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.

 

 

WAIT TIL YOUR FATHER GETS HOME

I’ve been in court a few times during my adult life. Mostly I’ve been a spectator. On one occasion a witness and another a potential juror. Each time the judge enters there is a feeling of almost dread. He or she is announced and we are all asked to rise. They are usually attired in a robe of authority. A sense of nervousness comes upon me and some degree of pessimism as I think of the impending judgment upon the accused.

Judge, judgment, judgment day. They all have an element of fear attached. And so it is with the Christian faith. It may be due to the experience many have had of the judgment by Christians themselves. A lot of people feel that Christ is judging them. Maybe the church has contributed to this also.

Some of us are just very self-conscious about the wrongs we have thought and done in our lives and think that maybe Jesus just isn’t all that happy with us.

And perhaps we do well to have some experience of fright at the thought of Jesus, our judge.

Bonhoeffer once wrote that without that fright we do not experience the marvelous favor and grace when we discover that we are actually loved dearly by this judge. (THE COMING OF JESUS IN OUR MIDST)

It’s only when we realize just how lost we have been that we know the joy of being found. It’s only when a dreaded diagnosis comes do we realize the joy of recovery.

Jesus once said that he had come for the sick, the lost, the lame, and the blind. So that when we enter his court knowing our condition we can rejoice in our hearts when his presence comes into our lives. What this Judge brings is Good News.

“For judgment I have come into this world so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” (Those who make the pretense of seeing) John 9.

If we think we have it all together and can pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and need no help or relationship with God then we will go off by ourselves. Otherwise the judge has nothing but love and forgiveness and an eternal relationship to give us.

See, Christ makes his greatest judgment from Calvary. His judgment seat is the cross and his verdict is guilt for death and sin that both may be defeated. He has exhausted the worst they could do to the best.

But to those who long for his appearance his verdict is INNOCENT AND FREE.

Sometimes we are like the children who hear these dreaded words ‘Wait ‘til your Father gets home’ only to discover that when dad arrives his arms are open, his love is unconditional and any guilt is borne by his own humility and grace.

And now it is given to us to go into the world with Jesus looking for the lost and blind and self-conscious to tell them and remind ourselves of the GOOD NEWS. And with the lowly shepherds we can go to the manger to see this wonderful thing that God has done and then leave there to give praise to our God.

‘God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world.’

By the way: I have a friend who is a wonderfully kind and compassionate judge as I am sure many are.

 

I CHOOSE GRACE

Why does God choose to work in our weaknesses rather than in our strengths? Does God want to show us who is boss? Does God have a pride problem? Does God perhaps want to humiliate us for our sin? Is God himself weak?

No. It’s because God cannot develop a relationship with his creation if we think we are strong enough to succeed by ourselves. That’s what happened in the Garden a long time ago. And it’s what happens whenever and wherever humans build their own egos (their territorial walls) against the love of another, in this case God.

God wants to love us and love is best enjoyed when neither lover is a bully or egotist.

God has already demonstrated his own weakness and vulnerability in Jesus. That’s what the incarnation is all about. Not only does God live with us but God loves with us and suffers with us in order to give love a fertile ground in which to thrive. See, God’s grace can only flourish in weakness. It’s the law of God’s universe and God’s salvation and restoration of humankind. And while much suffering is unthinkable and unbearable it is the only path of love in this world and God wants love enough that God gives freedom even to evil and greed on this journey. Certainly God can work all things to the good for those who understand this but unfortunately not many do. And God will not force his love on us or coerce us to love him. That would be abusive and meaningless.

In 2 Corinthians 12:9 God tells Paul that God’s love is sufficient/enough for Paul’s needs in the midst of Paul’s own suffering. And through it Paul will develop more understanding of God’s love in this world. It will be the kind of love that will develop community and form a bride for the living Christ. And through Paul’s own suffering God will develop a character that God can trust with his powerful love and restoration of this creation.

