Lens of Law or Lens of Love

worldview eyeball

Years ago there was a brilliant man on television that rocked the ratings landscape by beating other prime time competition with a chalkboard, a cape, good stories and a sense of humor.  His name was Bishop Fulton Sheen.  He said many things that were profound but he was always aware that the truth he spoke to was greater than himself.  One year his show “Life Worth Living” won an Emmy award.  He said, “I would like to thank my staff writers.  Mathew, Mark, Luke and John.”

But another point he made was that, unlike leaders of other world religions, Jesus came pre-announced.  One who is a Christian believer would point to Old Testament prophets to illustrate that point.  But if one sees John the Baptist, they see him foretelling the arrival of Jesus and giving the world an introduction.  Looking at his life one can see he did this with the utmost reverence.

A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world,
    and the world came to be through him,
    but the world did not know him.

He came to what was his own,
    but his own people did not accept him (John 6:6-11)

He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him- – If one sees the body of Christianity correctly in Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scriptures held up by the Church Jesus later founded, the same goes as a calling for more than one baptizer at a river. The message of Jesus was intended to be more than what is for just one man or through one man.  The eventual community to be founded would be of many witnesses.  “Therefore, we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). 

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world- – If one gets the solid objections of their spiritual life out of the way, then anyone can know Jesus.  There are “if’s” that unfold in the gospels.  If one is born again by Spirit and water (John 3:3).  If you believe and are baptized. 

He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him- – This is a tragic paradox.  Jesus was coming to the Jewish people who had historically know divinity but through thunder, clouds and earthquakes.  God is shown here in the Son, Jesus Christ, as too simple to be true to religious tastes common to them at that time.  But in the beginning, the world was made by Jesus as the Logos or the expressed wisdom of eternity that stepped into time first to create more than the Jewish people but the whole world.  In another way of speaking, in their disconnected form of religion that was contrary to the light and intimacy God wants to have with mankind they knew of God but did not naturally get Him.  But ready or nor, here he comes on the Jordan River and today in ways to be received objectively and subjectively. 

The key to “getting” Jesus is not through the lens of the Law but through the lens of love. It is to be experienced in material contexts and contextualized by a growing movement of articulated grace and truth that sprouts from the nature of Jesus (John 1:17).  To move forward in investigating the text of scripture is to not to lose a healthy context of the latter. Yes, the gospel is bigger than any one of us. 

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Day 2- Right Principles as Whole People.   

Incesne with angel

I like stories of drowning people being saved by a good lifeguard.  The images that come to mind are often the flapping in the water, gasping for breath and tunnel vision right before a powerful hand swoops in to save the day.  The intervention in those stories range from the lifeguard being fully in the water to being anchored in something that floats.  The trick is that the lifeguard may not be received in full trust as a gift to be received fully and simply.

To this point of not receiving that help is a story by Watchman Nee.  There once was a man who got a cramp and was drowning in a lake.  A champion swimmer stood by fully dressed and did not move until the man began to go under.  When he did, he got out of his sweats and saved the man.  When asked what took him so long he said that the drowning man had to be at the end of himself or they both would have drowned.

When John the Baptist formally presents Jesus to the crowd he uses words for  Jesus to fulfill in several dimensions and continues to fulfill when we cooperate.

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’ I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.” John testified further, saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.” (John 1:29-34).

Behold, the Lamb of God– – Where a lion is known to conquer, the lamb is known to be conquered and consumed.  Jesus is proclaimed as one who would give all and not take like kings of old nor exploit the resources of the people.  Jesus is counter-intuitive as a gift for our redemption that we are unable to obtain for ourselves.  So we depend on Jesus for that.   Jesus is wholly self-giving.

takes away the sin of the world– Here is indicated that the gift of self is beyond Israel but to the world (John 3:16).  The gift is not tied anymore to a temple in a certain city but is universal.  Salvation as a gift for the world is shown in the Church which Jesus founded and as early as 110 AD was called that by Ignatius- – Catholic. And before Jesus came this was foreshadowed of Jesus being re- – presented by the people of God like this.  Jesus is wholly accessible.

