Rules Of A Beach Umbrella

(read MarK 4 – 8; 36% of “Simply Jesus” by N.T. Wright)

If shade is the goal of using a beach umbrella, the rules for effectiveness are necessary.  Tilting into the wind ensures stability.  Positioning your chair in the subsequent diameter of shade is crucial.  Repositioning your chair with changing sun coordinates is an ongoing mandate.  Attempting to use the umbrella when said sun is lower than the actual umbrella itself is futile.  It’s a lot of work, and there are a lot of rules to gain mere shade.

As I’m battling the rules and limits of umbrella shade, I soak in a huge cloud rolling out between my little beach umbrella and the sun.  Comparatively, I realize my umbrella is really too small for really good shade.  The many rules attached to my umbrella have held me captive, but I don’t know what else to do to get shade and keep from frying.

Alone in my beach chair (under my umbrella) I muttered to my self, “Oh my God…”  I was a bit startled by my own admission.  Growing up I understood the words, “Oh my God,” as taking the Lord’s name in vain.  It was breaking the third command of the big ten.  When those forbidden words were spoken, someone around me would always flip the TV channel, turn the radio dial, or give a righteous glare towards the errant heathen whose words had overflown from their heart.

Was that the real gist of the third commandment?  Don’t say, “Oh my God?”  The totality of the first three commandments seem to point to something bigger.  It’s as if God is saying, “Don’t box me in.  Don’t try to limit me.  Don’t make me small.  Don’t diminish my glory… and my name.”

And so I whispered to myself, “Oh my God… we’ve made Jesus too small.”  The Church… I … have made Jesus into a means for a distant, future heaven.  I have turned Jesus into a Dr. Phil clone to settle for helping people feel better about themselves.  The results have been devastating.  Moralistic therapeutic deism.

A younger generation has grown weary of rules, buildings, and words attached to a small Jesus.  Skeptics dismiss Jesus entirely because life and the universe is much bigger than what religion has taught.  Young Christians sitting under the stifling umbrella of a small Jesus tend to side more with the skeptics than with church folk who preach, “Just sit under the umbrella and obey the rules — that will get you to heaven.”  Chandler calls this kind of religion, “moralistic therapeutic deism.”  Under the umbrella of “Christian” we obey rules to remain moral.  We feel good about ourselves, and we keep God at a great distance even though we arrogantly claim a personal relationship with Jesus.

N.T. Wright writes:  “Jesus—the Jesus we might discover if we really looked!—is larger, more disturbing, more urgent than we—than the church!—had ever imagined. We have successfully managed to hide behind other questions (admittedly important ones) and to avoid the huge, world-shaking challenge of Jesus’s central claim and achievement. It is we, the churches, who have been the real reductionists. We have reduced the kingdom of God to private piety, the victory of the cross to comfort for the conscience, and Easter itself to a happy, escapist ending after a sad, dark tale. Piety, conscience, and ultimate happiness…”

The good news, however, is that God is unfolding His ultimate plan to restore and reconcile the universe back to it’s original state of glory and perfection.  This certainly includes those who follow Jesus, but all of creation as well.  The good news is that God’s Kingdom restored here on earth is coming.  The Genesis (beginning) of the Bible is paradise, and the Revelation of a paradise restored here on earth is how it all ends.

So what if the rules or commands were to help us live, best we can, in this fallen world until the Kingdom is restored.  Maybe that’s why God set apart the nation of Israel.  Maybe he wanted a nation of people to live out commands that were given to help fallen man live at the most optimal level possible in a horribly fallen world.  What if Jesus coming to earth really was a grand announcement that this restored Kingdom is near… at hand?  Perhaps Jesus’ miracles were demonstrations of what ultimately Kingdom life looks like on a perfectly sinless, reconciled earth.

When Jesus fed 5,000 and 7,000 people with minimal food, is that a glimpse as to how easy food is obtained on a new earth.  Would the toil and work for food be eliminated in a new creation?  That’s the way it was before Adam and Eve took a mere apple for granted.

And… it occurred to me… what about spit?  In a fallen world, spit is disgusting.  I saw a TV show last night where an ex-wife spit into the face of her ex-husband.  Spitting can be the demonstration of ultimate rejection.

Do you recall what Jesus did with spit?  He healed deaf, blind, and dumb people.  Why spit?  Was this another demonstration or glimpse into the coming restored Kingdom?  (My reading and understanding of Mark has taken on an exhilarating hunger as I filter things through a greater Kingdom coming that Jesus was/is announcing and demonstrating.)    Jesus’ teaching was all about proclaiming the Kingdom.  With a new heaven and a new earth, is spit the stuff of life and healing?  Without sin, is spit the only medication needed?  Interestingly, spit does contain traces of life even in our fallen state.  Spit contains enzymes, proteins, and antibacterial elements that enable us.  Even in paradise lost, God’s glory and hope of what’s to come can come shining forth if we just look… no further than our spit.

Instead, we sit under the limiting umbrella of religious rules… working to stay somehow in the shade of God’s grace and mercy to hopefully, one day, get to heaven.  Under our very small umbrella, we become the focus.  We become the Kingdom.  Heaven is for us, and adhering to life-sapping rules saps our affection for the One who desperately and lovingly wants to restore us and all of creation to even greater things — back to Him.

Oh my God… I HAVE taken the Lord’s name in vain.  I have lived and taught in ways that have painted Jesus and His Kingdom in far too small ways.  I have limited the unlimited glory of God in my life and those around me.  Oh my God… I want to get out from under this small umbrella.  Oh my God… it’s time for me to be more about Your Kingdom coming than mine that is Kingdom killing.  52 years into my journey, deep is finally calling to deep.  Oh my God.

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