'Let It Be To Me': The Upside Down Kingdom of God

'Let It Be To Me': The Upside Down Kingdom of God

On Tuesday, Feb. 5, I spoke in chapel at Ouachita Baptist University for its Christian Focus Week. The theme of the week was “Here am I.” I look at Luke 1:26-38 at what it means to say “Here am I” to God and what it looks like in the kingdom of God. If you really want to do great things for God, then what will that mean?

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Jesus Christ our Advocate

Jesus Christ our Advocate

Christ’s identity as advocate, therefore, means that even when we sin, and we will, Jesus stands at the right hand of the Father interceding for us based on his righteousness and atoning sacrifice for our sins, which was made complete by his crucifixion and resurrection (1 John: 2-12). That means yesterday, today, now, and forever our status before him never changes because we are in Christ and Christ never changes.

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The God who is for us: Mary's Song

The God who is for us: Mary's Song

I don’t know about you but even though I’ve been a Christian for a long time, I still battle in my mind with different, opposing views of God. Every day is a struggle with belief in some way: a belief in a God who still loves me, a belief in a God who forgives me, a belief in a God whose mercy does not run dry, a belief in a God who is near me not far from me. Perhaps you find yourself asking yourself, Is God going to run out on me like that parent or spouse? Is God not going to forgive me like that friend who refused to forgive? Who is God and what do we believe about him in those darkest moments when we have nothing left to give?

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Homosexuality and the Love of God: A response to Jen Hatmaker and Katelyn Beaty

By Osvaldo and Kristen Padilla

It has been the suggestion of a number of Protestant denominations that the matter of LGBTQ can be separated from the basics of the gospel. That is, that one can be affirming of homosexual unions (please note the clarification about this at the bottom) but this need not affect the traditional core of the gospel. Or to put it another way, the receiving into the churches of LGBTQ folk who want to continue in those relationships is something that is not in the same sphere as the core doctrines of the church. The acceptance of LGBTQ folk as stated above has nothing to do with the continual upholding of central belief commitments such as are expressed in the Apostles Creed or Nicaea. The reception of LGBTQ people who want to continue actively in those relationships does not at all affect my evangelical identity, to the extent that that identity is determined by certain core, doctrinal beliefs. So the argument goes. We want to suggest that a recent event involving popular Christian speaker and author Jen Hatmaker and Katelyn Beaty, managing editor of the evangelical flagship popular magazine Christianity Today, proves that such arguments are entirely incorrect.

The recent event is actually a continuation of an event that occurred two years ago. In March 2014, Hatmaker penned a controversial blog post entitled, “World Vision, Gay Marriage, and a Different Way Through,” in which she left room for those who believe same-sex marriage is OK to be within the tent of orthodox Christianity. Or to put it another way, there was no connection between the basic doctrines of Christianity and same-sex marriage.

Last week Hatmaker spoke out again regarding the issue of homosexuality, causing another stir. In an April 23rd post, Hatmaker writes,

One thing I said was that it is high time Christians opened wide their arms, wide their churches, wide their tables, wide their homes to the LGBT community. ... Here are my arms open wide. So wide that every last one of you can jump inside. You are so dear, so beloved, so precious and important. You matter so desperately and your life is worthy and beautiful. There is nothing "wrong with you," or in any case, nothing more right or wrong than any of us, which is to say we are all hopelessly screwed up but Jesus still loves us beyond all reason and lives to make us all new, restored, whole.

Standing by itself, her ambiguous post (just what does it mean to love and to open arms wide?) on love does not say much. In fact at first glance her words should be echoed by all of us who love sacrificially and without exception. But what does it mean to be loved by God? Does being loved by God imply a relationship with God? What does she mean by “there is nothing ‘wrong with you’”? In particular, since Christians through the ages have said that repentance is the gateway to a relationship with God, what is the connection between repentance and the love of God?1

Enter Beaty. She provides a defense of Hatmaker’s statements by concentrating on the love of God. The title of her piece is: “What Jen Hatmaker gets right about Christian love.” Beaty’s conclusion is that the angry response to Hatmaker is indicative of a misunderstanding of God’s love.

But the response from both sides of the spectrum also highlights how confused we Christians are about the nature of love—the love that God has for us, and the love we are to have for those who don’t know him.

Beaty sees as the problem with the opponents of Hatmaker that they put a condition for the acceptance of LGBTQ folks. The condition that Beaty sees is repentance. Consider the following statement:

This radical love of God in Christ is precisely what compels us to love God in return and to repent accordingly—not the other way around. And oh, do we so often confuse the order of love and repentance. Driven by mere human logic, we want to make ourselves right with God before he can declare it. We still want to do something to earn his love, and we want others to do the same—to repent first and really mean it, lest love be used as a license to sin.