From the rising of the sun to its setting, my name is great among the nations;

Incense offerings are made to my name everywhere,

and a pure offering;

For my name is great among the nations,

says the Lord of hosts (Malachi 1:11).

he existed before me–  Here John shows Jesus to be beyond the time of a human life span.   The gift is divine.  After all, one can look at the gospel of Luke and see that John was conceived three months before Jesus if one views Jesus only according to the flesh.  John opens  a perspective  later seen more fully by Paul that, “from now on we regard no one according to the flesh; even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer” (2 Corinthians 5:16).  The gift transcends understanding.  Jesus is timeless and thus must be discerned with eyes for the eternal than the timely.

I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him– The only time before that the Holy Spirit had come down on a single direct object was the temple of Solomon.  One more reason that Jesus said,  “I say to you, something greater than the temple is here” (Matthew 12:6).  The gift is consecrated because Jesus is that gift and he is holy.

will baptize with the Holy Spirit– – Christ through His humanity and in partnership with the Holy Spirit brings in those who are His with adoption that is beyond a legal transaction.  If it was only legal, the relationship between God and the believer would be contractual in what I have is yours.  Instead it is “I am yours”.  To have a relationship with the Blessed Trinity that is covenantal is to be in synch to the original creation of humanity.  “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba [Daddy], Father” (Romans 8:15)! The gift is intimate and is forward towards oneness.

Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God– – John has already spoken that Jesus must increase and he must decrease.  By saying this officially, John steps back for Jesus to shine.  He does continue to baptize but the traffic continues to be more to Jesus.  Just as John yielded to Jesus, so in the process of conversion and formation towards Jesus there is a yielding to happen.  This yielding to Jesus as the gift is informed by how he redeems, transcends understanding, is consecrated, is universal, and is intimate. To hear John’s words right, is the beginning to getting Jesus right.  Such is the fulness of the proclamation of the gospel in the Church that Jesus wants. To yield is to be on mission in disposition.  And to be on mission is to be sent.  And to be sent is to be apostolic.    In one sense, all who have “testified” to the fulness of Jesus are apostolic.

The design for a people that are transformed and have ongoing connection to the authority of Jesus as Lord is one with the traits above.  And to water down these traits with a forgetting this kind of encounter is to move with the world that God wants to redeem through Jesus.  To hold on to these is to be the Church that instead moves the world as the “pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

Preparing For A Meeting 

Mountain Temple“I like your Christ but not your Christians”.  So is quoted Mahatma Ghandi regarding his encounter with western Christendom.  His encounter with Christianity could be said to be one that was English culture, English customs and English power all in a very imperial and oppressive context.  This was not an encounter with the Christianity of Jesus but his broadest view he had was skewed.  If one uses the ministry of John the Baptist as a lens, one can get a preview of how to perceive all the gospels.  It is no coincidence that Jesus as an adult in all four books is directly preceded then personally hailed by him.  If one get John right, then one has a better chance to get Jesus right.  But if we stay in a premise that puts Jesus as any other reactionary figure, we will only react to the ups and downs of life with a blunted experience of Christianity.

[t]he word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert. He went throughout [the] whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“A voice of one crying out in the desert:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

make straight his paths.

Every valley shall be filled

and every mountain and hill shall be made low.

The winding roads shall be made straight,

and the rough ways made smooth,

and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke 3:2b-6).

A voice of one crying out in the desert-  It should not be lost on those who seek something more than what the world offers that the view it takes to convert has to be from outside of ones assumptions of complacency.  To cry out from especially our realization of lack is hard.  But it is harder to be hungry for God if you are full of yourself.

Prepare the way of the Lord- The mystery of what comes next after one repents is moot- – if one does not repent.  Calling out ones failings to the mercy of God is getting out of God’s way to bless you.  The crossing of the Red Sea is also implied.  It was the great Exodus.  In Greek it was the exhoda which is the “way out” of the bondage of Egypt.  However, the “way” of the Lord is hoda meaning “way”.  Jesus identified himself as the “way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).  Jesus is more than a way out of physical slavery but of spiritual slavery which is far worse.  The early Church were “followers of the way” because they celebrated the latter freedom in Jesus with each gathering.  It is almost like a scriptural undertone of messianic expectation for then but it applies to those who turn to Jesus now.  We are called in conversion to embrace the meaning of preparation.  Doing such, we might as well have the joy of the Lord along the way between those times of grace one can experience.

