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Deuteronomy 4:1 – Law and Grace

January 19, 2009 Leave a comment

“Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you.” Deuteronomy 4:1

Israel stands at the edge of the Promised Land. Soon Moses will leave them and Joshua will take charge as they cross the Jordan and take possession of the land. On the eve of this historic conquest, Moses delivers a sermon on God’s faithfulness in the midst of Israel’s unfaithfulness.

He has been calling to mind their journey after receiving the Law at Mt. Horeb and journeying toward the Promised Land. While their parents didn’t trust YHWH’s command (and died in the wilderness), the children have been brought back to the place of promise with the same command to go in and possess the land.

As Moses recounts God’s victories on behalf of His people, He reminds them of the foundation of their commission: observance of the Law.

“Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers is giving you.” Deuteronomy 4:1

Each word in this verse opens in summary a vision of how Moses and Israel understood their calling under the Law. As I reflect on these words, I hear insight into how Christian may understand our calling in light of the fulfillment of the Law in Jesus Christ.

Now – In light of God’s unwavering faithfulness to His promises, let us trust and obey His words. As I meditate on that transition word, “Now,” I can’t help but hearing Paul’s word, “Now.”

“Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
2 Corinthians 6:2b

Paul has been talking about the great reconciling power of God’s grace in the midst of our human weakness. Now he exhorts the Corinthians to live as God has called them and empowered them to live in holiness and separation from the idolatries in the world around us.

Through Scripture we see images of people living and walking outside the fullness of God’s power and grace. I think of Zacheus, living of the exorbitant overcharges he places upon the people. Jesus comes to dine with Him, and the “Now” happens.

In the “now,” Jesus calls. “Come out and lived in the freedom and fullness I have prepared for you.” This now, is the now of Spirit calling me forth into a new way, a new path, a new life. This now is the now that proceeds out from the “fullness of time.”

O Israel – Moses calls out to the elect named by God. While Jacob is named by his mother, God calls him Israel. He is a given a new name and raised into the status of royalty and promise by God’s grace and goodnness.

The sons of Israel or the children of Israel grow up as a blessed people who will fulfill the call upon Abraham to bring God’s blessing to the whole earth.

To hear the name Israel is to hear the blessing of God. In Jesus, this blessing is fulfilled. And now all who are in Christ Jesus, hear the blessed name of Israel, called out to be God’s blessing for the whole earth. Paul writes:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
Ephesians 1:3-5

Listen – In the middle of His sermon, Moses says, “Listen.” Makes me think of the preacher who pauses and says, “Listen up people.” Or more directly, it makes me think of Jesus speaking to His disciples, “Truly, Truly I say to you.”

It is as though Jesus is saying, “Now you better make a note of this. I am getting ready to say something that is deep truth and I want to make sure you remember and heed it.

As Moses calls us to “listen,” we lean in for a word from the throne of God. We hear a word that defines out mission and action in this world.

Statutes and Judgments – The two corresponding Hebrew words are khuqqim and mishpatim. These two words appears again and again when Moses is preaching about the Law.

The first word, khuqqim, is related to the idea of inscribing or carving. While Moses dictated the whole Law for the people, he received the “10 Words” inscribed by God’s hand. The fact that these words are inscribed in stone seems to give them a significance that no other words in Scripture have—except one.

There is a glory surrounding the giving of the 10 Word. Such glory that Moses has to cover his face. When I hear verses about God setting our feet on the rock, I think there is a connection with this stone. To stand on the 10 Words is to stand on the unchanging words and commands of God.

In the New Testament, the glory of the stone inscribed with words is surpassed by an even greater glory: the heart that is inscribed with the Word. Jesus comes as a fulfillment of the stone for now the 10 Words are united in a single Word made flesh.

This word completes, fulfills and reveals the Law. Jesus leaves us with a promise that we will be united with Him by the Holy Spirit. Paul continues Jesus’ theme in Romans by writing about how we are united with Christ in death and resurrection. Then in 2 Corinthians, we read about the glory of the Law in stone is now surpassed by a glory of the Law in flesh: not simply Jesus’ flesh, but our flesh.

The Spirit is writing the Law in our hearts, and we are moving from “glory to glory.” Eventually, we will see the image face to face:

7 Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
2 Corinthians 3:7-18

The other Hebrew word used for the Law here is mishpatim. This word has to do with the ability to judge. James Jordan understands wisdom as the ability to judge between good and evil. We see Solomon practicing wisdom in judging between two prostitutes with similar stories. He speaks and by the power of his word, reveals the liar (thus judging between good and evil).

