Saturday, February 6, 2016

A Significant Visit

Good morning! It's been another very full week, and through it all I've been wanting to find time to get this blogpost ready to publish online. Of all the extraordinary activities God has given me the opportunity to do, I have the sense that getting this personal spiritual reflection "out there" is most important.

Why? What's so important about this? I've come to believe that, quoting something God gave me to put out on social media last Sunday morning: A completely grace centered understanding of God can bring revival and transform politics too. #‎prayerfullyconsider‬.*

I tweeted that out as I was standing in the back of Grace Church of Roseville's** worship gathering, getting ready to head out the door to visit New Life Christian Fellowship, a group that meets in a classroom at Luther Seminary. I had come with Toni to Grace, but then left there for this little church gathering held in a seminary classroom. It was the same classroom that I studied "Systematic Theology" in -- 30 years ago. Significant for me.

About 20 people were gathered. They warmly welcomed me, there were prayers and songs and a message entitled "No Payment Required for Healing" based, in part, on John 3:19-20 -- ... This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.

Here's one a photo from the service -- in it Pastor Doug is leading a little children's story time over by the classroom window. Hard to see them against the light. (So it is with us when we come to the Lord! He shines SO bright. All our failings fade away.)

children's message time at New Life Christian Fellowship on January 31
I had gone over there last Sunday because Doug had asked for my prayers in advance of his message, a message that was going to deal with the Theory of Penal Substitution. I didn't know really why he had asked for my prayers until after worship. More about that below.

What's the "theory of penal substitution"? It's an idea that most Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians consider a basic part of the Christian faith, that is, the idea that God the Father punished God the Son to the death on the cross, taking out his wrath*** on him, instead of on us. Christians who know their Bibles well know many chapters and verses that point to this understanding of God's work in Jesus Christ. Check out "The Gospel in Chairs" and "What's Wrong with This Picture" to learn more.

In his message, Pastor Doug spoke specifically about a historical series of three Christian teachers (Augustine of Hippo, Anselm of Canterbury, John Calvin) whose life stories and teachings brought this "Penal Substitution" idea into an almost unquestioned position of dominance in both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Some "western Christians" have come to understand that there are other views, but this  of "Penal Substitution" view is so dominant that when it's challenged some believers can't help but feel that the bedrock and basis of the faith is under attack.
Penal Substitution article in Wikipedia
After worship on Sunday I enjoyed chatting with a few people who have been a part of this particular local church for various lengths of time. Then I drifted into a conversation that was going on at the table where I had been sitting during worship. Four or five church members were discussing Pastor Doug's message. There wasn't 100% agreement, and I was impressed by the patience and love shown by Doug and others as they talked.

The idea that God the Father was really pouring out his wrath at the crucifixion, that is, on the cross, punishing Jesus for the sins of the world--it is so fixed in many Christian minds that we can be scandalized when someone brings up other options. As I listened in, and then participated a bit in the conversation, I could understand at why Pastor Doug had asked for my prayers in advance of preaching on the topic! Thankfully, the Lord gave patience and prayer, and though there was no real resolution or agreement, there was still a sense of fellowship among those who were sharing their hearts at the table. Praise God for that!

Have you thought about what Jesus really did for us on the cross? Most Roman Catholics and Protestants have a basic background understanding of the faith that would be in line with the "Penal Substitution" model. Did you know that some Christians see it quite differently? Back in a video I highlighted on January 19 and 23, an Eastern Orthodox Christian layman presented an alternate understanding of salvation in a video. It's the best summary I can find at the moment. Take a look at it by clicking here.****

After listening in to the conversation on Sunday after worship, it became clear to me that a key point, both of the conversation and Doug's message, is about what "a good relationship" between people and God is, and what it does in us and for us. This is why, at the beginning of this post, I said that this spiritual reflection is so important.
  • The "penal substitution" theory of the atonement would narrow that "good relationship" down to being pronounced "not guilty" by a judge-like God. If what Jesus did on the cross was to (only or mainly) take our punishment, releasing us from the threat of hell and hell-fire*****, we as human beings can be imagined to have an individual source of life within us that can be either destroyed or enhanced by a good relationship with God.

    I could hear this in our after worship conversation as an advocate of this position down-played the idea of "relationship," seeming to consider "relationship" as a sort of add-on to being saved from God's wrath. Many Christians who have this "penal substitution" understanding of salvation have to discover a more loving and life giving relationship with the Lord after a period of suffering. When you begin by thinking about God as a stern, punishing Father, it takes a miracle to get grace down into your heart! Think about conversions you've heard about, or read the stories of Martin Luther and John Calvin to see what I mean.

    ... On the other hand, what I'm beginning to understand as Trinitarian theology ...
  • "Trinitarian Theology" is all about the life and love giving relationship God made human beings to share in with him from the beginning. None of us, and actually, nothing that exists in all creation, have any independent existence apart from our creator. In the case of human beings, every breath we take, every movement we make, all the interactions of the cells and electro-chemical reactions in our minds and bodies are dependent on God at every moment.

