Sunday, January 28, 2018

UNION LIFE’S INCARNATIONAL SPIRITUALITY

Everyone who knows me knows that the doctrine of Christ’s Incarnation blows my mind![1] But, a few months ago, my understanding of it took another gigantic leap. Actually, it was a return to a crucial insight I met some years ago. It began to take root, but the rigors of ministerial preparation, while employed full time, blocked my grasping its full impact. Perhaps, also, I was not yet ready for such a radical view of incarnational spirituality.

After more than a 2-decade hiatus, I was challenged at a Pastors’ Encounter retreat [2] to find a new spiritual discipline to help me move from “working for the Lord” to “working with the Lord.” Unwilling to alter my already fruitful quiet-time pattern, I chose to start a 2nd daily quiet time, using different devotional material. Back home, I felt led me to an unread book: Infinite Supply–The Best of Union Life 1976-1980 [3]—a compilation of the earliest articles from Union Life magazine, a vehicle for spreading the theological insights of British missionary, writer, and teacher, Norman Grubb.[4]

Before beginning ministerial studies, I found an issue of Union Life on a family-camp book table and subscribed to it, until its publication ceased in 1998. Despite my exposure to this magazine, its main theme both attracted and eluded me. But, while focused on learning to minister with instead of for Christ, this book’s first chapter was an epiphany. It went beyond proposing a life operating with the Lord to one lived in the Lord. It described an incarnational spirituality: Christ’s life lived in us.

These early Union Life articles reintroduced a sacred seashore where I’d once barely waded in the shallows. I now realized it was time to plunge into the depths. An avalanche of insights into an array of familiar Scriptures burst on my mind—Bible passages I’d taken by faith for years without practically applying them to my thought-patterns in daily living. Previously, my highest idea of spirituality had been to become an imitator of Christ. This radical concept of union life called me to recognize that “he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” (1 Corinthians 6:17, ESV). Because Jesus and I have become “one spirit,” Christ’s relentless incarnational intent is to live His divine life in, through and as mine, while He, at the same time, directly and personally experiences all the uniqueness of my own human individuality.

By the Incarnation, God became our human Messiah and Savior. But His fleshly embodiment was also the Prototype of a new humanity, showing us our true calling and destiny. Jesus—God in flesh as an authentic human being—lived His earthly life in union with His Father, as He told us in John 14:10 (ESV), “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” But, from His perspective in that union, His calling was one of submission, as seen in His Gethsemane prayer: “Not my will, but thine be done.” This pushes His meaning in “Follow me” beyond walking in His footsteps or imitating His behavior to that of living in union with and in submission to Him, as He had lived in union with and submitted to His Father.

The 1st Adam, created to do God’s will, failed. The 2nd Adam, incarnated to do God’s will, succeeded. The difference was not in their humanity; both were fully human image-bearers of God. But Jesus fulfilled His human mission by submissive union with God the Father who indwelt Him. He allowed the life, will, and love of His Father to be so clearly manifested in His life that He could ask an inquisitive disciple in John 14:9 (ESV), “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

We often use that striking verse as evidence for Christ’s identity as God, due to His unity with the Father as the 2nd Person of the Trinity. Truly, that is His personal identity, and He never lost it by becoming one of us. But He had so fully “emptied Himself” (Philippians 2:7) by becoming “the son of man” that His name, “the name that is above every name,” was only returned to Him after His redemptive work on earth was accomplished (Philippians 2:9). The awesome reality is that this Name —“LORD” [kurios], which is “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” in the Greek Old Testament—has been “bestowed” on a resurrected and glorified human being. He is the “firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18), implying that He is the first one, with more humans to follow. But, even before the Resurrection Day comes, His exalted but ongoing humanity gives the Church something that was impossible for Old Testament saints: union life.