To bolster her argument, she quotes from Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge. Here is what the latter says about repentance: “The temptation is to say that repentance is necessary before God can forgive us.” Yet, “The truth is the other way around. Repentance is something that God works in us as a consequence of his prevenient grace.”

And so we have come full circle to our introduction. In fact, the current debate on same-sex unions depends squarely on our understanding of some of the basic things of the gospel. In this case, repentance.

Now there are some significant problems in Hatmaker/Beaty’s statements about the relationship of God’s love to repentance.

First, Beaty approvingly quotes the view of repentance from Rutledge, “The temptation is to say that repentance is necessary before God can forgive us.” The problem with this is that it contradicts the Bible. Consider the following passages:

And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. (Luke 13:2-3)
And Peter said to them, “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. (Acts 2:38)
Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus (Acts 3:19-20; emphasis added)

So, in fact, without repentance there is no salvation. This leads us to a second point.

Second, the problem with Beaty is that she understands repentance as a human work, as self- amendment. She views it as our contribution to salvation. Consider the following:

And oh, do we so often confuse the order of love and repentance. Driven by mere human logic, we want to make ourselves right with God before he can declare it. We still want to do something to earn his love, and we want others to do the same—to repent first and really mean it, lest love be used as a license to sin.

Is this really what repentance is? Repentance is actually a gift of God, as much a gift as faith and justification. Consider the following passages:

The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. (Acts 5:30-31; emphasis added)
God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness. (Acts 3:26)

This is repentance. It is a gift of God by which he grants us a contrite and broken spirit (Psalm 51), which desperately wants to turn toward a new life. It is not amending our lives; it is a God- given desire to live according to God’s commands. Consider also the following quotation from Beaty:

Prevenient grace is the kind of grace that runs out toward us when we have barely managed to walk down the path toward our father’s house. It’s a kind of grace that wipes off the slop, enables us to stand up straighter...

The Scriptural view is that you couldn’t even walk without God-given repentance, not even barely; you couldn’t even stand up at all (let alone straighter) without repentance. The irony here is that Beaty inadvertently has shown what she believes about grace—that it is a cooperative endeavor in which God meets us “when we have barely managed to walk down the path.” Grace for her is helping us “stand up straighter.” In reality without grace we cannot get off the ground in the first place! But if you understand repentance in the way that she does, of course you are going to make statements like the ones above.

To end where we began: how we view homosexuality—not in the abstract but the very specific issue of same-sex marriage—is not something that can be separated from core doctrines of the Christian faith. It is tied to doctrines such as grace, repentance, and the love of God. If “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and yet you do not understand the love of God, then you don’t know God. And so the relationship of repentance to the love of God goes all the way down to the very being of God. For your view of repentance, consciously or unconsciously, says what you believe about the love of God.

Can you know the love of God in the abstract without knowing God relationally? And can you relationally know God without repentance? If the answer is no to this second question, then you cannot know the love of God (God is love) without repentance.

Let us be clear, we are not suggesting that a person has to repent in order for God to love them. That would be silly. God loves us no matter what our state is. But we are asking how can you enter into a relationship of love with God without repentance. Is that possible?


1 In Romania, for example, evangelicals are called “the repentant ones.” And in Latin America, repentance is used as a shorthand for the whole experience of salvation.

Osvaldo's father lives with us. He is not a Christian. We have literally opened our home, hearts, and arms in love for him. We share the gospel of Jesus Christ with him and tell him ad nauseam about God's love. He also comes to church with us. But he has yet to experience the love of God; he has also yet to repent. If you cannot know God or God's love behind the back of Jesus, and if Jesus' greatest act of love was what he did on the cross so that our sins might be forgiven, he will not know for himself God's love until he turns (repents) and recognizes Jesus as Lord. All rationale and stubbornness has him not repenting; that is why we are always praying that the gift of repentance might be granted to him so that he will experience God's love. His behavior won't change right away, but we know that in Christ the Holy Spirit works to transform us according to his will. 

Please note that we are not suggesting that Beaty is in agreement of same-sex unions. For Hatmaker we are not sure where she stands. The problem we have is the way repentance as it relates to the love of God is articulated. Scripture teaches us that we are to always correct and reprove and be corrected and reproved so that another gospel, different than the gospel Paul preached, isn't preached. And in this case we felt strongly that what was being articulated regarding repentance needed to be corrected.

