And Peter

Posted April 1, 2013 by claywilkinson
Categories: Uncategorized

The story is told of a kindergarten teacher who is in her class and she sees this one little girl working very intently and diligently on a drawing. And so she asks the little girl, “What are you drawing?”
“I am drawing God”, answered the little girl.
The teacher replied, “But no one knows what God looks like.”
Without looking up the little girl answered, “They will in a minute!

How much can God mean to us, if we are the ones who get to decide what it means to be God? Today we celebrated the resurrection. The resurrection reveals to us that Jesus had the power over life and death, the power of God. It tells us that Jesus was in fact God. This informs our view of Jesus. But what does it tell us about God? What if the resurrection not only tell us that Jesus had God’s power, but moreover that God has Jesus’ heart.
Mark 16:1-8
1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.
2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb
3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.
5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.
7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'”
8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

What are the most profound words of Easter, of Resurrection Morning? If I were to play the part of a historian, certainly it would seem that the most profound, the most remarkable words that were recorded on the morning of the resurrection were, “He is risen”! They are words that tell an immense story. They are words that give a new perspective to everything that we think we know in this natural world. A historian would surely make special note of these words.

Were a historian to personally witness to the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, these words would be more than a footnote. “This man, who declared that he was in fact the Son of God, -IF HE WAS- allowed himself to wrongly charged with a crime he didn’t commit, he allowed himself to be sentenced to death even though the Prefect declared him innocent, he never offered a defense, he allowed himself to be brutally whipped and beaten, he allowed himself to be sentenced to death on a cross, to be crucified in the most horrific of ways. He said he was God and yet we all assumed that he was not, because in spite of what he said, in spite of the power he said that he possessed, we all saw him suffer and die.”

“But then on the third day, He proved that he truly was God when he rose from the dead!” An angel declared, ‘HE IS RISEN’! It was a statement of fact that changed everything! A statement, that took this itinerant rabbi that from being merely a footnote to history to making him the very centerpiece of human history. Those would surely be the words that a historian would seize upon.

So too would these words have had special meaning to the lost, the curious, the naysayers, and all of those who followed Jesus at a distance. Wherever Jesus would go, crowds would gather and begin to follow him.

They had heard his sermon on the mount. They had heard tell of miracles; of fishes and loaves, of blind men that saw and lame that walked, but you could only get so close. A lot of stories get exaggerated. A lot of false prophets, a lot of charlatans, swindlers and frauds had walked the dusty streets of Judea before him. The wise among them always found a rationale to explain it away. They had wondered aloud, but they found no compelling reason to believe. Besides, he was hung naked on a cross and died, right out in the open on a hill for everyone to see. Just another huckster whose time had come. Until the Angel showed the women the empty tomb and declared, “He has risen. He is not here.”

Roman execution by crucifixion was time tested and battle proven. It was a hard death to fake with a spear shoved through your side and into your heart. They had heard him speak and they had seen him die, but now the angel said, “He is Risen”. It had to have an incredible impact on the naysayer and the critic.

Can I confess something to you? I know that on Easter Sunday we see those words on bulletins, banners and greeting cards. It is appropriate! It would be impossible to overstate the importance of those words and everything they signify.

But if I am allowed to be completely honest with you, to me those aren’t the most impactful words that the angel uttered to the women at the tomb. You see I am not much of a historian. When I was a kid, I wasn’t much for history. Eventually, I did grow to have an appreciation for history, but mostly other people’s history. Once I began to accumulate my own personal history, well let’s just say that being an accurate historian took on even less of an appeal. I don’t waste much time trying to go back and get hyper specific about exactly how things went down in my life, because rarely am I going to come out very good in the story. My history is a pretty mixed bag. I have no interest in being a historian.

Maybe I would consider the words, “He is risen” more paramount if I had always been a naysayer, if I had thought of Jesus as a curiosity, just heard some of his teaching or simply followed him from a far. But that is not how I meet Jesus.

I didn’t meet Jesus on a hillside in Judea. I was never amazed by a seemingly regular looking rabbi who somehow had the power to heal the sick and to make the blind see. That is not how I was introduced to Jesus Christ. I was introduced to Jesus Christ in a church. I was taught pretty well. From the time I knew his name, I knew that to believe in him was to believe that he was the Son of God. That if the history of Jesus Christ was to be believed; then Jesus had always been. That he was with the Father before the world was made. That he was in fact God and that he chose to lower himself from Heaven and come to Earth.

The Jesus I was first introduced to travelled from Heaven to Earth, then went down to Hell and set the captives free and then came back to Earth, was seen by a lot of people, and then ascended back to Heaven to sit down at the right hand of our Father God. It never amazed me that He had the power over life and death. It never amazed me that he could raise Lazarus from the dead and it never amazed me that he had the capacity to raise himself from the dead.

The only way that I ever knew Jesus Christ was as God, the same God that first created life and who would someday sit as the righteous judge of every man.

And somewhere along the way, when I was in the sixth grade, I not only just heard that story, I believed that story. Through a move of God in my heart, not only did I hear the story of Jesus, of the Son of God who came from Heaven to earth to die for my sins and then rose from the grave, but I believed it. I wasn’t just on the outside looking it, I was on the inside looking out.

I wasn’t a historian, a critic, a naysayer or even someone who was trying just to follow Jesus from a far. I was a born-again, spirit filled new creature in Christ.

Easter was great. There was good food, good friends and good music. It was the day we celebrated a wonderful moment in history when Jesus proved he was God by rising from the dead. Of course he rose from the dead, he is God, why wouldn’t he? To the Creator of life rising from the dead is something you could do four times before breakfast and not even be winded. Honestly, I am not making fun. I am just saying if you believe – you believe. If you already believe that Jesus is God, then the fact that he has power over life and death is not really new information.

So “He is risen” are great words, but they have never been the greatest words to me. I said that as a child I wasn’t a big fan of history, but I found that history is something hard to avoid. You may avoid the history found in textbooks or on the History Channel, but inevitably we begin to create our own history.

