Tag Archives: jesus

when we meet God in the flesh

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One of the exciting parts of my new job is that I was given the privilege of offering a meditation during our town’s ecumenical service tonight in order to celebrate the beginning of Advent. In the middle of pain, disillusionment and public outcry against injustice expressed across our country, I think it’s a good time for us to remember the God who decided to embrace our frailty and suffering in order to set us free. Here is the text from my meditation this evening:

We come together this evening to reflect, experience and anticipate the coming of the Word of God made Flesh. In doing this, I would like to suggest that we will meet the God of Creation in a way that will change not only what we believe about God, but also who we become.

We first meet God in the flesh as the most vulnerable of all creatures, an infant. If, for just a moment, we stop to consider the obscene notion that not only would God choose to dwell among us AS one of us, but that God would relinquish control over God’s own self to a teenage mother and reluctant father on the run from home. A teenage mother and faithful husband-to-be who were insignificant even among their own people (and had become even more so due to the scandal of a pregnancy outside the bonds of marriage). Two insignificant humans, in an insignificant shelter meant for animals, placed within an insignificant corner of the Roman Empire…

When God visits Creation, it happens where and with whom we would least expect.

When we meet God in the flesh, as it was for his own family, it’s likely we would not recognize him as the savior of all humankind, never mind the Creator of the Universe. Certainly there were predictions and prophecies filled with hope for a Messiah that would come to save Israel. But like this?

When we meet God in the flesh we are hesitant to embrace the God who would choose humility and poverty over power and wealth in order to make us free. Because when we meet God in the flesh, we do so filled with all of our preconceived notions, not only about what God is like, but about holiness and keeping the code of our religion, as did religious folks in Jesus’ day. That God, upon visiting Creation, would not overwhelm us with power and might in order to make his presence known, is something we simply cannot imagine.

Thus we are faced with a moment of loss.

All the walls of law and religion we had built to protect and save ourselves come crashing down. We are no longer safe from the God who would scandalously become frail, weak, human.

Therefore, when we meet God in the flesh, we are forced to change our minds, our hearts and our expectations.

Meeting God in the flesh confronts us with the God who comes to the earth he made, to begin to set things right. In so doing, power is taken away from those who have abused it and is instead given to children. We meet the God who not only promises us that we will gain life by losing it, but the one who exemplifies self-sacrificial love in a human body.

When we meet God in the flesh, we find his heart in the places and faces of people who have been forgotten. We discover him in solidarity with prisoners and on the faces of orphans and widows, even all kinds of dirty rotten sinners…

And we ourselves become enabled to see God’s image resting securely upon each and every person we meet.

When we meet God in the Flesh we discover that our definitions of family cannot compare to the kinship we experience with all those who have come to know and do the will of God. Lines of blood, race, gender and nationality are shattered in the light of our embrace of brothers and sisters across all man-made borders.

Meeting God in the flesh means we can no longer make assumptions about who God would have us associate with or whether it is right to “do good”at all times. The God we meet in Jesus the Christ, calls us to act, and to do so with love in every situation.

When we meet God in the flesh we are surprised to find that doubt becomes far safer than belief. Because when we trust and follow this God in the flesh, we are called to people and places that might just make us a little uncomfortable.

When we come face to face with our suffering Lord and Savior, we are confronted with the darkness that lies within our hearts. But we begin to realize that even though we are dressed in rags, he sees us as beautiful, adorned in the finest clothing, and he calls us to see each other in the same light.

During this season of light, may we reflect the beautiful and piercing light we’ve received in such a way that the darkness from inside and out can have no hiding place.

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heremeneutic of privilege

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As I often do when I feel overwhelmed by a controversial theological topic that is beating me up, I gave my good friend and brother T.C a call (http://www.theologicalgraffiti.com/). He has a way about him that gets me back on track. Yet again, he came through in the clutch.

This particular phone call touched on the edges of quite a few subjects, but the one I can’t seem to shake is the conversation we had about our hermeneutic of privilege.

For those who are not familiar with the word, hermeneutic is simply an interpretive lens through which we read scripture. Everyone has a lens (or lenses), as it is entirely impossible for any single person or group to read the scriptures with a blank slate. For me, I’ve identified my dominant lens as one of privilege. However, what I mean by privilege is more holistic than it may appear. I don’t only mean that I approach scriptures as a fairly wealthy and educated white male (which I most certainly do), but also, as T.C. pointed out, a person saved by the grace of God (a privilege that implies I am no longer a slave to the world’s system).

We who claim to be Jesus people believe in a God that was more privileged than any wealthy white male could ever imagine, yet was willingly emptied for our sake, strapping on all the baggage that comes with being human. This same God that we find exhibited in the person Jesus calls us to follow in his Way. This is a very basic reality inherent in Christian theology in which you would be hard-pressed to find any disagreement.