    A "good relationship" with Father, Son and Spirit means being wide open to sharing the life of His creative and energizing love. It's not just about not being punished, and God is always turned toward us in love, whether we know it or not. God's love toward us does not depend upon our reaction to it. We can grieve God, we can turn away from Him, but He will never turn his back on us. As I said to a young man this week who is honestly struggling with addictions, "Nothing you can ever do will make God love you less."

    As it says in the verses Doug Johannsen read on Sunday (John 3:19-20), the judgment comes simply from our unwillingness to turn toward God. God's attitude toward us is always one of love. He doesn't change. That's why "believing" and trusting in Jesus, the one who revealed the Father's heart, means we will not perish (the only option we have if we don't receive life from God!) but have eternal life (John 3:16). And that's why we want to get the good-news gospel message as clear as we can, even though God works through imperfect presentations all the time.
As I've been praying over this during the past few days, the words of Psalm 104 came to mind. In that ancient Hebrew poem, God is pictured in a deep and life sustaining relationship with all of creation, a creation which is dependent to an absolute degree on God for each breath. All creatures, says, "look to you" [God] to give them what they need and, even beyond that, quoting (verse 28) "When you open your hand" (like a parent or spouse gives freely to their beloved) "they [all creatures] are filled with good things."

Trinitarian theology highlights the sweetness of our relationship with God. I think of another Psalm verse in this regard, where David says of the Lord, "I have no good apart from you" (Psalm 16:2).

Much more than being simply declared innocent and free of punishment, this view of salvation means  appreciating and rejoicing in that "good relationship" with God as the source of ever-flowing blessing and constant joy, the same blessing and joy that flows between the persons of the Triune God. And Jesus came to change us so we would believe and appreciate and enjoy the goodness of God.

This blog post is long and probably needs a lot more work to make it understandable. Sorry about that. I've been at this for a couple hours this morning, plus time on and off all week, and I just want to get it published now. Please ask questions or bring up objections. The "equal-sharing" mission is to promote conversation, sharing, among co-equal brothers and sisters in Christ.

On Monday I'll be meeting with Doug and another Christian leader to talk about this some more.

Thanks.

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* I'm wanting to get this published because I believe the topic Doug addressed at NLCF on Sunday so that "what Jesus did for us by incarnation" can be proclaimed clearly. As Doug said to me in an email early last week, the "Theory of Penal Substitution" needs to be challenged because it (1) dominates so many of the denominations and Christian movements in the "western church," and (2) could very well be "wrong (and harmful to the faith)." He asked for my prayers and I ask for yours. (BTW - ‪It's called a "theory" because in the worldwide Christian church there are a variety of ideas about the "atonement," that is, what it is that Jesus did to bring at-one-ment between Creator God and our suffering world. Oftentimes Roman Catholic and Protestant believers think of the atonement as what Jesus did to allow God to forgive sin and be merciful instead of being angry or wrath-full against sinners... but that assumes that God's mercy was not fully present before Jesus died on the cross for us. Eastern Orthodox Christians and others have a different view.)

** Grace Church of Roseville where Toni and I have been participating most Sunday mornings since October.

*** I haven't yet finished my homework on the "Wrath of God," something I mentioned in "Time for Prayer and Study."

A © Reuters / Sputnik photo from <here>
**** By the way, I heard on the radio yesterday that an important Orthodox leader and the Roman Catholic Pope will be meeting this month. It's the first time in a thousand years that such a meeting has taken place. There are many reasons for the division between Catholicism and Orthodoxy, but perhaps this meeting will lead to a deeper conversation like the one shared on Sunday after worship at New Life Christian Fellowship.

***** As I commented in 2009, in a post entitled "Because of the Name," it's not clear what the word "hell" means anyway. Commenting the English word "hell" as it is translated from the original Aramaic ("gehenna") in Mark 9:43,45,47 I wrote:  "...As soon as we hear the word "hell" we think we know just what Jesus is talking about... the place where sinners will burn forever… but it's really not that simple. The word "gehenna" refers to a garbage dump outside of Jerusalem--fires and worms were there in that dump... honestly, it’s not that simple in scripture—the idea that sinners will burn forever is taken from analogies, not from clear teachings of Christ."

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Saturday, January 30, 2016

Finding Rest

Come to me, all of you who are weak and burdened, and I will give you rest. - Jesus
What follows is from chapter 17 of the book Across All Worlds: Jesus Inside Our Darkness by C. Baxter Kruger. I was given the book by the pastor of New Life Christian Fellowship (part of "Grace Communion International"), but I found a moment ago that I could download the whole book in pdf format. (It might work for you to get it at this link.) I'm planning on hearing Doug Johanssen preach there tomorrow at 10:00 AM.

There are some dear ones that Toni and I have loved and cared about down through the years who I would love to share this with. Maybe there are people you'd like to share it with too.

