On Revivals, Confessions, and Honesty

[In September 2009 there was a revival at Taylor University.  Here are my thoughts from an email I sent to my friends from Taylor.]

To my TU buddies,

We are all glad to hear of a revival of spiritual awakening at Taylor.

We interpret it as a move of God in the lives of people.

I would like to reflect on this, expand our thinking, and perhaps cast it in a different view and invite us all to join in.

From the letter by the president, it was started when a student made some public confession that moved someone else towards the courage to do the same and it kept going from there like a giant snowball.

The year after I graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary, 1970, a similar revival broke out at Asbury College by the same mechanism – a confessing student.  As in the TU case, even without the Internet, word spread quickly around the globe. Students were leaving campus to go home to reconcile with parents and faculty joined students in confessing and reconciling.  It was powerful. It was in the secular news. When Jim Terry and I went back to Wilmore to witness it for ourselves and hopefully catch some of the spirit, it had been over a week from the initial spark and everything was back to normal.  We didn’t see any spark or catch any spirit.

But I have pondered what happened there for many years now.  We tend to think of this as a mysterious, supernatural event, but I have come to think of it as what I call an “outbreak of honesty.”

This is not to diminish the power of God at work in people, but to point out that most of the time most of us live in gross dishonesty with ourselves.  (see a book by Larry Crabb “Inside Out”) We don’t see ourselves very objectively at all, but rather we see a person of our imagining, a person we wish we were, a person that others have convinced us we are, or many other views of ourselves that we think are real.

We pray, we try to do the right things as best we can tell what they are and with some amount of feeble power, we believe, we hope. Yet in so many ways we deceive ourselves as to our own real self.

When a sudden flash of ourselves comes into mind that is not in harmony with our preconceived notions about ourselves, it is a jolt to us.  Most of the time these jolts get dismissed without a second thought, denied, repressed, or ignored with our favorite rationalizations. (as in the parable of the sower.)  As an example from psychology, when a young person who was badly treated by his parents yet has never acknowledged this and tried to tell himself that he loved his parents suddenly comes to see his own underlying hostility towards his parents instead of the love he is “supposed” to have, a very painful realization, then he will be able to move towards healing and a real love that transcends the pain and grief.

I’m only guessing as to what might have been initially confessed, but if a well-respected student got up and said, “You know what.  I’m a liar and a cheat. I don’t deserve your respect. I appeal to God and you for forgiveness.” That would get everyone’s attention.  And who would withhold forgiveness after a humble, contrite confession. God can only get through to us when we are honest. I have come to see Biblical confession as simple honesty, being honest with ourselves as to who we really are, coming to God without a religious mask.  Any other way is just pretending and will get us nowhere either as a person or with God.

This is in harmony with Biblical religious experience, as with Isaiah.  He had delivered some serious “woes” in his preaching and when he got a vision of God in the temple he all of a sudden included himself in the company of “woes”.  He saw himself not unlike the rest of “undone” humanity. Then God was able to get through to him.

I long and pray for insight to see myself as a real person – my doubts and faith and fears, my gifts, strengths, and failings, my loving and my hating, my bravery and cowardice.  In this broken world, as I hope to join with God to heal some of the brokenness, when I acknowledge that I also add to the brokenness as well, then I am humbled and cry out to God “Woe is me!”.  And in that painful cry God offers grace and calls me to follow Jesus some more.

I realize that I am writing to people of long-standing faith.  And yet I say that our own renewal and awakening is waiting for us, too.  It doesn’t take some mysterious, supernatural intervention from God to sweep us up in a flame of emotion.  When we simply acknowledge ourselves to God, garbage and all, as a real person and not some imaginary one, then we can experience God’s grace in a new way.  Then we can become the real person that God made us to be.

May we all join with those in a great revival of spiritual awakening and renewal.

-Joe Vandegriff, class of ’65

The most prevalent teaching about revelation

                        Here is my understanding of the most prevalent teaching about                                     The Book of Revelation:

In the end, Jesus returns to whip up on Satan and bring about God’s way on earth by overcoming Satan, evil doers, and everyone who rejects him with overpowering force of violence and destruction. When Jesus came the first time, He was meek and mild. But His second coming will be as a powerful warrior fighting evil and finally establishing God’s way on earth. If this view is correct, why does this not negate the teachings of Jesus in the gospels?

