GOD’S NOT MAD AT US

Many folks think that talking about hell and God’s judgment will bring non-believers to faith. That might be good psychology but not good biblical theology. The scripture teaches that God is love. While there is talk about wrath, the presupposition with which I begin is knowing that God’s central essence, around which God creates and sustains his whole creation, is love.

God’s anger is really against the evil to which humans succumbed. Sin is the result of idolatry. Idols have been empowered by human worship, and God in Christ is out to destroy the power of that evil and thus allowing you and me to worship God. Look at the second commandment. In Exodus 20 God says that we shall not bow down and worship any idol. Worship is reserved for the one true God. When the Israelites were freed from Egypt they were to go and ‘worship’ God, not just take a nice trip to the Promised Land. We are created to worship and love God. That’s where the only real life is to be found.

Now let us realize that after all the idolatry God has made peace with his creation through the Son’s victory over death. In Colossians 1:19,20 we read ‘For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross’ (ESV).

Christ rescues us from the dominion of darkness. ‘He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son’ (Colossians 1:13 ESV). Christ has disarmed all the powers and authorities against us.

The Bible doesn’t say that God was so angry with the world that he sent his Son (John 3:16). Rather it says that God loved his world so much. It was love –  God wanting the best for his wayward children.

See, the God we know is fully revealed in Jesus Christ. And that revelation is Love. It is the self-giving of God for God’s creation in order to reconcile us with him. And we know that the Christ on the cross is there because of LOVE. So if we start with the presupposition of a loving God we will then look at all God’s revelation in Scripture through that lens. Certainly there are passages about wrath and anger and God being sorry that he created this world but those scriptures are ‘the dark side of love’, a side that while expressed is not enacted but through the pain of the cross.

Theologian Kazoh Kitamori, in his book ‘Theology of the Pain of God’, wrote that God’s love becomes the wrath of God in his response to sin. God is sorely against sin because it alienates his creation from him. And if I may be so bold I would compare this to a human father loving his child who is bent on living a life in opposition to the love the father has for them. Take for example when my son was little and insisted upon playing in the street. After three times of telling him not to, I resorted to what he might have considered my wrath as he felt the sting of my hand on his butt. But I prefaced my action by saying, ‘Son, this is going to hurt me worse than it hurts you.’

So when the Bible speaks about the wrath of God, it means that WE experience an alienation from God when we worship idols. God has left us to our own devices but God has always been about redemption, restoration, and reconciliation. Read the book of Hosea.

Let’s look at a few passages about the wrath of God. In Ephesians 2:3 we are told we are objects of God’s wrath. But read carefully and you will notice that God loves these objects of wrath (some translations say children of wrath). You will find God’s love expressed in verse 4: ‘Because of His great love for us.’ In the MSG Version we read, ‘It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us.’

In John 3:36 we read that, ‘whoever believes in the Son has eternal life but whoever rejects the son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains upon him.’ I believe this means that outside the Son there is the darkness of an unconscious life, which is then subject to the evil in this universe. And who really wants that kind of life? ‘All he experiences of God is darkness, and an angry darkness at that’ (John 3:36 MSG).

Now one more verse – Ephesians 5:6. After a litany of the bad things humans do, Paul writes: ‘because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.’ But there again it is the darkness of being apart from God that is experienced as wrath because remember, we were all disobedient to God, enemies of God and alienated until by grace through faith we stepped into the light of life. See Ephesians 2:4.

There are other passages but these will suffice to say that wrath is NOT the nature of God. That’s good news for all. God is not out to ‘get us’ but rather his purpose is to reconcile us to himself. As Jesus proved through the cross, this work of love pained him more than we can even imagine. That’s ‘costly grace’ that yearns for a response.

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE TIME HAS COME TODAY

The church and individual Christians, including yours truly, has for too long lived by law, exclusion, judgment, and even punishment. The time is right and the opportunity is now for inclusive love, barrier breaking and yoke removing love. The love of Christ knows no limits, sets no boundaries.

