Prayer is…

Prayer is the “yearning of the heart” (Luther) to be near God. This points to a God that we desire to know and be in union with. A God who created us to be in relationship with God, self, and others. God being a community fashions a people in community. Most of us have prayed. Usually in times of stress we pray, we ask for strength to carry on. Even if you are not a spiritual person you have prayed for something you felt lacking, even if it is just a short whispered phrase—a mantra if you will. The feeling or gratitude of prayer is a reaching out to something beyond yourself. It is that something beyond that we reach out to who is God.

Prayer is part of our interactive heart centered relationship with the scared center of life. Our need and desire to pray to something outside of ourselves and our desire for others to pray for or with us and our willingness to pray for and with others gives us a clue that there is something real beyond us. That something beyond is what we commonly call God, but it doesn’t really matter what we call it. As the great philosopher Alan Watts once remarked, you cannot get wet by the word water, it’s the experience of water that gets you wet. Prayer is the experience of the sacred center of life.

Prayer opens our heart, mind, and soul to the presence of God. It’s a plea that the spirit enters our life and empowers us to live as we ought. A way of slowing down and savoring the moment by moment presence of love, grace, hope, and peace. A way of saying that there is more than our petty desires that somehow the source of all that is has embraced us and we want to live within this sphere.

Prayer helps us live a more contented life in the here and now. Ken Wilson says that “prayer is what the brain does or wants to do to transcend the boundaries of the self, to sense a connection with what lies beyond the praying self.” Prayer empowers us to be agents of the Kingdom in a world that would have us live in a certain way. Things happen that we don’t want and often these things pile up on us. Prayer doesn’t make them go away, but helps us to face them in an authentic and spirit centered way.

Prayer is a tool to help us live life wisely.

Regular prayer subverts the self and society. It nurtures humility and compassion. It affirms that we are not the center of the universe. It’s a way of shutting off the busy mind or what the Buddhists call the monkey mind. It calms the soul.

In prayer, it’s important that we stop and listen. Stay still and experience the divine love that surrounds us at all times. Prayer forms us spiritually in the likeness of Christ.

I don’t see prayer as asking for things or trying to get the divine to do something he or she isn’t doing or won’t do. I see prayer more as a way aligning myself with the scared center of life. The scared center of life is the God who wastes nothing and specializes in hugs, kisses, and resurrection. This is the God who is worthy of our worship and service. This is the God I pray to in order to understand and try to align myself with more and more.

I know that many of the things I think, believe, and say are not aligned with “traditional” denominational understandings of Christianity. My intention is not to be the ideal Presbyterian or anything else but to live my one precious life as deeply and authentically as I can following the God I see revealed in and through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. I am not here to conform to anyone’s picture of who I should be but to be me. To be the real me that God created me to be and prayer is one way that helps me do that. The moment that prayer or any other spiritual practice becomes a hindrance and not a help is the moment I give it up and find what will aide me in becoming me. If I must step outside the walls of Christianity in order to follow Christ where he is leading me than so be it.

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Jesus Shows Us The Way

I believe that Jesus shows us how to live fully human. Many people will emphasize Jesus’ divine side to the detriment of his human side. We lose something crucial if we only see Jesus as merely God or human. Christianity claims Jesus as fully God and fully human. We need both sides. Jesus is fully God and fully human. Jesus shows us how we are meant to live and what it means to live with and in God.

The literal meaning of Christian is little Christ. This should point to how we who call ourselves Christian are meant to live. We are to be Jesus in some small way to those in our lives. People don’t need to be abused by the bible or be told how sinful they are or that they are doomed to hell. What people need is to see how a relationship with Jesus changes everything. They need to know and see how much God loves them.

Jesus is the best, deepest, truest, most beautiful revelation of who God really is. If you have seen Jesus, you have seen God. Through Jesus life, death, and resurrection we see the true living God. People love Jesus. They see in Jesus what is true, beautiful, and good. They don’t like religion or the people who scream about how God’s wrath will annihilate them. Yet, we read over and over how Jesus meets, loves, forgives, and heals the very people religious people bash and exclude. Jesus meets people where they are and loves them anyway.  Jesus embodies the maxim: God loves you as are buy way too much to leave you that way and calls us to the same.

I want to live my best life now not hiding from reality, but facing life head on. I know on my own I am not much, but when I am in community, when I engage others, and stay in relationship with Jesus I am better able to live the kind of life I want to live. Life to the full is life lived with and in Jesus.

To engage Jesus or God in relationship is not about having God or someone else live our lives but living as best we can in light of our deep commitment in the loving and living God of all. The life of faith is all about living as best we can in and through community. We don’t abdicate our life but live as deeply and authentically as we can.

‎Jesus will not make you happy. Jesus or ‎God will not live your life for you. Jesus shows us the way to life. Eternal life begins now! Jesus invites us on the way of life with him. But each of us must walk it ourselves. Jesus opens the gate or door, but each of us must walk through it on our own. ‎Resurrection is not just something that once upon a time happened to Jesus. It’s something we have been invited to live into.