Doesn’t this say that what Jesus taught about powerful love willing to suffer for others, about forgiveness instead of revenge, about loving enemies,           and humble service to others doesn’t really work after all? If the good way of Jesus can’t restore God’s way on earth, it will take force and violence for God to restore His world as the expression of His wrath against sinners.

But has force and violence ever restored anything? The whole of human history says NO. This is the way of mankind – not God’s way. To say that God will ultimately restore humanity by resorting to the violence of humanity makes me wonder that all along we never really believed what Jesus taught in the first place.

What does it mean to “believe the Bible”? If the Bible says a beast will come out of the sea with 10 horns and 7 heads, is this a prophecy that will come to pass or is this an image or vision? If it says there will be a great battle at Armageddon between Jesus and Satan, could this be understood as a spiritual battle or does it only mean warfare by military forces? A big clue that is overlooked is the sword Jesus wields comes from his mouth. Doesn’t this indicate a battle of words instead of bombs?

If the victory of Jesus ultimately comes by the force of violence, then what did Jesus mean long ago with all that “love” stuff? The Book of Revelation should be understood in the light of the Jesus of the Gospels, not a modern, vengeful Jesus of Biblical literalists.

                                              God Help Us!

If Jesus ultimately resorts to violence, the strong implication is that we do not need to love our enemies now because when Jesus comes back he will whip them up for us. Jesus will do for us what we cannot do, or rather, refuse to do, Loving enemies has never been popular! It can get a person killed – if not by the enemy, then by the others who hate the enemy.

For a long time I have wondered why the modern Christians are not winning the world for Jesus like the Christians in the early church. I think this is a clue. We refuse to love enemies. We refuse to suffer for Jesus. We get our free ticket to heaven and nothing else matters.

God’s River of Love

The prophet Ezekiel had his visions in Babylonia; he was an exile. Near the end of the book of Ezekiel the prophet gives instructions for a new temple to replace what had been destroyed. It reads like architectural plans with dimensions and such. Then in the middle of this he describes another vision of water flowing out of the temple. It is a marvelous vision of a flow that steadily increases the farther it goes – instead of thinning out as would be natural. The water brings life wherever it goes.

Ezekiel 47:1-12

The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was trickling from the south side.

As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in—a river that no one could cross. He asked me, “Son of man, do you see this?”

Then he led me back to the bank of the river.  When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river.  He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh.  Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets.The fish will be of many kinds—like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea. But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.”

What an amazing vision! God’s river makes the Dead Sea come to life; abundant life like Jesus said. It brings healing. There is an abundance of fruit continually available. There is attention to our human needs and thus is very considerate to not wipe out all the salt because some salt is a good thing. It is a vision of a loving God providing for all people. The farther out it reaches, the deeper and wider it gets. In Ezekiel’s vision the source was the temple which I believe we could easily imagine is God. I believe this river began at creation when God made life and called it all good. It flows through all past time and comes to us even today. It is inexhaustible.

Entering into this river brings great joy. It’s fresh. It’s life to the full. In this river is joy that comes from trusting God’s gracious promises. Entering into God’s love brings a sense of peace in our hearts from the blessed assurance that we are accepted by God as sons and daughters. It is the feeling deep down that no matter what else may be going on here is where we belong. The waters promote healing and strength. Who would not want this? I believe this is what all people desire deep in their heart.

Indeed, this river of God’s love flows to all people. I repeat: ALL PEOPLE! It flows to people not like me. It flows to the poor and the rich; the outcasts and undesirables and the rulers and powerful. It flows to sinners and saints, all the same. Whites and blacks, yellows and reds. It flows to people we don’t even like. It flows to our enemies. God’s river of love is as wide as the earth. God’s river of love is unstoppable and inexhaustible. It is unfathomable. It should be a lifelong quest of every believer to wade and swim in this river of God’s love that has no end.

Accepting God’s invitation of grace is like entering into this river of life. It is the river of God’s love. Baptism is a wonderful symbol of entering this river. Water washes us clean. Water brings life. So it is very fitting that our journey with God starts with baptism with water.

But we soon see that there are others in this river. Others not like us. So what are we going to do?

