God: Does it Really Have to be This Way -- Addendum...

Comment

God: Does it Really Have to be This Way -- Addendum...

Midweek Musings

...from the continuously contemplative mind of Joseph B. Ostrander

Okay readers (if any): may I see a raise of hands out there in the blogosphere from folks that actually read this homespun commentary on most things theological???

Okay…anybody???  Any hands out there I simply cannot recognize due to the substantial internet background clutter blocking my electronic view???

Hmmm…thought so…

Oh well, I had hoped this blog forum would’ve catalyzed some interaction—you know—posting and commentary banter that might enliven and encourage a few brave souls willing to engage in some intellectual exchanges…

If you do happen to land here at this site by accident you may notice the most recent 3 or 4 posts have a very similar theme.  I won’t bore you with the details, but a quick perusal of the topics addressed the negative elements of life and how they reflect on the character (or nature) of the God you, dear reader, may claim to worship and have a personal relationship with, or believe in, or put your trust in, etc.

After reading the preceding posts that have culminated in the most recent one I authored, I do wish to clarify what it is I referred to as the discipline, training, or more precisely, the divine ‘pruning’ action that occurs in every saint’s life whether recognized or not…

To be clear, any of the pruning I personally understand as occurring in my life is not the actual negative events that precipitated the resulting spiritual dynamic I refer to as pruning (training).  For example, my unfortunate divorce was not a divine pruning action that God orchestrated.  He did not ‘prune’ off my former spouse (for whatever reason) as a means to increase my fruitfulness.  Nope.  He did not ‘prune’ off my heath when I suffered a severe nervous breakdown as a result.  He did not prune off my job of 12 years when I was laid off in the Spring of 2011.  He did not prune off my 2001 Chevy Tahoe by causing the rollover accident that totaled said vehicle just 5 weeks ago…

I think by now you may note a specific pattern used as personal examples of negative events in my life that could be misunderstood as the spiritual ‘discipline’ (pruning/training) I’ve been alluding to in my most recent postings…

I do believe (this is a personal perspective—not gospel doctrine) that the actual discipline/pruning/training occurs after any severe negative events have been a major disruption to the otherwise recognizable routines of daily life (I don’t believe there is any ‘normal’ element to this life we experience).  Such divine training is most effective when it’s embraced by our willful decision to partner with, or participate in, the pruning process the Master Gardener wishes to perform on us…

It's an essential process, albeit a very painful one, that is the main conduit to spiritual transformation.  It is, by true definition, a very visceral pruning or training process that runs counter to our fleshly (I imply no sense of condemnation, or disgusting self-loathing, or false dichotomy that physical nature is ‘bad’ and incorporeal spiritual nature is ‘good’) default response I merely categorize as ‘self-preservation’…

It’s mostly fear that keeps us bound up in negative emotional, psychological, spiritual and physical patterns that scripture identifies as the former life, or the sinful (old) nature, or living in the flesh…

Fear (in its various forms) is the greatest spiritual prison system we are being set free of one timid pilgrim's step at a time…

{sigh}

As you may deduce, it’s the negative events of life that can be sources of divine pruning opportunities we can choose to participate in regardless of how much we scream at the top of our lungs during every step in that very visceral process as we stumble along on our own unique personal spiritual journey…

If you made it this far in this thought-provoking, yet uncomfortable consideration, then please…

Think about it…

And then think about it some more…

Amen.

Comment

God: Does it Really Have to be This Way??? Part Deux

Comment

God: Does it Really Have to be This Way??? Part Deux

Midweek Musings...

~from the contemplative mind of that theological provocateur, Joseph B. Ostrander

What is it about the common challenges, disruptions and plain ol’ negative elements of this life-of-faith we professing saints of Thee Almightee experience at a very annoying, yet very predictable rate???

{sigh}

True confession time: I simply could not leave the nagging considerations of my most recent automobile accident alone; the outcome of that singular event has been bugging me now for the past 4 weeks…

So, how does the idea of being impacted by the oft-times severely negative circumstances relate to the divine character of this sometimes enigmatic Deity we claim fealty to???

Can you, dear reader, identify with this uncomfortable consideration?  We claim to walk by faith, not sight, but what about that expected, and dreaded, sound of the other shoe about to drop?  Or maybe more precisely, the dreaded sound of that divinely worn sandal we now expect is about to drop???

You know what I’m talking about.  That uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach when life seems to have finally settled down into a semi-comfortable pace, and that peaceful leg of the journey has been going on longer than you can ever remember it lasting before???

Yeah…

You sense in the back of your mind, or more precisely, deep down in the dimly lit basement of your soul that such an unnatural span of tranquility must certainly come to a halt, either abruptly, or through an escalating series of obstacles now encountered along the narrow path you’ve decided to keep stumbling along…

Whew…

Well, dear saints, I’ve had to rethink the manner which the Good Lord inserts Himself into the crazier elements of my regularly disrupted life…

A few scriptural concepts keep coming to my remembrance:

1.  And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
    and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
  because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.  Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
  ~Hebrews 12:5-11

2. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”  ~John 15:1-2

Discipline, training and pruning.  Ouch.  What saint actually welcomes such painful fashioning from the Master Gardener?  I certainly do not.  In fact, I hate it.  Yup.  And oh how the Good Lord knows exactly how much I hate it—I certainly complain about it each and every instance!  However, He’s not disappointed, or upset, or surprised, or annoyed, or even left feeling underappreciated…

And He’s certainly not hesitant to perform such needed horticultural surgery without my permission.  But I do sense that God is much more prone to persuasion by way of invitation than He is at resorting to divine coercion, manipulation or sheer force-of-will…

He has heard my anguished cries in the midst of each and every disruption, most recently the one that left me transportation challenged after my unwelcomed rollover mishap…

