LIVING INSIDE OUR OWN HEADS

‘Living in your own head’ can mean to be introspective but often times it means to overanalyze life even to the point of feeling self-critical. Too much second guessing ourselves.

There are certainly times when we need to reflect within ourselves, take stock of our lives, and see what needs to be done. And that soul searching needs to be done in love, not judgment. If we are to love others as ourselves, well, then, I guess we need to have an unconditional self-acceptance in order to be able to be healthy about loving others. And that can be a life’s work of maturation.

This is so true in the Christian life. Our view of God’s judgment and anger can lead to a lack of self worth.  This might come from some bad parenting or even lack of success in some endeavor. We end up with a bad image of God thinking that we need to please God, achieve some great thing for God.

Self-flagellation is what it was called in early Christianity. It was practiced as a form of mortifying the flesh, inferred from some places in the Bible.  In Romans 8 Paul writes: 13” for if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” Notice that Paul says ‘by the Spirit’. This is no directive to physically abuse oneself in some kind of effort towards purification. It is more meant as a means of subduing one’s earthly ways that are contrary to God’s will. If anger is my problem then I need to subdue it, not repress it. I need to name it and conclude that I am invited into a better way to live.

I think that’s the meaning of ‘repentance’. In some instances ‘repent’ might have to do with being sorry for sinful deeds but generally it means to be ‘changing one’s mind’ and even being ‘out of one’s mind’. Stop regurgitating the same ole way of living and believing and get out of your head and discover that the Kingdom of God has arrived and is here for God’s good purposes of defeating evil and bringing abundant life to God’s creation. That’s why Jesus says in Matthew 4:17, “Repent for the Kingdom of ‘Heaven’ (meaning God) is at hand.”

Let’s paraphrase that verse. “I invite you to change your way of thinking about life as a dead end and instead try to think outside your own mind into a new way of understanding that God’s eternal and unconditional love has come close in the person of Jesus. And this love will change your life.”

There is no need for self-belittling or self-incrimination. Rather this is an opening of our minds and hearts to receive the Father’s love. Even for those who haven’t had good fathers, this God is the father and perhaps mother that we have longed for.

And once we start thinking God’s thoughts, and having the mind of Christ, as Paul puts it in Philippians 2, we discover why God’s ways and God’s love manifested in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is a wonderful way to live. Not by rules but by a relationship. Then we will be in our right minds.

ORIGINAL SIN? GONE.

No, I don’t know exactly what this ‘original sin’ thing is except to say, ‘something went very wrong in the relationship between humanity and God. I’m not even sure there was a literal, historic Adam and Eve. But I do think they represent a humanity that chose their own will over the love of God. Augustine was the first to use the term and he might have gotten the notion from the Apostle Paul who wrote that sin entered the world through one man, Adam.

But – and this is important – Christ took upon himself the sin of the world. The Baptist, John, referred to Jesus as the ‘Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’ John 1:29. It may be no accident that John uses ‘sin’ in the singular. Whether sin or sins, the point is that the death of Christ dealt a stunning defeat to sin. His death removed its consequences for everyone so that all people would have the hardness removed from their hearts in order to hear the call of Christ to return to

God’s love.

And here’s the most pertinent scripture in this piece: ‘God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.’ 2Cor. 5:19 (NIV)

And this is the same use of the Greek word for ‘not counting’ that we read in 1Cor. 13:5, ‘Love keeps no account of wrongs.’ (My translation.) Check out the Greek for yourself.

So original sin is not in our consideration anymore. The way is cleared now for God’s love to be most alive and apparent to the world. When I think of it this way, it sure changes my approach to sharing the Good News. Repentance is not getting rid of particular sins but rather turning around to see life in a different way. Probably asking forgiveness from God is simply saying to God, “I took my eyes and my mind off you. I want to get back to being loved and loving.”

Yes. God so loved the world.

STAY WITH THE PROGRAM

This a phrase sometimes used with AA or an exercise regimen and it’s good advice but there is another place where the expression is most useful -to the soul. It’s where Jesus says, ‘Stay with me’. (John 15:4) It’s the same words that Jesus used in the Garden of Gethsemane when he said to the disciples to simply stay with him and keep awake. (Matthew 26:38) The Greek word, pronounced, “men’no” means simply to be, or remain, or abide, and it reminds me of the Psalm phrase, ‘Be still…’ (from Psalm 46).

