Monday, September 29, 2008

Prophets of Love

By Your Side - Tenth Avenue North

The mind of a Pharisee thinks truth is more important than love, but Jesus showed us that love is the most important part of truth.
-- From 'He Loves Me!', by Wayne Jacobsen

While there have been various movements around lately such as the emerging church, the new reformed movement, or various proclaimed revival 'outpourings'. There has been another set of voices that have been calling believers back to believe in the Goodness, Grace, and Love of God. None of these voices have gotten organized, other than simply following the prompting of the Holy Spirit. And, as far as I can tell, none wish to build or proclaim the next 'great thing'. They are simply Prophets of Love, proclaiming God's Love to all people, and reminding us that we can't save ourselves, we can't fix ourselves, we don't need to work to earn anything from our Father (like the song above), and that the only hope we have is in the transforming power of His Love.

All to often in our world, we find that performance is a condition of our acceptance and worth as a person. We learn this in school, many learn this in our homes, our churches, and in our jobs. This is the way of the world, and we recast God in our image when we assume that God is the same way. I'm guilty of this more times than I'd like to admit. But in God we find someone who knows us at our worst, and loves us all the more. He doesn't stand back and wait for us to fix ourselves, rather he offers to come into our brokenness and begin the healing process - if we ask. He is the one who is faithful to complete the work he begun. When we look for something we can do to get right with him, we get nowhere. But when we trust what he has done to make us right, that makes all the difference. I have found that the most profound changes in my heart come at my darkest hours; Those times when I finally give up on my abilities to accomplish anything through self-effort. “We worship in the Spirit, glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” (Phil 3:3) Papa, may I learn from those and trust you at the first, rather than at last.

Are you Tired? Worn out? Burned out on Religion? Come to me, get away with me and you'll recover your life.
-- Matt 11:28, The Message

The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.
-- Zephaniah 3:17, NIV

Here are just a few voices of Love that God has brought into my life at just the right times:

He Loves Me! - Wayne Jacobsen.
True Faced - John Lynch
The parable of the dancing God - Baxter Kruger
The Shack - Paul Young
The Wisdom of Tenderness - Brennan Manning

Friday, September 26, 2008

A couple of songs that have been on my mind.

Here are the songs.

Both of the songs happen to be from Third Day's latest album called 'Revelation'. I've been listening to them way too much, because I can really relate to both of them; although I probably relate to them in a way that is different from what the writer intended. To me the hold slightly different meanings than how they are traditionally taught. The first is called 'Slow Down'.

Oh, I don't want to let go
Of all the things that I know
Are keeping me away from my life.
Oh, I don't want to slow down.
No, I don't want to look around,
But I can't seem to work it out,
So help me God.

For me, I can see that there are some things in my life that I still hold on to. Mostly because I don't quite know what else to do yet. I'm still part of a corporate machine that keeps me from doing things that really matter, and I really want that to change. I'm still somewhat a part of the American lifestyle that keeps so many very busy, very disconnected, and causes so much stress and depression. How do I step off that tread mill and not end up on the street with kids to feed? I don't know, so help me God!

The second song is called 'Born Again', and although I'm sure they wrote it to describe the traditional meaning of 'Born Again', I'm not thinking about my salvation experience.

It feels like I'm born again
It feels like I'm living
For the very first time
For the very first time
It feels like I'm breathing
It feels like I'm moving
For the very first time
For the very first time

I'm thinking of the last 3 years of my life. I was falling apart inside 3 years ago, and trying to look nice and together on the outside. But in my most disparate hour, God showed me that I had him all wrong. I thought he was keeping a list; I thought he was constantly disappointed in me; I thought I had to get my act together before he would love me or bless me. I was a believer already after all, and wasn't it about time I started doing all that you are supposed to do? But I was wrong, God didn't want me to change by my own self effort disguised as 'Spirit Empowered'. He wanted me to be still and know that he loves me, and that abiding is his Love is my only hope for change. I began to come back to life once I figured out that he wasn't looking for performance and that he already loved me more deeply than I could possibly imagine. I've come a long way in 3 years, but I know there is a long way yet to go in my process of 'unlearning'.

Friday, September 05, 2008

A 'Punishing God'? - Thoughts on the Cross and Forgiveness

Was the Cross punishment? In one sense; yes it was. It was a particularly cruel punishment established by Rome. The historian Josephus called it "the most wretched of deaths." So yes, humanly speaking it was a punishment, and I do not want at all to make light of the intense suffering that Jesus endured on the Cross. What I do want to look at though is whether or not there is a scriptural basis to say that 'God punished Jesus for our sin.' As I stated in the previous post, this understating of the cross makes no sense to me. It's not forgiveness, and it may appease or change God but it doesn't change me. And it may be quite Loving for Jesus to 'take my punishment', but it leaves us with a cruel and unforgiving Father. While scripture clearly indicates that the cross was intended to be a demonstration of love, by both Jesus and Father (Rom 5:8). Athanasius in his writing On the Incarnation, postulates that God could have done the work of reconciliation in secret somewhere in heaven, but that we would not have believed such a message. Rather the very public, and very obvious death of Jesus and the eyewitness accounts of his resurrection was meant to leave us without any doubt that indeed something happened; something that even after 2000 years we can look to.