{sighx2}

It was during a past conversation at a winery with one of the regular Coastland’s saints that left me pondering just what she was implying when she pointed out that the past disruptions of my life could’ve been the only way God could’ve launched me out of the dead-end circumstances that I didn’t have the courage, perspective, energy, or resilience to catalyze solely on my own…

I have wondered why it’s the most disruptive elements of my life that act as the significant transitional segues, or directional whiplash elements, which launch me out on a different direction I wouldn’t have voluntarily decided to embark upon…

A direction out of my current comfort level, or a release from what has imprisoned me, or a moving on from what is not the most productive conditions impeding greater fruitfulness…

Since I’m very passionate about everything associated with the wonderful world of wine, the meticulous care that goes into managing a high quality vineyard (where all good vino is ‘birthed’) doesn’t escape my notice.  Pruning the grapevines, thinning the canopy, even dropping some of the fruit, is all deliberately done with one goal in mind: the desired quality of the finished wine…

Although I admit these processes are necessary, they’re not at all comfortable when I experience them personally.  Yes, I can wax theoretical and philosophical when talking about the reason for such viticultural practices, however, I cannot help but wince at the sound of Divine Loppers being sharpened and readied for their inevitable, yet skillful, use…

{snip—snip}

I appreciate more now the perspective that understands the Lord’s discipline as the actual training related to the careful shaping of a grapevine that is intended to bear better quality fruit, and in greater quantity too!  As with most agricultural analogies, the ebb and flow of seasons, as well as recognizing grapes form only on 2nd year wood (canes), cannot be minimized.  The process is neither a onetime experience, nor something than can be sped up by some magical 'shortcut' (pun intentional) no matter how intently we implore the Master Gardener.  There are just some natural, and spiritual processes that cannot be avoided regardless of the visceral impact they may have on our fragile psyches…

And that, dear saints, is something I wish you would contemplate as you peruse this most recent blog post…

Think about it…

Then think about it some more…

Amen.

Comment

God: Does it Really Have to be This Way???

Comment

God: Does it Really Have to be This Way???

Kingdom Karma and How it Resulted in Some Serious Theological ‘Whiplash’

…ruminations from the fertile mind of Joseph B. Ostrander, that insightful blogger extraordinaire…

As the few occasional readers that actually peruse the Coastlands Vineyard Church blog may have recently discovered, I was involved in a single-vehicle automobile accident early Saturday morning as I was making my usual commute to work via Old Creek Road.

This particular Saturday commute to work was no different than the previous ones I had made during my almost 4-month tenure as a wine tasting associate at Halter Ranch Vineyards.  There was nothing out-of-the-ordinary during my preparations that would’ve indicated any possible disruptions to my drive through some of the most bucolic Central Coast scenery I do enjoy on my way to work.  Other than the occasional skittish deer or flock of wild turkeys in the middle of the road that do demand constant vigil and caution, my drive to work was nondescript and routine.  I was in no particular hurry as my habit is to leave plenty of time to make the 28-mile drive at an efficient, yet leisurely enough pace to simply relax, meditate, take in the scenery (and my coffee), and generally arrive at work unrushed and ready to do my part at preparations for making my guests feel welcomed…

However, whatever it is that you, dear reader, understand as fate, or karma, or luck, or simply another unrelated event unconnected at all to the intricate cosmological workings of this complex natural world we inhabit, I was not able to make it to my intended destination.  Unfortunately, I was involved in a single vehicle mishap that resulted in my beloved 2001 Chevy Tahoe fishtailing on some sand and gravel on one of the many turns and curves along Old Creek Road, and slowly rolling it over onto the passenger side.  Ouch.  My injuries were slight; some bumps and contusions on my legs, a left elbow gash that required some stitches, and of course, a very bruised ego…

{sigh}  

I took the ambulance to Twin Cities Hospital in Templeton where I was carefully evaluated, stitched up, and released back into the warm world of the semi-healthy and ambulatory as a new addition to that dreaded demographic category of the transportation challenged…

{sighx2}

As with most of the unexpected, and severely inconvenient, negative happenings that are common to all men (and women too!), I was blessed with the practical assistance of being picked-up at the hospital by Pam and Don and safely driven back home.  And while I was in the hospital calling friends and family about my vehicular misfortune, my eldest son called me back after I notified him of my situation and said he and his fiancé were immediately coming down to Morro Bay from Pleasant Hill, along with my 2 younger boys driving down from Modesto.  I was so blessed I was left speechless.  It was one of the most tender and moving moments of my lonely occupation in the emergency room I had been wheeled into earlier…

As any lucid and inquiring theological saint would do, I too contemplated my unfortunate disruption from my usually successful commutes to work and what, if any, grander theological implications could be extracted, derived, extrapolated, deduced, or otherwise concluded from the unfolding of such an unexpected and severely inconvenient episode that left me slightly shaken, stitched up, and without transportation…

Was there sin in my life that brought about the quickly escalating events leading up to me rolling my beloved Tahoe onto its passenger side, breaking every window, and strewing a few of my golf clubs forlornly along the side of Old Creek Road? 

Did I deserve such a mishap?  Did the devil push the rear-end of my Tahoe over the loose gravel to cause me to fishtail and overcorrect in an effort to avoid a head-on introduction to a sturdy oak looming up quickly in front of me? 

Did I let me guard down?  Did I misjudge the turn I had taken hundreds of times before?  Did I deserve the result of said error?

Where were the angels to hold up the truck and get it back on course without the slightest bit of damage?  Were they asleep on the job?  Hadn’t had their coffee yet, or were enraptured and distracted by the pastoral beauty of the area?

Did God cause the mishap to get my attention?  Want to teach me a very important lesson?  Dramatically remove the top-heavy steel idol of my beloved, and trusty Tahoe from my life?

Or did the event simply represent the common BS-of-life that does happen to every saint regardless of their spiritual security clearance level and divinely authorized pay grade?

