Category Archives: Prophecy
In the beginning
God, who is Trinity, eternally exists as family, relationship, community, love. The dance of Trinitarian love, undulating gently, continuously, and altruistically between Abba, Beloved Son, and Paraclete – each concerned only with blessing the Other – each without a selfish thought – has no beginning and will have no end.
So abundant is this perfect love that it spills over, runs over, like an overflowing cup, like a floodtide uncontained, cascading grace; it cannot help but create: Quarks and quasars, pebbles and galaxies, amoeba and elephant, snowflake and mountain, diaspore and sunflower, kangaroo-rat and human – everything affecting everything – all intertwined – all connected in the intricate web of life, and therefore, fragile, dependent on the stewarding care of beings with freewill.
But all is not well.
Principalities and powers, spiritually wicked beings, rule the Empires. Empires always oppress, exploit, kill, and destroy with their economic inequality, wars, pollution, national exceptionalism, racism, and disregard for the indigenous.
A nation built on stolen land by slave labor, and maintained by violence, war, corruption, and manipulation, while bowing to Mammon, Mars, and Aphrodite, and making excuses for leaders without a shred of spiritual fruit, cannot legitimately be called “the land of the free,” much less, a Christian nation. My friend Rich Villodas tweeted: “The biggest obstacle to Christian witness in the US is not secularism, but a Christianity unashamedly shaped by the flag, the gun, and the dollar.”
Nevertheless, the gentle dance of creative grace goes on.
God, whose love necessitates vulnerability, even to Calvary, forgives in the face of hatred, turns cheek in the face of violence, serves in the face of power, gives in response to greed, and loves into the abyss of sin – all diametrically opposite of Empire.
A divine exchange is offered: life for death; forgiveness for regret; welcome for rejection; healing for brokenness; love for hatred.
God did not sit down at a drafting table and design a stagnant universe with His slide-rule and protractor. Vibrant, fluid, moving, flowing, surprising, joyous, beautiful, on-going creation courses from the overflow of the Trinitarian love-dance.
Ethereal music of the spheres invites us – yes, us – broken us – weak us – you and me – to join the divine dance, to create with God. Whether we create a garden or a smile on the lips of a homeless beggar, regardless of whether our divinely inspired creativity produces a symphony or a cupcake, when we join the Dance of Love, God is very pleased.
Reflecting on Daniel chapter 3 and Romans 12:1: When I offer myself fully, placing spirit, soul, body – all that I am — as a living sacrifice, the divine consuming fire falls. Only the cords and chains that held me captive burn up, and the fire which is God, warms, soothes, and enlightens my whole being like a Yule blaze during a blizzard. I feel only His love and care, and I emerge, not smelling of smoke, but instead permeated with the most beautiful fragrance of God.
Christian faith communities utilize various polities. They vary and overlap, but fall basically into categories thus:
- Episcopal. The word means “overseer” or “bishop.” Anglican, Orthodox, Catholic, Episcopalian and other mostly liturgical denominations give final authority to bishops who oversee regions in which pastors/priests have authority in local congregations.
- Presbyterian. The word means “elder.” A group of (hopefully) wise, spiritually mature people oversee the mission of the church. Most evangelical, Pentecostal, nondenominational, and Presbyterian churches operate this way.
- Megachurches (which are a dying breed) adopted acorporate modelin which the pastor is the CEO and a board of directors (too often successful business men appointed by the pastor) keeps an eye on things.
- Congregational. Baptist, Brethren, Mennonite, Churches of Christ, Anabaptist, and Neo-Anabaptist churches all hold that the entire membership, theoretically living in unity, love and harmony, discerns the will of God as they meet collectively. Final authority rests with the congregation, rather than with any denominational overseer. Each congregation is autonomous. Congregations can, if they so choose, enter covenant relationships with other congregations, thus resulting in associations, districts, regions, and so on. Regions or districts can, if they so choose, enter into covenantal relationships with others districts or regions. Thus, national and international denominations. Historically, those covenants are taken very seriously.
Any system can work provided it is directed by humble, intelligent, kind, loving people who only desire to serve others.
Every system breaks down when selfish, greedy, ambitious, controlling people run it.
No system can claim exclusive biblical authority – one can find Bible verses to support any and all of them.
