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

 

 

 

Why Tell Anybody About Jesus

So I was asking myself the question, ‘Why tell others about Jesus?’ Why not just leave people alone to their own beliefs or lack thereof? Then I thought, “Why did Jesus tell his disciples to go and train other people to be disciples?’ Was it to propagate a new philosophy of life? Was it to keep everyone from going to hell because that’s not a very attractive way of love or grace? I rather think that Jesus wanted people to follow him, trust him, and place their confidence in him for all the positive reasons. Consider the following:

  1. He believed himself sent from God, embodying God to reveal the fullest picture of who God is, clearer than anyone had ever portrayed God.
  1. He was offering people a way to life. He, the author of life, knew exactly the way life could best be lived, not be external acts or ceremonies but by a heart formed in Godly love.
  1. He wanted people to know how to live each day according to what was most real, ‘THE KINGDOM OF GOD’.
  1. In the most positive sense he wanted us to know that through his ultimate sacrifice, one of justice and love that our sins, our separation from God was forgiven, that God himself was paying the price we should have had to pay for rebellion against a just God.
  1. Jesus came as the epitome of the new creation that God was initiating to bring all things together in a final wonderful way starting with this present creation and finishing with a new heaven and new earth, a re-creation of all that was God.
  1. Jesus promised hope not for this life only but for eternity. His resurrection is the validation of all that is to be new.
  1. Jesus is the perfect Jew chose to complete the Abrahamic Covenant to bless the WHOLE world.
  1. Jesus came to make sure that we knew just how much God loves the brokenhearted, the downtrodden, the lost, and the marginalized.
  1. Jesus came to bring us freedom. Guilt and shame are gone. People were rescued from the false promises and power of idols.

Take for example a man whose life was controlled by his addiction to alcohol and he, through the 12-step program, is released from that idol. He wants to share with others that message, not to beat them over the head but to share what is REAL, what WORKS, what is GOOD.

And because Jesus lives He knows each one of us, what sorrows, sins, hurts, joys and He promises to be with us forever.

So these and I am sure many other reasons are good motivation for sharing the Good News, sharing not shoving. May God help us to be faithful to Christ as we do so.

Anxiety about Anxiety

Jesus said that we should not be anxious. He added that it had to do with food, clothing and long life. But he didn’t leave us with simply that command. He went on to talk about how God cares for the creation and certainly cares about us even more.

I am of the mind that his caution against anxiety was because things like fear and anxiety can keep us from following him into the experiences of life where we are needed and find the most meaning. And to the extent that fear and anxiety keep pulling us back, turning away from his call, well, it seems fitting he would keep teaching us as he did his disciples in those first years that we can place our confidence in him and keep going.

That doesn’t mean we won’t feel anxious or even dread at certain things in our lives because anxiety is a sign that we are alive and not just resigned to some kind of fate, even the fate of being guided by God.

So in this real world of our the best way to address anxiety is to admit it and keep listening to Jesus and others’ assurance of God’s care for our lives so that we can move ahead.

I have a son who this very day is having surgery. Is he anxious? You bet. Is he going through with the surgery? You bet. Because the doctors and friends and family have all told him it is going to be ok.

I have a good friend and if I tell him I am anxious about something he will tell me he understands and that he knows that within me is the great desire to follow my Lord wherever he calls me. (Hopefully) That friend encourages me and lessens my anxiety.

Let’s just saying that anxiety is the uncertainty about living in freedom. Freedom is good and sometimes it’s scary. The Israelites were given freedom to leave Egypt but with that freedom and all the miracles accompanying it they were scared to death and often just wanted to go back to Egypt where in bondage they felt safe. We cannot live in bondage anymore, not if we are going with Jesus. So let’s keep our eyes on the pioneer of our faith, the one who went through hell for us. Let’s just stay with him and do what he asks of us. He put us together and he knows how this body soul and mind works best. The Kingdom is now.

And just this morning I read this from Hebrews. Check this out:

12: For you have not come to something that can be touched, to a burning fire and darkness and gloom and a whirlwind 19 and the blast of a trumpet and a voice uttering words such that those who heard begged to hear no more. 20 For they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountainit must be stoned.”21 In fact, the scene was so terrifying that Moses said, “I shudder with fear.”

22 But you have come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the assembly 23 and congregation of the firstborn, who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous, who have been made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks of something better than Abel’s does. (NET Bible)

Now when I read a passage such as that I think, ‘wow, am I in good company or what.’ So then let’s keep on keepin’ on. Jesus will be with us always.

A Weak and Watered Down God Just Won’t Do

As followers of Jesus we are all called to enter the fray of life just like our Lord did. We are told to be ‘in’ the world without being ‘of’ the world. Jesus told his disciples they would be like sheep among wolves. We are to be immersed in the life of this world loving those that are closest to us and seeking to make changes in order that the poor, the widow, the oppressed and marginalized are loved and cared for and invited to live now in the Kingdom of God.

