Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Levee is Broke, is Breaking, and Will Break!

One of my favorite prayers is this, “…may the whole earth be filled with His glory.” (Psalm 72:19) Meditating on this short prayer, repeating and thinking about what it means is life changing.

While waiting for God to be “all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28) we inquire that He could do so now, today little by little. We plead and hope that the earth, starting with us, would be filled more and more with His glory. If we pray this prayer sincerely how much more are we apt to join God in filling the earth with His glory? Has He not filled us with His glory (Himself/His Spirit) in order to fill His creation with His glory?

The new creation has broke through, continues to and will fully. God is restoring pockets of glory throughout the earth now in His people and what they are doing. In the future though, God intends “to flood the universe with himself, as though the universe, the entire cosmos, was designed as a receptacle for his love…it is designed to be filled, flooded, drenched in God…yet independent from God.” (N.T. Wright on Isaiah chapters 65 and 66) 

We may get glimpses of His presence and love now, but never to the extent we desire and never to the extent He desires. 

God, let your renown ring out, because time, space, matter and voice, are destined to proclaim you.
Let us hear and provide for the needy and afflicted of us- this is Your glory.
Give your Holy Spirit- this is Your glory- fill the earth with Yourself. Let the earth be a receptacle of Your love and glory.
Rescue people’s lives from oppression and violence- this is Your glory.
Usher peace in our hearts and world- this is Your glory.
Let reconciliation be normal- this is Your glory.
Help us have self-control and unity- this is the earth being filled with Your glory.
Give us zeal- this is the earth being filled with Your glory.
Bring kindness and joy to the earth, change our hearts- this is Your glory.
Bring patience and generosity here, now- this is Your Glory.
Your glory is in serving others. Your power and glory are in loving, caring for and listening to others.
Fill your creation with your presence and your love more and more every day as we look forward to you being “all in all.” 

(Picture taken off Highway 1 in California) 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Living LARGE

“The fear-of-God expands your life; a wicked life is a puny life.” Proverbs 10:27, The Message 

The Bible’s idea of “living large” is not the same one we learned from Hollywood and rap songs. Having an expansive, sprawling life does not entail owning a lot, but giving a lot. We live a large life when we love God and love others. Having a life that is enlarged comes from living generously, not boastfully.

Can’t we see this in our lives? I can see in my life how “God and others focused” days can seem great in size. We can bless so many people in one day. I can also see in my life how “self-focused” days can be puny. We can also neglect to bless so many people in one day.

We know people who live large lives, their blessing of others extends on and on, their good deeds ramble in all directions. They use the range of their effective will (their “kingdom”) to expand God’s kingdom. (Dallas Willard) They use whatever they have say over to bless others and God. They take advantage of the limited sphere they have domain over not for themselves. They extend into the hearts and minds of others because of and for the gospel. They exercise their “rule” in union with God as he acts with them. (Willard)

We also know people with puny lives- their lives are diminutive because they are closed in on themselves so that they cannot be a blessing to others. They use the range of their effective will (their “kingdom”) to please themselves. Instead of idolizing God they (we, at times) idolize comfort, leisure and pleasure. They do nothing because of or for the gospel, but for other causes. They exercise their “rule” in union with the ruler of the kingdom of air as he acts with them. 

“A life devoted to things is a dead life, a stump; a God-shaped life is a flourishing tree.”  Proverbs 11:28, The Message

 “The world of the generous gets larger and larger; the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller.” Proverbs 10:24, The Message 

“There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more, And there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want.” Proverbs 11:24, NASB

 Size and solidity were major themes of C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. The people on the bus from hell visiting heaven were not solid people, but mere shadows. He wrote, “All Hell is smaller than one pebble of your earthly world: but it is smaller than one atom of this world, the Real World [Heaven]. Look at yon butterfly. If it swallowed all Hell, Hell would not be big enough to do it any harm or to have any taste."

O God, we know what it’s like to live a puny life and it’s easy, natural and comfortable, but benefits no one- not even us. We know what it’s like to live a big life and it’s challenging and takes us out of our comfort zone. We don’t want to live puny lives, but expanse, sprawling lives that impact and effect people for your Kingdom. Grant us the courage and strength and selflessness to move in that direction. We want to be sharers in your abundant life, but we are hindered by fear, worry and lusts. Have mercy and help us as we stumble.  Amen.

(*Note: To fear the Lord is not to be scared of Him. In the Bible it means to revere and honor Him. “To fear the Lord is to be overwhelmed with wonder before the greatness of God and His love.” - Timothy Keller)

Picture #1 is Sears Tower and the Chicago skyline, Picture #2 is on a trail in Platte River State Park, NE.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Jekyll and Hyde

We use the phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” to describe someone who can be vastly different in character in moral character from one situation to the next. In a way, the Christian is like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I like this particular painting (above) because I think it depicts the split personalities that the Chrisitian can experience. We can go from towering to cowering and back again.