 

“God’s love is meteoric

His loyalty astronomic

His purpose titanic

His verdicts oceanic

Yet in his largeness

Nothing gets lost

No human, not even a mouse

slips through the cracks.” Psalm 36:5-6 MESSAGE VERSION

 

ONLY LOVE CAN LEAD THE WAY TO CHRIST

LOVE HELD HIM THERE

Christ did not die to remove us from evil by taking us to heaven. Christ died to destroy the power of evil within us. When Christ came to earth he brought the arrival of the Kingdom of God. In the death of Christ the power of evil was defeated. As the Gospel of John explains:  ‘In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ John 1:3,4 (ESV) Paul writes similarly in Colossians 1:13; 14: ‘God has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the Kingdom of his beloved Son in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.’

Jesus did on the cross what Israel of old could not do- be faithful to God and to God’s project of redemption for all creation. Israel had succumbed to evil inclinations and rebellion against God. And so God in Jesus comes to defeat that evil, not Israel but the forces and principalities of darkness. Romans 8:3: ‘For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh’. God wanted a relationship with God’s people. They wanted something more and so they got the LAW through which evil was happy to exert its powers. And then God in Jesus lured evil to its demise and stripped it of its power. Now through Christ the relationship of love has been established for good.

At the cross of Christ all the political and religious forces as well as the power of evil converged upon Jesus to rid the world of God’s saving love. But there on Calvary those forces of evil were led to defeat by God’s love. In the words of theologian N.T. Wright, Jesus bears the taint of evil, taking it away by exhausting its power.

It brings to mind the tactic of a boxer who allows himself to be pummeled by his opponent until his opponent is so exhausted that he is able to be defeated.

Evil tries its best to destroy our relationship with God like it did to Jesus in the Temptation in the Wilderness. God’s love gave Jesus and us a free will to love God or resist God and give room for evil. And the number one tool of evil is PRIDE. It is the living space in which evil thrives. But we need to know that evil cannot ‘take’ power. It can only be given power. Oh, it may whisper in the halls of Congress, on the battlefield, in relationships and in the courts of justice. It may utter a quiet invitation to walk away from God but the real power resides in the weakness of our surrender to Christ, trusting in his faithfulness. And that surrender in this world is necessary every day. It is a surrender to love, a love that never fails.

IT WAS LOVE, NOT THE NAILS THAT HELD JESUS TO THE CROSS. (Anonymous)

 

 

 

 

 

 

WE ALL NEED SOME LIGHT

John 1:4 -5 “What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; and the darkness couldn’t put it out.” (MSG)

John 1:9 “The Life-Light was the real thing: Every person entering Life he brings into Light” (MSG)

I love this section of John 1. It is so full of hope for not just believers but for the whole world. Christ’s life is the contradiction of darkness. And darkness comes in so many forms touching so many lives. When we are confused we say, “I am in the dark”. When we despair we say, “These are dark times.”

What this passage is declaring is that the Messiah came to bring life into the light of every person. There is a spark of the divine in each one and with it comes the hope that we don’t have to be despondent.

When God created everything the Bible says that God saw light as good and brought it OUT of the darkness and God’s desire for all of us is to have the hope that light can bring. God shed God’s light on the darkness of the souls of the world when Christ entered in to us. With God’s work in our lives there is no way for darkness to overwhelm us. Maybe I should say that we all face dark times, even as believers, but in the midst of that darkness is the reality of the light of Christ. If we don’t FEEL it then my encouragement to all of us is to believe it, believe that God’s Kingdom is a Kingdom of Light.

Look at what the Apostle Paul writes in Colossians 1:13. “God rescued us from the dead-end alleys and dark dungeons. He’s set us up in the kingdom of the Son he loves so much…” (MSG)

We all have places of darkness in our lives. We can probably name them to ourselves right now. There are places of brokenness and hopelessness. Maybe times when we willingly walked into darkness. There are situations where our darkness prevents us from seeing tomorrow. But please know, and I am saying this to me as much as anyone, that Christ sees tomorrow, all of our tomorrows. His light dispels the darkness ahead. I believe that. So much in Scripture affirms that.

