Saturday, August 20, 2016
Gentle in Our Time
HOPE! - Jesus the Just and Gentle
In the New Testament, we see how many people did not recognize Jesus for who he is. Many people believed him to be the Messiah, but they had a different idea of what a messiah should be like than what he actually was. Many people thought that when the Messiah would come, he would destroy all of Israel’s political enemies. He would do away with the oppressive Romans once and for all and would make them into a great nation once again. However, this is not what Jesus was all about. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law… the Law which said to “love your neighbor as yourself.” But Jesus took this even further, and declared the need to love not only your neighbor… but your enemy! This was not the Messiah the people were expecting.
Sometimes we think the same way the people back then did. We think that we serve a Jesus who will destroy our political enemies and make us into a great nation once again. But if Jesus wasn’t about that kind of stuff back then, is he any different today?
Jesus had a fiery passion about him. You don’t get confused for Elijah over and over again if you’re not passionate after all. He got angry and fired up at times – remember that incident in the Temple?
But Jesus was also kind and compassionate. He was gentle. He shared a meal with the hated tax collector Zacchaus. He protected the woman caught in adultery from being stoned. He defended Mary from Judas when she poured perfume on his feet. He took on the role of a slave and washed the dirt off his own disciples’ feet. He wept when his friend Lazarus died. He even stopped to talk to the weeping women as he was being led to his own death. And while his mother watched him dying on the cross, he told John to take care of her for him after he was gone.
And even when Jesus was angry – he was angry about injustice. About those who thought they had an in with God, but who at the same time “despised the poor,” cheated their neighbors, and oppressed widows, orphans, and foreigners.
But Jesus was gentle. He is described in this way by the prophet Isaiah:
“Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope.”
We also put our hope in his name. In the gentle Jesus who proclaims justice to the nations.
HOPE! - Paul... A Gentle Apostle?
Within Paul’s letters we can see that while Paul is passionate and firm in his faith and in the life he now lives in Christ, he also knows humility and gentleness. He recognized that he does not deserve this calling that he has received from God. He writes of how he used to be an enemy of the church, persecuting it, but that God in His mercy called him out of this life and made him to be an apostle of Christ to the Gentiles. He is humbled by God’s gentleness and grace towards him, and by the great privilege he has to proclaim the good news of Christ to the world.
He knows that he is unworthy of all he has received. He says in 1st Corinthians, “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” He recognizes that it is only by God’s grace that he has become an apostle of Christ. And there is hope for a violent man like Paul to be transformed into the gentle likeness of Christ – then there is hope for us!
He also describes Christ and how Christ came to earth in gentle humility, even though He was God. Paul says that we all must become like Christ, gently serving one another. Paul has applied this to his own life, and he calls on other believers to do the same. He includes himself in this command. He is not exempt. Just as Christ did not refuse to let go of His authority and position as God, so should we who follow Christ be willing to give up our place in life for the sake of Christ, considering all others to be of greater worth than ourselves. We must also be willing to give up our lives in order to be a gentle servant like Christ was. For Paul, this was likely true in the literal sense as well as spiritually. Just as Christ “humbled himself and became obedient to death” so also it is commonly believed that Paul was beheaded for the sake of Christ his Lord.
HOPE! - Days of Future Present
The death of Christ is the ultimate example of God’s deep love for humanity, and His desire that everyone should be saved. When Christ did for us, he did so in humility. He was not weak – he was God after all. But he chose weakness. He became weak for our sake.
Because he wanted to redeem us. And not only us, but the entire cosmos as well. That which Christ assumed – he redeemed. He became the lowest of the low in order to save the lowest of the low.
Think about that.
God must really love us in order to show that kind of gentleness to us. God became a baby. God became a refugee. God became a boy doing what his parents told him to do. He was a brother to siblings who didn’t always believe in him. He showed up at weddings. He showed up at funerals. He worked a trade. He became homeless. He chose ordinary people and drop-outs to be his disciples. He befriended prostitutes and tax collectors. He showed compassion to his tormentors as he died on the cross – forgiving them. He died as a criminal, between two criminals, in order to redeem criminals. He “carried our diseases.”