Yeah, I was born again. I was a new creation in Christ. From time to time I honestly genuinely really and truly wanted to follow Christ. But I quickly realized that this Christ follower still had some issues. Still has some issues. I believed that Jesus Christ died a horrific death on the cross for my sins. I was taught and I believed that he would have come even if it was just to save me. And as a young man I wanted to follow him. I wanted to serve him. I wanted to be a disciple.

I just had this one little problem. This heart that Jesus had come to take residence in was still immensely, expressly and inexplicably flawed. I knew what was right. I knew what I was supposed to do. I was warned against what was wrong. I could regurgitate it all back to you. I could teach it in Sunday school and I could testify to it at Church Camp, I just couldn’t actually pull it off in my own personal life.

I knew Jesus to be a good and righteous judge and that didn’t help a thing. I believe that he died and that he rose again. I believed, but who wants to face that person that you have failed so many time. It wasn’t that God wasn’t powerful and just, it wasn’t that God wasn’t good and forgiving, it wasn’t any of that. It was that I wasn’t good – even after everything he had done for me.

It was somewhere in there that I discovered, what to me, are the most profound and personally impactful words that the angel spoke to the women at the tomb. It wasn’t verse 6, verse 6 made sense:
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.
It was verse 7:
7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'”

Tell his disciples AND PETER. Why did he single out Peter and call him by name? Why did the angel feel it necessary to make sure that Peter knew that he was still included as a disciple? It wasn’t because Peter didn’t believe. It wasn’t because Peter was a naysayer or had attempted to keep Jesus at a safe distance.

Peter believed. Peter had boasted of the depth of his commitment.

But before the cock had crowed, even as Jesus was facing his accusers, Peter had denied Jesus not once, but three times. We could say that Peter had lost faith. That he ceased to believe. But that would only serve to comfort us. Peter believed Peter was simply weak. He believed – he was just still immensely, expressly and inexplicably flawed.

He had hadn’t followed Jesus from afar. He had been a disciple, more than that he was one of the inner three that were the closest to Jesus. He had seen the miracles. He had heard the public speeches and the private ones. He had seen Jesus transfigured up on the mountain along with Moses and Elijah.

Peter had been to the mountain top, he knew that Jesus was there for his good, but in the crucible of life he had still denied him repeatedly. Now he felt broken, distant and alone. How many bites at the apple does any man get?

When God has given his all for you, when you’ve known the truth and yet you have continued to fail, when in the crucible of life your actions have denied him repeatedly what is left that we would expect from the righteous judge of men?
7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'”

Peter’s own actions, his denials must have shocked and appalled even him. We have all had a moment in our lives when we were weaker than we thought, when we were even more selfish than we expected – even of ourselves. Of course it was only a surprise to Peter.
Matthew 26:30-35
30 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
31 Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:
“‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
32 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”
33 Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”
34 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”
35 But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.

I love that this passage starts with “they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.”
Ahhhh, church folk.

But Jesus knew. Jesus always knew. Just as Jesus knows and has always known my flaws. Everywhere I have ever fallen short, everywhere I ever will fall short. And yet the angel said, “go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'”

For years some have tried to sell a “religion of Christianity” that says either once we believe we never again fail, or that if we mess up too many times that Jesus is just done with us. BUT that is not and that has never been the Good News that Jesus preached. That has never been the “relationship with Christ” that he has been reaching out to us for. That is not the revelation of the heart of God that was revealed through Jesus the Son.

Jesus was never surprised by the reality of our lives or the depths of our flaws. He told Peter that he would fail and then still through the Angel he said, “Now go tell Peter I will meet him in Galilee just as I said I would.”

Jesus’ plans never changed. He had always come to save a flawed group of disciples. He had always planned to use Peter to start his church. He was never surprised by Peter’s actions and he never deviated from his plan.

Why is it that you have counted yourself out? What is it that you have done that you think maybe Jesus would forgive someone who doesn’t know any better, but it’s probably too late, he probably he knows you too well to forgive you again.

Maybe you have heard this story your whole life, but you just didn’t figure that it included you. But the angel said on resurrection morning “and Peter”. Resurrection morning tells us not what we might already expect; that God is God, but rather that there is the possibility of life after death. That there still remains the possibility for us. That although we may be shocked by our actions, Jesus never was and now he longs to meet with us again, just as he said.

Maybe, it is just too hard to believe. Maybe there has been just too much pain. The author C.S. Lewis once said, “God, who foresaw your tribulation, has specially armed you to go through it, not without pain but without stain.”

The Angel said “AND PETER”. Jesus speaks to us all and says, “AND YOU”.
Revelation 3:20
20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

Maybe you have been a naysayer, been a skeptical historian, tried to find some way to keep Jesus at a safe distance, or maybe (more like me), you feel like you have failed so repeatedly that you are sure that Jesus has had his fill and is done with you. Wherever you are today, know just like Peter and the other disciples that Jesus longs to meet with you just said he would.

The Heart of the Matter

Posted July 14, 2010 by claywilkinson
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This week the famous owner of the New York Yankees baseball team George Steinbrenner died.  Listening to people talk about him on sports radio was an interesting phenomena.  People couldn’t figure out how to characterize him.  They argued over his legacy.  For some he was a magnificent owner who brought the New York Yankees to enduring prominence.  For some he was a ruthless tyrant.  Some spoke of his accomplishments, but others focused on the means by which he brought about those accomplishments.

About Steinbrenner everybody had a different point of view.  I am sure that the man was dynamic and complex, but listening to these divergent opinions describing him as both deliverer and demon – they couldn’t all be right?  He was iconic in that everyone knew of him.  Everyone had heard a story that seemed to reveal either his competence or his treachery.  All the things said of him could not be co-equally true.  His celebrity gave rise to everyone having a suppositional opinion, but you wonder how few actually spoke to the truth of his character.

I think the world has the same issue with God.  He is referenced in almost every venue of daily life.  People speak of God with respect to the majesty of the mountains or the perfection of a newborn child.  Some thank God for their food.  Some acknowledge their desperate need of God in every area of their lives.
At other times people curse him in the face of natural disasters.  They question God’s sense of justice in the face of violent crime.  Some say the belief in him is the root of all wars.

Some see him as an evil task master.
Some see him as an absentee landlord.
Nietzsche declared him dead.
The delusional stand on street corners claiming to be God.