Why doesn't God just forgive us?
I'm sure you've heard that question hundreds of times before and the answer usually given has to do with God's justice. The argument is that God justice must be 'satisfied'. While looking at Hebrews 9:22 I took a look at the Greek word that is translated into 'forgiveness' and found something astounding. I found that God doesn't 'just forgive', because that doesn't help us. It was never his intention to 'just forgive' because he wanted to solve our problem, not just forgive it and leave us eternally in our bondage to sin. The word in the Greek that is translated forgive is Aphiemi and it has a much broader meaning that the word forgive conveys in English. In Greek it carries with it the idea of actually removing sin from a person, so that when Jesus tells people their sins are forgiven in scripture he is saying their sins have been taken away.

What God accomplished by the Cross:
In the most basic terms, the Christ's death and resurrection is said to take away our sins (John 1:29, Heb 9:28, 1 John 3:5), and reconcile (2 Cor 5:18-19 , Eph 2:16, Col 1:20, 1 Peter 3:18) us to God. Both sin and the law (Eph 2:14-16, Col 2:14, Rom 7:1-6) are abolished in Christ. I'm sure you've heard these said before, but don't be so quick to pass them by. Think about what scripture is teaching here and what it is not teaching. It is saying that our problem is resolved, our spiritual disease is cured, we are set free and the law that condemns us is abolished. Scripture points to God's work on the cross as being something greater, something multifaceted that we can bring our questions to and find an answer; Love for the unloved, worth for those who feel worthless, a clean conscience for those who feel the weight of their guilt, freedom for those enslaved by their addictions. Consider the additional passages:

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Col 2:15)

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. (Heb 9:15)

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. (1 Peter 3:18)

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (1 Cor 15:3)

Justifies - makes us right with God. (Rom 5)

Cleanse our conscience (Heb 9:14)

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work. ( 1 John 3:8 )

In all of scripture there is only one verse that comes close to calling the cross 'God's punishment'. And that is Isaiah 53:5, yet even this verse uses a Hebrew word that is distinct from the word used for punishment. This word, muwcar, means chastening, correction, or instruction. This of course differs greatly from punishing someone for a criminal act. So you still have to bring your own presuppositions about 'punishment' to the text in order to read it that way (which, unfortunately, the NIV translators did).

How does the Cross (and resurrection) work?
While we are told what Christ did on the cross for us to resolved our problem, we aren't really given much information on the technical details of how this is accomplished. Maybe this is intended to be part of our faith, or trust in God. To trust that he is telling us the truth and not worry about the technical details. Maybe asking this question is what got us the doctrine of 'Penal Atonement' in the first place. Yet I believe there are hints in scripture that give us some small clue:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being by Him; and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being (Jn 1:1-3)
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Col 1:17, see also 1 Cor. 8:6)
And He (Christ) is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power (Heb 1:3)
For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. (2 Cor 5:14)
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor 5:21)

If the one who is sustaining all of creation dies, what happens to creation? If he bears our sin, what happens to sin when he dies? And if the one who is sustaining creation is raised from the dead what happens to creation? If he ascends to the Father, is there then any consequence for creation?

Now, what are we to make of the fact that this One became a human being? What are we to make of the fact that the eternal and beloved Son of the Father–in and through and by whom all things were created–entered into his creation and became a man? Are we to treat this Son incarnate, Jesus Christ, as a mere man, a single, solitary, individual human being, who lived and died like every other human being? Does his presence, the presence of this Son incarnate, not carry immediate and decisive implications for the whole universe? How can we not see that this Son is Lord, that his existence–his life and death and resurrection and ascension–has dramatic and stunning significance for the cosmos? How can we not see that the human race is necessarily and beautifully and wonderfully bound up in this Son incarnate, this Creator incarnate, and therefore how could we possibly be blind to the staggering and glorious fact that the human race has been gathered together in this one Man, the Son-Creator incarnate, and taken to the Father in his ascension? For good or ill, what becomes of this Son, this Son-Creator incarnate, becomes of us. If he dies, we die. If he rises again, we rise again. If he ascends to the Father and sits down at His right hand, we too are lifted up and embraced by the Father and accepted into the life of the Trinity.
-- Baxter Kruger, The light of the Cosmos