What I see some doing is putting a stop to it. They fear others who are different. They judge and condemn. It’s one thing to enter the river of life and joy but what about sharing it with everyone? Can we do that? Or will we hold back and claim it for ourselves? When we do that, it stops flowing and soon dies.

I entered this river of God’s love and grace as a teenager.  It has made all the difference in my life. It has given me a sense that my life has a purpose like I’m going somewhere. This river really does go somewhere. After many years in the river of God’s love I find that it is taking me closer to the heart of God. And what I find there are the poor and the outcasts and undesirables. And God is challenging me to love ALL people as God loves.

This has become my vision for the Church. Not just my church, but all churches.

What flows out of God’s people is a river of love that reaches all people around the world and brings life and joy. It brings healing and overflowing blessings with abundance wherever it goes. And it’s for all people. There is a continuous seeking of the people being left out of God’s blessings to bring them in by loving service. It is an army of peacemakers – not by violence but humble love, powerful love. When others get close to the waters they see the joy and love flowing and want to jump in.

Sadly, the reality is that we aren’t there yet. Instead of an outpouring of love, there is a lot of judgement and condemnation coming from us Christians. There is a lot of what Philip Yancey* calls “ungrace” fueled by loveless orthodoxy and faulty theology about God being violent. This does not bring life and joy. Passing judgement to the poor for being poor does not lift them up. Condemning the outcasts and sinners will not help them. Jesus condemned the religious leaders who shunned the sinners and outcasts; but not the sinners and outcasts.

The first followers of Jesus flourished in this river of love for the first 300 years. By serving and suffering in humble love they gained respect and grew in a very hostile environment. Their fellowship and unity crossed all social and economic boundaries. This quickly faded when the Christians gained political power from the empire. The free flowing river got channeled into denominations and creeds, blocked by force of authority, and life died. The love of Jesus was the victim; even to this very day.

The river of God’s love invites us to serve the needy, even if not convenient and at our own expense; defend the poor and oppressed against their oppressors, even at great risk of suffering with them. It would have us seeking the ones left out; even those not like us. Even when made to suffer, it would have us praying for our persecutors and enemies and doing good to them in return; forgiving those who hurt us, even from our own cross. Who could resist such a flow of love?

This is the life Jesus shows that is so powerful that not even death can stop it. Because God’s river of love is unstoppable!

*”What’s So Amazing about Grace” by Philip Yancey.

(See also Psalm 1)

Letter to Franklin Graham

The same day that I read a couple news articles describing your stance on our current national issues, I also happened to read Numbers 13-14 where 10 of the 12 spies were fearful to proceed as God was leading. Only Joshua and Caleb trusted God would help them. I see your position on our national affairs along the same lines as the 10 spies. What you say is correct; terrorists are dangerous and we should protect ourselves, and so on. These are the fears running rampant in our nation. But as a Christian leader I call upon you to see beyond our nation’s fears to proceed in the Way of Jesus. That Way is clearly to care for the alien and stranger, the poor and people in danger. Yes, there is risk in this. It’s the same personal and financial risk the Good Samaritan faced. Leaving helpless people stranded in their despair is what the priest and Levite did! Turning away refugees is letting fear overpower compassion. What happened to compassion from a Christian nation?

For the people of God, there should be a strong bias towards helping the poor and needy even at great risk and cost. How does this work out on a national level? That is what we have leaders for. I urge you to stand up to the president and lead us in the good Way of Jesus.

A Christmas Meditation for 2016

   It is common at Christmas to reference the many Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah that point to Jesus. Indeed, these are used to validate the credibility of the Bible. Like this one from the prophet Isaiah: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son…” (Isaiah 7:14).  The prophecies were well known even in biblical times as we see in the nativity story where Bethlehem is foretold to be the birthplace of the Messiah (Matthew 2:6).  These prophetic verses are sung every year in Handel’s Messiah oratorio.  It is right and fitting to do so.

    But in all this there is something equally important about the prophecies of the Messiah that are commonly overlooked.  The prophets spoke not only about the One to come and the circumstances. They also gave a vision of what the Messiah would do and the new way of life that would result. This is the “why” he was coming. The vision is described in terms of righteousness and justice where the poor and outcasts are cared for by the people of power and influence, and mankind will no longer need weapons of war. Today we describe this in terms of social justice.  