What kind of a God would do all this?
A God who is gentle.
A God who comes along side us and suffers with us.
A God who gives us hope of the future age in the midst of our present suffering.
The pledge and guarantee of the age of the future is seen in the Christian message of hope and is written on our hearts by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit inside of us is the evidence we have of what is to come. We have become united with God through his Spirit which is in Christ, and in the future, at the final consummation, we will be fully united with God.
We have hope that this Kingdom that is breaking into the here and now will someday reach its fulfillment on earth as it is in heaven in completeness. Paul writes about this hope of the future age in many of his letters. In Romans he writes that the entire creation will be “liberated from its bondage to decay.” Paul indicates that we taste the coming age in the present through the Holy Spirit living inside of us.
He writes in Ephesians, “For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph. 1:9-10).
HOPE! - God Married a Prostitute
God married a prostitute.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves…
First, a couple of questions:
Are Christians known for their gentleness? Does the church accurately paint a picture of Christ’s gentleness to the world?
Many would say the answer is no.
While the church often appears distorted to the world because of the influence of evil upon her, which attempts to overtake her, God is still using the church to bring His gentle presence into the world. The church is the manifestation of God Himself in the present time.
This does not excuse the many evils associated with the church throughout history: From priests who sexually abuse children, to a church in Kansas that wishes death upon soldiers and homosexuals; from the crusades, to Hitler’s use of the church to support his creation of the Aryan race and the extermination of the Jews among other people groups.
Don’t forget… God married a prostitute.
The church remains authentic in spite of her imperfections because the church was God’s idea. It is God who has established the authority of the church to be made into His image and to reflect His own nature to the world. The mission of the church remains the same: to reconcile humanity with God.
While many like to point out the hypocrisy of people within the church and while it is a shame that hypocrisy exists within the church, one way of looking at the church’s imperfections is to point out that it was the will of God to display His own nature within humankind. This would include the very raw and very earthy aspects of humanity. God chose to reveal Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, and the church is now considered to be the body of Christ.
So while people within the organization of the church do not always measure up to the standard of Christ, they still may maintain the image of Christ, who was the image of God in the flesh. I do not say this in order to excuse sin, but rather to show that it was God’s good will to make His dwelling within us, within people with physical bodies who have been tainted by sin. The best way to view “hypocrites” within the church is to realize how wonderful the grace of God is that He would desire to have people as bent and twisted as these to be a part of His church.
Remember…God married a prostitute.
The church is the bride of Christ, and we ought to speak of the church as though she truly were the bride of Christ. We ought not to speak of someone’s bride in a negative and critical way. It is a nasty tendency and in poor taste for someone to go around uttering criticisms against someone else’s wife, and yet people speak many ill-words against the church, who is the bride of Christ! A groom ought to be angry if he overheard someone speaking poorly of his bride. In the same way, Christ, it would seem, would also be angry to hear someone slandering His bride.
To the groom, the bride is never ugly!
The church remains authentic regardless of her imperfections because it is God who makes her authentic through his gentle and transformative power at work within her.
Remember, God married a prostitute… and it is God alone who makes her beautiful!
HOPE! - Transformation of the Heart
I believe that the Spirit works in the heart of the believer, convicting them of their sins and calling them to repentance.
I also believe that those who have been made gentle in Christ do not behave in the same way as those who do not have the Spirit – and they even behave differently than believers who do have that Spirit but who simply may have not yet been made fully gentle in Christ.
But this issue of gentleness is not simply an issue of behavior, it is an issue of the transformation of the heart.
Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”
The believer who has been made gentle in Christ is a believer who not only has the Spirit of God living in them, but whose own spirit has been changed by the Holy Spirit. The love of God is overflowing from them because they have allowed God’s love to fill them completely.
