The modern world has created airports and hospitals and put 10,000 songs in our pocket. It has built gleaming buildings and computers and advances and innovations that blow our minds. But we have soul, and spirit, and consciousness, and the modern world hasn't done so well at helping us name and understand what it means to be thriving and fully alive with a full heart.
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When Isaiah predicted that spears would become pruning hooks, that's a reference to cultivating. Pruning and trimming and growing and paying close attention to the plants and whether they're getting enough water and if their roots are deep enough. Soil under the fingernails, grapes being trampled under bare feet, fingers sticky from handling fresh fruit. It's that green stripe you get around the sole of your shoes when you mow the lawn. Life in the age to come. Earthy.
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Some communities don't permit open, honest inquiry about the things that matter most. Lots of people have voiced a concern, expressed a doubt, or raised a question, only to be told by their family, church, friends, or tribe: "We don't discuss those things here." I believe the discussion itself is divine. Abraham does his best to bargain with God, most of the book of Job consists of arguments by Job and his friends about the deepest questions of human suffering, God is practically on trial in the book of Lamentations, and Jesus responds to almost every question he's asked with...a question.
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Do we get what we want? Yes, we get what we want. God is that loving. If we want isolation, despair, and the right to be our own god, God graciously grants us that option. If we insist on using our God-given pwer to make the world in our image, God allows us that freedom; we have the kind of license to do that.that's how love works. It cant be forced, manipulated, or coerced. It always leaves room for the other to decide. God says yes, we can have what we want, because love wins.
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Love is what God is, love is why Jesus came, and love is why he continues to come, year after year to person after person...May you experience this vast, expansive, infinite, indestructible love that has been yours all along. May you discover that this love is as wide as the sky and as small as the cracks in your heart no one else knows about, and may you know, deep in your bones, that love wins.
It often appears that those who talk the most about going to heaven when you die talk the least about bringing heaven to earth right now, as Jesus taught us to pray: 'Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.' At the same time, it often appears that those who talk the most about relieving suffering now talk the least about heaven when we die.
When people use the word hell, what do they mean? They mean a place, an event, a situation absent of how God desires things to be. Famine, debt, oppression, loneliness, despair, death, slaughter--they are all hell on earth. Jesus' desire for his followers is that they live in such a way that they bring heaven to earth. What's disturbing is when people talk more about hell after this life than they do about Hell here and now. As a Christian, I want to do what I can to resist hell coming to earth.
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So this is reality, this forgiveness, this reconciliation, is true for everybody. Paul insisted that when Jesus died on the cross, he was reconciling "all things, in heaven and on earth, to God." All things, everywhere. ...This reality then isn't something we make come true about ourselves by doing something. It is already true. Our choice is to live in this new reality or cling to a reality of our own making.
And this reality extends beyond this life. Heaven is full of forgiven people. Hell is full of forgiven people. Heaven is full of people God loves, whom Jesus died for. Hell is full of forgiven people God loves, whom Jesus died for. The difference is how we choose to live, which story we choose to live in, which version of reality we trust.
To say it again, eternal life is less about a kind of time that starts when we die, and more about a quality and vitality of life now in connection to God. Eternal life doesn't start when we die; it starts now. It's not about a life that begins at death; it's about experiencing the kind of life now that can endure and survive even death.
As obvious as it is, then, Jesus is bigger than any one religion. He didn't come to start a new religion, and he continually disrupted whatever conventions or systems or establishments that existed in his day. He will always transcend whatever cages and labels are created to contain him, especially the one called 'Christianity'.
Take faith, for example. For many people in our world, the opposite of faith is doubt. The goal, then, within this understanding, is to eliminate doubt. But faith and doubt aren't opposites. Doubt is often a sign that your faith has a pulse, that it's alive and well and exploring and searching. Faith and doubt aren't opposites, they are, it turns out, excellent dance partners.
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But in reading all of the passages in which Jesus uses the word "hell, " what is so striking is that people believing the right or wrong things isn't his point. He's often not talking about "beliefs" as we think of them-he's talking about anger and lust and indifference. He's talking about the state of his listeners' hearts, about how they conduct themselves, how they interact with their neighbors, about the kind of effect they have on the world.
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If the gospel isn't good news for everybody, then it isn't good news for anybody. And this is because the most powerful things happen when the church surrenders its desire to convert people and convince them to join. It is when the church gives itself away in radical acts of service and compassion, expecting nothing in return, that the way of Jesus is most vividly put on display. To do this, the church must stop thinking about everybody primarily in categories of in or out, saved or not, believer or nonbeliever. Besides the fact that these terms are offensive to those who are the "un" and "non", they work against Jesus' teachings about how we are to treat each other. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor, and our neighbor can be anybody. We are all created in the image of God, and we are all sacred, valuable creations of God. Everybody matters. To treat people differently based on who believes what is to fail to respect the image of God in everyone. As the book of James says, "God shows no favoritism." So we don't either.
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As we experience this love, there is a temptation at times to become hostile to our earlier understandings, feeling embarrassed that we were so "simple" or "naive, " or "brainwashed" or whatever terms arise when we haven't come to terms with our own story. These past understandings aren't to be denied or dismissed; they're to be embraced. Those experiences belong. Love demands that they belong. That's where we were at that point in our life and God met us there. Those moments were necessary for us to arrive here, at this place at this time, as we are. Love frees us to embrace all of our history, the history in which all things are being made new.
