Wednesday, March 11, 2009

It All Goes Back in the Box

My friend Gary Arinder told me about a sermon that he heard some years ago. The main character in the sermon was a young boy who would visit his grandparents every summer during his teenage years. Late at night he and his grandmother would play monopoly, which she would inevitably win. Over the years he dreamed of finally beating his grandmother at their favorite game. At length, I think it was the summer before his Senior year, he won. He, of course, was gloating as they put the pieces back in the box, having achieved the cherished victory after so many years of games. As they put the game away, the grandmother turned to her grandson and said, “Monopoly is like life, in the end it all goes back in the box.”

When Gary told me the story, my mind raced with thoughts and questions. Chief among them was, ‘what do we take with us, if anything, as we move from this life to the next?’ What is really important? Our answer is dictated to us by what we believe about God. I have heard sermons, even recently, when the preacher proclaimed that the chief concern of God was his own glory. Plato would be proud. If God is concerned with his own glory then what we take with us—what counts—are those moments when we glorified God, whatever that may mean. But if we, with the early Church, throw Plato and his in-turned, self-centered God out of our minds and focus upon Jesus, and thus his Father and the Holy Spirit, then we are at once in the world of relationships.

The doctrine of the Trinity means, among other things, that God is not self-centered at all, but profoundly and beautifully other-centered. The Father is not preoccupied with his own glory, but loves his Son and the Spirit. And the Son is not bound in narcissism. He loves his Father with all of his heart, soul, mind and strength, as every page of the Gospels shout. And the Holy Spirit is not burdened with the revelation of his own significance. He glories in shining his light upon the Father and Son and their relationship.

My friend Bruce Wauchope of Adelaide, Australia likes to say that 'the currency of heaven is relationships.' The value system of the blessed Trinity is markedly different than ours. In our world money, position, power and prestige matter. But—even as we are learning again in the United States—these are mere illusions which are no more real than the Jolly Green giant. What difference does it make if you are the richest person in the world? For a while you are ‘somebody,’ maybe even ‘the’ somebody, but then you die and your money, and the opinion of your peers goes back in the box. At that moment you find yourself in another world, a world where money and its prestige and power are not valued at all. Your investments prove foolish. You have nothing with which to commend yourself. What really matters? When the game is over and it all goes back in the box, what is left? What do we take with us?

It is beautiful how the blessed Trinity has designed life and history. Everything goes back in the box. We are free to dream our dreams, free to invent our own value systems, free to define and then crown ourselves with glory, but then we all die and face the real world and the real value system. And what do we meet on the other side? What is valuable in heaven? What is the only thing the blessed Trinity favors?

Clive Staples Lewis, in his breathtaking sermon, ‘The Weight of Glory,’ talks about how we all crave fame. What we all want, according to Lewis, is to be famous. But here is his wrinkle, it is not fame with others, not fame with our peers for which we so dearly yearn. It is fame with God. We want to be famous with God. While part of us would never dare to dream of such a thing, another part could never deny that a hint of the Father’s smile is worth more than a thousand dreams fulfilled? So what makes the Father smile? What makes us famous with the blessed Trinity? Preaching? Missionary passion? Money? Power? Prestige?

Could anything thrill the heart of the blessed Trinity more than seeing their own other-centerd care and love and giving expressing themselves in us? Today I was on the receiving end of such fame. An old woman brought me a glass of ice water. It was hot. I was thirsty.

In fifty years she will have moved on and so will have I, and all that we had, made, possessed and valued will have vanished, as well as all the things possessed and done by the grandmother and her grandson. It all goes back in the box—all that is, except relationships. How Trinitarian.


Anonymous said...

That's very well written -- thanks, Baxter. You know, I'm so caught up in the "live to glorify god" aspect of life that I have little-to-no concept of relationships being meaningful. To me, exchanging light/life/love in a relationship has always been a most miraculous exception, not the rule.
....It's quite a concept that the trinity isn't self-obsessed -- I think my mind has blown a fuse or two!! The internal effects are far-reaching, aren't they?!

jamiecindymccracken said...

Ah, yes, self centered. Had the Trinity been cursed with the flesh from all eternity, than I would nod my head to the idea that the Father Son and Spirit are anything but self centered. Thankfully, they have not been cursed! But we, still marred by our sin, shouldn't place on Him what is in our flesh. We are wearing glasses for sure; our flesh has so tarred the face of who He is. But His "concern" over His glory is not to be viewed by our flesh. But the beauty in the self-centeredness of God (if that's what you want to call it), is that He is perfect!

Therefore, He can follow His two greatest commandments: He can love Himself with all His heart soul mind and strength AND He can love His neighbor as Himself -- we're His neighbor! What beauty! What peace! What rest in Him! I praise the Trinity for their ability to love perfectly... for their ability to (dare I say it?) be self-centered!