The question is not will you go to ‎heaven when you die, but how will you live your life in this very moment. Will you live your life with love, hope, joy, and peace?

The choice is yours to make; no one can make it for you.

What will you choose: life or death?

Everything is Grace

Our whole life—our living and dying—are done in the grace of God.

From the beginning, God choose us and created us to live in communion with him and others.

Now, that we are included in the people of God our task is to live it out inviting others on the journey with us. We shouldn’t try to win people over with arguments and proofs, but by showing in word and deed the beauty and goodness of God. By showing people what it means to live as God’s visible community on earth as it is in heaven. That’s enough.

Glory isn’t brought to God by making some in and some out. No! That’s what human glory and kingship is all about. The Divine King who we worship and serve is a God who pours himself out and includes all in his embrace. Glory is brought to God when all are included in the party that insists on happening.

The God I worship and want to point you to is the God who wastes nothing and specializes in hugs, kisses, and resurrection. This God, if it were possible for Him to make a mistake and had created something without purpose would redeem the mistake by making it the most beautiful thing in all of creation.

Ponder that last sentence and gaze at the cross and you will see its deep truth.

It’s often asked, and recently someone did ask me, “Why God created them as they are?”

I responded that God made them, you and me, everything that was, is, or ever will be, as we are to bring glory to God and help others see the goodness and beauty of the God that we worship and serve whose glory is magnified through the love of everyone.

This God doesn’t exclude or play favorites.

This God blesses and welcomes all.

You are in before you are out. Your being out is your choice, not Gods.

He wants you at the Kingdom party now and forever!

Do you get it!

Do you?

Even the person who thinks themselves a lost cause and beyond the love of God brings God glory by being who God made them to be. God is their creator and redeemer. God made them the unique soul that they are and wants them to fulfill their purpose. God wants them to be who they really are more than they do.

We need to remind them of their divine image bearing capacity. To guide them into the life created for them. Not to change them into our likeness, but help them bring out God’s likeness that is already in them.

We are to be all that God made us to be—that’s what will bring the most glory to God.

While I will pray until the day I go to be with Jesus that hell is and remains empty, (Yes! I said it.) I know some will say no to the Kingdom party. There’s only one other place for them to go. The party poopers are not in hell because God sent them there or predestined it for them. They’re not there to show the glory of God. They are there because they chose to be there. They said no to God’s free and abundant offer of life.

I’ll do what I can. I hope you will do all you can to open their eyes to the goodness and beauty of God, to guide them into the marvels of the life of grace.

Just trust Jesus, say yes to his outlandish proposal.

As Julian of Norwich says “Fully trust in him and all will be well.”  Or as Soren Kierkegaard said, “Jesus says ‘Come!’ But if, alas, one is in such distress he cannot come, a sigh is enough: to long for him is to come to him.”  Jesus invites us to trust him. In the end, faith is the sigh of simply trusting Jesus to be who he says he is and taking it one step at a time. The willingness is enough for Jesus to begin to transform our lives. Just be willing. That’s all.

Now, people will rightly affirm God’s sovereignty. I’m not here to dismiss it. If I did you, my friends, should ignore me.

I believe that God’s sovereignty needs to be qualified with love, as the Brief Statement of Faith in the Book of confessions does: In sovereign love God created the world good and makes everyone equally in God’s image. It’s not so much that God loves or has love or will love. God is love.

1 John 4 says, “let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. God loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” (v. 7, 10, 16)

Love is not an action or attribute of God along with his other actions and attributes. God is love means that love is who God is at his very core. Love doesn’t stand alongside God’s other actions or attributes. It defines them. Love is describing who God is.

We know this to be true, because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus as the human face of God shows us who God is.

I believe, proclaim, and follow a Jesus-like God.

If God is like Jesus, then we have nothing to fear and everything to celebrate.

As you see, Love is most fully seen in the cross.

Jesus went all the way including death on a cross to restore us to a right relationship with the living and loving God of all. The cross is God’s love made manifest in history. The cross frees us to be who God created us to be from the beginning. We are liberated from everything that prevents us from experiencing and knowing the love and grace of God. We are set free to experience life to the full.

Everything in heaven and earth is summed up in Jesus who gathers everything together restoring its beauty and goodness. Everything finds its completion in Christ! That is amazing! No longer must we huff and puff. We don’t have to work and sweat to stay on God’s good side. We don’t have to bend over backwards to earn it. It’s ours already, if only we trust Jesus. Jesus has finished it and set us free.

God is not counting any sins against us, because Jesus has cleared our record and stands in our place as one without sin.

Devotion as a Way of Life

Devotion is not just about prayer, quiet time, and reading the bible.