This power to judge is directly tied to ruling. If we cannot judge, we will be like the simpleton who cannot distinguish between the house of lady wisdom whose house leads to life (Proverbs 4, 8 and 9) and the foolish woman whose house leads to death (Proverbs 4, 5, and 7).

There is a path that leads to the house of lady wisdom and a path that leads to the house of the foolish woman (Proverbs 4:18-19). One leads into the full light of day and the other stumbles further and further into darkness.

We see Israel walking into the light of day from David to Solomon’s rule and stumbling into darkness from Solomon to Zedekiah’s rule (although some kings in between do walk in light, the overall movement of the nation is a descent into darkness).

As I begin to wrap around this idea of rule and wisdom and the path of wisdom vs. the path of foolishness, I can see references to the law throughout the Psalms and prophets and more. There are multiple a references to walking in the path, I will show you the way,” do not turn to the left or right, the road to righteousness, the path of holiness, standing on the rock, and so on. I would suggest all these references are rooted in observance to the Law (meditation upon and obedience to the commandments).

Just a reminder, we do not simply go back to Deuteronomy 5 to meditate upon the Law. We have hear the same rhythms in Matthew 5 and other sermons by Jesus as well as the letters from Paul and others. These are not a bunch of regulations we post. Rather, we ruminate and reflect on them. We walk according to them. The Spirit teaches us them.

We enter into the heart of them: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. In some ways, the New Testament is an extended reflection upon the fulfillment of the Law in Jesus Christ and through His cross, and how it now is revealed in the midst of His people and in the midst of the world.

Live, and go in and possess the land – Moses ties the Law directly to the action of entering, possessing and living in the land. The Law is the wisdom that gives Israel boldness to enter the Land (because the covenant-making YHWH stands behind it with promises of a His faithfulness).

Observance of the Law is connected with Israel’s fear of God. As they walk in the fear of God, other nations fear them. For they bear the name and the power of YHWH (who makes mountains melt and by a single word causes the earth to melt).

Observance of the Law is essential for Israel to dwell in the fullness of God’s provision as they live in the land. In other places, Moses will predict that in prosperity, Israel will forget the source of blessing and quit observing the Law. This forgetfulness will cause God to forget them, thus allowing their enemies to overtake them.

Paul quite possibly gives us a poetic reinterpretation of this phrase by quoting a poet of his day. In his sermon to the idolatrous philosophers, Paul says “in Him we live and move and have our being.” Jesus, the fulfillment of the Law, is the source of our courage and power and prosperity. We are blessed in Him and live in Him and live to glorify Him in all things.

LORD God of your fathers – Moses reminds the people that the source of the Law is not some oppressing dictator, but the covenant-making God who remembers His promises. LORD or YHWH is a covenant name for God, which connects with His faithfulness to the promise. The Creator God made a promise and cut a covenant with father Abraham. This covenant promise was renewed with Isaac and then again with Jacob. Now as the children of Israel look at how the Creator God did in fact remember his promises to the ancestors, they can call Him YHWH for he has demonstrated His covenant faithfulness again and again.

We are brought into this family of Abraham through the covenant faithfulness of Jesus. Jesus answer’s YHWH’s faithfulness to man by becoming the man who is completely faithful to YHWH. In Jesus, we enter into this circle of covenant faithful love. In Jesus, we enjoy the fruist and healing blessings associated with the covenant, and in Jesus we are transformed by the Spirit in the covenant faithful people, revealing the fruit of “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). This fruit reveals the fulfillment of the Law in us by the power of the Spirit.

Giving You – The land that Israel will soon possess does not come through their own efforts, their own righteousness or their own prowess. It comes as pure gift.

While they must possess and follow the prescribed ways of possessing each area, they are simply obeying the Father who is giving them the gift.

For those who think grace suddenly appears in the New Testament as opposed to the Law in the Old Testament, they should go back and reread the Old (especially Deuteronomy). As we read and reflect on the rhythm of the Law, we realize it is gift. It is grace.

It is grace stretching and reaching forward. To what? To the fulfillment. When Jesus comes, he fulfills the striving and longing of law. This law is incomplete until it is fully enfleshed by God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ.

Paul and the Law

January 19, 2009 2 comments

Some folks have requested that I write a few more posts about the “10 Commandments” or “10 Words.” I think once you begin to see the rhythm of the commands, you can see how a variety of images in the Scripture continue pointing back to these essential commands. As a quick reminder, when I talk about the 10 Commandments, I am in one sense referring to the whole of the Law.

