Tag Archives: creation

What am I being redeemed to?

0184136a84ba06f329f247d635c265d92966f6adf1God’s creation of us was good and with the whole of creation, very good. If my goodness is my heart intention or my will, then to be truly human is to have right heart intention: a good will- a will able to choose, free and sovereign, and acting within God’s will and reflecting God’s will. As humans, we are able to reason and act apart from instinct and, I believe, to know and be known fully in our human spirit by God. In God’s creation of us, God blesses us with a good will, able to reason and decide, and with our spirit alive in him. For me this is what it is to be alive; this is what we are redeemed to in Christ.

To say we are redeemed to a moral perfection rather than our original blessing isn’t true. A moral choice is one made by judging what is good and what is evil and choosing the good. So far so good, but we do this out of duty rather because, having judged something as wrong, we must do the good. We have set up a law within ourselves, act on our evaluation and seek to live by this law which we are free to choose to do. But where is the redemption- we can do this as we are. Our separation from God is as a result of our being able to make these choices, the scriptures teach- this is the root of sin and death. We are created to be alive in God not to slavishly follow laws. You can live a moral life without God- that’s the problem. You can choose to lead a moral life to your own harm and loss. You can choose to live a moral life to avoid the consequences of not doing so.

God I believe acts to redeem us from living by law to living under our original grace. Grace is God’s free gift given because of our faith in him not faith in our own moral choices. We are redeemed to that place of innocence that comes out of a higher relationship of faith in God and in Christ who saves us from law and makes us alive in our original life. Christ renews our hearts- redeems our wills- so that we are empowered to dwell in eternity with God. As we go deeper into faith our inclination is to do good because in Christ sin and the consequences of sin are dealt with- we are made good. Our lives in Christ perfect us in this as we live our lives in grace, knowing we are forgiven our sin through faith in the redemption of Christ.

Redemption in Christ is the gift of a life freed from the endless toil of being subject to the laws of our own devising- by command, culture and upbringing. In Christ we are freed to be virtuous because of faith. Our turning away from the inclinations of our own hearts to the principal of faith in God restores us to our original blessing and frees us to live the life of one made in the image of God. God created us to be in Christ.

Reflection from a Week in April 2016

I have written, thought and spoken a lot of my belief in God’s gift to us of a sovereign will. I think I believe it is this free gift to us – God’s grace to us – that makes us humans in the image of God. Our sovereign free will is God’s image in us, a principal of grace. God has perfect free will. What we contend for and call our free will is truly slavery; slavery to guilt and shame; slavery to the drives of our lusts and desires.

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Audley End Hot House Display

It has been said that joy craves eternity and others say that eternity is to be found in the moment, living the moment to the full. I am sure there is some truth in this. This is always expressed in the context of our ability to choose. But how do we effect this choice. Is the fact of our faith in our own will in reality binding us to a law, and this in fact is the source of our sin in turning from the grace set in each of us. We are not who we are created to be; sin then is not living as those who are sovereign by God’s will but by a principle of law, the knowledge of good and evil.

Is the existence of law the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Law is the masking of our created godliness; a denying of the gift of grace within all of us. What does it mean in Genesis 3:22…”The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat and live for ever.” And in Genesis 11:6… “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them”

Is God jealous for his deity? Why then had he made man in his own image? Isn’t becoming more like God progress?

I wonder if, given that God is supremely good and named as Love, it’s the truth that the sovereignty of our own will is only evil if it is not the perfect expression of the perfect will of God. It is a grasping of who we are made to be in our own will on our own terms.

Adam’s grasping after and taking of the apple asserted his will, not the will of God. Adam creates a morality not inherent in the grace of human sovereignty but in knowledge; in the death and curse of the law, creating a law; in judgement: this is good- this is evil. It is this principle of death Christ destroys, crushing under his foot.

Could it be that in Christ, the exact image and revelation of God, we see the law and its curse nailed to a Cross, the awful expression of Jesus’ living the life expressing, “Your will, not mine” to God his Father? The Cross is a powerful undoing of the power of the law, redeeming the grace within us.

I wonder if the story of the Bible is God’s revelation of the absolute value of his image in us. We measure our freedom in our ability to choose, but could it be that God is leading us to a place where we live from that inner place of sovereign grace.

