Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Thy Kingdom Come

In high school I was a tract girl, not to be confused with a track girl, which I only wish I was (I have the scars on my knees from a bad hurdling accident to prove it). I handed out tracts. I personally shared tracts with people. In school. At the mall (until getting kicked out). In the streets of NYC.

Mmmmm- those were interesting days.

Honestly, I loved God with my whole heart and I wanted other people to know the love that I had experienced through Him.

But my framework for sharing with people was skewed. Then, as I've talked about before, I went to college and my faith blew up in my face. God put the pieces back together in a way that I think I'll spend the rest of my life figuring out. I love it. God is continually rocking my world.

Back to tract girl.

When tract girl shared her faith, it would look something like this,"Can I ask you a question? If you were to die tonight, do you think you would go to heaven?"

Answer not really important.

"Can I share with you how I would answer that question?" And onto the tract we would go.


Salvation was about heaven and a personal relationship with God. Believe these four points right now and that was it. Now, as weird as all of that may have been, I hope that God used even that to prick someone's heart in a way that did send them on a path of knowing him. That's the thing about God, even through all of our craziness, he still is on the move in our world.

It's taken years to process this though. The more I dig into the Word of God and the more I read and talk with people, the more I see how the framework we use of "will you go to heaven when you die" is just not getting it. I touched on it in a post this summer, but I'm still in the process of learning and seeing a fuller picture of what the kingdom of God is all about. Particularly, just how important the resurrection is and what it means for us both presently and in the future.

If we base the whole framework of salvation as simply will you or will you not go to heaven when you die than we're missing so much of the richness of God that extends to ALL. OF. CREATION.

I just finished reading N.T. Wright's, Surprised by Hope, and it's one of those books that rattled me and reminded me just how big the work is that God is doing in the world.

Wright says, "...the work of salvation, in its full sense, is (1) about whole human beings, not merely souls; (2) about the present, not simply the future; and (3) about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us."

This idea is nothing new to me, yet at the same time, if I'm not continually processing it, my mind tends to default back to salvation is about what God does for me. End of story. It muddles all kinds of things up.

About a month ago I wrote a post about Emma's confusion over heaven, and now I realize my own confusion about heaven. So much of what I learned about it growing up was wrong. It's not as if we die and our "soul" is separate and will live forever in this nonmaterial place called heaven. We talk about dying and going to heaven like that's the end of the story. Heaven forever, baby. I remember that phrase from "using your hand to share the gospel," and if you have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm completely fine with keeping it that way. N.T. Wright says, "The ultimate destination is not 'going to heaven when you die' but being bodily raised into the transformed, glorious likeness of Jesus Christ. (the not merely our own happy future...but the glory of God as we come fully to reflect his image.)" Resurrection is vital to our lives beyond just the knowledge that Christ was raised.

Maybe I just haven't been listening very well (quite possible) but it seems as if we don't spend enough time on the resurrection. Yes, we talk about Jesus rising from the dead. He conquered death. I've heard it said (and have said myself) that everything hinges on Easter. I get that. The risen Lord. He took our sin, and didn't stay dead.

I just never understood all the implications of this. I know, Jesus's human body was transformed. He was the same, yet different. He didn't die and have a soul raised. HE raised. And because of that, we will too. While this is nothing new, I guess for years I've just failed to make the connection between resurrection and everything else that God is doing in the world since then.

Resurrection is so much more than just a point of theology. It's the inauguration of God's kingdom on earth. The new creation has begun. As Wright puts it, Jesus was vindicated about "all that he said about the coming kingdom through his own work, through his death and resurrection has come true."

The resurrection ushers in the beginning of the new creation. 

So what in the world does that mean?

Growing up in church you hear the terms new heaven and new earth. The problem is our culture has been so inundated with all this Left Behind hoopla that leaves us trying to decipher truth from fiction. But Jesus returning isn't some weird, science-fiction, it's about God's commitment to setting the world right, to reign as sovereign king. To reaffirm that what he did in the beginning was not this massive mistake, but it was good as he said it was. His plan of rescue worked (is working). And, it brings ultimate justice for those who have faced injustice, suffering, and despair in the hands of those who continue to distort the image of God in the world.

He's redeeming what he called good from the beginning and, "liberating what has come to be enslaved."

My goodness, it's about the entire creation, not just lil old me.

