Archives for posts with tag: God

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The story of the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is at the core of Christianity. We believe this story is the great climax of history; it is the hinge point of all things because it is through Jesus that God brings new creation.

Easter speaks a better word than any other. Easter declares life, not death is God’s future, the reign of God is here. Easter proclaims that God is faithful to creation, and all of creation will be put right as the waters cover the sea. Easter sits at the center of the Christian story because we believe Easter is the salvation all of things.

But the logic of the Christian story does not begin and end at Easter. Ours is a story that follows the way of suffering. Holy week takes us to places we would not expect. We will follow Jesus to the upper room with a betrayer and the garden where the mob finally gets their man. The crowds will crowds cry, “Crucify Him,” and the crown of thorns will sink into Jesus’s head. Holy week leads us to cross, and demands that we look upon the tomb.

And the cross of Christ is a big deal. Jesus’ death was for us. On the cross, Jesus took our iniquities and atoned for our sins, but that is not all.

The writer of Hebrews reflects on the suffering and death of Jesus,

“And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.”

Holy week reminds us that we are not called out of this earth; instead, we are called to follow Jesus outside the camp.

Douglas John Hall says, “Unlike religions that draw their converts away from the world, a faith informed by a theology of the cross constrains the community of discipleship to enter into its historical situation with a new kind of openness, attentiveness, and compassion.”

We are called right into the midst of the world, to be part of it. The crucifixion of Jesus was not simply a transaction for us; it is the heartbeat of our movement. We are to follow the way of crucified Messiah.

I am not sure what this looks like for everyone. It might mean standing with a friend against cyber-bullying. Or it might be volunteering your free time at a food pantry. This way of life might call you to full time ministry or maybe you will teach in an underperforming school. There are a million ways to move this into your life, but the logic of the Christian story runs this path. It demands that we suffer with those who find themselves outside of the camp. We can go here because we believe ours is a city that is to come.

This is faith. It is when you know deep in your bones that life is found outside the city with the outcast and the lame and the poor and the broken and the war tore and the homeless and the dirty and whoever has been pushed out by society. As Jurgen Moltmann says, “The theologian of the cross is led by the visible nature of God on the cross. He is freed to love that which is different and other.”

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I am not a hopeless romantic, to confuse me for such would be like confusing a color for a square. Proof of this fact is not in short order, but one story will suffice. Last week, we got into a conversation with friends about our first dates. I turned to Jill and asked if she remembered what we did on our first date. She quickly answered, “Yes, we ordered carry out pizza and watched the World Series.” Admittedly, I might need to sign up for a romance tutor, but I have also learned relationships are less about that stuff than we imagine.

One of things Jill and I have often done together is go to concerts. I have two favorites, Death Cab for Cutie during the Plans tour and the Avett Brothers this year. It is great to gather with other lyric-singing fans and spend an evening listening to live music. The thing is, concerts are not the height of music for me. The beauty of music is in the bonds it creates and the memory it holds. A particular song has the power to transport. The brevity of a concert is nothing to a consistent sound track to life.

I think often about the incarnation, the coming of Jesus into our world. This decision as Phillipians tells was a decision to leave glory and become a servant. God became flesh and dwelled in our neighborhood.  God notices and is attentive to the deep human quandary in such a way that God becomes man. This is the ultimate act of listening and being present with creation. In Exodus, we read about a God who turns his ear towards the Israelites. These cries for liberation compelled God to action, just as the groans and cries of all of creation compelled the sending of Jesus.

Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove, in The Wisdom of Stability writes, “Marred though it may be, our world has not been abandoned but rather embraced by a God who saved us by refusing to leave the place where we are—by drawing closer, even, to our self-inflicted violence and suffering on the cross. . .The incarnation is the ultimate testimony to the revolutionary power of stability.”

The Creeds say very little about the life of Jesus. It is birth, death, and resurrection, but this leaves us in the high moments. The life of Jesus cannot fall off the page nor can it be turned into a moral slogan where we use Jesus as an archetype for our daily quandaries. The incarnation shows us God’s consistent decision to love us year by year, day by day, moment by moment. It is the vulnerable way of a God who comes near.