I return again to the absurdity of this story. It begins in the very act of creation where we measure our being by the ultimate Being, God, and in the despair of sin we cry out, “Why did you create me for such suffering? Is that Justice?” Through Noah we see God’s commitment to humanity; to bear the pain of creation.

It continues in Abraham where God’s promised one is demanded as a sacrifice – a call from God to break all laws. A Call from God to have faith in God to be a god who he is not – a child killer – demanding what he has himself forbidden. Is the deep lesson here that all morality is within us and is perfected in trusting in the grace within us – our only source of Joy and Delight is being in communion with God’s perfect will? Is God saying in this that there is a higher purpose, a higher calling that we are to realise; that which is within us, beyond what we can conceive as being good and evil, beyond what we can conceive as being God.

By pushing beyond our own judgement, we become who we are created to be; who Abraham is – our father in faith – and discover who God is. God is revealed. And then the incarnation, life and death of Christ – God on the cross with all its manifold meaning presents itself. What is the outcome? We stand in the presence of the living God and partake in his deity, living in communion with the Spirit through grace.

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Audley End a Riot of Tulips

 

It is a strange place to be where our high conception of God’s sovereignty makes God less than he is. We come to believe that God has destined everyone’s ultimate destiny and created us either for damnation or glory as an act of his sovereign will. Our freedom is to choose the course of our lives which in some mysterious way only confirms God’s un-resistible grace choice of us. We proclaim God to have known us from the beginning, conceived us in love and given us sanctity by knitting us together in our mother’s womb but, for the praise of his glory, he has created some whose unchangeable destiny is to suffer eternal conscious torment.

Anyone who counters this doctrine is called filthy and described as baying like animals.

But this idea of being destined for eternal punishment is abhorrent. For people who come to know God but accept this theory, they become what they dismiss – Universalists, believing all are saved- all are created for glory and in their heart of hearts they believe this but speak something else. We all deserve eternal punishment but some are chosen not by merit but for the glory of God’s grace.  In believing this I confess one thing with my mouth and hope the contrary becoming double minded and ineffective in proclaiming Christ as good news. When this movement of thought focusses on mission and service, it somehow grasps at assurance through works; the very works it denies are effective. God is truly only satisfied in Christ – his whole delight in humanity is not in works but in faith. So faith transforms itself into works that give us the solace, that we are elect.

For me the error is in trying to understand the Cross from the perspective of judgement and not on the realisation of grace, resurrecting the very principle the Cross destroys. Our election in Christ is because of our original grace. Our alienation from God, from the beginning, is because we choose law and reject grace, preferring a principle of morality over the work of grace of the indwelling Spirit.

Any reading of the Bible calls us to intimacy with God, not the comfort of our own theories. By appealing to God as a judge we make God unjust and, in our hearts, fear his justice, secretly denying God the power to judge, if we think it through. This idol of our theory of God’s sovereignty saps our humanity and our very words are tinged with a monstrous intent. We become a mouthpiece of a god who is not God. We do not find Christ in the Bible. We cry out to the god of our own conceiving, “Where is the justice!” We have made an attribute of God our idol.

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Audley End Potting Shed

I heard a thing that was strange to me – the idea that on the cross we see that violence does not succeed. The cross says to the principalities and powers, all your vengeance, all your cruelty, all your measure for measure is defeated. Your vindictive acts – your solutions to all problems, killing, maiming, shaming – are defeated. The hypocrisy of the accusers and cruelty of the oppressors are exposed and defeated. Nothing separates us from the love of God, because on the cross, Father, Son and Spirit defeat death and even the wrath of God- his judgement on sin doesn’t extinguish the light of life.

I realised the urgency of Paul in his letters. I became aware that his message was to persevere in the face of accusation and oppression because of the cross and, no, you are not defeated! All because of your faith in the Cross… In all circumstances believe and hold to the Way and trust in Christ’s righteousness as your righteousness.

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Audley End Hot House Furnace

We live in a universe of time, gravity, chance and attrition. The light of life pierces this darkness. Light and life are attributes of our God, creator of a system where everything decays, where entropy dissipates and light brings new life into a system.

None of this has a moral character but God is God and he knows good and evil we are told. Our existence as bearers of God’s sovereign image, and in some way, the principalities and powers, makes the universe a moral universe. We are created from the beginning to walk with God, to know his voice and to serve in light and life, stewarding the gift of creation. And it was good – it is very good. This is our original blessing.