At the time of Christ people had run out of hope and those who sat in darkness were waiting for hope. Maybe you are or someone you love is. I know for sure that there are a lot of devastated people in the world who need a little light right now. If it’s you then receive these promises in the passages above.

And there are people who need whatever light we have received through our own understanding of Christ. They need hope. They need people to stand with them against the darkness. It may be through money, our prayers, our presence, and certainly our proclamation of the Kingdom of God.

In this New Year I am hopeful that more light will be seen, received and lived in this world that God loves so much.

BUT WHAT ABOUT REPENTANCE AND FAITH?

So a good friend remarked to me some time ago, ‘If Christian Universalism is TRUE then what about repentance and faith?’ At first it sounded to me like, ‘doesn’t something have to be required to get in on this good deal of salvation?’ But it was a good question and one that is often asked of Christ centered Universalists.

But here’s the thing. Christ came to invade this earth and bring God’s Kingdom. Christ in his covert manner of incarnation came to take over what had become enemy territory. (I think C.S. Lewis uses that analogy.) And Christ’s presence, his teachings, life, death and resurrection were to reconcile creation to God by taking away the sins of the world. In 1John 2:2 we read that Christ is the atoning sacrifice for not only the believers’ sins but for the sins of the whole world. But that sounds too easy to think that the whole world is forgiven. Well, that’s what it sounds like in that passage above. But again, ‘what about the bad dudes who keep on doing bad and don’t ask for forgiveness or the people who worship other gods?’

Christ inaugurated a Kingdom. And Paul infers in Acts 17 that all are, in a fashion, ‘children’ in this Kingdom. The thing is that some people know it and others don’t or won’t. But God’s Kingdom affects everyone. God’s grace impacts the whole creation. God is involved in the lives of everyone in some way, some good way. But some folks don’t see it or won’t see it.

I love the meeting in Athens, Greece recorded in Acts 17 where Paul talks with non-believing (in the Judeo- Christian God) philosophers who have questioned his ‘new’ thinking. And he says at one point, “In God we (meaning all people) live and move and have our being” (vs. 28).

The MSG version has ‘we can’t get away from God.’ I like that. God is involved in every life since no life, none whatsoever, has come upon this earth except through Christ.

Now take for example when Paul writes in Romans 8, ‘we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…’ vs. 28. If you are a believer and know God’s love then you KNOW this truth and you find comfort and hope in this world that is foreign to other people. But if you are not a believer then what? God is working bad things into your life? Do you say to someone when bad stuff happens, ‘that’s the way it goes for unbelievers?’ Of course not. If we trust Christ we get to SEE what others don’t see. But it’s the same God who is working in God’s creation to bring everything and ultimately everyone to a place of a new heaven and new earth. And just as God has changed your heart (if you are a believer reading this) God is going to change all hearts in some way. We trust God to grace all lives either now or even post-mortem.

 

I had this thought this morning. It’s not new but worth repeating or re-emphasizing. Would the God who tells us to love OUR enemies -And here we need to read those verses from Jesus in Matthew 5:43-45a. 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

-would our God then go on to eternally torment HIS own enemies? I don’t think so. I am not positive but the big picture of God’s loving-kindness displayed through the cross of Christ causes me to consider that God loves His enemies too. And God’s love will conquer all evil.

So to get back to the unrepentant, unbelieving and even ‘bad’ ‘wicked’ people. Unfortunately they have not experienced the grace that others have. And the task of the believer in Christ is to share that good news to let others know they are included. They belong. They are loved. They are going to be with God. They are with God. That’s the good news. The word ‘Euangelion’ means good news and was used when a runner would come back to Rome to announce that an enemy had been defeated. Whether someone believed it or not, his or her life was impacted by this victory.

Blessed are the eyes that see all that now. I hope and pray that if you are reading this and have never trusted Christ for making this life so real and eternal, that you would say ‘yes’ to him even at this moment. Then you can know for sure what this good news is about.

