Journey: Seeing the Bigger Picture

Read:  In Over Our Heads

One of the things I like most about Brian McLaren is that he makes me think, without ever demanding that I agree with him–which, ironically makes me more likely to agree with him.  But even when I don’t, I do not feel judged the way I do when I read or relate to those who position themselves as so “right” that anything other than agreement is “wrong.”

I start in this way this week because I have not studied the role of stories in ancient cultures enough to be able to track his presentation as carefully as I would like.  Like McLaren, I have struggled with God and God’s actions in some of the Old Testament narratives–and I (again, like McLaren) have done so as early as the Great Flood story, especially (as both Genesis and McLaren note) that it does not solve the problem of sin in the human race.  Hmmm.

But rather than try and make all this fit together and make perfect sense, and do so in the span of one chapter of the book, I take away the importance of reading Scripture in order to get the Bigger Picture that may not emerge in respective details.

For example, why does God send a flood to deal with a problem the flood itself does not solve?  Even Genesis doesn’t tell us, so I surely don’t require McLaren or myself to know.  Instead, I think McLaren leaves us facing in the right direction this week–facing in the direction of a God who takes sin seriously, deals with it decisively, but does so with the last word being “redemptively.”  Even when we cannot make sense of some details, these ancient stories tell us that God is always at work to effect goodness (as per the repeated word in Genesis1) on the earth.

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For the Bride: Vanishing Grace

I have intentionally entitled this week’s post with the title of Philip Yancey’s new book that will be available on October 21st.

I find it interesting that this highly-esteemed and long-respected writer has concluded that our problems have increased in the Church as grace has decreased.  I look forward to learning how he describes our peril.  He has always been a valued mentor, and I expect that he will be again.

But we do not need to wait for Philip Yancey to speak up.  The Bible already has, the Spirit moving Paul to write, “where sin increased, grace multiplied even more” (Romans 5:20, CEB).  And what we take away is the clear revelation that when the level of grace is higher than the level of sin, there is hope!  It is only when grace vanishes that the Church ceases to be the Church.

As a Christian in the Wesleyan tradition, I recognize Wesley’s desire to see Methodism be a grace-filled community–a united society of people who interpret theology in relation to the story of grace, calling that story an order of salvation.

We are in a confusing time–in a time when calls for the increase of grace are rebuffed by mistaken allegations that such calls are “soft on sin.”  But the fact is, the restoration of grace–the reversal of vanishing grace–is not peddling cheap grace; it is the proclamation of amazing grace! Grace is the key word God expects the Church to use in understanding its nature and its mission.

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In-Sight: Orthodoxy

If we view orthodoxy as a single point, our ego will easily convince us that we are standing on it.  Other points will necessarily be judged as closer to, or farther from, the truth.

But if we view orthodoxy like a circle, our ego has to yield that the point where we stand is but one vantage point on the circumference of an array of perspectives. What holds us together is the Center, Who is God.

And it appears that God has used upwards of four thousand years of Judeo-Christian history to create and place multiple vantage points on the circumference. In Christianity we broadly speak of them as Roman, Orthodox, Protestant, etc.  And within each cluster, a wide variety of segments further represent orthodox belief.

This means that church is plural, not singular–at least theologically speaking.  It means that God has distributed truth rather than putting all of it in one place.  And recognizing that, we see that the call is to come together with the truth our vantage point contains, offer it, receive what others have to offer, and find the glory of God in the community, not the individual–the greater Light in the candlelabra, not the candle

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Journey: Life On Whose Terms?

Read: The Drama of Desire

One of our formative experiences is to begin with original righteousness, not original sin.  The first two chapters in Genesis show us, however briefly, what God intended, and how the world is supposed to be.

It was a world of congruence, with each dimension reflecting the glory of God and fulfilling the purpose God had in mind.  It was a world of beauty and harmony.  Far from being bland or boring, it was a place where desire existed.  The communion between God and humanity was one of joy and fellowship.  Ordered in relation to God, our desires were passionate, pleasurable, and proper.

And then….sin.  Summed up in the single word ‘egotism.’  Desire for God deteriorated into humanity’s craving to be gods.  Our orientation shifted from God-glorification to self-gratification.  And if two or more people are on this path, there will eventually  be blame and rivalry–the collision of egos.  And that is exactly what we see in Genesis 3 and following.  There can only be one ego in charge where sin prevails.

