Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Run Home Jack! (think the movie Hook)

From the human point of view, God began the greatest chapter in his history of the universe when he created human beings uniquely in the divine image. What this means has been discussed and debated ever since. What is the "image of God"?

After getting to know me, you might say that I was a lot like my Dad. That wouldn't make sense if you did not know my Dad. Unless I had met my Dad or at least had a picture or some stories, your words would have no meaning for me.

I am more convinced that ever that the divine image is our capacity for relationship. While many philosophies and religions may concede that God is loving, Jesus Christ revealed a God who "is love." Take love out of God and nothing is left. God is powerful, but God is not Power. God is intelligent, but God is not Intelligence. God is everywhere, but God is not Everything.

This is the core of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. We have tried and failed to adequately define the roles and functions of the separate persons of the Godhead that we call Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We miss the point that the Three are One exist in a perfect unity of love and intimacy where the three remain distinct but also given over to a new oneness not possible to an independent monad.

This is what God shared with human beings -- the capacity to enter into intimacy with God and each other (Genesis 2). This is what humans lost when they decided they could do better on their own (Genesis 3). This is what God determined to restore through Jesus (II Corinthians 5:14-19).

What God created, God has also reconciled. The destiny of the human race is a renewed eternal relationship. Jesus said, "This is eternal life -- that they know God and Christ Jesus whom He has sent." (John 17:3) Salvation is not just a matter of the body escaping death or the soul escaping hell. Salvation is when the whole person escapes isolation and loneliness and enters into the joy of the Lord.

I feel that all of this may lead us to nod our heads in agreement. God wants more. He wants us to throw our arms wide and welcome Him and each other. This is not a doctrine to be defended but an experience to be entered and shared. God is the protagonist in the story that wants to receive and return the love of every antagonist.

How might this be described?

1. As the end of estrangement. This happens when forgiveness is granted and received. God forgave the entire human race across all of time when Jesus cried from the cross, "It is finished." There is nothing God holds against us any longer. It is we who now need to be reconciled to God. We are the one's who need to let go of what we have held against God all these years. All the hurts that happened and could have been stopped. All the questions that God has refused to answer and all the hoops that God would not jump through to please us. We need to forgive God.

2. As a re-alignment of the will. We reconcile ourselves to the righteous will of God. We no longer hold our will as a separate thing. We stop living at cross-purposes. Before we ask "what is your will for my life" we ask the question "what is Your will"? We fit our little lives into His big life. Our energy and resources get deposited into His bank for distribution for His glory and the greater good.

3. As an affection displayed. Reconciliation is a warm thing. The prodigal is welcomed. The ill is cured. The embarrassed is sheltered. It is to the Father's house that we return, not a bunk in a barracks. Our brother Christ is glad to see us and the Holy Spirit drapes the sky with color like the sunrise.

No wonder the Apostle Paul wrote, "We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God!" (II Corinthians 5:20).

I can't think of a happier ending!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

There's a New World Coming

Tuesday nights mean Anderson U. and my class "Christian Witness in a Pluralistic World." We finished up the section on Islam tonight, but we only just began.

A lot of people are anxious about the cultural shifts that seem to come faster and faster all the time. In my more anxious moments/seasons, I am like a lot of people who fear the end of the world as we know it. I get anxious when I forget the One who is behind human history. This does not absolve me of my responsibility . . . but then, what is my responsibility?

Nicodemus was also nervous when he went to Jesus at night (John 3). He was part of a group that wanted to keep things like they were, or at least manage change to suit themselves (the Pharisees). He's the one for whom Jesus compared the working of the Holy Spirit to the wind: "The Spirit blows where it will. You can feel its passing but you don't know where it comes from or where it goes."

Wouldn't it be convenient if we could blow the Spirit where we wanted? Convenient but ultimately fruitless. We religious humans like to predict the work of God. We spend millions of dollars buying schemes in the form of the latest prophecy books in the hope of comforting ourselves and deciding who's in and who's out of the kingdom.

