Our Present Salvation: A Practical Understanding of the Gospel

“Salvation is God’s Kingdom as it appears to a broken world.”

Most of the time, we tend to think of our salvation in terms of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and its implications for our eternal destiny. But how does this reality impact our lives now? I began to explore this concept in a brief paper I wrote for my Systematic Biblical Doctrine class. Click on the link below to access the PDF.

Our Present Salvation

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Published in: on December 1, 2013 at 7:16 pm  Comments (1)  
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An Undivided Spirit

At times I feel like I am slipping away from myself, as if my own life is a fistful of sand. My thoughts race a hundred miles an hour. I feel pulled in so many different directions, spread so thin, and the world around me is spinning like a chaotic vortex. So many things clamor for my attention. Tests, papers, presentations, bills to be paid, grad school applications looming over my head, unread text messages demanding a response. What is most important? Where do I begin?

Centering prayer makes a fool of me, highlighting my inability to be calm. If the noise is loud, the silence is deafening. For four minutes I battle anxious thoughts on top of anxious thoughts. As soon as I think I am still, I realize that somewhere deep inside I am mentally chastising myself for my inability to be still. I never knew there could be so many layers of subconscious thought. How can I possibly invite Jesus into a spirit that is so divided?

The answer is both profoundly simple, and profoundly difficult.

I can’t.

I cannot invite Jesus into a divided spirit. There is no room for Him there.

Rather, I must enter His Spirit. I must stop what I am doing and find in myself a unified spirit to meet with Jesus. I must focus my will to be caught up in His purpose, and there find my own. And so I must reclaim the scattered pieces of my heart and bring them to Him to be made whole.

School, you have no hold on my heart. You must give it back.

Friends, I cannot love you well by giving you only a piece of my heart. I must have it whole.

Money, you are not worthy of my stress. I reclaim my heart from you.

“Come to me,” He invites. “Leave it behind. Being with Me is so much simpler.”

He smiles knowingly and takes my hand as He continues. “You see, the Kingdom isn’t about all these things. It’s physically impossible to pursue more than one thing. Your spirit is supposed to keep you grounded, but when your very core is being pulled apart…” He shakes His head. “No wonder you can’t breathe. You can’t be fully present if you’re focused on more than one Love. Come with Me, and you’ll find everything you’re looking for without searching.”

I grasp His hand a little tighter as we leave chaos and walk towards clarity. It’s time to leave the rest behind and seek first the Kingdom.

And if you’re uncomfortable with the idea of me attributing words to Jesus, don’t worry, it’s all found in Matthew 11:28-29 and 5:19-34.

At this point, I would strongly encourage you to STOP READING THIS POST, unless you have the time to work through the rest of it as a devotional, as it requires your spiritual participation. It will be meaningless if skimmed, so come back to it when you do have time.

So pause to read those Scriptures right now and underline the words or phrases that stand out to you. Read it again slowly, out loud, focusing on those underlined words. What is Jesus telling you? Pray through the text. Then continue to read below.

Soren Kierkegaard writes, “The person who wills one thing that is not the Good, he does not truly will one thing. It is a delusion, an illusion, a deception…A person who wills [a multitude of things] is not only double-minded but is at odds with himself….In truth to will one thing, then, can only mean to will the Good, because every other object is not a unity.”

And of loving others he writes, “The one who truly loves…does not use a part of his love, and then again another part. To change his love into small coins is not to use it rightly. No, he loves with all his love. It is away as a whole, and yet he keeps it intact as a whole, in his heart…. When the lover gives away his whole love, he keeps it entire — in the purity of the heart.”

Therefore, to give away our heart to any cause in any capacity, it must be whole within us. This is why we cannot invite Jesus into a divided spirit. We must come to Him, sick of our own internal division, wanting to be one within ourselves, and one with Him. And if we desire to be made whole, He must have everything we are. Seek Christ alone, and you will find simplicity.

On a retreat with my church’s college group this past weekend, our college minister led us through a guided meditation by Anthony DeMello, which I will share with you below. I encourage you to take the time to read it slowly, dwell on it, pray through it, savor the images it calls to mind, and examine your own emotional response to the exercise.

“God says, ‘Give me your heart.’

And then, in answer to my puzzlement, I hear Him say, ‘Your heart is where your treasure is.’

My treasures — here they are:

Persons. Places. Occupations. Things.

Experiences of the past.

The future’s hopes and dreams.

I pick each treasure up, say something to it, and place it in the presence of the Lord.