I'm still working through the theological and biblical basis of all this, but what follows just seems to resonate with truth.

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Chapter 17 - "Finding Rest" from the book Across All Worlds

"To find rest for your soul, look with Jesus into his Father’s eyes. Accept yourself as the Father’s beloved child. Acknowledge that the Father Himself is proud of you. In the freedom of His pride, acknowledge that you are blind. Face the fact that something within you is hesitant to believe. Confess that something within your own heart whispers, “No, it cannot be this simple. God cannot be this good. I could not be this wrong.” As the beautiful life of Jesus with his Father and Spirit exposes your hiding and pretending, your shallowness and fear, do not run. Do not shut down. Do not pretend. Stop and face the pain. Embrace the exposure, own it, take responsibility for it, and right there in the midst of the pain dare to look into the Father’s face. It is all about receiving the Father’s love. “Come unto Me” means nothing more than “receive my knowledge of my Father, believe in my Father’s love. Declare war on your own vision of god and his neglect, his indifference, his eagerness to judge. Listen to me, your brother. I know the Father’s heart.”

"Inside your mind and heart there are two different visions of God: the god you have created in the darkness, and the Father, Son, and Spirit. Which God do you believe in now, at this moment? Who is your God today? Stop and take a moment to think about your failures. Think of what you have done wrong, and all the of things that make you feel ashamed. Think of the whisper. Think of what you hope no one ever knows about you. Now, look at all of these things and see the Father’s compassion. Do you honestly think that Jesus’ Father is unaware of your secret list of personal disasters? Is He blind to your striving and hiding and pretending? Does He not see the religions we have created in our darkness? Do you believe that He has turned away from you, that He cannot bear to look upon such a mess? Jesus’ Father loves. He sees the mess and His heart never flinches. He loves you.

"The irony of the kingdom of the Father, Son, and Spirit is that it is in facing ourselves, in being honest about what we have done and not done, in staring our shame in the face and feeling the sheer sadness of it all, that we encounter the Father’s unflinching heart. How can this be? All these years you have believed you are not worthy, not good enough, too bad for His love. Now you hear that it is in being honest with your failures that you get new eyes to see His face. Evil twists forgiveness into an unforgiving god, but Jesus meets you in that fear with his Father’s love. “It is not those who are healthy who need a doctor, but those who are sick: I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).
"Father, in the freedom of your endless love and in the safety of your embrace, I acknowledge to you that something happens to me and I get lost in the darkness. Instead of living in your joy, I get crippled inside. I change. Instead of receiving your love, my soul is disturbed. I become needy. I shut down and withdraw. I become selfcentered, angry and frustrated. In my pain I hurt those I love. I waste time and life. I am embarrassed. I am scared to look at myself. Forgive me for blaming others for my problems. Speak to my soul, Father. Tell me again that there is more to me than I know. Help me believe that my existence, my life, my future is part of yours. Help me see that facing my life and my hurt means liberation and fullness, not death. Jesus, give me your eyes. Help me to see myself as you do. Holy Spirit, bear witness to my soul that I belong to Jesus and his Father forever. Show me where and when and how I am not receiving Jesus’ Father’s love. Show me how my fear is attached to people and places, events and smells and things. Transform the triggers and associations of evil into sacraments of the Father’s love. Forgive me for what I have done and said, and for what I have not done and not said to your children."
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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

For This Day and Every Day

What follows is from today's My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. What Joy there is to know Jesus' undying and perfect love. Jesus is Lord! Jesus is God! You and I can trust Him for every "today!" Wonderful!
"Do not worry about your life…" —Matthew 6:25

A warning which needs to be repeated is that “the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches,” and the lust for other things, will choke out the life of God in us (Matthew 13:22). We are never free from the recurring waves of this invasion. If the frontline of attack is not about clothes and food, it may be about money or the lack of money; or friends or lack of friends; or the line may be drawn over difficult circumstances. It is one steady invasion, and these things will come in like a flood, unless we allow the Spirit of God to raise up the banner against it.

“I say to you, do not worry about your life….” Our Lord says to be careful only about one thing— our relationship to Him. But our common sense shouts loudly and says, “That is absurd, I must consider how I am going to live, and I must consider what I am going to eat and drink.” Jesus says you must not. Beware of allowing yourself to think that He says this while not understanding your circumstances. Jesus Christ knows our circumstances better than we do, and He says we must not think about these things to the point where they become the primary concern of our life. Whenever there are competing concerns in your life, be sure you always put your relationship to God first.

“Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:34). How much trouble has begun to threaten you today? What kind of mean little demons have been looking into your life and saying, “What are your plans for next month— or next summer?” Jesus tells us not to worry about any of these things. Look again and think. Keep your mind on the “much more” of your heavenly Father (Matthew 6:30).
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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Time for Prayer and Study

Back in late October I was offered the opportunity to go full time at my job operating a bus for Metro Transit. Sometime last month the same offer came my way. I said no thank you both times, and when I'm asked again my answer is likely to be the same. I really enjoy the consistent Monday through Friday work schedule I have now.* It lets me have time to do other things, including deep times of prayer and study like I've been having over the last few days.

