Imagine a New Story

From Rankin Wilbourne, Union With Christ:

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Most of us have wondered, at one time or another, if we were switched at birth. “Are those really my parents?”

Now, imagine if your parents are mean and critical, that you have always been a disappointment to them and they to you. But then, one day, you find a dusty trunk in the attic. You quietly pick the lock and open the trunk and discover papers that prove you had, in fact, been abducted as a baby. These aren’t your parents after all–they’re criminals!

You discover your real mom was a painter at the Sorbonne in Paris and your real dad was a Nobel Prize-winning scientist and a professional baseball player. And you say to yourself, “Of course, this explains everything! I am extraordinary! I knew it all along.” You also read that they are fabulously wealthy and have a lavish inheritance waiting for you.

It’s a fantastic story, but you get it. Such a discovery would cause you to reinterpret everything about your life: where you came from, your true identity, your capacities and capabilities, the resources available to to you, your future, and your destiny. After that day, your life would never be the same. You would come down from that attic with new eyes for everything and everyone. Your whole life would feel new, changed, and invigorated.

But here’s the thing–it had always been true. It was the truth underlying your life even before you discovered it. It was rooted in history, and you had the DNA to prove it. It was true while it was hidden from your sight. But it didn’t change your life until your eyes were opened to it…

Union with Christ tells you a new story about who you are. If you are “in Christ,” you too have been given a new identity. God has called you into a new life, rooted in a history that predates you, anchored in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. You discover who you are “in Christ,” and you are given the DNA to prove it, the Holy Spirit. You once were lost, but now you are “found in him” (Phil. 3:9).

This truth can change everything for you, but living in this reality will require your imagination. The Christian message is simple enough for a child to understand. At the same time, the Bible says that because of the new life you have been given in Christ, “from now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view” (2 Cor 5:16 NRSV). Coming to see your union with Christ is like finally putting on a pair of desperately needed glasses–Wow! Look at that! We see ourselves, and everything else, with new eyes.

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Happy Solstice

This time of year, especially on the solstice, I reflect on the days & seasons. God has built into the mechanics of the cosmos a reminder that darkness pivots into light; the cold & quiet of death, in the loss of plants and animals, will lead again to an abundance of life. We are living in a time of redemption. If that doesn’t make you feast and celebrate, even in the darkness, then nothing will.

Yes, I know that the days & seasons are cyclical; summer’s transition to winter is as inevitable as winter’s into summer. The question is always, where will the cycle stop? Will it end with abundance or death?

God has promised that he is a God of life, not death. All the way back in Genesis 1, he set a pattern that he is moving things from chaos and emptiness to order and abundance. Our faith is in that promise.

And so like the lyricists of the Ancient Near East, we believe that winter is temporary and summer is eternal; the wheel stops at noon, not midnight. In that promise we rest and rejoice.

A Morning Prayer

This prayer from Valley of Vision is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read.

Compassionate Lord,
Thy mercies have brought me to the dawn
of another day.
Vain will be its gift unless I grow in grace,
increase in knowledge,
ripen for spiritual harvest.
Let me this day know thee as thou art,
love thee supremely,
serve thee wholly,
admire thee fully.
Through grace let my will respond to thee,
Knowing that power to obey is not in me, but
that thy free love alone enables me to serve thee.
Here then is my empty heart,
overflow it with thy choicest gifts;
Here is my blind understanding,
chase away its mists of ignorance.
O ever watchful Shepherd,
lead, guide, tend me this day;
Without thy restraining rod I err and stray;
Hedge up my path lest I wander into
unwholesome pleasure,
and drink its poisonous streams;
Direct my feet that I be not entangled
in Satan’s secret snares,
nor fall into his hidden traps.
Defend me from assailing foes,
from evil circumstances,
from myself.
My adversaries are part and parcel of my nature;
They cling to me as my very skin;
I cannot escape their contact.
In my rising up and sitting down they
barnacle me;
They entice me with constant baits;
My enemy is within the citadel;
Come with almighty power and cast him out,
pierce him to death,
and abolish in my every particle
of carnal life this day. Amen.