As the truck was rolling over my life didn’t pass before my eyes.  I didn’t swear or cry out in alarm.  I called out the name of Jesus more than once, but it didn’t suspend the laws of physics regarding momentum and vehicle design that ended-up with my Tahoe on its side in the opposite lane of Old Creek Road in a very embarrassing, inglorious and pitiful condition…

A big grey steel elephant of an SUV awkwardly laying on its side with its 4 tires sticking out uncharacteristically as it took its last gasps while spilling its vital mechanical fluids onto the harsh, underserving pavement…

And to think it had just turned over 200,000 miles.  You were quite the trustworthy and dependable stead, my beloved 2001 Chevy Tahoe…

Nope...

God didn’t cause the accident as an attention getter, or as punishment for any number of peccadilloes I’ve committed.  He didn’t remove my beloved SUV from my life because I loved it more than Him.  He didn’t withhold any angelic or divine protection because I forgot to cross all my theological “t’s” or dot all my theological lower-case “j’s”…

That sturdy vehicle absorbed the unexpected roll onto its side; my seatbelts kept me tightly in the driver’s seat as they were designed to do; the air bags did not inflate, which could have caused me greater physical harm; and I survived the unwelcomed disruption relatively unscathed…

However, my usually overactive theological mind has been pondering this nagging consideration…

Did the Lord Almighty smite my Chevy Tahoe simply because He’s more of a Ford truck aficionado???

Hmmm...

I may need to pray, fast and seek spiritual guidance regarding the purchase of my replacement vehicle...

Think about it…

And then think about it some more…

Amen.

Comment

Saturday Salutations...

Comment

Saturday Salutations...

Random Ruminations…

pensively penned by Joseph B. Ostrander

I’ve recently listened to Sarah Shotwell’s June 26th message covering early church history (great job Sarah!).  It was a thoughtful look at the highlights of Christianity’s nascent growth from Day 1 to the rise of Constantine and the official (state sanctioned) age of religious tolerance.  Sarah concluded her historical review with a brief explanation of the early church’s first ecumenical council at Nicaea in 325 A.D.  I thoroughly enjoyed her scholastic approach and delivery as it ‘sounded’ like a fantastic experience I wish I could’ve heard in person.

I must confess, although Church history’s not a topic that appeals to every saint’s intellectual taste, it does hold a certain fascination to me.  I do like the consideration of what it would be like participating in an early church dynamic that was devoid of any detailed systemic theology that later became the jot-and-tittle of doctrinal purity and dogmatic certainty.

Here’s what I think held the early church’s messy learning curve all together in unity: Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.  ~1Peter 4:8

Whether or not the issue of illiteracy was a limitation for those early saints, their minds were just as keen, and curious, and theoretical, and questioning, and vivid as any that either had preceded them, or came after.  When it comes to theological considerations, those early saints were in no way at a disadvantage compared to what is categorized as the philosophical musings during the Age of Enlightenment (or the Age of Reason).

As integral as all of the first seven early church councils were to the development of some of the finer elements of orthodox theology, I think the more fascinating elements of the historical record actually have to do with the reason(s) the council was/were held, who the key players in the drama were, and how does such findings/conclusions impact us and my faith today?  Should the early church councils be considered the ‘final word(s)’ about the topics discussed and any official findings that were then strictly binding (no alternative viewpoints welcome)?

Segue: here is an interesting viewpoint espoused by one of the most influential theologians today:

“Translating the New Testament is something, in fact, each generation ought to be doing…Just as Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread, our bread for each day, we can never simply live on yesterday's bread, on the interpretations and translations of previous generations.”   ~N.T. Wright

I mention it at this point in my ruminations since it raises a very intriguing consideration that seems to run counter to the idea that, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it!” certainty.  I would hope, though I can only surmise, that the teachings we have been blessed with here at Coastlands Vineyard Church have indeed challenged at least some fraction of closely held, and oft times hotly defended, sacrosanct theological notions of every stripe from every Christian (orthodox) faith tradition…

Really Ostrander???

Yeah.

Really…

And just for good measure I now will throw out a consideration that could be a bit unnerving for those that hold to a strict inerrancy viewpoint of Holy Writ (the bible)…

If, by any worthy notion, N.T. Wright’s outlook has somehow resonated with your own spirit, may I suggest this very non-sacrosanct ‘what-if’…

What if God (the Trinitarian One) decided to allow the writing and compiling of Holy Writ to accurately include mankind’s skewed, or incomplete depictions of divine character and motivation simply to challenge each generation to rediscover the very Deity they claimed allegiance to???

Let me clarify: just like there are blatant mischaracterizations of God’s nature and character that are publically represented today by the weird, the wacky, or the extreme crazy uncle Christianese celebrities and/or ministry expressions today, could El Queso Grande simply permit all the current and historical kookiness in His name merely to help us sort out the chaff from the wheat???

Maybe???

What if the Old Testament writers penned their versions of the stories passed down through the oral tradition from generation to generation without letting their own uneasiness cause them to pause for more than a few minutes, and actually start to question the way Yahweh was being depicted???

And yes, I happily wear the molted skin of the Devil’s Advocate as caricaturized in Genesis 3:1…

Bear with me for a moment (at least those that actually read these musings…)

I want to reference a disconcerting element of the Gospel accounts where Jesus seems to distance Himself from the Mosaic Law that was supposedly dictated to Moses by Yahweh Himself (through divine revelation)…

Let’s look at relevant portions of scripture where Jesus (The Logos), goes to specific ‘lengths’ to avoid taking responsibility for being the Author, or divinely ‘authorizing’, the uncomfortable issue of divorce…

Review with me the Matthew 19 discourse (verses 3-9) where Jesus puts the onus on Moses, not the Father or the Spirit, for permitting a ‘certificate of divorce’ to be issued under the guidelines detailed in Deuteronomy 24.  And then review too the deliberate nullifying of Mosaic Law prerequisites in Matthew 5 (beginning in verse 21) – (oh that poor scapegoat Moses!)…

You may wish to consider the phrasing used by Jesus in Matthew 19 to simply be an interesting ‘rabbinical contrast wording convention’ regarding the topic, but here is the theological ‘rub’…Jesus implicates Moses for simply being ‘inaccurate’ in his understanding of God’s true (original) motivation and purpose.  And Moses was noted to have spoken to God face-to-face, and was also his friend???