Christians think too much about too many things. We are like Martha, ‘worried about so many things.’ (Luke 10:41) I mean things like doctrines, beliefs, who is in and who is out. And our minds are too focused on ‘doing’, not that there is anything wrong with ‘doing’. Recall that faith without works is dead. But we can become more occupied with the things done than why are we are engaged to begin with; with that comes guilt and shame. ‘I should have.’ ‘I could have.’

Here’s what can happen. After many years of being active in ministry I find myself at a place of more questioning, walking away from all the dogmas, doctrines, beliefs, and whatever else you might want to call them. I got tired of them and their insinuations into my life, especially my spiritual life. So now, besides writing this blog I am more about just ‘staying with Christ’ without any formula or direction.  Now, I just ‘am’ with Christ, waiting on his direction to my soul and life.

I feel like the vine attached to the branch/root where Christ will give the life and growth. I want his will but since I don’t want to get wrapped up in some kind of program or 10 steps to finding it, I’d rather just wait with no expectations on my part and none from the madding crowd.

For example, tithing has always been a part of our lives (not that tithing is a biblical mandate). But now we don’t try to figure how much is 10%. Rather we wait for a word to sustain the vine. For a while I was unsettled about that but recently have come to a place of God’s peace in the matter. Knowing my wife’s generosity I probably have nothing left for buying baseball cards. Sure it’s a small example but it bears upon other things in my life and, generally, in the Christian’s life. It’s almost like there is no commandment but to ‘hang in there’ or not, in the sureness of Christ’s love for us.

Ah, already I hear some ‘whining’ about such a cavalier attitude. Don’t worry. ‘One day at a time,’ is what I hear some folks say.

Justice and Love

How do we reconcile the passages in the Bible that paint a picture of a God who is loving, forgiving, and whose mercy endures forever, with the image of a vengeful, and punishing God who sends unbelievers to their eternal torment in hell?

Many people want to believe that God is just; he rewards the righteous and punishes the unrighteous. And then there are passages that might lead us to either of those opinions or views of God. I should mention that there are also verses in the Bible that speak of God rewarding us for deeds done in the flesh. See 2Cor. 5:10 for example. (I wonder how many people look up these verses.)

So let’s look at a couple passages about people getting their just due. In Romans 10:9 Paul writes: ‘9 …. if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’ This is one of those verses the evangelical types like to share in order to convince others that there must be a confession of faith in order to be saved… sort of like ‘accepting Jesus’ or being ‘born again’. And that’s fine because there it is in the Bible.  It’s in the same section of scripture that causes us to wonder what the fate of the Jewish people is. At one point Paul says he grieves over his own lost people and at another he speaks about how all Israel will be saved. There seems to be some uncertainty as to God’s plan of salvation for the Jews. I do like that verse in Romans 11:32 where Paul writes that ‘God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them ALL.’

Now consider this verse found in 1John 2:2 supposedly written by the Apostle John. ‘He (Jesus) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” Good Calvinists say that the death of Christ was sufficient for the whole world but only efficient for the ‘elect’. Now there’s another can of worms in trying to figure out the character of God.

Let me add another verse about God’s love and forgiveness. “Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Because one person disobeyed God, many became sinners. But because one other person obeyed God, many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:18-19)  I leave it to the reader to understand the parallels of ‘all’ and ‘many’ but it is clear that Paul means to let his readers know that God’s mercy is extended to all.

Ok. Let’s take a look at John 3:16: “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (NLT) See, it would seem that those who don’t believe would perish. But notice this, perishing is different from everlasting torment. You will have to do a dictionary study for this.

Now let’s go to a passage which helps us understand God’s will. In 1Timothy 2 Paul urges the people to pray for the leaders of Rome so that they can live a peaceful life, and he concludes in v.4: ‘This is good and pleases God our Savior who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (NIV)

Some folk say that the love of God wants all people to be saved but the justice and election of God only saves some. That’s interesting. I have always thought that Christ on the cross IS the justice and love of God together. Christ’s death allows us to know that God takes sin seriously and that he forgives sin at the same time for all people.

Recall the death of Jesus on the cross where he cries, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’ It seems to be there are a whole lot of people in this world who don’t understand and therefore don’t know Christ. Are they condemned because they don’t confess Christ as Savior?