This kind of decision is not the way I am formed. It is much easier for me to work in short bursts of love and kindness. These moments allow me to care for and take care of another person on my terms. It holds the other at an even arms length. We are allowed to foster a sense of relationship, but no one is asked to be vulnerable or to make real space for the other.

The decision to a consistent love requires a full incarnation. It demands that we make ourselves open and vulnerable to the other and it invites us to stability. As green as the grass looks on the other side, we are called to embrace a people and a place. Any serious relationship is based in this kind of commitment.

The teachings of Jesus centered around this way of life. Around forgiveness, hospitality, patience, peace, and the love of enemies. In a world of rights and individuality this way of life makes no sense. It is weakness and foolishness, but in the Kingdom of God it is the power of God. These kinds of practices offer us to relate to the other in the highs and lows of relationships.

In college, I read Rodney Stark’s book The Rise of Christianity. The book developed how the Christian movement grew from a small sect to a world religion. One of the key themes was the consistent decision of the early Christians to love and care for those around them.

Stark tells of the early Christians who gain the reputation as those who took care of people, even their enemies. He describes an epidemic early in the 3rd Century. Contagious disease tore through the community and at times the area doctors would run to the hills to escape the certain death sentence. The Christians, however, stayed and helped those who were ill, They would gather up the bed ridden and hold them in their arms. These acts were part of the particular way of the early Christians. Their consistent decision to love the world sparked something.

The embrace of a community of people in the ordinary space of human life is the call of the Kingdom. We are to inhabit the ordinary spaces of life with others, so they can find in us a consistent commitment. Just as God is known by steadfast love and kindness, we must be a people known for our faithful, commitment to all people.

They will know us by our love.

UnknownAs of this writing, we are a little over a week into 2014. The New Year comes like a blanket of fresh snow. Collecting everything under its crisp, white weight. Everyone is full of hope and expectation; the new year offers a chance to reset our gaze towards an ideal you, the you that sounds wonderfully successful and productive.

This kind of reset is important. New goals and aspirations are valueable. Our days can begin to stack up on us. If we are not careful, the ins and outs of life can dull us to progress or renewal. Lost under the pressures of the grind, we easily lose sense of the story we find ourselves in. A new calendar awards a chance to engage our purpose and glance at the big picture. This kind of activity is crucial to help focus us and to help us take stock of the narrative we inhabit. As I have written before, the Christian narrative calls for a particular way of life.

While the new year offers us a chance to take stock of our identity, modify problem areas, and chart a course for improvement, we must be careful. We must remain open to surprise and interruption.

This week was the first Sunday of Epiphany. The Epistle text was Acts 10. The story of the mission to the Gentiles. It is a weird story that begins with Peter in asleep. During his slumber, Peter has a vivid dream. In the vision, Peter is witness to a large sheet lowered from Heaven. In the sheet are four legged animals that Peter has abstained from all his life. Then the Lord commands him to kill and eat the animals.

“Surely, not Lord,” Peter returns. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”

The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

The next day, Peter traveled to Caesarea and went to the house of Cornelius. His home was filled with expectant people. The Good News had proceeded Peter’s arrival and the household could not wait to hear from him. But here is the thing. Cornelius and his whole household were Gentiles. So Peter walks into the room and  it struck him. He remembered the vision as he looked at expectant strangers. God was doing a new thing. Though the law stated these Gentiles were unclean, God was moving Peter toward a new way of life.

What follows is a huge break for Christian faith. These people, who were once cut off, were welcomed into the family of God. The Holy Spirit rushed through Cornelius’ house and surprised everyone with new creation. Peter made himself interruptible by the living God and it changed everything.

Miroslav Volf says, “The Christian difference is therefore not something new into the old from the outside, but a bursting out of the new precisely within the proper space of the old.”

