Monday, August 31, 2009

What ultimately persuades us?

Ultimately, I am persuaded of the truth of the Bible by its presentation of Jesus. I cannot explain or unpack this reasoning, for it comes down to an encounter with a person. Those who are Christians know well what I mean. You know what it is like to see no evidence of God in the world, in the church or in the mangled mess of your own heart, yet to be drawn powerfully after the Jesus of the scriptures. You know what it is like for Christians to act completely contrary to anything resembling Jesus, and to be sickened by their mistreatment of people in the name of God, yet to know that you cannot abandon Jesus himself as flawed, because you know the resemblance between Jesus and those who claim to follow Him is superficial at best.

The portrait of Jesus in the four Gospels towers above the paltry whinings of modernists, the thrown pebbles of critics and the repeated foibles of a scandalous church. Jesus is not the creation of any person or any tradition. He alone, of all the versions of a human soul, radiates the undoubtable evidence of “God with us” that other spiritual leaders only hint at. Jesus alone defies categorization and trivialization. He towers over history, culture and the human heart. This is no portrait of human longing or an exercise in wishful thinking about what we might become. This Jesus is, as John said, the Word made flesh.

There is simply no one like Jesus. And all the lofty things that might be said about him cannot begin to explain why one doubting soul will repeatedly choose to place his life’s hope of meaning in a person that lived two thousand years ago; a person who communicates unconditional love through his brutal death on a cross. Jesus is, ultimately, a mystery. We can point to him, and point to his cross, but each person must walk to that cross alone and choose whether this is a meaningless, pointless execution, or God saving the very world that despises Him.

-- Michael Spencer
source: here

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Grace is not transactional, it's participatory

How do we swim in grace? How do we live into our hope in such a way that we're actually bringing forth fruit? This is very difficult to talk about, very difficult to teach. What we tend to do, then, is thin grace out a bit. We try to make grace a bit more manageable. We talk the language of grace, we talk about being loved unconditionally, but when it comes to the Christian life, we reduce grace to being something transactional, rather than something participatory.

This quote, and the ones that follow, are paraphrases from a talk that I found to be very meaningful to me. It's the keynote address at an event called: Christian Connections- "Living Into Our Hope", by Dr. Cynthia Rigby, in October 2006.

You can find the audio at: this location for now. (The website has been redone and they have taken away such old links, but the file remains.)

I know the talk is long (about an hour), but I invite you to listen, firmly believing that the cost in time is worth it. Perhaps the snippets below will draw you better than I:

Good theology is often very impractical. This grace thing is extremely impractical. It's easy to identify with the elder son in Luke chapter fifteen. In his view, forget grace, we're doing things right if we do our job, and expect others to respond accordingly. That's what he says to his father, "I've always done everything, and you've never given me the calf, never given me the party." ... transactional. And the father, totally impractical, answers his son, "My son I am always with you, and you are always with me, don't you know that everything I have is yours." ... participatory.

When we turn grace into a transaction, we see it as God giving us something really really wonderful, really really great, really really big. God treating us much better than we deserve, God being wonderfully kind. Now that's something that make's sense. God was wonderfully kind to us, the least you can do is be a little kind to other people. God has given us so much, the least you could do is give a little bit back in return. And we turn the Christian life, living into hope, which is participatory, into a response to hope that is transactional. Our response to God's wonderful kindness gets reduced to lobbying little thank-you gifts back to God.

So the Christian life, rather than being about sacrifice, becomes about stretching a little. Stretching a lot even ... "Do your best, and God will take care of the rest". But that is not what grace is about. What grace is about is us being able to do nothing, but doing all things in Him who strengthens us. Not about giving a little back, but about us surrendering all that we are.

Our calling, when it comes to a Christo-centric understanding of grace, is to give, not in response to something in an obligatory fashion, but because of who we are. I give as an out-pouring of who I was created to be. That's what it is to be a living sacrifice, to abide in Christ, to live into my identity as one who is Christ's workmanship, created in Him for good works that God prepared for me in advance as by way of life.

When I know my baptismal identity, when I know that I'm a child of God, then that surplus grace, that hope, flows over into works, and I act on your behalf and serve you, not because I'm obligated to, but because I AM with and for you. When I know that God isn't just doing things for me...

(... God gave me grace.)
(... God will reward my efforts.)

... But rather God *IS* with me and for me ... When I know that, it flows over into my relationship to you, so my acts of service aren't simply thank-you cards back to God. This is real freedom. Freedom is when there's no longer any conflict between what we do and who we are. But who we are spills over into what we do.

To take seriously our baptism in Him, dying to self, and being raised up, is an incredible risk because it means we really buy that God has entered fully into existence with us, and knows us, and loves us. And the more you contemplate it, the more that you realize what's going on here is not a transaction at all, but something that demands everything.

To jump into the water of grace is not to stand at the periphery of the garden when Jesus says come and pray with me, but it's to participate with Him. To jump into that water is not to stand at the periphery where one is safe, where one can say to our Lord, "Oh Lord, can you take care of that for me?, I promise to send you lots of thank-you cards", but it is to be awakened, and to actually walk over with Him and to kneel with Him, and to participate in His suffering, to participate in His mission.