Now let’s take a look at a letter from Peter, the disciple who denied and then reconciled with Christ. 1Peter 3:18-19: ‘18 For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison.’ (NRSV) I can’t be absolutely sure but it appears that there is a second chance for those who have died. This goes along with 1Peter 4:1-6: ‘Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.’

And there are many scriptures (see 1 Cor. 15 for example) that lead us to an understanding of God’s justice and love mingled together on the cross. (This may actually mean that there is post mortem salvation by the will of God who in his word says that one day every knee will bow and tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.) Our God’s nature is revealed in Jesus the Christ. It is the nature of justice absorbed by love.

And so I believe that there will come a time when God reconciles the whole creation to himself. That is not for the purpose of encouraging irresponsibility but rather magnifying the love of God. It’s love that saves and not fear. The Good News of God’s love has more drawing power than any warnings about eternal torment. Just something to think about.

A REASON FOR HOPE FOR ALL- A POSSIBILITY

There is a significant amount of conversation these days about Hopeful Christian Universalism, meaning that the Bible gives us reason to believe and hope that through Christ all people will be restored and saved and enter the Kingdom. Most Christians are fine with thinking this is NOT the case and would rather trust the research and theology that has come to us mostly since the Reformation of the 1500’s.

Let’s consider the idea of judgment for a moment. I recently read a blog written by a friend from Long Island on this point: (This following is a paragraph from the blog.)

The message is clear. No matter who you are, rich or poor, known or unknown, cleric or laymen, artist or Pope, we all have the wonderful opportunity to look up and consider God in His marvelous creation. But if we do this, we must all also consider that we will all face Him in his judgment – and that is the part that many people want to forget. It is one thing to look at creation and think that God may have had a part in it, but it is quite another to think that we all are accountable to this same God.

Christians of the Evangelical sort make much of judgment, particularly final judgment which, depending on what verses we read, can be based on faith or faith and good works done in the body or how we used the talents God gave to us. This judgment, especially for unbelievers, is dark and filled with images of hellish eternal torment rendered unto us by the loving God who in Jesus told us to love our enemies.

I want to consider a passage that is most appropriate for this Holy Week. I believe it’s an alternate view. It is a Palm Sunday scene that takes place after Jesus had raised Lazarus to life. He is now in Jerusalem and at one point reflects on his imminent death. I will pick up the scripture from there: John 12:27 ff.

 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. 34 The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiahremains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”

Now, here’s how I understand what is happening in this conversation. Jesus is speaking about his death on the cross and concluding that his death will bring about the judgment of the world. His death will bring the world into a crisis by which the love of God expressed by Jesus on the cross IS the judgment of the world that Jesus is taking into himself. Evil, sin and Satan will be defeated on the cross. Read Colossians 2:13-15 [NRSV]:

13 And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, Godmade you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, 14 erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.

See, this is the work of Jesus on the cross. To forgive us all, erasing all the legal punishments against us, and disarming Satan. Some will say it’s only true for those who believe. But in verse 32 of John 12, Jesus says that he is going to draw, pull, or drag ( Greek) all people to himself.

Now we can still say that this drawing does not save, only attracts more people. But left over from my Calvin days is the idea that such drawing is a work of irresistible grace on God’s part that will ensure that all people will come to Christ. It may be in this life and it may be that it happens after this life. I picture Jesus from his throne opening his arms of love to enfold the entire world for which he died. He didn’t die just for believers. Read I John 2:2: He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but for the sins of the whole world.

Having written this I need to say that there are scriptures that signify a severe punishment for unbelievers (in whatever way such people are determined) but there is much in scripture that leads us to conclude that God will restore his whole creation back to himself, even through penalty after death that lasts for a season or eon. See Colossians 1:20. But many Christians don’t want to study those passages or dwell on them lest they be led astray, they think. But we want to consider the whole counsel of Scripture. The early church Fathers did. Read what they thought of hopeful universalism before the 6th century. (Gregory of Nyssa, Origen, Clement, St. Jerome and others anyone can look up.)

My point is to say that God loves his whole world and wants the salvation of all to take place; and restoration of all creation is possible through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. I believe Jesus even puts an exclamation point on that possibility by forgiving the men who crucified him. So judgment may have taken place on what we call GOOD FRIDAY, only to be affirmed by the SUNDAY RESURRECTION.