God’s news creation can be surprising because it is not the future we might expect. For us the future is the expected course that follows the chain of events from moment to moment. This is what goal setting is based on. We can chart the future if we focus on the variables and our talents. Our vision and goals can help us progress to the next place, but they can also take us off track because we might miss the unexpected surprise. The bursting forth of God’s new creation.

Now, this does not mean I am against setting goals and resolutions. I think it is crucial to order one’s life. A disciplined way of life is crucial to stability and growth. I just hope the way you order your life allows to attend to the interruption.

This kind of attention leaves room for friends and loved ones to call us out of our tasks. It pays attention to the goings on in other people’s lives, and is open to times of reflection and silence. More than anything, an attentiveness to surprise is grounded in an openness. A humility that allows your best laid plans to be held loosely.

This year might be the year where you finally breakthrough. A year where your resolutions become accomplishment. I hope it is a year of productivity, but I hope you will also be open to interruption. I hope there is enough room in the plans you make and the relationships you keep for surprise.

ImageMoments linger, but years seem to pass at breakneck speed. This year did not unfold as I scripted it about this time last year. The screenplay I scribbled in my Moleskin notebook was full of grand accomplishments and well-thought goals. Sometimes I wonder why the plans I laid went awry, and in the worst moments I get stuck on the failures. The end of the year has a way of demanding an accounting, but as I look across the great and small moments of the year, I am reminded of the great promises that hold my whole story together.

“Faith and promise keep me honest when starvation falls upon us.” These beautiful words are taken from the song “Life,” by the Avett Brothers. Later they sing, “You and I know all too well about the hell and paradise here on earth.” Beautiful stuff.

That got me thinking about the fight to keep faith and promise in view. All too often other narratives take center stage, so this post is a practice in locating faith and promise.

To look in the mirror is to remember who I am. It is no mystery who my family is because I bear the Williams markings. It is a beautiful thing to stand as a member of the Williams family. There is not a day that goes by that I am not certain of my family’s love. This promise is a grand promise in the face of starvation. Even in the lonely moments, I know there is a group of people who choose to love me. Not the good me or the right me. Not the smart me or the “on the right path” me. I stand on the firm foundation of Larry, Cyndy, Kyle, Cody, and Clara. Faith and promise keeps me honest.

As I write, there is a trendy ring on my left hand. The ring has been there for over 6 years now. On the evening of March 3rd, 2007, Jill and I exchanged trendy rings. The exchange was much more than a jewelry swap. It was a day that was in the making for some time. We met in college and though we did not admit it, (Jill was far less forthcoming than I was) we knew early on there was something right about each other.

The abstractness of marriage falls away with the reality that you are bound to another. I remember showing up to the hotel with our wedding clothes on. Husband and wife. It was the moment that it all became more than an event for me.

I am married to Jill in ways I would have never guessed. It is this dance together where her “otherness” makes me whole. It is not simply that she fills in my gaps, though she does some of that. The beauty of marriage is that you are so close to someone that lives in the world differently than you. I thought over time I would figure Jill out. I would take account of all of her otherness and figure out ways to change or change her to dismiss the otherness. I have changed and Jill has too, but she is still other. Brueggemann says, “The reality of otherness will not go away, but is the very source of life (location 320).” Jill is the gift of new life for me. I live in the world with Jill.

For us, life has always been a partnership, a give and take. The amazing thing is the giving and receiving with Jill does not distort my identity, but is where my identity takes shape. It is not that I have cut all ties with what makes me different. Instead, in giving myself to Jill I am taking part in a new future. It is in relating to Jill that I encounter myself, warts and all. We are not mirror images of one another, but we are other and yet have become one at the same time.

Jill’s faith and promise keeps me going when the moments of starvation happen.

There is a weird story in Genesis where God commands Abraham to sacrifice and cut several animals in two. Once in two, he was told to lay them on the ground so there is room for two people to walk through. Abraham did not have to take copious notes because it was well known practice. He knew this was the ritual of contracts, so he did as God said. I am sure he lingered at each step, making sure everything was just right, then he waited. All of the sudden, the Lord appeared and walked back and forth down the aisle of covenant alone. The promise cut on God’s character, a foundation forged by the God of steadfast love and kindness.