Everybody has a portion of conjecture about the character of God.

Our American lexicon now has a phrase that exemplifies this phenomena.   In many circles the deity is now referenced with the words, “God, however you see him”.   It is as if how we chose to see him defines who he is, rather than the truth of who he is being revealed to us.

The largess of God, combined with the limitations and inadequacies of the human mind have left God or the concept of God to be the repository of all of our hopes, our dreams, our insecurities, our terror and our fears.  Somewhere on this earth most every adjective and every invective, in every language has been used to describe the person and the character of God.

Having no concept of size or fear of ever meeting him, we have treated God as a community Christmas tree.  To which, every passer-by is invited to hang upon him the ornament of their own choosing.  Eventually the man-made adornments simply hang from one another both gaudy and gauche.  The majestic obscured by the mistaken, the malicious and the mundane.

The ever blind, but never mute, point to the ridiculousness of this convoluted and contradictory mess that man has made and declare that there is no God.  It has always been this way.  We mocked the idea that God would humble himself, come in the form of a man and allow himself to be beaten, spit on and abused.

Mark 15:29-32
29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So!  You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days,
30 come down from the cross and save yourself!”
31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself!
32 Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”

For a time, God allows his character to be maligned.   We are allowed to pile on all of our misconceptions and fears.  We hang upon him our insecurities, our arrogance and our greed.  We have made such a travesty of beauty that we look for it everywhere but its source.

No truth can be found by adding to, or attempting to rearrange this repository of bad doctrine and cast aspersions.  You cannot reveal the original beauty of an image-marred by slathering on another layer of make-up.

We must look for the truth of God as a child opens a present on Christmas morning.  Tearing at the trifle of wrapping paper, bows and slick packaging.  Casting everything aside to reveal the gift.  Just as some children prefer to play with the wrapping paper and the box, so many of us placate ourselves with the trappings of half-lives or dead religion that few continue on to find the prize.

Each of us must look at the artifice we have used to assuage our guilt and fears, and begin to peel back the layers in search of the truth of the heart of God.  Why somehow does it seem easier to attempt to change God, than to allow ourselves to stand naked before him as he is found?  I fear it a greater reflection of our frailty than his.

We jettison the declaration of 1 John 4:8  that “God is love” as trivial, because he is also described by others as so may things that we fear.  If our hearts do not fail and we find the courage to peel back the layers will we find a tyrant or the highest concept of love?

A Witness

Posted October 23, 2009 by claywilkinson
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I want to witness.  That has become a scary word hasn’t it?  When I was a kid, they used to make us go to flea markets and rock concerts and “witness”.  It was pretty awful.   We got emotionally beat-up.  I think we are called to be witnesses, but I think integrity should be put back in the word. 

One can only give witness to what one have seen or experienced.  All of the references in the bible to witnessing are people telling about what they personally witnessed.  I did not see Jesus born in a manger, dying on a cross, nor have I seen him raised from the dead.  I teach what is written in the bible.  I believe those things by faith.  I witness to my faith.  I witness to the truth I see in scripture and the experiences of my own relationship with Christ. 

The strength of a witness is not that someone knows the facts in toto.  When one witness claims to know it all, they could be the hero or the villain.  A witness claiming to have seen the accused make threats, purchase the gun, drive to the victims house, who watched through the window as the crime was committed and saw the accused bury the murder weapon, could be telling the truth or he could be the murder.  But if ten people each see just a little part of that story and you can string all of those witnesses together on the stand – You have the guy!  Nobody is making anything up to fill in the gaps.  The gaps are filled in by other people who don’t even understand how crucial their witness is. 

That is one of the reasons I believe the bible.  Moses writing about the Garden of Eden had no idea the whole story that was to come.  The people in the Old Testament did not understand the significance of the slain lambs.  But I see the same story of God, these themes of God’s love, his covering the nakedness of man all though the pages of the bible.

So today, I am going to do a little witnessing.

My goal is to encourage us in the truth.  Getting to the truth often requires the stripping away of layers of untruth.  Everybody signs up for that in abstract, but we all have untruths that comfort us.  It is a painful process, even if it is healing.  

I am a Christian.  I call myself a Christians because I have put my faith and trust in Jesus Christ.  I have entered into a wildly unique relationship, the daily workings of which are not well documented, explained or at all easily understood.  I live a life of faith, in and by the Spirit of God, but although I can say that, it is beyond me to explain it.

By faith, I believe there is a God.  By faith, I believe that Jesus Christ laid his life down on the cross.  By faith, I believe that my sins, faults and shortcomings, have been forgiven and that I have been given a new life of freedom and love in relationship with the one-true-living-God of the Universe. 

I, like many, believe that God gave us the bible, and that it is a holy and wholly unique book.  It tells of the great history of relationship between God and man and it tells of our great hope for the future.  It speaks of the fall of man, the desert wanderings, the Law, the birth of Christ, his death burial and resurrection and his ascension into Heaven.   It also tells us that life will not go on like this indefinitely.  That one day Christ will return and we will see him as he really is.  That this mystery will be made clear and that we will be in his presence in a way that we do not experience in our everyday lives right now.

Hopefully we do experience him, but the bible makes clear that one day we will experience him as he really is, that we will know, even as he now knows us.

In my experience, as we come together and read the bible and speak of its wonders; sometimes, most of the time probably, something gets lost in translation. 

Reading the history of how people wrestled in relationship with God or reading of a future to come – sometimes I get confused.  Am I to function like the people of the Old Testament?  Am I living in the time when Jesus is fully revealed?  What is it to live in a post-fall, post-Law, post-Calvary, post-resurrection, post-ascension, but pre-return in Glory time?  The majority of our bible teaches about a different time, either in the past or that is to come. 

Jesus sums things up with the imperative, “Love God and Love People”.  We are told to go and make disciples, but we did not get a whole lot of instruction about this life or how we are supposed to relate with God.  Evidently “faith” is to be the sinewy tissue that spans Heaven and Earth.

I am to live a life of faith, believing in things not seen.
Hebrews 11:1
1   Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

That word “certain” is usually translated “evidence”.   Faith specifically relates to the unseen.  Faith is not knowledge.  For faith to exist, it has to be cantilevered over the gulf, the peril, of doubt.