Jesus says that when the Spirit of God blows through a person or a culture, life as we know it ends. Usually we consider that to be a disaster. The disciples sure did as they watched Jesus die on the cross three years later. Even after the resurrection, they thought God would now create a kingdom after their liking and consistent with their priorities.

Think of the kind of God you have. Do you think that the world is out of his control just because some terrorists bomb a building, an earthquake hits below the equator, or Islam is no longer sequestered "where it belongs." Perhaps God is doing a new thing. God is used to us not understanding his doings as he seeks the reconciliation of the world through Christ.

The Apostle Paul used to be in Nicodemus' club for the self-righteously correct. Jesus broke him loose from that and send him around the known world talking about the new thing He was doing. Toward the end of his life, Paul wrote "I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me." (Philippians 3) He prayed that another group would follow God into "the length, the depth, the height, and the breadth" of what He was doing. Unlike many today, Paul was convinced that in spite of some appearances, the darkness was already past and the true light was shining all the more brightly.

Let's stop wringing our hands and pointing out bogeymen. Instead let's get ready the keep in step with the Spirit as He moves.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

From a Corner of My Mind

Maybe this title prompted Barbara Streisand's voice in your head ("Memories . . ."). If that song makes you feel warm and fuzzy, well and good. If it makes you want to run away from your computer screaming, I'm sorry but that is not the effect I had in mind.

That's the way it is when we reveal ourselves. I have have a meaning in mind, but you may experience something totally different. Even so, I am believing that something in that exchange will benefit both parties. That's why I started this blog. If I cannot believe this, then I am condemned to finding my way alone and should protect myself off from all alien intruders.

Something in the sermon at church this morning sent me 40 years into the past. My family lived in Victor, NY at the time and my parents had bought their first house. We lived about a mile from the school I attended, so quite often I would walk or ride bikes with friends. I remember one winter when I decided that riding the bus with others who wanted to make life rough on me (i.e. bullies) was not worth it, so I walked to school.

This is upstate NY where each February we took a week off because it just got too hard to get students and teachers through the lake effect snow and ice. We just wore out and couldn't keep doing it. We'd take a week off and called it mid-winter break. This is the kind of winter I walked through. It was kind of a test of my endurance of those years of oppression. Today we call it "middle school."

It helped that there was a self-service laundry 1/2 way there. I'd duck in there and warm up before continuing my journey.

(I hadn't really intended to write about that episode, but maybe it was as good for you as it was for me.)

What I remembered this morning in church happened during the brief summer of my eleventh year. On the way home from school we walked up the hill called Church Street to Clover Street where we would turn right into the Victorwood Subdivision.

Long before that housing development arrived, it was farmland. The remnant of the farm was a house with some fenced-in acreage. One of the owner's crops was Concord grapes. If your middle-school arms were long enough you could grab a handful of sweetness as you passed. The really brave future delinquents would jump the fence, scoop up an armload and escape before Farmer Jack knew anything. I don't remember being that brave (or brazen).

This memory reminds me that everyone is either a newcomer or an established resident. This is true in the workplace, a church, a family, a nation, etc. Too often as a newcomer, I have failed to respect the work and sacrifices of those who arrived here ahead of me. A lot of labor and love has gone into the "vines" growing around me and I would do well to ask permission before imbibing or using them to suit my own purposes.

If God grants me enough time, everyone will be a "newcomer" to me. I hope to have some fine vines growing by then and I hope I will remember to put a gate in the fence and keep it oiled. How much juice and jelly can one guy eat anyway?

Maybe all of this launched you somewhere down memory lane. If it didn't, keep reading because I plan to keep writing.

Memories are what we exchange the days of our lives for. Trade well.

Friday, February 18, 2011

An Aligned Life

The Artist's Way is a classic work on developing a spiritual path to creativity. I recommend it for anyone's advancement in life. It is not typical "devotional" reading, but I find my spirit deeply touched/massaged/caressed every time I read a chapter.

