LIFE PURPOSE

In his book, “A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose”, Eckhart Tolle warns against believing the roles one plays are our identity. As he points out, our roles in society in centuries past were largely determined by the circumstances of our birth. We were assigned to a social class from which it was usually next to impossible to escape and then expected to continue in the roles assigned to our family (butcher, baker, candlestick maker, homemaker, etc.) whether or not that was what we really wanted to do. And most people identified themselves by the roles they filled.

These days we for the most part are able to choose the roles we want to fill, such as trade or profession, and even whether or not to marry and raise a family. Even then there is a danger in identifying ourselves with those roles. Will we lose our sense of identity if and when those roles change? The current global COVID-19 crisis has brought this question into sharp focus. Although only a small proportion of the world’s population has actually contracted the virus and an even smaller proportion has died from it, everyone in the world has been impacted by the virtual shutdown of society with the exception of what are teemed vital services. A great many people have lost their jobs (their source of the income needed to care for themselves and their families). For many of these their health insurance also disappeared with their job. And there is a real possibility many of the roles they played in their jobs and the jobs themselves will not exist after the crisis is past. In many cases their former employers may not even exist.

If they identified themselves by their former roles, they may not know who they are anymore, and how they will fit in to the new society that exists post crisis. Even before the COVID-19 crisis erupted around the world, society was changing so rapidly that Tolle was telling us:

“In fact, in the modern world more and more people are confused as to where they fit in, what their purpose is, and even who they are.”

The key to understanding our purpose in life is to know who we are. When we realize who we truly are, all roles aside, it becomes obvious what our life purpose is. We are God’s children, made in his image, and our purpose is clearly spelled out for us. We are made, first of all, for fellowship with God. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism posits it:

Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

That was the state that existed in the Garden of Eden before Mankind decided that, instead of just enjoying God’s presence, trusting him to supply all their needs, they wanted to begin to learn about good and evil so they could take control of their lives and make their own decisions instead of relying on God. They desired to be like God themselves. Look where that has led us.

Jesus made our purpose clear when he answered the question of what God’s greatest commandment was. He said;

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
This is the first and greatest commandment.”

Then he continued;

“And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”

And he concluded;

“All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

So there you have it in a nutshell: our identity and our purpose. If we keep these in mind in whatever roles we undertake, we will not confuse our identity and purpose with the roles we are currently filling, and when those roles change, as they undoubtedly will, we will never lose our sense of identity and purpose.

ESP and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Yes, I believe in ESP, and I believe we all can and should being engaging in it. And here’s why. When we experience something we can’t see, hear, touch, smell or taste but we know somehow it is real, that is commonly called ESP or Extrasensory Perception (or sixth sense). I have come to understand that what is really happening is we are Experiencing Spiritual Prompting. That is to say we are “hearing” what God’s Holy Spirit is quietly whispering to our hearts and souls. God is always whispering to us by his Spirit, but we are usually so preoccupied with the cacophony of voices competing for our attention that we cannot hear him. It is in our unguarded moments that God is most often able to break through to us. This is not very often and that is a shame.

It’s a shame because while we are busily trying to deal with the host of complicated issues confronting us, which are just beyond the reach of our ability to fully comprehend, much less conceive of solutions to, we are not listening for the voice of the one who can and will provide us with the answers when we are not even sure what all the questions are. God alone understands not only what we are currently experiencing, but also what we will be confronted with in the future. And he is eager to guide us through the wilderness to the Promised Land.

It seems to me that since the current COVID-19 pandemic has created a world-wide crisis that we are all struggling to understand and combat, it is more important than ever to be listening for God’s solutions to the myriad questions we have about it.  Now is the time to quiet our minds and open our hearts and souls to Experience Spiritual Prompting. That is the ESP which will see us through this crisis.

So let’s all be still and listen intently for that still small voice. Let’s Experience Spiritual Prompting.

STEWARDSHIP 101: ANOTHER NICE MESS

As Oliver Hardy of the comedy team of Laurel and Hardy of the 1920’s and 30’s was fond of saying to his partner Stan Laurel. “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into”. With the global COVID-19 pandemic raging, we certainly find ourselves in another nice mess today, arguably the biggest mess the world has ever seen. And our first response is like Oliver’s, finding somebody to blame for it – the Chinese, the Europeans, our own governments (local, state and national) or even God himself. The fact of the matter is we have forgotten the basic requirements of stewardship, or what I like to call the world’s oldest profession. We have forgotten that when God spoke his creation into existence, his final act before resting was to create humankind in God’s own image, both masculine and feminine, and to place us in charge of tending his creation as his stewards. Stewardship of God’s creation is still the profession to which all of mankind is called.

