God in a Box

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Henri Nouwen once said, “We cannot expect God to speak to us in our narrow corridor of thinking. As scripture shows us, He may speak to us through a saint or a sinner. Through a conservative or a liberal. Through a man or a woman – or a young child. Through an old person or a young person. Through an educated or an illiterate person… Through a local person or a foreigner. We have at all times to be ready to listen with an unprejudiced mind and heart.”

I was thinking about my life and how God has spoken to me through so many diverse voices, with differing opinions and backgrounds, yet they have all compelled me closer to the heart of Jesus.

From a liberal sociologist named Tony Campolo, to a conservative preacher named Franklin Graham, my heart has broken for the poor.

From an Irish rock star named Bono, to an agnostic brilliant business man named Bill Gates, my urgency to end extreme poverty has increased.

From an alcoholic priest named Brennan Manning, to a 90 year old saint named Mother Rose, I have been overwhelmed by the gift of Grace.

From an African American, born in the ghetto, named Ricky Bolden, to a 75 year old, rich white man named Doug Coe, I will forever be burdened and invested in the inner city.

From a conservative business man named Jim Copeland to a more liberal mother committed to public health around the world, named Kim Dixon, my life has refocused on the rights of children and women around the world.

From an Albanian Roman Catholic nun named Mother Teresa to a cancer research doctor named Scott Todd, my life is now compelled to show up, look extreme poverty in the face, and defeat it.

I have a very close friend who is gay and whenever I am with him, I leave having a deeper passion to follow Jesus and a more convicted heart to serve the marginalized and forgotten in my community.

The important question for people of faith today is this: Can we see past the surface, the titles, the labels and see the wisdom underneath.

When John the Baptist came to proclaim the coming of the Messiah, he was described as a locus-eating, leather-wearing, adultery-condemning prophet.

When Jesus walked this earth, he was described as a party-going, wine-making, heart-healing, sin-forgiving savior.

John would have been labeled a conservative and Jesus would have been labeled a liberal.

Jesus told the pharisess, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” Instead, you said, “John has a demon and Jesus is a glutton”.

The gospel came looking two different ways, but they could not see it.

WHY? Because the Pharisees had put God in a box.

The strength of FAITH is the diversity of God’s wisdom.

That is why people should travel, so you can see the image and creativity and vastness of God.

The Pharisees are not the only ones who have put God in a box.

I think, in America, we are in that danger today.

In order for our faith to be rich and our hearts to remain soft and pliable, we must continue to be overwhelmed by the vastness of God.

Jesus was not an American, he was not a Californian, he was not a republican or a democrat and he was not a Presbyterian, Methodist, Pentecostal or Baptist.

He was not a member of the NRA, Greenpeace or the local moose lodge.

He did not have a preference of musical worship style, because his worship had to do with spirit and truth.

He was anti-war, anti-revenge, and anti-hate.

He said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesars, and give to God what is God’s!”

He was the creator of the universe and it was his idea to make the stars and the moon and the seas and the mountains.

RED, YELLOW, BROWN, BLACK and WHITE, they are all equally precious in his sight.

Every color, creed and culture is a part of his image.

He loves our enemies and he prays that the terrorist will find salvation like the terrorist Saul who became a champion of Grace.

He loves YOU even when you walk away.

He loves ME even when I choose my own ways.

Jesus is bigger than any of our big ideas and heaven will be a much different place than our middle class, American ideas.

When Peter quotes the Prophet Joel in Acts 2 and says, “All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.” He meant ALL!

It is Jesus + nothing!

Not Jesus + politics.
Not Jesus + denomination.
Not Jesus + lifestyle.
Not Jesus + American.

Let us allow Jesus to be bigger than any of our big ideas and run towards his radical, counter-intuitive, compassionate Grace.

May we pray the prayer of Pope Francis:
“And so we ask the risen Jesus, who turns death into life, to change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace.”

6 thoughts on “God in a Box

  1. WOW!! That was so powerful, what an amazing picture of a Loving and accepting God, one that I definitely want to follow! Thank You for giving me a new view of a beautiful God.

  2. Jésus +nothing is a revolutionary statement!
    We really put God in our narrowed mind. Many God help me to see above and beyond any barrier of culture and so on.

  3. As Ann Canright stated above, not only a “new view of a beautiful God” but also a way to live our lives to honor that God.

  4. The word “theology” literally means “the study of God.” I would argue that it is not theology itself that puts God in a box, rather it how theology gets applied in rigid doctrines.

    Western Christianity continues to struggle break away from the Enlightenment mindset of viewing Theology like it is one large mathematical equation or a hard science (like physics or chemistry for instance). We want A+B to always equal C. The problem with this mindset is that it turns God into a giant cosmic machine. This is why calvinists DRIVE ME CRAZY.

    Scripture certainly gives us some basic, rigid doctrines (divinity and resurrection of Christ, salvation by grace through faith, etc.), but everything else is based on either broad Scriptural principles (sexual purity is a good example of this), or each individual personality. This is where things get complicated.

    Theology needs to be looked at like a true liberal art. It needs to be studied like we study philosophy, language, history, art, or political science, where there are a handful of rigid principles, but everything else is more fluid or malleable because we are dealing the “person” (or three persons actually) of God, not a machine.

    Whenever I think the about the whole “God in a box” thing, I always go back to the quote from the “Chronicles of Narnia,” where it is said about Aslan, “He’s not a tame lion.”

    • Well said. Grace is messy because it’s smacks against our need for karma and order. The prodigal son coming home to receive a party of redemption, even though the father didn’t make him sign a paper saying that he would never rebel again, is so radical, that Christians love to celebrate the story in theory, but have trouble applying it to real life. Thanks for your words. They challenge me.

  5. Ken, Great piece. Very moving. One slight correction – Doug Coe is 84 years old and he’d probably take issue with your statement that he’s rich. Rich in his walk with our Lord, of course….Doug is “sold out” to Jesus, but monetarily, I’m not sure his bank account or portfolio would show much more of a balance than your’s our mine. Blessings, Hank Prevette. P. S. Love working with Rickey Bolden at 859 House. He’s become a dear brother and making a huge difference for the Lord in Carver Terrace.

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