Lastly, this entire post highlights what I (Kristen) have been saying in this blog. Women (and men!) without theological education should be especially careful before making statements about doctrines about which the best Christian thinkers have been reflecting on for centuries. Both Hatmaker and Beaty betray the least amount of acquaintance with robust theological discussion on the nature of repentance and the love of God. Shall we let people who have no formal theological training tell the rest of the church what repentance is and what the love of God is?

Osvaldo Padilla is associate professor of New Testament at Beeson Divinity School, where he teaches Greek and the Gospels and Acts. 

Tomorrow Will Be Anxious for Itself: Finding Grace and Peace for Today

"Life is lived forwards but understood backwards." I believe that my Christian preaching professor was quoting someone else when he spoke these words in class more than eight years ago, but I attribute them to him and have never forgotten them.

Back in perhaps late October or early November (I don't remember now), the women's minister at my church called me. The speaker they had lined up for their Fall Women's Coffee event had cancelled; would I step in. I agreed. With less than a month to prepare I prayed for a text for the coffee event. The Lord kept leading me to Matthew 6:25-34, "Do not be anxious...".

By God's grace, I gave the same talk at two different times on this passage on November 13. I said that the answer to incessant anxiety or worry even when our circumstances are grim is believing and knowing that God is a good father who loves us.

Life was going pretty well, by the way.

Then four days after I gave this talk, I had an unusual thing happen that prompted me to seek a colonoscopy.

The colonoscopy showed I had ulcerative colitis (UC), an auto-immune disease that attacks the colon. Ironically, my husband had suffered from the same disease for the past 12 years and we both had UC in the same spots of our colons!

On the heels of grappling with a new diagnosis, just two weeks after my colonoscopy, our 4 year old son went to the bathroom and also had an unusual thing happen. He was too young to have this disease and it would be too coincidental if he and I would "get" it at the same time!

After a tumultuous two months and some odd weeks of doctor's visits, blood work, stool samples and tears, he finally had a colonoscopy two weeks ago that revealed colitis. Three days after his colonoscopy, he began having abdominal pain. This led to him being hospitalized last week with pancreatitis and learning that his colitis is in fact Crohn's colitis. Two days after being home from the hospital, I fell ill very quickly. I went to the doctor just this Saturday and learned I had bronchitis and what she thought was a virus. She didn't test me for the flu. Sunday I thought I was going to die. Yesterday I tested positive for the flu.

Two Mondays ago, hours before we took Philip to the ER, I listened to the talk I gave that November morning for the first time despite the fact that I hate listening to my voice. I listened to myself, an earlier self without any real problems, talk about trusting in God's goodness and his love for us as our Father. I listened to myself say that when we take our eyes off of our circumstances and place them on the goodness and love of God we find relief from our anxiety and worry.

I believe often times it is the teacher who learns the most when he/she prepares to teaches. I don't know if God gave that message for anyone in those rooms on November 13, but I do know I needed the message. Perhaps I didn't need the message on Nov. 13, but I needed it last week, this week, and even today. I don't think it was a coincidence that the Fall Women's Coffee speaker cancelled or that God put the Matthew 6 text  on my heart. He knew that I was about to enter into a time when I would possibly question his goodness and his love for me. He knew that I was about to face a diagnosis of my own and of my beloved son's. He knew that I was about to go through the ringer of physical exhaustion and face situations that would cause great worry.

Perhaps I still don't understand looking backwards why these things have taken place (I don't know if I ever should), but I do understand looking backwards that God was reminding me of his goodness and love (and even had me teach on it!) on the cusp of when I would need reminding of it the most.

I don't know what's going on in your world, but perhaps you, too, need reminding of God's love and goodness. If so, you can listen to the talk I gave here.

Hallmark, Idealization and the Gospel

hallmarkThe night after Thanksgiving I sat down to watch my first Hallmark Christmas movie of the season. My husband, who was close by in the living room and curious as to what I was watching, was struck by the “perfectness” of the main male and female characters. “Everyone is perfect in this movie! Perfect teeth; perfect hair; perfect skin; perfect body.” For the rest of the movie he teased me for watching such an unrealistic, cheesy movie. Finally he couldn’t hold back the question that was bothering him: Why would you watch such an idealized movie when reality is so different? I thought about it for a moment. To be sure the characters were nauseatingly good-looking and the plot was super predictable. But my answer to him was simple: escape. What the Hallmark movie did for me was to provide an escape from a world filled with gun violence and radical, tyrannical Islam on one extreme and bad breath, tantrums and a messy toy room on the lesser extreme. It provided a “perfect” world where none of these things existed and I could pretend, too, even if just for a moment that I existed in this “perfect” world. The Hallmark movies are an idealization.