Unfortunately we have forgotten about that and have treated the earth as our own, rather than God’s, to be exploited for our own purposes, rather than his. And, having ignored God’s advice not to partake of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we have attempted to explore the heights and depths of both causing all sorts of problems. In the process we have also forgotten that all of mankind, as well as all of the other creatures, are part of his creation we are called to tend and care for and have focused largely on satisfying our own personal perceived needs and desires. And once again we are reaping the fruits of the neglect of our stewardship obligations. In other words, we (yes, you and I) are the reason we find ourselves in such a nice mess. And we are groping to find ways to clean up our mess.

God will not sovereignly do that for us, although he certainly could. No, he long ago gave us that responsibility as his stewards. So it is up to us. He will, however, do what he has always promised to do. He will give us instructions on how to avoid evil consequences by choosing the good alternatives he provides us. When we do choose to abide by his instructions he has promised us peace, prosperity and long life. But when we choose to ignore them he warns us we will reap death and destruction. That is the harsh lesson we are currently learning.

All is not lost, however. There are hopeful signs emerging in the midst of this crisis. Everywhere we turn we hear “We are all in this together”. As indeed we are. And more and more people are banding together (while maintaining social distancing) to combat the spread of the COVID-19 virus and searching for a cure. More and more of us are heeding the advice to self-isolate to preserve our own health and help prevent the unintentional spread of the virus. Industries are retooling to produce vital supplies such as face masks, ventilators and hand sanitizers in lieu of their regular consumer products. Health professionals are working overtime to care for those who have contracted the virus. And, miraculous to say, even the congressional Democrats and Republicans are at least attempting to forgo their bickering and name-calling and to work together to provide financial relief to the businesses and individuals hardest hit by the virtual cessation of commerce throughout the land.

In other words, we are beginning to honor our responsibilities as stewards of this earth and all of its inhabitants to love and respect ourselves and all those around us. And we are seeking God’s face to comfort and protect us and to provide a way through and out of this crisis. We are beginning to take God up on his long-standing promise:

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (II Chronicles 7:14)

We will survive this crisis, and we will be better off for having gone through it, if we continue to fulfill our responsibilities as God’s stewards of his creation.

COVID-19 BLESSINGS

Strange as it may seem, with virtually the entire world shut down due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, I am beginning to realize the blessings that this has brought me. Thanks to wireless communication and the Internet I am able to keep abreast of the fast-moving developments brought on by the virus outbreak, and, more importantly, stay in touch with family and friends to check on their welfare. I am still able to get out when I need to, to pick up medicine and groceries, for myself and others. And, if the need arises, to have those delivered to me. I see the church, the Body of Christ, stepping forward to offer these services to those who need it and praying together (although apart) for God’s blessings to come about through this time of trial and testing, as they always do.

And personally I am learning to forget about the past, leave the future to the future, and concentrate on living each day as it comes. This is as God has always intended for us to live, trusting him to provide us with all we need for the day, including the strength to overcome whatever obstacles we encounter. And I am seeing he still does this as he has for the past 77 plus years of my life. Had he not, I probably wouldn’t even be here, so each day I continue to live is a blessing, a gift from God for me to enjoy and work the work he has assigned me.

This slowed down pace of life is enabling me to notice and appreciate all of the little blessings that come my way each day. Morning sunrise, even on days when clouds fill the sky, rainfall and clearing, trees and grass greening, flowers beginning to bloom, birds singing, and just taking time to enjoy fellowship with God. I have lived a long, sometimes challenging, always adventurous life, accomplishing more than I ever imagined I could. And I intend to treasure every new day that God gives me and do my best to make the most of it.

ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO FEAR

The news media yesterday evening were dominated by the effects of the world-wide spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, which the Centers for Disease Control has now designated a global pandemic. Meanwhile, although seldom mentioned, during the 2019-2020 influenza season, there have been at least 15 million flu illnesses in the United States, resulting so far in some 250,000 hospitalizations and at least 14,000 deaths. Rampant fear has gripped the nation, causing runs on hand sanitizer and other supplies that have stripped store shelves bare. Public gatherings, such as parades, sporting events and even political rallies, have been cancelled or postponed. The NBA even cancelled the remainder of its season after one player was diagnosed with COVID-19. Workers are being told to work from home where possible or just not to report to work at all.  Public and private schools, including some universities, are instructing students not to return to campus following their spring break, are cancelling on-campus classes and making arrangement for students to pursue their studies on-line. Stock markets continue to plunge precipitously deep into bear territory.

