I’ve been thinking a lot about binaries lately, thanks to my literary theory class. Binaries are just another name for opposites, and some of the common ones we think of are black/white, dark/light, male/female, winter/summer, to name a few. What I’ve learned about binaries is that by studying these contrasts, we learn to differentiate between the two. Without understanding what darkness is, we could never really know about light, and so while it might seem that we could do without winter, we would probably lack something (appreciation?) in our understanding of summer.
People (myself included) wonder why God created these opposites, as it appears that some of our greatest conflicts are due to this binary opposition, and here’s what I think: God created opposites not only for us to better understand and differentiate the diversity of his creation, but also to show us that the Father, Son, and Spirit are big enough to encompass it all.
Not only is God big enough to hold these competing tensions but also is willing to do so, even when those binaries consist of sin/goodness or lies/truth. Many Christians today fail to recognize how Christ is promoting the reconciliation of all things, not by eliminating the unsavory or the different but by holding all parts of creation in him, as we see in II Cor. 5:18-19:
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (NIV)
Most importantly, notice that we are to do the same. Our ministry is the message of reconciliation, not judgment, not “my way is right; your way is wrong.” Reconciliation is being able, like Christ, to hold two binaries and know that all is well because the underlying truth is that the Father, Son, and Spirit hold us all, believer/unbeliever alike.
There is a lovely hymn called “In Christ, There is No East or West” (I especially love this rendition by Mavis Staples), and its revamped lyrics go like this:
In Christ there is no East or West,
No South or North;
Only one great love inside and out.
True hearts everywhere
Some deaf and some blind
Singing one melody lost souls cannot find.
Join hands, and have faith
Whatever your race may be
Who serves my Father as a son
Is surely kin to me.
In Christ now meet both East and West,
There is no black or white
Only one great love hatred cannot divide
Join hands, and have faith,
Forgive your enemies
Surely we are all a part of
One big family
We have been given the ministry of reconciliation, both individually and corporately as a church. This means that we don’t need to persuade others to think as we do, but that we must participate with the Father, Son, and Spirit in comfortably holding binary oppositions, knowing that “all are a part of one big family.”
~by Nan Kuhlman
In this Season of Epiphany in the Christian Calendar, Pastor Timothy Brassell of New Life Fellowship of Baltimore continues with this Part 2 message in his GOOD NEWS Series entitled, “Why In The World Was God Baptized?!” and answers with greater clarity the questions:
- Why was God Baptized?
- If Jesus was Baptized as my substitute, then why am I baptized too?
- Do I receive the Holy Spirit only after being baptized?
- Am I saved by baptism?
- Can I be still be saved and receive the Spirit if I choose not to be Baptized?
Listen in and learn – SO THAT YOU CAN RECEIVE and SHARE GOD’S GOOD NEWS WITH OTHERS!
When my husband and I were expecting each of our three children, we spent hours poring over their names. It was a painstaking process, but also one that brought us truly unparalleled joy. Once we had each child’s name, we held it close, like a beautiful, most fragile flower, only revealing it to our closest friends and family — those we could trust not to wound us with their opinions as we had seen others do.
Because a baby name is much more than a name.
I’ll never forget each time I held each of my children for the first time and spoke their names to them, over and over again. It’s impossible to put the moment into words, but I still remember gazing at my children, thinking, THIS is who they were all along. This perfect, indescribably beautiful human being whom I had felt but not until that moment seen.
But somewhere along the way — during the toddler years most likely — we forgot. No longer did our child’s name represent unseen hopes and dreams for the future, but a very real, beloved, but often contrary child — a true force to be reckoned with before we knew it.
My current toddler began saying her full name before she turned two – Erica Buntrock, she would say clearly. I asked everyone in the family if they had coached her, but no one had. That was when we realised that she was simply repeating what she had heard a few too many times from us.
Erica Buntrock (don’t touch that).
Erica Buntrock (get down from there).
Erica Buntrock, whenever she did something that toddlers just do.
This wonderful blog post made me notice as well how often I said my older two children’s names in a less than loving and gentle way when I was impatient, stressed, distracted, depleted. How often I probably made them cringe, just by saying their names. I am really trying to be aware of that now — to make sure that all my children hear their names spoken gently and lovingly much more than otherwise — and to tell them the stories behind their names.
Hopefully, you have many memories of hearing your own name spoken lovingly by your parents and others — but I know that not all of you will. I am here to tell you that you deserve to have your name spoken that way — you are worthy of it. You did not arrive on this planet by accident. You were wanted. Your name was painstakingly chosen and it has been held close to the heart of the Father, like a beautiful, fragile, flower as we entered every phase of life: birth, toddlerhood, adolescence, middle age, old age, death.