Our churches don’t seem to place any value on doubt.  The critical or the skeptical mind somehow is seen as a threat to the church.  But if we are a community of faith, then by definition, doubt is also our fellow traveler.  Not that we do not believe, but that we believe in spite of our doubts.

That is why we sound so shrill and anti-intellectual when we scoff at those who doubt.  We laugh at those who “don’t get it”, all the while lying about the extent to which we “get it”.  God is seen as Machiavellian in nature.  Somehow he must be honored when we lie; the truth not being a good enough sales pitch.

 I want to start a movement to change the Disciple Thomas’ nickname.  Rather than calling him “Doubting Thomas”, with its disparaging connotation, I think we should begin to call him, “Honest Thomas”.  He wasn’t the only one in the room with doubts; he was just the only one brave enough to say anything.

You know the story.  Jesus rises from the dead and Thomas says he will not believe that it is him until he places his finger in Jesus’ wounds. 
John 20:25-28
25   So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26   Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, “Peace be with you.”
27   Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing.”
28   Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”

I am quoting from the Revised Standard Version.  The NIV really is not a great translation here.  We have this history of calling him “Doubting Thomas”, so they oblige by using the word doubt, but that is not really what Jesus said.  The Greek text records Jesus as saying, “ apistos alla pistos”.   Jesus said, “be not without faith, but have faith”.  He uses the word we translate as “faith” and its antonym.

The difference is important.  He is not saying that to be skeptical of the miraculous is wrong.  He is saying, “Have faith that I can do the miraculous!”

Then Jesus speaks of us in John 20:29:
29   Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”  (RSV)

We are in this wildly unique relationship:  there is a lot of history, there is a lot of future hope, but in this present age, there remains a lot of mystery.  We don’t like mystery.  We want God to quietly stand down as we judge one another, as we are compassionless toward the poor, as we turn a blind eye to the fatherless, but we expect him to snap to attention when we pray for a parking space closer to the front door of Wal-Mart.

What if God is above us?  What if his mind is higher than our minds?  What if to our intellect he seems silent for a time?  Well, we just don’t allow that. 

If God seems silent, we will provide him with a voice.

We do this in several ways:

  1.  Many follow false prophets.  Some use circa 1611 King James English in an attempt to sound godly.  Others will use any dialect you want as long as you send them money.
  2. We use the bible like a Quija Board.  I want to know what the original writer was actually saying to the original audience in the then usage of the original language.  In other words, “What did he mean when he said that?”   Why we think that it is more spiritual to take the bible out of context than it is to take a street sign out of context is totally beyond me. 
  3. When God doesn’t answer or when we don’t like his answer, we have an incredible ability to justify our plans as God’s plans.  In the absence of an answer from God, I have no problem going forward with my plans, but that is very different from saying that they are God’s specific plans. 

We have been sold this bill of goods that if the church cannot explain away all mystery, then we are irrelevant.  That if the church does not speak a new authoritative revelation from God on a regular basis, then the church has no purpose.  Never mind the possibility of being a supportive community of faith.  That we might hold up the arms of the weak, care for one another as Christ did the church and be a testimony, a witness, of lives changed by faith in an ever present but unseen God.  That even though we do not know everything or get everything right, we by faith and by the power of the Holy Spirit express love to others, unconditionally and without merit, just as God has expressed that love, His love, towards us.

Can we have faith enough to find truth in the midst of mystery, or must we avoid mystery so that we can seem competent declaring a false truth?

When I was a kid, I went to a church that was big into magic and very little into mystery.  To be honest my Sunday school teachers spoke to us as if God had just given the Law to Moses and nothing else had ever been said about it.  It was simpler that way and easy to explain.

We were to be good soldiers in the army of God, marching through the wilderness of temptation, keepers of the law to the Glory of our God.  There was little talk of redemption, liberty, freedom or grace.  Only that Jesus would come back soon to punish those who did not honor him by keeping his law.      

The past was defined by the giving of God’s law and the future was defined by reward for the faithful and the punishment of those who flouted God’s law.  Today, the here-and-now was primarily defined by discipline, not consorting with sinners and awaiting the final judgment.  Jesus might forgive you of your sinful past, but that just gave you entry to the opportunity to earn your way into Heaven.

We spoke of the triumphant or victorious Christian life so much that one dared not mention the difficulty of the journey, our personal failings, our private thought lives and the temptations that refused to subside. 

And though I spoke to God faithfully in daily prayer, he did not seem to respond with the vigor or the immediacy that the traveling evangelists said he would.  I prayed for my brother to walk, but he didn’t.  I prayed for my mother not to die, but she did.  I prayed that I would be a good man, but I wasn’t….

It came to a head for me when I was a sophomore in college.  I was back at my home church functioning as a youth intern and participating in a discipleship training class.  We were expected to abstain from a myriad of worldly pleasures and concentrate on spiritual disciplines such as fasting and memorizing scripture.  Eventually the day came when we were to be tested.  We were to recite the scriptures that we had memorized and give account for our fidelity to these spiritual disciplines.

My roommate and I gave a quick look to each other a couple of hours before we were to give account.  We jumped in his car, drove a couple of hours away, drank ourselves into oblivion and slept in the car.   I didn’t go back to the church for several weeks.  I realized that I was never cut out for leadership in a church.

I got married and soon my wife became the beneficiary of my hit and miss faith.  I believed in God, but everything – anything – seemed more relevant to me than the proclamation of a victorious Christian life that saw little victory.

I believe that I would have increasingly attempted to walk away from the faith if it were not for the ruthless record of scripture.  As I began to read the bible for myself I found that almost all of the major bible characters, the heroes of the faith, also would not have been cut out for leadership at my old church.   I might not have had much in common with the sinless superstars that led the discipleship class, but I had a lot in common with Moses, David, Peter, and Honest Thomas.  We shared a fallen DNA.  I might not be able to pass the discipleship training class at my old church, but I looked a lot like the disciples that Jesus handpicked.