President Trump addressed the nation from the Oval Office in the White House later in the evening, announcing further travel restrictions, urging us not to panic, and attempting to assure us that all necessary steps were being taken to control the spread of the virus and to mitigate the economic impact on companies and individuals. However, following his remarks, most commentators opined that these had caused more confusion and concern than comfort. It seems as if the world as we know it is falling to pieces all around us.

And so, before I went to bed yesterday evening, I prayed: “Lord, what do you want me to do now?”

Then around midnight God awakened me to reassure me I had nothing to fear and that he had everything under control. He reminded me of some of his promises, such as:

Because I dwell in the shelter of the Most High, I can rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I can say “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Since he will cover me with his wings and provide me refuge, I need not fear pestilence and plague. Since I say, “The LORD is my refuge,” and make the Most High my dwelling, no harm will overtake me, nor disaster come near me. (Psalm 91)

And I need not fear the collapse of the country’s economic system because “my God will meet all my needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

And because God is my refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble, I will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea. (Psalm 46:1,2)

Since I was wide awake now, I pondered these things as I sipped a glass of wine. Then I went back to bed and slept soundly until morning.

The last thing God said to me was “Comfort my people.” So I am writing this to remind you that if you put your trust in God you have absolutely nothing to fear.

ULTIMATE ENLIGHTENMENT

When we begin to see creation and all it contains as it really is, suffused with and maintained by God’s power and glory, we begin to understand why God declared it good and mankind, created in God’s own image, as very good and why God loves all of his creation with an everlasting love. And when we realize that although God is saddened by the manner in which mankind has treated his creation, he was not surprised by it, since he created us with free will, knowing that we would misuse it. And, knowing that, God’s plan from the beginning was to take on human flesh and live among us, experiencing the full human experience, both good and bad, and suffering the wages of sin, although he himself was sinless. That God willingly took on sin’s punishment on behalf of all humankind to demonstrate unmistakably his unfathomable love for us.

Then we can begin to understand that and learn to share that love for all of God’s creation, seeing and experiencing it as God does. When we can do that we have, in a sense, become what the Eastern mystics call enlightened. But then when we have experienced God as a personal friend, rather than an amorphous, impersonal force, we have achieved what God calls the ultimate enlightenment. We have, as Jesus said, become one with him and with all mankind. Hallelujah! What a thought.

“God has allowed us to know the secret of his plan, and it is this: He purposes in His sovereign will that all human history shall be consummated in Christ, that everything that exists in Heaven or earth shall find its perfection and fulfillment in Him.” (Ephesians 1:9, 10 JBP)

VENTURING FORTH

In his book, “Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life”, Richard Rohr says:

“…the task of the first half of life is to create a proper container for one’s life and answer the first essential questions: ‘What makes me significant?’ ‘How can I support myself?’ and ‘Who will go with me?” The task of the second half of life is, quite simply, to find the actual contents that this container was meant to hold and deliver.” 1

“Only when you have begun to live in the second half can you see the difference between the two. Yet the two halves are cumulative and sequential and both are very necessary” 2

“We are”, he says in his Introduction, “a ‘first-half-of-life culture,’ largely concerned about surviving successfully.” 3  “But it takes us much longer,” he continues, “to discover ‘the task within the task,’ as I like to call it: what we are really doing when we are doing what we are doing.” 4 “It is when we begin to pay attention, and seek integrity precisely in the task within the task that we begin to move from the first to the second half of our own lives. Integrity largely has to do with purifying our intentions and a growing honesty about our actual motives. It is hard work. Most often we don’t pay attention to that inner task until we have had some kind of fall or failure in our outer tasks.” 5

As we pointed out in “Spiritual Entrepreneurship: Fulfilling Your God-Ordained Destiny” 6, American psychologist Abraham Harold Maslow postulated a hierarchy of needs, beginning with the most basic needs of food, drink, shelter and relief from pain and progressing upward through safety and security, belongingness and affiliation, esteem and finally to self-actualization. Maslow’s theory assumes that a person must fully satisfy the first level needs before progressing to the second level and so forth. For this reason most people fail to reach the ultimate level of self-actualization, or becoming who they were created to become. Maslow and Rohr are both implying that we tend to be so concerned with the mundane issues of life that we fail to even consider there may be something more to be obtained. It is only when we come to the realization that what we have attained does not satisfy the deeper longings of our soul that we begin to search for something further.