Devotion is also, about how we live our lives. We show real devotion by doing “everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17) Whatever we do—our job, hobbies, how we interact with friends, family, and strangers should all be done to the glory of God. How we face life’s ups and downs is how we give glory to Christ. God has accepted us. Jesus died on the cross to redeem and restore us; now we ought to live in compassion and gratitude for all that has been lavished upon us.

We are to live by faith—how that looks will differ person to person. In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul advises, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

At the beginning of Romans 12 Paul writes, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Our life is to be lived in worship to God and in gratitude for the blessings lavished on us. For us who have been blessed greatly we are to pay it forward by extending those same blessings to others. Not for our own sake have we been saved, blessed, and graced, but to extend our gifts to our needy brothers and sisters.

If our devotion doesn’t make us better, healthier, saner human beings what worth is it?

Shouldn’t our devotion to the God of life and love produce in us life and love?

Our life is to be lived in deep gratitude and awareness for the blessings God lavishes on us. Jesus went to the cross and died for us, now as his followers we are to live radically for him. Not just in any way. We are to live as Jesus did. We are to live as followers of Jesus. The life of Jesus matters because it shows us how to live here and now. The life of Jesus shows us what a life lived with God really looks like. We are to love and care for the least. Saved, blessed, and graced, we are to share and extend the same to others. Embrace everyone without exception. Every genuine act impelled by the love of Christ is itself worship a way of reflecting back to God the radiance of his being.

Devotion is about aligning our hearts, souls, and lives to Jesus who showed us what it looks like when heaven comes to earth.

It is not about punishing or curbing our desires or sectioning off parts of our life, but living a life of fullness in God’s love and grace.

Desire is not a bad thing. It is what we do with our desires, how we satisfy them that is good or bad. Presenting ourselves, as a living testament of God’s redeeming love is the most coherent and astonishing pursuit anyone can participate in. This way of living is diametrically opposed to self-centered living, life is not all about me, life is about God and others, life is both personal and communal.

Not conforming but transforming our self is all about how we approach life. It is not about willfully causing a stir, but becoming who we really are, who God created us to be. The old self is the false self. The new self is who we really are down deep. This is about authenticity and transparency. We stop conforming to what others want and transform into who we’ve always meant to be. This will upset some. Some will walk out of our life. We will be naked before God, ourselves, and others. We will see all the ways we have hurt others and lied to ourselves. It is only in transforming into our real self that we will live life to the full.

To live a life a real devotion we must seek God in and through the bible. Living for God means giving up ourselves and desiring God’s will above all else. It means following Jesus and seeking to live as Jesus did and wants us to live. As we come to know God and his Word more, His desires will more naturally become ours. God will mold us into more Christ-like, God glorifying, humble human beings.

I have dedicated my life to living for and with God. I want to help others seek God and find ways of communing with God personally. For me, the St. Francis Prayer has helped me to draw closer with God and understand what living the Gospel is all about—to love and forgive always, to spread joy, hope, and light where they are most needed. A life of real devotion to God means dying to self daily and clothing myself in Christ, in sharing my journey with others and studying the ways and Word of God.

Devotion is an inner drive to root one’s life in the Kingdom of God.

Is God to Blame?

Is God to blame when we suffer?

Does God cause our Suffering?

Did God give my mom the cancer that killed her?

Those are hard questions. We need to ask them. More importantly we need to answer them. For ourselves and others. These are questions that plague our faith and life.

The first two are general questions that we all ask ourselves on occasion.

The third question is personal. One I have been wrestling with for a while. I need to answer this for me. How I answer it will affect the future of my faith and life.

Can I trust God?

That’s what it really comes down to. Is the God revealed in and though the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus trustworthy? Can we trust him or is he the bad cop to Jesus’ good cop?

This is a fundamental question.

In church History class, I’ve been considering Calvinism. I’ve heard of it before. The dreaded TULIP (I will have more to say about this in future blogs), and double predestination. My stance on that, which I relied on was and still is God does not send anyone to hell. (I’ll have more to say on this also)

According to my Church History professor, Calvinism forces you to believe either a power wielding ogre of a god who either sends you to heaven or hell on a mere whim or a wimpy god with no control over anything. Is God a powerful callous overlord in the sky or is a weakling that loves but has no power to do squat about all the evil and suffering? She didn’t use those words, but did use those categories. This may be an exaggeration, but not by much. I say no to both!! I just cannot believe/follow a God who is less loving and gracious than my mom and I cannot believe/follow a god who is less powerful than man. I also cannot and will not believe/follow a god who’d permit or predestine the holocaust or my mom dying from cancer.

We say and sing all glory to God. I cannot and will not glorify a power wielding ogre of a god or a wimpy god. I cannot and will not do it! That kind of god doesn’t deserve our worship and service.

I was stuck there. I asked several people including my pastors back in Utah, my seminary academic advisor, and the dean of the seminary. The answer from all of them was God didn’t give my mom cancer.

