Archives for the month of: February, 2013

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Love is from eternity. As I have written before, the Triune God is love. This means much more than a characteristic; it is the reality of God. The eternal being of our God is the mutuality of the three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Love is from eternity.

This loving God is often lost on me because much more often I hear of an angry God. A Holy God who is angry with creation. Angry with me…a sinner. This especially comes to light as we talk about the cross. The idea most often described in American culture paints a picture of a vengeful God who sends Jesus to satisfy God’s anger. Jesus paid our debts on the cross. The angry God is satisfied as the perfect son dies the death that our sin should have afforded us.

The thing is I am not sure this is good news because I am not sure I want to be around this God.

Now I know God cares about justice and part of justice and love requires God to uphold certain things. God must be able to deal with the guilty. God cannot dismiss the wrongs done because dismissing the wrong does not offer salvation.

This also does not mean I am to dismiss the centrality of the cross as the saving work of God. I believe the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus has cosmic significance.

The cross does not satisfy an angry God; it is the ultimate proclamation of the love of God.

As we learn in the most popular Christian text, “For God so loved the world, God gave God’s son.” The incarnation, Jesus’ taking on flesh and blood, is a “yes” to the material world. The cross signals the flesh, blood, and dirt of this world have value; God is bound to this world. The faithful God does not give up on creation.

Even more, God displays love in the act of suffering.

“Love,” writes Jurgen Moltmann, “demands suffering.” I think he is right. Suffering and love are wed to one another. Love carries with it a pathos or passion. Scripture tells an unfolding story of God’s pursuit of people. This is not a far-off God struggling to fix a human sin problem. This is not a God who is to be appeased with sacrifices or hymns or what-have-yous. This is a personal God; an emotional God. A God who will stop at nothing to repair the broken relationship with mankind.

The cross is not so much appeasement as it is the act of a lover seeking reconciliation. The death of Jesus on the cross is the acceptance of suffering for our sake. It is the proclamation: God loves the world.

This brutal death, on the cursed tree, reaches to the full depth of human experience. Jesus’ death on the cross is the final step of the incarnation because humanity is not just born, we also die. So Jesus is God coming all the way into our world. God did not just wear humanity as a facade; God took on flesh, humbled himself, suffered, and died.

The crucified Messiah announces to the world that God will stop at nothing for us. God’s love is so great that he dives to the very death of human experience.

God is in solidarity with us. Jesus experiences everything; joy, happiness, pain, suffering, and even death. Death on a cross.

This means the cross of Christ is good news for all. No one can stand outside of God’s salvation. God in Christ suffers with us all. 

This post is a contribution to Tony’s Jones #progGod challenge. He invited bloggers to respond to the questions Why a Crucifixion? 

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I’ve been wife and kid free this week, and I have to be honest….it’s terrible. Some people probably think – oh you’re a free man. You can do what you want! Sure, I guess? Last night I got home and started working on a script for a little project later this year and looked up around 7:30 and realized I hadn’t eaten dinner. With my wife and family gone, I’m a mess. You become accustomed to the screaming (the kids, not the wife), you become accustomed to a routine, you enjoy what you have.

I truly am grateful for the way God has orchestrated my life. For those of you that don’t know, my wife and I met when she and I were 18. We married at 20. Let that sink in for a moment will you? The average age is somewhere around 28 for men and 26 for women. We were 20. Think of the 20 year olds you know – they aren’t much fun are they? They just want to do the Harlem Shake and talk about Katy Perry (is she still a big thing?). Generally my wife and I tell people – look getting married at 20 isn’t for everyone, in fact, we don’t recommend it for generally anyone, yet that’s what God had for us.

You see at 20 I was still impressionable. I hadn’t gotten used to a routine, I hadn’t crafted traits that were immovable. She could still mold me – and it worked. I’m not one to act as if she hasn’t crafted the man you read today. I wouldn’t be anything without her. I’d probably be playing in a failed band called Temptress Monkey Cannon or something like that. Let’s just say it wouldn’t be pretty. God knew I needed a rock, a person to come alongside and carry me through.

And then there are the kids. How people can have children and then not give a **** about them makes no sense to me. Honestly. These are pieces of you. These are pieces of your heart and soul. How can you not become so enraptured by this? In fact I’m going on a soapbox here – if you have children and still find yourself more obsessed with yourself, you clearly have your priorities out of whack. This isn’t to say that your children become your only focus – that’s unhealthy as well – but that you put thought into them, you pour into them. The inherent issue with the younger generations is that parents today treat their kids as if they are not important, as if they don’t matter. When you are taught you don’t matter by the very people that brought you into existence, you are going to have a hard time treating others with respect.

So there – I miss my wife and kids, that’s really all. I’ll see them again this evening, and I cannot wait. Yes, I’m just a big softie.

No one likes wandering. At best, some of us can tolerate it in small doses, but wandering has a short shelf life. There needs to be a plan, a path, or an answer; we are a productive people.

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I was thinking about this the other night as my small group dialogued about the wandering Israelites. As a high school student, I was hard on the Israelites. They had no excuse for doubt. Each day they could look up and see the Lord up ahead. They could even catch a glance on a restless night. The fire of the Lord always hung in front of them.

The older I get, the more I understand/sympathize with the Israelites. They are out in the wilderness wandering. Wandering. Now I know they should be content with life with God. The wandering should be made easier with the cloud of God leading them, but how well has that faired for me? Not well.

I can make account of how God has worked in my life. The list is quite long actually. I have seen God in the face of my family and friends. People, both my blood relatives and those who are not, who love me and are proud of me. God has graced me with a cloud a witnesses, which happens to be a curious term. I wonder what the Hebrew writer was getting at there. Maybe s/he was alluding to the cloud of God up ahead. Maybe the same vision the Israelites were graced with has been my experience all along.