Oh my…

And that, dear saints, is the consideration I wish to present to you this very summery Central Coast Saturday…

Think about it…

And then think about it some more...

Amen.

Comment

Midweek Reflections

Comment

Midweek Reflections

Hell No, This Isn’t All Part Of God’s Plan! (so let’s stop blaming Him for it…)

…thoughtfully expressed by Joseph B. Ostrander

Have well-intentioned family, friends or Christian acquaintances ever told you, “It’s all part of God’s plan” when you were going through a particularly difficult circumstance? 

But is it, really?  Is all the bullshit-of-life part of God’s plan?  Part of His methodology of developing some element of character in us that is incapable of being accomplished apart from the severely negative—and oft times tragic—situations we all deal with in this transitory existence?

Looking back at the times people have said this to me in the midst of suffering, I find myself scratching my head in mild befuddlement that people would believe such a perverted thing…

Such an insensitive and trite response fails to bring anyone any comfort, and impugns the very character of a Loving God that I’ve more fully embraced in my later-in-life theological suppositions.

The idea that a loving God would “plan” to kill thousands of victims in natural disasters, or give people cancer, or cause parents to lose children, or be involved in car accidents, trauma, abuse, and all manner of pain and suffering, is, in all honesty, a truly insane idea…

Think about it: if this is all “according to God’s plan” and every life event is being directed and controlled by Him, wouldn’t you agree that He’s really bad at making plans???

In some of the saddest seasons of loss clueless people have tried to comfort the suffering by claiming, “Of course we’ll never really understand God’s plans.”

Well didn’t Job’s comforters also try to convince him of this: some fixed cosmic principle of divine cause-and-effect?

And how could such plans involving so much heartache be truly understood?

Let’s not be too harsh on them; we can understand what’s being attempted when such things are said.  We’re trying to make ourselves or others feel better, and/or trying to make sense of deep sadness and suffering.  But really, is this the best way we know how to assuage such things?

Is it merely a poor attempt to believe that all manner of suffering was planned by God, and thus must have some deeper and mysterious beauty about it that is yet undiscovered??? 

Ouch.

Sometimes people conclude God planned the suffering for our benefit.  Other times we are tricked into believing God planned the suffering to chastise us for not measuring up…

No matter how it’s rationalized or explained, we end up at the same spot: if it truly is all part of God’s plan, God must be the author and cause of evil and suffering.

As well-meaning and desperate for answers we may be, trying to fit all of the tragedies and sadness of life into some supposed master plan that God orchestrates actually creates far more problems than it solves.  I do feel that any theological notion making God out to be the agent of causation for our suffering ought to be strongly questioned, if not outright rejected.  This includes the idea that God has a giant master plan where everything that happens in life is divinely willed and preordained.

{sigh…}

Instead of trying to express that God has a “divine plan,” can we consider that God has a divine desire—or a certain will—driven by a divine motivation forged by an unchanging heart?  And that this will, this desire, and this heart is always love?  Can it ever be anything but love?

This means that whatever God wills, and whatever God desires to bring into reality, is always beautiful and never evil…

Ever.

God does not will every iteration of human heartache and suffering.  God doesn’t will human loss, or the broken chapters we experience in this life…

Those ugly, distorted, broken things have nothing to do with God, and are far outside His good, perfect and pleasing will…

Here’s a thought: instead of trying to rationalize suffering as being from the hand of God—thus making God complicit in the bullshit-of-life—shouldn’t we be quicker to acknowledge that, no, a lot of what we experience in life isn’t God’s plan at all...

And honestly, let’s stop blaming God for some really horrible and tragic life events.  Do you imagine it makes Him feel good when we actually believe He caused so-and-so’s car accident, or sent that destructive tornado, or gave cancer to our loved one in order to fulfill a divine version of His own twisted “plan”???

Heaven forbid!

If we acknowledge that the really hard and sad bullshit-of-life events do not come from the hand of God—neither are they planned by nor ordained by God—doesn’t it encourage us into a deeper relationship with a God who joins us in the midst of our suffering (Immanuel), instead of causing it?

Because, dear Coastlands saints, if it’s outside God’s unchanging heart and desires, God grieves that loss and brokenness with us—because it’s also His hopes and dreams for our lives that end up getting smashed as well

I can’t have a relationship with a god or demiurge who comes along side me in sadness and suffering and tritely intones, “Just trust me that I have my reasons for making your world explode.”

But I can risk having a growing relationship with a God who sits beside me and says, “Yeah, Joseph…this whole thing totally sucks...”

Instead of concluding God has a master plan meticulously dictating and controlling what happens in our lives (often referred to as blueprint theology), I believe God has beautiful hopes, dreams, and desires for each of our lives.  When those things come true, He rejoices and celebrates with us.  But when those hopes and dreams get smashed to bits, instead of saying “Oh, by the way—I actually did that,” I believe God sits in the dark and mourns those broken dreams with us…

And when our tears have dried enough to hear His voice again clearly, I’m convinced God also whispers, “And I know this can’t replace your loss, but when you’re ready, I’d love to partner with you to try to make something good come out of all this…”

Think about it…

Amen.

Comment

I'm back...

Comment

I'm back...