Back to Acts 17 for a moment. Paul went on to say that God is commanding people everywhere to repent, meaning that God wants everyone to think differently about this earthly life. It’s not meaningless. It is full of the presence of God. God is everywhere at every moment gracing our lives, and moving this world closer and closer to God’s self. (Even if it doesn’t always look like it.)

God bless you and yours. That blessing is real.

george

 

 

 

ONLY SOME ARE ELECT? I DON’T THINK SO.

Calvinism is a doctrine that evolved from John Calvin’s work in the Reformation. A most important part of that teaching is the idea that Christ died only for the elect- those chosen by God even before creation to be saved while the rest are left to their deserved punishment in hell.

That might seem reasonable for a beneficent dictator and demiurge. But that is not the loving action of the intimate and involved God who so loved ‘the world’ that he gave his only Son to die to remove the barrier of sin from creation.

See, the Calvinist types don’t ever want to contemplate that Christ wasted a single drop of blood or iota of atonement.

So let’s go to the video. 1John 2:2

Christ is the one whose death removes our sin and not ours only but the sin of the world. Or as the Message version has it, “When Christ served as a sacrifice for our sins, he solved the sin problem for good- not only ours, but the whole world’s.

 The Calvinists believe, and I do as well, that if Christ literally removed, pays for and atones for any sin, then the Grace of God is operative in that person and wherever grace is operative, faith, at some level is established. So indeed the whole world has been effectively changed to be able to trust that God both exists and loves his whole creation.

John 1:29 ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’

Christ, before he died, said that when he would be crucified he would draw all people to himself. (See John 12).

Now I realize that there are verses in the Bible that would indicate other than what I have just written. Let’s read all of them and get the grand picture. The panorama of God’s grace is such that I believe God will find a way to bring all creation back to himself. And it will be done with justice and above all with love.

So if you are reading this and have been somewhat unconscious to this reality, please let your heart and mind be awakened to what the love of God means for you.

That is another taste of what some call Christian Universalism.

THE ATTRACTION OF UNIVERSALISM

It is difficult for me to comprehend how humans can think to be more merciful than God with regards to the eternal destiny of each human soul. After all we are made in God’s image to love, and to forgive but it would seem that according to traditional Christian teaching there is a limit to God’s own loving nature and actions.

In 1990 I became a convinced Calvinist assured that God’s glory was somehow tied into the justice of electing some out of all the reprobates on earth. Otherwise, I reasoned, we should all end up in eternal torment if not for the limited atonement of Christ for certain people.

But as I read the entire Bible it appears more and more that God’s plan is to bless the entire world and those in it. It appears that God’s desire is to have mercy on all people, that Christ is the second Adam in whom all are made alive.

Jesus said he would draw all people to himself through his death. And the Bible states that God really desires all people to be ‘saved’.

In my own mind without doubt is the idea that God’s love and grace are universal. But is that grace finally successful? I believe it is. That’s my presupposition if you will, somewhat akin to the presupposition of a loving God as see through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

I will use a universalistic hermeneutic (way of interpreting the scriptures) as I study God’s word and writings that pertain to this subject. I want to make the case for believing that the new heaven and new earth will resolve all sin, injustice and sorrow to the glory of God.

In my mind the story of the Bible is not about the power of God but the love of God as revealed in Christ and known through the Trinity.

Your reflections and questions will be most appreciated.

 

 

MY FRIEND GARY

My friend, Gary, died this past week. His body was ravaged by cancer for almost a year. Gary was 66, not quite making it to retirement.

A faithful Christian, husband, father, grandfather and brother, his body finally succumbed to the groanings and travails of this earth. So many prayed for his healing and strength. They prayed by touch, by distance and most assuredly in the name of Jesus.

Gary kept saying to doctors and friends alike that his problem was a ‘win, win’ situation. He quoted scripture that to live is Christ and to die is even greater gain. And yet a great earthly sorrow darkened his last days until the comfort of hospice and his loving family along with some special doses of morphine allowed him to pass from this earthly life into eternity.