I see God acting all over the place, but what is difficult is the uncertainty. I wonder if there is a question for us practical, get-things-done folks. Is God’s presence enough? Without the guidance or much of a plan, even in times of wandering, is the I AM enough to sustain?

I have to be honest with you…the question haunts me. It haunts me because the way I want to answer is different than reality. The times I am most aware of God is when things are going well for me; when it seems a plan is working out. This text read me as the readings are prone to do. My wiring is so similar. The presences of God is often related to God’s blessing. It is easy for me to wonder about the ebb and flow of God’s presence because of my circumstances, yet this not a good account of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Ours is a present God. Our God is with us in the long and the short moments, yet that does not mean silence might not come.

Is God enough for you even in your wandering?

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I feel like I need to come clean about something – I owe the Catholic church an apology. Now before I get ahead of myself and before you wonder what is happening let me explain.

I grew up in a small Southern Baptist church. This was all I knew, and frankly all I cared to know. The interesting thing about all this is that my mother’s whole family is Catholic. By whole family I mean everyone but us and one other couple, so out of 125 people, only about 10 are not Catholic. I spent most of my life thinking that Catholic = not Christian. Whether it was because of things I heard in the news, what our church taught, or through my own misunderstanding of their method of faith. So here is where I need to apologize.

To all the sincere Catholics who follow passionately after Jesus, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I’ve thought that somehow your chase after Christ was not as true as mine. I’m sorry that I thought Jesus could not work through the beautiful liturgies and homilies delivered weekly by your priests. I’m sorry I ignored all the good you do in the world and that it was not enough for me to see you as fellow saints.

My heritage is a rich Catholic heritage ground in the pursuit of Christ and his love. I went to mass for the first time in years last night and I was struck at how much the focus was on Jesus and his love. We recited the Nicene creed. We prayed the lord’s prayer. The whole service was a prayer to God through admission of sins and taking of communion. There was a holy reverence for Christ and his work.

I discussed with my brother in law recently that too often we (we being the American church in the generic sense) act too familiar with our holy God. He has become our friend, our buddy, and we’ve forgotten that he’s a holy lord worthy of glory and praise. Worthy of all of us and worthy of our love and adoration. I’m not saying that the Catholic church has this lined up, but there is a reverence for the word of God and the power of God too often missing in many of the Protestant churches throughout our world.

Is the Catholic church full of people who merely go because that’s what they’re taught and it truly means nothing to them? Yes, but my church is filled with the same people. Everywhere you turn people use Christ for their own intentions, and sadly the Catholic church has been abused over the years as much as the Protestant church has. We as fellow believers in Christ must look past this and look for real faith in our Catholic friends.

Taking part in Lent this year and attending the first mass of the Lenten season has me really rethinking how I’ve thought of not only my Catholic family in years past but anyone I have known that is Catholic. As we approach a new conclave in March and the election of a new Pope, I ask that all believers – Catholic, Baptist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Church of Christ petition the lord for the correct decision and the correct man to be chosen. The Pope is the most visible face of Jesus throughout the world and we need someone that truly displays God’s love and faithfulness.

I spent some time last year researching my family and I learned that the Smith side of my family hasn’t really provided me a rich heritage. Day Laborers from Oklahoma doesn’t really say strong heritage. Aimee and I discussed that it was time to build a new heritage for our kids, and an important part of that is establishing our faith now. The more we’ve discussed it though, the more we’ve realized we need to build on our family’s history where there is a foundation. Aimee’s grandparents were missionaries in Africa. How beautiful is that? We teach our kids of this, we teach our kids of the importance of mission work, of loving others. Now we’ve realized that the catholic faith and it’s work is a rich part of our family and that needs to be taught to our kids. Not ignorance, but true understanding of the church and it’s faith.

I’m not saying we’re converting, we are loved and called to our church, I’m saying that I plan to teach my kids that the church is not the evil empire that so often it’s made out to be. That there are beautiful things happening within it, and that it’s a part of who they are.

I mentioned in my Ash Wednesday post Lent means a turning for me. Like Jesus, early in Luke’s Gospel, turns toward Jerusalem, I turn my face towards Easter. I am going to use the second half of Luke’s Gospel as a text for Lenten reflections. Jesus’ journey toward Jerusalem has something to say to us on the way.

The imposition of ashes on Wednesdays compels me into Lent. Though the service is somber in tone, it sparks a hunger to give up this and take on that. It is as if I am one of the Desert Monastics welcoming a life of full asceticism. I receive the invitation into a Holy lent with the legs of sprinter; unfortunately I also receive it with the stamina of a sprinter. I guess I always have.

If you know me, you know I am fast. It is something I am proud of. Although I am into my 30’s, I am still up for a race unless the opponent is Denard Robinson or Usian Bolt. The truth is I live much of my life as a sprinter. I start things fast; I dive in with gusto, yet have little stamina. I get restless, bored or weary and I give up.

I think it is interesting that shortly after Jesus turns his face towards Jerusalem Luke includes a text about following.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God (Luke 9:57-62).”

This text reads me. It is as if I am one of those guys and those are my words. I say yes to following, yet I am not quite ready to make the full turn to Jerusalem. What is most uncomfortable is Luke leaves us wondering. Did the one guy let the dead bury their own dead? Did the other leave without a goodbye? I am left wondering about my own story as well. Wondering if I will ever make the full turn. Wondering if tomorrow will be the day I live into my confession.

Lauren Winner writes in Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, “It turns out the Christian Story is a good story in which to learn to fail.” I think she is right. Ours is a story about a God who welcomes us, even those who are prone to wander as the old advent song declares.