A Good Friday Prayer

A prayer for Good Friday, by Karl Barth:

Lord our God, merciful and almighty Father, you loved this poor world so much that you allowed your own dear Son to take such a wonderful path for its liberation and for the liberation of us all! For you, this was the right path, and there was no other; and so it should be for us as well. And if this is indeed the case — that we find freedom only through him and in communion with him, that we reach the heights only by going through depths, that we find joy only through suffering, and that we come to life only through death — then we wish to accept this as your good and proper order.

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Politics is a Broken Cistern

Writing about Jeremiah 2.13:

Politics is a broken cistern. When Christians trust in political solutions to save the nation, they bring judgment on themselves. One reason for the precipitous decline of the mainline church in America has been its engagement in liberal politics. And by aligning itself with the right-wing agenda, the conservative church has fallen into the same trap. The quest for political power destroys the spiritual influence of the church.

Philip Graham Ryken, Jeremiah & Lamentations, p. 43.

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Theology for the Community

Time Magazine featured Karl Barth on April 20, 1962 (see yesterday’s post). It also included a summary of this theology under the title, “Theology for the Community”:

The science that Karl Barth pursues gets its subject matter from God; but it would fail, he says, if it did not serve the community of men the way a pendulum serves a clock. Barth’s theological output is so vast that only a handful of men have ever read all his works. But for those willing to try them, his books offer wisdom and wit as well. A sampler of Barth’s views:

On Heaven

People have often made fun of this idea of “ascending into heaven.” They have asked whether Christ did it like some kind of bird or aviator. And they have objected that heaven is at the nadir quite as much as at the zenith, and that the ascension should be interpreted in a merely “spiritual” sense. I would not advise anyone to deny this movement from the bottom up. It is not just an illustration. Of course, we must understand the place to which Christ goes, this “right hand of God,” is a divine place. Place and time are not qualities of the creature only. There is a divine time, and a divine place, and God is the origin of time and place. There is a movement “from the bottom up,” not a movement from the ground up to the clouds, but a movement from the human place to the divine place.

On Prayer

If we do not pray, we fail to realize that we are in the presence of God. God opens this road to us; he commands us to pray. Thus it is not possible to say “I shall pray” or “I shall not pray” as if it were an act according to our own good pleasure.

On Scripture

When we come to the Bible with our questions—How shall I think of God and the universe? How arrive at the divine?—it answers us, as it were, “My dear sir, these are your problems: you must not ask me! Whether it is better to hear Mass or hear a sermon, whether the proper form of Christianity is to be discovered in the Salvation Army or in ‘Christian Science,’ whether your religion should be more a religion of the understanding, or of the feelings, you can and must decide for yourself.” The Bible tells us not how we should talk with God but what he says to us; not how to find our way to him, but how he has sought and found the way to us.

On Marriage

Marriage is “chaste,” honorable and truly sexual when it is encompassed by the fellowship of the spirit and of love, but also of work and of the whole of life with all its sorrows and joys, and when this total life experience justifies at the right time and place this particular relationship. When the relationship is fulfilled in this context, when the fulfillment is sustained by the environment of total coexistence, then and only then is it right and salutary. Coitus without coexistence is demonic.

On Temperance

One maybe a nonsmoker, abstainer and vegetarian, yet be called Adolf Hitler.

On Roman Catholic Mariology

The content of the biblical attestation of revelation does not give us any cause to acknowledge that the person of Mary in the event of revelation possesses relatively even such an independent and emphatic position as to render it necessary or justifiable to make it the object of a theological doctrine. Mariology is an excrescence, i.e., a diseased construct of theological thought. Excrescences must be excised.

On Death & Resurrection

What is the meaning of the Christian hope in this life? A life after death? A tiny soul which, like a butterfly, flutters away above the grace and is still preserved somewhere, in order to live on immortally? That is not the Christian hope. “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” Body in the Bible is quite simply man, man, moreover, under the reign of sin. And to this man it is said, Thou shalt rise again. Resurrection means not the continuation of life, but life’s completion. “We shall be changes” (I Corinthians 15); which does not mean that a quite different life begins, but that “this corruptible must put on incorruption.” Then it will be manifest that “death is swallowed up in victory.” That which is sown in dishonor and weakness will rise again in glory and power. The Christian hope does not lead us away from this life. It is the conquest of death, not a flight into the Beyond.

On Music

If I ever go to heaven, I would first inquire about Mozart, and only then about Augustine, Thomas, Luther, Calvin and Schleiermacher.