It’s as though God is letting the EGO of this world be ‘lost’ in order to be ‘found’ again.

There are a great many trees in our contemporary Gardens of Eden. And if we could we would choose them over God and make our own way. But creation doesn’t work that way. It is been arranged that we NEED each other. We love each other. We care for each other. And without suffering there would be only self-sufficiency.

Fortunately the tree is now inaccessible and unavailable try as we might to find it or grow our own.

Before the tree there was only love. Now through Christ love, eternal love, has been restored. Through the poverty of Christ our lives have been enriched. There is a choice now: self-sufficiency or grace. I CHOOSE GRACE.

MY PRAYER

Lord Jesus I come to you because I need some good serious learning from my God.

I am thinking about violence today, Lord. It’s overwhelming. It’s ubiquitous- in families, on the streets, in churches, at concerts and against all kinds of people. It’s on an international scale. We are fearful, anxious and angry.

I am thinking of you Lord who had every reason to be violent against your enemies, against those who were so set against you. Paul wrote somewhere that vengeance belongs to you but you never exercised it. Oh maybe against a few tables in the Temple but not against your adversaries. You wept over those who resisted you. You forgave a thief in his dying moments. You pardoned all your accusers and executioners. Somehow you are even going to restore your whole creation, the good, bad and ugly. Please give us some of your spirit to know how you are doing this.

When we consider your life it doesn’t seem that you were afraid. If anything, you looked evil in the eye and took it to the cross with you. You even let it take you to the cross. That was your own loving scheme to destroy the power of evil to hurt us. With just a word you drove the demonic powers to their ruin.

How is it that we have moved so far away from you? We’ve taken to protect our own little kingdoms instead of trusting yours first. Fear has caused us to amass more weapons of violence than ever. How did things get so bad?

Certainly there are ‘bad’ people out there but it seems that your goal was not to destroy them but to create a community that would be able to influence them, be agents of change for good in this world.

How often, Lord, did you tell us ‘fear not’ even for the people out to kill our bodies but couldn’t harm our souls. I’m not sure that assurance is planted in my own soul never mind taking it to the world. Have we gotten to the pointe of protecting ourselves so well that we think or act like we don’t need you?

And Lord, what about all this family abuse, sexual and otherwise. It’s rampant and now every day someone is being accused of assaulting others. Can we not find loving ways to combat this and other forms of evil? Is your church become impotent, prayer less, and loveless?

You know, Lord, that much of it starts with anger- plain ole simple egotistical anger. It’s in my own heart so I’m not judging others. Even conversations about violence bring anger to a boil in conversations that become heated arguments.

I feel like there are two kinds of people going into the Temple again to pray. One is standing and praying. Thank you Lord that I have this all figured out. Thank you for my righteous ways of violence against those who are my and your enemies. And the other person is simply praying, ‘Lord Jesus have mercy upon me, a sinner.’

Jesus, wasn’t there a time when you could have called 10,000 angels to come and rescue you and destroy your enemies but somehow you would rather trust you life to your Father. How did you do that? Can I do that?

Lord you could have come and taken the world by storm and simply destroyed your enemies but instead we are told you gave up all you power, your equal standing with God and humbled yourself to the point of becoming a servant and even further- to the place where you gave up your life. And in that same place we are told to have YOUR attitude, YOUR mind. Why does that make so many of us afraid? Why are we ruled by fear? Have we needed to replace the crucifix with some sort of gun or a tank or a nuclear bomb? That would look ridiculous and maybe that’s how it does look to you.

I fear Lord that you will leave us to ourselves with our greed, our boasts and guns and you will go to the poor, the vulnerable, the people who most trust you. Maybe you have already? Please don’t abandon us. There are many trusting people right here in our own nation, in our communities of faith who really want to know you and know your ways and know how you love so well. You are our fortress, our rock.