Hallmark has learned how to capitalize on women’s desire for the ideal, specifically for the ideal love and relationship. In fact if you watch enough of these movies, you realize the actors, setting and character names change from move to movie but the plot basically remains the same. Yet it still makes us feel good and warm and fuzzy.

I believe this desire for the ideal is something that God has placed in each of us in order to point to Himself. Living in a sinful, broken world even professing non-Christians idealize their own imagined heaven. Surely this messed up world cannot be all we get! We see this concretized in Hollywood as it has even capitalized on “heaven” movies like What Dreams May Come, City of Angels, and, my favorite, Dogs Go to Heaven.

But these feeble attempts miss the mark and idealize the lesser instead of the greater. The world idealizes what they believe is the ultimate of all relationships and love – romantic love between a man and a woman. This is Hollywood’s and Hallmark’s ideal. But their ideal fails, for as soon as the escape is over we walk into a kitchen with dirty dishes, or go to sleep next to someone who no longer loves us, or walk out to a beat-up old car that puts out more exhaust than it does breathable air, or go home to an empty house that reminds us we are truly alone. The escape they provide lasts momentarily; it doesn’t change our reality. Their idealization is of something that they cannot ever promise we will receive.

And sometimes we reject others’ attempts at idealization and create our own. Christmas-time seems to be the perfect stimulant for idealizations, and we parents are the most susceptible. We want to give our children the same, if not better, idealized Christmases that we remember. Christmas becomes a 6-week long, “magical” event where we become so consumed with creating the ideal Christmas that by the time Christmas is over we and our children experience the biggest let down of the year. Our idealized world has ended.

Small doses of idealization aren’t bad, I believe, as long as we recognize that they aren’t the end in themselves but point beyond themselves to the True Ideal which actually becomes our Reality and is the Ultimate Reality.

In the Incarnation, the Ideal has broken into the Real. Put another way, heaven came to earth. God became flesh and dwelt among us. And this Ideal is God’s ideal as defined by Scripture not our ideal defined by our standards. If it were our ideal, we would have placed Jesus in a castle not in a manger (not to even speak of the crucifixion!). Yet in Christ, we are not only shown an ideal love, the apogee of all loves, a I-lay-down-my-life-for-you kind of love, but it is a love that doesn’t remain on a TV or movie screen. It's a love that goes with us and transforms us. It is a love that doesn’t make you sick after too much of it, but a love that continues to give you life upon life so that you can never have enough.

Sometimes when we use the word ideal it is a word that describes something that will never become real. This is not true of Jesus, the Incarnation or God’s love for us. The “ideal” is so real, it is even more real than what we call our reality. What we find in Jesus Christ is the ultimate reality.

It strikes me that when Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray, the first thing he tells his disciples to ask of God is for heaven to break into our reality. It is a prayer that asks for this world to mirror and become perfect world of heaven. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9-13). Heaven is the sphere where God reigns as King and where his will is completely done. Since God is perfect and sinless, good and love, heaven is the place that reflects this majesty and character of God. Jesus tells us to pray for that perfect world to break into our world so that earth will become like heaven.

Until that day comes in full, Jesus promises those who he redeems and who follow him that we enter into the Kingdom of God (also known as the Kingdom of Heaven) partially while on this earth. In Jesus Christ, we have one foot on earth and one foot in heaven. Or, put another way, we have one foot in reality and one foot in the perfect world that is yet to be.

For some of you the following will make your toes curl, but I am guilty of reading the last page or sometimes the last chapter first when I begin a new book. I did this for Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. I can’t help it. I want to know how the story ends before I begin so that when I get to the difficult, scary, they-aren’t-going-to-make-it parts of the book, I can press forward because I know how it will end.

God, who loves us and wants to be known by us as Father, does the same thing for us. He gives us the book of Revelation so that we will know how the story “ends.” We can brave the middle parts; we can preserve during hard reality moments. We can have faith and hope because we know that his ideal will one day become real to us, and that God “will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

After watching two Hallmark Christmas movies this season, I have already had my fill. I can’t take another. But watching them reminded me of my need and desire and longing for that ideal, perfect world. A world that actually began away in a manger where God pitched his tent among us, a world that I taste every time I worship with my church family, pray and read Scripture, and a world that I know is coming, which will be God’s answer to our prayer: let your Kingdom come.

