Wow! You know how it is. Every once in a while something “leaps off the page” or is suddenly unveiled and thrills you and throws you off-balance at the same time! Like when my daughter and I thought we saw a new, unique and scary animal under the bushes in our yard, slithering around like a “ratty-looking snake-mole” kind of creature that ended up being a Wal-mart bag trapped in limbs and poor lighting! LOL! We were first thrown off and afraid to get out of the car, and then we were thrilled that the illusion was interrupted by truth unveiled (or bag blowing away in the wind! heehee…nothing funnier than true life!)
Another shocker happened to me recently when I read these words from Thomas F. Torrance in his book called “The School of Faith”: “Christianity doesn’t set out to answer man’s questions. If it did it would only give him what he already desires to know and has secretly determined how he will know it. Christianity is above all the question the Truth puts to man at every point in his life, so that it teaches him to ask the right, the true questions about himself…”
My reactions: “What the….?!?!?!?!” *Sputter..gasp…unique sounds issuing from back of throat* (This isn’t Pentecost Sunday on a Tuesday, is it?! LOL) “Wowsa!” Followed by LOUD RAUCOUS laughter! “Yes, Yes, YES! That’s what I’m talkin’ bout, but didn’t know how to speak as clearly before now!”
Now be honest, isn’t that what most people think Christianity IS, and is supposed to do? Isn’t that what YOU think? You’ve got questions, Christianity may have the answers, right?! Religious answers, or things you can do to?????? You know the ones: Why am I here? What’s my purpose? How can I be happy and blessed? How can I improve my marriage and relationships? How can I see my father and mother wounds healed? How can I overcome these generational dysfunctions and bless the next generation? How can I take so and so out of the picture with “righteous” indignation and “godly” wrath cause their messing with me and god’s religious system?! Haha!
Being a pastor and preacher, I know firsthand the kinds of pressures these questions bring to ministers preaching the Gospel; the pressure to be “need-oriented”, “practical”, “relevant”, or proclaiming to the people what they think they need and want. But I am also experiencing and understanding from the Father, through the Son, and by the Spirit, my need to proclaim God as being His own Gospel or Good News, Revealed specifically in Jesus! Being human and fallen ourselves, we preachers will tend to bend to the pressure of the people because they are so present and visible in human ways, and we need the people to stay visible and present so we can sustain a living for our families. I’m feeling you pastors!
What we pastors and people REALLY need, though, is the corrective offered by Torrance! Actually, as Christians, I believe we can only ultimately agree with what he wrote because it is both personal and biblical. Let’s look at a quick example from scripture:
Acts 9:1-6 New International Version (NIV)
9 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him,“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
Can you see it? Him? Jesus? Can’t you read this story and remember how you ACTUALLY came to be a Christian, if you are one? If you are not one, this is how Christianity looks and works in many ways:
1.) v.1-2 You had your own questions about life that you thought were so right you might have killed to answer, defend, and fulfill them!
2.) v.3 As you journeyed in your own self-chosen way, you were met and confronted by Jesus, the Light, the Person, and He didn’t start with your questions but His own! He spoke clearly enough to you, clarifying that for you to go your own way and ask your own questions about “your” life was to be against Him, Jesus the God Man!
3.) v.5 As a result of Him questioning you personally, He caused you to question all your questions! Jesus helped you to see that it was Him, the Person, you were actually fighting. With His direct question to you about why you were rejecting Him, He caused you to ask a new personal question, “Who are you Lord?” Being the Truth in Person, Jesus put the right question to you that made you question your entire life and compelled you to ask what was REALLY correct. The correct question was one about HIMSELF and was given to you so that you could personally ask it AND He could answer it and show HIMSELF to you!
4.) v.6 Now He’s telling you where to go and what to do, and you’re discovering that He’s always right and never wrong! That’s union with Christ, or Christianity!