I see two extreme responses to the Law based on Paul’s letters that I think are not helpful. There is a tendency to read Paul as rejecting the commandments. As a result, some people suggest that as people under grace the Law has passed away. Thus we disregard the Law. Other people decide that Paul is wrong and reject Paul instead. I’ve seen several strange websites that try to reduce or eliminate Paul’s inspired writings. Both of these extremes are problematic.

This is a problem because the commandments do not pass away. Jesus references them and says that He has come to fulfill the law. The commands are still present in the New Jerusalem and lawbreakers cannot enter the city.

So how do we deal with Paul’s references to the Law? Now I am not going to delve into a deeply technical response here. Rather, just consider the letters by Paul. In almost all the letters, Paul includes an ethical component where he gives guidelines for behavior. These guidelines offer direction in marriage, the community, the government and more.

So to think that Paul is saying there are no correct behaviors is absurd. He continually writes about how to behave and even offers strict penalties for the man whose sinful sexual activity is being condoned in the church. It is unquestionable that Paul has expectations about how we act and treat one another.

At the same time, He offers a theology of justification and sanctification rooted in the cross of Christ. Paul realizes that the sacrificial system in Judaism was pointing toward a fulfillment in Jesus Christ. The action of God in the cross ripples out in many directions across space and time.

The cross fulfills and/or transforms the sacrificial system, which ripples out in ways that transforms the application of the Law. The rituals have no power outside of Christ Jesus (either before or after the cross). Paul is very clear that once the cross fulfills the Law, circumcision is fulfilled in the heart. And that one could be circumcised in the flesh while not really being circumcised if their heart remains unchanged.

Who better to write on the Law that a Pharisee of Pharisees? When creating and calling Paul from the womb, YHWH raises up the greatest of Pharisees. Just as John the Baptist was the greatest of the prophets, Paul becomes the greatest interpreter of the Law, because by God’s grace He realizes and reveals that Jesus Christ is the heart of the Law. And once Jesus is revealed, the Law cannot be understood or interpreted outside of Jesus.

If we can begin to grasp this, then we can begin to see that Paul is not at odds with the Law but he is at odds with a legal system that is rooted in human behavior outside of God’s redeeming action. The legal customs offer no redemption and no power. To practice outside the light of Christ is to waste your time with dead rituals. In Christ, the relational laws do not change but the way ritual laws (from Sabbath to circumcision) do change.

This doesn’t mean we ignore them. We must wrestle with the text. We must listen to the Spirit of the text. As the Lord gives wisdom, we begin to understand how Sabbath, circumcision, unclean and clean laws, and so on are expressed in the community of faith. James Jordan has wrestled deeply with these questions and has certainly been helpful for me as I think about what some people call the “ceremonial law.”

With that little intro about the heart of the Law (Jesus) and the constancy of the Law, I will proceed to write a few posts on how I see references to the Law showing up all through the Psalms and other passages in Scripture.

Christmas Presents

December 30, 2008 Leave a comment

Yesterday, I heard a man say “Merry Christmas” and then apologize switching to “Happy New Year” instead. But he was really right the first time. We’ve entered Christmas “time,” and today is only the sixth day of a 12-day feast. During some seasons, Kelly and I have chosen to exchange a gift for each of the 12 days, helping remind us of the extended season of feasting.

Since I love getting presents this makes for a good tradition. While I realize that it is better to give than receive, I find it delightful to get…lots of presents. Presents and Christmas just go together. Some of my fondest memories from childhood include sitting under the Christmas tree and stacking up all the gifts that were labeled, “To Doug.”

During my early childhood, we’ve lived up in New Jersey. Every year we’d receive several large boxes from Tennessee, and each box was filled with presents from all our relatives.

What a delight I had to tear into the boxes, unpack the gifts and stack them under the tree. During the days leading up to Christmas, I’d sit by the tree and gather the “Doug” gifts, shaking, weighing and wondering upon the contents of each pretty package.

Sometimes I think I enjoyed the presents more before I opened them. The fancy papers, the colored bows, the odd shapes, and the varying weights all were a feast for my young imagination. Augustine’s idea that true happiness is found in anticipation of the good was being proved even in my childlike world of wonder.

In a way, this may be why Christmas sometimes seems like a letdown for some children and adults. The anticipation of the event is far more delightful than the actual experience. We discover like Augustine that the good we longed for is still ahead of us and not found in the mere gifts we exchanged.