And Jesus, you tell us not to try to overcome evil with evil but rather with good. How can such good infiltrate the masses of terrorists seeking to destroy us? Maybe, just maybe we’ve not tried the good enough. The loving way seems weak and we have to entrust its results to you. Please help us towards that way, to beat our swords and egos into plowshares and instruments of peace and righteousness. It’s not about being strong is it? It’s about the power of love, isn’t it?

Jesus, I fear we have created a culture of violence that is hard to reverse and our little attempts seem so futile and risky. Violence seems to be our choice to resolve conflicts everywhere. Please help us all, perpetrators and victims to see this is not the way you set before us. We are to choose life, not death.

Lord, we need you grace to be sufficient in our weakness. I want to trust you more, be more expressive of your world conquering love, seek you more, plead with you more to be present to those involved in violence.

And all the while I want to pray for those who mourn, those who are too weak to even speak for themselves, like the little 18-month-old child and the unborn, those whose countries are on the brink of annihilation because the big nations are preparing for war.

And Lord please have mercy upon all your people in all your creation that they may have a resurrection to eternal peaceful life with you that they couldn’t have on this earth.

And Jesus, my own confession is that I am not all that peaceful. I think to live in your love but my first impulse at any kind of hurt is to be angry inside and on the outside. Please help me to establish your life in my life that I may speak and act as one who walks with the Prince of Peace.

WHO’S IN CHARGE HERE?

Forget the tweets and twitters. Never mind the election scandals. And fear not the terror that stalks by day or night. There is only one power and authority that is holding this earth and we its inhabitants together. That power is love. And love has a name. Jesus.

In Colossians 2:10 we read that Christ is the head over every power and authority and holds everything together. (Colossians 1:17)

No matter how it appears the Kingdom of God has arrived in fullness in Christ at his death and resurrection. It’s for all of us. It’s for you folks who even do not believe this. It’s not fake news. It has the highest reliability. It’s news that can be trusted. Listen we’ve had it, most of us, with the current news real or not. We need some good news and here it is. No matter who you are or what you have been or the doubts you have about the world or yourself you can know for certain that you are part of this Kingdom family that God has set up on this earth. God’s grace makes that possible and each step of faith brings us into his realm, where he and no other authority rule.

It’s not escapism. In fact living with Christ will place us solidly in the realm of love in this world. Heaven begins here. God’s influence is here.

Christ’s reign is not a dictatorial power but rather a strong disarming influence over the whole creation. It was love that held Jesus to the cross to remove the blindness of sin from the world so that more and more people would come under the sway of his heart changing love.

Even at this moment, in ways I don’t fully understand Christ is in the process of reconciling this world, this creation back to God. The towers of Babel are falling. Empires are tumbling. The stranded arks are finding dry land. The covenant that was made with Abraham is being fulfilled. Those who have sat in darkness are finally having light shine on them.

Death, terror and heartache abound but these are not the final words for this world. God won’t allow that for his beloved creation. Yes, suffering must be addressed but in the light of Christ not in a faithless void. No earthly power has the final say. No, the final words are from Jesus who tells us to fear not because the Father has given us the Kingdom. (Luke 12:32)

Five hundred years ago Martin Luther by the grace of God stood against the earthly powers to proclaim the realm and reality of Christ. He lived amidst danger, emperors, threats and plagues. But give a look to some of the words he wrote from his famous hymn, ‘A MIGHTY FORTRESS IS OUR GOD’.

‘And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us;
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly pow’rs, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth;
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.’

I CHOOSE LOVE-the slippery slope of grace.

Some good folks I know are leaving the more conservative Presbyterian churches for communities more accepting of the LGBT way of life. I get that. People want to be with folks who are more accommodating to their particular understanding of God’s will in this matter. It is a most difficult issue for the Christian churches that are known by ‘what they are against’ than ‘what they are for’.

