The Core Of The Good News

Occasionally, I like to simplify everything back to its core. I especially like to do this with the idea of The Gospel, which we are to live and communicate.

The Greek word for “Gospel” means good news. When a new Roman emperor was installed during ancient times, messengers were sent into the outlying territories proclaiming the gospel of that emperor. It was the good news that Rome had a new emperor and because of it, Rome’s citizens would experience peace, prosperity and salvation.

The four New Testament Gospels, in narrative form, are doing the same thing about Jesus. They are bearing witness that Jesus is Israel’s long-awaited, representative king. As such Jesus has fulfilled the covenant that God made with Abraham and his family to be God’s blessing to the nations, he has launched God’s future new creation concurrent with this creation, and he is installed as the world’s true Lord. That is the good news of Jesus! Jesus is the true King and Lord!

The implications of that gospel for every person who loyally embraces Jesus’ kingship and follows him is freedom from all of the destructive powers in our lives and the restoration of our human vocation (and here I’m blatantly stealing from Bishop Todd Hunter) “to be God’s cooperative friends who are learning from him how to live constant creative goodness for the sake of others in the power of God’s Spirit.”

With Jesus as our true King, we lack nothing and thus can learn from him how to build strong, unshakable lives like his, able to risk everything for the sake of God and neighbor. 

This is reality of Jesus’ kingship. And it is the ultimate Good News!

To Be Continued…

DSC02335As I read and reread the last couple of chapters of Revelation, I’m struck by the idea that this is not the end of God’s Story. I think we’ve been formed by our culture to read Revelation 22 as though it ends with an assumed “And they lived happily ever after.”

As the book climaxes, all of God’s plans come to fruition. Evil is vanquished, humanity and creation are restored, and God dwells with his people. The New Creation launched by Jesus in his resurrection completely arrives on earth. The dimensions of heaven and earth are finally merged. God’s people will have their resurrected bodies, animated and energized by God’s Spirit. And they will be fully formed into the likeness of Christ.

But that’s not the end of God’s Story. Rather, Revelation 22 seems to indicate that the next phase of God’s Story is ready to begin. There’s an interesting description in Revelation 22:

“Then he showed me the river of the water of life. It was sparkling like crystal, and flowing from the throne of God and of the lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either bank of the river was growing the tree of life. It produces twelve kinds of fruit, bearing this fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

In symbolic language, St John describes the core of life on God’s renewed earth —the Tree of Life, fed by the Water of Life. And the leaves of this Tree are for the healing and therapy of the nations. It sounds like there’s still work to be done in God’s New Creation. This is different from the popular vision of living among the clouds, reunited with loved ones, in complete bliss.

So the question I have is, “What will the human vocation as God’s image-bearers and kingdom of priests look like in the New Creation?” What will life and work be like for a worldwide community of people with resurrected, Spirit-empowered physical bodies, who are formed into genuine competent love for the good of the world?

Scripture implies there will be some level of continuity between this creation and the New Creation. If so, what will the various elements of human life and community look like — politics, education, technology, economics, travel, art, communication, research, and more.

I realize this is absolute assumption on my part. And I’m not trying to speculate about some “sci-fi” utopia. Rather, I want to envision what human life and community might actually look like when it’s fully formed into competent Christlike love and completely empowered to express it. Because that is what Jesus modeled during his ministry. He competently loved the people and expressed it powerfully to heal them, teach them, feed them and lead them. What will that look like in God’s New Creation when all of God’s people are able to love like that?

St Paul implies this very thing in 1Corinthians 15. After providing a detailed instruction about the physical resurrection, he ends with the following encouragement:

“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

Because there is a future physical resurrection when God’s New Creation is fulfilled, keep doing the Lord’s work of competent Christlike love in this present creation. That work will not be worthless. In fact, that work forms the building blocks that God will incorporate into his New Creation. We live God’s future now in anticipation of that future.

God’s Story doesn’t end just because the book ends.