As he reflected upon our longing for the “good,” Augustine came to believe that this good must be outside of us or we wouldn’t long for it. Then he assumed it must be something greater than what our outer world could supply. Because all our earthly goods never live up to the longing we have.

As he wrestled with this unfulfilled longing, Augustine came to see this greater good as something or someone that would fulfill the “desire” within us that drives us to long. And eventually Augustine came to realize that this “good” must be God, and that true happiness was found on earth in the anticipation of God who is beyond us.

For him, true earthly happiness was found in the longing for the “beautiful vision” of God. We merely touch hints of this vision in present life and will only enjoy the complete vision in the life to come. So even in the delight of a Christmas present, Augustine might see hints of God’s wondrous love.

I like that because my delight with Christmas presents might be seen as an act of spiritual devotion. Then again, it might be my unbridled selfish desires. And oddly enough, I suppose it is really a mixture of both. And God in his grace is working and transforming me in spite of my selfish motives.

But for now, let me go back to the presents! I have a question for you. What is the most memorable present you have ever received? I asked myself this several days ago, and oddly enough, it’s not an easy question to answer. All the presents blur together in my mind. Sweaters and pants and shirts and toys and boxes and bows all jumble together in one confusing mix.

So I’m not sure I can answer the question. After a few days of consideration, I have begun to remember the Bozo riding in the Bozo car that still sits in my house to this day. Then I remembered a Fisher Price circus set and a golf ball yo-yo and a train. Oops now the memories are flooding my mind: multiple race tracks, G.I. Joe dolls, magic tricks, a chemistry set, and a Tootsie Roll machine. Now I can’t stop. On and on I could go for pages listing trinkets and toys that delighted me for seasons of my childhood.

I failed to mention that the first gift which came to mind was a broken toy: a little car with broken wheels. I hated this gift but remember it more than any other gift. My sister and I were attending a youth choir Christmas party. We exchanged gifts using numbers we drew from a hat.

When I opened my little package, I was shocked to find a used and broken toy. Sad to say, I burst into tears. “Why me Lord?” “Why in heaven would someone have given me a broken toy?” As usual, my sister came to the rescue. She quickly pooled some money with another girl, and they ran down to the bookstore to buy me a puzzle.

I appreciated her kindness but somehow always felt a tinge of guilt playing with that puzzle. Why was I so sensitive and selfish over such a small thing? The memory stills haunts me on occasion.

I still wonder, “What is the story on that broken car?” Who thought bringing a broken car as a gift was a good idea? Were they too poor to buy something? If so, maybe this little broken car was actually a treasured gift, and they were giving me something of great value.” I’ll never know the story before it came to me, but I can tell you the story after I received it. Discarded. Trashed. But not forgotten.

Every gift is not simply a gift. It is actually a story in motion. It had a story before I got it and in one way or another it becomes part of my story once I receive it. For every gift that someone bought for me over the years, there was a moment or many moments of wondering, “What would Doug want?” Or possibly, “What can I get the best deal on?”

A whole series of thoughts might have occupied someone’s mind: “What size does he wear?” “What color does he like?” “Maybe I’ll just get him a goofy toy and call it a day.” For every gift someone bought for me, a thought or series of thoughts passed through their mind about me.

Now I realize something rather odd about the gift. It is actually an extension or symbol of the relationship I enjoy with that person. They took a few minutes to think about me and to find a gift for me because I am in relationship with them (even if that relationship consists in simply feeling some obligation to buy something).

Now this might seem odd, but I come to realize that gifts are but symbols for persons in my life. The wonder of gifts might not only point to some deep longing for the God, they might also point to the wonder of human relationships.

Looking around me at all the people in my life, I realize that I am surrounded by all shapes and sizes of gifts. Some talkative. Some quiet. Some big. Some tiny. Some friendly. Some a bit grumpy. And yet, in the mystery of God’s grace all these people are gifts of love and relationship God has granted me in this life: hints of His divine and all-surpassing love.

I can admire the packages. Or I can open up the gifts. How? I listen, enjoy, appreciate the wonder of the people around me. I can realize that each of these people have a story that extends far beyond me. But in some mysterious way I am part of their story and they are part of my story.

Every person in my life will change me and I will change them. I can celebrate them and thank God for them, or I can act like I got a bunch of broken toys. And ask, “Why me?”

I hope I’ve learned that even broken toys have mystery and wonder and stories that may unfold surprising hints of God’s goodness and grace.