Like with Saul, you may be thrown and blinded by the Light for a few days! Jesus will, however, send others to encourage and confirm His leading in your life! Hopefully you’ll end up as thrilled as Saul and find yourself sharing HIM with all the world too, His chosen instrument, proclaiming and suffering in His name! And NO, Christianity doesn’t give you what you already desire to know and is not driven by your agenda, especially your sinful one. Neither does it give you what you want to know in the way you have decided you want to know it, with your self-chosen questions, especially in your sinfulness! You ask good and proper questions as Jesus confronts, summons and shares them with you, personally giving Himself to you as He and His Father have determined, in the Spirit!
By the way, I believe that Jesus is the Light of the World and we can and should talk about ALL things in the Light of Him, but be happy and not too discouraged if all your pastor can talk about is Jesus and the One God Being in Three Persons revealed in Him. With Christianity Jesus is always the main question and His main answer to you/us is always HIMSELF! Jesus is the Question AND the Answer!
In this Gospel Message entitled “Men And Women TOGETHER – Imaging God FOREVER!”, Pastor Timothy Brassell of New Life Fellowship of Baltimore, Proclaims the Good News of the Lord Jesus Christ who has taken up our humanity in Himself, sharing with us HIS life of union and communion with His Father through the Holy Spirit. He shows through the scriptures that all barriers between men and women and the dividing wall of hostility between all humanity has been destroyed, and our humanity renewed and healed, in Jesus Christ!
Hear in this message:
- That Jesus Christ is the first image of God of man and woman together and is not just an after-thought. As women and men, we were always meant to be conformed to Jesus Christ’s image and what He made of our humanity in Himself. We understand that HE is the Reality, and Adam and Eve (and us!) are only the shadow of Him in this first phase of our humanity!
- That because Jesus is the Image of God, it is best to think of men and women, male and female, as created in the Image of The Image of God!
- That ONLY FEMALE AND MALE TOGETHER show GOD toward creation and how ONLY TOGETHER do we show creation back to God in the fitting response Jesus shares with us. This doesn’t always mean marriage between men and women, but it always means gender partnership and complementing each other!
- The Good News of what IS superior about being female and male, and what is not! Learn how we ARE equal and how we are not! Understand our participation and roles as Kings and Queens of creation!
- About The Great Grace that has been lavished on us as male and female in the person of Jesus Christ , and the Great and Loving Judgment against our broken humanity that compels us to reconsider and take part with Jesus as Life actually is!
You are encouraged to Participate with Christ, and in His shared humility, learning to admit your faults and receiving the forgiveness that leads to ACTUAL & REAL reconciliation and peace between human persons, plus LOTS MORE GOSPEL INSIGHT!
Nothing is more central to the Christian message than the news that Jesus has brought humanity into objective union with the Trinity. The Father, Son, and Spirit, before creation, determined that the life they share in unfettered mutual other-centeredness, would be shared with you, and with me, and with the entire human race. How raucous should be the celebration of our Inclusion!!
I recall 9 years ago coming to terms with my wrong-headed theology. I was ashamed of things I had believed and preached. Reading, like a man stranded on a desert island with only a library of Trinitarian thought to pass the time, I hungrily consumed every book I could get my hands on that focused on the Triune nature of God as the starting point for its theology.
I read new books and old books. I began to see the importance of the Life, Death, and Ascension of Jesus in a new light. I let go of Penal Substitutionary Atonement theory. I no longer saw God the Father as killing Jesus so he wouldn’t have to kill me. I began to scream at Western Evangelical Christian radio and TV. I soon just turned it off! “Jesus is not the only one who loves me!” I thought. “The Father and the Holy Spirit love me too!” You see inside the life, death, and ascension of Jesus, or what we call his finished work, the dream of the Father to have mankind in union with the God-head was accomplished.