Perhaps we need our imaginations sparked with the ramifications of God’s greatness and goodness filling the earth and our lives, not only now, but also into his eternal future.

Perhaps every Bible should end with “To be continued…”

Lacking Nothing

Since reading Dallas Willard’s posthumous book, Life Without Lack, my imagination has been reinfused with a vision of the with-God life. So in an attempt to keep that vision always before me, I’ve made praying Psalm 23 a daily spiritual discipline.

As I pray this psalm, I’ve realized its words are filled with tremendous meaning in light of Christ’s life and teaching. So I thought I would share how I understand Psalm 23 as I use it as a prayer.

The Lord is my Shepherd. He is my King and my caretaker. Because he is the good shepherd, I live in a good world created and ruled by a good God who gives every good and perfect gift. Therefore, I lack nothing. Because God lacks nothing and because he’s abundantly generous, I lack nothing. I know that as I make his kingship and covenantal justice my first priority, everything else I need will be provided. So I can be fully loyal, faithful and abandoned to his kingship.

The Lord is training me to be satisfied and sustained in him alone. I no longer need to be fed or nourished by anything other than him. He is the Bread of Life and the Living Water. I no longer need to hunger or thirst for anything. Like a sheep that is already full and content, I can lay down in green pastures rather than roaming around eating. This is the secret of being content in any and every situation. My soul, which has been fragmented by the frantic and frenzied pursuit of meaning and satisfaction, is being healed. He is restoring my soul, binding and restoring the shattered fragments into his power and life. 

Living constantly in him and lacking nothing, God shows me how to take up my human vocation as his image-bearer and royal priest. He guides me into a cooperative friendship with him so that I can participate in his righteousness, that is, his covenantal justice in the world. I am now a partner in his reconciling, renewing, and redeeming work in this world. And I do this in his behalf and in his name. I represent him, learning from him how be like him in order to embody, demonstrate and announce his restorative good news.

And I can engage in this redemptive vocation without fearing any evil. When this vocation takes me to the brink of death, destruction, or loss, I will fear no evil. God is with me. He protects me. Nothing can separate me from him and his love. In this constant Reality, I am comforted by God, knowing he works for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose. 

The vocation of covenantal justice takes me into places where the world hurts and groans. Because God is generously abundant and gives me all things, he plants my life in the places of pain, even where people might seek my ruin. And yet, I do not need to fear my enemies. I am safe in the care of a good King and Shepherd with his life and power sustaining, nourishing and providing all I need in every moment. Therefore, instead of fearing my enemies, I can bless them. I can invite them to enjoy God’s abundant anointing and blessings in my life without fear of lack or loss. The abundant with-God life allows me to give to everyone — strangers, enemies, friends, family, and loved ones.

Therefore God‘s presence and character exudes from my life everywhere I go and everything I do. His goodness and love are the exhaust of this mighty engine of restoration and blessing. And each moment of my life today and into the infinite future is spent in God’s intimate presence where heaven and earth are merged and restored into his New Creation.

More Present Now

Last weekend, our family visited Oak Glen, a favorite location of ours. This visit was unique because a thick fog rolled in, altering the landscape. So during our visit, I took several photos with my phone. One of the photos was a reflection shot of the pond in the botanical garden. When I took the photo, I thought the image was free of fellow visitors. But when I got home, uploaded the photo to Lightroom and expanded it, I noticed there were a couple of people in the image. The larger screen and software enabled me to see the scene better than when I was actually standing there.

That photo came to mind this morning while reading John 14:12-21. In this passage, Jesus tells his disciples that he will soon be returning to his Father. While at first this sounds discouraging, he informs them that they will actually be able to do greater works than what he’s been doing because he’s going to the Father. And that’s because the Father will give his followers the Holy Spirit. 

I think many of us believe that Jesus’ original followers had it much easier than we do simply by the fact that Jesus was physically with them. But according to Jesus in this passage, the opposite is true. If we think about the original disciples, they seemed to constantly misunderstand Jesus’ words. They found themselves misinterpreting events. Judas betrayed Jesus, Peter denied him and the rest scattered at his arrest.