As I celebrate the 12 days of Christmas this year, I am opening up gifts. Not physical boxes, but the amazing wonder of people in my life. From family and friends to the mystery of the stranger in the story, I am surrounded by gifts of wonder and glory. May I have eyes to see this wonder and sense the stirrings of a love from deep heaven that binds us together in grace.

Doug Floyd

“From a human perspective, when you compare [God] to the other gods of the other religions in the world, you have to say our God is really sort of odd. He uses the most common of people, people that aren’t any different from any of us here; he comes in the most common of ways, when by his Spirit an anonymous young woman is found to be with child. And the strangest thing is that he comes at all—he’s not the Above-Us-God, too holy to come down. This God’s love is so immense that he wants to come down. And he has proven his love by the fact that he did come down and touch our ground.”
James R. Van Tholen, Where All Hope Lies (cited from ChristianityToday.com)

Law and Love and Grace Part 3

August 15, 2008 1 comment

Overcoming Evil with Good

God created a world of glory and wonder. He created a man and woman in the center of this world and taught them the rules of this world that governed how they relate to God, to one another and to all creation. While their violation seems almost innocent to us, it is a tragic violation the breaks the laws of relating to God, to other people and to all creation.

The first few chapters of Genesis records the impact of such a violation. Broken relationship leads to self-preservation to jealousy and eventually to murder, which leads to destructive civilizations and eventually to a world of chaos.

Into this world of evil God sends a flood to wash away almost everything. While the flood is judgment, it is also a gift of restoration where evil and chaos infiltrated almost everything and everyone on the planet.

Genesis reveals the end result of the kingdoms of this world. The football teams, glee clubs, restaurants, businesses, cities and families are kingdoms infected with sin and evil. This is not a light innocuous infection. Without intervention, it leads to chaos, destruction, death and disaster. Given time and space, sin and evil continue unraveling, corrupting, and destroying everything.

This is hard for us to grasp because we see the seed of sin. The beginning looks minor. A stolen fruit. An angry thought. A little self pity. But left unchecked, the seed keeps growing. Death keeps overtaking the person. Tolkien captures this corrupting aspect of evil in Lord of the Rings with Gollum. He starts out as a Hobbit, but over time evil corrupts and corrupts and corrupts him eventually into a monster.

Even more disturbing is the recent image of the Joker in the movie, The Dark Knight. We see evil given full reign. Total chaos. The Joker acts for the sake of destruction and chaos. No desire for revenge or greed or power, but absolute chaos and destruction.

Think of the most horrid crimes and evils that plague our world, and you see the fruit of the works of man. No matter how creative, how industrious, how disciplined and even how religious humans are, given time, sin will blossom into horrid evils that destroy our worlds and destroy our souls. In one sense, hell is the unchecked, unstopped, uninterrupted place and time for evil to completely corrupt, completely destroy, and completely ruin.

So the question is, “How do we confront evil?” Whether a person believes in God or not, they still face the challenge of evil all around them. Every day the newspaper brings fresh evidence of evil and corruption. Scandals and abuses are not limited to one political party, one religious or non-religious group, one social class.

Look over the headlines from one year of news and you’ll find images of slavery, physical and sexual abuses, murder, stealing, and more in people from all sectors of society. From church group leaders to politicians to outspoken liberal and conservative commentators, we see evil and corruption abound. Just this year a wealthy couple from Rhode Island were indicted for slavery.

Somehow we are shocked by such heinous stories. Somehow we wonder, “what caused this?” “How could they be so bad?” Some of the best educated have given in to dark actions as much as the poorest and least educated. This should somehow be a clue that evil is not “out there” but “in here.” If we but think about our own imaginations, we may realize all of us are capable of unthinkable evil.

The Bible is not prudish but honest about this evil. While we like to debate the origins of evil, the Bible spends little time answering our metaphysical questions. Instead, it reveals God responding to evil.

The Bible reveals a world crying out for the sons of God to vanquish evil and restore the earth. With that context, we can see the law as God’s response to that cry. The law revealed to Moses is but the beginning of God’s fulfillment of His promise to Abraham.

The gracious gift of blessing the whole earth through Abraham’s seed is the great and wondrous blessing of recreating a world corrupted by sin and evil. Instead of flooding it again, God works through Abraham’s seed to overcome evil with good. The kingdoms of this world are coming under subjection to our God.

The law is given to the children of Israel as God redeems them from Egypt. In His love and grace, He chooses a specific family at a specific time in history to freshly reveal His kingdom, His rule, His order. Within the seed of Abraham, the seed of the law is planted and it will grow to reach all nations.