This occurs for many when they experience a so-called “mid-life crisis”, the solution to which is to make a pivot of some sort and proceed in a different direction toward a different goal. In the nine plus years since my retirement I have worked with a number of people in the midst of job transition, either having lost their job or simply unhappy with their current job. Many of these have been middle-aged and most of those have expressed a desire to find work that would be more meaningful than what they have been doing. In Rohr’s words they are wanting to begin filling the container they have created with what it is meant to contain. I like to think of this as coming to know who you are and why you are here; that is, what your purpose in life is meant to be. Discovering that and striving to fulfill your purpose is where you will find your greatest satisfaction and sense of accomplishment. This always involves leaving your comfort zone and going out into the unknown with no guarantee of success.

Since God created us to “do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10 NIV), it makes sense for us to ask God what those works are. Fortunately he is more than willing to show us. Jesus came to earth in the flesh to do just that. It won’t happen without a willingness to change on our part and to venture forth from the comfort zone we have created for ourselves. When Jesus began his ministry his first command was “Repent {Greek metanoia}, change your mindset (look at the world differently) and then he invited us to follow him and do what he taught and showed us to do. And his worldview and actions were radically different from what the world taught and did. He made it clear you couldn’t follow him without leaving everything else behind and focusing only on the road ahead.

If you have read “Spiritual Entrepreneurship” you know what that meant for my wife Mary and me. When we made our joint commitment to follow Christ wherever he led us, it meant not only leaving home, our extended family and our circle of friends for a strange and foreign land (south Louisiana) but also for me leaving behind my chosen profession of aerospace engineering and for Mary to pursue a career path she had not anticipated. It was not without trepidation that we made that first move, and for a while we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. But in the long run we not only discovered much more about who we were and what we were capable of doing, but most importantly that the plans God had for our lives were much more exciting and rewarding, and, yes, challenging than what we could ever have imagined for ourselves. It simply required venturing forth and never looking back.

As we described in our book, over the 53 plus years we shared together our containers were filled to the brim and overflowing. Talk about self-actualization. We achieved it in spades. We travelled the world together (all 50 of the United States and over 60 foreign countries) and enjoyed successful professional careers in a variety of industries. And now that Mary has passed on to her reward, I find myself going ever further from where I began and accomplishing even more than what I thought I was capable of. And I am no different than any one of you. God is no respecter of persons. He will bless beyond measure anyone who is willing to venture forth and follow where he leads. What about you?

Notes:

  1. Rohr, Richard, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint, 2011), p. 1
  2. , p. 2
  3. , p. xiii
  4. , p. xiv
  5. , p. xv
  6. Harrison, Bill and Mary, Spiritual Entrepreneurship: Fulfilling Your God-Ordained Destiny (Tulsa, OK: Total Publishing & Media, 2017), pp. 120,121

 

 

THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN

Jesus had a great deal to say about the kingdom of heaven (aka the kingdom of God). After he was baptized by John the Baptist he spent 40 days in the Judean wilderness, fasting and being tempted by the devil. Then when he heard that John had been arrested and imprisoned by Herod, he went to Galilee and settled in Capernaum. It was here that he began his public ministry by announcing, “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!” (Matthew 4:17 CEB) His call was to change one’s mindset or worldview (Greek: metanoeo) because the kingdom of heaven operates very differently from the kingdoms of the world. And he then began to offer a simple invitation to others to join him on a journey to enter that kingdom by simply saying, “Come, follow me.” (Matthew 4:19 CEB)

A group of twelve men did follow him as he travelled around the countryside, teaching about the kingdom of heaven and demonstrating the attitude and actions required to enter into it. Sometimes speaking to large crowds and at other times only to his twelve disciples, Jesus gave many illustrations of what the kingdom of heaven was like. It was, he said, like the smallest of seeds that, when planted, grows into a large tree that provides a nesting place for birds. Or, he said, like a small amount of yeast that permeates the whole amount of dough into which it is placed. It might start small, he implied, but would ultimately grow into something quite large. (Matthew 13:31-33)