There's never, for me, enough time for this sort of thing. When my daughter asked what I wanted for Christmas, an extra day each week made the list. She said it would be hard to wrap. ;-)

Right now the topic that's front and center in my studies is that of God's Wrath. Yeah, I know, not something that most people would study in their spare time. I'm not most people, though, and as I make "A Careful Turn" in my understanding of the ways of God, I have found that it's really important to get ideas about it at least somewhat clear. I mentioned some of the whys toward the end of yesterday's "What's Wrong with this Picture" post.

So, as I was doing other things yesterday I listened to a sermon on God's Wrath by David Legge (based on Romans 1:18ff).** I started a slow read through a 100 page article on the subject too -- one that I found in The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.

I'm focusing on God's Wrath right now because I want to carefully consider whether the way "Trinitarian Theology" deals with the topic is as helpful as seems to be. Last night as I was getting ready for bed the idea occurred to me that perhaps what the Bible describes as God's Wrath (or anger, or punishment) might be more way human beings understand the consequences of turning away from God. Maybe it's not that God actively comes against people when they sin, but, instead, that the "turning away from God" that is a part of sin brings dreadful consequences that are experienced as God's anger. Perhaps it's not that God actively curses or destroys "unrepentant sinners." Perhaps it's just that apart from God there is no blessing.

In An introduction to Trinitarian Theology by Michael Morrison*** (click here to read it -- it's quite long, about 20 pages) the author warns his readers against reading too much into what he calls the "metaphor" of "courtroom terminology" that we find in the Bible. Here's a quotation:

Michael Morrison says:
"...What has happened here is that people have let a legal metaphor, a figure of speech, become the controlling description of what God is doing. Remember, all our words are based on human experiences, and the meaning of our words depends on how they are used in human affairs. And when God sometimes uses courtroom terminology to describe sin and salvation, we should not let our concepts of legal procedure to be the final description of what God is doing. When we say that the penalty of sin is death, we should not think that 'penalty' is an exact description of what is going on, as if God is obligated to inflict punishment for every transgression of his law. No, it seems that 'consequence' would be a more appropriate term. The result of sin is death, even without God having to step in to inflict it..."
There's a lot more work I need to do in this time of prayer and study on this topic, but right now I need to put this away. I've got some reading to do for my job (going through the Bus Operators Rule Book and Guide) plus we have friends coming over for the evening.

I'm grateful for the time my so-called part time work gives me to pray and study, but I'm still hoping for that extra day of the week. Maybe for my 60th birthday this May!

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* My current M-F schedule takes me to Metro Transit for 3 hours in the morning (beginning at about 5:20) and again for about 5 hours in the afternoon (beginning at about 2:20). Those hours include my 20-minute two round trip commutes. I get about 6 hours 45 minutes of paid work time each day, which is paid right now at a rate that leaves us with more expenses than income, but we're confident that Toni's income from her massage therapy business will be increasing in February and March.

** David Legge's message "The Wrath of God" claims that a person (like me) must understand they are under God's wrath, that is, that God will be inflicting horrible punishment as the just and fair punishment for their sin. His belief is that unless a person understands that, he or she will not understand the good news of Jesus, who saves from that punishment by taking it on himself. I've heard the same belief being stated by many preachers over the years.

*** Michael Morrison is "a Dean of Faculty and Instructor in New Testament for Grace Communion Seminary." At this link you can find a long list of articles he has written, including one entitled "Does God Want to Punish Sinners, or Rescue Them." It's a reflection on the same scripture section David Legge treats in his sermon message mentioned above.

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Saturday, January 23, 2016

What's Wrong with this Picture?

On Tuesday evening I posted "The Gospel in Chairs." That post included a few pictures from the very beginning of a video message that compares and contrasts the Protestant and Orthodox views of salvation. Here's a snapshot from Tuesday's post:
[Note: What's written here won't make sense unless you see that one first. Click here to read "The Gospel in Chairs."]

From there video message continues as follows:
"But God, in his love for man, sends his son, Jesus Christ, who becomes man and lives as we should have lived, in perfect communion and in sinlessness before God.
[Dark chair is moved around to face the light chair; both face inward.]
"Then at the end of his life, Jesus Christ is crucified, and when he’s crucified, God does the unthinkable: he lays all the sin of the human race on his son, and when he does that, because he is holy and righteous, he turns his back on his own son, and the son experiences the fullness of the wrath of God against us in our stead.
[Light chair faces away.]
So what's wrong with this picture?

In the typical Protestant view of salvation, God turns away.

God turns away both from sinful humanity and from Jesus on the Cross.