    Jesus uses one of Isaiah’s prophetic passages as his mission statement when he explained his actions to his hometown synagogue:  “The spirit of the Lord is upon me to deliver good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoner, recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed…” (in Luke 4:18 Jesus quotes Isaiah 61:1,2).  In the activities of Jesus we see the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophetic visions of righteousness and justice.  Jesus called it the kingdom of God on earth and taught his followers to pray for it and live in it.

    Maybe it’s because the old prophets used poetry to describe their vision of the Messiah’s new world order that makes it easy to miss. Lions lying down with lambs was never meant to apply only to the animal kingdom, but refers to powerless people no longer needing to fear the powerful.  Maybe this is overlooked because the powerful people who claim the right to interpret the “proper” meaning of the Bible do not like the implications that might impinge against their way of doing business.

    To miss this prophetic vision of the new way of life after the Messiah has led to disastrous consequences throughout Christian history where Christians promoted “holy” wars against heretics and other enemies, conducted human trafficking and enslavement of kidnapped people, slaughtered and took advantage of peoples around the world, and other atrocities… all while singing of Jesus. Even today in many Christian circles, Jesus has no connection to social justice. I can speak of this first hand how my little northern church where I grew up was against civil rights for blacks and saw no problem with our racial prejudice against blacks while we praised Jesus every Sunday.  We were blind!  Even today I hear some Christians criticize the poor for being poor, readily calling undocumented residents “illegals” and demanding to build walls against the poor, trashing other religions, denying rights and persecuting a class of “sinners” they do not like – all the while claiming the high road of righteousness and love for Jesus.

    The Christmas story is a powerful story that captures our imaginations with wonder and mystery.  Yet parts are a little hard to believe, like a virgin birth.  And concerning the mission of the Messiah, it seems beyond belief that the world will ever be like the vision of those old poet prophets.  Doesn’t it seem just as hard to believe men will one day learn war no more and needless suffering will be no more?  If we can believe a virgin could conceive, then why not believe that some day peace will replace strife and war, and righteousness and justice will flourish among all people.  This was the angel’s song to the lowly shepherds on a hillside one starry night long ago.  It was about peace on earth and good will among men.  This is the mission of the infant Messiah.  Can we believe it?

    There are many prominent leaders of Americanized Christianity who criticize the notion of a social gospel in derogatory terms and claim salvation of souls as the mission of Jesus.  In this view, dealing with messy social issues of injustice gets in the way of the spiritual Jesus who wants to save us from hell in the afterlife.  Social justice issues, being complicated, controversial, and not very spiritual, are placed at the bottom of concern compared to eternal life in heaven.  And the idea of humanity finding a way to true peace is not seen as achievable anyway.  Can it be that those who readily accept a virgin birth cannot believe that the vision of the prophets will ever come to pass in human history?  The vision of the a new way of living, the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed, is viewed as not possible until Jesus returns in power to make things right by force.  Really? by Force!?

    What might happen if all who call themselves Christian would seriously lift up the poor and stand up for the outcasts of society against injustice? What if the Christians would actually love their enemies, pray for those who persecute them, and not return evil for evil done against them? What if the Christians were made to suffer for such things, just as Jesus said they would, and still continued in them? If such things had been common practice among Christians on a massive scale throughout history, what would the world be like today?  Could it be more like the kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed?  Could the angel’s song really come to pass?   Could a virgin really conceive?

    This is what I ponder at Christmas. I dream of righteousness and justice and world peace. I long and ache for the Way of Jesus to be way of the world, starting with me.

back to Joe’s writings Back to 2016 Christmas Letter and Photos

Open Letter To Max Lucado

To:      Max Lucado & Randy Frazee, Christian leaders & authors of The Story

From: Joe Vandegriff, ordinary Christian & author of nothing

    Your book, The Story, is such a good idea I’m sad to not recommend it – because it has a serious omission.  The idea of a Reader’s Digest version of the Bible is very helpful.  It arranges the Bible story chronologically and leaves out redundant parts and minor themes.  But your editing cut out the Old Testament prophet’s powerful message of social justice. This is the voice of God to the nation of God’s people who were ignoring the poor and the stranger and outcasts.  Seeing as how Jesus used this message as his mission statement (Luke 4:16-21), leaving it out of The Story is unthinkable.  It limits God’s grand message to personal sins and salvation to the neglect of the sins of society, such as racism, materialism, etc.  The Old Testament prophets are very clear that worship without social justice will not satisfy God’s desire for His people (as in Isaiah 1).  It is because of God’s righteousness and justice that He holds His people accountable for the people on the margins of society.

