's why...the church must be awakened to the Christ who lives within her and begin to understand the limitless resources of His indwelling life."

Saturday, October 08, 2016

True Power, True Manliness

Jesus' power and manliness finds its highest and clearest expression in the cross; may the contemplation of His beauty spoil us for the cheap substitutes presented to us in our day:
Image result for passion of the christ movie

"Yes, my lovable Jesus, You are certainly beautiful and You have by Your beauty alone softened the most obstinate hearts from evil ways. Bernard Colnago found himself once in a cottage with five brigands and a wicked woman. What did he do to convert them? Did he open Hell before their eyes? No, ...he said to them in a serious and modest tone, "Jesus is beautiful, Jesus is beautiful." These words were the arrows which pierced those hearts of stone and all were converted. beloved friends, I desire that your heart be captivated by the beauty of my Jesus, a beauty so sweet that it will make you happy in this life and happy through all eternity; a beauty so marvelous that it will be the delight even of Paradise and if there were not anything else to contemplate in Heaven but the beauty so pure, so holy, and so ravishing of Jesus, this would be even then an abode of ineffable delight."  (St. Leonard Port-Maurice)

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Power of Being Present

As I continue in my personal journey of physical weakness and disability, I'm more convinced than ever that being present in solidarity with others is more powerful than brute strength. This is fresh on my mind after having just spent a day with two people (separate situations) who are in great emotional pain over loss of a child - not through death but through other very painful happenings in their lives that has brought deep loss to both families.

Because of my physical injuries of 3-4 years ago, I am unable to walk without assistance. This puts significant limitations on what I can do to help others with anything that requires physical strength and mobility.

However, it seems that my presence is desired anyway; I'm learning that nonjudgmental loving presence is powerful in its ability to put inner strength and hope in another person even without the issue being "fixed".

This underscores to me a reality that is growing in my understanding of God, which is that His power largely takes the form of presence, a loving presence without judgment. The prophet Isaiah said that God would come as Emmanuel, God with us! God's incarnation demonstrates that He in solidarity with human frailty; His crucifixion tells us that He is in full solidarity with human suffering; His resurrection and ascension and then outpouring of His very own Life/Spirit tells us that He continues to dwell among us in ongoing solidarity with everything we go through and that He will never leave or forsake us!

It is this loving peace-filled presence of God that brings strength and hope and motivation to continue trusting Him in the face of crippling fear and discouragement. Because God's love is free of any coercion and manipulation, He won't intervene and force things to go well when it violates pure love; but He can be and is present in all the beauty and power of pure self-giving love which empowers us.

A wonderful reality is that, as bearers of His life and love, we can bring His presence into situations in our little corners of the world with the understanding that our mere presence gives courage and hope to those who need it!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Unexpected Source of Energy on Which the Cosmos Thrives

The longer I walk with the Lord Jesus and look at His way of living and dying, the more I'm aware of how utterly upside down (to us) God's kingdom ways are. I read a short article by Kenneth Tanner, The Great Humility that Redeems the Cosmos, which expresses well how wonderfully different God's ways are from ours:

"The gospels upend every human (perhaps every rational) notion of strength.

The cosmos—superclusters of galaxies, delicate wildflowers on countless meadows, the waves of every ocean—thrives on one source of energy, a hidden force of charity that does not seek its own, a Person with an unremarkable face, who came not to be served by his creation but to serve. 

When I talk about this personal force of love I often describe it as some of the first Christians did. They call his passion for everyone and everything an Extreme Humility.

The biggest challenge presented to humanity by his gospel is our mistaken bedrock belief that what drives the universe is an unbridled might that rules by fiat. This is after all the only form of power we humans recognize: brute force, cunning strategy, ruthless competition, and, above all else, "winning."
It goes against everything that man has built and everything that man has ventured to accept the idea that the real power that sustains all movement and all life, that binds all things together—from subatomic particles to intergalactic distances—is a self-sacrificial love without measure.
"If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it."
Jesus is not just talking about your life but is describing how *everything* works.
The losers in this scenario do not "win" but instead come to participate forever in the life of him who lays down his life for the life of the world and in so doing—by a great humility—redeems the cosmos and makes all things new, makes all things well.
This belief is not going to get you anywhere in the world that humanity has made but you can serve that world—this world that Christ loved before it loved him—by embracing this sacred path of humility and renouncing all the other ways and means and kinds of power.
All of them. Political. Military. Intellectual. Physical. All.
It is telling that almost every news story that compels the urgent attention of Christians these days can only do so because we have denied that we serve a Lord that rules by a mysterious humility that conquers all hearts by self-giving."