The revelation of God in the Bible is our Ararat, our Moriah, our Red Sea, the Incarnation, the Transfiguration, Calvary, Ascension and Pentecost – all beautiful. Personal.

Suffering is with us as is sovereignty and we are called to trust, to realise the original blessing in faith and know the sovereign power of our creation – to heal the sick, raise the dead and live free.

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Audley End Cloud Hedge

When Jesus declares the blessing, “Blessed are the poor in spirit… “ I wonder if we are slightly bemused – being poor in any way is not a blessing.

I wonder if the message is a glimpse of God’s view of suffering. We are all blessed. We are blessed in our being and God’s assured blessing works through all these troubles. Truly in creation we are good – God knows us from the beginning. Those who would marginalise and reject the lowly, the mourning, the peace makers, basically the losers in society, need to hear and see that all bear God’s blessing. The beginning is God’s blessing.

We are created in the image of God and in Christ we see the exact image of God though human like us. Christ is God and God is Father, Spirit and Son. God draws us into himself so that we know him because we are like him. Jesus humbled himself on the Cross and our troubled circumstances are given meaning in his suffering.

God himself takes the wrath and curse upon himself and dies in our place. Our faith is that his victory over death- his suffering and death – brings victory in our lives as he walks free from the last and greatest enemy, death. We follow and are made free to live, alive in the image of God, Father, Son and Spirit, dwelling in us- abiding within us – enabling us to live the good and perfect will of the Father. This is freewill in deed, to know and live from the perfect will of God; Christ within is our hope of glory.

God wants us to break through – he wants us to realise the blessing of creation – we are good. We are very good. God empowers us to put down sin and put on his righteousness turning away from our wilfulness and with Jesus, proclaim the Way, Truth and Life of Jesus; Father! Your will not mine!

We do well to study this, meditate upon this and listen to God in prayer. To pray at all times and in every way so that we can know and live the perfect will of the Father.

This is how we stand assured before the unapproachable light of God. This is how our weakness becomes strength. Truly, truly, truly, we are blessed.

Behold Behemoth!

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The wounded healer is a book written by Henri JM Nouwen. The cover states, “In our woundedness, we can become a source of life for others.” The book is part of Nouwen’s teaching on Ministry. He concludes in a chapter on Ministry for a Rootless Generation, that the man of prayer offers leadership as an articulator of inner events, compassion and as a contemplative.

I really get this; Jesus taught us to love others as we love ourselves; he wept at the death of Lazarus, had compassion on the widow whose son had died and raised them form death as he did the ruler’s little daughter. He also withdrew often to pray alone.

It is so important we grow to love ourselves and know our inner depths; to know and love ourselves as God loves us. In loving God, wells of living water flow from our hearts – we are enabled to love ourselves. This is a revelation from the mouth of Jesus, recalling the creational joy of God at creation and the foundation of the saving word he gave to his people through Moses.

In loving God and loving one another as ourselves, we are able to redeem our times through Jesus. Those who are able to dig deep and articulate this love in a place of engagement with people, are able to lead. God poured himself out for us; as we pour ourselves out, taking our woundedness and rootlessness and articulating the miracle of our own healing in Christ, we offer leadership to our contemporary culture.  Leaders need to engage with and articulate their redemption.

Stemming from this articulating of the good news of Jesus, is a genuine compassion that breaks down walls; removes barriers; refuses to act to separate people from people. The suffering of others is our suffering, as much as our own pain.

The pain and violence that God chose to endure through saving Noah and his family, has a purpose –God doesn’t give up on us! Job and has counsellors are wrong, God is not to be praised despite suffering, but God is glorified in creation and His joy at what He has made is set before us, which works its way out in us through works of compassion.

The danger, wildness and messiness of creation; the very forces of nature that destroyed Job’s world embody the message God has for him. The fearful creatures of Chaos reveal the nature of God; though He is not them, they are his works. Behold Behemoth…

Compassion is fulfilled on the cross as God takes all pain, violence and sin upon himself and sets us free in Christ. Leaders live this reality, transforming suffering into hope.

And finally, prayer: the contemplation of God, the Father Almighty Maker of heaven and of earth. In Him all things, live and move and have their being. God lives in unapproachable light and yet we stand assured in his presence because of Christ.