Do you see it? Do you see the startling beauty of the purpose and plan of God for humanity? The life, death, and ascension of Jesus are towering over historical humanity from the very beginning beckoning us to wake up and see the beauty of our inclusion into the life of God. We are called to live in it, love in it, laugh and play in it. We are summoned to belief so we might taste and see that the Lord is good. So good in fact that there is nothing you can do to change God’s disposition toward you. There is nothing you can do to make the Father, Son, and Spirit love you more or less. God already loves you with 100% of His being! All that you needed to fit and be adopted into the life of God has already been accomplished in the life, death, and ascension of Jesus…
Well I hope I have not agitated anyone too much. I intentionally left out the word resurrection simply to make the point that we ought to be equally alarmed when we hear people talk about the “life, death, and resurrection of Jesus”. We must never forget how important to us is His Ascension. In fact this blog post was written as an exercise on how sometimes we emphasize the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to such a degree that we forget about the importance of the ascension of Jesus. This Sunday is Ascension Sunday, when we celebrate with special emphasis, the Ascension of our Lord Jesus. In the Ascension you and I and all of humanity have been seated with Jesus at the right hand of the Father. In the Ascension we have all gone home! We are with the Triune God both here in our present condition and at the same time seated at the throne of God. We need not divide Jesus to such an extent that we focus on one part of him or his ministry to the detriment of others but this year during Ascension week let us be especially thankful that Jesus has brought us all home in his ongoing Incarnation!
Literal fireworks went off in my mind and heart when my eyes were opened to the reality of our unearned inclusion in the life, love and dance of the Trinity. While I formerly believed that I had to do good things or believe in a certain way in order to earn God’s blessings and favour, I now saw that he gave those things to me purely because I was his child. There was nothing I need do to win his love and nothing I could do to lose it.
The repercussions of this realisation are still being felt in my life today. It has brought hope and brightness to my life, and dispelled a great deal of my worry and doubt. But one thing I have struggled with is how and even whether to pray.
Looking back, I can see that I once prayed in much the same way one rubs a magic lamp. I needed a good outcome, but it was largely out of my control. So here was God. If I begged him enough, praised him enough, and especially if I enlisted others to do that with me, I might get what I wanted (if my recent track record was clean enough).
Of course, there were so many cases when this wasn’t the case — I had made mistakes, sometimes big ones, so my track record wasn’t “clean” — yet blessings poured into my life. And in those dark moments of the soul when I knew I had really screwed up, he felt closest of all to me.
Perhaps this is why when I learned that God is not the kind of God I had grown up believing in — the kind who rewards only the faithful, punishes the wicked with gusto, and turns his back on us when we disobey — I saw it as truth immediately. I had been blessed when I had not obeyed and good things came to me even when I didn’t pray for them. When I was suffering under the weight of the consequences of my poor choices, even then I had sensed nothing but compassion and shared suffering. He suffered with me.
Obviously this is not a treatise on why it’s ok to do things that are harmful to oneself and others. With all my heart, I believe that the guidelines set out by the Bible, understood in their proper context, and others transmitted by the Spirit to us in other ways are our Creator’s attempt to shield and protect us from preventable harm. But it’s a far cry from believing that life is a test and that we are being graded by a harsh school master.
But so, if I do not need to pray in order to secure favourable outcomes, why and where and how to pray at all??
The why is easy. We are in a relationship. He is always communicating with us. We can confide everything in him and he is always listening. He wants intimacy with us.
The where, for me, has not been so easy. Understanding that God is in us and that we are in him, means that he is not distant. Our Father who art in Heaven. That had always indicated distance to me — far, far away, out of our world. I’ve come to see that this isn’t true. There is no far, far away. He inhabits our world and our world is encompassed, surrounded and held within, by him. He also inhabits me and I am encompassed, surrounded and held within, by him.
So how do I direct my prayers?!! Up into space? No. Into my own heart? Yes and no — I am not God and while I believe that I hear from him from within often, other times it is just my own thoughts I am hearing too.