Good.

The dean of the seminary did say that his understanding (and he teaches Calvin, so he ought to know) of Calvin is God is present in all things and his glory shines through it all.He said more and we had a good talk about it.

Another question—how does God’s glory shine through my mom’s death?

The answer straight from Jesus mouth can be found in the ninth chapter of John’s Gospel.

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”

Restated from my context: Neither your mom nor you sinned; she died from cancer so that God’s works might be revealed in her and you.

Wow! We’re dealing with a revelation here. This is holy. Oh my!

Now, I am not saying I am not a sinner or that my mom never sinned. We both know our need for the Savior. Jesus saves sinners, that’s what he does.

I was reading John Crowder’s excellent book Cosmos Reborn when I was graced with this revelation. He writes, “Ultimate solace is only found in the person of Jesus Christ.” Yes! He says that we shouldn’t worry about the problem but abide in the answer; we shouldn’t fret over the how or why but relish in the who. The answer and the who are Jesus, of course.

What he is saying is that Jesus is what matters. Jesus will be with us in the crap that comes to us in life. It is faith in Christ alone that saves and heals us. As long as he trust and abide in his love for us even if the worst does happen (and I know that it will) he is with-us.

The God I see revealed in and through Jesus is a God of love and grace who doesn’t cause, permit, or allow pain and suffering but suffers with us.  Co-suffering love deserves our worship and service; the God who can say, ‘me too’ that should be glorified. God was in Jesus reconciling the world to himself means that on Good Friday God was on the cross dying for our sins, in order to defeat all the powers of evil and sin. God doesn’t cause or allow evil but suffers alongside us with and in it. God is in our mess with us whispering his loving kindness. All I can do is keep my eyes and heart firmly fixed on Jesus and abide in the truth and beauty that God is and has always been, and always will be exactly like Jesus. The God I worship and serve is Jesus-like. God is fully revealed in Jesus Christ—not Calvinism or any other ism. As Brain Zahnd has said, “Jesus is God’s personality profile.”

And that is good news! Amen!

 

Love Grace Communion

I am going to spend the next several weeks fleshing out the Brief Statement of Faith of the PCUSA. It appears last in the PCUSA’s Book of Confessions, as it is the most recent. I hope my meditations will help you, dear reader grow in faith in God and deepen your walk with Christ. Even if you don’t consider yourself Presbyterian or if you are seeking to understand what it means to be a Christian, I think these meditations will help.

Last week, I reflected on the first line, on how we belong to God.

Today, I will consider the second part of the first section of the Brief Statement of Faith.

Through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, we trust in the one triune God, the Holy One of Israel, whom alone we worship and serve.

We often hear this most especially at the end in the blessing or benediction, at the end of the worship service. This section is describing the kind of God that we belong to and what it means to belong to this specific God. The Statement of Faith will go into more detail of who this one Triune God is and what each person of the godhead means to the person who trusts in Him. We will develop our reflection as we go along, but for now let us look at the key words in this section.

Grace

Salvation comes by grace only, not as something earned. Salvation is an unearned gift from God through Jesus; God acts alone to save the sinner. The responsibility for salvation does not rest to any degree on our actions or belief, but comes from God freely through Jesus. Jesus died on the cross to reconcile all of creation to God. In the resurrection, God showed his love for all and the promise that death is not the end of the story that God will save all. Grace is a gift we must accept in order to be transformed in and through it.  God gives, we respond.

Grace is powerful and life transforming. This is not anything we could ever do. On our own, we are not much, but with God, all things are possible. All our striving and doing and working will not gain us a single inch, but the moment and some may argue that even before we turn to God we have everything. God grants us what we could not earn free of charge with no strings attached. God loved us first. Even this turning, this act of faith is not what we do, but what God works in us. Trusting God is to stand in child-like awe and openness in the mysterious and gracious love and acceptance.

 Love of God

 Love starts with God and everyone who loves is a child of God. God showed his love among us. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another, to show love to everyone. We are followers of Jesus, not by sitting in a pew on Sundays or claiming the label Christian or how we vote, or who we are friends with, but by our love. If we claim to love God, yet hate a brother or sister, we are a liar. Anyone who does not love brother and sister, who they see cannot love God, who is not seen. Anyone who loves God must also love brother and sister. By love alone we follow in the footsteps of Christ. (See 1John 4:7-12, 20-21)

Communion

 The Lord’s Supper connects us to everyone in every part of the world, regardless of our denominational and personal theological beliefs. The implications this has for our life how we can and should live it out in real life. Our lives should reflect our coming to the Lord’s Table. Each of us should be a visible sermon that preaches Christ crucified. Each time we let go of past hurts and failures to embrace the hope and grace of the future we renew our commitment to Jesus. Each time we say yes to life risk being hurt, we enter more fully into the Kingdom of God in the messy beauty here-and-now. Each time we open ourselves to the love and grace of God and deny ourselves we more fully embrace the way of Jesus. As we participate in the remembering of Jesus, we acknowledge that Our Lord is different, our life is different, and our identity is found in and through the Kingdom of God. We are God’s people to be a blessing to the world.