    Any expression of Christianity that does not include a strong emphasis on social justice is not faithful to the Bible.  I call on you to revise your book to include the full Story! Until then, I cannot recommend your book.

Reply August 22, 2016

Joe,

From Max:

Your concerns are good ones, answered by this reminder: The Story is a tool to study the Bible, not the entire Bible. Its intent is to guide the reader through the big picture of Scripture in a defined time…in this case, nine months. To accomplish this, the editors had to eliminate some very important sections of Scripture. (I have my own passages that I regret were removed.) The extractions are not a reflection on the value of a particular passage, but rather the necessary step to create a manageable tool.

Keep in mind that “The Story” is targeted to illiterate Bible students…those who are intimidated by the immensity of Scripture. This abridged text will hopefully whet their appetites to study the entire Bible.

Margaret,

for UpWords

info@maxlucado.com

1-800-822-9673

“Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.”  Psalm 116:7

August 25, 2016

Margaret,

Thank you for your kind reply.  And timely, too.

I would like to press the issue further by saying that what I see missing in The Story is not just some favorite verse or two of mine.  It is a major theme about God’s dealings with mankind.  Reading the Bible for almost 50 years, I did not see it myself until my eyes were opened by many other recent authors, most notably Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, in The Hole in Our Gospel,  and others like Dallas Willard, N.T. Wright, Walter Brueggemann, to name a few.  I cannot accept the view that God’s desire for social justice is not part of the “big picture” of the Bible.  So I claim that the editing of The Story has made a Bible with a hole in it that leaves out God’s care for the poor and oppressed and God’s demand for social justice from any people or nation that claim allegiance with God.

I applaud this effort to make the Bible more accessible to the masses.  I sense a growing general concern for social justice, especially in the younger generation who are Biblically illiterate and do not realize their concerns are reflected in the Bible.  But how can they know it if social justice is edited out of the Bible? How can they know God’s message contains the remedy for the world’s pressing problems?

I beg you to please pass this message on to Rev. Lucado and what I would suggest as a remedy to The Story.  Replace the OT chapter about Elijah on Mt. Carmel with a compilation of the many verses in the prophets on God’s demands for righteousness and justice, even including Psalm 72 where the king of Israel is called on to use his powers, authority, and resources in defense of the poor.  In the NT, to include in the early part of Jesus’ life His mission statement message to his hometown in Luke 4.

So I must be crazy, being a simple layperson, instructing such a great Christian leader and author of many books on the Bible.  I hope my voice would be one of many to challenge Rev. Lucado to see social justice as part of God’s “upper story”.

Salvation Analogy

The most common approach to explaining God’s salvation is with analogies that relate to a business deal or a legal action.

They go like this:

  1. Business: Jesus paid the debt incurred by our sins. This debt is too much for anyone to pay. Jesus paid it all for us so we can go free with our debt forgiven.
  2. Legal: Our sins have made us guilty and therefore subject to punishment in hell as offenders. But Jesus not only intervenes to his Father, the Judge, on our behalf but takes our  punishment himself as our substitute and thus satisfies a cosmic principle that all sin must be punished.

All a person has to do for salvation is acknowledge either one of these. This is “accepting Jesus as your saviour.”

However, these analogies suffer from several weaknesses:

  1. Business and legal analogies seem very inadequate to capture the grandeur of God’s love for his children and the power and mystery of Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection.
  2. When a debt is paid, the deal is done. When a judgment is rendered, the case is closed. These one-time deals lead people to believe that everything is settled between them and God. Since God is satisfied they are free to go about their merry way as they please.
  3. The threat of hell is not far from the surface of these analogies. They are promoted as the means to avoid eternal punishment in the afterlife. Is this really the best motive there is to enter into a life with God?
  4. Focusing so strongly on the death of Jesus as his sole purpose diminishes the significance of his life and teachings.
  5. Being more related to business or legal matters, these analogies are external and impersonal. If our relationship with God is indeed of a personal nature, there must be a better analogy that  captures this.