Being that there is very little disagreement on the matter, why is it that we who are privileged have not sought to combat the hermeneutic that has isolated us from the people Jesus spent the majority of his time with? Why have we not had the insight to realize our hermeneutic of privilege should lead to a life of disadvantage? If I were to guess, I would say that it has something to do with the fact that we spend more time studying and worshiping in buildings surrounded by people who are exactly like us than we do engaging with folks who look and think differently than you and I.

Remember where it is that you come from. This Jesus we follow didn’t sit behind a desk with a library full of books that might provide all his followers with the answers to every theological conundrum known to man.

Instead he walked, he cried, he healed, he ate, he drank, he sweat and he bled. He spent time with people who were not like him.

We have to begin to examine ourselves more fully. Where is the majority of our scripture reading taking place? Do we do more theology behind a desk, on a mac, in a comfortable leather chair, or is there more flesh and blood in your theological reflection? Are we involved in a diverse community, one that challenges our presuppositions and pushes us to examine ourselves in ways we would have rather avoided?

It is imperative that we walk alongside the folks that have been cast aside by the privilege we enjoy. In this way, we will subvert our privilege by allowing the poor, the meek and the pure seekers to illuminate our blind spots. This is the good news. This is the way of the Messiah.

-dave-

confessions of a one time calvinist

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  An abstract Christology, a doctrinal system, a general religious knowledge on the subject of grace or on the forgiveness of sins, render discipleship superfluous, and in fact they positively exclude any idea of discipleship whatever, and are essentially inimical to the conception of following Christ.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

When i was a young lad at Eastern Nazarene College, right down the street from “blue” Quincy Bay, I took a class called Philosophical Quest with a man named Dr. Thomas J. Oord (“the doctor of love”). During the course of the semester I came to the understanding that the God of Jesus of Nazareth IS Love and that we are creatures made in God’s image so that we can respond freely to God’s desire to be in relationship with us (creation). Not too far into taking this course, a friend of the family happened to be visiting from New York. This friend happened to be a newly converted Calvinist and he was after me like a heat-seeking missile. While I was sharing about the great freedom I has experienced from this new found truth about God, he began to quote scripture (Romans 8-10, Ephesians 2, John 3). ‘At this time I was a young, impressionable evangelical mind, and I began to think that this “doctor of love” had duped me with flowery language in order to lead me away from the truth! Indeed, I was told that this college professor was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Needless to say, I dove head first into the soteriological system known as “the doctrines of grace,” a.k.a Calvinism.

From that point on, I became one of two “Reformed” students in the class, ready and willing to stomp out the sea of heretical Arminians. What’s strange is that, to this day, I’m not sure what came over me. It’s as though simply believing in the “doctrines of grace” led me to become an attack dog for God. A quiet student before this, I began to raise my hand in defense of the faith so that my fellow classmates would have the chance to hear “the truth” before they spent too much time believing that God actually loved the people God made.

Over time I softened on my stance that there were some divinely elected before the universe was made to experience the joys of heaven, while others were predetermined to suffer in the fires of hell. I didn’t stop embracing Calvinism for another couple years, but I did relax on my defense of the system as time moved on. I just couldn’t reconcile all the suffering in the world with the idea that all was going according to God’s plan, and I didn’t feel like the sovereignty of God, as defined by Calvinists, provided an adequate or biblical explanation for the mess that is planet earth.

More importantly, I discovered that my embrace of the idea that God was willing all that came to be (rape, genocide, sex-trafficking, etc.) left me crippled. It was way too much to handle or even think about. Actually following Jesus became purely optional. I mean, I had been forgiven and any attempt to do good works would be like filthy rags anyway, so why should I get caught in the trap that the Catholic church had set before the time when Martin Luther and John Calvin set everyone straight! After all, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was just showing us how sinful we were and in need of his substitutionary death. He certainly didn’t mean for us to pursue a righteousness that goes deeper than the law! You may be able to see why, at the time, I mustered very little resolve to enter into the lives of people who didn’t have the luxury of going to heaven when they died.

As Bonhoeffer said, when we allow man-made systems to guide us, even systems characterized by grace and forgiveness, we make discipleship superfluous. This means that not only do we suffer, not experiencing the life Jesus offered, but folks who are without any hope or faith are simply offered something other than a horoscope or the possibility of winning the lottery to believe in.

We spend more time debating matters that are out of our hands than we do sharing the good news of freedom from oppression with our lives. We offer a new belief system (often based on guilt and shame) rather than a living and breathing community patterned after the loving, triune God. Therefore, our churches have become splintered and impotent, allowing theological debate to rule the day when Jesus had already defeated all the arguments we continue to use against following him like a child.