How shall I give these treasures to Him?

In the measure that my heart is in past treasures I am fossilized and dead, for life is only in the present.

So to each of these past treasures, those golden yesterdays, I say goodbye.

To each I speak, explaining that, grateful though I am that it came into my life, it must move out — or my heart will never learn to live in the present.

My heart is in the future too. Its anxious fears of what will be tomorrow leave little energy to fully live what is today. I list these fears and say to each, ‘Let the will of God be done,’ observing what effect this has on me, knowing in my heart that God can only will my good.

My heart is in my dreams, ideals, hopes, which make me live in future fiction. To each of these I say, ‘Let the will of God be done, let Him dispose of you as He sees fit.’

Having reclaimed the portion of my heart that was captured by the future and the past, I now survey my present treasures.

To each beloved person I say with tenderness, ‘You are so precious to me, but you are not my life. I have a life to live, a destiny to meet, that is separate from you.’

I say to places…things…I am attached to, ‘Precious you are, but you are not my life. My life and destiny are separate from you.’

I say this to the things that seem to constitute my very being:

My health, my ideologies, my good name, reputation, and I say it even to my life, which must succumb some day to death,

‘You are desirable and precious, but you are not my life. My life and my destiny are separate from you.’

And at last I stand alone before the Lord.

To Him I give my heart.

I say, ‘You, Lord, are my life. You are my destiny.'”

–Anthony DeMello, Wellsprings

Kingdom Vision

For my Restoration movement class, I was required to write a brief paper on a concept that shaped the churches of Christ in America, and I chose to write about the evolution of apocalyptic theology in the church.  Apocalyptic theology is the beautifully radical worldview that chooses to live “in the shadow of the second coming of Christ” — by bringing kingdom values to earth and living as if the kingdom reality is already present here and now.  Throughout the years, this visionary mindset unfortunately fell by the wayside, but there is great beauty in living such a counter-cultural, kingdom-centered way.

Click on the link below to access the PDF:

Kingdom Vision: The Evolution of Apocalyptic Theology in the Churches of Christ

All Things New — mp3

Oh hey guys, I got a lovely surprise this afternoon from Dean Barham of Woodmont Hills Church, who was thoughtful enough to send me an mp3 of my communion thoughts yesterday, so I thought I would share it with you.  Here it is via Soundcloud.

All Things New — communion thoughts by Lauren Calvin

Published in: on March 11, 2013 at 4:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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All Things New

This morning I was given the opportunity to share some communion thoughts at Woodmont Hills church of Christ, where my professor, Dean Barham, is the preacher.  First, I just want to say how much I love Dean.  He is one of the most humble, transparent, and sincere men it has ever been my privilege to know.  I am so grateful for the way he pours into his students to equip them for ministry and then gives them opportunities to live it out, like he did by inviting me to speak today.  Second, I want to say what a blessing it was to be a part of the Woodmont Hills family this morning.  They were so accepting, encouraging, and supportive.  But really, it wasn’t just for this morning; they are my family.  And I love that in the body of Christ, community has nothing to do with distance.

When Dean asked me to speak on Thursday, I knew within an hour what God was laying on my heart to share; not anything really creative or impressive to put the spotlight on me, but a simple telling of the story.  It was like I had no other choice; the entire talk, wording and everything, just kinda came together in my head before I could even consider anything else.  When I told Dean what I was thinking, he responded, “That’s perfect, because we’re actually going through the Story right now.”  How amazing is that?

This was my first time speaking outside of a small group or classroom setting, and it was such an incredible opportunity to get to share with my fellow Christians.  Of course, there were a few inevitable mistakes.  Attempting to go note-less, I lost my place second service and there was an awkwardly long pause.  Amazingly enough, afterwards a man came up to introduce himself and said (not kidding), “I’ve heard the story before, but the way you told it was so powerful.  When you paused like that to let it sink in, it brought me to tears.”  Exhibit A: God can use mistakes.  Ha!  But just because of the timing of this opportunity and a thousand other little things that I don’t have time to write about, I feel like this whole experience was God confirming my calling and giving me confidence to continue sharing the story.  So…here’s pretty much what I said this morning, run-on sentences and all.

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I don’t have anything super original or ground-breaking to share with you this morning, but I do have something beautiful to share with you: the same beautiful story that has been told for thousands of years, of God’s plan of salvation from Genesis to Revelation.  The church has come together to tell the same story for so long because it tells us where we’ve come from and where we’re going.  It’s the story of God’s redemption.  It’s the story of God fixing broken things.  It’s the story of God making all things new.