I am of the more conservative ilk myself and dislike very much that there are winners and losers in these matters. I think the only ‘losers’ in the time of Jesus were the people who were self-righteous, proud, and law/rule oriented.

So here’s what I want to suggest-A SLIPPERY SLOPE OF GRACE. Most people when they use that term are thinking of the negative connotations. They might suggest that a person who accepts unorthodox behaviors is going down the slippery slope of liberalism and even licentiousness. But that’s not how I take it to mean. The slippery slope of grace suggests a slide into the most loving way of Jesus. Think about it. Jesus left his status as God, took on the form of a servant and even to the point of dying on a cross. (See Phil. 2) That’s the slippery slope of grace to which I refer. It means that once we understand the love of Christ and start thinking in terms of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins, well there is just no end to how far we can go in loving the people around us. Look. Once Martin Luther encountered grace, for all his faults, he started a revolution that shook the conservative status quo world of religion.

So, and here’s the subject that has changed in my life, I want to say yes to any monogamous relationship and that includes people who are heterosexual or homosexual.

We live in a ‘fallen’ world into which Jesus came to redeem us, all of us. The condition of our condition is such that all of us have wandered away from God in our thinking and living in many ways. Bitterness, anger, envy, hatred and greed are just a few ways that we see our departure from God’s love.

But here’s the thing- lest I stretch this blog too thin. We as believers in God and Christ want to be obedient to our consciences as best we understand God word and will and the ‘thing’ is that we may be WRONG. Yes, that’s right. We might have misinterpreted the Scriptures in these matters. Some theologians and pastors and lay-folk have admitted to such. And for conservative churches to give up that ‘territory’ is Bible Inerrancy Suicide. That’s unfortunate. It’s humbling. And it makes folks insecure that what they have known all along might be a wrong understanding.

That’s what love is about in my ‘trying to be humble’ estimation.

Now I know we need to be true to our consciences as guided by the word of God and that’s a good thing even though we might just not have the corner on truth that we think we have.

But if I have to choose between an understanding of truth and love I will choose love. At least as I am writing that’s that I believe to be the correct choice. I mean this when it comes to the way we live with one another and extend grace to one another. Perhaps that’s why the Bible says that ‘love covers a multitude of sins’, ours as well as other peoples’. (See 1Peter 4:8) And in this matter of LGBT I want to choose love. My wife says that “Love IS truth”. There are folks of different sexual persuasion than me who believe with all their hearts that they are within God’s will. They have my ‘amen’.

When I stand one day, by grace, before my Lord in glory I want to be judged (in this matter) not by how correct my doctrine was but rather how accurate my understanding of the love of Christ is. I remember that for all of us Jesus didn’t wait ‘til we had it all together. He died for us while every one of us was in the act of sinning against him. And if he did that for me then can I love anyone any less. And as Martin Luther was alleged to say, ‘Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.’ Though I do not pretend in any way to ascend to the status of Father Martin.

One final thought. The law, which was truth, came through Moses, and became a badge of honor for the Jews in the Covenant. But now that Christ has come, grace outmaneuvers the law to reconcile ALL of us to God.

Now some folks are going to cite several scriptures and I know them all and have used them in my own arguments. But there are many scriptures we can USE to our own interest without looking deeper into context, milieu and such. And I might be wrong in my own understandings but I choose love. See that’s what Jesus chose when he came to us. And it’s why many religious folks wouldn’t accept him as the Messiah. Jesus is the only truth that matters to me and his life represents the fullness of God’s love.

 

 

 

 

 

CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG

So I have been contemplating how we Christians have affronted God’s graciousness by the divisiveness of our denominations, at least within the United States. But first let me share two important scriptures that address this concern. There are more but these two highlight the problem.