Unlike we humans, he is never impatient, stressed, distracted, or depleted. I am amazed at how much more patience I have with my children when I am well rested. I can absorb so much more in that state. God is like that — only far better — ALL the time. Nothing — nothing — we do in our human, our lifelong, immaturity is too much for him to absorb. I believe that our names are never spoken, or even thought, by him, harshly because he possesses the perspective, the unlimited resources of energy, and much else that we as human beings don’t.
So next time you are tempted to forget how loved you are, remember how it was when you chose your children’s names, and when you held them for the first time. (Those of you without children are often very close to nieces/nephews or grow to feel much the same way about your fur-children, I know.) The way you felt then is only possible because you were resonating with the love that Triune God has for you and for all of his creation. And as most parents will attest, that love never goes away, even as a child loses some of his innocence day by day. We just become less mindful of it. But in moments of mindfulness, it all comes rushing back. It is there, always. With God, all the more so and he never loses his mindfulness.
And next time you are tempted to not love someone else — a loved one, an acquaintance, or someone you’ll never meet in a foreign culture on a distant corner of the globe, remember, when you say their names, that the way he loves you is the way he loves them too. Their names are sacred — they are sacred to him. Their names on our tongues matter to him and he is wounded when we trample them, as any parent would be. When we trample their names, we also trample his, because we are all connected to him. We are intertwined, irrevocably, because Triune God bonded itself to us for all eternity through Jesus.
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. (Exodus 20:7)
Could it be that when we say our own names and the names of others in less than loving ways, we are taking HIS name in vain? He is big enough to handle it, but he knows that we, alone, are not. So his admonition to us is not to do it.
Something to think about next time I say my name.
~ by Jeannine Buntrock
Understand the meaning of God’s Grace better in this two-part audio of a conference message of God’s Good New given by Timothy Brassell at the Myrtle Beach Fall Harvest Festival 2014!
In this message Pastor Tim explores Hebrews 10 as we are met by the God Revealed in Jesus, and poses the significant question:
“Will you continue to understand yourself, and life, in terms of [your] idolatry, rebellion and sin? OR will you begin, as the scriptures do, by looking at the Revelation of God in Jesus Christ [to understand yourself]?”
My wife Nan and I, along with a good friend from college, J.D. Sawyer, who was living back on the east coast, had a unique experience one Saturday evening in Hollywood, back in the late 1980s.
J.D. was out on business and stayed with us for the weekend. Living in Pasadena at the time, we had a number of ways to spend a Saturday evening. He suggested we take a trip down to Hollywood. I didn’t realize it at the time, but J.D. held an ulterior motive of hoping to run into a “movie star,” giving him “bragging rights” to his 16 year-old sister back in New Jersey.
After eating a late supper, we ventured out to catch a dessert and coffee on a Malibu pier that had become famous as a star-gazing haunt called Alice’s Restaurant. As we sipped coffee, listening to the waves lapping below us through the open windows, J.D., true to his ulterior motive, quizzed the waitress about who had been in that evening, and she listed them off: Billy Joel and his then-wife Christie Brinkley, Larry Hagman (J. R. from Dallas), and musician Rick Springfield.
With dessert and coffee now over, and perhaps a let-down feeling held by J.D., we ventured across the street to a small liquor store so he could purchase a post-card to mail back to his sister. As he and Nan were looking at cards, I was looking around the store at other people. Suddenly out of my mouth blurted the words, “Oh, my gosh, it’s Charlie Sheen.” This was just a year after the original movie Wall Street had aired, so his status as a celebrity was secure in my mind.
At first, Nan rejected the notion. But as I said it again with more intensity, she whispered to J.D., “we need to get out of here or he’s gonna make a scene.” I responded with, “I need to go meet him.” Unfortunately, despite his ulterior motive, J.D., held back. I walked up to the checkout where he now stood, nudged him on the shoulder, and Charlie turned around with a somewhat disturbed look on his face. I mean, after all, who would be approaching him near midnight in a Levi jacket with collar flipped up, not looking for trouble? I held out my hand and said, “Hey man, just want you to know, I’m a big fan.” The disturbed look instantly turned to a smile and he shoved out his hand and responded, much to my surprise, “Hey, I appreciate that.”
We headed back to the car and I chided with J.D. for not shaking Charlie’s hand as that would have been a perfect story to share with his sister. Now feeling more emboldened, he headed back into the store and not only met Charlie, but Charlie’s date, actress Kelly Preston.
It was a wonderful ride back to Pasadena. J.D., and I made a pact to watch Wall Street again the next morning. After giving ourselves high fives again and again over the experience, I caught my breath and became more reflective. I said something like, “we’re making such a big thing over this, but in a thousand years from now, Charlie will probably say that back in 1988 he met three saints of God in a Malibu liquor store.” We had a great laugh.