Jesus is God, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, who left Heaven to become a man. But, in being fully restored to Trinitarian fellowship, He did so as a real human being. Out of everything in cosmic or celestial creation, only human nature is privileged to inhabit the Godhead. Though He remains Deity, Christ’s true humanness allows Him to unite as “one spirit” with other humans. Eventually, this union will join the Church, the corporate Bride of Christ, to the Trinitarian family as an “in-law” by marriage. But during our earthly lives, this means what it meant to Jesus in His earthly human life and ministry: “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” Repetitively in the New Testament, this incarnational language now describes our relationship with the exalted and glorified Christ. For instance, Romans 8:1 (ESV) says we are in Him: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And Colossians 1:27b (ESV) describes Him being in us: “. . . the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

While we anticipate physical resurrection at Christ’s 2nd Coming, Jesus has already returned to us personally through the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Even now, both He and the Father spiritually inhabit believers, as He promised in John 14:23 (ESV), “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” This means that Christ’s Incarnation—once limited to one body, in one cultural location, and in one short period of time—began and continues to multiply incarnationally through an ever increasing number of believers across centuries, countries and cultures. Once Jesus started manifesting the glory of God the Father in human flesh, He has never stopped and never will. He’s still doing it in us, when our attitude is: “Not my will, but thine be done.”

What does all this mean practically? It means so much more than this little blog article can describe! But primarily, it means that following Jesus is a daily death to self so that our union with Christ can manifest His life through us the way He manifested the Father through Himself. It means that Jesus was serious when He said in John 20:21b (ESV), “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” It means that Paul was describing reality, when He said in Galatians 2:20a (ESV), “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

As Christians, we confess belief in these statements and even affirm the wording in them that disallows evading or explaining away such extravagant claims. Yet we tend to avoid personalizing a mindset that we, by being “joined to the Lord” become “one spirit with him.” We may even doubt the possibility or practicality of a lifestyle matching the clear implication that “as he is so also are we in this world” (1 John 4:17). But once we start thinking and living as if these statements are reality, many Scriptures come alive in a new way.

One of my favorite messages left by Jesus is in John 16:33 (NASB), “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” As much as I’ve loved this verse, I always wondered how Christ’s success in overcoming the world directly applied to my own earthly journey. The concept of personal union with Him explains it: “so that in Me you may have peace.” Christ, the Overcomer, lives in me and I in Him. Anything happening to me happens to Him, or rather, to us. If I live the truth of this reality, listening for His voice in every sorrow, every situation, then no trial, trouble, or tribulation can ever steal my peace or courage.

In union with Christ, the Anointed One, we too are christs, anointed by the same Holy Spirit as He was. Our union with the supreme Prophet, Priest and King makes us also prophets, priests and kings, for “as he is so also are we in this world.” Union life with Jesus means that we are not tools in His hand or material for His workshop, but “heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17, NKJV). A concept of Christian life or service based on anything less than incarnationally being “one spirit with him” misses God’s mark and falls short of the “glory of God” inherent in our union with the indwelling Christ.

I’ve been exploring this theme of union life for a few months now, but the following poem spurred me to write down some of my thoughts. If you have begun to see their practical direction, then you will see why I am concluding with this poem-prayer by George MacDonald:

          The Carpenter

O Lord, at Joseph’s humble bench
Thy hands did handle saw and plane;
Thy hammer nails did drive and clench,
Avoiding knot and humouring grain.

Lord, might I be but as a saw,
A plane, a chisel, in thy hand!—
No, Lord! I take it back in awe,
Such prayer for me is far too grand.

I pray, O Master, let me lie,
As on thy bench the favoured wood;
Thy saw, thy plane, thy chisel ply,
And work me into something good.

No, no; ambition, holy-high,
Urges for more than both to pray:
Come in, O gracious Force, I cry—
O Workman, share my shed of clay.

Then I, at bench, or desk, or oar,
With knife or needle, voice or pen,
As thou in Nazareth of yore,
Shall do the Father's will again.

Thus fashioning a workman rare,
O Master, this shall be thy fee:
Home to thy father thou shall bear
Another child made like to thee.