And then, I found the Psalms, more specifically the psalms of lament; theologically they saved my life.  I could recite, the 23rd Psalm:
Psalm 23:1-4
1        The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
2        He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,
3        he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4        Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

It is a beautiful psalm, but I was taught it as a promise.  But if it were a promise, no one ever taught me about the promises God evidently made in psalms like the 88th Psalm:
Psalm 88:3-8, 13-14
3        For my soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave.
4        I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like a man without strength.
5        I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more, who are cut off from your care.
6        You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.
7        Your wrath lies heavily upon me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
8        You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them.  I am confined and cannot escape;
13      But I cry to you for help, O LORD; in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14      Why, O LORD, do you reject me and hide your face from me?

No one ever taught me to stand on that promise!

My mother, wishing me only the best, taught me to memorize the 1st Psalm:
Psalm 1:1-6
1        Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
2        But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
3        And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
4        The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
5        Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
6        For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.  (KJV)

But to be honest it was psalms like the 22nd Psalm that let me know that in spite of the terror in my heart, I was still not outside of the grip of God’s grace.        
Psalm 22:1-2
1        My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?  Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
2        O my God, I cry by day, but thou dost not answer; and by night, but find no rest.  (RSV)

I said that my purpose was to encourage us.  I personally find great encouragement in the truth of God.  That he is good, that he loves with a capacity that I do not possess, that he is nearer than a brother and faithful in our time of need. 

I also believe that His ways are higher than my ways and that His thoughts are higher than my thoughts.  That he alone is God and that I am not.  Thus neither do I control him, nor am I overlooked by him.

May we be a true community of faith.  The Christian journey as I have experienced, being in relationship with God, is a symphony that is often played like a solo.  But, I believe it to be music to the ears of my Father. 

May our commonality be the acknowledgement of our desperate need of a Savior.  May our strength be the honest reflection of his love.  May our worship be both in Spirit and in Truth.

Animation

Posted July 6, 2009 by claywilkinson
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All my life I have loved animation.  Several years ago, we visiting Walt Disney Studios and took the tour where you saw animators rough out sketch drawing of individual scenes, stop action slices of life.  Then there was the next process where people cleaned up the lines and made the drawing more distinct and then someone else added vivid color and detail.  Eventually all of these individual pieces were put into motion through the process of animation, into the cartoons and stories that were the joy of my early childhood.  

I have marveled at and I have been moved by their creations and yet all too rarely have I stopped to marvel at the one who has animated me.  I have been captivated by moving pictures that emulate life, but rarely have I been moved by the Artist who knit me in my mother’s womb.  Rarely have I sought to experience the One who breathed life into my soul, who moves the earth within the solar system or the tides along the shore.                     

C.S. Lewis wrote:  “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.”

God is the life giving animating force of the Universe.

We have built Him statues, temples, churches and cathedrals, but too often it seems that we have built these walls as an attempt to hold Him captive.  To define what is sacred space, to define the limits of our God.  In our efforts to understand God, we have had to belittle Him.  We somehow seem content to relegate God to the impotent role of a celestial butler.  A mythical servant who has no greater self-expression than to see to it that we get a pay raise, a new car or a good parking space at the mall.  We have labored to make God useful in the most pedestrian sense.  We have brought Him down to our intellect, reduced Him to the servant of our petty wants and desires and thus we are no longer captivated by the Animator of the Universe.

Acts 17:24-25
24      “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.
25      And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.

Is There a Rhyme or a Reason?

Posted June 17, 2009 by claywilkinson
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I just got a news flash:  The world is messed up!  Seriously!  We see it every day, we live it every day, our lives are messed up, our relationships are messed up, our homes are messed up, and so we escape to messed up jobs.  We give too much attention to our messed up bosses, because at least they pay us and it is easier to feel competent there then when we come back home to our messed up spouses and our messed up kids.  Then everything is even more messed up because we messed up again.  It is just MESSED UP!

We do not like to admit it, because it seems like a sign of weakness, but if somebody could just tell us what to do – we would like to believe that we would do it.  Even when we swell up and say that no one can speak into our lives, the truth is that we just haven’t found anyone trustworthy to speak into our lives.

Out of utter frustration every once in a while we jump on some horse and ride for awhile.  We go to self-help seminars; we go to doctors, psychologists, and psychiatrists.  We have made anyone willing to say that they have it all figured out into instant millionaires.  We have flocked to Tony Robbins, John Gray, Stephen Covey, Oprah and Deepak Chopra. 

Sometimes we go to the church house, but guess what:  the church is messed up.  Some say one thing, some say another.  We have over 20,000 denominations and most of those are currently in a split.  In some churches, God is a capricious stern task master who only sings hymns from the 1700’s.  In others, God is just a “sing and shout” out of body experience.  For some churches, God is a cosmic ATM.  In some churches, God is just whoever you say he is, it is kind of “ala carte”. 

We have all but given up on hearing truth.  Today, people pick churches based upon who has the best youth group or music: tired or trendy.  Some come because you can wear shorts and some because it is important to dress up.  Most folks have just given up, seeing the church as irrelevant to the rhythm of life.

The mantra for today is: “you have your truth and I have mine!”

What about SCRIPTURE?   I would say that I put myself subject to the truth of scripture.  In principle, I see the bible as authoritative.  I have made the choice that the Bible is more authoritative than just what I think or feel.  Of course, this same bible is found in almost every “Christian” church.  Some of churches would say that our teaching is a quick trip to Hell.  To some, I would return the favor or at least say that they lead you away from God.

Not only are we capable of interpreting the bible wrong, but there is a snake in the grass.  There are forces working against us.  Satan teaches Bible class too!  Let’s be honest, Satan is a more effective preacher than I am. 

When Satan tempted Adam and Eve in the in the Garden of Eden, he didn’t do it with Black Masses and occult symbols.  Satan misinterpreted God’s own words them, convincing them that God was not looking out for their good.   Satan convinced the Israelites that if God wasn’t doing what they wanted him to, just sacrifice to a new god.  If it doesn’t feel like God is coming down from the mountain, create a golden calf and worship it.  In the New Testament, Satan tempted Jesus by misinterpreting scripture.  He convinced the Pharisees that God was just about keeping the Law.  Don’t do what it says don’t do, and then you have it slicked.  They misinterpreted the scriptures so badly that they didn’t recognize God when he showed up.  They judged him a blasphemer.  In fact they quoted scripture to put Jesus to death.