And God has been in the business of making things new from the very beginning, when the earth was formless and empty, and with a word He spoke the universe into being, and created everything that is good and perfect and beautiful.

But then sin entered the world, leaving an ugly dark splotch on the first page of God’s story.  So a broken-hearted God sent a flood on the earth to start over again, to cleanse the earth and make it new.  And again we chose to turn away from God.

But even then, God still had a plan.  He chose a man named Abram and gave him a new name, and promised that through his descendants, through God’s chosen people Israel, all nations on earth would be blessed.  For through Abraham’s line would come Jesus Christ, our Savior.

Centuries later, when Israel was in bondage in Egypt and the promise was all but forgotten, God came through again to redeem His people and lead them out of Egypt into a new land, a new life, a new hope.  Their exodus from Egypt came to be known and remembered as the Passover — the celebration of a new freedom.  God made a covenant with His people Israel and set up a standard to show them what it would look like to be a community of God.  But Israel too went their own way and turned away from God.

And at the most crucial moment in human history, God sent the promised and long-awaited Messiah, from the line of Judah, His own Son, Jesus Christ. He came to live and walk among us, to die for us, to bring peace with God.  But Jesus was not the political Messiah everyone expected.  He ushered in a new standard, exemplified a new way of life.  He showed us what we were created to be, what we could become, and what we could look like as God’s people.

As Jesus celebrated his last Passover meal with His disciples, this too He gave new meaning.  As Israel came together year after year to reenact the drama and tell the story of a new life, we as the church still come together week after week to tell the story of Jesus and celebrate the new covenant: a covenant not of justification by human effort, but a covenant of grace.  A covenant of one sacrifice, once for all.  A covenant written in the blood of the Son of God.

And as we gather to tell the story this morning with Christ in our midst, 2nd Corinthians 5:17 tells us that if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!  But even there, God isn’t finished making things new.  He will continue to redeem and restore until the creation has been brought back to the potential for which it was created.

In Revelation God tells us that there will be a new heaven and a new earth.  He says “Behold, I am making all things new…there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  It’s done, it’s gone…and the new has come.  So now we take communion as a symbol, but a symbol is all it is.  It’s only a shadow of what is to come.  Paul says in 1st Corinthians 13 that when the perfect comes, the imperfect disappears.  For now we know in part, but then we will know fully; now we see dimly, as in a mirror; then we will see face to face.

When we see Him face to face — when the old order of things has passed away and we sit at the table with Christ in the presence of God and all the saints who have gone before us, when these elements are no longer a symbol but a glorious and eternal reality — it will be the biggest kingdom celebration the world has ever seen, because He will have made all things new.

So we take communion to remember Christ’s death and resurrection, but also in anticipation of the coming kingdom.  So as we gather together to break bread with Christ in our midst, think about the concept of renewal.  As we invite Christ to be here with us, as we say yes to His transformation in our hearts and in our lives, looking forward to the redemption that awaits us, as we commune together as the body of Christ, day by day, moment by moment, He is making us new.

Published in: on March 10, 2013 at 1:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Paradigm Shift

Throughout the years, culture changes result in paradigm shifts.  It always takes a generation or two to assimilate to the change, but once it happens, future generations look back and wonder how their ancestors could have been so short-sighted, how they could have given into cultural expectations that clearly go against God’s standard.

The truth is, we all wear glasses that filter out the colors of racism and oppression and prejudice and even murder — we know they exist, but we don’t see them as a part of what we do.  It’s surprisingly easy to rationalize whatever it is that our culture deems okay — and in some cases, even to support it by Scripture.  Our glasses are great at proof-texting while filtering out the larger context.  Sadly, our humanity makes us literally incapable of removing ourselves from the culture enough to see the true horror of what we do.  Perhaps the saddest part about this is that very few Christians are actually a set-apart people of the Word.  They are products of their culture who interpret their religion based on their preconceptions.

Think about slavery.  Living in our current culture, several generations removed from the oppression of slavery, we’re horrified at the thought of it.  But in the pre-Civil War era, it was perfectly acceptable to own another person; it made perfect sense to them.  It was necessary for the economy, and probably even better for the welfare of the slaves themselves.  Scripture even condoned slavery.  They had no concept of what it would be like not to own slaves: how would they get dressed in the mornings? how would they harvest cotton? how could they live without this crutch they so heavily depended on?  So because they knew no different, life continued as normal until slavery was abolished, the societal structure was reset, and the cultural paradigm shifted.  And the world did not end.  People learned to live without their crutch.