Some friends and I were talking about how that should have been us if this illness had anything to do with living a less than good moral and faithful life, which Gary lived. And I question the notion of ‘faith healing’ that was so desired by and for Gary. This world is frail and broken by all kinds of things and I just can’t fathom why Gary had to die. Death seems to be no respecter of persons. It is called in the Bible ‘the enemy’.

And yet when I look to the Christ on the cross I see a God who suffers with us while God works to restore and reconcile God’s creation. And in that suffering I do not know how my good and loving God is bringing about God’s purposes but I trust this Christ whom I know, the same Christ who in his own agony said to his Father, “Thy will be done.”

The earliest Christians were always facing one hardship or another. Everything from illness to persecution and martyrdom was their lot and we read in Hebrews 11:16 that they looked for a better home. This one breaks down after a while.

Sometimes people report marvelous miracles. Other times I believe God is quietly transforming death into life. And through it all I trust God. So do many of you.

Now this part may wonderfully disturb you but I believe that Gary, being with Christ, is praying for me even as I write. I believe that Gary is as much alive now as he was 10 days ago, and even more so. And why wouldn’t he pray for others and me in the presence of Christ.

Thank you Gary. God bless his family and friends and may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus be praised for Gary’s life and witness. I miss you, my friend.

WHEN LIES ARE NECESSARY

 

“In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” Winston Churchill

There are times when a lie protects the greater truth because truth is a greater reality than any one statement.

A small example: If your wife (in this case) puts on a new outfit that doesn’t quite seem to fit her and she asks you, “Does this make me look fat?” – Your true statement might be, “Why yes, dear, it does.” But your marriage, your love for her and the evening that you will spend together is a greater truth reality than your simple true (but stupid) answer.

Telling the truth seems to be a Christian ethic (way of doing the right thing) but a Christian ethic is not the only thing to be considered. There is a greater reality at work here.

There are ways to tell the truth that are unloving, rude, sarcastic and judgmental just to name a few. And some are just plain, as in the aforementioned example, senseless.

So ‘truth’ itself is not adequate. Truth must be centered in Jesus Christ who IS the truth.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer gives the example of a teacher asking a child in front of the class whether it’s truth that the child’s father often comes home drunk. (p. 753 The Bonhoeffer Reader.) The reality of this personal family’s life is being invaded by the pretense of seeking the ‘truth’. When the child says NO he or she is expressing a greater truth- the love, the privacy and even secrecy of a personal family against this unjustified intrusion.

In another example Bonhoeffer gives, there is a criminal who is looking to harm your friend whom you are hiding. The lawbreaker asks you if you are hiding your friend and you respond, ‘no’. And when the Nazis sought out the Jews being hidden by Christians, the homeowners lied to protect the innocent.

See truth is not just about facts but involves a greater reality centered in the person of Jesus Christ.

And, this is not about choosing the lesser of two evils. No, not at all. It’s about choosing the best reality, the greater truth identifying with Christ. If everything about Christ provides the context for our living then lying (in the sense of using certain words equated with a certain reality) is fully acceptable for the sake of Christ.

Truth telling comes from inward communion with God through God’s Spirit. Before the incident of the TREE in the Garden of Eden there was only truth, the will of God. And now, when faced with an ethical decision we go inside to ask, ‘Father, what is your will in this matter?’ We look at Christ on the cross asking why and for whom he died and then make our decision in light of that cross of love. And if we are wrong, well, God will cause all things to work for good for those who live within his love.

I really like the scripture where it is said, THE LAW CAME THROUGH MOSES (good and righteous as it was) BUT GRACE AND TRUTH CAME THROUGH JESUS CHRIST. (John 1:17) There is a distinction. Note it.

Sometimes truth requires a good lie.

Disclaimer: None of the above is an excuse for licentiousness. That, in the phrase of Bonhoeffer, would be CHEAP GRACE.

RELIGIONLESS CHRISTIANITY

I have taken up readings by and about Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) once again.