Protestants generally would say, following certain Bible verses, that God can't look upon sin so he must turn away. Protestants, and Roman Catholics, would say that God's only reaction to sin is wrath, that is, an impersonal non-emotional administration of justice. Those guilty of sin must be punished, whether they are the ones God loves (all human beings) or even the Beloved Son of God, that is, Jesus Christ. So therefore, God turns away, withholding His love, bringing, or allowing, sin and death and destruction to win out.

Here's the conclusion of Steve Robinson's portrayal of the Protestant view of salvation:
"Now, we sinners, if we believe that Jesus Christ has done this, if we believe that Jesus Christ has died for our sins, we, too, can now have this perfect fellowship with God once again.
[Dark chair is moved back around to the light chair; both face inward.]

"Because when God looks at us sinners, he no longer sees us, and he no longer sees our sin. He sees Jesus Christ in his blood. We are covered in the blood of the Lamb. We are, as Martin Luther said, 'snow-covered dung,' or as R.C. Sproul put it, 'Jesus Christ is our asbestos suit against the white-hot wrath of God against sinners.”
"But, if the human being who is sinful does not believe in Jesus Christ and his righteousness and accept the righteousness of Christ in his stead, then God cannot look upon him.
[Light chair faces away.]

"And in the end, the sinner will be cast into hell in eternal separation from God, suffering the eternal punishment he deserves for his sins, because he has not accepted the sacrifice of Christ.

"In a nutshell, that’s the Protestant view of salvation."
So what is wrong with this picture... specifically what's wrong with this picture of God?

What do you think?

What's missing from Steve Robinson's video explanation of the "Protestant view of salvation?"

Besides the fact that the this explanation entirely leaves out the resurrection of Jesus (!) I have started to see two huge stumbling blocks:
  1. We say "God is Love" but the typical Protestant or Roman Catholic view of salvation puts such emphasis on God's wrath against sinners. How can that work?

    (++ I'm hoping to find some resources to study the the doctrine of the wrath of God in depth. I reference to a book online called Reclaiming God's Wrath but I haven't found a copy that I can borrow. I don't want to pay $66 for a book that I'm not sure I even want!)
  2. Jesus says that He and the Father are One. The Gospel of John and many other places in the New Testament affirm this Unity--while also maintaining the distinction between the two. If that's true, how could God the Father ever turn his back on the Son? The protestant view says he does. Can that happen?

     (++ I'm hoping to gather a group of mature Christians to study Trinitarian Theology--a deeply Christ centered view of Scripture and God that seems to have such depth and truth to it. It would say, for example, that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are forever together. One never turns against another! Their eternal loving relationship is what created the world! Their loving connection with one another forms the basis of all existence. It does need to be carefully studied, however. There may be some problems or contradictions in it that would say that it's on the wrong track.)

I'm studying and praying. I invite you to do the same.

Please know, however, that God is much more powerful than our ideas. I am confident, as I wrote at Christmastime, that the light of Christ shines in all darkness, and the goodness of Jesus comes through even when our understandings are imperfect. Praise God for that! (See my post "The Light Shines.")

It is good, however, to portray the ways of God as clearly as possible, and that's what I'm hoping to do in the days to come.

Pray for me as I pray for you.

equalsharing.com

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Gospel In Chairs

Back on January 10 in a post entitled "A Careful Turn" I mentioned something called "penal substitution," the idea that Jesus, on the cross, "took upon himself the wrath of an angry God."

I've been doing some serious study on that idea and have come to the point where I need to talk with other Christian leaders, because I'm moving away from that "theory of the atonement," and toward one that could be described as the "Orthodox View of Salvation."

Our son Dan found a video that gives a quick summary of the two. The video begins with a robed and bearded man by the name of Steve Robinson describing the typical protestant view of salvation--a view that comes out of the Roman Catholic Church. (You can see the video the at the end of this blogpost, or watch and listen to it by clicking here.) Here's how it starts:

"Hi, my name is Steve Robinson, and many of you know me from my podcast, My Life in Christ, and for many years I’ve been looking for a real succinct illustration of the difference between the Protestant view of salvation and the Orthodox view of salvation. I’m stealing this from Fr. Anthony Karbo, and he knows it, so this is the gospel in chairs.

"The Protestant view of salvation goes something like this: in the beginning, God created man. Man had perfect fellowship with God. [Chairs are facing each other, inward.]
"But then in the garden, man sinned. [Dark chair faces away.]
"And he turned away from God. Then, because God is so holy and righteous, he could not look upon man any longer, because man is sinful. [Light chair faces away.]
"No matter what man does, no matter how hard man tries, no matter how righteous man is after he has sinned [Dark chair faces inward],
"God still could not look upon him in his righteousness and holiness, because man is still sinful, and no amount of good works can repay God for the offense that man has given him. So man is in a constant state of separation from God..."
As the video continues, Mr. Robinson describes what most protestants believe Jesus did to solve this problem, dying for us, suffering the wrath of God in our place. But let's stop here for just a moment.