I am telling you it is MESSED UP!

We have always tried to make sense of this life.  Every society has tried to explain why deep down inside we know that life is not as it should be, that there is something bigger, something greater going on and we are out of step with it.

Every non-nihilistic view of philosophy declares that there is something that is true.  There is a rhythm to the Universe.  Although some say that it is too ambiguous or obscure, there underlies a concept that there is meaning and purpose to the Universe.  We believe that there is a right rhythm, a right way of things, if we could only get in tune with it.   

  One of the prevailing views of Eastern philosophy is the idea of the Tao.  “Tao” literally translations: ‘way’, ‘path’, or ‘route’, but it is thought of more loosely as a ‘doctrine’ or ‘principle’.  It is used philosophically to signify the fundamental or true nature of the world.  The Tao is thought to both precede and encompass all that is the Universe.  It is often referred to as “the nameless”, because it is a principle that cannot be expressed in words.

In Western Philosophy, Heraclitus around 500 BC put forth the idea that there was both a “source and a fundamental order to the Universe”.

Zeno of Citium who began Stoic philosophy in around 300 BC referenced the concept of an “active reason” that pervades the Universe and animates it. 

The Greek philosophers thought of this concept as “an impersonal force at the center of the Universe”.  This impersonal force had no-physical form and was perfect.  Although it was the source of the order of things being non-physical and perfect it was seen as the opposite of the physical life.  This concept was often categorized as “divine expression”.

Around 20 AD, a Jewish philosopher steeped in Greek culture named Philo of Alexandria began to talk about what he referred to as “the creative principle”.  This Jewish philosopher built on Plato’s concept of imperfect matter and the perfect idea.  He said that the perfect idea and imperfect matter can not come into contact with each other, and it requires “the creative principle” to span the gap, to find a way for the two to function.  He sometimes referred to this as “divine wisdom”.

Each of these Western Philosophers, Heraclitus in 500 BC, Zeno of Citium in 300 BC, and Philo of Alexandria, in 20 AD referred to this “source and fundamental order of the Universe”, this “active reason that both pervades and animates the Universe”, “this perfect and impersonal force at the center of the Universe”, this overriding “creative principle”, what the Greeks saw as “divine expression” and what the Jews saw as “divine wisdom” – They all referred to these concepts by using the same Greek word – the “LOGOS”.

To the Greek mind the LOGOS, was this perfect, impersonal, non-physical force at the center of everything.  It created, animated and gave order to the Universe.  It was the rhythm of things that could not be known.  It was “divine expression”.  The root word embodies the concept of oration.  Aristotle referred to it as what is “rightly spoken”.  It is where we get the word “logic”.

To the Jewish mind LOGOS was the “divine wisdom”:  The “creative principle” that emanated from the God who spoke the Universe into existence.  To the Jew, the LOGOS, the all-powerful and active spoken word of God that created Heaven/Earth was something to be reverenced with both awe and fear.

In our English Bible the Greek word “LOGOS” is translated in various ways: “word”, “saying”, “intent”, etc.  But more than just the word, it is exactly this Greek/Jewish concept of LOGOS that the Apostle John is referring to when he wrote these words in John 1:1-14:
1        In the beginning was the Word (logos), and the Word (logos) was with God, and the Word (logos) was God.
2        He was with God in the beginning.
3        Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
4        In him was life, and that life was the light of men.
5        The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
6        There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John.
7        He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.
8        He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
9        The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.
10      He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.
11      He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
12      Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–
13      children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14      The Word (logos) became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John’s words are an obvious reference to Jesus Christ, but he is telling us so much more here.  (Just for the record, so you won’t think that I am making this up, some Chinese bibles translate these verses, and the “Tao became flesh and made his dwelling among us”.)  Derived from the same root word, Gordon Clark actually translated this verse, and “the Logic became flesh”.

How would the first readers of John have reacted to such a claim?  To the Jew, the LOGOS was something categorically different from humanity; in fact an encounter with the LOGOS would mean certain death.  To the Greek, the LOGOS was the impersonal force behind the curtain.  It was the real answer, what gives logic – logic, the “source and fundamental order of the Universe”.

This would have been absolutely subversive to both cultures.   Greek thought paralleled the thought of Eastern culture.  The “Tao” could not by definition be understood, the “order of the Universe” was impersonal and unknowable.  The bible says that “the nameless” has a name – Jesus Christ.

It is subversive to the doctrine of some Christians.  In some theological circles, the idea that the Christ is the LOGOS is reduced to the rather simplistic idea that our bible as canonized is the Christ.  That Jesus is the word, and the Word is Jesus.  It is not a totally crazy idea, as in, God is truth and the word is truth, but John is not saying that God is these actual written words on a page. 

John is saying that there has always been a source, an order to the Universe; there has been an active reasoning that preceded the Universe, created the Universe and animates the Universe.  The mind of God, the divine expression – this LOGOS became flesh and dwelt among us.

There are two important theological points, Jesus Christ always was.  Christ was before creation, in fact, this passage makes clear that the Creation was made through Christ.  But secondly and probably more important for us application wise:  Christ is the embodiment of the mind of God.

Jesus Christ is the divine expression.  Jesus is divine wisdom.  John says there was always the mind of God:  the absolute power, the absolute justice, the absolute perfect, the absolute purity, the absolute holiness, the absolute righteousness.  The logic behind the Universe was embodied in Christ Jesus!

What both Eastern and Western philosophers thought of as the divine logic, the unknowable rhythm of the universe came down to walk it out on earth.

The logic, the heart, the rhythm, the reason, the meaning behind it all became flesh and walked among us.  Jesus is the embodiment of both the rhythm of nature and the purposes of God!  They are not separate!

What does that mean to us?  It speaks to the mess of my life.  It is not that there is a rhythm to the Universe that I cannot know, but rather there is a rhythm to the Universe that I can get in tune with and his name is Jesus Christ.  If I can’t figure out all of the fine points of doctrine, I can start with the life of Christ.  And quite frankly any doctrine that doesn’t line up with the life of Christ, I can jettison, because it is not in rhythm with the mind of God.