I read recently that beneath our thought life is our prayer life — and that the spirit is always praying. (I apologise – I have wracked my brain trying to remember where I read it, but cannot.) Imagine if you will, three layers: conscious thought (the tip of the ice berg), beneath that unconscious thought, and beneath that, prayers.
This was immensely encouraging to me because I realised that prayer really need not be an effort. Our spirits are always praying. And it’s not ever one-way. As our spirits communicate constantly with God, he communicates constantly with us. If our unconscious thought life is a mystery to us, no wonder our prayer life is too.
I have to admit, sometimes I miss my fictitious magic lamp and “genie.” There was some sense of control in believing that I could influence his response by doing and saying the right things. Now when I approach a potential crisis in my life, I can be a little unsettled knowing that I have no real control. I can’t manipulate God into acting on my behalf. I’m not more special to him than someone else is based on my behaviour. We are all infinitely special to him. I am not favoured above others any more than one child in a family should be favoured above her siblings. Sometimes my prayers and those of others are answered and sometimes they are not and there is generally no way to understand why. This is life though. As much as I wish it wasn’t, suffering seems to be a necessary part of it. (That is a topic for another post!)
But I know I am not alone in having experienced the sunburst moments where a prayer is answered — perhaps even one you didn’t consciously utter. Those are the mountain-top experiences, and they make life worth living. But we all trudge through many valleys to get there (only to find that we have been lifted there on eagle’s wings in the end). And for the sake of the development of our souls, they seem not to be places of permanent rest.
So the only answer I am able to offer, as it so often is, is to relax. Knowing where to direct our prayers isn’t important. Knowing that he is near and not distant is what is important. Knowing that he cradles you in the palm of his hand no matter what you’ve done is what is important.
As always, the benefits are reaped by us. Prayer is our lifeline to the Anchor that we all desperately need in life, but it is not dependent on us to maintain it. We often panic or despair and let go, but he never does.
The great news is that it really can be effortless — prayer is happening whether we know it or not. Our conscious prayers are just the icing on the cake! All we must do is to open our eyes to the beauty that surrounds us and to the myriad signs that there is One who cares for us. Gratitude cannot help but follow, and gratitude is the best kind of prayer of all.
~ by Jeannine Buntrock
In pt. 4 of this Gospel Series, Timothy Brassell of New Life Fellowship of Baltimore, Proclaims the GOOD NEWS of The God Revealed in Jesus Christ with a new message entitled, “Why Jesus’ Church Fellowships MORE And MORE!” pt.4 (WHO Baltimore needs!).
As you grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ learn:
- How much the current Baltimore troubles and the book of Hebrews in scripture have in common!
- That the one way forward in the middle of the current passion and protest in Baltimore, MD. is for the body of Christ to BE the Body of Christ!
- How to think out and share Christ-centered responses to current pressing questions such as: What does Baltimore need? and Who does Baltimore need? and Where is God in all of this?
- the importance of remembering that behind every law and system is the person or persons who created or promotes those laws or systems!
- What it means that we are made in the image of God and why this is important for addressing Baltimore’s current issues and the issues in your city, and even in all the world!
Also get Gospel insight and learn:
- More about the myths and idols concerning marriage, singleness, sex, celibacy and family life and be reminded that ANYTHING we idolize WILL kill us!
- That in God’s Grace we have been given various forms of living in relationship but these are ONLY ways of living in Christ now in our present form but are NOT fully the end goal for our lives in relationship!
- Why we all struggle so much and how WE CAN LIVE MORE IN THE RECONCILIATION worked out it in the entire human life of Jesus!
- What process God uses to strengthen families in the world, bringing the future family of God into the present!
Hear in this message that ___________________ in Christ is the goal of Christ no matter your station in life or your current status as the Father’s Child. You CAN receive every day as a gift and receive it BEST by _______________ ! And that it isn’t ____________ that is wearing you out but ______________!