Catching a glimpse of the new self is like seeing a magnificent mountain peak. When we catch a glimpse of the new self we see wisdom, courage and love- we see what we are being turned into. Then, when the clouds come, the peak, or new self, becomes invisible and we see the old self and its anxieties, bad habits, sins and flaws. (Timothy Keller)

It is frustrating to seemingly have two distinctly different personalities. We have both the qualities of the saints and the demons. We all have the trimmings...of hell...and heaven. At times we can be masters of love and others times masters of pride. At times we can be kind and serve others selflessly and other times we can have selfish motives. At times we can live free and others return back to bondage. Like there are two sides to one coin there are two sides one person. (If you notice distinctly different “personalities” as a Christian don’t think something is wrong with you, think something is right with you- think that God has made you alive.)

Something God doesn’t do is turn the page to our bad deeds, announce them accusingly, yell at us, call us stupid, therefore shame us and leave us in our disgrace. The devil is the accuser and name caller- not God. It is God who clears us from criticism and blame, defends us, justifies us, adopts us and vindicates us. It is easy to think the opposite- that God blames, attacks, isolates, and accuses. But, remember our identity has fundamentally changed- we are His blameless children, His Holy Nation, His vowed to bride, His church, and His inheritance.

Inside the Christian there are elaborate battles going on – a complex war that involves strategy and ammunition. Valuable ammunition to the enemy is to have us believe we are not who God says we are. An important battle to know of is the one in which the liar convinces us that God is ashamed of us and thinks we are a disgrace. We probably have old wounds from battles on this front. When we are ashamed we tend to hide, but God is the rock of habitation we can run towards not away from.

“In You, O Lord, I have taken refuge; Let me never be ashamed. In Your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; Incline Your ear to me and save me. Be to me a rock of habitation to which I may continually come…” (Psalm 71:1-3, bold mine)

Oh God, We have two sides. We are feeble and filthy, yet you are making us into stunning, radiant, immortal creatures. Help us run to you, not away from you, when we feel ashamed and embarrassed about ourselves. Help us see ourselves as you see us. Amen. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

God and His Spool

Part of my job is to give people individualized exercise programs to help reach their health and fitness goals. Common goals are weight loss, stress reduction, increase mobility, improve endurance, get off medications and decrease blood pressure and cholesterol. I prescribe an exercise routine that will help them reach their goals. Just having the routine I give them in hand does not help them on their path towards better health. They have to perform the routine.

In The Drama of Doctrine Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote this about theo-drama, “doctrine itself finds expression most emphatically when the church performs it’s “script” on the world’s stage.” The same can be said of exercise: “fitness itself finds expression most emphatically when the client performs their program in the gym."

Scot McKnight wrote, “Atonement spools from the (objective) act of what God does for us into (the subjective) fresh and ongoing acts by God’s people.” He says, “Two words bring this emerging sense of atonement into focus: reciprocity and performance…The connection of God’s work and our work is unavoidable. The atoning God creates a community of atonement."

The same can be said of exercise, “Fitness spools from the (objective) act of what an exercise prescriber does for their client into the fresh and ongoing performance of the client.” 

It is assumed when I design and hand my clients their routine they will do it- they will reciprocate my effort and action with their effort and action. 

Just as an exercise routine is not just something done to and for a client but something they are to participate in, McKnight says, so is atonement. Performing an exercise routine animates the script. So too, performing on the world’s stage as we join God in the mission Dei animates the script.

McKnight says that in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant there is an “indissoluble connection of being embraced by God’s grace so that it unleashes a cycle of humans’ embracing others in grace."

“To be forgiven, to be atoned for, to be reconciled- synonymous expressions- is to be granted a mission to become a reciprocal performer of the same: to give forgive, to work atonement, and to be an agent of reconciliation.” (McKnight)

(Of course, we do not “atone” for others as God did for us, but participate in the revolution He began which we are the very threads of. Before we say this definition of atonement compromises the “classical” definition of atonement we should look through this lens, because it seems to capture the frightening and threatening broadness of the New Testament gospel. I think "the gospel" spills down the sides of the pot we prefer to keep it in.) 

Imagine a spool of thread and the sower taking the needle back and forth through a quilt. Our acts come from God’s spool. God has made us His threads by atonement and by atonement we are incorporated (past tense) into His quilt. Not only are we incorporated into His quilt we incorporate into it (present tense) when we do as Jesus did here and now.

As the exerciser aims to breathe life into their routine we enact God’s regime and revolution initiated in Jesus- a society driven by performance and reciprocity. God's atonement is the epicenter and the ripples continue go further and further out everyday. 

Here is the poem/prayer Christ Has No Body by Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Get out of this Sick and Stupid Culture (but stay in it)

My friend was telling me how the scale in his life is tipped too far in one direction. His daughter has cancer, his niece has a fatal disease and his best friend has a brain tumor. His hope is that they would all get better and the scales would tip back to favor him. Salvation, by way of Jesus, is what this man is longing for whether he knows it or not.

John Mark McMillan’s song Economy talks about salvation, “Chase away the ghosts/ The pain that haunts a heart/ The things we fear the most/ The entropy of life/ The slow decay of time that wars against our bones/ All these sinking ships/ Are ruled against the wave/ The raging of the tide/ The tyranny of days/ But I believe you can overcome my economy/ You can dig me out of the grave.” Salvation means a dramatic and fundamental change in the natural economy of a human. 