Leadership so often seems to be about being right. Righteous leadership is about knowing the Holy. Contemplation of God calls from the heart for God’s Kingdom to be on earth as it is in heaven, freedom from temptation and deliverance from evil.

Contemplation brings us to our knees in the knowledge that all our assertions about God’s nature and being are like arrogance and pride. Our words and theologies are sometimes a thin, self-important veil over confusion and fear, concealing anxiety and craving an identity which we then call god. We feel good because at least we are not as bad as them! True contemplation of God frees us from such delusions of grandeur and enables us to lead.

“Do you still want to argue with the Almighty?
You are God’s critic, but do you have the answers?
(Job 40:2 New Living Translation (NLT))

Poem: Railing

The sound of sheer silence

photoThis week gravitational waves were detected: a squashing of matter around the solidity of laser light. The reality described by deep mathematics and the intricate analysis of statistical probabilities yielded a truth of the cosmos.

In the same wonder, I have been wrestling ever so slightly with the idea of the Covenant of Redemption as being part of a Christian universe. It is saying that at the heart of who God is, the scripture reveals a redemptive covenant between the persons of God: Father, Son and Spirit. God in his foreknowledge of the fall of man, at his heart, in eternity, agrees to redeem mankind.

The consequence of having this faith is a reassurance that God isn’t reacting to a world gone wrong in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. But in his mercy and grace, his very nature and purpose is to redeem mankind from sin and death through the cross. This makes creation an act of supreme love. This gives us the basis for trust that, in all the creative chaos of the outworking of God’s Word, love triumphs; in all the pain and suffering, tragedy and hurt, all is well. That is not an easy thing to say.

In accepting God: Father, Son and Spirit, as he is, faith reveals the “very good” of his joy in creation. He is not a cruel God, but God who in and through the community of creation freely pours himself out to redeem humanity. This is our experience as Christians.

The love that expresses God is a revelation that demands devotion and trust in God in the confusion of circumstances. We only skim the surface of the depths of God when we speak of eternity and foreknowledge. Eternity, the place of God’s being, and foreknowledge, reveal his being. Even saying this seems to put at a distance the nearness of his Breath, the reassurance of his Word and the love of the Father we know, and brings us to sheer silence.

The challenge of the doctrine of original sin

Some are challenged by the doctrine of original sin, most live their lives in the mystery of the truth of their salvation in Christ. A doctrine is a statement of belief. It is the summing up of the evidence in Scripture based on faith- it is like a scientific theory which becomes orthodox with use and accumulated evidence gathered by deepening study of the text in the light of faith. Some will also allow the evidence of nature.

Orthodox Christian faith is that everything is created by God, One person, Lord of all, and that humanity is created in God’s image. All humanity is sinful and is subject to the futility of a creation compromised by sin. This came about because of the choice of an individual, Adam, the first human male. Adam was fully human. If he was around today he could drive a bus or, if he worked hard, gain a PhD in Astro Physics. The consequence of his sin, it is believed, is that people suffer death and live separated from God. Earth has been separated from Heaven, the dwelling place of God. The Garden of Eden was the place where God and Adam walked together, where Heaven and Earth intersected.

I believe that the Christian Bible is literal, except where it is clear from the context it is not meant to be taken as literal. Your world view will dictate the extent to which you consider parts of it not to be literal. Orthodox Christian tradition tends to the position that there was a literal Adam and that Adam was the first human. From the point of God breathing humanity into him he was made the whole of humanity.

Genesis is history, prophecy, law and parable. Its author is almost certainly mostly Moses. It tells the story in many layers of meaning of how God came to call out a people for himself through Moses. In Genesis we see from the beginning there is Law, the parable of the number and symbol for ten and a story of the history of mankind in the first ten generations.

When Jesus and the early Christians taught, the context was the culture of the religion that grew up around this story and the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. Some accepted prophets, histories and wisdom literature as part of this body of scripture and the early Christians taught from a Greek version that included apocryphal stories.

I don’t believe that fact of the Adam of the story is contradicted by science. I think nature would conclude that from Adam came the first Eve. We can argue about the details of how.

In Genesis we are given a message of hope we could not know except through faith in its message – all was created good, in fact, very good. It prophecies that creation is fecund and perfectible; to be subdued and stewarded for its Creator by humanity. In the text we are acquainted with the rationality of the Creation because of the personhood of God who from the beginning broods and delights, creating through time, orders creation and fills it. God spoke and it came to be and Creator God speaks to and walks with humanity in a relationship which Adam enjoys, revealing God’s holiness and parent heart. There is so much to contemplate and draw hope from in this biblical revelation.