Triune God

 I have not always embraced the concept of Trinity and still don’t fully embrace it. Yet, I am open and eager to learn more and explore the various meanings and implications of the Triune God. I am not someone who accepts doctrine just because. I need to see how these truths can and should shape my faith and life.

Let me sketch what some of those meanings and implications that I have glimpsed thus far.

 A God whose love for us knows no bounds and who wants to share with us the Trinitarian life that is a great dance of unchained communion and intimacy, fired by a passionate, self-giving love and mutual delight. This life, the life that God calls us to in Christ is unique, good, and full of music, joy, blessedness, and peace. God’s love is the womb of the universe and of humanity within it. My trust in a God who loves, saves, and blesses is wrapped up in and can only be completed in and by the Trinity. By embracing the Trinity, I see this God who is much bigger and too good to be true, but is the loving reality at the nexus of the universe that changes everything that blesses and saves. By embracing the Trinity and the transformative new work that Jesus launched and is still in motion today, I discover and become part of this mission to save and bless this world (all of it and everyone in it) here and now that will stretch on into eternity. The Trinity is the path or at least part of my journey to become part of God’s revolutionary community of radicals who trust and proclaim that God is good inviting everyone to come and see.

Worship and Service

 Worship and Service are signs of God, the very embodiment of love expressing through us. We are given many occasions to worship and serve to experience love and joy. Worship is not just what we do Sunday morning, but what we do with our lives, time, and money. We need to help our needy brothers and sisters to find the love, joy, and hope we ourselves crave and have experienced. We can offer our time, energy or money in worship. In any situation, especially in crisis we are to respond in and with love, to be Jesus to the world. Bad things will happen the key is to love in spite of it all. Hate and despair are realities, our role is to offer love, joy, and hope to a world that desperately needs it. We can extend love instead of hate, hope instead of despair, and joy instead of sadness. We can always do something to show the love and grace that has been lavished on us.

More can be said and needs to be said about these aspects of the Christian life. For now, I will leave you to contemplate what I have written. I hope my words help; that they both comfort and trouble you. We need to live our faith more and more so that others will see the surpassing worth of life in Christ.

I Am (not) A Christian

Confession: I don’t know if I am Christian anymore.

The word Christian has gotten such a bad rep that it is hard if not impossible for a thinking, feeling, and compassionate human beings to call one by that label. This word Christian I fear has lost all its meaning. No longer do Christians want to follow the example of Jesus the rabbi of love and grace.

Some Christians would rather protect their wealth, start wars, overturn healthcare reform, control women and exclude people from the love and grace of God. Some Christians advocating harming people they disagree with, they have called for violence towards others. Some Christians use the bible as a weapon to bash people with than using it as mirror to illumine their own shortcomings. Some call the bible brief instructions before leaving Earth. This is to demean the holy book for in the end we don’t leave earth but God makes his home on earth. In the final book of the bible it says that God will dwell with his people. Some Christians wish to escape this world for some far off celestial garden. Some Christians are more known for their self-righteousness than for loving everyone. Some Christians make Jesus out to be a king with a sword than Servant-Savior-King. Some Christians are more worried about the status quo than doing justice and mercy.

If I must be like Kirk Cameron, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Rick Santorum, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Driscoll, John Piper than I cannot and will not count myself as a Christian. If I am must scream at people ‘you’re going to hell ‘than I cannot be a Christian. If I must put law before grace, punishment before acceptance, exclusion before inclusion than I cannot be a Christian.

Peter Rollins in a YouTube video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xiG-nlDVvYM) refers to an exit parable.

A man dies go to Heaven. The pearly gates are thrown open to welcome him in. Behind him are his friends and as he is about to set foot in Heaven, he asks what about my friends. Peter says you know the rules. The man then thought of his reference point: Jesus the outsider, Jesus the drunkard, Jesus the bastard, the friend of sinners. Jesus the one who would always stay with those who were oppressed. Then, the man said he would just stay out there with them. The parable ends with Peter breaking out with a huge smile; at last, you understand. That God so loved the World he forsook Heaven.

God is always here in the service of the now. You cannot find God in the past in your regrets or pain and you cannot find God in the future in your hopes and wishes. You can only find God in the here and now. God is here wooing you to entering his loving presence and now that no matter how dark, how hard, how tough life gets He will be with you always. We are not called to police other people, to cause conflict, to separate ourselves from the messy broken life, and are not to put up barriers between people, all people and the love and grace of God found in Jesus Christ. We are to throw open wide our hearts and welcome all people into the grace and love of Christ.