Let's think about those chairs... the light one representing God, turning away from sinful people, and the other one, representing human beings who just can't get God's attention... not until Jesus comes, according to the protestant view, to change God's mind and turn him toward sinful people with grace and love.


Is that true? Does God turn away from us? Does Jesus need to come and change God's mind about us? I don't think so. I'm not sure I ever did. There are several "theories of the atonement" and the "penal substitution" model always seemed to be wrong in some way, but I haven't had the chance to think carefully about this until recent months.

I'm hoping to talk with other Christian leaders about this soon, but I've come to realize that a whole "branch" of the Christian Church, the "Eastern Orthodox," has a quite different understanding.

Take a look at the video below or go to it here. The Eastern Orthodox view will say that God has always consistently loved sinful people. The problem has always been on humanity's side. When Steve Robinson gets to the Orthodox view, you'll see that God's chair never turns away.

I'll try to say more at a later date.
.

By the way, just because I'm intrigued with the Orthodox view of salvation doesn't mean I'll soon be growing out my beard or putting on a black robe. If you were looking forward to seeing me that way, sorry to disappoint. :p

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Friday, January 15, 2016

God Before People

Monday's My Utmost for His Highest has been in the back of my mind all this week. In it there's a reflection on Luke 23:26, where it says that a man by the name of Simon was made to carry Jesus' cross. Oswald Chambers' spiritual excursus on this says, in part:
"If we obey God, it is going to cost other people more than it costs us, and that is where the pain begins. If we are in love with our Lord, obedience does not cost us anything--it is a delight. But to those who do not love Him, our obedience costs a great deal. If we obey God, it will mean that other people's plans are upset..."
This reminds me of the time when Jesus' family wanted to take him away from his work because they, or others, were saying that he was out of his mind (Mk 3:21). I also think of Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus about those who are "born of the Spirit" being moved or "blown" as if by an invisible wind, and the passage from First Corinthians 1-2 about spiritual wisdom that can't be accepted by ordinary human beings.  

How difficult it must be to be in relationship with someone who always puts God first. O.C. says there's pain in this, and great cost, and he warns believers not to worry too much about what others suffer because of how we live. O.C. writes:
"...We can disobey God if we choose, and it will bring immediate relief to the situation, but it will grieve our Lord. If, however, we obey God, He will care for those who have suffered the consequence of our obedience. We must simply obey and leave all the consequences with Him..."
I can see how this applies as believers make choices that lead them to be alone with God at times, or as Spirit-led people refuse to rescue loved ones from every bad feeling. I remember examples of his from Jesus' life. People would sometimes look for him and he would go the opposite direction. There are instances when Jesus spoke without seeming to care how his hearers felt. And the fact is that if Jesus acted like that sometimes, so will we when we are led by the same Holy Spirit that inhabited Him.

It's hard to over-state how important this is. Many believers put such a premium on helping others feel good that they forget the commandment to love the LORD YOUR GOD with ALL your heart, soul, mind and strength. That's the first and greatest commandment. Love for others always needs to come after--even when those others are near and dear to our hearts. And, because God is love, true love for others will follow. That love won't be a simpering, pandering, feel-good thing -- it'll be tough and strong -- as tough and strong as the perfect love of God.

Pray this through and see what God says about it to you.

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Six Months

I'm very weary right now and I probably shouldn't write anything but I just wanted to mark this day. 6 months ago I and my classmates at Metro Transit started "on the job." I haven't connected with some who are at a different garage, and some are going full time so I don't see them as often now so I don't know for sure if all of us are still at it, but this is the day when we were all scheduled to finish our probationary period. I made it with no negative marks on my record. I'm amazed and thankful. God is good. I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever.

Added Jan. 23 - Yesterday at Heywood Garage I met with my manager and added my signature to my probationary record. There were, indeed, no negative entries -- no sick days, no times reporting late, no days requested off, no times when I didn't report to work, no customer service complaints that were "logged or filed," no responsible accidents and no violations that were "written, filed or observ[ed]." No negative entries doesn't mean I never did anything wrong. Ask me personally if you're curious and I'll share some examples of mistakes I made.

As I've talked with other operators at the garage, I recognize how privileged I am and how much easier it was for me to maintain a clean record. I have no children at home to care for, I have no chronic health problems, I've been blessed with a reliable vehicle that gets me to and from work--not purchased but instead given as a gift to me my by late uncle David Thorson. 

So much of this success has just been received as a gift. That's one reason and I am amazed at the grace of God.

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Sunday, January 10, 2016

A Careful Turn

I started writing this after I walked back from church*. Beginning when I got back I was working on projects, partly writing and partly keeping an eye on what's going on with my old desktop computer. It was running a retrieval of old files that had been backed up on an external hard drive. I was also watching moments of the (now sad and over) Vikings game. Uff da. Now the Packers are on. It looks like they just might win. We'll see.