Colossians 2:2-4
2        My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ,
3        in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
4        I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.

Colossians 1:15
15      He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.

          John says we gain understanding of the Father through the revelation of his Son:

I John 5:20
20      We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true.  And we are in him who is true– even in his Son Jesus Christ.  He is the true God and eternal life.

Hebrews 1:3
3        The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.  After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

Jesus is the LOGOS, the source, the animating fundamental order of the Universe.  We can be in rhythm with the order of the Universe by being in relationship with Christ.

By trying to be able to speak comprehensibly about God, in our conversations we have stripped Him of his majesty, of his mystery – of the vastness of the One-True-Living-God.  We have made the Trinity into cartoon characters.  Someone we might choose, or choose not, to meet on the street.

We have lost the wonder of recognizing that God is the creative reason, the source and animation behind all that we would hold dear.  He is the LOGOS, the rhythm of the Universe and he was made flesh.  He drew near to us, that we might be able to draw near to Him.

Crisis

Posted June 1, 2009 by claywilkinson
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I am happy this morning, I am joyful.  Not because my week has been easy.  This has been a tough week for me.  Some weeks you can kind of coast through, some seem like a parade, some like a dance across the floor and some – well, they are just a struggle.  A short night’s sleep is met with more issues than you went to bed with and a hard day does little to clear things off the plate.

I, of course am weird.  Weeks like these illicit from me a couple of possible reactions.  I can hide, I can fill my time with some non-productive or counter-productive dissociation or I can lean into it a bit try to discover if God is still on his throne and maybe he is trying to love me through or teach me something.  Some times I just learn that it is not all about me!  I really love those!

Tough times can be very revealing.  Tough times reveal the truth of our faith.  The old saying goes, “there are no atheists in a fox hole!”  Maybe, but you know what, there are a lot fewer happy confident Christians during relationship problems, financial problems, emotional problems or major car repair!

Tough times reveal something of our FAITH.  It makes you take inventory and look deep down in the well of our souls and see how much true belief is in there.  Tough times supersede our posturing and our labeling.  I have seen the “super spiritual” reduced to a quivering mass and I stood in awe as people who “I” had marginalized grow in their faith in the midst of tremendous adversity. 

We say that our “Faith” changes us, and yet we resist change at almost all cost.  We say that we put our lives into God’s hands and yet we squall, murmur and complain when life does not go according to our own omniscient plans.

I want to make clear three things that I believe on the deepest level of my being that I know how to access: 

  1. God is good!  He is out for our best and not our demise.  Because he knows the end of the story and we don’t, He is willing to go to lengths that we are not willing to go in order to bring about what is ultimately best for us.
  2. God’s grace is absolute for those who are in Christ.  God will continue to love us regardless of how we chaff against the bit.  The grip of his grace is one of the most awe inspiring, amazing, unconventional, “it would have to be God”, kind of thing.  We can not over speak it.  We have yet to hear too many sermons on it.  We will go to our graves never full comprehending the magnitude and the magnanimousness of it.  God loves us just the way we are.  Nothing that we can do in our own strength will ever cause him to love us any more, nor cause him to love us any less.
  3. We have to change.

We have to change.  We are not stagnant beings.  We are either headed for life or headed for death, but we are headed somewhere. 

I am serious as a heart-attack.  If you are not just a little worried that my theological view of the grace of God is so all encompassing for those who are in Christ that it just might be heresy; then you do not understand how fervently I believe in the grace of God.  Standing in absolute agreement with that is my belief that our “faith”, “belief”, demands that we change.  Or maybe better put – it is totally incongruent with not changing.  We believe that God wants better for us.  That statement in and of itself dictates change.  People who are good people, who love us, want us to change.  A perfect God, who perfectly loves us, will move us toward change.

Only people who do not have faith or believe in a better future should be this in love with the status quo.  Does that mean that we should try to devoid ourselves of our current personalities, relationships or what we might think of as our personhood?  NO!  God is not in the process of killing me; he is in the process of redeeming me! 

The Christian life is not one of the grave, but one of rebirth.  God does not want relationship with someone other than me; he desires relationship with what is truest of me.  Me without the baggage, me, but me free!

I said three things a while ago:  God is good, Grace is real, & we must change.  I am convinced that we will never come to terms with the last two, unless we come to truly believe in the first.  “Grace” remains an illogical fairy tale and “change” a torturous stripping of personhood, unless God is good.

Do we believe that God is good?  Really believe that God is good?

We kick around these words like “Faith” and “Belief”.  Our carelessness is probably something like playing soccer with an atom bomb:

Mark Twain was once asked if he “believed” in infant baptism.  He answered, “Believe?  Hell, I’ve seen it!”  Obviously a lot of people use this term “believe”, a lot of different ways.  There is a significant difference between saying that we “believe” that God is good, and believing in his goodness in a way that we can put our trust in the change process.  Saying that we believe in change and putting our lives in his hands, truly trusting that he is out for our good are two vastly difference concepts.

I believe that enjoining God or life in general with any measure of honesty will ultimately lead us to a “crisis”.  A crisis of faith or a crisis of belief, if nothing else a crisis where “something” has got to give, a change is inevitable, scary but inevitable.  We speak of crisis usually as a negative concept.  We don’t like crisis.  We avoid crisis.

I come today in praise of crisis.   I looked up the definition of the word crisis.  (This is the point where as a pastor I am supposed to reference the Latin root and derivation…. I looked it up on Dictionary.com)

A Crisis is “a stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events, esp. for better or for worse, is determined; turning point.”

Medical Definition of Crisis: “the point in the course of a serious disease at which a decisive change occurs, leading either to recovery or to death.”

Friends and loved ones, we are of value greater than gold, we are dearly and passionately loved.  God laid his life down that we might be redeemed and restored, but we are soul-sick.

Mark 2:17
17      …Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus came for you and he came for me.

Jeremiah 29:11-13
11      For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
12      Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.
13      You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

I have a dear friend who once told me that he thought that I had the gift of faith, a gift that he said that he personally did not possess.  I deeply long for my friend to receive the gift of faith.  He has built the wonderful and sturdy life of a good man, but into that life will come both crisis and pain. 