-----------------------
NOTES:
1. See my blog post "THE FIRST ADVENT: THE INCARNATION"
2. A recurring retreat in Northern California (https://www.rhythmsofgraceca.org/encounter/).
3. Almost all the articles from Infinited Supply–The Best of Union Life 1976-1980, an out-of-print book, are downloadable from http://www.christasus.com/InfiniteSupply.htm.
4. Links about Norman Grubb’s life, work, and teachings:
  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Grubb
  http://www.normangrubb.com/
  https://www.lighthouselibrary.com/about-norman-p-grubb/

Sunday, December 17, 2017

THE CRÈCHE AND THE CROSS

The Nativity scene, or “Crèche,” was once a common American sight during the Advent season, not only on church properties but in homes and town squares. Today, secularization has banished its presence from many public places and governmental locations. Yet Christmas has survived the political “humbugs” of modern scrooges, despite how its true meaning is often lost in the annual busyness of holiday activities.

When set up inside or outside a church, Christ’s Crèche may be in visual proximity to His Cross. Both sights, taken together, offer crucial insight into the true meaning of Christmas, as expressed in John 3:16 (NKJV), “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

The name Christmas comes from “Christ’s Mass,” a Eucharistic celebration to honor the birth of Jesus. Yet the bread and wine on the Table is a spiritual “communion” with His body and blood, sacrificed on the Cross to purchase salvation for all who believe. It was a divine plan: Jesus was born in Bethlehem so that He could die on Golgotha’s hill.

In 2006, while taking Holy Communion at a Christmas Eve service, I was meditating on Christ’s words in John 6:54-56, “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” It put this bond of the Crèche with the Cross to the forefront of my thoughts, and on Christmas Day I wrote the following poem:

CHRISTMAS EVE COMMUNION(1)

Last night I fed on Christmas in the broken bread and wine.
I tasted sacred nourishment that brought God’s life to mine.
With thoughts of Mary’s holy Child, by candlelight and songs,
I worshiped at the Table where all Adam’s race belongs.

I pondered how the sweetness of our Lord’s nativity
Should never be seen separate from His death upon the tree;
How God, wrapped up in human flesh, sojourned with human need,
How hands that sculpted human form could feel our pain and bleed;
How incarnation taught Him through life’s weariness and sweat;
How only after learning these, He chose to pay our debt.

Last night I fed on Christmas, and the strength I gained was real.
Our present peace and future hope draw meaning from that Meal.
Our banishment is ended; our empty lostness gone.
The Babe and Lamb of Bethlehem is Whom I feasted on.

— David L. Hatton, 12/25/2006

When I wrote that poem, the union of the Crèche and the Cross wasn’t new to me. I had poetically tried to capture the same concept 14 years earlier in another, longer poem. In it, I attempted to intermingle Mary’s heart of grief at the foot of the Cross with her remembrance of the Christmas story as recorded in the Gospels:


MARY AT THE CROSS (2)

Time suspended, time that stops
In between the crimson drops:
As they tumble to the ground
Somehow she can stare around
Seeing scenes of yesterday,
Hearing angel’s words that say,
“Highly favored, have no fear!
From your virgin womb this year
By the Spirit’s power alone
Comes the King for David’s throne,
Sinner’s Savior, Holy One,
God Almighty’s only Son.”

Then, the words her cousin told
(As it trickles red and cold,
His life-blood before the tomb),
“Blest, the fruit that fills your womb!
Blest are you of womankind,
Mother of our Lord Divine!”
And her song sung in reply,
“My soul praises God on high!
In my Savior I rejoice!
Making me His humble choice,
Causing all to call me ‘blest,’
God has done for me the best!
Mighty is His holy name,
Ageless grace, and endless fame!”

As she stands before His cross,
Feeling pain, heart-rending loss,
She remembers public shame,
Pregnant with no man to blame.
She recalls dear Joseph’s care:
Taught by dreams her task to share,
How he guarded her from scorn
Till the baby boy was born . . .
Worried when her pains began
As they came to Bethlehem,
He implored each house and hall
Just to find a stable stall.
In its filth the baby came
’Neath an oily torch’s flame.
Wakened by a holy light,
Shepherds visited that night.
Angels beckoned them to run
To the town to find the One
Called the Christ whose wondrous birth
Brought down Heaven’s peace to earth.