Salvation and "resurrection do not mean escaping from the world; it means mission to the world based on Jesus's lordship over the world." (N.T. Wright) Scot McKnight's point also points out that salvation is not escape: "the biblical language of eternity does not justify passivity on earth; a biblical vision of eternity stokes heated passions to yearn the way Jesus yearned- that God's kingdom might come "on earth as it is in heaven."

Salvation means deliverance from a culture that says you are fat, ugly, not enough, dumb or insignificant. The Message translates Acts 2:40: “Get out while you can; get out of this sick and stupid culture!” Join God’s kingdom-culture where you are loved, accepted, embraced, permanent, and important and are not subject to the world’s twisted judgments and screwed up society. Can't we all agree our culture is crooked, not whole, disjointed, arrogant and deprived? God's deliverance from the ever-near malfunctions that pervade our lives and world is salvation.

Salvation in the New Testament includes liberation from the reign of sin and death. Salvation is escaping deterioration and its totaling effect. (2 Peter 1:4) Salvation is escape from the totalitarianism of fear, and havoc. Salvation is help in our present and real neediness. Salvation is ransom from futility and transfer into God’s good and eternal kingdom where we matter and what we do matters. Salvation means moral excellence, self-control, kindness, perseverance, knowledge and love. 

It’s easy to tune out some of these phrases, because we may have had them yelled at us by a street “preacher." “Escape corruption!” “Be freed from bondage sin and death!” and “Be rescued from this crooked/perverse society!” But, everyone longs for joy, goodness, justice and permanence which is on the far side of our twisted, disjointed and deprived culture. We long for addictions and struggles to be gone and that is what the New Testament says Jesus alone rescues us from.

God pulls us from the wreckage, which is our faltering lives and the faltering world. (But, He does so not to take us out of the world, but to leave us here to love and impact the world as He did.) There is nothing more that evil would love than to keep a hope of rescue from our faltering lives and world under wraps.

My friend above ultimately has no hope if his hope is for the scales to balance out on their own. Only Jesus tips the scale in our favor. We long for His salvation. 

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Jewish and Christian Concept of Prayer

I spend a lot of time in prayer on the things I want changed in my life. But, "The primary purpose of prayer is not to advise and manage God, but to be properly formed. The Jewish and Christian concept of prayer is to be in the presence of God and transformed by God. (Pastor Brian Zahnd) The pagan concept of prayer is trying to get God to do what we want done.

The ancient Israelites believed communion with God in worship and prayer was the essence of life. The pagan concept of prayer assumes the pieces of creation are more important than communion with the Creator. If we believe what it means to live, and be alive, is communion with our Creator shouldn't praising and praying to God be priority? Locating the essence of life in communion with God is different than finding the essence of life in what we get or want from God. So why do we pray? To be near God who is life.

If we are honest don’t a lot of our prayers seek an outcome or result, rather than just to be with God? Don't a fair amount of our prayers amount to trying to get God to do what we would do if we were God? Sometimes prayers are just to weigh in with our opinions and desires about problems and people-problems...“God will you fix that and this over here is really bugging me and this thing is really hard would you make it go away." This implies, “I am the center of all that is right and there are all these things that are messed up and what I want to do is to get that stuff to change.” (Pastor Zahnd) Prayer becomes like going to the mall...I want this or that. If we were to pray the Psalms for instance, this would turn our prayers right side up. God would automatically take center stage instead of the backseat. This way we don’t seek outcomes or answers or have to find them. Prayer then becomes like a going to the gym- an exercise that properly forms us.

So how should we pray? 

Without trails it is very difficult, if not impossible to navigate a mountain. My wife and I never would have made it to the top of Flattop Mountain (Asha pictured on left) or Black Lake (me pictured below) in Rocky Mountain National Park without good trails.

 It takes trails to hike and it takes trails to pray. Without accurate trails on mountains we would get lost and it’s the same with prayer. Pastor Zahnd gives some examples of already-established trails to climb the mountain of God with: the Lord’s Prayer, praying the Psalms (which Jews, including Jesus, did), reciting the Nicene Creed and the Beatitudes. We could add Deuteronomy 6:4-5, the 10 commandments and a lot of excellent prayers in scripture to that. (Traditions are not bad in themselves, but only if they are hollow.)

I love having an already-established, well-marked trail on a hike and I love the idea of having tried and true, theologically sound prayer maps too. It's awesome to think of all the hikers that have used, and are using, the same trail (prayers) too. Many times we may not “feel” like prayer or know what to say, but having specific prayers takes the guesswork out and takes us to a higher plain we might not get to on our own.

When the disciples asked Jesus for a prayer they were asking their Rabbi, as was customary, “Could you give us a specific prayer to pray?” and Jesus did. He gave them a trail. Who are we not to hike it? 

Picture #1 is near Gaylor Lakes in Yosemite National Park. Picture #2 is a sign in Rocky Mountain National Park.