Every valley shall be filled- The natural question is on what it would be filled with.  The best filling of this void is not by a thing or event but by God who is the great I AM.  “Our hearts are restless until we find rest in you” (Augustine).  Jesus’ name means God saves and as we see a few verses later salvation is what all will see.

every mountain and hill shall be made low– – My first thought in reflecting on this line is that the elite would be brought down since John had his own dealings with the religious elite of his day.  Mary addressed this in her fiat “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. (Luke 1:52).  But if one sees in the Old Testament how hill and mountain are used, there is a historical interpretation.

Who may go up the mountain of the Lord?Who can stand in his holy place?

“The clean of hand and pure of heart,

who has not given his soul to useless things,

what is vain.

He will receive blessings from the Lord,

and justice from his saving God.

Such is the generation that seeks him,

that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.”

Selah (Psalms 24: 4-6)

Who may go up the mountain of the Lord?Who can stand in his holy place?– – It is a psalm of celebration in approaching the temple of God with the Ark of the Covenant.  This reference is shorthand that an encounter with God is a tangible presence that can be sensed from the deepest part of the heart.

For the Old Testament this was the closest way a personal encounter with the divine could be expressed due to the standards of that day. The presumption was formality with a specific focus on ceremony about God but not God directly.  Jesus changed everything because in Him “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). God was untouchable but in Jesus the divine is touchable.  John the apostle elaborated on this.

What was from the beginning,

what we have heard,

what we have seen with our eyes,

what we looked upon

and touched with our hands

concerns the Word of life—

for the life was made visible;

we have seen it and testify to it

and proclaim to you the eternal life

that was with the Father and was made visible to us—

what we have seen and heard

we proclaim now to you,

so that you too may have fellowship with us;

for our fellowship is with the Father

and with his Son, Jesus Christ (1 John 1:1-3).

So how is this mountain made low?  It is in how Jesus is the eternal Word of the Blessed Trinity and he chose to become flesh in a leveling of the field (John 1:14).

The winding roads shall be made straight- A frustrating thing occurs on a winding road.  One would wish they can go from Point A to Point B like the birds fly.   Such is the role of increasing simplicity in someone who is increasing in their relationship to God.  God does not self-reveal as a calculus equation.  God is beyond our understanding so the straight path is giving up the pretense we can put God in an overcomplicated box.

the rough ways made smooth– -Rough ways is a loaded term.  If someone is walking on ground that is uneven or filled with thorns then such is the stuff that the human body takes in only with endurance to get the walk over with.  A smooth path in relationship is how one can see the other in a way that is against the design of the person.  The smooth path to God is the honest one.

all flesh shall see the salvation of God– John is speaking to both of the comings of Jesus.  Jesus would soon be on the scene and His presence would be on foot, on the cross, in communion and someday in the clouds.  In the last one, Jesus would go from being seen by many to all.

that seeks the face of the God of Jacob- – This is noteworthy in returning to the theme of God’s presence.  Jacob had a tangible wrestling match with God and he was transformed with the new name of Israel.  God transforms the proud to be humble and the humble to those exalted.  Ultimately shown in the end with Jesus with his name being the greatest name, a transformation can happen if we truly seek his face.  “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9)

Do I wish I was a pilgrim that day at the exchange of the life in Christ I have now?  Even the idea of following Jesus in only up to the cross?  No, due to the life in Christ I can have with him now.  There is knowing him after the flesh like then, but receiving him in the greatest reality that can be experienced now is far better.

And as much as I can have hope in that, I would like to leave you with the hope of the Christian faith in completely coming to full circle in the future in Jesus. This is the ultimate “way of the Lord” we prepare for in onward growth that is so fitting to those called by his name.

     Who, though he was in the form of God,

did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.

Rather, he emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave,

coming in human likeness;

and found human in appearance,

he humbled himself,

becoming obedient to death,

even death on a cross.

Because of this, God greatly exalted him

and bestowed on him the name

that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus

every knee should bend,

of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue confess that

Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father (Phillipians 2:6-11).

Day 1- Humbled Together

The BeginningWhat is the classic conversion story regarding faith?  Is there such a thing?  Can it be run “by the numbers” like a formula?  In Christianity, there are patterns of surrender, but it is best not to see it through a mechanical lens.

An important factor is that Jesus never shamed anyone towards the surrender of conversion.  Shame does not work since it is sort of another flavor for fear and the scriptures teach us that, “perfect love pushes out fear” (1 John 4:12).  Shame and legalism complicate the search for Jesus in ways that take us from simplicity, or in other words, the basics of love.