God being good, does not desire my friend to go through that pain alone, nor is he punishing my friend with pain, but he longs for the day that my friend might look to God in the midst of that pain and know that he is not alone, but that he is dearly sought after and loved.

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain:  it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”                                                                                 – C.S. Lewis

Do we believe that God can be good in the midst of pain?  Do we distrust God as child distrusts the doctor who comes toward him with a needle wanting nothing more than to heal him from his infirmity?

My first thought is, that is not very “nice” of God.  I think a change of scenery is “nice”.  I just never think the process of change in me always feels nice.  I don’t know how to break this to you and me, but our spouses and our children are not the only bullheaded ones in our families.

I am a big fan of Levi’s 501 jeans.  I have a habit of out growing them, but I like Levi’s 501’s.  We all know the image of how tough 501’s are supposed to be.  They are made with copper rivets.  Originally all of the major stress points were made with copper rivets. (They still have them on the pockets)  Most of us have learned through experience that the greatest stress point on a pair of jeans is the crotch.  And originally Levi’s 501”s had a copper rivet located right in the middle of the crotch.  In 1933, Walter Haas Sr., the president of Levi Strauss, went camping in his Levi 501’s.  He crouched by a crackling campfire in the high sierras drinking in the pure mountain air.  Having made this painful error before all of the cowboys around him just sat back and smiled and waited….

Ever heard of somebody getting a hot foot around the campfire?  At the next board of directors meeting the copper crotch rivet was voted into extinction!

Some folks change when they see the light, but most of us change when we feel the heat.  For some reason we have to have a significant impetus to change.

Maybe that is the way of things.  A muscle must be torn to get stronger.  To construct something, you have to deconstruct something.  You can’t build a new house on an old house, you have to first exploit the weaknesses of the old house, tear it down and build something better.

I guess the question is do we trust the Master Builder or are we afraid that we will lose too much of ourselves in the process?

It is the question of artists, poets, playwrights, singer and the psalmist. 

Is God good?

The Master sculptor Rodin, (all of us are familiar with his most famous work “The Thinker”) created a sculpture called “The Hands of God”.  He also sculpted the “Hands of the Devil”

When we reflect on the sculptures the beliefs of the artist come to light.  In “The Hands of God”, two gracious hands are creating man and woman out of formlessness or chaos.  God’s hands, in artistic terms, reach through chaos and craft something beautiful.  In the “Hands of the Devil” the idea is that the Devil is grasping the beautiful form of a woman and pulling her back into formlessness and chaos.

For Rodin, the artist believed that God was good.  This forming process, bringing us out of chaos and giving us eyes for beauty, this sculpting process is seen as redemptive.  It is for our good.

We are familiar with the analogy of the potter and the clay:
Isaiah 64:8  “Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”

It seems like such a loving process, very tactile, a lot of touch.

But I got to tell you it doesn’t always feel that way. 

Hosea 6:1-3
1        “Come, let us return to the LORD.  He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.
2        After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence.
3        Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge him.  As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”

It ends with spring rains that nourish us, but it starts with being torn to pieces.  There is both a wounding and a healing.  An intervention and a cure. 

The Psalmist David wrote:
Psalm 13:1-6
1        How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
2        How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?  How long will my enemy triumph over me?
3        Look on me and answer, O LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;
4        my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
5        But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6        I will sing to the LORD, for he has been good to me.

These are not the ramblings of a mad man, nor are they the fluff of a children’s story.  These are the deepest yearnings of the human heart.  “God, I want to call you good!”  “God, I will call you good!”  “Are you?”

The knock on those of us who teach what we believe to be the biblical view of God’s grace is that for the Christian it becomes a “license to sin” – an “excuse” – not to change.  Of course it depends greatly upon your definition of change.

Is true meaningful and lasting change the humanistic whine, “I will try to do better….”  “I will try and be good.” 

Or does God seek a seed change, not someone who says with their mouth that they will be good, but rather someone who longs for good.  Someone who desires to see good and who, like Jesus, celebrates goodness when they see it played out in the lives of both the sinner and the saint.  Having been shown goodness and mercy, do we hunger to see goodness and mercy shown to others?  Have we really developed an appetite for it?

Jesus said:
Matthew 5:6   “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

Are we merely, tepidly, trying not to sin, or do we hunger for good?  Do we hunger for the good in our marriages?  Do we hunger for the good in our relationships with our families?  Do we hunger for the good with others?

Is Christianity only the self-righteous touting of our slightly lesser engagement in a few select sins, while we sit in self-sanctified judgment of the rest of humanity?  If it is, I want nothing of it!

May God bring upon us whatever crisis is needed, that we would, like Christ, lay our lives down to reveal the heart of the Father.  May we be conformed to the image of Christ that we may be instruments of His grace.

Matthew 21:42-45
42      Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
43      “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.
44      He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.”
45      When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them.

May we fall upon the rock.  May we be broken by the reality of a loving God.  May we learn to allow Jesus to bind our wounds, that we might develop a hunger and a thirst to bind the wounds of others.

Only dead fish swim with the stream…

Posted April 15, 2009 by claywilkinson
Categories: Uncategorized

Tags: , , , , , ,

I am thinking this week about conformity.  I don’t like conformity.  Rollo May once said, “The opposite of courage in our society is not cowardice, it is conformity”.   I agree; however, Paul says that we are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ. 

Jesus didn’t use those terms, He preferred to say that we had the right to become the children of God.  I guess that He thought that children should bear some resemblance to their Father. 

I wonder if my countenance resembles more my conformity to religious traditions, social and societal conventions, or the attitude of Christ Jesus.  One is a conformity that the world needs nothing more of:
  “No man causes more grief than that one clinging blindly to the vices of his ancestors” – William Faulkner 

The other reflects our greatest hope. 

I wonder what my family resemblance is?
Am I laying my life down for others or striving to prove my dominance?  Am I sharing my life with others in a fallen world or repulsed by reminders of my own depravity?  Am I willing to be misunderstood to complete a missional life or trying to save a false face?  Am I pointing to Christ or to my own competence?

I want to be conformed to the image of the last true rebel to ever walk this earth.