The Gospel Of Paddle Surfing
(Read Mark 9-11; 73% through “Simply Jesus” by N.T. Wright)
In the early morning hours, I saw a man walking on water. I was reading through Mark 6. However, when I looked up from my wind-blown scriptures, there really was a guy walking past me on the ocean water! At least in a brief second, it seemed that way. When a deceptive wave had subsided, I could see that this was a mere paddle surfer. Shoot. I thought the scripture really was coming to life right before my eyes.
It is. (Today is day 5 of the “study” side of my study break. Tomorrow and Sunday I’ll get to the “break” side of things. Michael is looking forward to that. He continues to be patient with me as I study, read, walk, pray, and think through most of the day.) As I have read and studied, there is something coming to life within the scriptures that I’m seeing for the very first time. Isn’t it cool when the Bible is experienced as living and active? I’ve been amazed at how my reading through Mark has been echoed and referred to through N.T. Wright’s “Simply Jesus.” Things relegated to the “done” pile are being stirred back up. Ideas fitted for a 30,000 foot theology, are coming down to earth like the Kingdom actually has.
What is the gospel? What is the Kingdom of God? Sherry and I had this conversation on a long beach walk. We both agreed how our comfortable belief systems would define the gospel as “the good news of our salvation.” Someday we’ll make it to heaven. That is awesome news. Good news. That’s been our approach to the gospel. Our guess is that most Christians live out a similar theology. The Kingdom of God is something left to an even higher elevation. As much as the gospel and heaven is “up there” and for later, the Kingdom is also mostly up there, fully realized later, but places us somehow in God’s family for now. The gospel and the Kingdom gets us to heaven where we’ll all be a part of God’s big completed family. That’ll preach, and has for years.
Is there anything wrong with this? Is this bad theology? Maybe it’s just limited. Maybe it’s boxy because it places us as the central focus. When we become the focus, then religious rules are soon to follow in order to make sure we stay the course and make it to heaven. Is THIS the good news? Is THIS the Kingdom Jesus came to earth to announce and die for? Is this what God’s glory and majesty is about? His epic glory and my idea of Kingdom good news don’t seem to fully jive. Comparatively, my ideas are small. Maybe even a bit boring.
I’ve wondered why so much of Christian literature and music frustrates me. There are two veins of marketable Christianity that I struggle with. Sometimes these sales worthy theologies are obvious, and sometimes not so much. One such idea is the driving, popular notion that Jesus can make me into a better me. The other is the do list of disciplines and rules that will help get me to heaven some day. My angst has driven me to healthy questions, a refreshing look at theology, and hunger for insight that gets me beyond a limited gospel and boring Kingdom.
As I write, a storm has blown in from the Gulf. The waves and wind are tumultuous. From my fourth floor vantage point, the magnitude of God’s greatness and glory cannot be escaped. There can be no excuse for not, at the very least, wondering about a grand Creator who not only created the massive ocean — but could also subdue it and walk on it. Jesus didn’t need no stinkin’ paddle to surf. At the most, I have thoughts of land, water, and ominous skies dancing a glory dance that points to the Father, Son, and Spirit who enjoy the wonder and laughter of each other. My thoughts are becoming a little less boxy…
Even in a broken, fallen, sin-plagued world, the glory of God can still shine through because it all began in a laboratory of perfection. Scripture however reads from cover to cover as if “we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” God’s glory created perfection. Our sin tainted it. His plan is to restore it… here… on earth (as things are in heaven). All things will be renewed and reconciled through Jesus. What if this was the Kingdom of God that Jesus was heralding as good news? Have we neglected the greater truth for a lesser one of trying to get to heaven?
Why then did Jesus die? Wasn’t it for me? Yes… in as much as I am a key, image-reflecting part of all of God’s glorious creation. But fallen-ness, sin, death, and imperfections in all of creation… including me… had to be dealt with once and for all if all things were to be renewed. All the powers of hell, politics, and religion had to be unloosed fully and then defeated soundly at the cross and resurrection of Jesus if a completely restored creation were to be realized.
“Sherry, are you following me? Does any of this make sense? Am I just rambling on here?” Our theological beach talk was coming to the end. I’m confident Sherry would describe our two mile trek as more of a sermon. I seemed to be doing most of the talking.
These thoughts beyond being saved, being good, and getting to heaven are somewhat new to me. There’s a nagging sense of sorrow and repentance for having missed this for so long. I can see how Jesus has walked patiently to get me here, and hope He is doing the same work within His Church. If He is, what could this mean?
I wonder if the paddle surfer represents the groaning of creation, and how.. in a fallen world… we struggle and sink into the waters without a paddle and board. I have thoughts of the incredible news of the Kingdom of God. On the new and reconciled earth, the ocean is an every-changing, never boring dance floor. Jesus demonstrated this. Peter briefly tested this. I can only imagine what the Kingdom of God will be like someday. No paddle surfing. How long and wide and fast will we dance on the ocean in eternity? And when we do, God will smile because THIS is His glory that He’s wanted us to fully enjoy all along — since the beginning of time. What a fun God. What a big God. What a loving Father. What glory.
(side note: Gungor worship music has been so good for my soul this week as I’ve read, prayed, and walked along the beach. Michael Gungor seems to capture a more grand idea of the gospel and the Kingdom of God. His songs like “Beautiful Things.” “The Earth Is Yours.” and “We Will Run” all take you beyond a theology that is based on just getting to heaven.)