 

Chipped fingernail paint and the gospel

IMG_1846 This past weekend was one of those tough parenting moments. As an aside, I am thankful for those friends who debunked the myth early on that it’s only the 2s that are “terrible” or else I would be completely unprepared for the 4s! Our son Philip threw the tantrum of the year. We had never seen him that angry. Because he didn’t get something he wanted on Friday night, he lashed out at us in every possible way. He was like a mad dog with his teeth sunk into his anger, and he was not going to give it up. Finally after a long time of us holding his bedroom door shut and telling him to get on his bed and calm down, he gave up. His anger gave way to tears, but the damage had already been done.

 

We grounded him for the first time ever. I’m sure it won’t be the last. Because he was grounded, it meant that he missed his best friend’s birthday party on Saturday and the first birthday party of the new school year.

 

Saturday morning after waking up, Philip went into his playroom and played quietly by himself. After some time passed, I went to him and told him how much we loved him but also how much he hurt us by his sin. He looked up at me and said, “Mommy, please give me a new heart.”

 

“We know all too well our sins and offenses.”

 

Sunday morning we rushed to church late as usual. Even though I had little time to get ready, my hair and make-up were satisfactory, and I was wearing jewelry and new clothes. Quite a feat for a mom of a little one! Everything about my outward appearance looked put together except for my fingernails. My dark blue fingernail paint was chipped and ugly. My fingernails gave me away that all wasn’t put together on the outside.

 

“It turns out Jesus doesn’t even want the best we have to offer.”

 

One of the main reasons that my husband and I left the Baptist church and have come to the larger Anglican church (our church is actually an evangelical Episcopal church) is because of weekly Communion. In part we love taking weekly Communion as it is a constant, visible reminder of the gospel. But we also love the way in which Communion is taken at the Anglican Church. Instead of little cups of juice and fingernail size crackers being passed to each person individually without ever needing to leave your seat, the taking of Communion in the Anglican tradition involves getting out of your seat and kneeling next to brothers and sisters. Communion isn’t just an individualistic experience but one the church does together. (As an aside, in a way, Communion is also more of an individual experience in the Anglican tradition as the priest or vicar gives each person, individually, bread and wine, looks into their eyes, and says, "Take this and remember Christ died for your sins.") I remember the first time the significance of the act of taking Communion truly sunk in. I walked forward with open hands, bringing nothing with me, kneeling in reverence and submission, and receiving the bread and wine. This was the message of the gospel. I bring nothing of my own merit to Christ. Instead I kneel at the feet of Christ in reverence and submission waiting to receive from him in faith his body and blood which were broken and shed for the forgiveness of my sins. Instead of taking Communion, here I’ve learned to receive Communion just like I have received the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

“What does Jesus want? He wants you.”

 

Sunday morning after listening to Dean Andrew Pearson’s wonderful sermon of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which I have been quoting here, Communion was offered. We were sitting on the last row that morning. As I waited for my turn to go to the table, I prayed and watched people of different kinds get up from their pews to receive Communion. Then, a few rows ahead of us, a man on crutches got up and limped forward to the Communion table. He was lame. Yet while he is lame on the outside, it occurred to me we all approach the table of Jesus Christ limping, lame with our own, invisible crutches and bruises. Just like Philip asked me on Saturday, so I, too, that morning came limping to the table asking, “Jesus, please give me a new heart.”

 

When it came for my turn to get up, I looked down at my chipped painted fingernails and was thankful. I was thankful that there was something on the outside of my body that wasn’t perfect, that needed fixing, that was ugly. Because it reminded me that stripped of all of my pretenses and outward appearances, I am one in great need of Jesus. I need a new heart. Every day. I, like Philip, make my Father sad. At times, I, too, sink my teeth deep into sin, into my selfishness and pride and refuse to let go. I, too, need the Holy Spirit to continue to sanctify and make new my heart. I, too, come to God on crutches knowing that he heals the sinner, cures the brokenhearted, and makes new the old. Only in Jesus do we find what we’ve always been looking for – love so perfect, love divine.

 

“Every time we celebrate Communion we issue an altar call. We say, The table is set. This is what Jesus Christ has done for you. He has died and is risen again. And he is alive. Come forward and simply receive by faith Jesus Christ. What do you bring when you come forward? Nothing. You just come forward, and whether you are rich or poor, young or old, whether you got it together or you’re a total wreck, whether your bruises really hurt or whether you are still struggling with your bruises, we all take the same posture on our knees and open our hands like beggars and simply receive. We say ‘yes’ to Jesus and surrender our hearts and lives to him.”

 

For the full sermon, listen here.