Freedom

LookingWe have freedom to the degree that the master whom we obey grants it to us in return for our obedience. We do well to choose a master in terms of how much freedom we get for how much obedience…

To obey the dictates of our own consciences leaves us freedom from the sense of moral guilt, but not the freedom to gratify our own strongest appetites.

To obey our strongest appetites for drink, sex, power, revenge, or whatever leaves us the freedom of an animal to take what we want when we want it, but not the freedom of a human being to be human.

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The old prayer speaks of God “in whose service is perfect freedom.” The paradox is not as opaque as it sounds. It means that to obey Love itself, which above all else wishes us well, leaves us the freedom to be the best and gladdest that we have it in us to become. The only freedom Love denies us is the freedom to destroy ourselves ultimately.

–Frederick Buechner
Beyond Words

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Down-to-earth spirituality

Our God is a down-to-earth deity.

Literally.

The Word became flesh. The very stuff our bodies are made of. He became “human”—a term which derives from the root “humus,” meaning earth. This was the raw material our Creator used to make us. “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground…” (Gn. 2:7)

The staggering miracle of the Incarnation means that not only is man made of dust—but now God is too! Deity took on “humus.” This is the ultimate circuit blower! God didn’t just visit our race; he became a part of it!

“Theos” and “anthropos”
were organically joined.

A member of the Trinity now has skin color, eye color, hair color and fingerprints. He has immersed himself in the physical realities of human existence, and his favorite self-description became: “Son of Man.”

Martin Luther rightly stated, “The mystery of the humanity of Christ, that he sunk himself into our flesh, is beyond all human understanding.”

J. B. Phillips concludes that we need “to be shocked afresh by the audacious central Fact—that, as a sober matter of history, God became one of us.”

The foundational article of the Christian faith—”The Word became flesh”—is a bombshell for the Gnostic who affirms that the material world is illusory and evil. It also overturns the tables on Christians who subscribe to a world-denying spirituality.

The Incarnation forces us all to rethink our ideas
about nature and matter and the physical world.
It totally shipwrecks our dualistic separation
of “sacred” and “secular.”

This God become “humus” grew, breathed, walked, ate, drank, worked and wept. He enjoyed taking walks, working with wood, eating dried figs, basking in sunshine, cooking breakfast on the beach and laughing with friends. In the words of one writer, “Jesus . . . seemed as comfortable at a party as He was in the Temple.” The Creator, who at the beginning of time looked upon his creation and declared it to be good, now tasted, touched, smelled and felt its goodness.

“Time was when you could despise the body and love God, or despise God and love the body. One could be an ascetic or a hedonist.” says theologian Peter J. Leithart. “Then God got Himself a body . . . the incarnation made the ancient choice of ascetic or hedonist impossible. Since the incarnation the only choices are to love the body and God, or to despise both.”

It is often heard in wedding ceremonies that, by His presence in the wedding at Cana of Galilee, Christ blessed and sanctified marriage. However, a wedding was not the only place he showed up. He toiled at a carpenter’s bench, strolled through markets and meadows, went boating on a lake, enjoyed meals in friends homes and hiked up mountains. The unavoidable conclusion is this—Christ sanctified every sphere of human activity.

Jesus of Nazareth
is our most compelling evidence
that “spiritual” and “material”
cannot be separated,
that supernatural and natural
belong together.

In one of his poems, William Wordsworth speaks of “the light of common day,” to which G. K. Chesterton reacted angrily and in effect said, “Don’t you dare call it common—that’s blasphemous!” A similar rebuke was given to the apostle Peter, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.”

A Gnostic view of spirituality has led many to believe that only that which is explicitly “Christian” is truly glorifying to God. Taken to its logical conclusion, this would mean that true holiness requires one to wear Christian shoes, eat Christian food, sleep in a Christian bed, listen to Christian music, drive a Christian car and breathe Christian air. Obviously this is absolutely absurd! And such thinking is inconceivable for anyone who seriously believes in the Incarnation.

The fact that Holiness took on humanity forces us to reconstruct our understanding of “spiritual.”

No longer can we view the secular as unsacred. No field of human endeavor is out of bounds. “For everything belongs to you—be it Paul or Apollos or Peter, the world or life or death, things present or future—everything belongs to you; and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God” (1 Cor. 3:22,23).

“Everything belongs to you” moves the goalposts of spirituality to the ends of the earth! It’s all encompassing. The only thing to avoid is that which contradicts who we are in Christ. The rest is ours!

We can honor our Creator, not only in prayer and worship, but also in farming, medicine, business, music, landscaping and computer programming. Through work we enrich one another and cultivate and care for the created world that God made, sustains and loves.

A musician serves God by composing great music, and not just by writing songs about Jesus. An architect honors his Maker by bringing beauty and excellence into his work, and not solely by designing cathedrals. Human activities do not require a Bible verse added on to make them valid.

When asked whether the world needs more Christian writers, C. S. Lewis replied, “No, we need more writers who are Christian.”

We can cook, paint, dance, write novels, compose music, fly kites and grow orchids to the glory of God. The duties and delights of daily human life are not obstacles, but opportunities for spirituality. In Christ the joys, pains, pleasures and struggles of earthly living are the very context of godly living and worship. We are not called to take flight into some spiritual stratosphere of mystical experience. We are called to live in a physical body in a physical world—to the glory of God.

“Christianity,” affirms Brian Zahnd,
“is a flesh and blood faith.”

It is perfectly fine to have a human body. As a matter of fact, God now possesses one Himself—and will do so forever.

The God of heaven is deeply involved in gritty activities such as creation, incarnation, redemption, resurrection and re-creation. Evidently matter matters. And when He writes the last chapter, it will not be about an eternal, ethereal, disembodied existence. It will be about new heavens and a new earth where we will live in perfected, human bodies in a physical, renewed world.

We are called to deny sin—not life.

Christian spirituality is not an other-worldly affair. It is about becoming truly human—like Jesus. It entails embracing the miracle of God’s real presence in our life and in our world. It involves celebrating sunsets, roses, coffee, family and all of God’s good gifts with gratitude and joy.

The reformer, John Calvin stated, “There is not
one blade of grass, there is no color in this world
that is not intended to make us rejoice.”

So slow down. Stop. Look. And, like Moses, take off your shoes because holy is all around us in the common stuff of everyday life. Spirituality is a down-to-earth matter.

If God truly became “humos”—how could it be otherwise?

–Jurgen Schulz

Celebration or surpression?

The world has a caricature of the Christian. For many a secular observer, the believer is a human disaster. To become a Christian is to abnegate life. No more laughter, no more days of raucous shouting around a football game at a tavern with a good beer. The gusto is gone. The Christian convert has died. Too often, we must admit, this caricature is true. Many Christians have died, not just to sin — which is right — but somehow they have also died to their own humanity, which is wrong. Some have been bound by guilt and legalism, owing to religious inhibitions of every kind. As believers we can become forced, defensive, angry, afraid, isolated, morose, mechanical or spiritually artificial.

Yet if our God is truly three persons in infinitely meaningful relationship, then those who are redeemed and brought into relationship with this God have every reason be the most fulfilled and authentic of all the human race. When inhabited by the Holy Spirit, as we walk with the Son, as we take our place as sons and daughters of the Father, our humanness should come alive. Indeed, the Christian’s humanity should luster and glow. Our personhood should radiate because we are in loving relationship with the fount of all personal life. Christians should be the most powerful, sensitive, transparent and truly human of all the people on earth.

–J. Scott Horrell

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