Absolute Ideals and Absolute Grace

Sermon on MT 2

The Sermon on the Mount proves that before God we all stand on level ground: murders and temper-throwers, adulterers and lusters, thieves and coveters. We are all desperate, and that is in fact the only state appropriate to a human being who wants to know God. Having fallen from the absolute Ideal, we have nowhere to land but in the safety net of absolute grace.

–Philip Yancey,
The Jesus I Never Knew

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Learning from the Master

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Somehow Jesus had mastered
the ability of loving people
whose behavior he disapproved.
That’s a lesson the church
has not been so good
at learning.

–Philip Yancey

No strings attached

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The notion of God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached, seems to go against every instinct of humanity. The Buddhist eight-fold path, the Hindu doctrine of karma, the Jewish covenant, and Muslim code of law — each of these offers a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional.

–Philip Yancey
What’s so Amazing about Grace?

The corrective to blurry vision

Christ A5BNo one in the Old Testament could claim to know the face of God. No one, in fact could survive a direct gaze. The few who caught a glimpse of God’s glory came away glowing like extraterrestiales, and all who saw them hid in fear. But Jesus offered a long, slow look a the face of God. “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father,” he said. What Jesus is, God is. As Michael Ramsey put it, “In God is no unChristlikeness at all.”

People grow up with all sorts of notions of what God is like. They may see God as an Enemy, or a Policeman, or even an Abusive Parent. Or perhaps they do not see God at all, and only hear his silence. Because of Jesus, however, we no longer have to wonder how God feels or what he is like. When in doubt, we can look at Jesus to correct our blurry vision.

–Philip Yancey
Disappointment with God

Embracing both messages

a861c76fbad61f0e2eef5ab379dcd953The gospel presents both high ideals and all-encompassing grace. Very often, however, the church tilts one direction or the other. Either it lowers the ideals, adjusting moral standards downward, softening Jesus’ strong commands, rationalizing behaviour; or else it pulls in the boundaries of grace, declaring some sins worse that others, some sinners beyond the pale. Few churches stay faithful both to the high ideals of gospel and its bottomless grace . . . I am convinced that unless we embrace both messages we will betray the good news that Jesus brought to earth.

–Philip Yancey
Soul Survivor

Remembering God

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The first great commandment requires us to love God, which we do best through our awareness of his great love for us. Thomas Merton remarks, “The ‘remembering’ of God, of which we sing in the Psalms, is simply the discovery, in deep compunction of heart, that God remembers us.”

We remember God best by believing that we matter, personally and infinitely, to him. I must ask again and again for the faith to believe that God delights in me and desires to relate to me. For that reason as much as any, I study the Bible: not merely to master a work of great literature or to learn theology, but to let soak into my soul the inescapable message of God’s love and personal concern.

–Philip Yancey
Reaching for the Invisible God

It started in a stable

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God’s visit to earth took place in an animal shelter with no attendants present and nowhere to lay the newborn king but a feed trough. Indeed, the event that divided history, and even our calendars, into two parts may have had more animal than human witnesses. A mule could have stepped on him. “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift was given.”

–Philip Yancey
The Jesus I Never Knew

Image: Michael Dudash

Published in: on 12/18/2014 at 3:08  Leave a Comment  
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When grace slips away

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Whenever faith
seems an entitlement,
or a measuring rod,
we cast our lots with
the Pharisees and grace
softly slips away.

–Philip Yancey
Soul Survivor

Image: Karl Schmidt-Rottluff

Published in: on 06/22/2014 at 21:12  Leave a Comment  
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Amazing grace

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Grace means there is nothing we can to do make God love us more —no amount of spiritual calisthenics and renunciation, no amount of knowledge gained from seminaries and divinity schools, no amount of crusading on behalf of righteous causes. And grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less —no amount of racisim or pride or pornography or adultery or even murder.

Grace means that
God already loves us
as much as an infinite God
can possibly love.

–Philip Yancey
What’s So Amazing About Grace?

Getting his family back

Adam & Eve 7

In a nutshell,
the Bible from Genesis 3
to Revelation 22
tells the story of a God
reckless with desire
to get his family back.

–Philip Yancey

The problem of pleasure

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Why is sex fun? Reproduction surely does not require pleasure: some animals simply split in half to reproduce . . . Why is eating enjoyable? Plants and the lower animals manage to obtain their quota of nutrients without the luxury of taste buds. Where are there colors? Some people get along fine without the ability to detect color. Why complicate vision for all the rest of us?

It struck me, after reading my umpteenth book on the problem of pain, that I have never seen a book on “the problem of pleasure.” Nor have I met a philosopher who goes around shaking his or her head in perplexity over the question of why we experience pleasure. Yet it looms as a huge question: the philosophical equivalent, for atheists, to the problem of pain for Christians. On the issue of pleasure, Christians can breathe easier.

A good and loving God would naturally want
his creatures to experience delight,
joy and personal fulfillment.

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Christians start from that assumption and then look for ways to explain the origin of suffering. But should not atheists have an equal obligation to explain the origin of pleasure in a world of randomness and meaninglessness?

. . . Where does pleasure come from? Chesterton settled on Christianity as the only reasonable explanation.