Here’s the remarkable truth of John 14: Christians today are in a far better situation than Jesus’ original followers during his lifetime! Jesus is actually more present to his followers in this new mode than when he was physically present.

When Jesus talks about going to the Father, he’s not just talking about going to heaven. He’s referring to defeating evil, idolatry, sin and death through his crucifixion. He’s referring to launching God’s New Creation through his resurrection. He’s referring to merging heaven and earth through his ascension. And he’s referring to being fully present and empowering by the Spirit through Pentecost.

Because of his accomplishments through the process of “going to the Father,” an entirely new world lies before us. And in this new world, Jesus is with us far more fully than he was with his original disciples — renewing our minds and energizing our lives with his LIFE to do greater works than Jesus ever did.

The Flowers Of The Field

One form of photography that I enjoy is macro photography. When I take macro shots of flowers, the process allows me to enter into, observe and capture a world of beauty that often goes unnoticed. It also allows me to capture the fragility of that beauty. Most of my subjects only exist for a short time. A strong wind and the dandelion’s seeds are blown away. A child’s playful step or a short heat wave and the flower’s petals are crushed or withered.

Macro photography also offers me a glimpse into the faith Jesus had in his Father. During his life, he witnessed thousands of different flowers growing in Galilee. The fragile beauty took away his breath and reminded him of his Father’s generous provision and love. It fueled his knowledge of his Father’s goodness as this world’s Creator. It strengthened his perspective that his Father’s world was a good and safe place.

“And why worry about what to wear? Take a tip from the lilies in the countryside. They don’t work; they don’t weave; but, let me tell you, not even Solomon in all his finery was dressed as well as one of these. So if God gives that sort of clothing even to the grass in the field, which is here today and on the bonfire tomorrow, isn’t he going to clothe you too, you little-faith lot?” Matthew 6:28-30

I remember hearing about a conversation someone had with Dallas Willard. Willard said if he had to describe Jesus with one word it would be “relaxed.” Jesus was absolutely happy and content in his Father because he knew from experience that his Father excitedly and energetically loved his creation and cared about beauty, life, food, clothes and the other good things inherent in his world.

So here’s Jesus’ invitation to his friends then and now:

“Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33

The cornerstone of Jesus’ faith and therefore the key to the training he gives his friends is to make God the priority, not the beautiful elements of his creation. Creator, not the creation. 

The key is to seek God’s good, generous, loving kingship and his “righteousness” — the good covenantal way of life that is in sync with God’s kingship. The implication is that we yield our “kingships” and “queenships” to God’s and embrace and learn his way of life.

God has made his world with incredible and wonderful things to experience and enjoy. But those things are fleeting. So when we put those things first, we give ourselves to that which will quickly fade. And then we commit ourselves to a way of life that tries to obtain more and tries to prevent it from fading. Our failed priorities are called idolatry and the way of life that tries to sustain it is called sin. And this life is ultimately riddled with stress, worry, anxiety, pain, brokenness, and corruption. The joy, beauty, excitement and wonder that we’re pursuing evaporates away.

One way to assess our idolatry and sin is to examine our natural inclination to worry. For many of us, worry is like breathing. It’s our default status through daily life. But Jesus didn’t worry. And he taught his friends that they didn’t need to worry. This wasn’t a pie-in-the-sky wishful view of life. This was the actual reality of Jesus’ faith and daily living. And his friends ultimately found it to be true as well (Phil 4:4-7).

We simply need to admit that Jesus’ faith and life are far better than our current experience. When we learn to see, experience and trust our Father like Jesus does, then we can actually enter into the same kind of fearless, joyful, happy and worry-free life he had.

So take a moment and look at the flowers of the fields and let your faith in your Father soar.

Cleaning My Paint Brush

After painting a room the other day, I had the “privilege” of cleaning the paint brushes and rollers. If you’ve ever had this privilege, you know how long this process can take. After some cleaning, the brush looks clean. But the moment you squeeze the bristles, more paint oozes out. So you clean and clean. Again, the brush looks deceptively clean. But then you squeeze the bristles again, and more paint seeps out.