There is a story I like about the famous American football coach Vince Lombardi.  His team lost a game once that he felt would not have got away from them if they had stayed rooted in the fundamentals of the game.  He then had the next several days full of drills that a high school foot ball team would do.  The re-rooting had to happen.  One can be refreshed on the mission by renewing their perspective of what started them on mission.  Love is the basics and at the heart of the mission.

Such was the case for Jesus the winter before the Cross.  He had been in Jerusalem twice in the last three months or so.  Shame and legalism were the themes of his adversaries and they rejected his love out of principle.

He went back across the Jordan to the place where John first baptized, and there he remained.  Many came to him and said, “John performed no sign, but everything John said about this man was true.” And many there began to believe in him (John 10:40-42).

The Jordan River was full of  the meaning of conversion for the Jewish people.  Just as Moses parted the Red Sea in leaving Egypt, Joshua parted the waters of the Jordan as the people of Israel entered the Promised Land.  It had been seen as a place of going from slavery to the full benefits of being children of promise.  Being children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob meant a context of covenant with God as a person.  To go from one level of relationship with God to a higher one is part of what covenant means.  It means more than “What I have is yours” but “I am yours”.  In the thoughts and feelings of Jesus one can imagine in this later stage of his public life something like nostalgia on how he began ministry before at the baptism by John.  That was where a model of Christian conversion began to be lived out and modeled in one fateful week in part by Jesus himself.

Three years before, the soil of John’s ministry was a prime place for Christ and the community he founded and would begin its foundation in an act and sign of repentance.  One could call the people being baptized as going to the “Church of John” in that with his baptism they were saying they loved God more than their sins and were ready for God’s kingdom to come in fulness. This was a hunger for God’s grace that they could come and receive while putting aside the dirt of the weary journey. The baptism of repentance is good in an admitted need for God.  It is like the 12 Step model in admitting that you have become powerless and cannot manage your life alone. It is even admitting your wrongs and their very nature.  Such admission is the beginning of wisdom but not conversion in fulness: a conversion of the heart.

For Christ and his followers, this had other contexts and those contexts were of fulfillment partly in experiencing the beginnings of the Church which Jesus would found.  Jesus was proclaimed by John to be the Lamb of God and baptizer in the Holy Spirit.  Some who saw him being baptized heard a voice in the baptism that this was the Son of God.  It was in this scene that some began to believe in him and among them two who would become apostles.

Of the pilgrims mentioned above, it is worth considering what they were thinking.  John said that Jesus must increase and he would decrease.  That was significant but still lacked something.  There were no stumbling blocks in the crowd in Jordan.  They had not heard the harder truths yet.  They also did not know what it would be like to have a continued relationship personally with Jesus in tandem with such hard truths.  Does that make their belief in Jesus meaningless?  Not necessarily.  It just means that they believed with obedience to the point that they could with what they knew.  But the call of the price of discipleship would come soon enough like it does to anyone who takes the daring step of seeing Jesus as more than just a nice guy to believe in a savior like hero.  The core message of Christianity is that Jesus is Lord.

One can look at the epistle to the Hebrews which speaks of the foundations of personal conversion, encountering God in His covenantal nature and eternal view.  Below is a general outline for salvation from ones conversion into eternity within in the context of community.

“Therefore, let us leave behind the basic teaching about Christ and advance to maturity, without laying the foundation all over again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, instruction about baptisms and laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. (Hebrews 6:2)

So what is it like to do those things in an experience that is ideal and clear?  One can see in other scenes in the gospels how a conversion to Jesus is murky with condemnation and cynicism.  What I will address next are ways Jesus can show up when the heart of the person is ready, the context is ideal and still have healthy skepticism come along for the ride.  With that in mind, I concentrate on the first 7 days  where Jesus sheds the garb of a carpenter and steps up in the public favor of the Father and models conversion for the world to follow.

To be clear on theology, Jesus was not a convert.  But Jesus made a point in these first days of going public to show what conversion looks like.  The unveiling of Jesus as the wisdom and power of God is not an enigma but a mystery that the humble can always at least get the gist of.  One such humble person was John son of Zechariah baptizing people along the Jordan River.  To a great extent, if one gets his lens, one greatly gets who Jesus is and offers.  It is that Jesus atones for the sins of the world.  Even the worst.