I am hopeful that the God of love revealed in Christ will do more than we think or imagine in restoring all people to him. Paul writes that God is not counting the sins of anyone in the world against them (2Cor. 5:19). To me, that’s the Good News we can proclaim in Christ. That’s the kind of love that changes peoples’ hearts.

Grace does matter.

By the way, a wonderful book to read in the above vein is THE EVANGELICAL UNIVERSALIST by Gregory MacDonald.

REMARKABLE HOW LITTLE I MISS GOING TO CHURCH

The other morning after a four-inch snow I decided to help my neighbor with my trusty snowblower. Coincidentally another neighbor showed up and we worked together to clear our neighbor’s sidewalks and driveway. We got done, high-fived each other and I said, ‘There, we’ve had church for today.” Mark 12:33 says that loving a neighbor is better than going to church. Yep, that’s a paraphrase but it’s right there. 

During this Covid time, I have reflected on the meaning of the church. From my own professional and personal experience I have come to think that church is very much a part of the Constantinian Captivity. After the church was made legal and even mandatory it lost its central message of ‘loving one another’ and instead came up with religious inoculation whereby if you get a little of it you won’t be subject to the whole infection of God. Now, that might seem a bit extreme but it’s been proven time and time again that when push comes to shove ‘the church’ would rather be safe and secure than dying for the neighbor in trouble, which is the true definition of love.

Let me give you an example. Once upon a time, as a pastor, I had a finance person ask me, ‘What are you going to do to put more bodies in the pews?’ Not what I was going to do to spread the gospel or help a neighbor but rather how was I planning to get more people in church so that… we could more easily finance the budget. 

The church today has become weighed down by its own bureaucracy and self-security.  

I am reading Bonhoeffer’s “Letters and Papers From Prison”. At one point he writes to a friend, ‘It’s remarkable how little I miss going to church. I wonder why.’ Many of us have not been inside a church for a long time during this pandemic and some of us are just not missing the experience.

I am wondering if the church is not intimate and outward-focused enough. I suspect that smaller and more intimate groups would be better suited to fulfill the commands Jesus gave to us in the Sermon on the Mount and the two greatest commandments by which he tells us to love God and neighbor. Remember, Jesus only had 12 disciples through which God changed the world.

From the conflict I observe these days in churches, I am convinced that small intimate groups are the only way to reconcile people and resolve such conflicts. The political vitriol we see has split some churches into factions that have become unmanageable.

Now, onto a confession of my own. I have been a professionally paid pastor most all my life. My personal security has been taken care of by the larger institution and so I feel some sense of guilt of speaking this way about the church. But I’ll get over it. However, I am seriously thinking that a small group of disciples can more effectively be the fellowship of change and reconciliation that God wants in this world.  And some larger churches can make this work by means of smaller fellowships that carry out the mission of Christ in the world and with one another.

Bonhoeffer went so far as to say that the time will come and should be upon us when the church sells its property to give the money to those in need. He says the pastor won’t be paid or at least very little and probably will have to find secular employment. A tall order that I am sure we can get around if we use the right Bible verses.

A smaller, more intimate group of people can better reach the marginalized people in the community. Much prayer, study, and accountability are better attainable in such a setting.

I don’t know what will happen once churches are fully open but I hope in the meantime we all do some deeper reflection on what it means to be disciples today.

THE SUNSHINE OF YOUR LOVE

The band ‘Cream’ sang this in 1967, the year I graduated high school. Forget the lyrics for now. It’s the title I love. I am still a big fan of Eric Clapton.

Anyway, the title reminds me of some words of Jesus. We’ll get to those words but first I need to recall a couple scenes from the T.V. series FRASIER. My wife and I are watching it for the 4th time. Get a life, george. The scenes involve Frasier and his brother, Niles. In different scenes the brothers hold a door open for some woman who neglects to say, ‘thank you.’ It becomes a theme in the show about ungrateful people who don’t offer the thanks that is expected. 

I’ve done that. I stop my car so someone can cross the street apart from the crosswalk area. A little wave of acknowledgment? Nope. So then I decided to not expect any gratitude. That worked for a while and now I’m back to anticipating something that is probably not going to come.

So I’m thinking the other day about Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:45 we read the words that ‘God makes his sun to shine on the evil and good’ and Jesus tells us to do the same thing for others, no matter their character.