And so it has been ever since.  Whether the one ego is personal or corporate (e.g. “group think”), there is only room for “me.”  The originating sin produces a host of things–all having to do with the exaltation and preservation of the false self. 

McLaren rightly weighs into this by emphasizing that the problem is not eliminating desire, but rather restoring it to the place that it had before the Fall.  The God who desired to make the world desires for us to desire to be co-creators in the ongoing making of it, and to do so on God’s terms, not ours.

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For the Bride: Contaminated Witness

We cannot look at the debilitating factors in the Church without admitting that they have now spilled over our cloistered walls and contaminated our witness in the world.  The cyber world in concert with news media and social media pounce on every story that puts religion in a negative light.

Forgetting that masses of people do not speak our language, and forgetting that what we espouse is often foreign to them, all they have to form their impressions on is our attitudes, emotions, expressions and exchanges.  It is like watching two people having a conversation in a language we do not understand.  We can only tell what’s going on by looking at their faces, watching their gestures, and paying attention to their volume level.

When we look at the Christian conversations that go viral today, Christianity often doesn’t fare very well.  Our faces, volume levels, entonations, etc. leave the impression that we are angry people who are little other than mad at each other.  And when a video, article, or other exchange is particularly caustic, we leave the impression that we are mean people, who say and do mean things, and can justify it to ourselves because we are speaking and acting “in Jesus’ name.”

When Jesus wondered out loud if he would find faith on the earth when he returned (Luke 18:8), I thought he meant that evil would increase to such an extent that it would extinguish faith.  And that may well be. 

But lately, I have added another thought to my mind about his words.  I wonder if he might have meant that faith would be so misrepresented by those of us who allege to have it, people would not touch it with a ten-foot pole.

But whatever Jesus meant, we can never abide the notion that faith may diminish as time goes by.  And to whatever extent we contribute to this  through our contaminated witness, all we can say is, “Lord, have mercy!  Christ, have mercy!”

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In-Sight: Waves of Grace

Decades ago, William Barclay provided an image of the phrase “grace upon grace” (John 1:16) that has stuck with me ever since.  He said that the idea was comparable to the waves which splash incessantly upon the beach, so he translated the phrase to read, “wave after wave of grace.”

Having lived in Florida since 1998, that image has become an experience.  Standing on the shoreline, wave after wave splashes onto my feet.  I could stand there for a year, and it would be the same.  I could come at night or at noon, and it would be the same–never ending waves.

Never ending grace–no matter what day, or time of day.  No matter if there is bright sunshine or thick clouds.  Wave after wave of grace!  Amazing grace.

And in that moment of blessed receptivity, I hear Jesus say, “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). In that moment I realize that as I face the ocean of God, I receive grace, but when I turn around and face the shore, I become a channel of grace to others.

God’s intention does not change. It is always “wave after wave of grace.”

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Journey: Patterns

Read:  A World of Meaning

The original creation stories bear witness to pattern, order, progress, etc.  From galaxies to atoms, everything comes from God, reflects God, and returns to God.  The single word to describe this is ‘Meaning.’

It is only after the Fall that chaos, randomness, and violence come into being.  And on any given day, any one of us may experience life more in terms of mahem than Meaning.

The writer of Hebrews described this when he wrote, “we do not see everything in subjection to God.  But we see Jesus” (Hebrews).  The writer saw what McLaren points to in this week’s reading: the Genesis/Jesus connection. 

The Logos made flesh is God’s revelation of what humanity is supposed to look like.  The Logos made flesh is God’s reminder of what the rest of creation looks like when touched by the divine: wholeness, healing, restoration, love, etc–words all summarized in the one word ‘Meaning.’

That’s why Christians can never become fatalists.  We see Jesus, ans so we never can stop believing that the world can be better–that we can be better.

Early Christians used the word ‘dance’ (perechoresis) to describe the movement of life.  At the heart of everything is an orchestrated movement of joy.  Science and theology are returning to ‘dance’ in their interpretation of things.  And it is all summed up in the one word ‘Meaning.’

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