At that time I held a more exclusive theological view of God, and how He viewed humanity. Wrongly so, I thought that God only included a “select few” in His master plan of salvation, and certainly not those who held the headlines of the day. Today, I, along with readers of this blog, know how small that exclusive view is. We now celebrate that God has included all of humanity in his love…even if they do have a little “tiger blood” in them. Don’t we all from time to time?
As we look forward to what 2015 offers us, let’s celebrate that the Gospel changes how we view all humanity, our brothers and sisters in Christ, whether or not they have a clue they are included in His love.
~ by Craig Kuhlman
Why was Jesus, the PERFECT SON OF GOD IN FLESH, baptized with John’s Baptism of Repentance? How could God in Jesus repent of his own sins when the scriptures clearly say Jesus lived as the God/Man without sin?
In this season of Epiphany in the Christian Calendar, Pastor Timothy Brassell of New Life Fellowship of Baltimore points us to the answers to those questions, and more, in this GOOD NEWS message entitled, “Why In The World Was God Baptized?!” Reading Matthew 3: 13-17, learn that the ONLY WAY to understand baptism is to begin with JESUS CHRIST!
Often-asked questions are asked, and answered, in the Light of God being Baptized in Jesus, like:
- Is baptism primarily about your commitment to God, orrrr…is it possible that it is more about God’s commitment to you?
- Is baptism primarily about you receiving Jesus into your life, orrrr… isn’t possible that it is more about Jesus receiving us into his love, life and relationship with his Father, the Holy Spirit, Humanity and all of creation?
- Is baptism primarily about your own faltering faith and repentance, however good, orrrr…is it primarily about Jesus’ perfect faith and repentance on your behalf and in your place!
And, in the Light of these questions, if Jesus got baptized, Why do WE get Baptized?!
Understand your participation in Christ a little more clearly, especially since scriptures say that it was Jesus’ job (and NOT YOURS!) to FULFILL all righteousness!
My family and I recently flew out to Arizona to spend Christmas with my wife’s parents and family. They live in the Sonoran desert where it is literally 40 miles to the nearest grocery store. The desert is always beautiful but I must say that the thin blanket of snow that fell on our last full day there was gorgeous.
Seeing family over the holidays is always wonderful but travelling can sometimes be trying. Our trip out to Arizona was no exception. The delays, the foggy airport, or even sitting on the tarmac for 45 minutes while a radio was replaced in the cockpit was not the most unusual moment for me on the trip. On one leg of our trip I sat behind a young lady and an older gentleman. Somehow a misunderstanding took place between them and harsh words were exchanged. She was clearly uncomfortable so I passed her a note offering to trade seats with her. She accepted and what happened for the next hour was totally unexpected.
The gentleman next to me in my new seat did not speak at first and I figured he might have been a bit embarrassed over what had happened earlier, so I just sat quietly. When the beverage cart came around that seemed to break the ice so I struck up a conversation with him. I had no idea what was coming. On airplanes I usually avoid telling people what I do for a living because it can get superficial fast. As soon as people find out I am a pastor they either start telling me all about their Aunt Martha who is a preacher or how they are a very spiritual person but have no need for organized religion and I never get to meet the real person to whom I am talking. But I was somehow off my game! I did it… instead of my pat answer, “I’m sort of a life coach.”, or “I teach people to laugh, love, dream, and live happily!” I blurted it out… “I’m a pastor.”
Everything is sort of a blur after that. The person next to me launched into a 45 minute sermon about America becoming the Whore of Babylon, all about the evils of women preaching in our churches, the spirit of Jezebel in the pulpit, how the doctrine of the Trinity was a lie, and a whole host of other theological positions with which I vehemently disagree. So what did I do?
I sat there and listened. I sat and prayed. I sat and found small areas with which we could agree, like for instance, we need
our men to be better fathers and our churches to help the downtrodden.
Why didn’t I speak up for the Trinity, why didn’t I confront the misogynist doctrines, why was I silent in the face of such mythological ideas about God? I was silent for the sake of the very Gospel we preach. I kept my views to myself for the sake of love.
How often have we been wrong? How often have we spouted off about something only to find out months or even years later that we were wrong? I have been where this man was. I have held many of the same views at one time in my life and, on that flight, I heard no instruction from Holy Spirit to do anything but sit and listen. We don’t have to argue for the Trinity, we don’t have to defend Jesus; we don’t have to always engage in conflict for the sake of the Gospel. If The Father, Son, and Spirit are who they say they are, if the Gospel is in fact true, if Jesus is truly the Great I AM who alone knows the Father and wills that we come to know him with his Father- then God will see this man liberated from his mythologies in due course. My prayer is that on that flight this man’s memory will not be of confrontation but of peace and love. It was Christmas Eve after all!
