Sunday, June 22, 2008

God and Greens

I am working on an essay on great lines from Paul Young’s book, The Shack. Given that there are so many, it will probably turn into a book. At the moment my favorite line is one that has to be among the most remarkable statements in theological history. It is spoken by Papa (God, the Father) to Mackenzie, a brokenhearted man who finds himself in a weekend conversation with the Trinity. They are eating breakfast with Jesus and Sarayu (the Holy Spirit). It is a breakfast of champions, to be sure, and the food is out of this world, so to speak. Mackenzie is enjoying some greens, when Papa returns to the table from the kitchen. Papa glances at Mackenzie and somewhat shouts,

“Whoa….. Take it easy on those greens, young man. Those things can give you the trots if you ain’t careful” (The Shack, p. 121).

This is a statement that not only speaks volumes, but also gets behind the ‘watchful dragons,’ as Lewis would say, of our religious defenses. Or as Larry the Cable Guy would say, ‘I don’t care who you are, that’s funny.’ And it is funny. Even the tightest brother among us would find himself smiling, at least to himself. But it is also serious in the way it instantly speaks to something very real within us, a hope, a longing that God could be so real and we could be so known and accepted as we are. I wonder what went through Mack’s mind when he heard God the Father warn him about overdoing the greens and getting the trots? Could God really be this real, this human, this aware of and comfortable with our humanity? While every Bible reader should know that God made us and is comfortable with our humanness, somehow our theology has betrayed us through the years and left us feeling that much of our humanity is unworthy if not shameful. When is the last time you heard a series of sermons on sex, or even wanted to?

Papa’s comment about getting the trots confronts us with the wonderful fact that God does know us, and like us and indeed enjoys us as we are. Such a thought is simply too hard for many of us to accept. It seems way too good to be true. And here is the rub. The lack of our acceptance of our Father’s acceptance, and of His enjoyment of us as we are leaves us in the boring and dreadful world of having to invent a ‘spiritual’ or ‘righteous’ or ‘acceptable’ self to offer to God. So we miss out on the joy of being known, accepted and enjoyed. What kind of Christian life does that leave us living, and who would want to hang with us in our falsely invented ‘spiritual’ and ‘righteous’ and ‘acceptable’ lives?

As to the sin part, well, “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (John 1:14).” To be sure, Papa hates our sin for what it does to us and others, but He does not wait for us to clean ourselves up before He meets us. In Jesus, Papa has not only embraced our humanity; He has embraced us in our fallen humanity. Embraced in His love, He bids us to let go of our invented ‘spiritual’ and ‘righteous’ selves, and to accept His embrace of us as humans—and as broken humans. As we accept His acceptance, we experience His liberating love in all parts of our humanity. Then we know life in the freedom of the Father’s love.

By the way, later on in the day the Holy Spirit gave Mack another plant to eat to counter act the effect of the greens.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

New Zealand

I am just back from a fantastic trip to New Zealand. Jay Lucas, the director of YWAM (Youth with a Mission) in New Zealand, and his wife Erin, invited me down to teach at their national leadership gathering. We met at the YWAM base called Oakridge two or so hours north of Auckland, near Maungataroto. We had a long weekend of fellowship and focus on the gospel of the Triune God, complete with great music, skeet shooting, and slow roasted lamb (and I was told that the Ozzies were the b-b-q specialists in the Southern Hemisphere! Thanks Ross and the gang, it was awesome).

The focus of the conference was on the question, ‘who is Jesus?’ and I had two and half days to unpack his relationship with his Father, the Holy Spirit, and the human race, and the meaning of his life, death, resurrection and ascension, and what happened to the human race in him. For you cannot speak of Jesus Christ without speaking of his life with his Father and of his anointing in the Holy Spirit, or of the fact that he is the one in and through and by and for whom all things were created and are sustained. And thus you cannot speak of this Jesus’ incarnate life, death, resurrection and ascension without speaking of the new covenant relationship he has established in himself between the trinitarian life of God and the human race, and indeed with the whole cosmos. (By the way, when is the last time you heard a sermon or a lecture on Christ as the Creator? Why is such a central point of the New Testament proclamation so absent in contemporary preaching?) There were many questions and long discussions about the atonement, why Jesus died, the source of his suffering, faith and repentance, evangelism, heaven and hell, which thrilled me, for it meant that the stunning implications of Jesus’ very existence were being seen all over again.

From there we headed back to Auckland and to the hospitality center of New Zealand—Dale and David Garratt’s home—for an evening with new and old friends, several fantastic musicians, and Tom Hallas. It was one of those nights that I call ‘an event.’ There were great stories, lots of laughter, songs, long discussions and plenty of gratitude. Thanks Dale and David and Mindy. That was a large time.

After that I met with Mark Strom, the Principal of New Zealand Bible College, spoke at their Chapel service and spent the afternoon discussing theology with several faculty members. It was a very encouraging day. The gospel of the Triune God is well on its way to be recovered around the world. Thank you, Holy Spirit, we will have more please.

Then there was green lipped mussels, Belgian beer and more discussions, followed by rest and then a legendary fishing trip to the Great Barrier island. We flew out at 7:00am and hit the ground running, except for brief introductions and some crayfish (lobster) at the Orama Christian Center. Jay led Jamie R. S. Thomas (and Englishman who works with 24/7 prayer) and me on a two hour bush-wack across the island to Sandy Bay. The scenery was so breathtaking I felt like I was on the set of The Lord of the Rings. The beauty notwithstanding, I kept my eyes peeled, half expecting an Orc to jump out any moment, and I was quite relieved to know that there are no poisonous snakes or spiders or plants in New Zealand. We finally made our way down the ‘hill’ to Sandy Bay, and yes we caught fish, in fact, within 40 seconds I caught a huge snapper (pronounced, snappah), and yes I have witnesses and pictures. We fished until the tide threatened to take us away, and then made our way back up the hill through the bush and back across the island. We were greeted by the Orama staff and a wonderful meal, after which we had a beautiful discussion about Jesus and who we are in him. It was a great day, and I was very encouraged by the generous and informed hearts of the folks at Orama. Thank you. I will be back.

The next day we fished in a boat, while Jamie gave us a lesson on how to catch fish in the ocean with a hand net (it must be an English thing). We raced back to the airport and got back to Auckland in time to cook fish at the Lucas’ with friends. The next day I shopped for gifts for my family and saw some of the sights with Jay, Erin and their son Ezra. That evening I had the great privilege of speaking with a group of musicians, artists and writers. Saturday I got to see more of Auckland and talk all day and into the evening about everything theological with my new friend Adrian. Sunday, I got to speak at a great church called ‘the edge’ in Auckland, and even had Q & A afterwards. That evening I was invited back to the Garratt’s for another round of lavish hospitality, fellowship and communion. Most of Monday was spent with the Lucas’ before what turned out to be a long trip home.

While the popularity of Paul Young’s great book, The Shack, gives me hope for the West, my trips to Australia I have led me to believe that the awakening we so desperately need will come to us from the Southern Hemisphere. My trip to New Zealand greatly confirmed my hope. The Holy Spirit is up to his under-the-radar tricks in Aotearoa. May he shine the light of Jesus Christ on the world from the beautiful lands under the southern cross.