Tune in and participate by filling in all the blanks! :)
I am standing at the kitchen sink one early evening in the twilight with the faucet running. Everyone else is in the living room watching TV or playing with their toys, so I have surreptitiously made my way into the darkened kitchen with one goal in mind: to savor a last chocolate truffle, one that I put back in the cupboard earlier when lots of little hands were digging around in the box, ultimately finishing them off.
I learned this trick from my hairdresser. One time when she was clipping away at my hair, she said, “Haven’t you wanted to really enjoy something good, some treat, without having to share it?” She went on to elaborate about how she enjoyed a delicious piece of chocolate while standing at the kitchen sink, water running to cover the sound of wrappers rattling and lips smacking.
So here I am, in a long ago memory, trying to savor this last truffle by myself, and though it tastes good (I mean, REALLY good), the experience of secretly eating it is lacking something. Joy – that’s it! More specifically, the joy of relationship that comes from sharing an experience with another.
The Father, Son, and Spirit knew this from before the foundation of the world. Because they experienced the love and joy of perfect fellowship, they desired to share it, and joy multiplies when shared. That’s where the creation of the world and the human beings who populate it come into play. We were created to share in their joy and their love, and consequently, share it with others in creation: human beings, plants, animals. When we dam up the flow of love by not sharing it, we lose out on a chance for joy.
Sufi master Inayat Khan (1882-1927) has said: “A person who, alone, has seen something beautiful, who has heard something harmonious, who has tasted something delicious, who has smelt something fragrant, may have enjoyed it, but not completely. The complete joy is in sharing one’s joy with others. For the selfish one who enjoys himself and does not care for others, whether he enjoys things of the earth or things of heaven, his enjoyment is not complete.”
My enjoyment of the truffle was not complete as I stood in the kitchen that night, water running. Later I thought of this verse from Hebrews 13:16: “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased” (NIV). Though some might view this verse legalistically, as if giving something up was pleasing to God, in reality, God’s pleasure comes from us realizing that true joy comes from sharing and from relationship (which in my mind are almost interchangeable terms).
Relationship is what the Father, Son, and Spirit are all about, and it’s their desire to share that with us. Sometimes we learn the hard way, like I did at the kitchen sink that night, but sooner or later, we realize that our path to joy comes from sharing in relationships.
~by Nan Kuhlman
It was a bit cooler than normal on the sea of Tiberius. It was calm enough, but a light breeze blew out of the North, and there was a chill in the air. And that wasn’t the only chill. The boys and I were out fishing because we needed some food and we were also hoping to catch enough fish to sell. I have a family and so do some of the others but what really had us chilled was all that had taken place over the last couple of weeks. You see following Jesus has been the most astounding journey any of us have ever taken. We’ve seen things you would not believe! We have seen Jesus put the religious rulers in their place, we’ve seen him heal the blind, and raise the dead. But something has changed .A few days ago Jesus was crucified. He told it would happen, I tried to stop the soldiers from arresting him but Jesus called me Satan and went with them willingly. I suppose what has shamed me the most is that I betrayed him three times, just like he predicted I would.
None of us are sure how it happened or what it means really, but Jesus is alive! He is alive! You might think I’m crazy, but I saw him beaten, I saw him crucified, and I was there when they laid him in the tomb. But he is alive; somehow, the grave could not keep him! Somehow he is here. Oh, yes! We have seen him… and you know what? He is still human. You see the morning after we’d fished all night (and caught nothing) we came near the shore and there he was cooking his breakfast. He told us where to cast the net and we caught a mess of fish like you’ve never seen. The haul was too heavy to pull into the boat. We ate breakfast and laughed together and then Jesus suggested we go for a walk.
Walks usually meant one thing… important conversations. We knew Jesus was going to tell us something that we really needed to hear but I had no idea how important this walk, with Jesus, would be for me.
Jesus looked at me and asked, “Peter, do you love me?” I replied “yes”, and Jesus said, “Feed my lambs” Then Jesus asked me again, “Peter, do you love me?” Again, I answered, “Yes” and Jesus said, “Tend my sheep.” So again, a third time, Jesus asked, “Peter do you love me?” I was a bit hurt but managed, “Yes Lord, you know everything. You know I love you.” So Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.”