On the hill called Calvary
Witnessing his agony,
Aching with a dreadful sob,
Hearing laughter from the mob,
She, with other women’s tears,
Weeps and dreams back through the years
To the visit of the Three:
Magi from the East to see
Little Jesus on her lap
Swaddled in a woolen wrap.
Frankincense and myrrh and gold,
“Royal presents,” they were told.
One day he would reign as King. . .
How could they have said this thing,
When with torment now he cries
Up to cold and silent skies?

Darkness gathers, shadows fall,
Thunder echoes with his call. . .
Mournful cry: “My God!  My God!”
She falls prostrate on the sod.
Then she somehow overhears
Whispered words that ease her fears,
Words that re-ignite the dream
Shattered by her son’s last scream.
“It is finished!” he had cried.
Now the guard that pierced his side
Whispers when the deed is done,
“Surely He was God’s own Son!”

Mary keeps that faithful word
In her thoughts until she’s heard
Peter tell her, “He arose,”
Smiles, and nods as if she knows. . .
How could it be otherwise?
And again her heart replies,
Filled with overwhelming love,
“My soul praises God above!
In my Savior I rejoice!
Making me His humble choice,
Causing all to call me ‘blest,’
God has done for me the best!
Mighty is His holy name,
Ageless grace, and endless fame!”

— David L. Hatton, 2/8/1992

In my 25 years of helping laboring moms in the hospital, I had to work half of my Christmases. It was always a sentimental thrill to see babies delivered on the day set aside to celebrate Christ’s birth. The joy of their entry into the world, however, could be dampened by knowing that each of them would someday have to face their departure from this life. But that same contemplation on Christ’s Creche and Crossand the hope they together offer to the human racemakes a Christian’s journey from the cradle to the grave extravagantly hopeful.

Christmas reminds us of that hope, if we have placed our trust in Jesus, the Babe of Bethlehem and the sacrificial “Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.” As the Advent season closes the old year and initiates a new one, so faith in Christ ends an old self-directed life and begins a new God-directed one. And, as my favorite quote at Christmastime says:

“Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born,
 If he’s not born in thee thy soul is still forlorn.
 Should Christ be born a thousand times anew,
 Despair, O man, unless he’s born in you!”
   Angelus Silesius (1624-1677)

___________________________
(1) from Poems Between Birth and Resurrection ©2013.
(2) from Poems Between Darkness and Light ©1994.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

ARTIFICIAL BEAUTIFICATION

“They have gone beyond the limits of impropriety. They have invented mirrors to reflect all this artificial beautification of theirs, as if it were nobility of character or self-improvement. They should, rather, conceal such deception with a veil. It did the handsome Narcissus no good to gaze on his own image, as the Greek myth tells us. If Moses forbade his people to fashion any image to take the place of God, is it right for these women to study their reflected images for no other reason that to distort the natural features of their faces? . . . If the Lord places more importance on beauty of soul than on that of the body, what must he think of artificial beautification when he abhors so thoroughly every sort of lie? 'We walk by faith, not by sight.'” — Clement of Alexandria (150–215 AD) in Christ the Educator, 3.2.11-12

When I came across the above quote recently, it reminded me of my opinion about makeup in my early teen years. I had read and was so impressed by the following verse that I used sunlight to burn its words into a wooden plaque with a magnifying glass:



Despite the fact that this plaque still hangs in our house—directly above our bathroom mirror—its presence doesn’t keep my sweetheart from spending time in front of it trying to beautify her face. Even my repetitive avowal that shes the loveliest woman in the world isn’t effective. Evidently her artificial beautification isn’t for me, or for God. For whom then? For the world? For herself? It may be an unconscious part of a woman’s self-identity....

I’ll never forget a mime routine Red Skelton once did on his TV show. He role-played a couple coming home from a party. First, the wife entered the bedroom and removed her painful high heels, her earrings, her wig, her imitation eyelashes, and the two falsies from her bra. Applying cold cream to her face, she wiped off her lipstick and makeup. Then, wiggling out of her girdle and setting it on the vanity with the rest of her things, she went to bed. When Red entered as the husband, he quickly and easily undressed. But before climbing into bed, he went over to the vanity, looked down at everything his wife had removed, and said, “Goodnight, honey.” How funny it was, and how informative!

