Tuesday, September 25

The False-Modest Shepherd

True confessions: I've struggled a lot wondering if I should write. At a recent conference I was convicted that I'm not supposed to judge the gifts I've been entrusted to steward, but should steward them. I wrote a few parables to capture my felt conviction. I'll take the risk of posting two here:

A wealthy landowner hired a shepherd and left barns full of food and large pastures, saying, "Feed and tend my sheep." Some time later, he returned to see his flocks. When he came, he found the sheep weak and dying of hunger. "What is the meaning of this?" he demanded. The shepherd replied, "I was afraid I would do something wrong, because I am not an expert at feeding sheep." "You wicked servant," said the master. "I gave you everything you needed for the task. All you needed to do was to give them what I gave you." The master took the flock away and assigned that person to hard labor until restitution was made.

Once a king appointed a governor over a city, and left him to see that the people fared well. When the king returned, he found the  people weak and starving. Barns and factories were full of food, but the people had the meagerest portions. "What does this mean?" he demanded indignantly. "The people thought the food came from me," stuttered the governor. "I didn't want to grow proud by getting credit for your generosity. I was afraid you would see me as a usurper."
"You wicked servant," replied the king. "If you knew I was so generous with you, you should have passed that generosity on. What kind of king do you think I am, that I would care more about proper credit than my people's lives?" Then he stripped the governor of all responsibility and set him to shovel manure, and gave authority for the city to someone he could trust.

Saturday, September 22

Real Estate Futures

My friend Jeff is a fantastic real estate agent, and a great guy.
Recently I polled several friend, "How about real estate? I know
Michelangelo will have a lot to contribute to the new creation, but
what about Jeff?" They all had similar responses: Jeff and April are
incredibly generous and have invested a lot in the Kingdom of God
through their giving. They're amazingly hospitable, and many people
have experienced Jesus' love through being welcomed into their home.

I agree that all these are part of storing up treasure in heaven
which will be available to them in the new creation--all those
relationships, for example. But what about real estate? Will Jeff
need a career counselor to help him find a new job in the age that is
to come?

I don't think so. Again, humor me on a walk down speculation lane.
Let's say the Lord assigns me to work in the Kingdom around the Los
Angeles area. (Although I'd bet all our geography will be different--
so maybe we'll have New Los Angeles, New Mexico City, and New New

In any case, let's say after a few hundred years the Lord changes my
assignment and wants me to move to, say, New Newfoundland for my next
stint. Certainly it would be very helpful to have someone with big
networks, who knows people who know of vacant places to live in New
Newfoundland. Someone like Jeff.

Actually, it would be great if, in the new world, there weren't a lot
of empty buildings and wasted space. So it would be great to have
people who could orchestrate all the different people moving around
the planet to accommodate their various needs, to maximize the
benefit to the world and contribute to the well-being of the
environment as well.

So it seems to me that my friend Jeff will still be in business, if
he wants to be, along with my friends Keith and Alexei and Mischelle,
whose various jobs here contribute to the well-being of this present
planet. Certainly things will be different: no money, no
manipulation, no deceptive to negotiate through: but the basic good
skills of real estate agents, chemists, and environmental engineers
will help us "exercise dominion and subdue the earth" in the best
possible way, under the lordship of Jesus, just as God intends.

Thursday, September 20

Me? A Sculptor?

When I was ten years old, I got to see Michelangelo's marvelous sculpture David in person. What an amazing statue! Stunning in it's size and beauty, and unlike anything else I've ever seen. Except all the replicas running around this planet. Come to think of it, those are nothing like the real thing, either.

N. T. Wright says an implication of Paul's resurrection theology is that in the new creation--the new heavens and the new earth--nothing good that we've done in this age will be wasted. Everything just, righteous, and beautiful will somehow get included. Still trying to wrap my mind around that.

If you care to join me on a speculative adventure, think about this with me. Evangelism makes sense: everyone introduced to the glory of our good, servant King Jesus, who chooses into his Kingdom, will be there.

Relationships make sense, too. If you and I will both live forever on the new planet, any reconciling and trust-building we do here would naturally carry over in our relationship, right? Anything we don't reconcile will have to be worked through somehow, I imagine.

But what about everything else? Works of art, for example? A great worship song makes sense to me. Why wouldn't we sing the great pieces from Handel's Messiah for all eternity? I never grow weary of it here ,and I can't imagine I would in a couple thousand years. The contemporary hymn In Christ Alone strikes me as similar. Maybe you'll write a great worship song that will stand the test of the ages.

But Michelangelo's David and his Pieta, which I think I could also gaze at frequently for millions of years, surely won't make it through the great fire, will they? Does that mean Matt Redman's art will last, but Michelangelo's won't? Something about that struck me funny . . . 

Recently a new idea dawned in my head. The statues won't be on the new earth, but Michelangelo himself will be there! I doubt he'll recreate David, but can you imagine the glory of the planet after Michelangelo's been sculpting and painting for a thousand years? I'm sure he can bring not only his talent but also all the experience that came out of creating the great pieces we have in this present age into the ages to come.