The file retrieval project started because someone in the area is willing to take old electronic equipment. In the end I'll get rid of that old desktop machine and monitor--but I don't want to lose all the information. In addition to thousands of sermon drafts, lessons, communications, pictures, audio files, some stuff from our children's school days and a few scans of some 1980s seminary work on there. It's history. Pretty important stuff, at least for me.**

I've known that was a project to get to and it's something I can tackle on this cold weekend. I got quite a bit of it done before Jon & Breanna & Lydia got here this afternoon. Now I'm writing out here in the living room, between moments playing with Lydia. The office is now a guest room. :-)
- - - - WATCH THAT CURB! - - - -

Sometimes it's good to keep track of the past. This morning's message at Grace was about "focus," and normally it's good to focus forward. There are times, however, when it's equally important to keep an eye on what's behind.

I've learned this as I've been driving bus. If you want to give your passengers a smooth ride, you'll want to avoid the curb, and whatever else might be on that side. A hard right turn actually has me spending more split seconds watching where the rear tires are tracking than looking forward.

Sometimes you just need to keep your eyes on your rear. ;-)

Right now this applies as I pray about what God is calling me to in 2016. On Wednesday I mentioned a conversation with someone who has a deep, and practical, understanding of God that has me wanting to learn more. I've been reading and studying, and I'm have a sense that God is calling me to share with others, here on this blog and in person. But during this time I need to use extra care, sort of like when I make a tight turn with my bus.

There's such potential for danger during a turn. I might roll over certain aspects of God's truth as this truth becomes clearer. I'll need to pay attention to what's known as "the whole counsel of God." As I learn more about "Trinitarian Theology" it will be good to see how it relates to what I have learned down through the years, whether in seminary or in the ways God has taught me since. That's why I don't want to discard what's on that old computer.

Another danger during this possible turn is that I might scare, or even roll over, those who are just moving straight ahead. It's important for me to be respectful of my brothers and sisters who haven't had the opportunity to learn what the Lord has been teaching me in recent months. I know how long it took me to start to grasp any of this. My son Dan was so enthusiastic and joyful when he started to learn these things that it was hard for me to keep up. Since June, however, not having to preach and teach every week, I've had some opportunity to do a bit of study. As I continue, and as I share, I need to remember that not everyone has had a son like Dan, or the time to focus on these deep things.

That being said, I have come to the conclusion that these learnings are worth studying, not just by me, but by others too. I'll do my best to find others who are willing to learn and study with me, both those who are already convinced of what the Lord is revealing to me now, and those who are willing to take a look but whose denominational or organizational statements of faith speak of "penal substitution," the idea that Jesus took upon himself the wrath of an angry God. (I'm sure I'll say more about that in a future post here.)

In Wednesday's conversation, I heard Doug Johannsen say that he doesn't encourage people to move quickly on these things. He certainly doesn't want people to leave their churches and go to others just because they are learning new things. As I wrote on Christmas Day: "Jesus is God. Thru Him Light shines in dark places. Even in the broken church that proclaims Him."

My first on the road Metro Transit instructor said something else about turns that applies here. Over and over again, especially on right turns, she would say, "Slow. Slow. Slow." Turns in our understandings of God's ways deserve time. Don't rush. Pray and move with the pace and peace of God. After all, he is very patient with you. And with me.

In an article entitled "An Introduction to Trinitarian Theology" Michael Morrison writes this on behalf of Grace Communion International.

"...Thankfully, we are saved not by having absolutely perfect theology, but we are saved by Christ, by grace, by trusting in Jesus to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves... Our purpose here is not to criticize other people and other theologies, but simply to do the best that we can in explaining what we believe, and how we think it is true to the Bible, and how we think it helps us understand what our life is all about."

In today's message at Grace Church, Jason Stonehouse's message on "Focus" concluded with an encouragement for each of us to find ONE WORD that would be our focus for the coming year. The word that came to mind was "patience." Not sure if that's my word for the year or not, but it's a good word for right now.

God's peace to you tonight in Jesus' name.

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* Toni and I are attending Grace Church of Roseville. I especially appreciate Pastor Jason Stonehouse's preaching. On the 20th I'm planning to check out their men's group. They normally meet on Wednesdays but the group has been on break since before Christmas. I miss many people on Sundays who I thought I'd be connecting with when we moved to the Twin Cities, but I can't be in two places at once.

** Back in Cokato I let go of a lot. Hundreds of books went in 2011 and in June of last year I finally let go of many boxes of old papers, including thousands of pages from my 1980s seminary time.  I personally could not dump those in the trash. I left them at Crossroads and gave the staff there permission to dump them. They did. I guess I'm thankful for that.

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Friday, January 8, 2016

Overwhelmed with Wonder

Every day I'm more amazed at this new skill that's been developed in me over the last 6 months. Honestly hard to believe I can do it.
I put that on facebook last night before bed and now that I woke up for a few minutes I felt compelled to add a bit because a few people had "liked" or commented.

