a new vision

A big issue with Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” is story in terms of just what story the Bible is telling. Those Christian leaders who have made out of bounds statements against Rob Bell see his take on the meaning of the biblical story as heretical.  While I can’t see Rob’s take on it as doing justice to the whole of scripture, I do think he’s getting at something which is there, but which his opponents don’t seem, in my view, to account well enough for. That indeed mercy does overrule (CEB), or triumphs over (NIV) judgment. In other words, what is at work in the world is an unleashing of God’s salvation through Christ in a way in which mercy is at work. From scripture we see the only norm is that this is to occur through the church. Although there may be hints in scripture, and indeed there are some indications that God meets people in unusual ways at times, apart from the norm.

Of all people on earth, we Christians should have the largest hearts of anyone. And I’m referring to hearts of mercy. There’s no doubt that we’re all sinners, all humanity is under the power and penalty of sin. We deserve nothing but God’s judgment. But we know that in and through God’s son, Jesus, judgment has been taken care of on the cross so that through the resurrection, new life in the salvation in Jesus, is offered to all. But what about the many who either have never heard, or who have a distorted view of the gospel? I don’t see a second chance beyond the grave promised in scripture, though I am hopeful that such will be the case. I tend to view hell in a C.S. Lewis, Tim Keller sort of way, a kind of underworld in which people choose their self-destructive way in moving further and further away from God. Perhaps ending at some point in annihilation (John R.W. Stott), or to the place where the image of God is completely gone, so that no humanity is left (along the lines of my understanding on this from N.T. Wright).

What we need today, and always need to be open to, is nothing short of a new vision from God. Always reforming is tied to the Reformation, yet many advocates of the Reformation today seem to want us to go back and live in the past. There is much good we can learn from the Reformers, which would be helpful for us today. But I don’t believe one of them, if they were alive today, would hold to the letter all they wrote or said back at that time. For example the Jewishness of our faith that has come to light over the past few decades, and how that impacts our understanding of the law, and of so much in scripture is undeniable. That does not at all change the basic insights of the Reformation. But it rids the Reformation of baggage which actually undermines its argument. So that we end up, according to my understanding, to embrace something of both the old and new perspectives on Jesus and Paul. We do need to keep prayerfully studying together.

We need to keep seeking God, and indeed every generation and culture needs to do so, for a fresh vision of the story for our day, and for the times in which we live. Not changing the essence of the Story, but letting the Story be what it is: incarnational through and through in words and the Word, made by the Spirit to make all things new, fulfilling what is of God in the old into the new, in and through Jesus.

As a bottom note, I’m advocating a new vision in keeping with scripture, then tradition, reason and experience. It is something we in Jesus need to remain open to, and continue to work at in this present world where we will ever be seeing through a glass darkly, and will know only in part (1 Corinthians 13). And while I see Rob Bell bringing up some good points which are good for the conversation that is needed, I don’t come down where he does, as to the answer, which I hope I made plain enough by implication, in this post.

beauty

Today in the UK is the big wedding. We could guess that if one word could describe it, or what people rightfully anticipate, the consensus might be beauty. Though some might say, extravagance, as in no expense spared. Or how about extravagant beauty?

This is a great loss in much of Christianity, at least in my evangelical part of it, I’m afraid, not thinking about, nor celebrating beauty as of and from God. Maybe we’re too steeped in a utilitarian mindset with the idea that what matters is the use we can get out of everything, even the earth itself. So we begin to strip the forest bare, and live in our urban, suburban ghettos, giving little thought to beauty.

But in spite of ourselves, we can’t escape beauty. It is everywhere, inherent in nature, inherent in the wonder of creation. The older I get the more I appreciate the simple beauty we find everywhere. But also the more I want to enjoy the vastness and grandeur of God’s beauty.