The new world is starting to sound better and better to me. (I may even see if I can sign up for a master class with him . . . after I take a hundred years to get down the basics of sculpture! :-)

Wednesday, September 19

Leading Without a Crowbar

Jen and I just watched The Devil Wears Prada. To say I'm not really into fashion would be an understatement, but I enjoyed it. Clever. Thought-provoking. Meryl Streep plays a great character, Miranda--such a formidable boss, she's widely known as The Dragon Lady. Miranda reigns the empire of Runway magazine with brass knuckles. She doesn't hesitate to make the tough calls, no matter whose life she destroys. 

That's always the way of this world's empires. To her credit, Miranda doesn't do it just for herself. She sincerely believes she's serving the best interests of the magazine, and all to make the world a better, more beautiful place.

Every leader has run into this tension: how do you make the world a better place? Always we face difficult choices, and at some point it seems inevitable that you have to choose a difficult means, justified by the good ends you'll accomplish.

But not Jesus. He was the first human leader to establish an empire on freewill. He never threatened his followers or used a crowbar to get them to do things his way. He patiently loved and served, teaching and showing the way of the Kingdom, the way of sacrificial love.

He frequently sent away potential followers which most leaders would have embraced: the rich, the influential, the large crowds. Why? Jesus only wanted people who really wanted to follow him of their own free will.

Today Jesus' reign is growing in this world, and he hasn't used force, manipulation, or threats yet. His reign is growing  through people who willingly say of their own accord, "Your will be done." Today, his will is being done in this world, as a billion people or so choose to die to themselves and follow Jesus' directions. The more I listen to his voice and obey, the more his reign is actualized on this planet. The more people who listen and follow, the more fully his will is done--the more fully his Kingdom comes.

One day the new earth will be created, filled only with people who want to do his will with all their heart and strength. On that day, his Kingdom will have come fully on earth, as it is in heaven. Love will have conquered all, without a single stroke of force. Maybe that's the meaning of "perfect love casts out fear."

Lord, bring your good rule into this desperate world even more fully, today, through me.

Tuesday, September 18

Forever Human

I know it's crazy to think Jesus is still limited to a human body. That's not the picture I've ever had of him. But it's starting to make more sense of the New Testament writings. 

Doesn't that mean Jesus is not omnipresent, and therefore, how can he live in us?

One way I make sense of this: Paul said things like, "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you." (Rom. 8:11).

Jesus said it was better for him to go away to the Father so that he could send his Spirit to us. (John 14-15). Hmm. So he really is here, now, by his Spirit . . . 

Another way I make sense of his presence though we don't see him: one day, he said, he'd come back--which is known as the "apocalypse." I know we think of destruction and catastrophe, as in "Apocalypse Now", but that's not really what it means. :-) "Apocalypse" means literally, "unveiling" or "revealing." It's like Jesus has been here all along, for the last 2000 years, but hiding behind a curtain. He's "in heaven"--which is right here, but unseen to us.

That day, the curtain will be lifted, which Paul calls "the day of his appearing." I always pictured that as a descent from far away and high above, like he ascended up into the sky. But Tom Wright says the word "ascended" in the Greek has more of a connotation of "going through" than "going up." When Jesus "ascended," he went through the curtain, into the invisible realm of heaven.

But he's still a fully human being, still flesh and blood, albeit resurrected flesh (not like flesh that we have any experience with). 

That gives me a whole new respect for being human (because in a very real sense, God is). It also gives me a whole new hope of how good being human can be!

Monday, September 17

Jesus Limited?

I've recently been stunned by the idea that Jesus took on a human body. No--I'm very familiar with the concept of the incarnation, almost to the point of taking it for granted that God became flesh. It still blows my mind when I take the time to ponder it, but that's not what I'm talking about.

What shocked me was realizing this--the Bible never says that Jesus stopped being limited to a human body. Yes, he was resurrected into a new body, a fantastic body, but still a physical, graspable, fish-ingesting body. Somehow I had the idea that when Philippians 2 describes his great descent, emptying himself, pouring himself out, letting go of all the omnipotence and omnipresence and all the other omni's he had as God--that somehow he got that all back at the end. But it doesn't really say that.

It does say God has highly exalted him and given him the name above every other name. That he shares the glory with the Father that he had before the creation of the world (John 17). That he's seated on the throne with all the powers under his feet (Eph. 1). 

But it doesn't say that when he ascended he ceased to be human. Quite the opposite--"he will return in the same way." He's the "first-fruits of all creation." That means Jesus is still human today. 

The 5th century church council that wrestled with Jesus' human and divine natures declared that both natures are fully present--he's fully God and fully human--and (catch this) that both natures are never-ceasing.

Whoa. That means Jesus thought physical creation was such a good idea that he was willing to become a human being, limited to a physical body . . . not just for 33 years or so; but for ever! Including today.

That means the Greeks missed it badly in rejecting the physical as lesser or inherently evil (though most of us still have that worldview). Jesus created the physical world as good, good enough to become a fully physical being (not to the exclusion of the spiritual) for all eternity.

Is this right?

I'm still reeling. More thoughts to come.