Archive for May, 2020

God’s Amazing Love

Sunday, May 17th, 2020

The story of Jesus told as accompaniment makes clear that there is no master plan in the divine mind to engineer his death in order to garner satisfaction for everyone else’s sins. The cross was in no way necessary. Think about it. Wouldn’t such an idea be blasphemy? It would ascribe to God, gracious and merciful, an evil that was done in the course of human injustice. How contradictory can you get?

Not even remotely did Jesus’ death satisfy divine honor; it dragged that honor into the dust. Nor did Jesus’ crucifixion change God’s attitude from anger to being appeased, as more popular atonement theologies would have it. I dare say that if the will of the living God had been carried out that “good” Friday, Jesus would not have been crucified.

The double solidarity of Jesus with those who suffer and of God with Jesus structures a theology of accompaniment so that it brings the presence of God who saves to the fore. Keep in mind that we are talking here about the same God who sides with slaves against the might of Pharaoh, with exiles against their imperial captors, and now with a crucified prophet against the Roman empire; “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Ex 34:6-7). We are talking about the same gracious God, “your Savior and your Redeemer” (Isa 49:26), whom Jesus called father, whose compassion flashed out from the picturesque parables Jesus made up, and was tasted in the challenge and joy of his multiple interactions. Toward the end of the New Testament we read the bold statement that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). This is a pithy summary of all that has gone down in the history of revelation up to that point. God loves the world and, like any good lover, wants the beloved to flourish.

Given the negativity of the cross, the creative power of the loving God showed itself once again in an unexpected new way by (unimaginably) raising Jesus from the dead. But God neither needed nor wanted the cross. True, this evil was encompassed by providential action, by God writing straight with crooked lines. True, in an antagonistic world suffering borne in the loving struggle for the good of others can bear fruit. But in itself, violent death is not what God desires.

— Elizabeth A. Johnson, Creation and the Cross, p. 108-109

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, May 17, 2020

Connection, not Separation

Friday, May 15th, 2020

Jesus seemed to want connection with those around him, not separation. He touched human bodies deemed unclean as if they were themselves holy: dead little girls, lepers, menstruating women. People of his day were disgusted that Jesus’ disciples would eat with unwashed hands, and they tried to shame him for it. But he responded, “It is not what enters the mouth that makes one unclean but what comes out of it that defiles.” He was loyal to the law, just not at the expense of the people.

Jesus kept violating boundaries of decency to get to the people on the other side of that boundary, those who’d been wounded by it, those who were separated from the others: the motherless, the sex workers, the victims, and the victimizers. He cared about real holiness, the connection of things human and divine, the unity of sinners, the coming together of that which was formerly set apart.

— Nadia Bolz-Weber, Shameless, p. 26-27

Photo: Rhododendron Park, Bremen, Germany, May 16, 2004

Forgiveness

Thursday, May 14th, 2020

You have learned that forgiveness is not the same as approving of unkindness. Forgiveness does not mean you have to reconcile with someone who mistreated you. You do not have to forget what happened. Forgiveness does not mean you lie down and become a doormat when you are hurt.

Forgiveness means we find peace even though we were in pain and mistreated. Forgiveness means we move on in our life after an abandonment or affair. It means we become responsible for how we feel. Forgiveness means we learn to take painful events less personally. Forgiveness means we reconnect with our positive intention. Forgiveness means we change our grievance story. Forgiveness means that we do not stop smelling the roses simply because we are hurt. Forgiveness means we make better decisions for guiding our lives and forgiveness means we feel better.

— Fred Luskin, Forgive for Good, p 208

Photo: Zweibr├╝cken Rose Garden, June 2003

Good Ending

Wednesday, May 13th, 2020

In church circles where people are claiming they “chose Jesus” or “came to Christ” (presumably of their own free will), the Scriptures paint a different picture. “You did not choose Me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). Our real first choice actually begins after our eyes have been opened and our heart has received a deposit of belief through an encounter with Jesus.

Because of the Creator’s determined plan that trumps the will of the inferior creature, even the bad intentions and behaviors of others will most certainly be limited and worked out for our good. Sovereign will is one of the most comforting realizations I’ve ever had. If good hasn’t resulted yet, it’s only because the Story hasn’t played out long enough.

— Julie Ferwerda, Raising Hell, p. 200

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, May 13, 2020

Giving Up Control

Tuesday, May 12th, 2020

Just because you do not have the right word for God does not mean you are not having the right experience. From the beginning, YHWH let the Jewish people know that no right word would ever contain God’s infinite mystery. The God of Israel’s message seems to be, “I am not going to give you any control over me, or else your need for control will soon extend to everything else.” Controlling people try to control people, and they do the same with God — but loving anything always means a certain giving up of control. You tend to create a God who is just like you — whereas it was supposed to be the other way around. Did it ever strike you that God gives up control more than anybody in the universe? God hardly ever holds on to control, if the truth be told. We do. And God allows this every day in every way. God is so free.

— Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ, p. 51

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, May 12, 2020

Wrestling

Monday, May 11th, 2020

To read the Bible’s hardest passages is like wrestling with God, much like Jacob who wrestled through the night at the river Jabbok. You grapple to make sense of the words, you hold on, you struggle for clarity, you seek to wrest answers for all your questions. What God gives you instead of a system of answers is a blessing, a new name — a living relationship. You are forever changed by the encounter. You have seen the face of God.

— Barbara R. Rossing, The Rapture Exposed, p. 186

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, May 9, 2020

Experience

Monday, May 11th, 2020

For me, going to the beach is always like meeting God. There’s that moment when you make your way down the path that cuts through the dunes. As you walk farther, the quiet noise in the distance gradually becomes a welcome roar. You crane your neck as if unsure it’s all still there. Your pace quickens as the sound rises and the wind grows, and suddenly you’re emptied out into the full, vivid majesty of it all. And you breathe. It never fails to level me. It is never commonplace. It is always holy ground. If you’ve been to the beach, you understand exactly what I mean. If you haven’t — well, you just won’t. That’s the thing about the ocean: until you experience it, no one can explain it to you, and once you have experienced it, no one needs to. The love of God is this way. For far too long, Christians have been content with telling people about the ocean and believing that is enough.

We’ve spoken endlessly of a God whose lavish, scandalous love is beyond measure, whose forgiveness reaches from the furthest places and into our deepest personal darkness. We’ve spun gorgeous, fanciful tales of a redeeming grace that is greater than the worst thing we’ve done and available to anyone who desires it. We’ve talked about a Church that welcomes the entire hurting world openly with the very arms of Jesus. We’ve talked and talked and talked — and much of the time we’ve been a clanging gong, our lives and shared testimony making a largely loveless noise in their ears. They receive our condemnation They know our protests. They experience our exclusion. They endure our judgment. They encounter our bigotry. And all of our flowery words ring hollow. It’s little wonder they eventually choose to walk away from the shore, the idea as delivered through our daily encounters with them not compelling enough to pursue for themselves. Our commitments to hospitality, authenticity, diversity, and community can be empty words, too, if we don’t put them into practice.

Church, the world doesn’t need more talking from us. It doesn’t need our sweet platitudes or our eloquent speeches or our passionate preaching or our brilliant exegesis. These are all just words about the ocean, and ultimately they fail to adequately describe it. The world needs the goodness of God incarnated in the flesh of the people who claim to know this good God. As they meet us, they need to come face-to-face with radical welcome, with unconditional love, with counterintuitive forgiveness. They need to experience all of this in our individual lives and in the Church, or they will decide that it is all no more than a beautiful but ultimately greatly exaggerated story about sand and waves and colors that cannot be described.

— John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 105-106

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, May 10, 2020

In the Image of God

Saturday, May 9th, 2020

Notice that some of your most interesting attributes are not outcomes of decisions you made. They are present because of what God infused into your life from the very beginning. Your life is unique. It holds certain abilities, certain superpowers present from the very beginning as you were formed in the image of God. You uniquely bless the world. Lavish love calls us to examine our own lives so we can identify all the ways God, as the master gardener, both supported and pruned us so that we could become the people we are today.

— Tom Berlin, Reckless Love, p. 62

Photo: Tree swallow, South Riding, Virginia, May 3, 2020

Scapegoating God

Friday, May 8th, 2020

Once again, since Jesus perfectly reveals God to us, and since Jesus was perfectly innocent of all the crimes for which He was accused, we can know, therefore, that God also is perfectly innocent of all the crimes against humanity for which He is accused. Just as Jesus was innocent of all wrongdoing, so also is God. Jesus always loved and only forgave, and the same is true of God. Jesus never killed anyone, nor did He command anyone to do so. The same is true of God. One of the greatest revelations we received from Jesus is the revelation of scapegoating, and not just how we scapegoat others, but also how we have scapegoated God. This idea alone will allow you to read your Bible with brand new eyes. When the Bible is read with the revelation about scapegoating that we have in Jesus Christ, we see that all the violence and bloodshed attributed to God in the Old Testament is nothing more than people making a scapegoat out of God.

— J. D. Myers, Nothing But the Blood of Jesus, p. 178

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, May 3, 2020

Joy in Thankfulness

Wednesday, May 6th, 2020

To be happy is to count oneself among the haves, not the have-nots. Joy comes from having all we need and more. When we have an abundance, we’re thankful, and thankfulness feeds joy so that we have more and more. Though we sit down to an empty table, we give thanks and somehow the food of joy arrives, just as happened when Jesus fed a multitude with one boy’s lunch. Being thankful for what we have, however little it may seem, means we never want for happiness.

When we see ourselves as have-nots, on the other hand, the thieves of discontent and anxiety quickly set to work, stealing even what we have. This is what happened to Adam and Eve, as the serpent provoked in them a sense of have-not, and they lost Paradise. People were created to be happy, and there’s no reason not to be. Unhappiness is understandable but not defensible. When we’re fooled into being unhappy, unhappiness itself becomes our downfall. All sin stems from discontent, whereas the person who is joyful in the Lord will not go astray.

— Mike Mason, Champagne for the Soul, p. 165

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, May 3, 2020