Paul reveals that the particularities of the law in relation to the Jewish people were just for a season. As John Frame explains, those particularities of a specific family, a specific priesthood, , a specific temple, and  a specific piece of land would flourish through Jesus into a  new nation of Jew and Gentile, a priesthood of all believers, a temple made of believers, a kingdom stretching outward to every tribe and nation around the world.

Through Jesus the law comes into fullness by the power of the Spirit. While the tablets of stone were glorious, the law written on the heart by the Spirit is even more glorious. For now, we are all through Jesus growing up into the image of our God.

Think back of the image of a family. Through Jesus we are becoming human. We are learning to walk, to talk, to eat, to live for the glory of God. The law is revealed in and through us by the Word and Spirit. As children of God, we are immersed into the kingdom of God.

We are immersed into the rule of God. In and among the people of God, we see the Spirit outworking the law in His people. Just as the child grows and learns and develops in relationship, we grow and learn and are shaped in relationship with God and God’s people.

With this in mind, think of Moses’ command to the people about studying the law:
And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut 6:6-9)

If we apply Moses’ command to the picture of a child learning and practicing to walk and to talk and to eat, we begin to understand that the law is shaped and formed in a family relationship. As children of God, we are learning in relationship. We are learning by practicing. We are playing at being human.

We don’t go to school to become human. We become human (in Christ’s image), by the grace of God working through us as we learn His word and act on His word. In other words, we are learning by living in the midst of decaying kingdoms all around us.

Outwardly, the kingdoms of this world are wasting away. But He is renewing us inwardly. He teaches us. We are growing in grace and truth. We are learning through failure, through suffering, through conflict and even through success.

A parent does not give a child a rule for how to respond to every particular situation in life. Rather, the child learns from the parent how to think and act and move within a framework. The Spirit of God is teaching His framework through which we think and act and move.

This framework is not simply ideas but is ideas rooted in relationship. As we meditate on God’s Word through study, prayer, and fellowship we grow in knowledge of the law. As we act upon the Word through speaking and acting, we grow in understanding.

This growth prepares us to rule. We rule in the various kingdoms. We rule in the bowling clubs, the businesses, the Boys and Girls Scouts, the local community, and in the churches. We speak and act upon the wisdom of God in the midst of kingdoms of this world.

Every day of our lives, we will be working out His kingdom in the midst of the kingdoms of this world. We are participating, but it is His Spirit that truly establishes the kingdom in and through us.

And His glory is being revealed. And the slaves are being set free. And the fatherless are being fathered. And it’s happening in offices, restaurants, car dealers, day care centers, car washes, prisons, coffee shops, and even churches. And the most-quoted Psalm in the New Testament is being fulfilled:

“The LORD said to my Lord,
“Sit at My right hand,
Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”
Psalm 110:1

Law and Love and Grace

August 1, 2008 2 comments

As a Special Agent for the FBI, my father spent his days enforcing the law of the land. With the weight of the Federal Government behind him, he arrested bank robbers, diffused hostage situations, and even followed Russian spies. I grew up under the shadow of the law.

This law provided a sense of security to a child with an overactive imagination. My world of fantasy seemed as real of the physical world, and so I always sensed aliens, monsters and ghosts were just around the corner waiting to reach out and grab me. My dad, as the physical presence of the law, represented a protection from this impending chaos.

Oddly enough, the law meant something entirely different in the context of church. It was repressive, controlling, announcing impending judgment and always holding before me the terror of either being “left behind” to live in a land with a cruel and evil antichrist, or being cast into hell for torment and repression.

So I carried within me two very different images of law: one of protection and safety, and one of doom and terror. In my childlike mind, I never tried to reconcile them. Once the idea of God’s grace penetrated my mind, I discovered such joy and freedom in faith that I assumed law and grace were opposites.

So my first venture into grace meant abandoning and running in terror from anything that hinted of law. Love was the only law that commanded my allegiance. And yet, this didn’t work out as clearly as I would hope. I watched people use the words love and then act in ways that seem to betray the very idea of love.

I served in a church where people freely embraced and cried together and reaffirmed their love for one another. Yet all the while the same people were betraying each other, lying to each other, stealing from each other. Sadly, I watched this behavior repeated in multiple churches where I served or participated.

I reached a point where I was prepared to abandon church altogether. I often said, “I love sinners but I can’t stand Christians.” While this is not really possible according to a Biblical understanding of love, it reflected my anger and frustration at what seemed to be a disconnect between words of love and actions that violated love.