But we cannot approach this life with the weak and watered down version of God that some churches are offering. Our God is Almighty, Powerful, and able to do more than we can even think or imagine.  Some folks don’t even want to call God ‘Father’ anymore. They prefer more inclusive terms. I want a Father who is strong, who can defend me, who knows how to love and protect me. I want the same ‘Father’ whom Jesus called upon. I don’t mind other images of God but don’t take away my Father. The world knows little of the majestic and self giving nature of a good Father. Let us proclaim the Fatherhood of God as the model for all us fathers.

I hear folks uncomfortable with the notion of a crucified Christ, ordained for his cross by his heavenly Father. That seems too abusive they say. They don’t want to think of such cruelty, such weakness. But I want a Lord who was sent by his Father on a mission to rescue humanity, save us, redeem us and willing to give his life for us. Remember when General Eisenhower sent the troops into the hell of D-Day? He sent them fully aware that so many would give up their lives to rescue the world from Hitler.

I don’t was a self-help God preached by many today. This God is just hanging out along side of us showing us how to get back on the right track with just a little more money and personal power and right principles in our own lives. No, my God is righteous and knows that I am broken and demands that I come to Him on his terms through confidence in the blood that was shed for you and me. I want to know the God whose will I want to do, not one who wants to know what I think best. I want to enter through the narrow gate. It might even be a tight squeeze but it’s the right gate. I don’t want any old god who says that it doesn’t matter what you believe or whom you trust. That’s an idol and a devil from hell who would dissuade us from the one true heavenly Father.

I don’t want an accommodating god. I want to accommodate my life to the God in whom I live and breathe and who knows absolutely what is best for me. I want a God whose ethic for life and love challenges me. I do not want comfort unless comfort is found in seeking the will of my Heavenly Father.

We as followers of Jesus have a challenge ahead of us, to preach the Gospel and help others to know God’s love and His Kingdom. To care for the hungry, the homeless, the naked, the widow and orphan. To put an end to killing. And above all to learn the art of forgiveness, probably the greatest challenge and the most narrow gate in the Christian experience.

And to do that and more I want to go with an Almighty, All Loving, Father. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus. I fear it may be a great challenge and any less challenge would require a weaker God.

Listen, when those early Christians faced the lions, the gladiators, the stakes of fire and the crosses what God would they desire to know? They wanted a strong powerful loving Father who though may not rescue them from the fire and the sword would sure bust them out of the grave and bring them into his presence while he continues to create the new heavens and new earth within which they (we) will live forever. That’s my God, and my Lord. I think that was said by doubting Thomas when he met the risen Christ who also was busted out of his grave.

 

GOD IS MY HELP

Isaiah 50

The Lord GOD is my help,therefore I am not disgraced;I have set my face like flint,knowing that I shall not be put to shame. vs. 7

THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD I SHALL NOT WANT  Psalm 23

If I am at all conscious of God’s sovereignty and grace I pray to realize that I have no need for all my ego defenses or selfish desires because the Lord is all I need. Some translate that first verse of Psalm 23 as ‘the Lord is my shepherd, I have everything that I need.’

Truly God is good and gracious.

There is nothing anyone can do or say to me that can disgrace me or put me to shame. Look at the Passion of Christ in this Holy Week.  See how they tormented him, spit on him and tried their best to shame him but he well knew that his Father’s acceptance and love was all that he needed. Eternity belonged to him. The Kingdom was his and no one could take it away from him.

Why then these petty thoughts of mine about what people think of me or if I am being treated fairly? Why defensive about my rights? God is my help. I have no need of anything else do I?

I need to pray daily that the Christ who gave up everything might live in me with the same love that he knew from the Father.

My Lord is guiding every step I take. And even when I wander he is beside me and he will bring me back into his fold. What else do I need or need to know.  When Christians are mocked they sometimes become argumentative or defensive or even intimidated but I don’t need that. Jesus, it is said, never really made any argument or defense on his own behalf.  He knew he could call twelve legions of angels to help him.  He knew that the Kingdom he inaugurated on earth was his Father’s kingdom and there was no need for anything else.

Why must I attempt to build my own Kingdom at times and wall it off from those who might hurt me in some way? I have no need of my own castle. I belong to the Kingdom of God. That is the Kingdom I want to seek more than anything else.

God loves me….and everyone of you, more than we can understand. This week  is Passion Week, Holy Week and the celebration of Christ’s ultimate victory in which you and I stand forever. Offer your own prayer, or read the stories from the Gospels of his passion and ask that you and I may be able to say to our Father, no matter the circumstances, “Thy will be done.” Amen.