Beauty comes from God, all over creation and in the new creation. It is a part of God himself, especially revealed in Jesus. We’ve just celebrated the beauty of Holy Week, now in the Easter season. Scripture speaks of God’s beauty. And yet  while all of this is true, I think we often don’t have eyes to see it. We need a heart intent on finding the beauty within creation, and in that being drawn to the Creator, and the beauty found in the Triune God, especially revealed in Jesus. And finding it, begin to contemplate and reflect something of that beauty into the world.

working together

Much of the good part of our days, in fact much of our lives are taken up with work, often hard work. The work itself is often difficult because of the requirements and what it takes to fulfill them. More or less. But what becomes more difficult is when co-workers don’t see eye to eye on just how to fulfill the goals, or requirements. That is inevitable. We will find this problem everywhere, even I say, among us Christians. Part of the problem, I think, is the individualism our society is steeped in. This rugged American individualism, as it’s sometimes called, has left its mark on us, so that more often than not, we like to be left to ourselves to do a job as we see fit. Of course that can be sin.  The mentality we need to work with would be a collaborative one, in which all the strengths of each participant play out. Each being included enough so that they can develop and contribute fully, so that what each has to bring to the table can make a difference.

This reminds me of the imagery in scripture of Christ’s Body. Christ is the Head, and we each are members of Christ, of his Body, by the Spirit. From Christ as our source of life we have a natural built interdependence on each other. We need each one of our brothers and sisters in Jesus. We each have our place. We need to learn to play our part, just as one plays their instrument in an orchestra.

But in this life, disagreement cannot always end in a way each person completely likes, or agrees with. That is where we need to let go, learning not to think that our view is the right or best one. We are all limited in our one view, and need all the views of each other. And we don’t know what God is doing. If we insist on getting our way–that in itself a problem–and take over, what God may be doing, or wants to do in helping another use their gifts and develop to contribute to the whole, may well be short circuited, or delayed. Maybe tragically even lost!

So let us humble ourselves and help each other, not only in offering our own gift into the mix, but helping others do well with their gifts. Of course this post does not address some hard questions, such as when one insists on having their own way. Suffice it to say here, that sometimes to let that play out can be helpful, as in the long run the truth can be apparent. Through love and over time we can all change, so that we all more and more can appreciate the work each of us do, to the glory of our Lord, and in our mission to the world.

truth and love in discerning

We all hear and see life through the lenses that have been formulated through our experience over the years, especially during formative times, such as our upbringing, turning points in our lives, etc. It is often hard to really hear what people are saying, to hear and understand what God is saying. It can be plain enough, but we may not take it seriously, because we see it with all kinds of qualifications, and therefore end up having our reservations. Or not really believing it at all.

I am there, that is part of who I am. I am thankful to God, not only for a good wife, but also for God’s relentless work of love and truth in Jesus in helping me directly and through others, such as my wife. To over time develop a new lens through which I see everything. That takes time in a process of change. Which can include healing and always is worked out in the renewing of our minds, in a heart and life change.

We need truth and love, or you could say love and truth, and there is none, strictly speaking, in any final way except in and through Jesus. This carries not only us, but the world toward the goal of God’s kingdom in Jesus. Of course that meets up against all kinds of obstacles as in opposition, as well as our own stubbornness of heart, and slowness of mind. We have seen life for so long in certain ways, such as, “You’re no good”–talking to one’s own self–etc., that we need no less than a revolution which changes us from the outside in, to the inside out.

As we are changed we will be able to see more and more clearly God’s truth and love in Jesus, not only for ourselves, but for others, indeed for the world. And what that means in terms of God’s will in Jesus. A sight not only to behold, but to enter into, and live.

full of grace and truth

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1

There is one person whom scripture says was full of grace and truth: Jesus. Of course Jesus in his full humanity, was sinless. Living in perfect trust and obedience to God. And the fulness of the Deity lived in Jesus in bodily form. That is, he was and ever is God. So that we would well expect him to be full of grace and truth, such being at the heart of who God is and what he is about in this world.

We, on the other hand, fall short with reference to both. We never really are full of either, except in the sense of being filled with the Spirit, so that we experience something of this fullness in our hearts and lives. But not in the measure which in Jesus case had no limits, but was ever complete, dynamically full, and overflowing.

I wonder if my life is characterized more and more by grace. Do I talk about others who trouble me, even just to my wife? That can be okay, as long as I’m being careful of what I say, and am not attacking them. To roll our eyes, or shake our heads can be to cross over, or be on the verge of breaking our Lord’s words of warning in regard to our thoughts and attitudes toward others.