The author returns regularly to an awareness that we are alive on purpose and this awareness imparts to us the opportunity and obligation to live well. "What we are talking about is an induced or invited spiritual experience. I refer to this process as spiritual chiropractic. We undertake certain spiritual exercises to achieve alignment with the creative energy of the universe." (p. 1) She says we are best like our Creator when we live creatively, whatever our choice of artwork. I agree and I appreciate the practical help she gives toward launching and maintaining a creative life.

However, as I strive to know and be like God, I believe two additional elements are needed. (Perhaps she will come to these as I continue reading.) These qualities are redemptiveness and joy. A life well-lived is one lived creatively, redemptively, and joyfully.

Whatever God creates also needs -- at least in this universe -- redemption. If what I write is not in some manner redemptive, it is disconnected from reality and may only distract or disempower readers. I want my art (and my life) to be of some help to those like me who have fallen and cannot rise up on their own. This is why I take such issue with how the movie adaptation of "Dear John" so changed the ending from the way Nicholas Sparks wrote the book. The whole point of how the main character grew and changed regarding his sense of his part in life lost its redemptive power. Hollywood scripts a "happy" ending, but life can be good even if the boy doesn't get the girl.

The other God-pointing quality is joy. This is hard to define and it transcends circumstancial happiness. At this point in life, I believe it is a confidence in the ultimate goodness of human existance. This is not to say that everything that happens is good or that everyone is good at heart, but that the plot of God's story is leading somewhere worthwhile. Maybe the opposite of joy is not saddness, but rather cynicism and boredom. Joy inspires a creativity that needs to be shared with others (i.e. living redemptively). My wife and I had a sick day together this week and we watched the movie "Pay It Forward." The lead character made a choice within horrible circumstances: to believe that something he did could and would make a difference. Waves of redemptive action rolled out from his acts of kindness. He did not learn of all of all the impact he had, but that speaks to how the choice to live joyfully is an act of faith. We will not learn "the end of the story" (i.e. Paul Harvey) until the Great Author weaves it all together. That will be a joyful moment!

I hope that your reading of this entry helps you achieve alignment with the creative energy of the universe. It has helped me to write it.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Alive Man Walking

I have a book in mind to write. It is about the inner life of the Christian apostle Paul. Other than Jesus, this one person has more to do our experience of Christianity in the west than any other. My thought is to study the "crucial transition points" of his life. Paul refers to them as "fighting the fight of faith." I believe that they have much to say to those who desire to grow into the kind of persons God has in mind. Paul wrote, "I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me." This is not something external to him such as a project or program. "We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works." "Good works" arise out of the work God does within us. In my experience, the most meaningful work God does in me happens as I journey through stress, conflict, confusion, loss and seeming defeat.

And yet Paul seems to continually rejoice in his sufferings. This is far from resigning himself to a life of hardship. I believe it has to do with Jesus' call to be crucified. His Lord died and then rose again. Paul had every confidence that when something in his life died, God would bring an even greater resurrection. Suffering and such things were not just inevitable parts of life. They were God's tools to make something greater out of him. Perhaps there has been no one who has gotten this better than Paul. I (at least a part of me) wants to follow in this way. This does not mean that I will look to inflict suffering upon myself. Enough will come my way of its own accord. Right now it means that I will study Paul's life and write that book for my own good, if not for anyone else's.

Paul wrote "Whatever happens, conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ." (Philippians 1:27) Everyone has something for which they conduct themselves. There is a song playing somewhere, a story being rehearsed in the heart, an memory of something that matters. What we are committed to shows up in the choices we make. It may be like this: Conduct yourself in a manner worthy of --

our family

this company
the shame you bear
the secret no one must know
the next pleasure
your individual rights
protecting all you have accumulated
success, winning, being King of the Hill, etc.

The best thing a Christian can do is walk worthily of the Gospel of Christ. This is the great work in the heart -- that everything is measured and directed by the Gospel.

The good news is that if we don't like the way our lives are going, we can change. This is the work God does in those who are willing. As we pray, read the Scripture, and engage authentic fellowship with other believers, the Holy Spirit replaces our old internal music with something more in line with His eternal purpose. Soon, we start whistling along with it and more of the image of God gets on display for the redemption of the world.