God is showering the sunshine of his love on everyone without thinking about getting thanks in return. Oh, does God love our praise? Certainly. But his love takes no notice of those who don’t respond except to keep loving them and letting his sun shine on them. Some folks call that common grace. Let’s call it love, pure unconditional love, a love that does not keep score. And I for one am glad because if God kept score of my ‘bads’, God would be already in the ‘billions to nothing’ category.

Our God is loving. God is love, says the Bible. That’s his essence, his nature. He loves to love. That’s why you and I are here on this earth. To love. Like our Father in heaven, says Jesus.

Thanks be to God for those who want to live in that love, soaking up all that grace and seeing the difference in their lives if they do. Now that I am writing this, I’m gonna see what it’s like in real life.

God be with you.

THIRD GRADER CRIES IN FRONT OF CLASS

I was in third grade, a very self-conscious kid, too conscientious for my own good. I remember the day clearly. I didn’t have my homework done. I remind you that this was in third grade. I walked to the front of the class and stood at the desk of Miss Carroll, my teacher. I cried when I told her I didn’t do my homework. That wasn’t the worst of it. Miss Carroll then presented me to the class and said that she wished all her students were as conscientious as me. I could have fallen through the floor if I could.

As a person and particularly a pastor I have too much cared what others think or even what I think my behavior and responsibility should be in this world. Certainly I have thought myself in line with God’s will but I have been probably more in line with my homegrown super ego.

I have recently come into conflict with others over some of my theological ideas.

My conscience used to want to explore different theologies but I have wanted to be line with the will of people more than God. This applies to my ideas about social activism and liberal politics too. These things are on my heart and must be explored and given voice in my life.

And so I am encouraging you who read this to explore life beyond your conscience. After all our conscience can be informed by the wrong ideas. The people of Germany in the 1930s certainly had their consciences formed by wrong propaganda.

See I believe myself to be a child of God in all the best ways and so I am going to listen to the little boy inside of me, the little boy who every day is open to the Father’s direction and will.

And even when I am wrong I will be happily wrong because I belong to God and God won’t stop loving me no matter what. God’s love is the top priority of my consciousness.

So go ahead, take a chance. Stretch a little and even rebel at what those little voices are telling you. There’s only one voice that matters. That’s the voice of Jesus. See Hebrews 1:2.

Yeah, I still cry on occasion but I’m not going to shed any more tears for those little voices in my head that make me more sensitive and conscientious than I need to be.

Jesus said in John 8, “If you obey my teaching, you are really my disciples; you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

That’s all I need, I hope and pray. To be free.

God’s Big Tent

WHO will enter the Kingdom of God? Who can be saved — another way of expressing the question. I believe to some extent most of us are ‘hopeful evangelical universalists’. We believe in the God of love who sought to find his lost people, his lost creation. God covered the earth in a large tent, something like a tabernacle in the wilderness. God’s presence is that tabernacle, and according to the Bible, that presence has been poured out on everyone (see Acts 2).

Everyone who came into creation came spiritually and organically through Christ. All have been made in the image of God and God has particular love for every one of his children (see John 3). If that is true then let’s consider the following scenarios of children within God’s eternal care.

A child who tragically dies in infancy. My mom lost a child who had died even before she was born. Will these children be damned forever or brought lovingly into God’s Kingdom? The Bible doesn’t tell us but I believe they are with the Lord because I believe in a loving God. Now some Calvinists believe that it is possible these children will be damned because they are not part of what Calvinists term ‘the elect’, those favored by God for salvation. The term ‘age of accountability’ doesn’t enter the equation since there is none given in the Bible, only inferred by religious interpretation.

What about a mentally impaired person who knows not the right response to an offer of salvation from a well-intentioned evangelist? Maybe he or she can mimic the correct answer but certainly not from understanding. Again we are hopeful that God will welcome these people into salvation.

Next we consider a person who has grown up in India under Hinduism teachings. We say we don’t know. Very conservative people say they are not the elect by reason of God’s choice. See, these are theories and theologies and I believe they are wrong. Even if Romans 1 speaks about natural revelation, God is a free God, free to love; free to bring whomever God wants into the Big Tent. People who don’t even know they are God’s children will have such a revelation at some point.