This is why I believe that being made gentle in Christ is possible. It is not something that we do ourselves. It is the entire transformation of our own personal spirit by the love of God in the Holy Spirit.
God is love, and where God is… there is love.
So if God is within every aspect of a person – their heart, their soul, their mind, their strength – then the love of God will be present and evident in every aspect of that person. The love of God is gentle, and this is how Christians can be made gentle.
It is not anything that they have done. It is all by the grace of God. It is the grace of God that called out to us before we knew Him, it is His grace that causes some to not even remember a time when they did not believe, and it is His grace that fills us with His Spirit and allows us to make room enough for His love, and for Him Himself.
HOPE! - We are United in Christ
We are united in Christ.
Christ did not only appear as a human (as Paul explains in his letter to the Philippians) but was actually fully human. Paul wrote that “he was found in appearance as a man,” but Paul also wrote that “he became obedient to death, even death on a cross,” thus showing the full extent of his humanity. Christ appeared like a man because he was a man.
This is important because through Christ God became flesh so that humanity might be restored and united with God.
The physical incarnation of Christ is essential to our theology because through the true physical incarnation of Christ we have been reunited with God – humanity in the present through the indwelling Spirit of Christ who was fully human… and in the future in the restoration of the entire created order.
We are united in Christ.
The physical suffering of Christ was key in his salvation of humanity. Christ did not appear in order to save humanity from its physicality. Instead, Christ came as a fully physical human in order to restore that which had been distorted. The creation is not evil and in need of destruction. It is created good, and in need of redemption through Christ’s physical suffering due to its corruption through the Fall.
We are united in Christ.
The church is the body of Christ. The church and the various means of grace associated with the church are the ways in which God reveals himself to humans in the Holy Spirit. The church and the sacraments of the church are the primary means by which the grace of God is made manifest in people’s lives.
The Spirit of God is truly present in the church and within the members of the church, and through the church God’s salvation is revealed to the world because through the church Christ is revealed and through Christ God is revealed.
We are united in Christ.
Mankind was created in both the image and likeness of God in a state of growth where mankind would grow closer to God in relation as well as knowledge. God created men and women with the potential to grow beyond what they already were, to become something greater than they were originally. However, humanity lost its direction and communion with God, so God sent Christ into the world in order to redeem humanity and bring us back to the path of growth towards God on which we had once been.
We are united in Christ.
However, it was not only for humanity’s redemption that Christ came into the world. Christ would have come regardless of whether or not mankind lost its way. The goal of the creation of humanity was that they might be always growing closer to God. The incarnation of Christ would have happened regardless of the Fall – because in Christ mankind is united with God in a unique way. God becomes even more united with mankind because of His becoming flesh in Christ, and through the Spirit of Christ mankind becomes even more united with God. The giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is evidence for this, showing that God has placed humanity back on the right track in growth towards Himself.
We are united in Christ.
HOPE! - The Redemption of Our Bodies
We all have flaws. That’s just a part of being human.
However, God chooses to redeem our flaws for his glory.
God is all about redemption. He became a human in order to redeem humans after all. He became incarnate. And he works the same way today. He works in the flesh – our flesh. Our bodies. God became a human with a body… in order to redeem our bodies.
But we still have the ability to make choices. This is what we call our “will.” Within our will is the ability or power to experience freedom and creativity. We have the power to do both good and evil. We have the ability to say either yes or no to whatever comes to us.
However, through the Spirit of Jesus we have surrendered our will to the will of God. But this does not mean that we have lost our will. No. We will always have a will. It is just that our will has become identified with God’s will.
But praise God that we have the hope of redemption!
Redemption that has already begun and will continue on until the whole of creation is restored. And this redemption came through the incarnation of Christ – God became human in order to redeem humans.
