He was to overthrow Israel’s enemies. That was the hope. The Jewish people expected a Messiah who would set them free. They knew things were not the way they were supposed to be. Their dream was one day God would send a hero, a Messiah, who would put everything back to rights.

God did the unexpected. Instead of a mighty Messiah, Jesus came into the world as a child. He emptied himself (Philippians 2) of everything but love, came into the world as a servant, humbled himself, was obedient to God, even to death. A child who would save the world wasn’t what was expected. The birth of Jesus was so much more.

Perhaps our minds couldn’t grasp how God’s plan could work. A Messiah with the power of God overthrowing enemies and putting everything to rights makes sense. We can understand how someone like that could be victories. But a child? How would a child fulfill God’s promises? How could a child free God’s people?

Jesus is Immanuel; God with us. He is not a warrior to fight on our behalf, but one who walks with us through all the fights. Through him we find peace that doesn’t make sense. In the midst of our trouble we find we are not alone. Instead of transforming the world through power, he transforms the world through love. Jesus is not what was expected, he is more than we could ever have hoped.

More than Imitation

I’ve heard that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that’s the case, then Jesus should be ecstatic. After all, a number of years ago there was a campaign that went viral called What Would Jesus Do (WWJD). The point of the campaign is pretty self-explanatory so I won’t go into detail. If you need the detail, you can google WWJD.

Even though imitation shows great affection, imitation is not the greatest form of  devotion. Devotion doesn’t just happen. There is a progression in how individuals grow in devotion and love. The progression is impression, influence, imitation, and then, finally, incarnation. We are first impressed by someone. Impression leads to being influenced. Once we are influenced, we may be influenced to so great a degree, we begin imitating the other person. The WWJD campaign revealed that some were so impressed with Jesus, they wanted to be like him, so they wanted to do what he would do.

However, if we stop at imitation, we have stopped short of the greatest display of devotion, which is incarnation. Incarnation seeks to take on the character and dispositions of the other. Jesus was the incarnation of God. Paul tells us that he was the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). Jesus was also the exact representation of God’s nature or character (Hebrews 1:3). While Jesus was the Incarnation of God (with a capital “I”), we are to be the incarnation of God (lower case “i”) as Dr. Robert Mulholland and others have stated.

Imitation may be a form of flattery, but incarnation demonstrates love.

A Breathing Lesson: Breathing in the Spirit of God; Breathing out in service to the world

This statement brings together the main teachings of the spiritual masters. For them the inner life’s purpose was to empower the outer life. We breathe in God’s Spirit so we can breathe out in service to the world. Their life was not simply about silence and solitude, but also about service.For too long we have disconnected focus on the inner life from focus on social transformation. That is why we have Christians who might know the bible and pray extremely well, but never reach out to a neighbor in need. It is also why we have social agencies who work for the cause of Christ, but leave Christ out of much of their work. To follow Christ we must have both elements in our lives.

An Honest Prayer

Thanks to someone in Men’s Group (Gary), I was finally able to find this clip after what seemed like years of searching. I have no idea when I saw the film, but I always remembered this prayer. At the time, I was a bit put off by it to be honest. Now I view it differently.

Today I see this as an honest prayer. Stewart’s character prays to give thanks to God, but the prayer focuses on all that Stewart has done to get what he has. His prayer shows that he believes he has what he has because of the strength of his back and the sweat of his brow. I say this prayer is honest because, for many, this is what they believe, but not necessarily what they pray. Even when we reflect Stewart’s feelings, we try to hide those feelings under words of thanks and gratitude. Our actions will give us away though.

Those who truly are able to see that all they have is a gift from God end up living differently (and praying differently). They live with gratitude and a thankfulness. They also are able to give back to God generously because they know that God has given everything to them. Knowing God has given everything to them, enables them to proceed in life with faith, giving to God along the way.

So, how do you really feel about what you have and where God fits into the picture of your blessings?

Review – Mystery of God by Steven D. Boyer and Christopher A. Hall

[amazon asin=080102773X&template=wishlist]

I received the electronic version of this book free in exchange for an honest review.

There will be some who will not like this book. They will give it low ratings and pontificate about watering down the gospel or how the authors are wrong on one point or another. They might even say the book is dangerous. There will be some whose minds and eyes are closed and believe they have figured out God and have God in a nice package that can be studied, dissected, and controlled.

The reason why some will not like this book is because Boyd and Hall strike at our pride in believing that we have or even can know God completely. They address God’s incomprehensibility and transcendence choosing to focus on the mystery of God while recognizing and hold tight to God’s revelatory nature. Mystery serves to remind us, that God is God and we are not. Our thoughts are not God’s thoughts and even our best thought about God pales in comparison to his glory. It is a good book and I believe an important book.

There are two main sections. The first section discusses the need for mystery in our theology. The authors do a wonderful job in moving their readers from an introduction to mystery through a historical account of mystery and then finally to a place where mystery can be utilized as one thinks theologically. The second section outlines how mystery can help in understanding several, apparently, paradoxical (some would say contradictory) theological issues such as the Trinity, God’s sovereignty and humanity’s completely freedom to choose, Jesus as both human and divine, the why and how of prayer (if God knows all things, why should I ask or tell him anything?), and finally, how Christians can learn from others.

The book is well thought out and written. Each chapter builds on concepts and arguments given in earlier chapters, so it feels like the authors are taking you on a journey. The destination seemed to be the possibility of Christians learning about God from non-Christian religions. I believe it will be the last chapter that will cause individuals the most disdain, but it also seems it is where the authors want Christian theologians to arrive. Some may not make it that far. Some will not like the conclusions the authors draw about what may be viewed as essential beliefs and theological stances.

I encourage readers to finish the book out and give the authors fair hearing. Near the end of the book they do give some warnings, dangers, and cautions. They are not encouraging one to move outside of orthodox faith, but to recognize that God, in God’s essence is transcendent. They are encouraging humility, not only in our spiritual life, but also in how we think about God and what those outside our “camp” might have to say.

I highly recommend this book. It was enjoyable to read. The authors are versed in philosophy, theology, and the history of the church. Their discussions are well thought out and they take time to address potential questions and concerns. The book also brought me to places of worship as I contemplated how far God is beyond me, but how he is also close to me. It caused me to be thankful because God has revealed himself in Jesus. It also brought me expectant anticipation of growing in knowledge, grace, and humility as I seek him.