Before the wedding and homogenization of church and state/empire in the post-Constantine era, churches were not corporations or legal entities; they did not own property, and there was no such thing as a church building. Followers of Jesus met in homes, lived in a shared economy, holding all things in common, studied the Bible, worshipped, ate together, partook of Holy Communion/Eucharist, and collectively met the needs of the poor in their cities. No one owned anything because everyone owned everything. There was, therefore, no poverty, want, or economic worry. There were similar fraternal organizations in the Roman Empire, but no others focused on helping the sick, poor, incarcerated, mentally ill, and disabled. Christians invented the first hospitals, orphanages, and care facilities.
Organically, a natural leadership arose consisting of apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers. (By the way, both women and men served in all these capacities.) There was no clergy-lay division. Everyone was equally valuable and loved. All were encouraged to share whatever gifts they had with others, whether it was song, or a scripture lesson, or chicken soup.
Apostles, prophets and evangelists were generally itinerate – they traveled from city to city, congregation to congregation sharing their gifts. Apostles were originally eyewitnesses to the resurrection. They were sent forth into virgin soil to proclaim the gospel, plant new churches, appoint elders, and serve as spiritual mothers and fathers. In the first 300 years of church history, they covered the entire Roman Empire and all the nations across the Silk Road to China and Japan.
Prophets also traveled from place to place forth-telling specific messages from the Holy Spirit. They were honored everywhere they went, but quickly dismissed if they ever asked for money or a meal.
Itinerate evangelists preached the good news to pagans everywhere, persuading them from scripture to accept Jesus as Lord and be baptized into a local community. There was no such thing as “accept Jesus as your savior, then look for a church you like.” If you came to faith, for example, in Ephesus, you became part of the community of believers in Ephesus who were living life together in a communal or semi-communal way.
Elders and deacons, who were chosen by the congregation and appointed by the spiritual leaders, oversaw the local congregations on a day-by-day basis. Elders were responsible for the spiritual wellbeing of the group; deacons were charged with making sure everyone’s material needs were being met.
First among equals was the pastor-teacher, whose primary responsibility was to teach scripture (her or his teaching was considered of higher value than any prophecy) with the goal of spiritually equipping the believers to do the work of the ministry. The work of the ministry was sharing the good news with everyone and serving those who were marginalized, persecuted or disenfranchised.
Everything in the early church was decided by consensus, although naturally some people’s opinions were considered more deeply than others because they came from wise and mature people of integrity.
The group would meet, spend time fasting and praying, worshipping, confessing, seeking reconciliation, and taking Communion, then discuss an issue, giving everyone a say-so until a consensus was reached. There was no coercion, no control, no lording over anybody.
Can we get back to that?
The resurrection narrative in John chapter 20 gives us a picture of our common humanity.
Mary of Magdala is filled with grief, sorrow, heartbreak, mourning and angst.
The disciples are filled with fear. Huddled behind locked doors, they dread the anticipation that they are next in line for torture and death. They are terrified.
Thomas, notoriously, is filled with doubt, skepticism.
I cannot fault any of them. I know the crushing, seemingly unending, heartache of bereavement. Crippling fear and anxiety have plagued me most of my life. At times, I have doubted everything – God, my own existence – everything.
To one degree or another, fear, doubt, and sorrow are common to all of us.
However, for a human to live in perpetual grief, unrelenting fear, or continuous existential agnosticism, is emotional torture. A broken spirit, who can bear?
Then comes Jesus.
He speaks her name: “Mary!” Inside her, hope leaps to life. Mourning and grief dissolve. Joy floods her heart; she clings tightly to Him as if to say, “You’ll never get away from me again!”
He greets His apprentices. “Shalom!” Perfect, altruistic, divine, self-sacrificial, enemy-forgiving, unconditional, agapé cruciform love fills the room. He breathes into them. Perfect love casts our fear.
He welcomes Thomas: “Touch me.” Faith saturates his soul. On his face, he confesses the deity of Christ. Doubt is not the opposite of faith – it is a healthy sign of a thinking mind. Refusal to believe in spite of evidence is the opposite of faith. Once Thomas had evidence, he confessed Jesus and Lord and God.
He speaks; He breathes; He touches.
He imparts faith, hope, and love to loved ones in doubt, grief and fear.
Faith, hope, love – three unending, abiding, eternal things.
The grace of faith dispels doubt.
The grace of hope dispels grief.
The grace of love dispels fear.