There is a better analogy for God’s salvation. It is like being married. A marriage is where love is given and received, promises are made to last a lifetime. A marriage is based on mutual commitment and trust. A marriage grows over time as the love grows deeper, as promises are kept, and as tests of commitment reveal true faithfulness.  It is a covenant where two parties voluntarily enter into a mutual agreement to support each other no matter what may come.

God’s salvation is like being married. A marriage begins with a wedding ceremony. Then the marriage begins.  Our “marriage” to Jesus may begin in many different ways for different people. For some, it’s like they were always with Jesus from childhood.  For some, Jesus comes in a flash of emotion, or a release from guilt. For some it is a cerebral process of knowledge. Or many other ways. However the “wedding” may occur, it is like we stand up with Jesus to accept His offer of steadfast love and in turn pledge our love and faithfulness from then onward.  As life is lived and trials faced, our “marriage” with Jesus will grow deeper as love is tested and faithfulness is proven. Following Jesus in this relationship will lead to many wonderful experiences not possible any other way.  The greatest sin in this relationship is being unfaithful to our “Partner.” When this happens, the relationship breaks down and can only be restored by confession and re-pledging our love and faithfulness, whereupon forgiveness is granted and the relationship resumes.

The business and legal analogies perhaps best describe the wedding ceremony, but the marriage begins after the wedding.  If a marriage exists solely based on a legal contract and not a growing relationship, what kind of marriage would that be?

The outcomes of these salvation analogies are vastly different. The external, impersonal expressions allow us to make an initial transaction then go about the rest of life with only a casual acquaintance of Jesus and his ways. This results in leaving many believers remaining comfortably satisfied that they are “saved” without seeking to actually live a life that grows more and more in union with God.  God is kept safely at bay.  Even what might seem to be a long, devoted Christian life leaves many believers stuck not far from the salvation experience.  All their life they are “entry level” Christians.  It is like a legally married couple that lives apart. But the marriage analogy for salvation leads to a deeper relationship with God that continually grows over time as life is lived, as fears and prejudices are faced and conquered, as tests are passed and trials are overcome, as forgiveness and restoration is experienced, and love expands beyond one’s own tribe to include all people.  The marriage analogy goes far beyond a simple business deal or legal action by encompassing all of life.

Being limited in scope, the business and legal analogies are fairly simple to grasp and quite familiar to most people. As such, they have become the most popular way of understanding God’s salvation. However, even as well known as marriage may be, it can be quite complex as seen in the large failure rate of marriages.  Marriage encompasses the full range of living, not limited to part of life, and lasts a very long time. As such, the marriage analogy seems a much better way to point to the richness and grandeur of the life with God.

The “benefits” of the business and legal analogies are mostly understood to become effective after death since they explain the requirements to enter heaven.  Thinking of salvation more as a marriage opens up immediate “benefits” as the recipients enter into an empowering relationship, learn lessons about love, patience, temptation, and find direction for all of life. The marriage analogy offers a positive reason to enter into the Way of Jesus instead of an escape from eternal punishment.

It might be argued that the marriage analogy relates more to the Christian life after the salvation experience, but the business and legal analogies are still most favorable for the initial entrance into salvation. If this were true, it would mean that entering the life with Jesus is one thing but continuing on is something else. How can that be true?

The marriage analogy for salvation is a strong biblical image for salvation. In the last chapters of Revelation describing the triumph of the kingdom of God and the consummation of the believer’s union with God, Jesus comes as a bride for his bridegroom.  Business or legal images would fall far short in capturing the majesty and glory associated with God’s ultimate victory and our forever life with God.

How does a person become a Christian?  Is it by saying a “Sinner’s Prayer”? By going through the Four Steps to salvation?  By subscribing to a certain set of beliefs? What is the meaning of “accepting Jesus as my savior?” Or is our salvation obtained by entering into a love relationship with Jesus that starts by accepting God’s love and pledging our love by turning away from the sins of self-centeredness, greed, lust, blindness to injustice, and a host of ways to avoid intimacy with God? Thus are we saved!