At that time (and for many years later), I failed to realize that I was just as guilty as anyone around me in my failure to love. I knew nothing of the painful calling and challenge of love. What seems so simple often requires many slow and painful deaths.

This failure of love in the church and in my own life brings me back to the law. When Jesus commands the disciples to love, he puts it in the context of keeping his commandments. He links law and love together.

If I pay attention to the pattern of law and love throughout Scripture, I found out that they are often linked together. When Moses reviews the commandments in Deuteronomy, he reiterates the call to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength. And even more strangely, the psalmist will link the giving of the law with God’s grace.

So law and love as well as law and grace are not the opposites I would have imagined. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that I’m not the only one that has struggled with the relation between these words. In fact, many theologians continue to wrestle with the connection of law and grace in relation to the gospel.

In this short essay, I cannot begin to explore all the nuances of such a question, but let me suggest that I am coming to realize the Scripture does not pose these ideas as opposites in the way we might tend to do. In order for me to begin to even grasp how this might play out, I must return to the idea of law in my childhood.

The law my father represented in some small way begins to help me reframe how I think about law in the Biblical sense. So I want to offer a few images that are helping me to reframe my image of law. These images are drawn from Scripture and help me begin to think about how law is both a gift and a judgment in Scripture, and why we should spend more time considering God’s law in our lives.

First, I want to think about Hurricane Katrina. A catastrophic storm blew into New Orleans. The power of wind and rain sent the city into chaos. Homes flooded. People drowned. The city fell apart. Even as natural order seemed to break down, the social order broke apart. The world watched in terror as a whole city descended into chaos.

This terrifying image of a chaos-inducing storm reaches a global terror in the story of the flood. Think about Katrina repeated on a national, international and global level. After a few days, cities break apart in chaos. All social order is gone.

In the fight for survival, people lose all restraint and every imaginable evil explodes within the cities. Yet the storm continues. The chaos of natural disaster mixes with the chaos of social disaster. All order disappears. An ocean of chaos consumes everything until nothing survives but the chaos.

This terrifying image grips the imagination of the psalmist who pens psalm 46. He writes,

“God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Even though the earth be removed,
And thought the mountains be carried
Into the midst of the sea:
Though its waters roar and be troubled,
Though the mountains shake with its swelling.”

In this image of the sea swallowing the earth, we see an image of chaos encompassing order. Our ability to function and live in the world is dependent on the regular order of the world. The sun rises each day. The stars don’t fall from the sky. The oceans may swell but they don’t overwhelm the earth. And when a furious storm brews and the ocean does overlap the land, we are overawed by the terrible power of the chaotic waters.

This sense of order, of regularity is sometimes referred to as law or the laws of nature. In this sense, law is not viewed as a bad thing but as the order in our world that allows us to have some predictability over life. We expect winters to be cooler than summers. We expect the sun to shine and rely on the energy it provides. We expect to remain fixed to the planet and for all the spheres to remain in the heavens.

The psalmist considers what happens when this expectancy disappears and the seas surge over the land. In this moment, the psalmist realizes that expectancy and security are really found in God. While the natural world may have something like law, the real law is found only in God. True order and absolute reliability is found in God alone.

God is the ruler because the rule proceeds from God. All order, all law, all security proceeds from God. He is the rule and the rule proceeds from Him. One way for me to understand this is to think back to my father. He embodied the law to me, therefore I found security in him. In our home, he was the law, he embodied the law and the law proceeded from him.

Think of Robin Hood. In this story, roles are reversed, and the bandit is actually good because he represents true justice. He is standing against the oppression of the false law that oppresses the people—the rule of the Sheriff of Nottingham. The great hope in Robin Hood is for the return of Richard the Lionhearted.

In this story, Richard represents the true law. When Richard returns, Robin Hood will be vindicated. The false law of the Sheriff will be exposed as lawlessness and true justice will be restored to the land.

In one sense, this was the hope of the Jews. They were waiting for the true law to come in the person of the Messiah. When Messiah comes, he’ll overthrow the oppressor and restore true justice in the land. It will be a day of vindication for the people of God.

While many don’t recognize him, the Messiah has come. Jesus comes as the true law. He says that the kingdom of God has come. What is the kingdom of God? The rule of God or the law of God. He appears as the embodied word. He embodies the fullness of the law. He is the law and the law proceeds from him.

And in an unexpected turn of events, he also bears the judgment for breaking the law. In Robin Hood, the Sheriff of Nottingham is imprisoned for breaking the law. But in the gospel, Jesus the lawgiver and law-fulfiller also bears the weight for the transgressions against the law. And in so doing, he frees us from the curse of the law.

