Renovating Us Lovingly

[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jason Bandura works with the Glen Elm Church of  Christ.  Married to Shannon, he is Dad to three lovely daughters.  He lives on the Canadian prairies and writes occasionally HERE.]

In Luke 1, Mary’s angel-visit is followed with a road trip. She sets out to see her relative Elizabeth, who she has learned has received a miracle of her own, becoming pregnant long after any believed possible.

In my years as an ESL teacher, I heard countless students begin sentences with these three words: “How you say…?” Poor grammar aside, the query was clear enough. What words does one use to express a given thought or name a given object? Mary’s trip likely spanned 100 miles, spread over three or four days. Surely she wondered, “How you say… I am pregnant with the Son of God?!”

My approach would have been to slope down easily into such a conversation. I would have begun talking about Elizabeth. Upon seeing her bulging belly, I could have asked questions for days about her pregnancy and her experiences and her emotions. After a comfortable stretch, I would then gently transition conversation toward my own set of experiences. (I confess that Mary’s particular story has no possible ramp for a smooth transition, but I likely would have tried this anyway!)

But God is not having it.

Upon hearing Mary’s “hello”, a womb wiggles, a junior jumps, and a priest’s wife turns prophetic. Immediately attention centers upon Jesus Christ. Not the game plan we created on the road trip!

It’s easy for me to imagine Mary conversationally meandering for a while before centering the visit upon Jesus. Embarrassingly, this is likely due to my own tendencies to meander in the affections of my heart and the devotions of my life. However, the Holy Spirit uses Elizabeth’s voice to prompt us:

  • Do not relegate Jesus to the fringe.
  • Do not minimize him.
  • Do not buckle him in the backseat.

A dart in the bullseye of a dartboardInstead, be very clear that Jesus is not merely one ingredient in your life recipe. He is front and first and foremost. Paul would argue that he is at the center of the entire cosmos (Colossians 1:16-17).

So set your eyes upon Jesus:

  • Set them squarely.
  • Set them solidly.
  • Let them not wander.
  • Let them not want.

For everything that God has for you – more than you could ask or imagine – resides in Jesus Christ. Like a meditative refrain of his name, we would be wise to sit and soak in the wonder of who he is.

magnificat_1In response to Elizabeth’s declaration, Mary is inspired to make her own. These words have become timeless, taking on the name “Magnificat”. Luke 1:46-56 breaks into noticeable halves. The first (46-50) is relatively personal; Mary is alluding to Yahweh’s unique work in her life. The second (51-56) zooms out to show a plan encompassing whole systems and societies, A mighty reversal for high and low, rich and poor, filled and empty. Many perceive these as “kingdom moves” – the renovations necessary as the Creator calibrates his world to his liking. The picture is wondrous if we imagine ourselves “moving on up” within the upheaval. However, I would argue most of us should sit with the more trouble implication that some of what we love will be tossed about by the Christ.

Few have been as helpful in clarifying the concept of the kingdom as Dallas Willard. He makes it easy to understand:

“Every last one of us has a ‘kingdom’ – or a ‘queedom’, or a ‘government’ – a realm that is uniquely our own, where our choice determines what happens. We are made to ‘have dominion’ within an appropriate realm of reality.”

And God’s kingdom is not that different:

“God’s own ‘kingdom’ or ‘rule’ is the range of his effective will, where what he wants done is done.”

This imagery brings alive the challenge of conversion. What happens when the “ways of the land” in God’s kingdom rub against the borders of my kingdom, governed by very different ways? Now we negotiate. Or debate. Or declare war.

arm wrestlingThis is why my eye lingers on Luke 1:51: “God’s arm has accomplished mighty deeds.” I imagine a child bragging of his father’s strength. A second child one-ups the first with bolder claims about his daddy’s muscles. The competition grows until some child silences the others with an unmatchable claim. Verse 51 strikes me as Mary preemptively ending all conversation. No one is so mighty as her Father, and his strength is most vividly seen in the very next phrase: “The proud in mind and heart, God has sent away in disarray.”

In a sense, God’s wondrous strength is seen most clearly in how he deals with the proud – those who know so much, those who have so much, those who are so much. Toward any form of pride – be it rebellious or religious – God’s response is completely predictable. He will scatter, he will break, he will undo. This has been true since Babel.

Perhaps surprisingly, this is actually God’s move of grace toward us. When personal kingdoms barricade us from entering is kingdom, he will knock something over. When the priority of self shelters us from the power of salvation, his most loving move may involve a wrecking ball. When we determine that our sense of self-guided direction will deliver us into abundant life, God will lovingly disorient us.

Along with Elizabeth, he will prompt us to center upon Jesus as directly and hastily as we can. And along with Mary, he will nudge us to praise him at how willing he is to exert his power toward battling our pride.

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Back at It

Not long ago, I had some great rhythms in my life: Bible-reading, exercise, sleep, writing, and work.

And then the last month of life happened.

A wonderful holiday followed quickly by a time at camp was followed by a week of relatives and visits that concluded with a weekend back at camp again. Throw in a wedding, a funeral, and a late-night visit to the emergency department of our local hospital–and I’ve simply failed to maintain much of the routine.

Time to re-establish some patterns!

I’ve missed you, Blog-Friends.

Holiday

Tomorrow morning, my wife and I depart for a childless week-long vacation. “Big deal,” you say?

Yes indeed!

To mark our 15th anniversary, we are headed to northern California. Shannon has always wanted to behold the Redwood forests. Throw in San Francisco, and there will have no problem filling a very different week than those to which we’ve become accustomed.

Meandering Mystic

For years, I’ve stumbled across quotes and concepts attributed to “the mystics”. Much of the time, these findings have come like flecks of gold brightening and en-valuing the stream in which they sit.