The future that God has promised is the life of the Spirit. We are mortal beings, but will be resurrected to life again and we will live on forever with our God. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we are being “clothed” with the immortal. God has given us his seal, his assurance, that he will raise us up with Christ. This seal is the Holy Spirit. The future God has promised us is one of glory. We experience a taste of that now through the Holy Spirit because of Christ’s death and resurrection on our behalf. The Spirit has made known to us the mysteries of God, because he is the Spirit of Christ who was the fullness of God made into flesh. He has promised us the Holy Spirit.
However, our future hope is even greater than this present hope. Paul writes that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. We are destined for glory. This is our future. Paul says that the whole creation is waiting, groaning, for the future hope of its liberation of bondage to decay. He says that we also “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” Our future that God has promised to us is not only that our bodies will restored to us and liberated from destruction and decay, but that we ourselves will be adopted as the very sons and daughters of God.
HOPE! - The Kingdom Of God
Why should we be patient with others? Why should we be gentle? What do we have to motivate our humility? Aren’t these all just acts or works? We already know that doing good deeds isn’t what gets us into heaven right? It’s all by grace right? And we already know that our good deeds are like “filthy rags” when compared to God’s goodness… so what’s the point of trying?
What’s the answer?
THE KINGDOM OF GOD
The Kingdom of God is not about doing good deeds to get into heaven. We’re not patient because we think that God will reward us for our patience. God is the reward. And he is the source of all that is good… in us… and in the whole of Creation.
It is the Kingdom of God that woos us and transforms the essence of our beings into conformity with the will of God.
But what is the Kingdom of God?
I would explain the Kingdom of God as both a physical and a spiritual place. The kingdom of God exists within us because the spirit of Christ lives in us through the Holy Spirit. So the kingdom of God exists in the present day because it exists within believers who possess the kingdom already.
However, while it exists in the present day, it also exists in the future. The future is not exactly the same as the present. “The kingdom is and is yet to come.” This means that while the kingdom is here with us now, it has not yet been fully realized or revealed. It has been inaugurated but it has not yet been made complete, or brought into fullness.
The kingdom of God is the rule and reign of God over his creation. He reigns inside of our hearts, and he will reign over all the earth. The kingdom of God is seen in the church and will be seen throughout the entire world. Jesus will return and reign on the earth in a physical kingdom. This is also the kingdom of God.
Jesus described the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven (same thing), in many different ways. In the gospels Jesus speaks of the kingdom in parables. He says that it is like a mustard seed, which starts out as the smallest of all seeds and then grows to become the largest of all garden plants. The kingdom begins as the smallest of all things but grows into the largest of all things. It begins as a tiny seed planted in someone’s heart and grows into something bigger than that person themselves. It grows into heaven itself. God himself lives inside of us even though he is bigger than all that exists. The fullness of God became a baby in a manger. This is the kingdom of God.
HOPE! - Words Creating Worlds
A robust and thoughtful understanding of the end result of Christ at work in our lives and in the world (e.g., eschatology) impacts our present understanding of our current role in the body of Christ (e.g., ecclesiology) as well as influences the words we choose to speak to those around us as we reflect the gentleness of God to people.
This thoughtfulness in regard to the end result gives Christians a perspective from which to function as the church - a perspective that leads to change in our words and our actions as we strive by the grace of God to live in unity in Christ and at peace with each other.
If there is a final goal in mind, then the church may be oriented around that goal instead of simply wandering aimlessly through time just hoping for the best and speaking whatever careless words happen to roll off our tongues without the slightest regard to their impact.
Our words are a creative force. We are made in the image and likeness of God; and like God, our words create worlds. Some of the worlds we create reflect the goodness and gentleness and beauty of our Creator… and others… not so much.
But we can be assured that the best of who we are becoming in Christ will be fully revealed someday.