He was a Lutheran pastor who gave his life in resistance to the Nazi Reich of the 30’s and 40’s. And what he observed in Germany was a piety that pushed God away from the center of a person’s life. In this way God was safer.

This marginalization of God was done by language, ceremonies, and even church sacraments. One could be a Nazi and still give allegiance to God through the label of ‘Christian’ and even go so far from the center to have a ‘God blessed baptism’ without the effects. (It reminds me of a scene from ‘The Godfather’.) The same people who received the church sacraments could be the same persons who were anti-Semitic and executed their own citizens for the security of the Reich.

It’s hard to imagine how the German Nationalists could live with themselves. The reason perhaps is that they pushed God to the periphery of their lives, A God to whom they were only accountable for their religious observances and not their day to day lives.

We do and have done the same in America, myself included. We use our religious labels like ‘born again’ or ‘evangelical’ as ways of aligning ourselves with the God of religion. We get baptized, carry large study Bibles and join churches as a means of attaining an acceptable righteousness with God.

But what truly matters is very little of any of this. What matters is Christ, not religion. Christ is the understanding of Bonhoeffer was the epitome of ‘giving ones life for another’. In Philippians 2 Paul writes that we are to have the attitude, the mindset, the character of Jesus who ‘gave up power’ and his equality with God to become a servant to humanity even to the point of dying on the cross. That’s the center where Jesus lives and to where he calls us. In the vocation of salvation, to which we are called, we are to be a people who are for ‘all the others’ not just the few who belong to ‘our group’. Jesus didn’t die for only the Jews. He died for everyone, for all people. He was/is the Lamb of God who takes away ‘the sin of the world’. (John 1)

So if I am called to be Jesus’ disciples whom do I get to exclude in the name of nationalism, politics, the economy or even safety. Jesus did not call us to be ‘safe’ in this world. Rather he said we should carry a cross and deny ourselves, which is the only real way to discover who we really are.

‘Religion’ keeps us thinking that this is what we have really done. I Tithe. Wow, what a burden, a cross to bear. Jesus said that the very people who tithed were the same ones who neglected weightier matters of just and mercy.

Here’s the Message Version of Luke 11:42 “I’ve had it with you! You’re hopeless, you Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but manage to find loopholes for getting around basic matters of justice and God’s love. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required.

And now one of our states has a ‘good Christian’ man running for the U.S. Senate. His past is questionable with several allegations of sexual abuse. He has been compared with Joseph the carpenter who married a young virgin, Mary and bore a son, Jesus. So what’s the problem? And it was 40 years ago. It’s not relevant, some say. And he’s good for the country, a quality that outweighs any past behavior.

See what Bonhoeffer means by pushing God to the peripheral even while using God to condone our own character.

Remember Paul in 1Cor. 13 writing that we can ‘do’ or ‘perform’ all the right acceptable and seemingly moral behaviors but with love it counts, in the salvation vocation to which we are called, for nothing.

God did not send his Son to only save our personal souls to go to heaven when we die but to establish once and for certain His Kingdom, the beachhead for a reconciling of earth and heaven. In Luke 4 Jesus tells about his own presence on earth.

God’s Spirit is on me;
he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,
sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and
recovery of sight to the blind,
to set the burdened and battered free,
to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”– Message Version

We are called to follow Jesus in the center of all life, loving others, those on the fringe of life, needing to know the love and blessing of God for everyone. We are called to be the light of the world- the whole world.

And as Jesus taught, ‘not even the powers of hell can stop that kind of church’.

We are the bride, getting ready for the Bridegroom to meet us, to feast with us and to restore this creation to a new heaven and new earth. That cannot happen with God on the periphery of our lives. We are not looking for a Christian State but rather the state of Christians to make Christ the center.

And listen- I’m no pillar of virtue when it comes to all the above. I have performed many religious acts and ceremonies that I have thought appeased God and even after 60 years of being ‘a Christian’ I need Christ more than ever at the CENTER, the center of all I am and do. Thanks be to God for his grace in all of that.

Maranatha