And it was a thing of great value, like a pearl so priceless that a jewel merchant sold all he had to obtain it, or a field containing such a great treasure that a man sold everything he owned in order to purchase it. (Matthew 13:44-46) Of great value, but offered freely to those who were willing to enter in. The kingdom of heaven belongs, Jesus said, to the poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3) and those persecuted for the sake of righteousness (Matthew 5:10)

When his disciples asked him who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, he called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Matthew 18:3-5)

The haughty and self-righteous can hardly enter, as Jesus explained to the chief priests and elders of the people, saying “the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.” (Matthew 21:31, 32 NIV)   No, he said, “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20) So repent (metanoeo), change your worldview and believe what I have to say.

And Jesus made it clear that mere mental assent to his teaching was insufficient; action was also required. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven,” he said. (Matthew 7:21 NIV) But it is not up to us to decide who can enter and who cannot. That decision is God’s alone. In the meantime, he said, “the kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’  ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’ ” (Matthew 13:24-30 NIV)

“Once again” he said, “the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:47-50 NIV)

Jesus made it clear that, although everyone was invited to enter the kingdom not everyone would come. “The kingdom of heaven”, he said,” is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’ But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them.” (Matthew 22:2-6 NIV)

He expressed his outrage with those kinds of people. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (Matthew 23:13 NIV)

These were those experts in the law who believed they could gain God’s favor by slavish attendance to a myriad of rules and regulations, while they were neglecting the heart of what God really wanted from them.  When one of them asked Jesus what he had to do to inherit eternal life, he asked the man, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” When the man answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus replied, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:25-28 NIV)

But when the man began to nitpick the definition of one’s neighbor he betrayed his true attitude of self-justification. And a little while later, when Jesus was invited to share a meal with a Pharisee and did not ritually purify himself by washing his hands before he ate, the man was astonished at Jesus’s neglect of what he considered to be a point of law. Jesus’s response was devastating, “Now, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and platter, but your insides are stuffed with greed and wickedness.  Foolish people! Didn’t the one who made the outside also make the inside? Therefore, give to those in need from the core of who you are and you will be clean all over. How terrible for you Pharisees! You give a tenth of your mint, rue, and garden herbs of all kinds, while neglecting justice and love for God. These you ought to have done without neglecting the others.”  (Luke 11:38-42 CEB)

When one of the experts in the law complained that they also were being insulted by this, Jesus replied, “How terrible for you legal experts too! You load people down with impossible burdens and you refuse to lift a single finger to help them.” (Luke 11: 46) The hypocrisy of those whose hubris and self-righteousness not only prevented them from entering the kingdom of heaven but created stumbling blocks for those who could not meet their self-imposed standards was thus laid bare.

The essence of Jesus’s teaching about the kingdom of heaven then was that entering the kingdom was a simple matter for those who were willing to humble themselves, admit their shortcomings and honor God’s unconditional love for them just as they were by demonstrating their  love of him through sharing that love with those around them. On the other hand it was quite difficult, if not impossible, for the rich and powerful, the haughty and self-righteous to enter in without a major change of attitude (metanoeo: repentance).

What is often overlooked is the fact that Jesus was not describing some “pie in the sky bye and bye” type of utopia but a possibility that exists here and now. When the Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God was coming, he replied, “God’s kingdom isn’t coming with signs that are easily noticed. Nor will people say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ Don’t you see? God’s kingdom is already among you.” (Luke 17:20, 21 CEB)

Those who are willing to alter their worldview, to follow where Jesus goes and to do what he shows us to do can enter the kingdom of heaven right now. But realize that means humbling ourselves in God’s presence, receiving his unmerited love and favor and then sharing all he gives us with all those around us who are just as undeserving as we are. If we are ready to do that we can freely enter the kingdom of heaven today. I am; won’t you go with me?

