Sunday, February 27, 2011

bar code faith vs. transformation

My heart breaks for the church in this country.  This is Christ's bride, which he loves so much that he "gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless." (Ephesians 5:25-27)  Surely Christ has not abandoned his church.  But are we falling short of receiving the life he wants to give?

I constantly struggle to understand the relationship between grace a transformation.  I'm re-reading The Divine Conspiracy by Willard, in which he also points out this struggle.  In chapter 2, he challenges what he calls the "bar code" mentality of being a Christian: we have faith or say something, "God "scans" it, and forgiveness floods forth ... We are, accordingly, "saved."  Our guilt is erased.  How could we not be Christians?"(37)  There is some truth to this idea: "it is not necessary to be a good  Christian in order to be forgiven"(37)  And yet - could it be that in focusing only on this part of what Christ has done that we miss the point?  Willard writes,
The real question, I think, is whether God would establish a bar code type of arrangement at all. [...We are] in danger of missing the fullness of life offered to us.  Can we seriously believe that God would establish a plan for us that essentially bypasses the awesome needs of present human life and leaves human character untouched?  [...]  Can we believe that the essence of Christian faith and salvation covers nothing but death and after?  Can we believe that being saved really has nothing whatever to do with the kinds of persons we are?   
And for those of us who think the Bible is a reliable or even significant guide to God's view of human life, can we validly interpret its portrayal of faith in Christ as one concerned only with the management of sin, whether in the form of our personal debt or in the form of societal evils? (38)
When I look around at my friends struggling to realistically put on the 'new self', the new life in Christ, when I hear sermons or talk to people about faith, sometimes I wonder if we really do believe these things.  How do we respond to Paul, for example in Colossians:
"you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator" (3:10)
Yes, Christ's grace is amazingly free and his salvation to us unconditional.  But talk to anyone who has tried following Christ for a while and they will tell you that receiving this salvation and learning to live in the new kind of life he offers takes time, perseverance, and constant surrender - all things that aren't necessarily easy.  Ironically, it seems that it is not always easy to take on the easy yoke.

I am challenged by this.  I think we must be very careful not to pretend that as soon as we accept Christ and turn to follow him, our lives become good and we become better people.  (We all know this isn't true, but sometimes we accidentally say what we don't really believe.)  In fact, I don't think even the understanding of Christ's righteousness covering us will bear fruit all on its own in our lives.  (Unless, perhaps, it is the understanding with which we really have difficulty).  As I discussed in my last point - spirituality isn't all a mental or abstract thing, it concerns our bodies and our actions.

As a young adult, I am always searching to find older Christians who can teach me what they have learned.  I do know many my own age who are actively seeking God's kingdom, yet sometimes it feels like we are 'the blind leading the blind'.  I am grateful to God for all the ways in which he has provided in this respect, but I long to see training and discipleship grow in his church.

Sorry for the length of this post.  If you have read to the end, some of these things probably matter to you as well.  What has God been teaching you about all of this?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Faith and Bodily Life

Prompted mainly by recent reading (especially Willard and Wright) I have been thinking about how vitally important it is that we grasp the reality of the spiritual world.  Even saying 'spiritual world' implies something other, but I don't know what else to call it.

First we must see the very physical nature of our faith.  As Willard points out,
"the foundational facts and teaching of the Christian religion essentially concern the human body.  The incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection of Christ are bodily events." (Spirit of the Disciplines, p 30)
The resurrection of Christ was the triumph of his flesh-and-blood-and-spirit life over sin and death. Thus it is not some disembodied spirit we worship, but the resurrected and triumphant person of our Lord.

The physical nature of our faith doesn't stop with Jesus, but has everything to do with how we live.  Whatever did Jesus mean when he said "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10) if not life to our whole beings, including our bodies?  As Wright states, "We are saved not as souls but as wholes" (Surprised by Hope, p199)  And as Willard points out, the transformation of our selves through the life of Christ is a process which involves the training of our physical bodies.

This is all very good news indeed, since most of our daily life concerns our physical existence.

Secondly we must see that the unseen parts of our existence and spirituality are no less real because we cannot see them.  Rather than elaborate, I will let you ponder that for a moment, and consider its outworking in your own life.

This ties into a passage I heard today, 1 John 4:5-6:
They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.  We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us, but whoever is not from God does not listen to us."
I've been realizing lately how sometimes the ways I think and act make little sense to others because I am assuming a different reality than they.

Thanks be to God for providing this new reality which fits so well with who we were made to be, this new life that in its fullness transforms every part of us!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

February

Winter reaches back through our memories
January, December, November,
(when was it that the leaves fell?)
the smell of sun and grass is a memory difficult
to recollect.
We have always known the daily process of wrapping ourselves against the cold.

The whites and grays of winter
have a certain permanence to us now.
That icicle outside my window,
the narrow walkway of the sidewalk,
like old acquaintances if not always loved
have at least become familiar. 

Winter changes almost imperceptibly
at first.
Dawn washes the sky
and the birds sing earlier now.
The lengthening hours of light make it seem that somehow
we are given more time in our days.

One week in February the cold relents.
Pavement appears under puddles.
The illusion of permanence is broken:
how shockingly quickly the snow returns to being water.
Though the trees solemnly stand as they did last week,
For the first time I realize
that they are already preparing for budding days.

Yes, spring will come, suddenly, joyfully,
but that is for another month, another time.
This is a time for slow changes,
for grays and whites and sooner dawns.
We grow impatient-
but is this not the way of change for all living things?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

imagination

Lord, let my life be orderly, regular, temperate; let no pride or self-seeking, to covetousness or revenge, no little ends and low imaginations pollute my spirit and unhallow my words and actions.
-Jeremy Taylor
This prayer resonates with my prayers lately that God would enlarge my imagination of who he is and what he wants to do.  We are so limited, I have been realizing, by our lack of imagination.  The beautiful thing is that God wants to help us in this.  Just look, for example, at the whole old testament, which helps us understand his plan that was fulfilled in Christ!  We worship a God who delights to help us grasp who he is.

I challenge you to seek bigger vision of what God wants to do, and of who he is.  God has surprised me even this week in the ways he is answering this prayer.  I am excited about what he will teach me in the week (and years!) ahead.  What a good God we worship!