Gandhi who liked Christ, but not Christians claimed that if Christians began to act as Christ than the whole world would be converted to Christianity overnight. He made the Sermon on the Mount his guiding rule. Just consider—it matters as much if not more how you live your life and treat others than what you believe or what doctrines you assert. All the correct beliefs will get you nowhere if you do not love—after all is that not the new commandment that Jesus gave us?

If I must step out of Christianity in order to follow Jesus, I will. If I must drop the label Christian in order to affirm the resurrection, I will. If I must be called a heretic in order to live a consecrated life with divine love I will. If I must be an outsider, excluded from the church, so be it. I cast my lot with Jesus come what will. Jesus called me to come and die. And I responded here I am.

If I can follow in the footsteps of St. Francis, Saint Therese of Lisieux,  C.S. Lewis, Peter Rollins, Rob Bell, NT Wright, Tony Campolo, Jay Bakker, Gregory Boyd, Desmond Tutu, Fred Rogers, Frederick Buechner than I can and will count myself as a Christian.

I am a Christian because I see in Jesus God. I want to live my life in the shadow of Jesus. When I read the Bible there are times when I say yes and my soul leaps for joy, there are other times when I am pushed and challenged, poked and prodded, I want to shrink away, but Jesus grabs me and holds me. I know these are the very things I need to hear and study to better live my faith. I am not perfect. I don’t have it all together and never will. There are times that I surprise myself, I usually disappoint myself. I am not as loving, selfless, or gracious as I should be. I have hurt people. I have regrets. I have made mistakes. I need a savior. Not only do I need Jesus, I need you, I need friends and fellow Christians to guide me on my journey. I am not so full of myself to think I could ever do it on my own.

I chose the way of Jesus not because I’m saved, but because I go astray. When I say, “I am a Christian” I don’t speak with arrogance. I’m confessing my wrongs that I need a Savior. I’m not strong, but profess my weakness and pray daily for the ability to carry on to be better than I used to be. I’m not bragging, but admitting I have sinned and cannot ever repay the debt. I don’t claim to have it altogether, my flaws are too visible, but God loves me anyway, God loves me in spite of me, but loves too much to let me stay that way. I do not wish to judge or point fingers. I only know I’m loved. I want to point others to the love of God in Christ Jesus.

That is why I am a Christian.

We Belong To God

I am going to spend the next several weeks fleshing out the Brief Statement of Faith of the PCUSA. It appears last in the PCUSA’s Book of Confessions, as it is the most recent. I hope my meditations will help you, dear reader grow in faith in God and deepen your walk with Christ. Even if you don’t consider yourself Presbyterian or if you are seeking to understand what it means to be a Christian, I think these meditations will help.

The first line says that in life and death we belong to God.

What are we affirming in saying this line?

We know, what is meant by the first part of the line, but the second half needs more fleshing out.

We are the community of faith, the body of Christ, the people of God who read or recite this line, those who are following or at very least trying to follow Jesus in word and deed. We trust Jesus to be Lord and Savior. We are in the midst of responding to the call to come and die to find life eternal. The ‘we’ in this line is not just Presbyterians, but everyone everywhere who trust in the risen Savior.

We are not to seek status or to think highly of ourselves, as if we won the lottery or some contest, we are to be the church the visible sign of salvation offered to all freely through Christ Jesus.

Jesus wasn’t concerned about his own status. You will not find Jesus on Facebook. Jesus doesn’t tweet. Jesus was more concerned about relationships and bringing the good news to those that needed it the most. As Christians, We live in grace and peace and bring healing and celebration to those without it. Sometimes this will be possible, other times not. Some will enjoy our company, others not. Yet, no matter who we encounter, we are to show love. Sometimes, what is right doesn’t seem like the most loving thing, but we do what is right because we love them. Don’t let wicked behavior induce you to do wrong, but overcome evil by returning good for evil. This sums up how we are to live in the world. This sums up what kind of community we are to be here and now. This sums up what the ‘we’ in this line means.

The second word Belong is powerful. We all want to belong to something to someone. Our whole life, we seek the thing, place, and person we belong to—for the love that eludes, friendships that are imperfect and end without a reason, and a place where we will be safe. We seek to belong to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We crave connection and meaning. We are constantly looking for the person and place where we will finally fit in. This world only disappoints or at best imperfectly and partially fills our desire to be in love, community, and fellowship. We were made for so much more. That is what the entire Bible is telling us that is the meaning of Jesus rising on the third day. We live between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. We live between death and life. Our whole being cries out for the healing and celebration that only God can and will deliver. Created for another world, we will only be fulfilled fully there. God is the only one who will never let us down. His faithfulness endures forever. Yet, He calls us to reach out and spread the good news of Christ.  

Now, we come to the fourth and final word—God.

It’s important to know who this God is that the Statement of faith is addressing. The God we belong to is a specific God, the God of the bible, Jesus’ Abba and the first person of the 3-in-1 dance that is the trinity. Allow me to flesh this out.