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Everywhere and Always...Always and Everywhere

Many times in Scripture we humans are admonished to not fear; and the reason given for not needing to fear is that "the Lord is with you."

Fear is one of the most, if not the most, paralyzing emotion that humans experience. It paralyses us and keeps us from taking action needed for the sake of Jesus and His love of others.

The promise that the Lord is with us is key if we are to live and move in love towards God and others. "God is love", says the apostle John in his first letter. He also says that love casts out fear; this means that the presence of Love drives fear away. For example, if fear in the form of financial shortage visits my heart, the awareness that Love is present with me in the form of Jehovah-jireh (Provider) brings peace and the courage to keep giving and blessing others even when finances are short. If fear comes because of a difficult work situation that needs my speaking up on behalf of others, pausing to recognize that Love in the form of Jehovah-Nissi (Victorious One) is with me gives me the inner courage to say something when I would rather keep silent.

Love is with me everywhere and always!

Practicing the presence of Love is an important spiritual practice, because without a growing assurance and awareness that He is present with us always and everywhere, we are no match for fear, a reality we face daily to one degree or another.

There's a scene in the Prince Caspian movie in which the young girl Lucy is approaching strong and intimidating enemies; to her amazement they are backing away from her in fear, not because of her strength, but because Aslan is walking directly behind her. The presence of Love with Lucy drives back the intimidating forces coming against her.

Realizing God's presence with us doesn't mean the emotion of fear goes away, but as we become increasingly in touch with the reality of His real presence with us in our moment of fear, our heart is strengthened to push through the emotions of fear and to act in faith.

God came in Jesus as Emmanuel; that name  alone tells us that the greatest news about God is that He is with us always and everywhere. God's power is His presence!

"...he has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.' So we can confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'" Hebrews 13:5,6

Sunday, June 26, 2016

God's Requirements Reflect His Priorities

The life and death of Jesus reflects God's preference for humans over his own well being. Last week I wrote about God's prioritizing of humans (here). This week I will write about how his requirements of us reflect this.

Micah 6:6 is a well known scripture that summarizes what's in the heart of God; here he tells us what really matters most to him about how we live. It's in response to the questions posed in the previous 2 verses which imply that God must want religious sacrifices (prayer, fasting, offerings, worship assembling, etc). The prophet responds strongly by saying no to the religious sacrifices, but rather:

"He has told you, human one, what is good and
        what the Lord requires from you:
            to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God." (CEB)

Three things: "do justice"; "embrace faithful love (mercy)"; "walk humbly with your God."

There are many different directions I could go with this, but I simply want to point out that what God asks of us is all about our treatment of others and his desire that we do this humbly with him.

The New Testament backs this up with some overarching instructions: Jesus says in Mark 12 that the greatest commandment is to love God and to love others; all of the scriptures are fulfilled in this one commandment. Later Paul says in Romans 13:8-10:

"Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.  Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.'" (NLT)

God prioritizes humans; his requirements of us reflect how important people are to him.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

People are God's Priority

Jesus said, 'When you see me, you see the Father'. Through his actions and words he was and is continually reinterpreting what we humans understand about God.

One way in which God has been badly misunderstood is in his relationship with the law. Often Jesus bumped up against the religious system and its leaders because their interpretations of the law misled the people. An example of this was Jesus' teaching about the sabbath: 'the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.' His actions backed up this teaching; he would often break the religious rules about keeping the Sabbath by healing and helping people on the Sabbath.

This simple teaching carries profound meaning for our understanding of God. His priority is the well being of humans while religious systems are preoccupied with keeping the rules at all costs. The commandment to honor the Sabbath as a day of rest was intended to serve humans, not to burden us. But the maintainers of religious systems turn the Creator's loving care for humanity into a heavy yoke by making obedience to the rule the issue rather than the well being of the humans.

In his book, Jesus Before Christianity, Albert Nolan says, "Jesus was not opposed to the law as such, he was opposed to the way people used the law, their attitude to the law. The scribes and Pharisees had made the law into a burden, whereas it was supposed to be a service...They were using the sabbath against people instead of using it for them...for Jesus it (the law) was supposed to be for the benefit of people, to serve their needs and genuine interests...Jesus' attitude led to permissiveness whenever the needs of people would not be met by observance of the law, and to strictness whenever this would best serve their needs. The law was made for us, we were not made to serve and bow down before the law."