My wife knew my feelings about makeup before we married. While she uses it minimally, she shares with most women in America the common habit of facial routine before the mirror. It’s part of her culture, yes, even of her Christian culture. I remember a teacher telling me of his visit to a Christian family in Germany. At the dinner table, the wife, who had just taken a big swig from her beer mug, asked him, “Is it true that Christian women in America actually wear lipstick?” Arbitrary culture is a bigger gatekeeper on morality than Bible teachers want to admit.

But Bible teachers are mostly men, and when lax in marital devotion, they can be blatantly chauvinistic. At the university where I met my spouse, I cringed during one chapel service when the university president defended his wife’s use of makeup by saying, “If the barn needs painting, paint it!” As my sympathy for his wife rose, my respect for him fell. Maybe he didn’t intend to liken her to a barn, but his statement implied an even worse malediction: an aging woman’s face is unacceptable without artificial beautification.

Our culture idolizes the transient state of youth. Cosmetic painting has a hidden but inherent message: youthful beauty alone is beautiful. Beyond red lips, smooth skin and the absence of gray hair, this ideal encompasses other body parts. Historically, the corset was invented to narrow older abdomens to a younger size, while its two upper half-cups gave the bosom a breast-lift. When women finally salvaged themselves from the unhealthy tyranny of the corset, they weren’t wise enough to resist its twin offspring, the girdle and the braziere. These also had health risks. But with girdles making tummies appear youthfully slender and bras keeping breasts looking perky—firm and sticking out, as they were in late adolescence or early adulthood—the risks were ignored.




Joined to cosmetics, in the growing business of beautification, are diet programs, plastic-surgery procedures, and various skin-care technologies, all trying to remove or slow the signs of aging. But these age-erasers are not age-eliminators. They only procrastinate the attitudinal adjustment that all women must eventually make. Thinning, sagging, wrinkling skin is a future reality that every face will, sooner or later, have to face. By embracing that reality now, at any stage of life, a woman can bless herself with the special gift of self-acceptance. Accepting her face, figure and features, her skin, shape and size, along with every other part of her unadorned body, can be a time-saver at the mirror. But personally practicing body acceptance can also be an emotional life-saver, a healer of low self-esteem.

Because our bodies are temples for God’s presence and incarnations of His image, Christians should have led the way in spreading a sound message of body acceptance. Instead, secular voices have become its loudest proponents. Numerous women have given impressive TED Talks in this area.[1] But the best full-length documentary I’ve seen so far is EMBRACE (2016), by the Australian body image activist Taryn Brumfitt.[2] Without claiming a theological basis for their ideas on body acceptance, these ladies have proclaimed an essentially prophetic word calling for a healthy personal and social repentance (metanoia), a change of mind” about their perceived body image.

Whose thinking should guide our thoughts on the appearance and appeal of our face, our skin, our shape? Shouldn’t it be the mind of the Creator who gave them to us? God is not against beauty. His salvation plan through Christ includes the restoration of physical bodies that will surely outshine the beauty of our youth. But, until Resurrection Day, we live, move, and have our being in these aging bodies, which serve as sanctuaries of the Holy Spirit. At whatever age they’ve reached or state they are in, our bodies are uniquely personal, and each one is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).

The next time you shower or bathe, stand in front of the mirror and look with care at your naked body. It has been your closest companion in the ups and downs of life, and it might be physically showing the wear and tear of your adventures. But we should not let a preoccupied focus on chasing lost youth cause us to miss enjoying the present state and achievements of our bodies. Instead, we should rejoice in them, and heed Paul’s injunction to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship,” (Romans 12:1, ESV).

Inspiration for this concluding poem came to me in an art class on “facial expressions” after the professor decried the beauty-care industry’s use of Botox for killing nerves that controlled the facial muscles behind wrinkle formation.

WRINKLES

Please, never treat your wrinkles
    as if they were a blight.
Like stars that shine and twinkle,
    they set the soul in sight.
They’re formed in special places
    as journey-marks, not scars.
God paints them on our faces
    as part of who we are.

