The politically incorrect gospel

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

We’re well over half way through Lent, and this week I’ve been challenged again by this awareness: the gospel is not politically correct.
There’s a big part of me that prefers to stay silent when controversy arises. I prefer to offer gentle hospitality, to listen, to ask a few quiet questions, and to trust the Holy Spirit to be the one to bring to light what needs to come into the light as He guides people into all truth.
But then I look at Jesus.
In his parables, he “told all the truth but told it slant.” But there were times and settings when he spoke the truth straight out too, and lived it in ways that made the authorities furious.
Trust can mean letting God be the one to bring things into the light, or it can mean obediently offering the words God gives us to speak and trusting that God will accompany us through all that unfolds.
Jesus has never been politically correct. Even his existence was so politically incorrect that, soon after his birth, the king tried to kill him. And, at the other end of his earthly life, religious and political authorities—usually each other’s enemies—teamed up to bring a final end to the political incorrectness of Jesus’ life. But after he was no longer physically present on earth, the political incorrectness of his story continued: “When we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense” (1 Cor 1:23 NLT). There’s no way around it: the gospel, while incredibly good news, is also offensive for a world (and, sometimes, even a church?) that prefers to think of ourselves as essentially good, as enough on our own.
Over and over these days I come up against the idea that all human beings carry the presence of God at our core. The idea subtly pervades books being widely read by people in the church, and is taught by some people whom I love deeply and from whom I have learned much about grace and community and the beautiful, welcoming love of God. But on this point we differ. And because I love both Jesus and these friends so deeply, I have to speak. Because I know they love Jesus too, and yet it seems to me that when we believe that all human beings carry the presence of God within them, we cut the heart out of the gospel. Why do we need Christ if God’s presence lives in us without him?
The way I read the Bible, human beings are incredibly beautiful, complex beings, fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God. It’s not too big a stretch to say we’re “god-like.”

God created human beings;
he created them godlike,
reflecting God’s nature. (Genesis 1:27, The Message)

The Psalmist says we’re made “a little lower than God and crowned with glory and honor,” two attributes that, as Old Testament scholar Iain Provan points out, are usually reserved only for God. All humans are created in God’s image and placed on this earth to be “like God” to the rest of creation, tending it with care.
The arrival of moral evil doesn’t change the fact that we are all made in the image of God and are to be treated accordingly.

“Whoever sheds human blood,
by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made mankind” (Gen 9:6).

But it is first in Jesus that a human made in the image of God now also carries the presence of God fully within him, humanity and God now joined in one person. Now when we, through our trust, allow Christ to live in us by his Spirit, we who have been made in the image of God are enabled to carry God’s presence within us, becoming who we’re made to be.

“For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ. . .” (Col 2:9-10 NLT).

As we walk these final weeks toward the cross, I celebrate again the love that created me beautiful and remarkable—“like God.”
I celebrate the love that created me not God and regularly reminds me that I’m not God and invites me to rest in the freedom of being human and being still and knowing that God is God.
And I celebrate the incomprehensibly magnificent love that knows that I’m not enough on my own and gives His own life in order to fill me with God’s presence, joining me to Himself and thus allowing me to share in the life of God forever.

How to learn to trust (OR Good news about the God leading us into this year)