He doesn’t bring this gift to do away with law and order, allowing chaos to descend upon the earth. Like King Arthur, he does this to establish a land, a world of true justice. For me, Camelot embodies the hope of justice. In Camelot, true peace is brought to the land.

The glimmering and fading glimpse of Camelot is but a picture of the kingdom that Jesus establishes by His Spirit. He fulfills the law that is first revealed to Adam. This law that establishes proper order between God and humans, humans and other humans, and humans and the land is fully revealed and perfected in Jesus.

This kingdom is now growing and emerging in the midst of another kingdom. In the midst of a sinful world at war with God and with the law of God, the kingdom of God is firmly established and set in place. The kingdoms of the world must and will eventually fade and fall away completely.

The triumph of kingdom of God will ultimately be revealed, and all people will confess Jesus as the Lord of this permanent kingdom.

So how do we live in this kingdom of God while still existing in the midst of other kingdoms that are at war with God? How does the rule and law of God function in our lives?

I’ll offer some thoughts in part two.

Why Do I Like Welsh Poetry?

June 27, 2008 Leave a comment

I can’t even read Welsh, so I end up reading poetry written in Welsh and translated into English. (Hopefully, I will eventually read it in Welsh.) So why does it strike me and move me so deeply? As I meander back through Bobi Jones Selected Poems (translated by Joseph P. Clancy), I ask myself, “Why?”

My family has Welsh roots and a second cousin has actually met with distant relatives who still live in Wales. But in al truth, I am an American. I don’t know any other reality. Despite my Celtic dreams, I am an American through and through. This is the only world I’ve ever known.

As an American, I read poems originally written in Welsh about Welsh places and Welsh people and Welsh struggles. I these poems through the eyes of a translator (a great Welsh translator and poet in his own right). In spite of the disconnect, these poems move me. They vibrate through the inner recesses of my soul.

As I think about their struggle to preserve a language, a memory, a particular history and a particular people, I connect with their rugged persistence in the face of (seemingly) unstoppable winds of change. They won’t let go. When the fight to keep speaking and writing in Welsh borders on futility, they keep holding on.

I don’t know what it’s like to fear losing a language. I don’t know what it’s like to fight to preserve a nation. But I do know the dark seas of hopeless chaos that sometimes tower when God seems to hide the grace of His presence. In smothering black nights of hopelessness, something deeper than my intellect continued to hold out for hope.

Something deeper than sheer willpower seemed to persistently grip the glimmers of fading rays when all effort seemed futile. Something deeper than me kept holding on. The very one who seems to elude me, who seems to hide from me, who seems to have abandoned me, continues to hold me, to draw me, to sustain me.

Even though dark waters have pounded my soul and the undercurrent of chaos has pulled me down to an airless pit, the Spirit never stopped hovering, blowing, creating and recreating me.

And I think this is why I love the Welsh poets.

Somehow in their relentless struggle to hold onto hope, I’ve come to find a home among fellow travelers who’ve tasted the sweet light of grace in the midst of the night.

I’m poor, naked and helpless

July 5, 2007 1 comment

Listening to Sinead O’Connor‘s song “Something Beautiful” helped remind me why I am Christian. While I love to read and think and engage spirited discussions on the nature of faith and personhood and our postmodern milieu, I readily confess that I’m really poor, naked and helpless. Faith in Jesus has come to me as a gift in my own desperate weakness.

Sinead captures the voice of the aching soul encircled in God’s love,

I couldn’t thank you in ten thousand years
If I cried ten thousand rivers of tears
Ah but you know the soul and you know what makes it gold
You who give life through blood

Then she confesses her desperation in language that highlights for me my own faltering steps that stumble even when moving toward the love of Christ:

Oh I wanna make something
So lovely for you
‘Cus I promised that’s what I’d do for you
With the bible I stole
I know you forgave my soul
Because such was my need on a chronic Christmas Eve

The idea of encountering the loving grace of God through a “stolen bible” pictures the wonder of redeeming love for me. All of us are thieves seeking to steal the gift our sweet Savior so graciously offers in his broken body and shed blood.

Man is broken

December 8, 2006 Leave a comment

Here’s neat little quote that Jimmy posted on the kidney transplant list:

Man is broken. He lives by mending.
The grace of God is the glue.
Eugene O’Neill

Makes me think of a Dylan tune. I hope we’re all sticky today (and mend everything we touch).

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