 

THE INCARNATION

As we celebrate the Christmas Nativity we are bearing witness to an astonishing event, the incarnation of the infinite eternal Christ as a member of the human race, a tiny baby born into a working class family under very unsanitary conditions – Jesus, the Christ, as Emmanuel (God with us). God in the flesh, walking among us, eating and drinking and experiencing all of the same emotions that we all do. And inviting us to follow him into the kingdom of heaven by being born again of water and the Spirit into the family of God (John 3:1-8)

Now to me it is even more astounding to realize God’s incarnation is continuing. Just before going to the Garden of Gethsemane on the night he was arrested, Jesus prayed to the Father for his disciples, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.”  (John 17:20-24 NIV)

A little earlier Jesus has said to this disciples, “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:15-17 NIV)

He will be in you – incarnation of God! This then first occurred on the Day of Pentecost when the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and Peter preached a powerful sermon.  (Acts 2:1-36) And it continues today as evidenced by what happened next.

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.’ (Acts 2:37-39 NIV)

So, as the Apostle Paul tells us “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (I Corinthians 12:27 NIV) That is to say, Christ is incarnated in each one of us and we have become one with him. This is astounding, but it should not be unexpected. For, as Paul told the church at Ephesus “For God has allowed us to know the secret of his plan, and it is this: He purposes in his sovereign will that all human history shall be consummated in Christ, that everything that exists in heaven or earth shall find its perfection and fulfillment in him.” (Ephesians 1:9,10 J.B. Phillips translation)

Therefore, incarnation will ultimately include all of creation. This is what Richard Rohr calls the Universal Christ.1 Wow! Fantastic! Astounding! So on Christmas Day we are celebrating more than just the birth of the Christ child, we are celebrating the ultimate restoration of the whole creation to the state God originally intended. So rejoice and give God the glory!

  1. Rohr, Richard, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (New York, NY: Convergent Books, an imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, 2019)

REAL LIFE JUMANJI

If you have seen either or both of the “Jumanji” movies you know that each of the players takes on the attributes of one of the characters in the video game. In the movies the players actually become the avatars of the game characters. Each character has certain strengths and weaknesses unique to them and it requires the special strengths of each character to be utilized for the team to be successful in their mission. Each character’s weakness must also be avoided if possible. Each character has a unique role to play that depends on their particular strengths. If any one of the players fails to fulfill their role the mission is doomed to failure for all the players. Success of the mission definitely requires an all-out team effort.

Now it seems to me that God’s intent for the Church, the Body of Christ, is similar to this in many ways. Each of us as members of the Body have unique natural strengths and weaknesses, as well as God-given gifts. As the Apostle Paul said to the church at Corinth “Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed…There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.

There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (I Corinthians 12:1, 4-7 NIV) He then goes on to list a number of these gifts, although not all of them.  These gifts allow each individual to perform at a higher level that they are capable of using only their natural strengths.

Paul goes on to describe the Body of Christ thusly “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ…Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many…But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” (I Corinthians 12:12, 14, 18 NIV) Paul then goes to some length to make the point that it takes all of the parts to complete the Body and that each is just as essential as the next.

The upshot of this is that, just as in Jumanji, each of us with our own unique strengths, gifts and even weaknesses must work together if the mission of the Church is to be accomplished. That mission will be impossible to achieve without utilizing the unique strengths and gifts of all the parts of the Body of Christ. Now it happens that, just as in Jumanji, some of us are jealous of other’s strengths and gifts, and wish we did not have the weaknesses of our character (that is, us). And just like in the game we occasionally cause someone else (or even ourselves) to fail. In the game that means we cause someone to lose one of the three lives allocated to them. Hopefully in real life the failures are not fatal since we only have one life, but they represent setbacks to the mission anyway. So whether you prefer to think of the universal Church as the Body of Christ or as a team of people each with their own unique strengths (and weaknesses) and roles as in Jumanji, we would be much better off in pursuing the mission of the church to share the gospel of the kingdom of God with the whole world if we would learn to work together as a unit rather than arguing over who has the better strengths or the worst weaknesses and by combining all of our best efforts to reach a common goal.

Given the fractured and fragmented state of the Body of Christ today, as it has been for all but the first few decades of the Church’s existence, with all of its dissensions and bickering, it may seem that achieving a unified body with one common goal is impossible. But I believe that nothing is impossible with God. I am confident he is not surprised by this lack of unity and that he has a plan to accomplish that goal in spite of it. I have seen several posts on Facebook recently that say essentially the same thing; i.e., when God called you to the mission he has called you to do he took into account your own faults and stupidity. I would add that his plan includes a way to overcome those shortcomings. And I believe that applies not only to each of us as individuals but also to the Church as a whole and the mission to which he has called us. I am beginning to see some signs of that already and am eager to see how God completes the work he has begun so that we can all come together and complete our mission. It will be done!