Friday, January 20, 2012

Whatever you think of The Shack . . .

. . .its portrayal of the Christian Trinitarian concept of God was gripping, thought provoking, and (for me) revealing. The book very smartly did not try to explain how the three are one and one are three. More importantly and effectively it portrayed the relationship among them and how each is important to us who exist as individuals in relationship.

The eighth chapter of Romans has been a key verse for Christian understanding and living since it was penned 20 and 1/2 centuries ago. Each Person of the Triune God gets time on the stage. Here's what I can affirm:

The Holy Spirit

  • Controls our minds increasingly (8:6)

  • Lives in us (8:9-10)

  • Will give life to our mortal bodies (i.e. resurrection) (8:11)

  • Is the way for us to put the misdeeds of the body (i.e. sins) to death (8:13)

  • Testifies with our spirit that we are God's children (8:16)

  • Is a first fruit of a fuller harvest God will produce in us (8:23)

  • Helps us in prayer by interceeding for us (8:26-27)

Jesus Christ

  • Is the reason we are free from the law of sin and death (8:2)

  • Was a (one-time) offering for sin (8:3-4)

  • Was the human expression of the Spirit (8:9)

  • Is risen from the dead (8:11)

  • Is a co-heir with us of all things (8:17)

  • Is the One all Christians are destined to become like (8:29)

  • Intercedes for His own at God's right hand (8:34)

  • Loves us (8:35, 39)

God the Father

  • Sent the Son to be a sin offering (8:3)

  • Receives hostility from the sinful mind (8:7)

  • Raised Jesus from the dead (8:11)

  • The One the Spirit expresses (8:14)

  • Has children (8:16-17)

  • Subjected creation to frustration (8:20)

  • Has a will (i.e. plan) for all (8:27)

  • Works actively for good in all things for those who have commited to Him (8:28)

  • Foreknew, calls, justifies, and glorifies His own (8:30)

  • Is for us (8:31)

  • Will give us all things (that are necessary) (8:32)

  • Justifies sinners (8:33)

  • Will not allow anything to seperate his people from his love (8:39)

I hope that you find fulfillment in knowing this One God who exists forever in triune relationship and who wants to share His life with as many of us as will have it.

Biblically Upset

My new class at Anderson School of Theology is focusing on the Hebrew prophets. You don't read too far through the prophets to learn that for every hint into the future they give, they deliver twenty challenges to the present order of their day. For instance, the prophets often spoke out against those who used their power unjustly. They often defended the poor and oppressed. When it came to hypocrisy by those who should have known and done better, they call a spade and spade.

With the way things are in America these days, a lot of people are upset and expressing it through blogs, letters to media, and protests in the streets. The latest thing to hit the fan is the row over how to respond to the ongoing crime of piracy of intelectual property. We don't need to turn up the level of venting over this and other issues and catastrophizing is always unhelpful. However, I am interested in becoming Biblically upset enough to bring about change about something.

I believe that becoming Biblically upset means to love what God loves and hate what God hates enough to get involved for good. A thourough knowledge of the Hebrew Bible and Christian Scripture can inform us about what matters to God. It can convince us that some need removing and other things need preserving or re-establishing. I wonder what is making you, my reader, Biblically upset these days? Could it be that the Spirit of God is raising up another prophet?

Friday, January 6, 2012

Just hours before he would be arrested and then crucified, Jesus celebrates the greatest Jewish feast holiday with his disciples. They enjoy a Passover meal together and then Jesus speaks to them as is recorded on John 13-16. At the end of chapter 16 Jesus says that he has told them all of this so that they "might have peace." Really! Let's review what he said to them that night.

1. One of you will betray me to my enemies (13:21)
2. Peter will deny that he knows me three times (13:38)
3. I am leaving you (13:36b)
4. Even after all this time, you still don't know who I am (14:9)
5. The Prince of this world is coming (14:30)
6. You are at risk of being cut off from the vine of God (15:6)
7. The world will hate you (15:18-16:2)
8. You are not able to hear all that I wish I could say (16:12)
9. Expect to weep and mourn while the world rejoices (16:20)

This doesn't sound very peace-inducing to me! I'd be scared and wondering what I had gotten myself into. If we have lived long enough, we grasp tht fact that inspite of all the money we spend, the votes we cast, and the miles we jog, we cannot guarantee that our circumstances will be those that promote happiness. When we look inside, the best we can do is hope that we will be "up for the challenge."

What did Jesus mean?
A. It might be that he was pracicing "full disclosure" with his followers. "Were it not so, I would have told you." (14:1b) "I have called you friends fo everything I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." (15:15) If bad times are coming, being forewarned can enable me to prepare and get my courage up. Yet this is far from being at peace.

B. Jesus qualifies his promise of peace with a prepositional phrase: "in me." Christ's followers inhabit two worlds at the same time. One is this world of physical, emotional, political, financial, and military threat and uncertainty. It is there that we have "trouble." (John 16:33) The other realm is "in Christ." All lasting peace is found in the latter.

Peace is experienced when
1. We are in a fellowship where we know we are loved (13:34-35)
2. We believe that our eternal place is secure (14:1-4)
3. We see our best days as lying ahead (14:12-14)
4. We feel the love of God for us (14:18-23)
5. We sense spiritual life of God flowing through us (15:7-9)
6. We see the honor in suffering as Christ did (15:20f)
7. We experience "all truth." (i.e. about everything) (16:2)
8. We understand suffering as birth pangs and not as the end (i.e. terminal) (16:20-22)
9. We accept that our best efforts fall short, but understand that our performance never was the deciding factor anyway. (16:31-33)

May peace be yours and mine this year!

Christmas Past

Today is the Christian holiday Epiphany. It commemorates the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles in the persons of the Magi. It is the "twelvth day of Christmas" and many people have waited until today to take down their Christmas decorations.

I wonder way some Santa movies move me so. I think it is not about being rewarded for being good. It's more about grace and being remembered and not being forgotten. In the New Testament Book of Revelation there is a church where the faithful ones receive a white stone with a name on it that no one knows except the one gives it and the who receives it. It is a moment that says everything to a believer who has held to Jesus through life. He or she will not miss being on God's list. The gift is fitting and unique, crafted just for that person.

For me, Santa is not a source for selfish dreams to come true. Rather, Santa is a symbol of the covenantal God who sees me when I'm sleeping and remembers me. To be remembered says, "You have belonged all along." I know my flaw and sins well (i.e. my naughtiness). The best Santa movies show him not only as a rewarder, but also as Redeemer.

(If you'd enjoy another reflection on Santa, check out my latest posting on my blog "Story Matters." It ran in the Greenfield Daily Reporter on December 17th.)