If we as the Church had a strong understanding of the end result, we would know that we as believers are the kingdom of God on earth and that we are ushering in the new creation and the redemption of the world. Christ has chosen to work through us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed, and we are the children of God, the Church. We bring life through Christ into the world, and we will continue to do so until the end when once and for all the creation in its entirety will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
The future is breaking or entering into the present in the church. It is our future hope in the return and reign of Christ that orients our practices. This is what drives the church. A church without a future hope is a sad church, and a blind and deaf church, not truly hearing the words the world hears them speak or seeing the impact those words have.
But praise God for his gentle grace at work within us! And praise him for the gentle words he chooses to use with us in spite of the words we have at times thoughtlessly blurted out in front of a world that sees us as His reflection. And praise our God who walks alongside us and helps us to truly understand the grace and victory of Christ who is our hope.
HOPE! - God's Kindness
As Christians, we are called to love people and to minister to them in gentle kindness through the gift of the Holy Spirit who lives inside of us.
Remember… “Every member a minister.”
The second most important part of ministry and the second greatest commandment according to Jesus is to love our neighbor (see Lev. 19:18; Matt. 19:19; 22:39; Mark. 12:31; Luke 10:27; Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14).
We must reach out to those in need around us in kindness and goodness regardless of their ethnic background, lifestyle, or religious beliefs. We must learn to see people as Jesus would and to treat everyone we meet with the love of Jesus.
We must be imitators of God in our life and conduct, remembering that it was God’s kindness that led us to repentance (see Rom. 2:4).
We must serve both the physical as well as the spiritual needs of the people we encounter. Jesus came not only to redeem the spiritual aspect of mankind, but the physical aspect as well. The physical and the spiritual are deeply connected. When we minister to someone, we minister to the whole person.
To do less than this is a disservice and does not reflect the goodness and kindness of God.
Don't forget… “Every member a minister.”
So let's all join together and experience the richness of God's great kindness towards us and extend that same grace to everyone we meet.
Remember... it wasn't the harshness of God that transformed you for the better... it was God's kindness that led you to repentance.
HOPE! - The Marks of the New Birth
Are you at peace or are you at war with those around you? What evidence do you have that you have been born again? That you have new life? Is your faith active or theoretical? Do you have a present hope or only a distant hope? Is God’s love within you transformative? Since Jesus lives in you, how do you think Jesus would live with the people you live with?
Within John Wesley’s sermon “The Marks of the New Birth” he claims that the first of the marks of the new birth which are evident in the life of the believer is that of faith. He says that faith is the foundation of all the rest. There are two other that are mentioned by Wesley in this sermon. Besides faith, there is hope and there is love. These are the marks of the new birth.
Faith. Hope. Love.
Wesley also claims that the “immediate and constant fruit of the faith whereby we are born of God” is also a power over sin. He claims that the fruit of faith is power over every sin – every outward sin, every inward sin, every “evil word and work,” every “unholy desire and temper.” And that this results in another fruit of faith that we experience – that of peace. We find that we are content and joyful in God.
Furthermore, the necessary fruit of the love of God, according to Wesley, “is the love of our neighbor.” This includes all people... even our enemies. He also claims that a resulting additional fruit of the love of God is that we become universally obedient to Him in our love for Him and that we live in “conformity to His will.” Wesley claims that all of us – the worst and the best of us the same – deserve no less than hell. But that it is by God’s transformative grace and mercy that we are saved – born again into God’s family through the Spirit of Adoption.
And so what do your relationships look like? Do you value your family the way Jesus does? How about your co-workers? Your customers? Your employers? Your neighbors?
What evidence do you have that you have been born again? Are you loving? Or are you at war with everybody?