I confess that this discovery has evolved into a minor obsession with mysticism. In a recent post, I acknowledged that blogging was being bumped backward in my priority list to free up time and energy for larger writing projects. One of those revolves around mysticism.

At one point, I had started a second blog aimed with the intent of focusing all of its content on mysticism. Would you believe maintaining two blogs was more work than maintaining one? So I will now proceed to move those posts over to this site one at a time. Here is the first post, originally written on May 30, 2011, as introduction to soon-to-be-extinct site: Meandering Mystic.

 

A meandering mystic.

 

That might describe me.  At the least, it speaks of someone I hope to be.

 

The word “mysticism” planted itself in my mind years ago.  Each day, I see a few more sprigs of what has been growing ever since.

 

The term itself can cause confusion; the mere sound of the word sets off connections with “mystery”, translated internally as “weird” or “nutty” or “cuckoo”.

 

However, at its heart, mysticism speaks of experience with God, of tasting of His presence in a tangible way.  Pressed further, it can even allude to a sensed union of human with Divine.

 

Perhaps the phrasing of that last sentence does border on “out there”, but my soul feels a real need for more of God.  And if it isn’t real on an experiential level, then it feels like little more than intellectual consideration of concepts such as God.

 

And that type of spiritual life has nothing to offer this fellow, who has lived on that level for too many days already.

 

So I meander, with the word “mystic” to guide me.  Perhaps I’ll arrive there yet.

Two Funny Men

Both of these men were featured on TV last night.

One is trying to be funny; I’m not so sure about the other.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Jerry Seinfeld and Gregg Popovich.

 

Hell: A Reality Worse than the Imagery

love-wins-setThe topic of hell has received an unusual amount of attention in Western theological discussion over the past decade.  Of course, the most popular strand of this discussion centered around Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins”, with denser strands weaving through the academic realms of publication and discussion.

Much of the conversation is built around distaste for the concept of never-ending punishment, particularly as it is wrapped in imagery of fire and burning.  This leads to several valid questions:

  • What depiction of hell is truly biblical, and what has been developed through the art and literature of the ages?
  • How literally or metaphorically are we to take what Scripture does tell of the final judgment?
  • What do biblical words like “Gehenna” really mean?

These are just a sampling of the sub-topics that factor into the larger discussion of “What do you make of the concept of hell?”  Certainly, this discussion matters; to some, it appears to matter immensely.

I am not among that number.

Part of that is due to the following quote from Timothy Keller:keller3

“To say that Scripture’s image of hellfire isn’t wholly literal is no comfort whatsoever—the reality will be far worse than the image.”

We can hardly be blamed for our flesh-fettered views. Nerves and neurons, skin and sensation, these are the means by which we experience our world. And in that light, it is easy to see why heaven’s depiction is golden and lavish, while hell’s is dark and despairing.

But what if our senses misguide us?

sensesWhat if the imagery–as vivid as imagery and language can formulate–fails to capture the intensity?

What if the most intense scenes of suffering that a human imagination can generate are pitifully poor metaphors for communicating the reality of a creature cut off from its Creator?

It seems easy to convince people that heaven will actually surpass an experience revolving around golden streets and massive mansions.  We recognize that the extravagant physical depictions fail to express even a sliver of the spiritual reality. We acknowledge that the core of that experience will center upon the overwhelming and unmissable presence of God and upon the river of life-to-the-full that will flood-flow from Him to His companions.

Humanity’s heaven imagery is pale and poor to communicate the intensity of the reality.

Yet seldom is an equivalent argument applied to hell.  And if the case is made, then it’s made only halfway.  It is one step to recognize the limitations of imagery and vocabulary.  One can say that without saying much.

But it is a big-as-a-beast statement to suggest that the imagery of hell, the metaphors that make us squirm, even buck against the entire concept, are actually too weak to communicate the magnitude of the reality.

If heaven is actually better than jewel-encrusted architecture, then the counter-statement stands too.

Hell is worse than burning.

C.s.lewis3C.S. Lewis used to speak of “the unsmiling concentration upon Self, which is the mark of hell.”  Unchecked and freely reigning within a life, self-centeredness consumes in ways sparks never will.  It scars the soul and warps one’s world.  And it appears that anyone who desires this path can have it. So powerfully are we created that our choices in the present life ripple through eternity.

But we’d be wise to make our choices, aware that the imagery is not nearly so fierce as the reality.

Hell is worse than burning.

YOUR TURN: How do you handle the Bible’s imagery of the afterlife, in light of the thought that the imagery is actually light-weight when compared to the reality?

Become part of the conversation. Your voice makes this post better.

[You can subscribe to this blog via RSS or email, in the upper right corner of this page. As well, follow me on Twitter ( @JasonBandura ) for 3-4 daily tweets daily of of insightful quotes or intriguing articles, sprinkled with occasional goofiness.]

Back on the Blogging Horse

I do not own a horse, never mind one that writes.

However, developing a steady writing rhythm has seemed nearly as impossible as discovering a pen-wielding pony!  Over my blogging journey, I have been bucked off more times than I can count.  But this latest two-month silence has been the hardest.

I WANT to write.  Less than four months ago, I even took a dare to assert this identity with four blunt words: I am a writer.

Did I jinx myself? Scare myself? Did the birth of our third child, all of whom are currently four and younger, have something to do with it?

I don’t believe the first, I might buy the second, and I definitely embrace the third, though I refuse to use it as a full-blown excuse.  There is never a perfect time to take a step forward; resistance and upward slope are always present.  I do not deny the uniqueness to our little-kids season of life, but I also recognize the foolishness of awaiting ideal conditions before moving one’s feet.

Perhaps this post can be one such step, the throwing of a leg back over a saddle that I insist on filling.

Let’s ride, my friends.