Spiritual formation can be like this. It seems I’ve been trying to clean the paint brush of my heart for decades. Unfortunately, I have let the paints of anger and anxiety saturate deep between the bristles. So even though I may seem calm and cool on the outside, sometimes all it takes is a stressful circumstance or a jerk… uh I mean a fellow human being… on the freeway, to squeeze my deceptively clean-looking brush and those stark colors bleed out again.

But each day I have a choice to make. In frustration, I can give up. I can simply let anger and anxiety rule my life. I have some semblance of control over them, so they wouldn’t cause too much damage.

Or I can keep following Jesus, confident in him, his life, his teaching, his power, his brilliance over all aspects of human existence and life. Ultimately I have to remain confident in him even though my brush doesn’t seem to be getting clean.

During Lent, I read Dallas Willard’s posthumously released book, Life Without Lack. First, I need to say that I miss him. He was a wonderful gift to the Church. Second, the vision in his book of a “with-God” life based on Psalm 23 has been so refreshing. This “with-God” life is what Paul speaks of when he says:

“In every possible situation I’ve learned the hidden secret of being full and hungry, of having plenty and going without, and it’s this: I have strength for everything in the one who gives me power.” -Philippians 4:12-13

In God’s New Creation, I don’t need to experience anger or anxiety. Sure there will be stressful circumstances and people. But by training with Jesus into his likeness of living a “with-God” life, I can have his unshakable confidence in an abundantly good and generous Father who has created and rules over an abundantly good and generous world. And this confidence can allow me to completely die to myself, my passions, and my desires, completely safe in my Father’s abundant goodness and generosity. This then allows me to expend my life fully on seeking and willing the good for others.

One of the shocking realizations I had from reading Willard’s book is the implications of Psalm 23:5, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

A “with-God” life, confident in God’s abundance, steeped in death to self, and fully focused on the good of others allows even my “enemies” to join me at and enjoy the benefits of the table of my “with-God” life.

The last part of Willard’s book forms the practical application of how to live a “with-God” day that will over time form a “with-God” life.

So I think the choice remains clear. A “with-God” life, no matter how long it takes to form, sounds exceedingly more appealing than a life of anger and anxiety. So no matter how long it takes, I’ll keep cleaning my paint brush.

Letting Go During Lent

I don’t think I need to convince anyone when I state that our lives are filled, perhaps overfilled, with activity. Usually from the moment we awake to the moment our bodies drift to sleep, we are doing something. And many of those activities have formed our identity, reinforcing and energizing those activities.

One of the invitations of Lent is to let go of some of those activities in order to create new space within our lives — space for the potential of beauty, space to be alert to God and others, space to examine some of the shadowy parts of our inner lives.

I read a statement by Richard Rohr that might be helpful. He says, “We become free as we let go of our three primary energy centers: our need for power and control, our need for safety and security, and our need for affection and esteem.” I think every person struggles in some way with these areas and Lent invites us to become a bit more aware and perhaps to learn how to let go.

The beauty of Lent is that it doesn’t demand, but invites. There is no obligation to participate in Lent. It doesn’t make God love us more nor does it necessarily make us better people. God loves us and is pleased with us whether we have a laser-focus during Lent or if we choose to “give up Lent during Lent.” But that same lavish, unending love is both the invitation to and the environment within which we engage in Lent.

To put it simply, Lent is Love. It is God’s love that invites us to Lent. It is God’s love in which we experience Lent. It is God’s love through which we may be transformed in Lent. And it is God’s love in which we may fail in Lent.

Recently, Bishop Todd Hunter likened Lent to the R&D department of a company. It’s a unique time each year where we can, with a childlike and an almost playful spirit, let go, make space, examine, and engage God regarding oft-hidden aspects of our lives within God’s deep and unchanging love for us.

So I would encourage you to hear and answer God’s invitation to let go and experience his love during Lent.