David L. Hatton, 3/2/2009
(from Poems Between Birth and Resurrection ©2013)

------------------------------
ENDNOTES:

[1] The following TED Talks are presently viewable on YouTube:
The lady stripped bare by Tracey Spicer
An epidemic of beauty sickness by Renee Engeln
My story is painted on my body by Chantelle Brown
Plus-size? More Like My Size by Ashley Graham
Ending the pursuit of perfection by Iskra Lawrence
The Business of Beauty is Very Ugly by Carrie Hammer
A new standard of beauty by Amber Starks
Beauty and how we're obsessed with the wrong idea by Christina Gressianu
A bold message about beauty by Michelle Serna
Stop hating your body; start living your life by Taryn Brumfitt

[2] Taryn Brumfitt’s film EMBRACE is now available on Netflix streaming.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

PANDORA’S BOX & THE EMPTY TOMB

Greek mythology tells about a woman named Pandora who received a box that was supposed to remain closed. When curiosity got the best of her, she yielded to the temptation to lift the lid. Before she could shut it, a swarm of disastrous curses instantly escaped from the open box, filling the world with tragedy. In the Garden of Eden, Eve did essentially the same thing by eating the forbidden fruit.

These similar stories have another crucial similarity. God told Eve that the “offspring” of a woman would someday defeat the devil, whose deception brought death into the world. The other story tells of what was left behind in the bottom of Pandora’s box. Still awaiting release was something the world—now plagued by sickness, suffering and sorrow—desperately needed: hope. Jesus Christ fulfilled both of these expectations.

The Bible explains the nature of this fulfillment: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil,” (1 John 3:8b, ESV). It also describes how it was accomplished: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil,” (Heb 2:14, NIV). Through the Incarnation, God’s Son became a true human being to defeat death by His Cross. His empty tomb became the symbol of Christ’s victory over death and His proven promise of our access to eternal life.

As hope was finally released from the open lid of Pandora’s destructive box, so

Hope beckons to a death-bound human race from the open doorway of Christ’s empty tomb.”(DLH)

Forbidden fruit from a lethal tree had led humanity into death’s tomb. The promised Fruit from Mary’s womb died on Calvary’s Tree to liberate us from the realm of death—starting now by giving us spiritual life by new birth, and finishing up later by sharing His own bodily resurrection with us for eternity. This is humanity’s ultimate hope declared by history’s most human-friendly faith!

The ancient Christian salutation on Easter morning, “Christ is risen!” declares this awesome hope. The responsive return-greeting echoes our resounding faith in it: “He is risen indeed!” I pray that this hopeful faith be both in your heart and on your lips!

Friday, December 9, 2016

THE FIRST ADVENT: THE INCARNATION

“The Incarnation Blows My Mind!”

The physical nature of the human body and its sexuality are major components in God’s plans. He created the race of Adam as an alloy of matter and spirit. This incarnate amalgamation prepared us to be special mediators between the cosmic and the celestial worlds. As body-spirit beings “created in the image of God,” we were to serve as the Triune Godhead’s unique representatives (Gen 1:26). Our job was to bring physical and spiritual creation under a single, universal, government. So crucial was this divine plan that, when it got off course, God became human to fulfill it.

For over 30 years the Incarnation has never ceased to blow my mind! The eternal Word, Creator of all things, actually “became flesh,”(John1:1-2,14).The Second Member of the Trinity became the Second Adam (1Cor 15:45),“firstborn” (Col 1:15) of a new human race. Jesus Christ is now the human King who will lead redeemed humanity in ruling over “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21:1).

The Incarnation has magnificent implications for human destiny. But the bodily aspects of God’s strategy have often been ignored. Religious infatuation with Gnostic ideas has exalted the spiritual to the exclusion of the physical. God’s goal is to bring the two into unity, and His express manner of doing so is through the body-spirit nature of humanity.

The Sexual Physiology of the Incarnation

The Bible is biologically correct. Avoiding human sexuality and its anatomical realities as a religious taboo is neither biblical nor theologically Christian. Yet it has caused many to overlook what actually occurred in the Incarnation.