Moments of pleasure are
the remnants washed ashore
from a shipwreck, bits of Paradise
extended through time.

We must hold these relics lightly, and use them with gratitude and restraint, never seizing them as entitlements.

. . . Evil’s greatest triumph may be its success in portraying religion as an enemy of pleasure when, in fact, religion accounts for its source: every good and enjoyable thing is the invention of a Creator who lavished gifts on the world.

–Philip Yancey
Soul Survivor

Trusting the Guide

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Faith means striking out,
with no clear end in sight and perhaps 
even no clear view of the next step.
It means following, trusting,
holding out a hand to
an invisible Guide.

–Philip Yancey

Published in: on 01/27/2013 at 4:59  Leave a Comment  
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The Great Invasion

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On earth a baby was born,
a king got wind of it,
a chase ensued.
In heaven the Great Invasion
had begun, a daring raid
by the ruler
of the forces of good
into the universe’s
seat of evil.

–Philip Yancey

He came to show us God

Because of Jesus…I must adjust my instinctive notions about God. Perhaps that lay at the heart of his mission? Jesus reveals a God who comes in search of us, a God who makes room for our freedom even when it costs the Sons life, a God who is vulnerable. Above all, Jesus reveals a God who is love.

–Philip Yancey

When God renounced power

Power, no matter how well-intentioned, tends to cause suffering. Love, being vulnerable, absorbs it. In a point of convergence on a hill called Calvary, God renounced the one for the sake of the other.

―Philip Yancey

Published in: on 11/03/2012 at 10:52  Leave a Comment  
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Rumors of another world

I began to listen to my own longings as rumours of another world, a bright clue to the nature of the Creator. Somehow I had fallen for the deception of judging the natural world as unspiritual and God as antipleasure.

But God invented matter, after all,
including all the sensors in the body
through which I experience pleasure.

Nature and supernature are not two separate worlds, but different expressions of the same reality.

–Philip Yancey

Becoming more “ordinary”

The churches I attended had stressed the dangers of pleasure so loudly that I missed any positive message. Guided by [Gilbert] Chesterton, I came to see sex, money, power, and sensory pleasures as God’s good gifts. Every Sunday I can turn on the radio or television and hear preachers decry the drugs, sexual looseness, greed, and crime that are “running rampant” in the streets of America.

Rather than merely wag our fingers at such obvious abuses of God’s good gifts, perhaps we should demonstrate to the world where good gifts actually come from, and why they are good.

Evil’s greatest triumph may be its success in portraying religion as an enemy of pleasure when, in fact, religion accounts for its source: every good and enjoyable thing is the invention of a Creator who lavished gifts on the world.

Of course, in a world estranged from God, even good things must be handled with care, like explosives. We have lost the untainted innocence of Eden, and every good harbors risk as well, holding within it the potential for abuse. Eating becomes gluttony, love becomes lust, and along the way we lose sight of the One who gave us pleasure. The ancients turned good things into idols; we moderns call them addictions. In either case, what ceases to be a servant becomes a tyrant…

“I am ordinary in the correct sense of the term,” says Chesterton, “which means the acceptance of an order; a Creator and the Creation, the common sense of gratitude for Creation, life and love as gift permanently good, marriage and chivalry as laws rightly controlling them . . .” Under his influence I too realized the need to become more “ordinary.”

I had conceived of faith as tight-lipped,
grim exercise of spiritual discipline,
a blending of asceticism and rationalism
in which joy leaked away.

Chesterton restored to me a thirst for the exuberance that flows from a link to the God who dreamed up all the things that give me pleasure.

–Philip Yancey

The problem of pleasure

Why is sex fun? Reproduction surely does not require pleasure: some animals simply split in half to reproduce, and even humans use methods of artificial insemination that involve no pleasure. Why is eating enjoyable? Plants and lower animals manage to obtain their quota of nutrients without the luxury of taste buds. Why are there colors? Some people get along fine without the ability to detect color. Why complicate vision for the rest of us?

It struck me, after reading my umpteenth book on the problem of pain, that I have never even seen a book on “the problem of pleasure.” Nor have I met a philosopher who goes around shaking his or her head in perplexity over the question of why we experience pleasure. Yet it looms as a huge question: the philosophical equivalent, for atheists, to the problem of pain for Christians. On the issue of pleasure, Christians can breathe easier.

A good and loving God would naturally want
his creatures to experience delight, joy,
and personal fulfillment.

Christians start from that assumption and then look for ways to explain the origin of suffering. But should not atheists have an equal obligation to explain the origin of pleasure in a world of randomness and meaninglessness?

. . . Where does pleasure come from? After searching alternatives, (Gilbert) Chesterton settled on Christianity as the only reasonable explanation for its existence in the world.

Moments of pleasure are the remnants washed ashore from a shipwreck, bits of Paradise extended through time.

We must hold these relics lightly, and use them with gratitude and restraint, never seizing them as entitlements.

–Philip Yancey

God found a way

In Jesus, God found a way of relating to human beings that did not involve fear.

–Philip Yancey

Published in: on 12/12/2011 at 7:15  Leave a Comment  
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