  In those days John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea [and] saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” …… At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. (Matthew 3:1,5).

Repent- A wise man with a dramatic addiction recovery story said that if he meets someone like he used to be that has a history of bad character and cannot describe their own turning point then he hesitates to trust them.  Conversion is a choice and is a turning point.

the kingdom of heaven is at hand!–  Conversion is towards a constant relationship that it rooted in heaven.  It is not about politics, culture or any other schemas that humans conjure up.  God is above the fray and his purest state of kingdom starts and ends in heaven but can be grasped on earth.

baptized by him…. as they acknowledged their sins-  Conversion is a redemption process and is meant for a healthy community context.  The call to Christ, is a call to community.  It is no surprise that in many early Christian communities the norm was for some to stand up to confess sins and receive the grace of the forgiveness in the name of Christ at a church meeting.  Even looking at today in 12 Step meetings there is a confessional quality as someone says “I am…..and I am a(n)…. “  While 12 Step is an honest program, Christianity is more than that.

To know the call of Jesus is to have the norm of knowing that call from honesty into change.  In that, we can all be works in progress. Such is the beauty of the Savior’s work on all who seek him in a community of loved sinners coming out of the shame of our failings.  We are all hungry for that even if we do not know it.

Gift Horse In Mouth

As I write this today it is Christmas Eve.  For some it a is a time of celebration of the Christian faith taken for granted as a reality.  Others see it as a cute celebration of what amounts to a fairy tale.  Still others are somewhere in between of whatever it means to engage with such a proposition; they remain skeptical.

There is a fine line between skepticism and cynicism in matters of faith.  With the former there is an honest inquiry into what may be divine that can lead to a fuller collaboration for the parts that may become clear over time while there is some intellectual honesty that not all will be clear.  Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God….he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.” If the inquiry is honest and they come out on the other side as believers collaboration, not coercion, is in the process.

Where the later comes in, cynicism, there is not a matter of collaboration but one of demanding God make sense with little or no mystery.  This approach taken to its conclusion is asking God to coerce into what is seen as a hypothetical truth and cuts free will off at the knees.

And on this case in point, even religious people are not immune.  Zechariah was a priest at about the year 0 and he had his hangup when it was communicated to him that he and his wife were to conceive John the Baptist.  His response was not a welcome one to an angel of the Lord in the house of the Lord speaking to him, a priest, a servant of the Lord.

Then Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel said to him in reply, “I am Gabriel, who stand before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news. But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.” (Luke 1:18-20)

How shall I know this? —- A very loaded challenge.  Zechariah puts out the reasons in natural law that God’s miraculous power is doubtful to overcome.  Second, Zechariah presumes that he is entitled to know that the initiator of this promise expected to put down a deposit of good faith.  Appropriate for a business transaction in the world or a salesman pitching wares at his house.  But it is not his house.  It is God’s house and God’s economy of doing things and not man’s.  If one looks at the behavior of skeptics, especially religious ones, that mistake is done often.

But now you will be speechless …will be fulfilled at their proper time—- God does not coerce us to reason things out but proposes us.  God does force us to ponder.  Sometimes we get a wake up call in tragedy, suffering or a well reasoned argument to lift up our minds and hearts to God that transcends our dominant five senses and our many more assumptions.  In those moments or seasons we blink, we breath, we pace or look longingly at the top of a tree swayed by the wind.  And then we harden our hearts and turn to shallow distractions.  Or maybe we do not.

which will be fulfilled at their proper time—- But this attention getter would be fulfilled in two contexts that are worth knowing for the seeker of God.  One is that Zechariah needed to conceive in his heart this child of promise before he had a marital embrace.   But for the day he would hold his son it would be a matter of seeing him as a gift and not an entitlement.  In fact, John means “Yahweh has shown favor”.

God will click things together in his timing and his way.  We have something better than Zechariah in that we can choose to be silent and go slow.  To inquire of God is to hear his voice in our hearts and often over a period of time.  A sharp sense of his voice and his will for our lives is the exception and not the rule.  To forget this is to look at the existence and even grace of God like a gift horse in the mouth and making a donkey of ones self.

Today as I post this message it is Christmas Eve.  By all means, seek God with your mind.  But remember God, in Jesus, seeks you always.  Respond wisely.