Midweek Meditations…penned after a brief hiatus by Joseph B. Ostrander

“The fawning etiquette of unctuous prayer (attempting to charm or convince somebody in an unpleasantly suave, smug, or smooth way) is utterly foreign to the Bible. Biblical prayer is impertinent, persistent, shameless, indecorous. It is more like haggling in an oriental bazaar than the polite monologues of the churches.”   ~Fresno Pacific Seminary Professor

At the most recent nitty-gritty Sandbox session on Friday, May 26th, Chris encouraged the participants to ‘dig deeper’ into the concept of Living Loved... 

But what does that look like for the average Coastlands saint, myself included?  Do we actually feel ‘loved’ by this God that is portrayed in the ‘love’ epistle of the New Testament, First John, and act like we actually believe it?

It’s easy to express a jaunty bit of confidence in the theoretical theological notion of the incredibly expansive and expressive element of divine love when the circumstances of our lives seem to be, well, ‘rosy’…

And I must confess, I’m at a very good place…

Not a perfect place by any stretch of the imagination; not a life devoid of entropy, limitations, financial challenges, relational challenges, etc., but a good place nonetheless…

I’m employed fulltime now in a vocational field that I’m very passionate about: the wine industry.  I just celebrated my eldest son’s engagement party (I was the bartender), where the pending bride and groom brought together their divorced family members from both sides, as well as other friends.  Yeah.  I feel there was some spiritual mojo at work during the event where evidence, however slight, of healing and blessing were detectable (I was included in this phenomena). 

There are other blessings I’ve enjoyed that add to that proverbial ‘rosy’ outlook sometimes attributed to the brilliant garnet hue of a fine Rhone style GSM blend, but all kidding aside, life for me is good.  And this goodness (blessedness) is not something that I’ve earned, or even deserved.  I do feel, however, that it is a way God lavishes this elusive element of divine love upon His saints simply because we are truly loved…

{sigh}

During the Sandbox discussions, I somewhat ‘boldly’ exclaimed that God wants to bestow upon us the blessings of the ‘whole enchilada’ pertaining to life and godliness.  Yeah.  God wants to slather us (1John 3:1) in divine verde or roja sauce simply because He loves us deeply.  But I think my reference to the whole enchilada was limited: He also wants to serve up all the sides; rice and beans; chips and salsa; flan for dessert; and also toss in a few cervezas too!  Heck, it could be there is a divine Mexican smorgasbord provided for us here during our earthly sojourn that we only get a whiff of now-and-then, but the enticing aromas stimulate the senses and get us salivating for the Wedding Supper of the Lamb (1Peter 2:2-3 and Revelation 19:9).  What a divine bacchanalia that will be!

And so dear saints I will leave you with this encouragement from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the church of Ephesus: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”  ~Ephesians 3:17-19

Think about it…

Amen.

Comment

Good Friday Reflections

Comment

Good Friday Reflections

solemnly scrawled by Joseph B. Ostrander

About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani? (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).  Matthew 27:45-46

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?   Psalm 13:1-2

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.   Proverbs 13:12

It is an almost universal experience during every dear saint’s faith journey that they would at some point feel alienated from the God they claim fealty to…

I certainly am not the exception to being susceptible to such feelings of abandonment.  My plight seemingly of little or no concern to our Heavenly Father.  My situation of no significance to The Almighty.  My petitions ignored.  My dire circumstances unchanged, or worse, escalating to even greater seriousness…

Yes.  I have been there rather frequently without a clue about what is really happening behind the heavenly scenes that are like a bronze barrier of impenetrable density…

“Why have I been forsaken, O Lord?”

Although I can commiserate with other saints going through similar challenges, I cannot come up with satisfactory Christianese platitudes sufficient to assuage the feelings of fear, panic, and abandonment that are the common visceral human reactions to being overwhelmed and helpless in the face of negative circumstances…

{sigh}

Our frailty, vulnerability, and dependence upon a divine source can be one of the most uncomfortable elements of our human existence and self-awareness…

{sigh x2}

“...and give us dependent saints our fresh bread for this day and all days thereafter; all things pertaining to life and godliness: food, shelter, clothing, transportation, health, safety, finances, family and friends…and every Rhema word that proceeds from Your mouth, O Lord…”

Amen.

Comment

Midweek Reflections

Comment

Midweek Reflections

March 22, 2016

thoughtfully penned by Joseph Ostrander

“Our Most Holy Abba…forgive us our billion dollar trespasses and debts, as we forgive those niggling trespasses, and nickel-and-dime debts owed us…”

As the volunteer blog provocateur and amateur theologian, I should be very upfront about this disclaimer: I am the last one that should be writing a post on the subject of forgiveness.  Yet it seems an appropriate topic on this last week of Lent…

As we approach Good Friday and the gruesome centrality of our Christian faith, the Calvary Cross, my theological assessment is this: the cross is no longer the place where Jesus paid the price for my sin(s) to a debt demanding God the Father that ordered, and required His Son’s sacrificial death.  Instead, I envision the cross as the place where Jesus suffered the effects of all of humanity’s collective besetting sinfulness—dramatically acted out as the sin of scapegoating violence...

The wrath Jesus assuaged by His death was ours, not God the Father’s.  The violent price He paid was the consequence of accurately reflecting the character of His Father, and doing and speaking only what the Father truly represented.  He embodied the heart of His Father without compromise, living out the truth and refusing to play religious or political games with those that wielded earthly authority.  Because He ran counter to the world system He came to boldly expose, He paid the ultimate cost, but it was not the result of God the Father’s judicial sentence, it was literally at the hands of a blind, sickly, deceived, conflicted, weak and needy humanity…

I used to believe that God’s required default response to sin was punishment, avoidable only by the horrid transaction of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross.  At this later-in-life theological phase of my faith journey, I now am passionately convinced that God has only one response to the worst collective sin ever committed: forgiveness, full and free…

Whoa Ostrander…what is it you’re suggesting???