The first is from the mouth of Jesus in his wonderful prayer to his Father as recorded in John 17. “I do not ask for these only but also for those who will believe in me through their word (he is speaking of the disciples) that they may all be one, just as you Father, are in me and I in you, that they may be in us that the world may believe you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them so they may be on as we are one, I in them and you in me that they may become perfectly one so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (Verses 20-23)

In the U.S. there are 217 protestant denominations and 35,000 independent or non-denominational churches. Separate from these is the Roman Catholic Church that has 68 million adherents.

Oh, and the other Scripture? In Philippians 2:2 Paul writes “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love being in full accord and of one mind.”

All the disharmony and disunity within the Christian church seems to be in complete disobedience to what the Scripture calls for. At the very least we can say that it is not within the most revealed word of God. Jesus asks for unity and Paul is often encouraging his established communities towards unity, towards a place where they might just get along with one another.

If there are differences they would be in the matter of gifts given by the Holy Spirit, not in walls of ‘truth’ and ‘doctrine’ and ‘practice’ we have built against each other. And while in past days there maybe have appeared good reasons to divide, there is even greater reasons now to come together as one as a witness to our oneness in Jesus Christ, not just in name, but in the way we love one another. I confess my own part in this divisiveness desiring to stand my ground on the basis of what I believe to be the will of God in certain doctrines and ethics rather than making the effort towards graciousness and love.

Consider for a moment just some of our differences, things that keep us apart.

Baptism: believer or infant, immersion or sprinkling, age of accountability and the like.

Communion: symbolic, real presence, consubstantiation, transubstantiation, memorial, qualification for participation, and probably more.

Mary: reverence, veneration, worship, prayer to, life virginity, mother of God.

The Bible: inerrancy, literalness, good advice, infallibility.

Then there are the disagreements and divisions about faith and works, about justification and sanctification and the return of Christ, war, abortion, pro-life, social justice, republican and democrat. Fine, let’s have conversations about such and let’s reason together but we don’t have to walk away from one another. Love is sacrificed for truth.

There was a time when the churches used the Apostle’s Creed and Nicene Creed as a common expression of faith. Now there are so many different creeds it would make your head spin. At least mine does. I recall from the scripture the most original confession, JESUS IS LORD. There you have it.

Then there are the different expressions that divide us. Charismatics, Pentecostals, Traditionalists, Fundamentalist, music in worship, no music in worship, raising hands, speaking in tongues, and so forth.

I am not sure how I or anyone else has a corner on truth. I think it is more the war between our fleshly selves than a desire for right worship and love for God and one another. I am not saying we should not strive to better understand the will of God revealed in the Bible and particularly in Jesus but for heaven’s sake let us be loving towards one another and be one family again like the early church. I realized that even then there were problems but they were addressed and Paul once wrote, ‘put on love which binds everything together in perfect harmony.’ Colossians 3:14.

I really believe that protestants and Roman catholic should come back together and give way to one another, to bear with one another, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13.

Oh there may be actual differences that have to divide the church such as the confessing movement in Germany during Nazi Germany or when the abuses of the Roman church brought Martin Luther to the forefront in the 1500’s let these be the great exceptions and not the norm and when they are resolved in some form let us get back together in oneness and love and as a witness to the world of Christ’s life in us.

Let’s look to something like the Sermon on the Mount as a confession of life, or 1 Corinthians 13. Let’s help the poor. Let’s do all we can that people don’t have to choose to end any life. Well, enough said for now but I think you get the idea. I do.

I want to choose graciousness and love to be the central doctrines of my life in Christ.
 

DON’T WORRY! IT MIGHT NOT BE YOUR JOB.

I am writing for the anxious Christians who think they MUST evangelize, share their faith with all the people they meet. It’s not the responsibility of every Christian to make converts or even disciples for that matter. In general, believers are not told to go into the world and convince people to ‘accept Christ’ as if they fear for the souls of each person in their families, circles of friends or workplace.

But that’s what we are often made to think. How many books are there on ‘evangelism’, not sharing God’s love which is always a good thing, but rather trying to convince people to believe the same as we do.