Sometimes when I cannot get my bearings, I close my eyes and think of this story. I think of God who has a furious love for all of creation. It is God’s faithfulness that sustains the covenant, and it is God’s promises that keep me going.

There were moments that gave me life this year, and there were others that restricted life. I both succeeded and failed. I can say this about every year, but as I recount the year, I must also leave room to remember my faith and promise. This kind of remembering has a way of ushering me into God’s new reality.

So before you start scribbling resolutions and goals in your notebook, leave time for the practice of recounting your faith and promise.

Grace is thrown around all the time. We are reminded it is not us, instead it is the grace of God that saves. These words have crisscrossed our nation and gone into all the world. And this is good news. Our salvation does not depend on our activity or our social location or our gender or wealth. It is truly grace, but grace is more.

I think I was in 6th grade when the Magic Eye books hit the market. These books were received with great excitement. I hear these abstract images gave way to a 3-D image of a horse or a lion or three crosses or whatever. I wonder if this was a well-marketed practical joke because I never saw anything other than the original image. Try as I might, I could not adjust my view to see the “magic” image.

Even though the “aha” never came with the magic eye books, I have been witness to new things from old. It is the beautiful thing about life and language. Something that has turned almost wooden or rote can spring to new life.

This happens all the time as I practice dwelling in the word. I was taught dwelling in the word in a Master’s Program at Rochester College. This way of reading with others has a way of opening us to God. The second semester we focused our dwelling on a familiar text, Philippians 2:5-18. As we read, I was drawn into a phrase I’d heard all my life, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”

That text washed over me and I started to recount, to work out my own salvation. The people and the stories and the activities and the sacraments. Moment by moment I remembered. I guess I had never taken account of all this but to reflect was an act of grace. Memories of many kinds. Landmark decisions, small almost inconsequential moments. Sad moments and joyful ones. This was grace.

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 We read from Job at church a couple weeks ago. “I know that my redeemer lives.” The words echoed through the service. Again and again we turned to those words. “I know, I know that my redeemer lives.”

Those words transported me back to a packed hospital room. We had far exceeded the ICU visitor limit, but no one seemed to care. The gathering was full of familiar faces. Faces that helped raise my brothers and I. Those who Mamaw and Papaw had shared life with. Dad and Mamaw stood on the right side of the bed. Mamaw held Papaw’s hand, as the song dashed out our tears.

We sang the chorus as loudly as our grief would allow. “I know, I know that my redeemer lives.”

These are the moments where my salvation was worked out. The daring speech of Scripture gave us the ability to stand in an ICU and declare life. “I know, I know my redeemer lives.”

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 Last week Miroslav Volf’s Facebook status got me to thinking. He said, “When suffering comes, sometimes we see only the dark abyss of nothingness, but sometimes through the darkness God’s face shines on us.” This truth is what continues to draw me back to the Christian story.

If I told you I never had doubts, I would be lying. Actually, sometimes the doubts are so strong I can barely bring myself to pray. The doubts take different forms. At times, it is the logic of it all. I just cannot find solid footing in the arguments. Other times questions about suffering and pain spark doubt.

Still other times it is the dark abyss of nothingness Volf describes.

The Avett Brothers have this song called “Winter in My Heart.” They play on the oft-used winter imagery to unpack a gray, cold moment in their life. I know what they mean. If our souls have seasons—and I believe they do—this has been a winter season for me. The most difficult part, which The Avett Brothers agree, is “I don’t know what the reasons are.”

But the reality of grace is even in the dark abyss, even God’s face shines. God finds us in the great and the gloomy. The praise and the lament. Volf’s Facebook message is one way I am being saved. It caught me and it was grace for me.

God’s salvation is happening; we are being saved. This activity must be shared. It is more than grace for our individual souls. These are the stories we must tell, so together we can work out our salvation.

So may you live in the reality of how you are being saved. I hope you reflect on the moments, the great and the small, of salvation. May they cover you as the water covers the sea.