Look at it this way:

Humanity commits the worst atrocity it is guilty of: it murders the innocent Immanuel in the most despicable and denigrating way possible.  It is the apogee of conniving, wicked, expedient and wanton human violence.  And how does Immanuel respond?  Even as nails are being driven into his flesh, Jesus responds by crying out: “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing!”

And then Jesus surprises everyone by returning from the grave, and what does He announce?  Jesus announces not righteous vengeance and the divine threat of punishment, but shalom.  Peace.  He absorbs the worst of humanity’s sin and declares peace and forgiveness…

But that is a deeper topic for another rumination…

What I want to address is our response to emulating our Lord and Savior’s attitude: forgiving those that have offended us or withheld restitution for wrongs done to us…

Ouch.

Yet the very nature of The Lord’s Prayer has this interesting nuance to it: it is a prayer outline in the plural tense…

Yeah.  It is a prayer that is a collective set of affirmations and petitions that contains the accumulated weight of all the saints, living and dead, throughout the history of the Church; the ecclesia, the “called out ones”

It reverses the angry mob's demand of, "Crucify Him!" that we can also be tempted to cry out in response to those that have wronged us...

As difficult as the process of forgiveness can be for the individual saint, the very saint that has endured the worst-of-the-worst of human trespasses does not approach the prospect alone and overwhelmed…

The central character of the Godhead, forgiveness, is not the impossible task demanded by an aloof and distant deity.  No.  But let’s not minimize the reality: forgiveness is the most difficult of godly qualities that each saint must choose to wrestle with as we, collectively, release anew the initial, “Father forgive them!” heart cry of our dying Savior that He declared to a dark and needy world on that original Good Friday two millennia ago…

“Our Most Holy Abba…forgive us our billion dollar trespasses and debts, as we forgive those niggling trespasses, and nickel-and-dime debts owed us…”

And help me, O Lord, in my weakness, as I join with all the saints in this most difficult of godly qualities You have asked us to participate in: forgiving others as You have forgiven us…

Think about…

Amen.

Comment

A Renamed Parable about a Prodigal Father

Comment

A Renamed Parable about a Prodigal Father

Painting: The Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni (1773)

From the Theologically Fertile Mind of Joseph B. Ostrander

Tuesday’s Theological Tidbits…Scripture Text: Luke 15:11-32

Over at InternetMonk, Chaplain Mike has posted a very thought-provoking review of the Parable of the Prodigal Son from the vantage point of the Father’s extravagant love, grace, joy, restoration, reception, celebration, etc.

The almost archaic word prodigal, rarely used in polite conversation except when referring to the well-known parable that includes this descriptive of the younger son in the story, carries with it the negative connotations associated with Jesus’ illustration.

When we hear it what comes to mind?  Wasteful?  Self-indulgent?  Rebellious?  Wild?  Raucous?  Profligate?  Reckless?  Do images of wild partying, debauchery, spending lavishly on experiencing sensual pleasure and new thrills paint a picture of someone wasting their money?  Someone who doesn’t care about the incredible toll loose living takes on reputations, health, relationships?  Someone who besmirches the family reputation and doesn’t seem to care?

But prodigal doesn’t just refer to its negative side.  The word itself is related to the term prodigious, which speaks of something that is extraordinary in size, amount, or extent.  Both of these words speak of being excessive.  To be prodigal means to be extravagant, liberal, generous, lavish.

When used in the negative sense, it can describe someone who is wasteful or recklessly extravagant; someone who is willing to spend everything they’ve got on their own pleasure.

However, when used in the positive sense, it expresses the lavishness of someone who goes far beyond what anyone would expect to bless others with. 

Don’t you think that’s what this parable is really about?  The behavior of the younger son seems to be understood, even expected.  What, in your opinion, is so uncharacteristic about the younger son’s selfish attitude?  Is there any exaggeration found in Jesus’ description of the prodigal’s actions?  It seems the situation of the prodigal is a good representation of the default condition of all mankind…

This parable then, seems to be more about a prodigal father than an impudent, selfish son.  It’s not so much about a son who willingly wastes his inheritance, but of a father who gives everything lavishly to the ones he loves.  It’s not about the reckless child, but about a devoted father who thinks, “It doesn’t matter…you’re still my child…I’ll always love you…you’ll always be welcome in our home.”

Let’s revisit what the prodigal father does in this story:

His youngest son insults him, and breaks his heart by asking for his inheritance early.  What does the prodigal father do?  He simply gives it to him.  Why?  It might be an early indication of what kind of father he is.  This father is a giver; generous; forbearing; and long-suffering to a fault.  And perhaps he suspects that this impetuous son will only learn life’s harsh lessons through his own willfulness and not by parental rules or discipline.

And when the son had fallen flat on his face and had spent everything and decided the only thing he could do was return home, what did the father do?  “While he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him...”

Wow.  Doesn’t that ruffle a few parental feathers out there in the Coastlands readership?  C’mon now, no need to pretend it doesn’t smack of being too soft on sin, right?

What?  No parental guidelines ala Dr. James Dobson that prescribe tough love?  Love must be tough, right?  No wishy-washy, namby-pamby, lavish party reception for the prodigal’s return, correct?  You’ve got to set up conditional rules, and the groveling returned must prove to you their real sincerity before trust can ever be re-established, yes?

Of course dear saints, we mustn’t expect a Heavenly Father to be so ‘reckless’, or even clueless, when dealing with sinful humanity, correct?  Jesus was simply being facetious when reciting this parable to the crowds within earshot, right???