"The New Testament, true to its Old Testament roots, regularly insists that the major, central, framing question is that of God's purpose of rescue and re-creation for the whole world, the entire cosmos. The destiny of the individual human being must be understood within that context. How God is going to redeem and renew his creation through human beings and how he is going to rescue those humans themselves as part of the process but not as the point of it all."

God's kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven. God is rescuing all of creation from it's current state of decay. And yes, rescuing, in my understanding, is both present and future. We get to be a part of the work that God's doing in the world as instruments of redemption. What we do in this life matters.

But it's God that's going to set it all right in the end. This world's a mess that's not getting any better.

Yes, God ultimately is the one that will set establish his kingdom completely as only He can do. However, if new creation has already begun through the starting point of the resurrection, than it will continue beyond to the future as well. As Paul says, "Our labor in the Lord is not in vain." A point that needs to be expanded upon, I know, but for another post.

While the death and resurrection of Jesus ushered in God's kingdom, we can't forget about his life and teachings, which are the bulk of the gospels.

"When we reintegrate what should never have been separated-the kingdom-inaugurating public work of Jesus and his redemptive death and resurrection- we find that the gospel tells a different story. It isn't just a story of some splendid and exciting social work with an unhappy conclusion. Nor is it a story of an atoning death with an extended introduction. It is something much bigger than the sum of those two diminished perspectives. It is the story of God's kingdom being launched on earth as it is in heaven, generating a new state of affairs in which the power of evil has been decisively defeated, the new creation has been decisively launched, and Jesus's followers have been equipped to put that victory and that inaugurated new world into practice. Atonement, redemption, and salvation are what happens on the way because engaging in this work demands that people themselves be rescued from the powers that enslave the world in order that they can in turn be rescuers. To put it another way, if you want to inaugurate God's kingdom, you must follow the way of the cross, and if you want to benefit from Jesus's saving death, you must become part of his kingdom project."

Yes, please.

I long for purpose. I ache for it, and I believe wholeheartedly that God allows me to be a part of His purpose in our world. I am a new creation.

This only just scratches the surface, but I have to process in chunks. All I know is that the more I learn about who God is, the more I want so desperately to be a part of what He's doing because it's SO GOOD. So much better than I could ever have imagined. So much better than four points that send me to a nonmaterial place of eternal bliss. So much better for this life and for the life to come.

"Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Things that Keep Me Up at Night

Sometimes I wish I could go back to a faith that fit into a small box of rules and formulas. I wish I could organize my life with manuals and checklists, and I could measure my life in how many star stickers I was rewarded at the end of the day. I think I can understand a faith like that. It's comfortable and safe, and while I find those words repelling, I probably live there more often than I care to admit.

Sometimes I just want easy.

I don't want to know of children halfway across the world that live in garbage dumps, or women that sell themselves to put food in their family's mouths. I don't want to deal with messy relationships, or explain myself to people that will never understand where I'm coming from.

It would be so much easier to crank up some Jimmy Buffet and pretend that life was all blue waters and fru-fru drinks.

My reality is more like a Mumford & Sons song than Jimmy Buffet though.

In my struggle with faith I do see Him. I have known Him to rescue me from a dull, lifeless faith. I have known the relentless tugs of the Holy Spirit on my heart. I know He has called me for a purpose, and He'll continue to reveal it as I seek after Him. I know, I know He meets us in all our ugliness and doubt. I know, I know that He is present even in places where there is so much pain and sorrow and injustice. I know His grace is sufficient for me and that His power is made perfect in my weakness. 

I know He'll never let me settle for easy.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Saying Goodbye

Matt's grandfather passed away a few weeks ago. This is the eulogy that Matt gave at his funeral. I think he would have been proud of his oldest grandson. I know I was...

Growing up there were certain things that we could always count on when it came to Grandpa. Every Christmas we would all get a card and a $5 gift certificate to McDonalds.  For our birthdays, we knew we would be getting a bag of tootsie pops in a Publix bag.  Although it was small, we always looked forward to his gifts. This tradition continued even as we married and added spouses and our own children to the mix. Each spouse and great grandkid could expect to get their McDonald's gift certificates from grandpa each holiday and birthday. He was consistent in other ways as well. When I was in high school I could always expect to see grandpa in the southwest corner of all my soccer games.  I can still picture it now, he’d be standing with the same group of men each game cheering me on.  After the game, win or lose, the first person to be waiting for me on the other side was grandpa.  First would be a big sweaty hug, then we’d analyze the game.  Even when I was in college, playing at Cedarville, he made sure to make the trip each year to see me play even as his health began to decline.  One such instance involved a game in 40 degree weather with pelting rain.  He didn’t care.  While everyone else was in there cars or gone, grandpa put on his windbreaker and stood out and watched me.  His consistent support of his grandkids in everything they did was something that we all took for granted at times but was a cornerstone for our family.