Right after the Fall, God promised a Savior who would be a woman’s “seed”(Gen 3:15)—not a man’s offspring. The virgin Mary descended from Abraham, in whose “seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”(Gen 22: 18). But her DNA also carried the genetic code from Adam, which she contributed to the Incarnation in an ovulated egg. In this way, Jesus sexually inherited from Mary the nature of Adam’s race as half of His unique human nature.

Conception occurred (Luke 1:31), but Mary’s egg was not fertilized by a sperm from Adam’s fallen race. Although authentically human, it wasn’t from a man. Joseph was told, “that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Mat 1:20, ESV). Genetically, the other half of Christ’s human nature, was formed by God. This newly created human “seed” is the precise location where “the Word became flesh,” where God entered cosmic creation, where He physically embodied His personal Identity.

Biology and theology dovetail here. God formed Adam “of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature,” (Gen 2:7, ESV). In the same way, God’s Spirit [“breath”] directly fashioned and vitalized this holy sperm. Although truly human, sexually functional, and equipped with the gene determining male gender, it wasn’t a part of our fallen world. It was an entirely new creation and the beginning of a new humanity.

Theological and Sacramental Implications

This was no mere supernatural manifestation. God really became one of us: human body, human soul, human spirit. But in His Incarnation—this strategic union of the old human race with the new one—Jesus came to die. His nature as a sinless new Adam allowed Him to pay for fallen humanity’s sins (2 Cor 5:21). His union with the fallen human race allowed Him to take Adam’s nature [“our old man”] to the Cross with Him (Rom 6:6). The sacrifice of His dual humanity provided exactly what sinners need: freedom from both sin’s penalty and its power.

Salvation isn’t automatic. It resides only “in Christ,” and we access it only by personal faith. (Gal 2:20; Phil 3:9). But Christ’s bodily Resurrection shows that it isn’t limited to the spiritual realm. Nor is faith in Christ limited to heart-belief, for “with the mouth confession is made unto salvation,” (Rom 10:9-10, NKJV). As bodily signs of our faith in Him, Jesus stipulated both Baptism (Mat 28:19) and Holy Communion (Luke 22:19-20). Yet both go beyond illustrating His plan to resurrect and glorify our physical bodies (1 Cor 15:42-43). They exemplify His original intent for the spiritual and the physical to be brought into unity. Trust and obey are as divinely wedded as “one flesh,” and what “God has joined together, let not man separate,” (Mat 19:6, ESV)

As a Christian rite of initiation, water baptism uses the body to declare faith. But Paul goes deeper, expounding its metaphysical ability to unite us with Christ’s death, which is valid only if Jesus actually took our old Adamic nature with Him to the Cross:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:3-5,ESV)
Christ’s words about Holy Communion were so physically shocking that they turned away many followers. Some otherwise faithful Bible teachers still balk at taking them at their face value. But if our personal, faith-filled baptisms put us into Christ, uniting us with His incarnational death of the old human nature, then our ongoing, faith-filled nourishment at the Lord’s Table puts into us His new resurrected life as the Second Adam:
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. (John 6:53-56, ESV)
These words are no surprise. Early on, God said we do “not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD,” (Deut 8:3, ESV). If spiritually true of His written Word, how much more eagerly should we spiritually feed on the living Word Incarnate?

Anticipating the Second Advent

The Son is back in heaven sitting beside the Father. But now a Human Being fills the seat. Christ’s Incarnation and Resurrection introduced physical humanity into the Trinity. Jesus left to obtain a Bride. As in the first Adam’s deep sleep, when God opened his side to create Eve (Gen 2:21-22), so in the Second Adam’s sleep of death on the Cross, His side was opened to create the Church.
(Revelation 19:7-9)

Our destiny, as redeemed humanity, is corporate marriage to God, whose genetic conception on earth wedded Adam’s flesh to a new humanity. His bodily Resurrection empowers those who receive Him to become God’s spiritual children by new birth (John 1:12-13). But we join all of creation in eagerly longing for redeemed humanity's full manifestation, when we receive “the redemption of our bodies” (Rom8:19-23), bodies that match the resurrected body of our Bridegroom (Phil 3:20-21).