First and most important, God loves everyone. Not a single person, animal, or section of our universe is outside the love and care of God. Every life counts. Every life matters. Every life is gift. God sees the pain of this life, hears our cry, and understands the brokenness and misery all too common to life on earth. God is involved and taking the world to a certain place. God will have his way. The world will be flooded with divine love and light. It will happen. The party that is Jesus’ Kingdom will happen. God is busy gracing, embracing, and blessing the entire universe and us in it.

Second, God is not about rescuing us from our humanity, but showing us how to live life to the fullest, love everyone, and stand up for the little, least, and lost. Our task is not to judge, but to love, not to bash people with their shortcomings, but tell them of God’s incredible love for them, not to beat people up with the Bible but share the story of a God doesn’t need us but wants us. Jesus doesn’t want us on our knees. He loves us into our better self, so that we can follow his lead in showing the world God’s love.

Third, No matter what you have done or have not done, God loves you. God loves you personally and powerfully. No one, absolutely no one is outside of the love of God. We are all included in the loving embrace of God, because we are created and constantly being remade in the image of God. We become sons and daughters of God by loving everyone indiscriminately, just as God does.

Nothing can separate us from God, but there are things we can and should do that more fully manifest the love of God in our life and the lives of others.  This is not about earning God’s love but responding to it, because we are compelled by it. A smile, greeting a stranger, talking with someone, helping another, opening a door, weeding a neighborhood garden, picking up trash can mean be a simple way of stepping out of our own concerns and saying God loves you let me show you.

Fourth, God refuses to be put into a box. He defies all easy definitions. The moment you put Him in a box, He breaks out destroying the box and every other box. God is not a well-behaved noun that just sits still. God is a wild, free, and irreverent verb. God isn’t safe, but he is good. (C S Lewis) The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God. (Rob Bell) God defies easy explanations and readymade categories.

Let’s tie this up. What does it mean to not say this first life of the Statement of Faith, but affirm it and accept it as our own?

If God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into our life, He’ll do the same thing in us that He did in Jesus, causing us to live vibrant fresh life in Christ. When God lives and breathes in us, as surely as he did in Jesus, we are delivered from dead life to eternal life.  God makes us into the people we are to be to live the life we are to live. This is not because we deserve it, because we don’t, but because we trust God to do what Jesus promised he would do. We take God at his word and hold fast to faith. In trusting God, in making God our center, we live into the grace lavished on us.

On our own, we cannot live up to and into this call, but Jesus gathers us into community to become the people of God forgiven sinners united and living life to the full in the spirit. Heaven is not about some later paradise devoid of the messiness of humanity and unattached to life as we experience it now. Heaven is this life the one we are living now fulfilled and full of the all the blessings that God promises. Heaven is a living breathing growing experience of the divine.

 I don’t know how it will look in detail, yet I believe it will be much like this life only more so. I don’t need to worry about later. God will handle the later. I need to be occupied with living now as I hope to live then. Heaven is the mysterious promise hidden in the here and now.

 So, live the best now that you can in the blessed assurance that the later will be even better, greater, and glorious than anything we can hope, dream, or experience now.

We belong to God and in the end that is good news.

In Heaven

A common refrain: If you die tonight, will you be in heaven tomorrow?

My honest answer is I don’t know. I don’t know if I were to die right now that I would be in Heaven in the next moment. I don’t know. I am not so full of myself to say that I am going to heaven. I know I have fallen short of what I ought to be. I hope. I pray. I want. I chose and still choose Jesus. I have a deep faith commitment to Jesus and His way. I trust that Jesus has made a way for all to enter eternal life.

To the question who is in Heaven, Robert Farrar Capon responded, “People think it is good guys. There is nobody in heaven, but forgiven sinners because there was nobody available to go to heaven except forgiven sinners. There is nobody in hell, except forgiven sinners. The difference is that in heaven, they accept the forgiveness. In hell, they reject it. That’s it. You get into heaven by being bad and accepting forgiveness. Now, that does in a way mean you have permission to be bad. If you want to stick your hand in a meat grinder, you are free to do that. It’s stupid, but God isn’t going to run the universe that way. God is not going to punish. He cares more about relationships than behavior.”

No matter who you are, what you have done and have not done God loves you personally. No one, absolutely no one is outside of the love of God. We are all included in the loving embrace of God. We become sons and daughters of God by loving everyone, just as God does. God’s love frees us up to be who we really are and this fierce, perfect, divine love transforms us into our best self.

 If God loves us as we are than we should be able to accept ourselves and others as is and not be overly concerned about what other people think. We should live in loving, sane, and healthy ways. We should be Jesus to the world. We cannot live for sake of another. We need to live our life the best way we can growing in love, faith, hope, and joy.