This story portrays a prodigal father—a loving, gracious, expectant generous, extravagant father.  He is not one sitting at home keeping score in a ledger of pluses and minuses.  He’s not pacing and fuming red-faced, looking out the window for his scoundrel son to come home so that he can read him the riot act and make him repay every penny wasted.  No!  He doesn’t say a word about the shameful details.  He brushes off any hint that his returning son will have to do penance for his actions.  The father’s arms are opened wide.  His tears and laughter are genuine and abundant.  He’s ready to throw a party!  All that matters is that the boy has come home, and the father is willing spend lavishly to celebrate the reunion…

This father represents the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and this is the kind of Father He is.  Our Heavenly Father is a prodigal God, an extravagant God, a lavish and generous God who wants nothing more than for each of us to know we are loved and welcomed into His house.  It doesn’t matter what we’ve done, how we’ve insulted Him, or how we’ve failed to be good children…our Heavenly Father comes running out to us with arms opened wide, and rejoices that we’ve come home and are now safe and sound….

Think about it…

Amen.

Comment

Sandbox #2 Excavations

Comment

Sandbox #2 Excavations

Friday, February 26, 2016

Sandbox #2

Reflections by Joseph Ostrander

The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us, and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone.  ~George Eliot

During round 2 of our Friday night theological cogitations of expanding cerebral dimensions, Chris once again challenged our scriptural understanding of how much of the Old Testament is nested within the New Testament.  Chris reminded us that Jesus never deviated from the Old Testament scriptural identifiers that pointed to Himself.  He self-identified with the direct prophetic references of the coming Messiah, but there were also other scriptural themes that were woven throughout the story of redemption from Genesis to Malachi.  We discovered a richness, and substantial mentions of God’s redemptive motivations, hope-filled descriptions, powerful imagery, and restorative, counter-curse workings that provided a critical back-story first for the Children of Israel, and then to the gentiles that were to share in the promises of the Christ, Jesus (Eph 3:6).

As one of the many other reflective Christians that wrestle with the supposed incongruities of how God in the Old Testament expressed Himself, versus the full revelation of The Father through His Son, Jesus, in the New Testament, I have made the following observations and conclusions about certain “taken for granted” fundamentals of the scriptural narrative.  I believe the writers of the Genesis accounts (chapters 1-11), were writing from the perspective of explaining the way things were at the time they penned these accounts, not from the perspective of a literal, chronological sequence of events.  And they were not attempting to construct a history book that required a rigid acceptance of arcane elements and depictions of the story as the Mount Ararat of Christian orthodoxy to die upon.  They were simply weaving a poetic and mythical account (not devoid of divine orchestration) of humankind’s ‘story’ up to the point of Israel’s national and religious history when the origin mythos was finally codified.  The entire narrative taken from the perspective of the origins of the Chosen People and how Yahweh called them forth to be His own.  As such, trying to extract more from the accounts, especially from a gentile perspective, does a disservice to the writers’ intent, as well as making a proverbial Mount Ararat out of the general mythical narrative molehill. 

1.  Adam and Eve: I understand the importance of adam (the man), and the woman, later named eve (the mother of all the living), as symbolic and not literal.  And their significance is of greater importance to the identity of the Children of Israel than the gentiles.   The story of the man, adam, is much more general when read in the original language, for then we see the wordplay and understand what the names mean.  The story is about an entity called “Mankind” that lived in the “Garden of Delight”.  God takes a part of the man’s side to fashion woman, whom Mankind called “Living”.  In the Garden of Delight with Mankind and Living, God plants the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  If we look more closely at the story, we see that “Adam”, or Mankind, is not meant to be understood as a literal person, but as a name for people in general.  The story says that God created them male and female, and called their name adam (that is, mankind) in the day when they were created (see Gen 5:2 and 1:27).

Here is the ‘genesis’ of the story of God’s selection of a people that would acknowledge Yahweh and His original design to inhabit the Edenic paradise (the promised land) that He planted/established.  And the dramatic expulsion from The Garden due to the disobedience of the man and the woman is the very theme the writers of the Genesis accounts had in mind during the Babylonian exile when they decided to rediscover, and compile the oral traditions and scarce, unconnected snippets of texts into cohesive historical documents. 

See: When was Genesis Written and Why Does it Matter?  A Brief Historical Study by Peter Enns https://biologos.org/uploads/resources/enns_scholarly_essay3.pdf

2.  The Flood: I do not subscribe to the geo-physical assertions of a worldwide flood as claimed by Young Earth Creationists (YEC).  I do believe the Noah account is the Jewish version of the well-known Middle Eastern flood myths that contained similarities in their oral traditions.  These cultural versions preserved major elements of the flood stories passed down from elder story tellers to younger recipients.  I do believe they are all related to extensive, but localized, flood events that occurred during the last Great Ice Age (or more accurately, the last glacial period), roughly 100,000-12,000 years ago.  There is now compelling evidence for many gigantic ancient floods where glacial ice dams failed time and again; at the end of the last glaciation, giant ice-dammed lakes in Eurasia and North America repeatedly produced huge floods.  In Siberia, rivers spilled over drainage divides and changed their courses.  England’s fate as an island was sealed by erosion from glacial floods that carved the English Channel.  These were not global deluges as described in the Genesis story of Noah, but were more focused catastrophic floods taking place throughout the world, especially in the Northern Hemisphere.  They likely inspired stories like Noah’s in many cultures, passed down through the generations.

As with the opening scene of Adam and Eve expelled from The Garden of Eden, yet preserved and provided for, Noah’s story repeats the preservation of a ‘chosen’ clan of eight that survives a catastrophic flood and repopulates the earth anew; they inherit a new promised land cleansed of sin and evil.  This theme ultimately reaches its zenith in the story of Moses, The Exodus, and eventual conquest of the land of Canaan.

