Why I’m Smiling

This morning’s epistle reading was Romans 16:1-16. I have to admit that my reaction to this passage surprised me. I discovered a huge smile spreading across my face as I read through Paul’s personal greetings to various individuals and families in the Roman Church.

The Epistle to the Romans is viewed as Paul’s theological masterpiece. NT Wright states in his commentary on Romans that while many will disagree on how to approach and interpret Romans, “What nobody doubts is that we are here dealing with a work of massive substance, presenting a formidable intellectual challenge while offering a breathtaking theological and spiritual vision.”

Yet, here at the end of Paul’s theological magnum opus, we find a small window into the genuine street-level embodiment of his theology — love. He greets people by name. He calls a few “beloved.” He proclaims with exuberance those who have risked much and served well. These are his genuine friends. These are loved ones for whom he prays. These dear ones of whom he thinks frequently.

Who knows how all of their lives first intersected. Who knows who introduced one person to another? Who knows who invited one person to dinner to meet another? And Paul is part of this intricate web of friendships. Yes, he’s an apostle. Yes, he’s a recognized leader. But most importantly, he’s their friend and co-worker in Christ. They have rejoiced together, cried together, prayed together, learned together, shared their lives together. Somehow in his wisdom, God brought all of them together into a loving and prayerful community of his Good News for the life of the world.

And that made me smile this morning.

Then it made me think about everyone whom God has brought into my life over the years.

And now I can’t stop smiling.

Heaven & Hell Are Not Places

“We are made whole (healed) by the grace of God, and brought into a relationship with Him that is our true inheritance. Heaven and hell are not places created by God for those who were good, or bad, but rather about relationship. The Fire of God is heaven for those who have responded to God’s love, and hell for those who have remained in the darkness of sin (sickness), and whose ego has shut out God, for self. Heaven and hell are not places, but all about relationship.” Abbot Tryphon

I’ve written about this before, but it’s worth revisiting. Our culture’s understanding of heaven and hell is severely distorted. Too often, heaven and hell are viewed as future destinations either to reward the good or punish the bad.

However, as Fr Stephen Freeman is fond of saying, “Jesus did not come to make bad men good, but dead men alive.” What is at stake is the transformation of human nature, which is so fractured, distorted and sick that it’s dead. And in this dead state, we shut out God. That is hell. In our brokenness, we constantly live in hell.

So the issue isn’t ethics or morality. You can’t tell a corpse to behave better. The only hope is Resurrection. For the Resurrection is the inauguration of God’s Renewed Creation. And the power of the Resurrection brings life to all of us who are dead. This is the point of Ezekiel 37 and Jesus’ retelling of that vision in the Story of the Prodigal Son. The son wasn’t restored because he “got his act together” or because he apologized to the Father. He experienced Resurrection. He returned from exile and back into relationship with his father and his household.

When a person experiences the Resurrection, the process of transformation begins. And this is heaven. Heaven is being loved by God and being able to love him back, regardless of circumstance. Heaven is loving and living God’s will regardless of the pain or sacrifice one experiences. Heaven is being transformed into Christ’s likeness from the inside-out.

As Jesus hung upon the cross absorbing the world’s sin and evil upon himself, he was in heaven. In the midst of hell, he was in heaven.

So heaven and hell are descriptions primarily of our relationship with God. But are there future destinations of heaven and hell? I believe so. It’s called the New Creation. One day, God will renew his Creation. He will set all things right. Jesus’ prayer will fully be answered as heaven and earth finally overlap and God’s reign will be on earth (the human realm) as it is in heaven (God’s realm). And in the New Creation, God’s glory will cover the earth as the water covers the seas. This will be the ultimate and eternal experience of heaven and hell.

And on that day when God renews his Creation and drenches it with his undiminished glory, his very love and presence will be like an eternal inextinguishable lake of fire for those who shut him out. And that same love and presence will be indescribable joy for those who have been transformed into his likeness and live only for his will.

So heaven and hell begin now. Each of us is on that journey every day.

Dad, When I Grow Up…

“Dad, when I grow up, I want to be a pastor and a hockey player.” That’s what my oldest son told me when he was in elementary school years ago. I’m not sure where the hockey player reference came from. But telling me that he wanted to be a pastor was his small expression of love for me and desire to be like me.

That moment fills my mind when I read Ephesians 5:1-2:

“Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

I’ve been reflecting on this passage for the last couple of weeks. But every time I try to write something, it feels like I’m pinning this Scripture to a laboratory table. This is one of those portions of Scripture in which we must fully immerse ourselves rather than dissect with an expositor’s words.

So perhaps the only thing worth saying is, “Father, when I grow up, I want to love just like you.”

Truth & Love

I’ve been thinking a bit more about Truth. This isn’t a new thought, but more of a slight restatement of a thought from yesterday’s post. Jesus is The Truth. Truth is a person. Therefore, we know The Truth through sharing lives (koinonia, communion) with Him. And since this deep life-sharing relationship is the primary way to know The Truth, then the same kind of deep life-sharing relationships with others is the environment through which we share The Truth. We know The Truth through Love and we share The Truth through Love.

Truth is incarnated through Love. Truth is known through Love. Truth is shared through Love.