That’s why I was a one time, never-to-be-repeated Calvinist. I can never again adopt a system of salvation, because I’ve been freed from the need to be caged in a prison of TULIPs. These systems paralyze us into thinking we have it all figured out and that our sole duty as soldiers in the army of God is to share that information with other people. Don’t let that happen. Let the mess we have made overtake the neat and tidy world we would like to embrace. It’s only when we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the pain we experience that we can find the Messiah who was emptied, leaving himself vulnerable for the whole world.

 

-dave-

  

pearls and pigs

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“do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” matthew 7:6 esv

we have been going through the sermon on the mount to kick off our landing community meetings every week, and last week we finally made it to this little jewel. all of the folks in attendance had heard this passage before, and each person had, at some point in time, been told that the dogs and pigs referenced in matthew’s gospel were a depiction of “the lost,” or “unrepentant sinners” (i love using that term, especially when directly addressing the pigs! ;-)).” while we entertained some other possibilities of what Jesus may have meant by following up his directive to abstain from judgment with this strange expression (at least to modern readers), we landed (get it!) on an entirely different shore.

our goal is to take the context of each passage very seriously. so from our vantage point, it seems that the landscape surrounding this section on judgment depicts Jesus’ vision of the kingdom of the heavens and what it looks like when people live on earth as it exists in the heavens.

Jesus is speaking to a “chosen” people. his disciples (the hebrew people) saw themselves and their forefathers as bearers of the divine torch. other nations (gentiles) were dogs and pigs, seen as anti-god in every way, shape and form. as you might imagine, the sinful practices of these non-jews (as viewed through eyes of this holy people group), damned them to live in the sights of god’s holy and awful wrath. someday, it was believed, these wretched sinners would get what they deserved. it appears that Jesus is combatting this prejudice, demanding introspection over and above condemnation.

so when Jesus tells his disciples not to judge, he gives them a clear warning that if and when they fall into the trap of sticking their hand into someone else’s eye they leave themselves open for an attack. for these “chosen” people, the idea that they might be as susceptible to judgment as a gentile would be quite the stinger. i think it should sting equally today, if we’re being honest…

the pearl is me. when i slam the gavel on someone else, i throw myself to people (any and every human on the planet) who have no business handling such a precious jewel (me!). inevitably (and justifiably), i have become the target of the person i have just labeled a pig or a dog, a person unworthy of god’s love. i deserve to be attacked and trampled on when i have placed labels on folks that only belong in the hands of the divine.

when we judge other people we expose ourselves, opening up the floodgates for a river of judgment, as we are most assuredly hypocrites. may we learn to give our neighbors and enemies the same kind of charity we give ourselves when we fall short of the kingdom’s standards.

-dave-

jesus, the most radical humanitarian

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in my last post, i lamented about what seems to be a piece of lumber lodged in the eye of the american church. this time i’m taking on the role of apologist. you see, i remain a part of the christian church for many reasons, primarily because (like it or not) it is my family. i was born into the evangelical world and i remain inside the belly of the beast (i mean that in the most endearing possible way).

as fervently as i’ve tried, i haven’t been able to come up with a good enough reason to pack my bags. every system, every religion, every club is broken and in need of exhaustive repair. the evangelical christian church of america being no different, i remain a participating member while assuming the role of conscientious objector in regard to most of her political engagement.

all that said, i want to brag about the tradition into which i was born and raised. more specifically, i am proud of being raised in a family that led me to know about jesus. not the jesus that claims to be pro life while supporting the murder of criminals and adversaries in foreign lands, or the jesus who preaches self defense over cross bearing. no, i was introduced to the jesus of 1st century palestine who would rather lay down his life for his enemies than lay a finger on them. this same jesus incited his followers mimic his way for the sake of people who remain on the outskirts of society to this day. this includes prostitutes, women seeking abortions, drug addicts and people who work for the IRS.

as far as i can tell, there is no system, religion or philosophy conceived in the minds of human beings that has called upon its adherents to give more of themselves than the person, jesus of nazareth. think about it. even the most humanitarian groups stop short of non-retaliation, judging others and enemy love. jesus personified what he hoped to create in this world; a community of people living for the sake of those who have had their lives taken away from them.

admittedly, my family has played a major role in sucking the life out of already down and out folks. for this, there are no amount of condolences to be expressed.  but the jesus i have come to know died as a friend of “sinners,” believing them to be worthy of all his time and energy. it is this radical humanitarianism that i feel unworthy to have come to understand and aspire. it is the kingdom he raved about and embodied that brings healing wherever it goes. there is nothing more beautiful or true.

for all the lamenting i do about the imprint my family has left on american society, i am eternally grateful for the stain left by the cross of christ.