Capon goes on, “God forgave you before you repented. That’s crucial. See, that is why it is so outrageous. The gospel is really vulgar, crass and immoral because it says God forgives the world before it repents. In the gospel, repent is always repent and believe. It means turn yourself around from not trusting the forgiveness and trust it. That’s it. It doesn’t mean that you earn it by repenting. You had it before.”

Only through Jesus can we escape the penalty of our sin. Let’s be honest all have sinned and fallen short. No one lives up to their own ideal, so how can we live up to the ideal God has set for our life. If you want to be saved to inherit eternal life, if you want to follow Jesus, then you must realize you have sinned. That is not the end of the story. Not even close. Jesus enters the picture saving all form condemnation. Look to Jesus who died on the cross and trust what he did is for you. This is accomplished by faith in grace alone. The Bible says we are all sinners. Guilty of having sinned, we are separated from God dead in our sins we will suffer damnation. The only way to escape this judgment is by receiving Christ, by trusting in what Jesus did on the cross and continues to do in his people today. You don’t have to pretty yourself up. All you need do is accept the love and grace God offers freely in Christ Jesus.

God’s love and grace is ours freely. We merely need to respond in faith to what is already ours in Christ Jesus. Faith enables us to enjoy the gift of redemption that Jesus secured on the cross. God is taking creation somewhere making it alive in a new way as He did in Jesus. All He is asking from you is to participate in the party that is the Kingdom of God.

Sin and Grace

Lent is usually a time to contemplate temptation and repentance or conversion and transformation. Lent can and should be transforming time to seek Christ more deeply and live faith more authentically. Sin is something I have shied away from. I am starting to see how important it is take sin seriously for our faith and life. Therefore, I would like to explore what it means to face sin, to face our sins, and help others do the same.  

We can take sin seriously without wallowing in negativity. It’s not fun, but it can help us grow. It means acknowledging all the places we fail, fall short of what God desires for us. It means seeing the truth of our shadow side. It means knowing we have done some awful things. The seeing and knowing of our foibles will help us to live better. We’ve all amassed a pathetic chronicle as sinners and proven incapable of living the abundant lives God designed us for and out of God’s all-embracing generosity, he got us out of the mess restored us to where he always wanted us to be, and did it through Jesus on the cross.

Sometimes, I live in ways that don’t reflect God’s love and grace. I ignore others. I want things the way I want them. I don’t want to concern myself with others. I have started to live in more loving and healthy ways, but I am not there and doubt I ever will be perfect at it. That doesn’t give me an out to stretch and push myself to live and love in healthier ways. Quite opposite, it means I must face the areas I am not what I ought to be and push myself to live more authentically. Knowing I am imperfect that I will fall short.

Jesus saves. That’s our only hope. Jesus’ yoke is light. He doesn’t burden us with a load we cannot carry. Jesus doesn’t demand we jump through impossible hoops or tell us to clean ourselves up first. No huffing and puffing or impossible feats to prove ourselves. He accepts us as we are, loves us enough to welcome us no matter what, but loves us way too much to keep us that way. He wants us to live life to its fullest, pay it forward, share the gospel, and make disciples. Jesus is our dangerous, subversive, and untamed savior; the message we spread is not about a group, church, religion or book, but is about the person of Jesus Christ.

The point to emphasize is not our sin but God’s awesome mercy in sending Jesus. Justification means that utterly guilty as we are God reckons us, treats as if we were innocent. All have sinned, fallen short and deserve to be treated as such, yet in God there is a different way, a way of grace that sees us and transforms us into the blameless people of God. This is a scandal that many question. Jesus said it. Jesus told us that God loves us then went about showing us in his life, death, and resurrection that it is so. When we discover and embrace this, it changes everything, our relationship to God and response to life. It revolutionizes our relationship with God, others, and self.

 Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection payment for all sin was made. A way of grace where all are reconciled back to God is open. Jesus made the final and complete sacrifice. Jesus did what no one else could do by his life and death of love and obedience. It is now a reality for all who will trust in Jesus. God in the resurrection shows that everything has changed nothing will ever be the same. The cross is a way back to a right relationship with God. This is not about going to heaven someday, but about living here and now with and in God. In Christ, we are already home free.

 I need to repent and turn from the old ways of doing things. I regret that I have hurt, taken for granted and ignored people. I have used my social ineptness to prevent me from getting involved in life. I want to live a long, humble, Christ-centered, God-glorifying life. A life that will point many to the love and grace of God found in Christ Jesus.  For me Jesus dying for my sins means I can now live a healthy, loving, transformative life that my past no longer defines who I am or who I will be from now on I am a child of God.

Jesus died for your sins. All the things that we have done wrong—lying to others and ourselves, not helping our needy brothers and sisters, putting food, things, and ourselves before God, willfully hurting others, living in unhealthy and wicked ways—are nailed to the cross and are not remembered anymore. We are free from the guilt of all our wrongdoing, but we still must live with the consequences of our sins. To live with God means living to our fullest and facing the responsibilities that our Christian faith gives us.

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