I wonder if my life is characterized more and more by truth. Am I first of all open to the truth as applied to myself, and my own life? Am I open to the truth’s correction? Do I seek to live by the truth in everything? Of course the truth from God is both in words and in the Word, a person, so that it is to be personal. Always in and through Jesus, and only in and through Jesus do we understand at all, or live at all in truth.

John referred to truth and love, and that he wanted his spiritual children to live in that reality in Jesus.  And we do this together. Not only individually, as if we actually live an individual existence. In one experiential sense we do, but in Christ by the Spirit we don’t. Nor are we meant to do so. That is to say, when we’re in union with Jesus by faith, we end up being in union with all who are in Jesus. So that we grow in grace and in truth only in that union, all that it means in its fullness, in Jesus. Worked out in life and in relationships.

Of course we often have to repent and begin again so to speak. We just won’t arrive in this life. And yet we press on, together in Jesus, to live out and proclaim his grace and truth. To point others to the one who is full of grace and truth: Jesus. As we grow up together, in him.

letting go

Sometimes we take on ourselves a yoke that we were never meant to bear. I am good at that, as my wife could tell you, and as our pastors at our church are finding out. It can be in the name of love and truth, truth and love. But it may not be a yoke Christ has laid on us.

Our pastor Sharon who does much of the praying at our church on Sunday mornings, both in the service and afterward with people in need, prayed for me yesterday. She mentioned how one of the Catholic saints, either Teresa of Avila, or Thérèse of Lisieux, learned to come before the Lord to tell him: “I am suffering much, but am I suffering well?”  She learned that a galling yoke is a sure sign that something is not right. Likely with the yoke that is carried, or with the attitude with which it is carried. Though if one is really taking on themselves the yoke Jesus gives, one would think that one’s attitude is kept in grace. At any rate this thought on attitude is my own.

We need to carefully look at and hear our Lord’s words to us:

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11

Any yoke that is not like the one Jesus describes here, is not from him. It may be a yoke of our own making, helped along by the world, the flesh and the devil. But it is not of the Spirit. As Sharon told me, if it makes us introspective to the point of unresolved despair (something like that from her, in better words) then it is a sure indication that it is not a yoke we’re to bear.

And I’m thinking that the only way I’ll rid myself of the heavy, galling yokes I carry from time to time, is to learn to take up our Lord’s yoke. Yoked with Jesus who carries the bulk of the load, in a work that is no less than joy, and certainly brings rest to us. A rest not just for us, but together in Jesus for the world.

N.T. Wright on Jesus’ resurrection: new life and a new world here and now

…the resurrection gives us a powerful reason to worship, and so to follow, the risen Jesus. If it is true that Jesus has been raised from the dead, he is not just a private cult figure, not just someone that Christians happen to know in some private way. He is the Lord of the world. Paul got into hot water in Thessalonica for declaring that there was ‘another king named Jesus’ (Acts 17.7). In the world of his day, language like that was treason. It meant that Jesus called into question the absolute power claimed by Caesar, the absolute no-questions loyalty that Caesar demanded. That was what the kingdom of God meant; that was what following Jesus involved. In our world, we would have to diversify the claim: there is another Prime Minister; there is another Vice Chancellor; another Lord Mayor. More: there is another starting point for thinking and living, which neither the market economy, nor Freudian psychology, nor international power politics, nor anything else in our present hierarchy of ideologies can touch. And we have the privilege of worshipping and following this Jesus, this King. The resurrection opens up before those who would follow Jesus a new life, a new world. And that new life and world, though they will be fulfilled in the life yet to come, begin here and now.

N.T. Wright, Following Jesus, 114.

the empty tomb and Jesus appears

John 20

The Empty Tomb

1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

prayer for Pascha/the Sunday of the Resurrection/Easter Sunday

O God, who made this most holy night to shine with the glory of the Lord’s resurrection: Stir up in your Church that Spirit of adoption which is given to us in Baptism, that we, being renewed both in body and mind, may worship you in security and truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

the burial of Jesus

The Burial of Jesus

38 Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. 39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. 40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 41 At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42 Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

John 19