Even after abolition, though, the Jim Crow laws were nearly as bad.  Today, as we live and work alongside our African-American friends, we ask how in the world they could have been arrested for drinking out of the wrong water fountain.  Our minds literally cannot grasp such a thing; but back then, they couldn’t grasp how it could be any other way.

Think about women’s rights.  The oppression of women stemmed from the southern ideal of “true womanhood” — a woman was the prized possession who needed to stay at home and stay out of public affairs.  As this mentality took over southern culture, it too was given religious affirmation: Paul said women should remain silent, so this made sense.  Never mind the examples of women teaching and prophesying and leading in Scripture.  The cultural glasses expertly edit that out.  Here’s just one example of this mindset, from R.C. Bell, from the publication The Way in 1903: “Woman is not permitted to exercise dominion over man in any calling of life.  When a woman gets her diploma to practice medicine, every Bible students knows that she is violating God’s holy law…God forbids her to work in any public capacity…She is not fitted to do anything publicly.”  However, in the late 19th and early 20th century there was more of a move toward gender equality and women’s suffrage.  With this paradigm shift, people began to realize that the world actually wouldn’t end if women taught school and pursued education and a career.  They were right.  It didn’t.  Now we can’t even fathom the sort of mindset that would forbid women to vote just because they are women.

Think about Jesus’ death at the hands of the Jews.  Their cultural expectation was of a political Messiah who would restore the kingdom to Israel.  Jesus was obviously not that, so He was a blasphemer.  We wonder how they could have been so stupid, but let’s face it: if we were in their shoes, growing up with the same preconceptions,

we too would have shouted, “Crucify!”

Even think about the Holocaust.  It was presented as being a good idea — rid the world of minorities, and the handicapped, and those who were a burden to society, to let the master race emerge.  We wonder how in the world people could have been okay with the mass slaughter of millions of innocent people in the name of a superior social structure.

Kinda makes you wonder how in the world people can be okay with the mass slaughter of millions of innocent people in the name of a woman’s right to choose.

You see, we can’t help getting swept into the stream of culture.  These mindsets become so deeply ingrained as a part of who we are, that we can’t imagine life any other way.  In every generation there are a few who dare to dream of things being different, and these are the ones who change the world.  But for the most part, we’re a sad lot of mindless cattle following the herd.  Generations from now, what will our descendants say about us in disbelief and disgust?

How could they have been so wasteful with their resources?”

How could they have tried to ‘fix’ gay people?”

How could they have thought it was okay to abort a baby?”

For one moment, try to take off the glasses and ask these questions.

It’s so hard for us to imagine what life would be like without our cultural mindsets, but the truth is, Jesus called us to look beyond the comfortable.  To think outside the box.  To travel the narrow and difficult road.  This is precisely why so few are able to enter the Kingdom: it’s freaking difficult to find.  I think it’s much harder than we’ve assumed all these years.  Living Kingdom life requires that we take a good hard look at “the way we’ve always done it.”  We have to ask the difficult questions and upset the status quo if we are to be truly not of this world.  Living this way is offensive to the world, because we stand against the tide of culture.  This is why early Christians were martyred: they were seen as a threat to the social system and the established order.  Have you ever wondered why we fit in so well these days?  Because we love our culture.  We immerse ourselves in it.  The media, the consumerism, the politics.  As Pastor Steve Berger once said, “If we’re not being persecuted, it’s because we don’t look enough like Christ to a Christ-hating world.”

There are so many sincere Christians who have been led astray by the incremental deception of Satan as he infiltrates our churches with cultural values.  We’ve accepted Christ, but our lives look no different.  And we’re the ones losing, we’re the ones missing out on what the world could be.  Instead of bringing the Kingdom to earth, we’re promoting our own kingdom.  We’re living in our story instead of His.  When Jesus comes again, will He look at our castles in the sand and say “Well done, good and faithful servant?”  Or will He have to clear His temple of its cultural bias?

Jesus compared the Kingdom to hidden treasure for a reason.  If we can’t listen for the still small voice in a world that clamors for its agenda, if we can’t see past the filthy lens of our culture-colored glasses to defend the marginalized and the oppressed and stand for Kingdom values, then we’re no better than any of the generations before us.  We’re no better than the ones who crucified Christ.

God, grant us forgiveness for our blindness and syncretism.