This risk of grace is knowing there is no escape from God. If there is no escape from God, it means that I'm constantly being undone by the message of the gospel. It means that resurrection isn't only a future reality, but it's also an every day experience. In Christ we are new creations, not tweaked creations. New creations, the old has fallen away, the new has come. Living sacrifices. We're constantly being undone. Undone by the transforming power of the living word. Living into hope is about constantly submitting. Submitting.... offering ourselves as sacrifices. Submitting to that Word that isn't just up there doing some things for us, and we can do some things in return.

You can go through the examples in scripture of people who are trying to work it all out in transactional ways. And Jesus is always pulling the rug out from under them. (I've kept every one of the commandments since the day I was born, and now what do I need to do.) Jesus is always pulling the rug out because what Jesus cares about is relationship with them, not them managing it all. Was Jesus giving the rich young ruler an eleventh commandment? No. Jesus was saying that in relationship to Him, as a disciple, everything has to go. You're going to be undone. You're going to be remade. Not tweaking ... remade.

The reason we don't jump into that water, and live in the pool of grace, is because we risk something else. And it has to do with what grace reveals about us. To jump into that pool is to risk believing that we are valuable. That we are precious. That we are loved by the one who loves us unconditionally. And that is just too much for us to bear. You see, if I stay at the edge of the garden, I can keep doing things to try and show gratitude. I don't have to realize that I'm loved for who I am and not for what I do.

The cost to us as those who live into hope: The cost to us is first our pride ... (I'm going to hold on to enough of myself and let God "tweak" me.) Remember the song that goes: "melt me, mold me, cleanse me, fill me, use me". We're all okay with being filled and being used, right. But are we okay with being melted and molded? No, not really.

The cost of jumping into the water of grace, in knowing that we are Christ's workmanship ... is the letting go of our own self judgment. We say that we trust Jesus as Lord ...(he's taken care of the big stuff, I'm going to heaven), but in my relation to my day to day life, I will judge myself. I will wallow in my sins. When we let go of self judgment, the fact of Christ's Lordship frees me from being the Lord of my own life.

-- Direct link to mp3 source is: Here

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Something from nothing

Why is there something at all?
The orb spins and my lungs exhale
and child sways back to this part of the solar system
and he takes my hand
and why is there all this something
instead of nothing?

Once I read these words from Romans
and dropped the Bible:

"... the God who gives life to the dead
and who creates something out of nothing"
(Ro. 4:17 NCV).

Who dares hold Words that can do that?
Word that makes something out of nothing.

Spirit-Word takes nothing, the dead and the void,
and breathes something into the black cavities...
the life and the color.

That's why I leave the Bible on the shelf too often.
I am scared to resurrect.

Terrified that me,
in all my tattered nothingness,
might be made into something.
It's the case of the Emperor's new clothes,
us with a terrible inkling we're wearing nothing
but too proud to call it a sham.
We parade about like we're something,
but we know, we know.

It's safer to play the walking dead.
Safer to drop the Book -- never pick it up --
the Nothings playing Somethings,
than let the Word make our nothing into something.

Some days I get so bone weary of the nothing,
I get brave enough to call it what it is,
wail the truth: I have nothing on.

I am nothing. And He's ready -- if I'll take it --
He's ready to tilt back a day that's a fat zero,
a life that's a bland emptiness,
a purpose that's a hollow blank,
and breathe Living Letters into the larynx,
flood the bronchi with oxygen.

I look around at the world.
Why is there something instead of nothing?
Am I ready to be something from nothing?

Word of God, speak.

--Ann Voskamp
source: here

The great thing to remember

The great thing to remember is that we go up to Jerusalem to fulfill God's purpose, not our own. Naturally, our ambitions are our own; in the Christian life we have no aim of our own. There is so much said to-day about our decisions for Christ, our determination to be Christians, our decisions for this and that, but in the New Testament it is the aspect of God's compelling that is brought out. "Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you." We are not taken up into conscious agreement with God's purpose, we are taken up into God's purpose without any consciousness at all. We have no conception of what God is aiming at, and as we go on it gets more and more vague. God's aim looks like missing the mark because we are too short-sighted to see what He is aiming at. At the beginning of the Christian life we have our own ideas as to what God's purpose is-'I am meant to go here or there'; 'God has called me to do this special work'; and we go and do the thing, and still the big compelling of God remains. The work we do is of no account, it is so much scaffolding compared with the big coming of God. "He took unto Him the twelve," He takes us all the time. There is more than we have got at as yet.

--Oswald Chambers

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Dead to the Law

So we die to the law in union with Christ when He dies. And in this union we have a new partner who is alive ... He's not a list! ... He's alive and He's in us, and He loves us. He's all over us. He's for us. He's power within, not pressure from without. And He's sweet and He's all satisfying and nothing compares to Him. And out of that union of us with our living, loving, all glorious, all satisfying Christ comes offspring, or fruit, called obedience.

Love, service, sacrifice, Christ-likeness ... Like fruit it comes, on a vine, not like tinsel on a tree. So many people try to do the christian life without knowing these things, experiencing these things, and the best they can do is take tinsel and put it on the tree of their lives. The tinsel of bible reading, and the tinsel of prayer, and the tinsel of going to church, and the tinsel of not committing adultery, and the tinsel of voting right. It has zero to do with Christianity. It's not Christianity.

-- John Piper
Sermon, (Audio version)
Dead To The Law, Serving In The Spirit - Part 1 (01-28-01)