Monday, July 28, 2014

The Vintage Time of Life?

Like most things in life, age is relative.  When we're really young, we think the young, but older than us crowd is sooo old.  When I was a teen, the mid 30s seemed like a time when people were really old and mature - fully grownup, fully adult.  I turned 37 yesterday and to misquote Garth Brooks, I'm much too old to feel this...young.  I do feel grown up, but I've come to realize that maturity is a relative, fluctuating, and multi-layered concept. 

One of the things we all discover over the years is that time flies and flies fast.  High School and even Middle School doesn't seem like that long ago.  College was practically yesterday.  Everything after has simply been a blur.  But overall, life, at least for me personally has continued to get better with age, not worse.  I'm not afraid of growing older, but I have come to accept the limitations that increased mileage has placed on my body.  I know, I know...just wait until I'm 50...60...70.

According to a 2013 British survey, age 37 seems to be the happiest time of life for a large percentage of men.  I can't think of too many ages that I would prefer to the past few years, so maybe I am peaking.  Is this the vintage time of life?  I don't think so.  I don't see any reason why life can't just keep getting better with age.  Either way, we only have today and I plan on making the most of it. - Shay   

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Simple Gospel

I often engage in Bible discussions with various people from a variety of different backgrounds.  Later today I will be meeting with some friends and co-workers for a meeting and part of our time will be spent in sharing some reflections from scripture.  A few hours later I'll be meeting some other friends for a chat and biblical discussion in the city centre.  Sometimes we write out our reflections through a technique called "Discovery Bible Study".  The idea is to write out a text word for word, paraphrase it, and then jot down some reflections.  Though the two studies I'll be involved in today are based out of different passages, I believe that they are simply two different angles on the simple gospel.  Here goes...

John 16:20-22 - Text: "Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy.  When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come.  But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world.  So you have pain now; but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you."

Paraphrase: Jesus knew that his disciples would not; could not understand his impending death.  How could they?  A crucified messiah was an oxymoron.  Jesus knew that the Sabbath to come would be a black one, even if those in opposition to him would rejoice.  But just as the pain felt by a woman in labor ultimately leads to the celebration of new life, so would Jesus' death ultimately lead to resurrection life and the birth of the new creation resulting in an everlasting joy.

Reflections: Pain isn't eternal.  It's only temporary, though in its moment it can seem unbearable.  Mourning may last longer than a morning, but it too will one day cease to be.  Tears of sorrow are nothing to scoff at.  They can be as real and raw as any expression of human emotion we ever face.  But those tears will one day be wiped dry from every eye and every cheek.  Suffering is a reality.  We may grin and bear it, but that doesn't make it any less real.  But it is only one very small part of reality and it too will eventually be banished forever.  Death is not the final word.  It's a loud word punctuated with an exclamation mark, but it isn't the final word.  I have faith that all of this is true because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the new creation that was birthed on that Sunday 2,000 years ago.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 - Text: "So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us this message of reconciliation; that is in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.  So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

Paraphrase: If anyone has been incorporated into the Messiah - new creation!  Not just them, but for them every single thing has become new and is in the process of being renewed.  This is a gift from God who through the Messiah brought us back into relationship with him and has brought us into a partnership in the ministry of reconciliation.  God was in the Messiah, the man Jesus, reconciling the whole world to himself, not counting sins against humanity and trusting those of us in the Messiah Jesus with the message.  We represent the Messiah to those not yet in the Messiah - God uses us as his spokespersons.  We try to persuade others on behalf of the Messiah to be reconciled to God.  God in the Messiah Jesus took on the full force of sin, though he knew not sin within himself, so that all of those in the Messiah might share in Jesus' righteousness.

Reflections: What does it mean to be in Christ?  To be in the Messiah?  He is our representative before God the Father.  By virtue of our incorporation in him, literally being in his body, what's true of him is true of us.  We share in his righteousness - his faithfulness - so that we are reconciled to God.  We are back in the relationship for which we were always created.  And this means that just as Jesus gave birth to the new creation through his resurrection, for us, new creation has already begun to arrive and is in the process of continually coming until it is finally realized in the renewed heavens and the renewed earth.  In the meantime, as we partner with the Messiah Jesus, we serve as his mouthpiece, his representative here and now.  The universal appeal for reconciliation sounds out from Christ's body, the church, as it engages in worship of Jesus, love of neighbor, and in articulating the hope and forgiveness found in the one who was given for the whole world.

Some things seem too good to be true.  Others things, like this, are too good not to be true.  Simple, but true. - Shay  

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Relational God

Of all the gospels, John's (although I don't think the apostle John actually wrote it, but that's another story) is probably the most developed theologically.  It was written late in the 1st century and was very much rooted in the historical context of John's audience.  There had been ample time for followers of Jesus to consider deeply the significance of his teaching and actions during his ministry and with greater time and reflection came greater understanding.  So with  that in mind, it's appropriate to hear Jesus' teaching and discourses throughout John's gospel as being as much directed to those disciples of the late 1st century as to the original hearers within the story.  And of course, there's a message for ourselves in the 21st century too.  With this in the background, here are some reflections I take from John 15:12-15 (these verses come from Jesus' "farewell" discourse to his disciples in John 14-17).

Text:"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you.  I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my father."

My Paraphrase: Jesus invited his disciples to love one another just as he loved them.  He explained that the greatest love in life is the willingness to surrender one's life for the sake of one's friends.  Friendship with Jesus carries with it the responsibility to obey his commands, chiefly the command to love others.  Though Jesus' disciples are his servants, he welcomes them into grater intimacy as he honors them as friends.

Reflections: From Genesis to the maps, the story of God is also the story of God and his people.  From the very beginning, God has been and continues to be a relational God.  In fact, the crown of his creation, humanity, he made in his very own image.  God took it even further when in the person of his Son, he emptied himself, in-fleshing himself in the man Jesus.  Jesus did not exploit his divinity, but rather related to humanity as a fully human person with all of the natural limitations that we all endure.  Relationally speaking, this man Jesus embraced his disciples as friends and showed us all what humanity was always supposed to be, but had failed to be.  After laying down his life for his friends, through the Spirit, Jesus was raised and then exalted to the right hand of the Father.  In Jesus' exaltation, God has actually taken humanity into himself, thus taking his relationship with us that much further.

So that brings us to our response to the amazing love of this relational God.  Essentially, we are asked to follow in Jesus' footsteps - the footsteps of the one true human who bridged the gap to the one true God.  Just as Jesus put his complete trust in his Father, so we put our trust in both the Father and the Son.  As Jesus submitted to the Father in baptism and received the Holy Spirit, so too we are born again of the water and the Spirit.  And just as Jesus loved his disciples and not only his disciples, but the entire world, by laying down his life, so too are we to love others by putting our own wishes, agendas, and personal preferences to the side for the sake of others and for the sake of Christ.  It wasn't easy for Jesus and it's certainly not easy for us.  But a life lived in this Spirit is the kind of life that Jesus described in John 10:10 - life abundant. - Shay