Muhammad Ali

I’m sad to say that for most of my life I didn’t like Muhammad Ali – until I recently visited the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, KY.   In my mind, he had 3 strikes against him.
1 – He was arrogant. I still remember him shouting in the ring “I am the greatest!”  Of course, he just won the boxing world championship which made him the greatest boxer in the world. 
2. He converted to Islam. I didn’t know why anyone in their right mind would want to do that. 
3. He was a draft dodger during the Vietnam War. 
And, even sadder to say, I think behind these three reasons was racism that kept me from seeing a real person rather than just another black man.

After I found out some real information about him, I see him now as a hero.  Plus, I have changed in my heart to see my racism and put it aside.  This opens up new possibilities of seeing people and I highly recommend the same for everyone.  Please keep reading for what changed in my mind about Ali.

 1.  He came into boxing by accident about age 11 when he went to a local police station after his bicycle was stolen.  They didn’t find his bike but invited him to join a boxing club for youth.  He quickly excelled at boxing and by sheer hard work and training actually became “the greatest” boxer.  No denying that he earned his bragging rights.  And later, when his title was stripped, he won it back. Friends, that is impressive – the stuff of real heros.

2.  Here’s the reason behind Ali going to Islam.  Even though he was the greatest boxer in the world, he still couldn’t enter a cafe for lunch in his own hometown, except maybe thru the back door.  He was still just another black man in the segregated South.  It was the Christians who told him he wasn’t good enough for the front door.  When Muslims accepted him he even changed what he called his “slave name”, Cassius Clay, to complete his rejection of Christianity.  So now I see that the version of Christianity that tolerates and promotes racism, of which I was a partner, is the same version that Ali rejected and that I now reject as well.  Sadly, this corrupted version of Christianity is still alive and well in America.

3.  His draft dodging rationale was this: why should he risk his life fighting for rights somewhere else that he didn’t even have at home?   His biggest enemy was white Christians who denied his rights, not the Vietcong.  He had enough money to hire lawyers to get him cleared on this. But the boxing commission took his title away.  Instead of just getting mad, he got back into training and won the title back a second time.  

It’s no surprise that when my prejudices found real information instead of assumptions and stereotypes, they didn’t hold up. I hope when I get to heaven, if I get to meet Ali. I’ll tell him how sorry I am for the way I was and rejoice that God can bring all people together as His children.

For a good brief story on Muhammad Ali:

http://www.nbcnews.com/news/sports/muhammad-ali-greatest-all-time-dead-74-n584776

Jesus to the church in America

In Revelation 2 & 3 Jesus gives an individual message to 7 churches in Asia Minor (modern Turkey).

Here is my shot at what Jesus might say to the Church in America:

I know how your forefathers took the land by treachery and force from others

  and built it with injustice on the backs of kidnapped slaves,

yet I have blessed you with great resources, power, and wealth to be a blessing to the world.

But instead of serving my needy children of the world

    with medical care and clean water and education

    and freeing women and rescuing the poor and oppressed,

    you consume your blessings on yourselves and your security.

Do not think I am pleased with much worship from you who are blind to my suffering children.

Woe to those who, instead of loving sinners, go after them like the Pharisees.

Instead of unity, your thousands of divisions are deplorable to me.

Woe to those who use my name without my humble spirit and powerful love for all people.

Oh, and using my name for profit makes me sick.

Return to my good way and listen to my prophets of old:

“Learn to do good.  Rescue the oppressed.  Defend the fatherless. Plead for the widow.”

Show the world my compassion and mercy, not judgment, fear and condemnation;

then the world will know my love and come to me,

and I will heal your land and you will truly live.

Here is a version from a fundamentalist Jesus::

I see the pressure on you from the wicked, godless society

  and hear your prayers for strength

      to continue to stand up for morality and family values under attack.

So continue to defend the faith of the saints.

Stand firmly against the sinners who defile my holy word

    and those who dare to remove the 10 sacred commands.

Work to turn your society to me

    by infiltrating your political system with true believers;

then the laws will uphold and enforce my high standards

     of morality and decency; once the sinners are converted or purged, then I will bless your nation.

And do not be fooled by the false ways of other religions

    but hold up the purity of your belief system and your righteousness.

In all this, give me honor and glory,

Then you will receive your golden crown with me in heaven.