SGK said...
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Captain Bedlam said...

At some, stage some scientist is going to discover a relational constant and my guess is that it will be the last physical constant to be discovered. Great minds will ponder this for some time but the thought from "the shed" is that it will will ultimately be infinite.

This postulating may in the end may be consigned to useless arguments bin, like how may angles fit on the head of a pin and so forth, but simply serves to encourage thought on the potential strength of relationship and dare I say it, the relational force of the Trinity toward us. Staggering!

Thank you Baxter for provoking "good family discussions". I enjoy pondering on such discussions whilst making those "great Aussie Reds".

Anonymous said...

Of course it is very politically correct to be anti-Western. Plato was Western. Of course it was the Spirit of Jesus Who told Paul not to go to the province of Asia but toward the Greek world. So is He so surprised that the Western world has incorporated Greek thinking into Christianity.

I also heard a sermon today. The preacher taught about how Jesus sacrificial death atoned for our position of guilt before God, imparting His innocence to us. Western (Greek) thinking tends to think in terms of guilt and innocence. But the cross also took away our position of shame, imparting His honor to us. Much Eastern thinking is in terms of shame and honor. Jesus' death and resurrection also took away our fear of death, and gives us in exchange His power. Animistic societies think in terms of fear and power.

Your thoughts are actually very PC and quite shallow.

I hope you will start reading the Book as it is, not looking to have it say what you want it to say.


Anonymous said...

"the surpassing greatness of his power [is] toward us who believe”
Not toward those who refuse to believe.

Where you said "Papa has embraced us all in Jesus—and I do not mean the ‘good’ us, I mean the broken, blind, sinful us" you hit the nail on the head. All who depend on their own goodness are eternally lost because they depend on the 'good' in themselves. Only those who believe in the Father's Son's perfect life on our behalf and His perfect death to kill our sins can have the life that He wants to impart. The commenter who said he never felt good enough for Jesus never understood that the goodness must come from Jesus, not himself. Jesus is not in such a man, whether shameful or proud, because the man still depends on his own righteousness, not on the Righteousness of the Son of God imparted to him. He had legalistic religion, not a relationship with the Living Papa.

We are GIVEN the right to BECOME children of God. It does not happen unless we respond in belief. You claim to promote relationship with God but your teaching has nothing to do with relationship. Relationship requires response.

Universalism is heresy because it makes God's goodness no more than our own goodness. I would add to the label 'universalist' to say that your teachings are similar to gnosticism, since you imply only the intelligent elite such as yourself are enlightened and we ordinary Christians (who aren't universalists) are in darkness.

Truth is Who Jesus says He is, not who you wish He is like. The standard for all BELIEVERS to know the Truth is scripture - as He revealed Himself - not your own thoughts about who you think He should be. That is your imaginary friend, not Jesus. It is you, not mainstream Christianity, who has projected your own ideas to make an invented Jesus that fits your mold. In fact, you truly don't give Jesus much credit at all. You don't credit Him with being able to judge the man who rejects Him (no love for God) and then molests the little girl (no love for man). And then you don't credit the Holy Spirit for transmitting His word faithfully and faithfully interpreting it for all who have been GIVEN the right to BECOME His children.

Jesus called you to be a fisher of men. Instead you make lures with no hooks and tell the other fishermen that the fish in the water are already in the boat.

Universalism; gnosticism; elitism; heresy. Political correctness!

Unfortunately it's true that you did influence some in China, but we had a good talk with some of them and they realized the gross error of your teaching.

Unknown said...

That is a beautiful picture, Baxter and really causes me to think. To think about which God I see in my mind's eye and how much more I need the Spirit to transform my mind to the other's centered mind of the Father, Son and Spirit.

Pastor Paul said...

My comment is in response to "Tim" , whoever he is. But first, Baxter, you are right on and you make the truth of Trinitarian Theology plain and clear. You are just carrying on the faith of other writers such as Athanasius, Irenaeus, John Scottus, Karl Barth, Tom Torrance, J.B. Torrance and others whose writings you take and make more clear.

As far as "Tim" goes, it is apparrent he is ignorant and uneducated in reagards to correct scholarship concerning Incarnational, Adoption and Inclusion Theoloy--Trinitarian Theology.

I am astounded that one such as he could write his arrogant comments in damnable judgementalism only to feel self sufficient and reliant on his own perceived erudition. What a sad thing to see a mind so closed and "competitive" with a true and brilliant theologian as yourself.

Jesus ran into these kinds of opiniated and heart hardened dolts when he confronted the Pharisees.

They weren't convinced and neither is a closed minded moron in complete ignorance of the purpose and plan of God. But the Good News is God still loves them.

Blessings to all.


Unknown said...