The first Advent brought us the Incarnation, and because of it, the second Advent will bring us a Wedding. When Jesus returns to reign, those united to Him by faith will be literally taken into the Trinitarian Family as in-laws. Forever married to our Husband-King, the incarnated God-Man, we will be the new humanity ruling with Him over all the realms He has ever created or will create.

In the meantime, to those who don’t have this faith and hope,
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. (Rev 22:17, ESV)
And I join the Apostle John in praying this last prayer in the Bible: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev 22:20, ESV).

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

IS TRUMP 'A Dark Horse'?

(SEE my previous post)
Maybe it’s a coincidence... maybe not. But this morning, I felt God confirmed my immediate prayer on learning that Trump was president-elect. With neither rejoicing nor remorse, I had prayed, “God get a hold on that man’s heart.” Then after breakfast, I went back to work on next Sunday’s sermon.

I usually don’t click on my computer Bible program’s daily “Devotional” tab, but today I did. It was set to “November 9 - Morning” in Daily Light on the Daily Path. Here’s the verse chosen for that day:

I have laid help upon one that is mighty; I have exalted one chosen out of the people. — Psalm 89:19

That was striking! Earlier in this election year, when already depressed about its prospects, I felt God telling  me, “It will be ‘a dark horse’.” When I was a boy, my dad told me ‘a dark horse’ was someone unexpected and unconnected to the political machine, who would come on the scene suddenly and take the lead. Well, that description fits Trump, especially the ‘dark’ part.

Feeling apathetic as Election Day approached, I wondered about how God feels—hardly ever getting to make clear-cut choices between bad and good alternatives in human history. He always has to decide the less evil of two or more evil situations. In this sin-cursed world of selfish human interactions, there’s no possible human scenario He can allow to happen that isn’t subject to some sort of ‘bad’ worming its way into it.

That’s how I felt about this election. My vote was powerless to bring about ‘good.’ I could only choose between the lesser of two evils, reluctantly following my own flawed human judgment about “the lesser.”

Yet, as far as the election results are concerned, this Scripture verse says my spontaneous prayer was right (theologically correct!). My voting job isn’t over. As a responsible citizen of God’s Kingdom, I must keep casting my vote before the King, praying, “Lord Jesus, grab hold of that man’s heart.”

Isn’t that always our Christian duty: to pray for those in political leadership? So, let’s pray that God will lay His “help upon one that is mighty.” If God has allowed Trump to be ‘a dark horse’—an “exalted one chosen out of the people”—then let’s vote in prayer that God cleanses the darkness from his heart and guides him to follow His wise and just ways in leading this nation.

Friday, October 14, 2016

"ANYONE ELSE? ANYONE!"

(“Pastor's Parcel” from The Moving Spirit devotional newsletter, 10/2016)

I’m a pastor concerned about God’s Kingdom, but also a citizen who cares for our nation’s welfare. Like the ‘voter’ in this cartoon, I’m worried. Am I alone in feeling unusually depressed about this presidential election year?

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (the 1938 movie) left me deeply suspicious of politics. A later film, Dave (1993), echoed the message that rich business interests control both elected officials and the media. If true, then such powers this year made sure that a ‘Mr. Smith’ wouldn’t be running. J. F. Clarke said, “A politician thinks of the next election; a statesman, of the next generation.” Controlling interests never want true statesmen in office.

Pessimistic? Yes, but it reminds me of optimism about another kind of vote. Political debates can distract us from important outcomes that depend on us personally. Each of us has spheres of influence, areas of direct responsibility. In these, our decisions effect ourselves, others, and eternity. Only we can make these choices. It’s our soul’s vote alone.

With the choices offered by our media-driven political system, I’m sure God won’t judge our success in life by our apathetic or reluctant voting. But if we join our cry to the cartoon lady’s “Anyone else...,” Jesus might reply, “How about electing Me as Executive?

Christ is indeed the best Choice for life’s administration. He can balance our budget without taxing our energy. He’s a Commander-in-chief who will defend us against spiritually foreign foes. His governing offers “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” as well as peace —but it’s a peace that begins in us, as we obey His law of love. Let’s cast our prayer-vote for Jesus to run the country and our lives.
Pastor David Hatton