But, in the story, darkness is also presented; disconnection from God, inhumanity, greed and lust enter the story with death and disease. Genesis explores the origins of this state of sin. Whatever our doctrine of original sin or not, the mystery revealed in Genesis is that the gift of free will given to Adam was used to disobey God and choose death. Our first ancestor chose to rebel and chose the path of independence from God and of sin and death. Christian faith says that all choose to be in Adam and all may choose to be in Christ and be redeemed and reformed. This is because, from the beginning all are made in the image of God and his light shines in all hearts. Being bought back and even recreated is possible because of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. It’s all about Jesus, Son of God. In him we get and become his holiness, just as in Adam we suffered the consequences of Adam’s rebellion.

Being “in Adam” or “in Christ” now describes our nature; our source of being. The early hearers would have known what the Christian writers meant. Being in Adam signals our being in a state of rebellion and being in Christ signals our being in a state of grace, our sins forgiven.

You can argue whether we are born in Adam or not; whether by nature we are born in Adam, full stop. That will be your doctrine of original sin or not, but, the fact is that according to the Bible we are all in Adam when it comes to the choice to sin. Creation is compromised by our sin. We are all sinners and need to be saved – being in Christ is the means and guarantee of salvation. The Bible only allows for this being our condition before God. Being in Christ is the means of salvation.

Be bold and pray this through in the confidence that God will speak peace and comfort to you. I think your reassurance will come in a word you cannot speak and certainly some will reject you as you confess your salvation.

Being in Christ is pure grace, not dependent on time or geography. The early Christian writers knew that the means of salvation, the way of answering the call of the light within, was a mystery. The good news was that the way back into Eden is the man Jesus; he is the ladder to heaven. By an accident of time or Geography we can know this, but this mystery was so from the beginning; we are doubly blessed as we see the revelation and we are able to worship God as He is, Father, Son and Spirit. It’s not our knowledge of the historical Jesus that saves us but the indwelling of the transcendent Jesus that shines a light into each person’s heart. God is a just and the whole of creation is birthed around the pouring out of love in the Godhead, Father, Son and Spirit.

Where love is, the pursuit of the light within and the knowledge of grace for repentance there is salvation. This knowledge is there for every person to know, however dimly it sometimes shines. Where the name of Jesus is known there is right worship and restoration of the dwelling place of God in the midst of his people.

I am reassured that nothing in science and nature contradicts what I have written and if it does, and at some stage I understand differently or have misunderstood, then God still loves me and the Bible is still true. The Bible is true whatever my faulty opinions or fragile understanding of the truth it reveals. My faith is that, communicated to ordinary humanity, the Christian Bible is the actual word of God and its progressive revelation was a sufficient and complete revelation of the message and means of salvation at the time it was spoken. There was never a time in history when God had not made plain what was necessary for salvation.

We live in times where so much damage has been done in the name of Christianity and around us we see the results of the abuses of the church, sometimes the reality of the gospel as set out in the Christian Bible is obscured, the advantage seemingly lost, but to the praise of Christ’s glorious name he is merciful and just. It’s our choices that sear our consciences, not accidents of history or experience.

I am convinced that salvation is not in the gift of men; their systems or words. Salvation is assured by the indwelling of the Spirit, bringing a knowledge of the holiness of God and our call by grace to be holy as he is holy. This call is in the hearts of all people and is not dependent on time or geography. The revelation of this mystery in Christ is the foundation of true worship. As Christians we are assured of this worship in spirit and truth as an ever flowing reality, knowing adoption into the family of God where the fullness of the flowing love between Father, Son and Spirit flows to us in Christ.

This is the gospel from the beginning, the good news: within you something humbly cries out for righteousness; hungers and thirsts for righteousness, is meek and knows poverty of spirit, mourns, is merciful, is pure and seeks peace – pursue it, trust it and you are blessed and rewarded in heaven. Here your identity in God is revealed, the mystery displayed: you are in Christ. Living in this light and becoming its bearer may bring persecution but we are to rejoice gladly and worship Jesus in spirit and truth, our only hope and the way to the Father. The man Jesus is the way, the truth and the life of this cosmic gospel not a well worded doctrine, however helpful it may be.