 

Freedom

Romans 8:21  ‘that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.’ ESV

Here’s my take on what Paul is writing in these verses. Yes, creation is groaning. The world is groaning but one day it will experience the same freedom and new life that the children of God are experiencing today.
This is the reality of the Kingdom of God. The creation will take its cue from those who enter the Kingdom of God right now. Jesus said that the truth will set us free if we stay connected to him and to his word.(John 8)  It is the only way to be free of the shackles with which this world wants to imprison us. In John 16 Jesus tells his disciples that while in the world there will be tribulation we don’t have to be afraid because Jesus has overcome the world. Overcome in the sense that darkness and death do not have the final world. Fear is not the final word. The word of God in Jesus is the final word. The Kingdom of God is the final word. Resurrection is the final word. LIFE is the final word.

Jesus said to a hurting world that he had come to give life abundant (John 10) which means that we are fully embraced into the love of God by the words and works of Jesus.
We are free. Really. No matter what scene the cosmic powers of darkness may put before you eyes, God places the life and light of Jesus before us so that as we look into him we may experience the glory, the radiance of our God. And as Paul will later write, ‘if God is for us who can be against us.’ So, children of God, let’s set a good example to help free this creation from its bondage to decay.
That’s like a New Year’s resolution- if you are into that sort of thing. My life will not be darkened by the world but will rather be that light set on a hill, light that comes from the glory of God.

A New Sheriff in Town

Matthew 5:6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied fully.’

Back in 1968 the Rev. Martin Luther King spoke these words about the Kingdom of God and justice: It’s all right to talk about “long white robes over yonder,” in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here. It’s all right to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preachers must talk about the New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do. (from the Mountain Top speech)

Righteousness and Justice is not only for getting saved and getting into heaven. It is for now and for here. Of course Christ is our righteousness but he is also our Lord for our day-to-day life. People in Jesus’ day were looking for a Messiah to bring justice to their land. Jesus says that it happens in the Kingdom of God. Jesus made it very clear to his followers that they were to love each other in deeds done out of mercy. They were to be concerned for their neighbor, which basically meant anyone in need. They were to care for the sick, the hungry, the homeless and the imprisoned and well, really, anyone. So those who want to see things get right will indeed meet a friend in Jesus and Kingdom life will include right living, right believing, and right doing.

I often like to say that with Jesus’ entry into the world, ‘a new sheriff has come to town.’

Comfort from the King

Imagine for a moment that Jesus is speaking to a group of people on a hillside.  He is offering them the Kingdom of God. He is the presence of the Kingdom of God and he is making his life, God’s life, available to anyone who wants to place his or her confidence in him. He is not challenging them to be a certain kind of character. He is addressing their character as they are and saying that in God’s Kingdom they are welcomed and they are blessed, favored as it were, by God.  He has already addressed those who are poor and now as he looks around he issues an invitation to another group of people who well may include those who are impoverished in spirit or material goods. Here’s what he says:

Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. These are the people who hurt. Some of them may think they deserved their lot. They hurt for themselves and perhaps for others. Their pain is deep and they see no relief. It may be thought that blessings come in the form of wellness and being pain-free but Jesus says that those who place their confidence in him, again the embodiment of the Kingdom of God, will experience the comfort of the Kingdom of God. Like the Psalmist they will say, ‘your love is better than life’(Psalm 63). And the comfort that these mourners will experience may come as a surprise to them in some form that brings happiness to their souls.

Jesus knows full well that the Kingdom has been mainly shut to such people as he addresses but he welcomes them, blesses them and will eventually call some of them to follow him. This is indeed the good news that was issued to shepherds, to Mary and to many who were waiting for the Messiah of God’s Kingdom. Let us, particularly we who hurt right now see our place in the embrace of God’s comfort.

Class is in session

I would like to begin working with the Sermon on the Mount as one of the best expressions of what it means to live in the Kingdom of God. Matthew has written these teachings of Jesus in a wonderfully compact form for those who would be students of Jesus. At the end of the Sermon we find the words of Jesus that the strong and enduring people of this life will be those who hear and keep these words (Matthew 7:24-29).

The teaching begins with the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. There are countless interpretations of what these blessings mean. The one thing I will say is that I don’t think they are challenges to BE a certain way as much as a pronouncement of Jesus to those who are already in a certain condition. Jesus is making the Kingdom available to all those folks sitting in the crowd, some wanting to follow and perhaps some who are curious and maybe a few ‘detectives’ trying to figure out what to do with this Jesus.

So let’s get started. And please be welcome to write back with a correction, insight or different interpretation.

Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven (Kingdom of heaven and of God are synonymous). The favor, the mercy of God is with those who are destitute of most everything (see also Luke 6). Jesus has come to show them the time of God’s favor and to let them know that they belong to the Kingdom. This is a world turned upside down for most people think they are blessed when they have something. Think of folks who, when something good happens to them, say, ‘I am so blessed’. They think it a sign from God of their righteousness with him but Jesus makes it plain that the opposite is true. God looks upon the brokenhearted, the beggars, and the spiritually impoverished who would like to trust in God’s son. They will know they are in the Kingdom of God. They will sense it, live it, and grow in it. Of course if they gain possessions it does not necessarily mean they have lost the way to the kingdom but they must ever be aware that only by the grace of God do they live.