I don't want to take credit for what God has done in me.

Here's what I added:
I want to give this as a testimony to the grace and ability of God to work transformation in ANYONE! This is NOT anything I am personally capable of. It's a testimony to God's great work, not mine. I overuse the word "amaze" but in this case it's no exaggeration. I looked it up and see that the word has been used since the 1580s with the sense "overwhelm with wonder."

That's how I feel, especially coming north on Nicollet Avenue on 50th Avenue to downtown in the late afternoon -- weaving through traffic in and out of stops, making tight turns at 31st and Grant St., with a sample of all the world's people getting on and off, including some with special needs and others "under the influence" of this or that.

Last night I was trying to describe this to Toni and I recalled that, as she and my family know, I've never been known to be a very quick or coordinated person. For example, I've never been very good at sports and don't like quick games (like card games where you need to be highly alert).
I'm posting this tonight before the story is done with. Every day is new and I don't know if there will be success tomorrow or some accident or problem. Still, I've been preserved so far by God's Grace, and I wanted to stop and say thank you to Him in a public way now.

How do you see God working in your life? What ways has God developed skill in you? Will you give testimony too?

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Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Do It Again

I'm so thankful for this good and full life God has given! Fascinating conversation today over coffee with a new friend, excellent lunch with Dan & Shatera, Downton Abbey this evening with Toni. Tomorrow I plan to be at "Bridging" (bridging.org) volunteering from 9:30a-1p. And yes, work still occupies me mornings 5-8 and then again from 2:30-7 PM. On Friday I'm hoping to meet for an hour or so with Nate Johnstone about ministry with young adults. Praising God for every day! Even with the snow (or whatever it will be... now looks like more fog!) coming tonight which should make tomorrow's driving challenging.

The conversation I mentioned above was with Doug Johannsen, a pastor of two small churches affiliated with Grace Communion International. He and I share a zest for life that we can only attribute to God. I quoted a Dylan lyric: "I was so much older then/I'm younger than that now." He replied something from G.K. Chesterton:
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” (quoted in _Invitation to Theology: A Guide to Study, Conversation & Practice_ by Michael Jinkins)
As I prepare now to go to bed, setting my alarm for shortly after 4 AM, I say, to the Lord, yes! Let's do it again!

Peace and joy to you my brothers and sisters.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Pastoring Now

"Most of us feel a need for change. New Year’s seems like a good time for resolve. We threw away the old calendar. We’d like to toss some old habits as easily. Not a bad way to think, and there’s biblical precedent for doing it on New Year’s and other times, like…
Yesterday that paragraph was posted by Pastor Paul Anderson on his blog. You can read the rest of the article "What About Those Resolutions" by clicking this link.

Those who have followed this blog in the past, and those who have known me for several years, know that I served as a pastor for many years until last summer. That's when things changed.*

It was in my role as a pastor that I started writing this Sharing Ministry and Faith blog. Pastor Paul Anderson writes in his pastor role too, though his sphere of influence goes far beyond the house church and young adult community he works with. Young and older men and women come to him regularly seeking his prayers and his wisdom. I've gone to him for the same reason. I've appreciated the chance to share with him, to pray with him, and to listen to what he has to say.

Do you have a pastor? Is there someone you go to when you're in need of advice or prayer? If so, what do you hope for when you do? When I've talked with Pastor Paul, or when I've gone to others who have been pastors to me, whether officially in that role or not, I share with them personally, sometimes speaking with them about deeply sensitive subjects. Then, if the "pastor" is doing his or her work well, they point me toward God's wisdom, not their own.

In yesterday's writing about "new years' resolutions" Paul Anderson encourages us to trust God, even saying words like this: "God, I am trusting you to work in me..." pointing toward Jesus: "...The gospel is good news, not good advice. Jesus came because we couldn’t change. If we could, no cross is needed. God works from the inside out, not by grit but by the Holy Spirit..."

If you don't have a pastor, ask God to lead you toward someone who will do for you what Paul does for us in yesterday's blog. The good thing about going to someone who is an "official" pastor is that he or she is probably held accountable to be safe, to be able to "keep confidential" what it is you share with him or her. Non-professional Christians who don't have the official "pastor" title can, if you ask around, have a well-earned reputation as trustworthy friends. Beyond that, what you want is someone who will point you straight to God as your source of wisdom and advice.

Pastors, official or not, should pray with you, going together with you to the Lord. I am willing to do that with you, even though I'm not officially in a pastor role right now. I am still on a "clergy roster" so I am accountable to others. (I need to update my listing... the church organization I'm affiliated with still lists me as in Cokato!)

Pastor Paul Anderson has asked me to start a small group for young men. I plan to do that soon, along with my bus driving and other responsibilities.

But the main thing I can, and will, do is to pray with you, seeking God's way for your life.

Peace to you my brothers and sisters.

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* If you're not familiar with the journey, you can look back at entries like "Confident in God's Good Future and others written since then.

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