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Several weeks ago, I heard someone use four words to describe God. They’re not a complete description, of course—all the words in the world couldn’t accomplish that—but they’re true and beautiful and I’m heading into the New Year wanting this view of the Master to shape my year.
I heard the words in a sermon by Darrell Johnson. He was speaking about three servants to whom the Master had entrusted a significant treasure. (Did you know that a talent was worth twenty years of a day laborer’s wages, something over half a million dollars today?)
You know the story. The servant entrusted with two and a half million dollars invests it and doubles that amount. The servant handed a million dollars ends with two million. But the servant who receives a half-million dollars buries it and, when the master returns, digs it up and returns to him the exact same amount, excusing himself by saying that he knew the master was a hard man and he was afraid.
There’s a lot more in the sermon, but it’s this line about the two faithful servants and their view of the Master that I keep hearing: “They risk, they invest, because they know the Master is gracious and generous and creative and very adventuresome.” Gracious. Generous. Creative. And very adventuresome. That is the truth about the Master that I want to shape my year.
If I’m honest, looking ahead at a new year can raise all sorts of emotions. The excitement of newness. Anxiety about the unknown. The weight of expectations.
What does my mix of emotions about the new year tell me about how, deep in the place I live from, I really see the Master?
I may think I believe something about God, but how I feel and act shows what I really, deep down, believe.
My prayer for this year is that God will teach me to trust. It seems that God, knowing this is a big prayer and I’m a bit of a slow learner, has given me a head start in bringing these four adjectives across my path a few weeks before the new year begins. Because, you see, the first step (or, some say, the only step) in trusting God is knowing him truly:

“To know God is to trust God.  It’s as simple as that.  And the opposite is just as true.  To not trust God is an indicator that we do not really know God.  In other words, the “god” we do not trust is not really God, but rather a false imagining of our own making.” Rob Des Cotes
“Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.” Psalm 9:10

Oh, God, let me know you, and so free me to trust you!

God’s favorite part of creation (and why it matters)

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I was walking one day in the garden, admiring the beauty that surrounded me and trying to choose which bit of beauty was my favorite: the delicate deep pink plum blossoms? the ornamental grasses surrendering their pale, wispy tassels to the breeze? the grand and steady backdrop of mountains still wearing their snowcap?

I chatted with God about my struggle to choose—it was all so beautiful. Then I asked Him, “What’s your favorite?” I tried to guess, expecting he’d choose the mountains or the redwood trees which towered far above me—something tall and grand and, if not eternal, at least stretching toward ancient. “You are.” Tears sprang from the surprise of finding myself so deeply loved and honored. I wondered why I was his favorite. “The mountains and trees can’t have this conversation with me.”

I’ve been reading through Genesis in The Message, hearing again and again the echo of our godlikeness:

“God spoke, ‘Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature so they can be responsible for. . . Earth itself. . . ‘” (1:26)

“God created human beings, he created them godlike, reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female.” (1:27)

“When God created the human race, he made it godlike, with a nature akin to God.” (5:1)

“. . . God made humans in his image, reflecting God’s very nature.” (9:6)

God clearly wants us to understand our greatness.

But I often find myself afraid to receive God’s gifts. Like this one. I hold it at arm’s length, afraid of the responsibilities that will accompany it. Afraid that the gift will take the place of the Giver. Afraid of becoming proud. Or selfish(Does God really want me to see myself as godlike?)

But every gift that God gives is meant to be received. Including this gift of our greatness.

And I’m surprised to discover that in receiving the gift and the accompanying embrace of the Giver my hesitations disappear. The fear of the accompanying responsibilities is calmed as I realize that God is telling me who He has already made me, not demanding that I make of myself something I can’t possibly be.

And as for proud and selfish, I’m at far greater danger of that when I don’t embrace my God-given greatness than when I do. (Underlying our society’s increasing self-absorption Brene Brown sees “the shame-based fear of being ordinary.” (Daring Greatly, p. 22) Is this why our enemy goes to such pains to keep us from seeing and receiving our God-bestowed greatness? Does he know that if he does, he’ll keep us forever tied up in trying to create and prove our extraordinariness instead of being free in humble confidence to live our already-bestowed godlikeness in ways that bring glory to our Creator?)

We are made godlike. How can we ever be ordinary?

Knowing who we are frees us to engage rather than compete, give instead of grab, and celebrate instead of cling. I look again at Jesus who, accepting the authority bestowed on him by his Father who loved him, stooped to serve (John 13:3-5).

So come, friend, be free in the God-spoken guarantee that you aren’t ordinary. Be free to live your godlikeness in grateful humility and in union with Christ who, living in you, takes your godlikeness to a whole new level.