Now we observe an eighteen-year-old woman who was severely abused by her father and at this point in her life cannot believe in a ‘loving heavenly father’ and will not accept God’s son. Never having been brought into a loving relationship with the Savior she dies in unbelief. Does God stop loving her and count her unworthy of his eternal grace? We hope not.

And all the good Samaritans of this world? These are people who have done such good that aligns with God’s will but haven’t confessed Christ. I have hope for them as well as the victims of wrongs like slavery, abuse, children who through neglect were allowed to die of hunger or disease, Jews and Russians who were cruelly executed. I read the other day about an execution in our ‘sane’ country where, in the opinion of some, any chance for salvation was killed in the execution of a criminal. Even Jesus wasn’t willing for that to happen.

If we are God’s children we are hopeful for everyone, even our enemies. I mean it’s even possible for Trump supporters to be saved. We’ve no reason to wish eternal torment on anyone if we are sons and daughters of our heavenly Father.

God’s tent is big, as big as the universe. Oh, it may be that some will deliberately walk or run from that tent, like the prodigal did, but even in that scenario the door is left open. If you read the end of the book of Revelation you will see that the door to the Kingdom is left open.

The big tent of God, the presence of God in Christ whose birth we celebrate, is the assurance of our hope. The Bible says in John 1:14 that ‘God came and tented among us.’ He walked and talked with us and thus the whole world, extending the invitation farther and farther and even into eternity.

God is hopeful too. He wants all his creation to be restored and he wants to reconcile the whole world to himself. God wants all to be saved. And since God is not a robot or mechanical manager he has the freedom to relate to all people, even after death. That’s God’s freedom and desire.

I don’t want my tent to be any smaller that my Father’s tent-house-mansion and Kingdom. Like God I desire all to be saved. And that’s scriptural. So I am what some would term ‘a hopeful Christian universalist’.

And that’s Good News for the world, as the angels proclaimed.

PARADIGM SHIFT

Distinguishing Between Straight-Up Advice and Paradigm Shift | Jane Friedman

Some of you may remember this picture. Depending on how you look at it, do you see a young woman, or an old woman? It’s a change in perspective. Same picture, different perspective. That’s what happens in faith. Same God, same Bible, same Lord, but…a different way of encountering the message depending on how we have grown up and what’s been emphasized.

If you have grown up with stern authoritarian figures you may be a controlling person yourself and you may take notice in the Bible of God’s sovereignty and control and gravitate towards passages that emphasize such. But if you tended to be loved and affirmed then you might have a tendency to see the dynamics of a loving God as you focus on certain scriptures. This is a generalization but it’s how many people approach the Bible.

I grew up in a loving family though not affectionately so. I was a first born child among three. I grew up as a controlling person, fun but anxious to please and control. Maybe I controlled situations through humor. But enough psychoanalyzing me. Anyway I eventually became a Calvinist. Yep, a strict view of the God who is sovereign and controlling of every molecule, and a God who won’t tolerate sin. Yes, God gave his Son to die for sin and that initiative by God called for strict obedience and lots of expectations of others.

Eventually stories like the Prodigal Son caught my eye and I discovered I had been like the older son, doing and believing everything rightly. I yearned for the love that the prodigal received and looked for that loving God in the scriptures. And I found that God. Ah, the paradigm shift. Then I started to read books by Brennan Manning and Larry Crabb and others who saw the love. And so I began to absorb all the relevant scriptures about love. Those were the ones that began to stand out to me.

And now I look at people differently, at God and at the Bible differently. And I am now, wait for it, reading about Christian Universalism which is Christ centered, honoring of Biblical authority and focused on the love of God. I have discovered that just maybe there is a way of hope for God’s creation whereby the love of God changes everything. There is a DNA built into the creation that needs to be connected to its source- the God of love. God is love. The eternity is filled with love. Sin is its absence. The absence of God. I don’t want to be absent of God.

One more thing. We have all grown up using different Bibles and thus different translations. And even though I have been to seminary and a pastor for a million years it was only recently that I happened on translations and scholarship that allowed me to see that there are words which when translated a certain way convey a different meaning than I had ever encountered. I like these translations because they fit into the new way I see God’s love. Yep, I am biased towards love and against punishment. Words like hell, gehenna, hades, sheol, and ‘eternal’ have all been written and translated from greek and latin in ways that influence how we believe.

But more of that another time. So let’s get to loving. God knows we need more of these days.