If you read the New Testament, outside the Gospels, you will not find any explicit commands to evangelize anyone. You will however discover encouragement, commands, direction and even warnings about developing a Christ centered character, developing a lifestyle of love and forgiveness. And believe me, forgiveness is a lot harder than evangelism. You will learn how to love God, worship God and show God’s grace to those around you.

Paul, the Apostle, was certainly an evangelist but if you read his words to the churches and individuals he is most always writing about building up the body of Christ, the community of faith and developing a character whose chief quality is love.

In the Gospels let’s look at the words of Jesus. He called 12 disciples among others to be apostles and he directed them (Matthew 28) to go into the world and ‘make disciples’ which is more extensive and intensive than ‘converts’. This was a special assignment. On another occasion he sent 70 people to announce that God’s Kingdom had indeed come. He sent them as units of two to announce his coming, to prepare the towns and villages for he himself to come and preach. I am not sure how this translates into people going door to door, two by two, to win converts to a particular religion but that’s another matter.

See Jesus made disciples out of those who wanted to follow him. He was the premier evangelist but he does not declare that every follower needs to be a ‘soul winner’.

Billy Graham has been an evangelist. That’s his calling. But it’s not for everyone. We, individually, have been encouraged to be ready to give anyone an answer for how and why we believe in Christ and to do that with gentleness. (1Peter 3:15). Paul writes to the Ephesians church that ‘evangelism’ is a special gift given to some. One of those ‘some’ may be indeed one of us. But in general what we are commanded is to ‘have the mind of Christ’. We are to have the character of Christ, which will lead to loving others, even praying for one another and sharing Christ’s love with others. That will come in an almost natural way as we live with Christ day to day.

But don’t let anyone tell you that you HAVE to be an evangelist. You can I are called to be followers of Christ in word and deed. We are called to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth wherever and to whomever God leads us. Listen carefully to what the Spirit is saying.

Already Forgiven

John 1:29

 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. (MEV)

So one day a friend told me he was going to visit his dying sister. He would tell her to ask God’s forgiveness for her sins. And then she could be assured she was going to heaven.

It got me to thinking that it would be better for her to simply say YES to God’s love for her. That love was revealed in Jesus Christ who has already forgiven her sins through his death. That’s what I take from John’s statement. She then would simply be trusting what has already been done for her.

Sure it would be wise for her to acknowledge ways she had disobeyed God and put up a wall between Him and her. Maybe she has misdeeds or missed deeds in her life that have been an enormous burden to her conscience. But I don’t think God needs a litany of offenses any more than did the father of the Prodigal Son.

Saying yes to God’s embrace and our desire to think differently about our future together is reason enough for much joy in heaven.

ORDINARY GRACE

So there was the day I was walking through the kitchen and noticed that the dishwasher had not been emptied.  My first thought? That’s not MY job. Didn’t I mow the lawn yesterday?  I kept walking through the kitchen and suddenly stopped. “What did I just say?”  This is how it goes when you talk with yourself, which may well be conversation in the Spirit with God.

Anyway after stopping and turned and looked at the dishwasher door partly open and noticed all those clean dishes inside and remembered that Jesus once told his disciples upon washing their feet, ‘as have done this for you, you are to serve others in the same way.’  I am not sure that Jesus literally meant to always wash each other’s feet, though it IS a beautiful act of love.  He meant that we should serve one another with the same kind of love he had for us and what better place to practice that service than in the kitchen, cheerfully, thoughtfully, and with much gratitude that we have a dishwasher.

So I emptied it thinking ‘here I am actually practicing a spiritual discipline to draw closer to the character of Christ.’

Until now I told no one so my deed could be done in secret but now that the secret is out let it shine on a hill for you husbands who have walked on by those light and momentary chores in the Kitchen.

I call this ordinary grace because grace can become a normal part of the changed heart life of Christ. For Jesus, grace just happened.