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Some communities don't permit open, honest inquiry about the things that matter most. Lots of people have voiced a concern, expressed a doubt, or raised a question, only to be told by their family, church, friends, or tribe: "We don't discuss those things here." I believe the discussion itself is divine. Abraham does his best to bargain with God, most of the book of Job consists of arguments by Job and his friends about the deepest questions of human suffering, God is practically on trial in the book of Lamentations, and Jesus responds to almost every question he's asked with... a question.
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It is possible for music to be labeled "Christian" and be terrible music. It could lack creativity and inspiration. The lyrics could be recycled cliches. That "Christian" band could actually be giving Jesus a bad name because they aren't a great band. It is possible for a movie to be a "Christian" movie and to be a terrible movie. It may actually desecrate the art form in its quality and storytelling and craft.
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Our tendency in the midst of suffering is to turn on God. To get angry and bitter and shake our fist at the sky and say, "God, you don't know what it's like! You don't understand! You have no idea what I'm going through. You don't have a clue how much this hurts." The cross is God's way of taking away all of our accusations, excuses, and arguments. The cross is God taking on flesh and blood and saying, "Me too.
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It is trusting that I am loved. That I always have been. That I always will be. I don't have to do anything. I don't have to prove anything, or achieve anything, or accomplish one more thing. That, exactly as I am, I am totally accepted, forgiven, and there is nothing I could ever do to lose this acceptance.
I would hope that wherever I go I bring good news - that's what that word means, right? It began with the first followers of Jesus taking a Roman military propaganda term and co-opting it for their own subversive purposes, insisting that the world isn't made better through coercive military violence but through sacrificial love. How great is that!? Unfortunately this word has been hijacked in several years for other purposes but no worries, we're taking it back.
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Culture is already there and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from two thousand years ago as their best defense. When you have in front of you flesh and blood people who are your brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, co-workers and neighbors and they love each other and they just want to go through life with someone.
One of the oldest aches in the bones of humanity is loneliness. I mean it's one of the things that goes way back; loneliness is not good for the world. And so, whoever you are, gay or straight, it is totally normal, natural, and healthy to want somebody to go through life with. It's central to our humanity.
If this understanding of the good news of Jesus prevailed among Christians, the belief that Jesus's message is about how to get somewhere else, you could possibly end up with a world in which millions of people were starving, thirsty, and poor; the earth was being exploited and polluted; disease and despair were everywhere; and Christians weren't known for doing much about it. If it got bad enough, you might even have people rejecting Jesus because of how his followers lived. That would be tragic.
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To make it really clear and simple, let's call this movement across history we see in passages like the ones we just looked at from Exodus and Deuteronomy clicks. What we see is God meeting people at the click they're at, and then drawing them forward.When they're at F, God calls them to G.When we're at L, God calls us to M.And if we're way back there at A, God meets us way back there at A and does what God always does: invites us forward to B.
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Atoms are a relationship of energy. You are a relationship of energy interacting with another person who is another complex relationship of energy. We all exchange more than words with each other. . . We are made of the same substance as rocks and stars. .. We are an exotic cocktail living on this planet. .. We live in this universe which is a self-transcending reality
I have met countless people who call themselves Christians who don't appear to have any living breathing vibrant connection with the resurrected Christ and I've met countless people from every religious background including atheists that tell me of their very personal and real experiences of the living Christ. I don't have people asking me why they should believe something - that's starting off on the wrong foot to say the least.
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The ancient Hebrews had a word for this awareness of the importance of things. They called it kavod. Kavod originally was a business term, referring to the heaviness of something, which was crucial in weights and measures and the maintaining of fairness in transactions. Over time the word began to take on a more figurative meaning, referring to the importance and significance of something.
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God then makes people whom he puts right in the middle of all this loaded creation. Commanding them to care for creation, to manage it, to lovingly use it, to creatively order it... They are environmentalists. Being deeply connected with their environment is who they are. For them to be anything else or to deny their divine responsibility to care for all that God has made would be to deny something that is at the core of their existence. This is why litter and pollution are spiritual issues.
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Jesus is bigger than any one religion. He didn't come to start a new religion, and he continually disrupted whatever conventions or systems or establishments that existed in his day. He will always transcend whatever cages and labels are created to contain and name him, especially the one called "Christianity.
You can be very religious and invoke the name of God and be able to quote lots of verses and be well versed in complicated theological systems and yet not be a person who sees. It's one thing to sing about God and recite quotes about God and invoke God's name; it's another be aware of the presence in every taste, touch, sound, and embrace. With Jesus, what we see again and again is that it's never just a person, or just a meal, or just an event, because there's always more going on just below the surface.
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What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archeologists find Larry's tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of the Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births? Could you still be a Christian? Is the way of Jesus still the best possible way to live?
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In one of the accounts of Jesus's death we read that the curtain in the temple of God-the one that kept people out of the holiest place of God's presence-ripped.One New Testament writer said that this ripping was a picture of how, because of Jesus, we can have new, direct access to God.A beautiful idea.But the curtain ripping also means that God comes out, that God is no longer confined to the temple as God was previously.
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