He loved his grandchildren immensely. At family gatherings he wouldn't talk a lot, but he would sit back and observe his family with love. He never had a harsh word for us, even when I'm sure it was overwhelming to have so many kids running around. The one thing he did always have for us was a big hug for each of us. So big in fact that it wasn't unusual for him to pick you right up off the ground.  And those hugs weren’t reserved just for family members, they were extended to girlfriends/boyfriends, friends from college, or anyone that came within a 5 foot proximity of him at church.  He had a way of making people who weren’t part of the family ‘yet’ feel special.  When I told my buddies from college that grandpa had passed, the main thing they remembered was his big hugs.  Those hugs that took your breath away… literally.

Over the last year & a half or so, our family has spent Friday nights at Outback with my parents and grandpa.  I'm so thankful for this time that I got to see grandpa each week, along with my children. We would talk about sports and he would always listen to the events of my week, good or bad.  He would then relate a lot of what I was going through back to when he was working in the same field.  He would give me advice on how to handle situations but would mainly listen.  I always knew he was on my side whether I was in the wrong or right.  One of my greatest privileges of being his grandson was probably something small to everyone looking from the outside.  As grandpa’s health declined, he would have difficulty walking from place to place.  I decided to start lending him my shoulder each week after dinner to get him from the table to the car.  Although this was a small gesture, I believe we bonded from that short walk each week, many times me bearing a significant amount of weight as we weaved through the maze of tables to get to the front door.  It allowed me to feel like I was able to honor him by helping him in a small way, to provide him with support just as he has supported me all these years.  He would then always tell me how much he appreciated it and we’d hug before leaving the restaurant. 

As with his grandchildren, I know his great-grandchildren brought him so much joy, as well.  I remember when I introduced both my children to him;  He teared up the first time he got to hold them. Emma and Jackson always loved being able to see Big Papa, whom she affectionately named for obvious reasons, each week.  When Emma would see big papa, her eyes would light up and she would run up to give him a hug..  Many times, she would have in depth conversations with Big Papa, most of which made no sense, but he didn’t care he just enjoyed each moment with her.  He had a way of making my children feel special.  I think this was because when he got the opportunity, he always paid attention to them.  

The last time that we got to see grandpa was last Friday night at Chili’s.  Two things happened at dinner that night that I will never forget.  The first was Jackson was being very wiggly last Friday and did not want to sit still.  Dad finally took him and sat next to grandpa with him.  I was sitting across from him at the end of the table as we normally do, and I remember watching as grandpa started playing patticake with Jax.  I was thankful, number one, that grandpa got Jax to sit still so everyone could eat, but also, I remember thinking that I was glad that grandpa was able to have some time with Jax.  The second thing that happened that night was there was a balloon man that came around.  Whenever Emma sees a balloon man, she pleads with us to get one.  Usually dad will end up getting her one, but last Friday, grandpa pulled out a few bucks and got Emma a pink balloon rabbit.  I am so glad now, that I didn’t make him put back his money.  I am so thankful that he got to buy this little balloon for my daughter last week.  I am so thankful that I got to watch him look at her with a sparkle in his eye as she played with the balloon that he bought for her.

Grandpa, I think the greatest thing that you left us with was family.  You followed Proverbs 22:6 and raised up your children in the way they should go and now that they’re old… ok older, they have not departed from it.  You left you’re 15 grandkids and two grandkids still hear on this earth with 4 parents who are great examples to us of how to live for Christ.  You left a big legacy for us all, not many can say that their entire family is committed to loving and serving Jesus.

I like to think that right now, you’re reconciled with grandma, and Johnny and Dani are at your side and you are truly, truly happy.  We’re gonna miss you big papa, but so glad to know that all your burdens, pains, and sorrows are taken away.

We love you.