Thanks Baxter for the boldness and confidence. Truth will always conflict with what we believe to be true. It believes in darkness that cannot be measured, so we try to live from it, rather than coming to know that this is only the absence of light.
Jesus (The truth) holds all humanity, and through and in him we are united, with Father and Spirit so that we may come to live and hare in the light.

Tim, what you believe to be true, is the caused effect of reading the Bible for many years, and believing it, rather than seeing his story in his light. I know for I have been there and done that! The Holy Spirit over time had to drag me and convince me that it is not about the Bible, as the truth, but about Jesus, Jesus and more Jesus, for all the Cosmos indeed lives, moves and has its being in him. It is his story! I have great hope for all for God is not a respecter of persons. He is in you as much as me and the rest of humanity. Guess what? It is not about dark judging and ridicule but rather learning to live loved and seeing in the light the reality that already is. It is also not about universalism for that would not be very loving and would discard our unique personality. So our non-being (all humanity) has taken on new life in the being of Jesus. It is this God-man through the Spirit who is convincing us all of this truth so that we may come to know the Father. It is not about right and wrong, but do we want to be convinced and change our mind. jg

Anonymous said...

Tim, regarding your comment.. "Unfortunately it's true that you did influence some in China, but we had a good talk with some of them and they realized the gross error of your teaching."

Maybe some have been convinced by you, but not all thank God! The life of the Trinity is exploding here through the teaching received from Baxter in Thailand. It's amazing!

Anonymous said...

Hi Tim,

I am deeply saddened by your comments.

While I have only a snapshot of your beliefs from your postings, I suspect that my perspective for many years was quite similar to yours. Unfortunately, the fruit of such thinking for me was a tendency towards exclusivity, judgment, misery, anxiety, and anything but a Christian walk that felt joyful or sustainable. I sincerely hope this isn’t the case with you, but I fear that such thinking could lead you to such a place. If that’s not the case for you, praise God. But if it is, my prayers are with you, my friend.

Also, I was disappointed that you labeled Baxter's thinking as "Gnostic". That really seems to be stretching the meaning of that word to an unreasonable extreme, most likely for the sake of trying to label Baxter amongst a heretical camp. That’s really not a very fair tactic, nor a productive approach to resolving our differences within the body of Christ.

God bless you, Brother. I pray the Lord shines his face brightly on you today.

In Christ,

Anonymous said...

What tim is trying to say is,
If it isn't bad news, then it ain't the Good News!!

"tim" in china said...

almost, Baxter,
What tim is trying to say is,
If a person isn't aware and repentant of the bad news of their sin, then it ain't possible to receive the Good News!!

Why do I say you smack of gnosticism is exactly because of the kind of comments Pastor Paul said. You are so intelligent and learned and so dolts and morons like me can't understand the Truth, since it comes from learning, what you would call enlightenment. What has been hidden from babes like me has been revealed to the wise and learned like you and Pastor Paul.

I guess I'm being judgmental of the real being known as Satan because he would have been redeemed along with all creation in Christ. Is there a real being (a personal being, not just a metaphor for morons like me) known as the devil, Baxter? Is he saved too?

We who are fortunate enough to have been introduced to Christ should know that we are made righteous by His blood. Not happy by it. So as for Bill's comments that I must be unhappy, they are really irrelevant. Christ came to save the sinners, not the unhappy/unfulfilled. He said that in this life/world/cosmos we will have trouble but He overcame the world for us. Our problem is not one of unhappiness but of unrighteousness. Plenty of people are happy enough, but will eternally be separated from God because they depend on their own goodness, not the Father's Son's.

The good news is that the righteousness is available to anyone who accepts Jesus as Lord. Not that it is automatic.

Ron said...

Tim, if someone gave you a gift and held on to it, would that really be a gift. Wouldn't it be a true gift if that person put it in you hand. It is yours. Whether you spend it or not, it is yours. Ron

Charles said...

It was in our hands even before we had the hands to grasp it. I think that says it all, but it can not stop there. Life is hard and encouragement comes from all direction. One more might make the difference. Good Luck and more said; GOD Bless!

Anonymous said...

While visiting friends in Adelaide, Australia a couple of summers back, I met their friends Steve & Vic Allen. The group of us had some late night talks in which your name came up, but more importantly the idea of universalism Christianity (though we did not tag it with a name at that time). It is interesting to hear your thoughts on things. I am listening to podcasts by martin scott ( on Universalism Christianity vs. other beliefs and what happens when you die. Thanks for the food for thought!
Shannon Ruddy

madsniper9 said...

Tim, there's no need to be so angry. Chill out.
Baxter, insightful as ever. There's plenty of us in China who think your teaching is right on the money and also think you should probably come out to our neck of the woods and ride some elephants with us. OK, we don't have many elephants but we have some pretty crazy taxi drivers!