Well what you might not know is that in our language Jesus asked, “Peter do you agape me?” I responded, “I philo you.” A second time Jesus asked, “Do you agape me?” A second time I replied, “I philo you.” Then, the third time Jesus asked me, “Peter do you philo me?” That’s when I said, “Yes Lord you know everything, you know I philo you.”
You see agape love is love that is pure and complete that comes from the Father and I did not have the capacity to love like the Father so I just said I philo you, which means “I love you with a brotherly love”. We did this same back and forth twice until Jesus, knowing all along that I was not capable of agape love asked, “Peter do you philo me?” and I said, “Yes Lord you know everything, you know I philo you.”
Despite my limited love for him do you know what Jesus said to me each time I confessed my incapacity for agape love? Each time he said, “Feed my lambs, tend my sheep, and feed my sheep.”
What I learned that day is that no matter what we bring to the table Jesus can use it, multiply it, and that Jesus does not want to do his ministry without us no matter our limitations or hang-ups.
That morning I couldn’t help remembering the little boy, who gave up his lunch, so that Jesus could take two small fish and five pieces of bread and use it feed 5000 people.
I’ll venture a guess that what you have to offer the Lord is a bit more than a few fish and loaves but even if that’s all you have jump in, participate, and be amazed at the wonderful miracles Jesus will do through you!
In pt. 3 of this Gospel Series, Timothy Brassell of New Life Fellowship of Baltimore, Proclaims the GOOD NEWS of The God Revealed in Jesus Christ with a new message entitled, “Why Jesus’ Church Fellowships MORE And MORE!” pt.3.
In this message you’ll:
- Hear the Truly Good News in two awesome quotes that will fill your soul with God’s Goodness – one VERY OLD and one more recent!
- Learn more of what the Church actually is and reconsider thinking of it the way the Apostle Paul does!
- Have THREE MODERN MYTHS about the Church exposed in the Light of what the Church actually is!
- Start to learn the place and importance of marriage, singleness and friendship as they relate to the Church and be challenged by missionary Gracia Burnham’s statement that “The point isn’t to grow old with your mate. That’s not the point. The point is …”
Tune in to hear the rest of that statement and MUCH MORE!
What is it, exactly, that God has done in the cross and resurrection of Christ? One very beautiful way to understand salvation is to see that God has opened his own self to include humanity in his life. The cross and the resurrection are what the opening of the Triune Life looks like when expressed in time and space.
Reaching back to some of the most ancient theology of the Church (from the Second Century), Miroslav Volf paints an image of what has happened in the passion and resurrection which we are celebrating during this Easter season:
When the Trinity turns toward the world, the Son and the Spirit become, in Irenaeus’s beautiful image, the two arms of God by which humanity was made and taken into God’s embrace (see Against Heresies 5.6.1.). That same love that sustains nonself-enclosed identities in the Trinity seeks to make space “in God” for humanity. Humanity is, however, not just the other of God, but the beloved other who has become an enemy. When God sets out to embrace the enemy, the result is the cross. On the cross the dancing circle of self-giving and mutually indwelling divine persons opens up for the enemy; in the agony of the passion the movement stops for a brief moment and a fissure appears so that sinful humanity can join in. We, the others – we, the enemies – are embraced by the divine persons who love us with the same love with which they love each other and therefore make space for us within their own eternal embrace. ~ Exclusion and Embrace, Abingdon Press: 1996. pp. 128-129
In light of this amazing opening of God’s life to her enemies, we are stunned to realize that the one who says “love your enemies” has, herself, gone ahead of us in this task. God does not call us to love our enemies while she carries on hating hers. God invites us to believe in the possibility of a new world where we and those whom we hate can be reconciled. That’s why we call it the good news (gospel) of God.
~ Jonathan Stepp