Jesus' approach to the law reveals God's approach to the law and shows how important human beings are to God. This not only helps us understand what God is like but it empowers us to approach the law in the same manner, seeing humans' well being as more important than strict adherence to the law. This is a challenge to us who want an easy answer to people's problems because it requires genuine care for people and discernment of what God's care should look like in a particular instance.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

God's Power: Not the Kind of Power We Wish He Had

I highly recommend Doug Frank's book, A Gentler God. He presents ways of understanding God that are wonderful and that cut across the grain of some of the church's ways of seeing God. His main point is that we need to move away from the idea of "the Almighty" to understanding that God is like the human man Jesus. The following are quotes from this book that, to me, are worth taking the time to consider and to ponder:

"Occasionally...I reach for...some kind of explanation for or defense of the ways of God...Sooner or later, they all force me to choose among five dubious alternatives: 'there is no God'; 'the Almighty is not good'; 'the Almighty could prevent evil, but it would cost us our freedom'; 'Satan causes evil'; or 'trust God, his ways are unfathomable.'

"An answer that makes more sense to me is: 'God is small - a child, like Jesus said. God simply does not have the kind of power we ourselves crave and project onto him - the power that could fix our lives by tinkering with the laws of the universe. In that sense, God is a child.

"Which does not mean that the God whom Jesus is revealing to us does nothing at all...Such a God would not only be powerless, but unresponsive and uncaring. No - God acts, but in the only way that pure love can act: God is continually present in the world, a living spirit that invades reality at every moment and at every place, that speaks as love does - in whispers, unceasingly - into each and every human heart. God's whispers may be heard in our dreams, in the voices of our friends and enemies, in the cries of our hearts, in deep silence...
jesus on cross photo: Twelveth Station passion_cross_crucificado.png
"If God cannot straightforwardly micro-manage human events so as to rescue the abused child, the tortured prisoner, the cancer victim, neither can God rescue God's very own self, incarnated in Jesus...God can and will hang on the gibbet in utter solidarity with the son, helplessly receiving the cruel blows rained down on the naked, dying flesh of the beloved.

"There is a kind of power in God's whispers. But it is the power of powerlessness. It changes things, but invisibly, unpredictably, unaccountably and, from our point of view, unreliably. It is not the kind of power we imagine, or wish, God to have."

Sunday, June 05, 2016

God Does Not Oppress Us with His Will

In his book, The Politics of God and the Politics of Man, Jacques Ellul looks at accounts from the book of II Kings and presents a case for a God who values human dignity so much that He allows us to freely be who we are. In chapter one Ellul writes about the healing of Naaman, saying that God used many different agents in Naaman's life. He points out that none of the people involved in the healing (Hebrew slave girl, king of Syria, Elisha, Naaman's servants) acted under coercion from God but they acted according to their own "bent", at their own "level" and with their own "personal decision." Ellul goes on to remark, "If the story wanted to show us God crushing the will of man and forcing man to do what God wants, then things would have been very simple."

God takes the dignity and freedom of human beings seriously and will not "crush the will of man" and force us to do what He wants. He allows us to be who we are and to act according to our bent, and He takes our small free actions, combines them with the small actions of others and somehow works to produce beauty and goodness.

George MacDonald puts it this way in his book, Knowing the Heart of God:

"God does not, by the instant gift of his Spirit, make us always feel right, desire good, love purity, aspire after him and his will...The truth is this: He wants to make us in his own image, choosing the good, refusing the evil. How could he effect this if he were always moving us from within? God gives us room to be. He does not oppress us with his will. He 'stands away from us,' that we may act from ourselves, that we may exercise the pure will for good."

The marvel and genius of God is not that He is able to get things done because we finally "get our act together" but that He is able to get things done through broken vessels who never really get our act together but who freely move and act according to our bent and personal decision.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Nothing is More Amazing than...

Valjean being freely released from thievery by bishop in Les Miserables
"Nothing is more amazing than the patient, gentle charity that God displays to His creatures. There is something adorable in the compassion of God for mankind which looks like a voluntary blindness to their evil...The Bible is full of instances of this in His dealings with both nations and individuals, where His justice seems to move with tortoise pace, constantly pursuing but seemingly on purpose to be a long while catching up with the one to be punished, as if to give him every allowance possible to infinite mercy. Now, the more we are with God, and the closer our union is with Him, and the more deeply we drink of the interior sweetness of His life, the more we shall catch something of His gentleness and compassion of spirit which will destroy our proclivity for harsh judgments and take away the keenness by which we discover evil in others..."

- Paul Billheimer (Love Covers) -