HOPE! - Working Backwards
There is an enemy at work against us whose desire is to pull us away from union with God out into the void of nothingness. The enemy has been known by many names – the devil, Satan, Apollyon, and so on…
He is seen as the great enemy of God and all who follow Jesus. But sometimes we talk as though the devil were God’s equal – as if good and evil were equal powers fighting to gain the upper hand… like the Force or something. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The devil lost a long time ago. He was never really much of a threat. Oh sure, he seems all big and scary… especially when we begin to behave the way he does. But really, there is nothing big or great about the devil. He is consumed in himself… and anything consumed by itself isn’t so great. It may trick you into appearing powerful and explosive initially… but it quickly burns out.
And we’re not that much different than the devil. Like him, we can be consumed by pride and we can lock ourselves away inside of ourselves and devoid ourselves of all that is good. That’s what the devil did. And that’s what we do too. And isn’t that really where hell begins? In being so consumed in ourselves that we become isolated from all that is good?
But the kingdom of heaven has come… and it has come ahead of schedule. When Jesus drove out demons, they accused him of coming to torture them before the “appointed time.” You see, the kingdom of heaven works backwards. The goodness of God and the sacrifice of Christ transcend time and space, so that the glory of the future travels backwards and becomes the reality of the present. The kingdom is… and is yet to come.
Throughout biblical history we see a protoevangelium – a gospel in advance. We see this from the beginning when God promises that a descendant of the woman will crush the head of the serpent – the enemy.
This type of imagery is seen in other places in the Old Testament, where the enemy of God who is described as having serpent-like qualities receives a crushing head wound. One example would be Goliath, whose armor is described as having the appearance of “scales.” David defeats Goliath with a blow to the head. Another example would be the story of Jael, who drives a tent peg through the head, or temple, of General Sisera, who is a serpent-type. This kind of language is not uncommon throughout the Old Testament.
You see, salvation works backwards. So that the final redemption starts in the here and now. Damnation works the same way, too, though.
In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis spoke of heaven and hell beginning in this life, and that the next life would be the continuation of what we had chosen in this life. He says that those who are in heaven at the last will look back on their life on earth and say that they had always been in heaven, and those who were in hell at the last would look back on their earthly life and say that they had always been in hell, and both would speak truthfully. Those who are in hell, then, lived life on earth in a weird sort of anticipation of ultimate damnation; and those who are in heaven, lived life on earth in anticipation of salvation. Both the damned and the saved experienced the end results of their choices before the end results were finally brought about. This is how, Lewis says, heaven and hell “work backwards.” He says that heaven works backwards from the future to the present in the life of the believer, making even the worst trials and persecutions bearable through hope and joy; and that hell works backwards in the sinner, contaminating even the most pleasurable of sins with the stain of the anticipation of damnation.
Just as it is important to view the kingdom of God as “is and is yet to come,” so it is also appropriate to view the kingdom of the devil in this way. Though, hell would work in the opposite way of heaven. When heaven comes to earth, there is no more room for any traces of hell to remain. If heaven is the presence of God and hell is the absence of God’s presence, then the fact that heaven would come to earth would mean that hell would no longer have any place or hold here.
The hope of a future heaven where no good thing is destroyed means that we will be able to see our lost loved ones who died in the Lord. They will be raised in the Lord along with us, and there will no longer be any stupid and hateful death that takes us away from our loved ones, destroying God’s good creation, and defying God and the image of God. We will be together again and it will be wonderful. God will restore all things, and death will be damned forever.
Revelation says that death and hades and the devil will be thrown into the lake of fire. Fire is meant to purify, but they will be in this fire forever, indicating that there was nothing in them that could be refined. There was nothing gold about them that could emerge from the flames. They all melted away like wax in everlasting destruction. And through this final destruction, we will be rid of all our enemies forever.
This belief in a future hell is one of the ways in which we are reminded of the surpassing greatness of the glory of Christ Jesus that will be revealed in us – a greatness that is greater than all of sin and death. A belief in hell helps us to realize that we need God. We need salvation. We need to live in a healthy fear and love of the holiness of God. A belief in heaven gives us hope that there is more to this life than what we currently see, and that in the end God will restore all things and be all in all.