You see, God will always meet us where we are. Jesus is Immanuel- God with us! He is with us all even while we hold to a convoluted belief system. George MacDonald once wrote, “Good souls many will one day be horrified at the things they now believe of God.” So that is you and I too friends… I sincerely hope that someday you and I will look back and say, “Wow, I can’t believe I thought so little of Jesus, I am amazed at how infinitely good and gracious the Father, Son, and Spirit truly are!” Father, may our new year be filled with wonder and awe as we discover more and more how deeply you love us and how completely you have accepted us in Jesus. Amen
Every New Year when I was a kid I would wonder to myself, “will this be the year that Jesus returns?” This was partly because I was surrounded by a lot of church-talk about the second coming when I was a kid and partly because I was just fascinated by the apocalypse. (In my years of working with children and teens I’ve noticed that a surprising number of them are interested in the end of the world. The movies they watch and the video games they play have something to do with that, I think.) So, here it is, the year of our Lord 2015. As a child I just assumed that Jesus would be back by now, or that we would at least have colonies on the moon and flying cars to keep us entertained while we’re waiting.
I don’t think much about Jesus’ second coming any more. Usually once a week is the norm – when we say the line in the Eucharistic Prayer “Christ will come again.” Some people do think about that great gettin’ up morning on a regular basis – and I’ve noticed something about those people. For many of them (not all) this world and this life have proven to be very difficult. If you are poor, or suffering persecution for your faith, or struggling with chronic illness, the day of our Lord’s appearing is something you long for. You look forward to a day of healing, of justice, and of resurrection.
Some time ago our Bishop here in Western North Carolina was speaking about the resurrection and he humorously commented on the way Episcopalians sometimes trail off to a bit of mumbling when we say “Christ will come again” – many of us seem to have some doubts. He then observed that it may be that many Episcopalians are doing quite well in this present life and therefore aren’t particularly interested in the life of the world to come. (Just a note: he did not say this attitude was a good thing.)
If this New Year finds you suffering, take heart: the day of the Lord is nearer now than when we first believed. If this New Year finds you overflowing with blessings, do not forget to join Jesus in his solidarity with the downtrodden, the outcast, and the persecuted. Do not forget to long for the day when he will make all things new and do not fail to say with boldness every Sunday, “Christ will come again.”
~ Jonathan Stepp
A friend relayed the story of a funeral for a stillborn baby that she’d attended. As the service concluded, the mother of the child draped herself on top of the tiny white coffin, wailing in grief. Instinctively, the men at the service stepped back, and all the women, the mothers, came to the grieving mother, to show comfort and solidarity in the midst of such great sorrow. My friend calls instances like this “primal,” as if they’re governed by something bigger and better than our own often-faulty human reasoning. Though I like her description, I think this illustrates how Jesus is still “putting skin on,” and it shows that Jesus’s incarnation continues through us.
When we lay aside the festivities of Christmas and the lovely traditions we enjoy, we are really celebrating that God is with us (Emmanuel). Jesus “put skin on,” and when he did that, he became fully human so that he might show us comfort and solidarity in our sorrows, as well as show us how to relish the beauty and pleasures he created for us on this earth. Far too often we think that Christians should be beyond this physical body, this physical world, but if Jesus’s incarnation (putting skin on) has shown us anything, it demonstrates that he loves our humanity and has chosen to be one of us forever. Our very humanity allows us to connect with Jesus, the forever human Son of God, and other people at the same time. So what does this mean for us throughout the rest of the year?
I’m suggesting that any time we follow the gentle prompting of the Holy Spirit to comfort or display kindness to our fellow human beings, we are “putting skin on” the Spirit and showing how greatly God loves our humanity, with all its foibles and frailties. What my friend calls “primal,” I am calling a participation with Christ in his incarnated humanness. “Putting skin on,” for short.
Ecumenical teacher Richard Rohr says Jesus’s incarnation allows us to see how the divine and the human are united in one forever. But this isn’t all:
“God did not just take on one human nature, although that is where we could first risk imagining it in the body of Jesus. God took on all human nature and said “yes” to it forever! In varying degrees and with infinite qualities, God took on everything physical, material, and natural as himself. That is the full meaning of the Incarnation. To allow such a momentous truth, to fully believe it, to enjoy it in practical ways, to suffer it with and for others—this is what it means to be a Christian! Nothing less will do now. Nothing less will save the world.” (The Art of Letting Go: The Wisdom of Saint Francis)
This means we need to think about whether our actions or words are “putting skin on,” or if they are not. When we instinctively respond with kindness and compassion from our very humanness, whether we know it or not, our primal response is Jesus incarnated. By “putting skin on,” we celebrate the incarnation of Jesus throughout the year and not just at Christmas.
~by Nan Kuhlman