Natural events, such as the flood accounts, can be viewed as punishment from angry gods exercising their power through the dramatic forces of nature.  Writers of the Genesis account interpreted the influential flood stories, with a common violent imagery, as Yahweh’s wrath literally being poured out upon all of sinful ‘mankind’.  But the story of Israel’s past, present and future was always intimately connected to a faithful remnant, and Yahweh’s covenants (Edenic, Adamic, Noahic, Abrahamic, and ultimately, the Mosaic and Davidic promises).

I attempt to reconcile the wrath of God as described in the Old Testament, to be caused by a religious misunderstanding, and misrepresentation of God's character due to Israel’s collective guilt and identity, along with their perspective of their divinely chosen statusnot a divinely dictated description of God’s violent nature, vengeful motivation and hardened heart towards all of mankind.

No, Virginia, there was no global flood whose architect was an angry, remorseful deity that decided ‘mankind’ was not redeemable.  And no, I don’t believe there could have been a more wicked human condition long ago than exists today.  Also, God was willing to wipe out all the innocent animals too?  Just on a whim?  Wow.  Don’t you sense a dramatic dose of hyperbole in the Gen 6:1-7 prelude?  How could society exist if all of its citizens harbored evil thoughts and inclinations in their hearts all the time?  And why would Jesus paint a rather rosy picture of that generation in Matt 24:38: “For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark”?  Feasting?  Marrying and giving in marriage?  Actually preserving social structure/order?  No mention of the gross sins of Sodom and Gomorrah?  Or was He merely trying to make a deliberate comparison to His present generation that would soon suffer the complete destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. by the Romans?

Think about it…

Amen.

Comment

Midweek Medley (cont'd)

Comment

Midweek Medley (cont'd)

By Joseph Ostrander

Hey there Coastland’s saints, what do you say to a rabbit trail conversation about miscellany theological notions that this blog provocateur considers further food-for-thought?

Since we have been reviewing the divine Personhood of God the Father, its focus has been a catalyst to help us better understand, and appreciate, the amazing qualities and characteristics of Abba God…

Throughout the Old and New Testament writings, vivid relational imagery and references help the reader better grasp the nature and motivations of a God that can be more mystery than direct revelation…

Is it any wonder then that Jesus referred to Yahweh as His Heavenly Father and invited us to also identify with this Divine Parental Deity that Jesus said He represented perfectly?

Within the unique scope of the Family of God there are simultaneously individual and corporate identities we are given which have scriptural references that help define our relationship(s) with a Heavenly Father (Mat 6:9; Gal 4:6); a fraternal Jesus (Rom 8:29); a familial bond with the communion of saints (Gal 6:10; 1Thes 4:9-11); and the somewhat more abstract corporate/collective identities as the church (Greek: ἐκκλησία ekklēsia), and the wife/bride of the Lamb (Rev 21:9; Rev 19:7; Rev 21:2; Rev 22:17).

God has created us as unique individuals that will enjoy a very private relationship/identity with the Godhead (Rev 2:17), as well as being corporate members of Christ’s body (Eph 5:23; Col 1:18).  Here is where the corporate identities of being The Church, The Body of Christ, and The Bride become a grander element in the relational recognition that the New Testament writers alluded to in their imagery.

As much as I can individually identify as a child/son of a Heavenly Father, and a brother of Jesus by divine adoption, there is no way for me to self-identify as The Church, The Body of Christ, or The Bride of Christ…

Bear with me.  As some of you may recognize, I can be somewhat theologically theoretical in my ponderings.  And sharing my perspectives in this blog is only meant to provoke additional thought about some common Protestant Evangelical teachings that attempt to convert corporate identity into individual identity.  There are popular Christian teachings/ministries that have taken the corporate identity of the Bride of Christ and run down a rather lengthy doctrinal rabbit trail with it.  There are some elements of such teachings that emphasize the romantic elements of husband/wife intimacy in how we can, or should, relate to Jesus as the Bridegroom.  I am not one of those so convinced.  My personal theological understanding is this: “I” am not The Church.  “I” am not The Body of Christ.  And, you probably guessed it by now, “I” am not The Bride of Christ either.  “I” simply cannot be, nor can I expect to glean any individual realization that rests exclusively within the unique corporate relationship God has with His saints…

And therein lies the crux of the issue: being the church/body/bride is a corporate identity from God’s perspective, not ours.  Is it any wonder Paul rightly concludes that Christ’s Headship over The Church is a profound mystery (Eph 5:32)?  I personally do not relate to Jesus in a ‘bromance’ sorta way, nor do I feel I am missing out on what some claim to be the ‘deeper’ experiences/dimensions of divine love.  And there are other elements of corporate versus individual identity that I understand this way: some divine promises and expressions the Godhead has determined to be experienced are solely corporate in nature and cannot be claimed as individual precedents or expectations.  There are corporate blessings and giftings and workings that are not within the scope of an individual saint’s purview.   Just my personal theological perspectives folks…so please don’t confuse them with the final word about such disputable theoretical considerations (Phil 3:14-16).

Think about it…

Amen.

Comment

Midweek Medley

Comment

Midweek Medley

By Joseph Ostrander

A new Hulu Original programming feature, 11.22.63, debuted recently, and I was curious to view it.  The storyline is based on the novel with the same title by famous author Stephen King.  The premise is an intriguing science fiction “what if?” time travel journey back to the day that former President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas November 22, 1963.  During the first episode, there are a few flashback conversations between the 2 primary characters that fill in the philosophical “butterfly effect” backstory about the time traveling possibilities of saving President Kennedy from being shot. 

Why do I refer to this well-crafted 8-part thriller?  It has to do with the aging diner owner, Al Templeton, that waxes eloquent about John Kennedy’s potential as a savior-like political figure that could have set America upon a nobler, and militarily restrained path where the travesty of the Vietnam War could have been avoided.  Templeton, a Vietnam veteran, deems this one possibility to save the lives of fellow servicemen the driving force behind convincing James Franco’s character to enter the “rabbit-hole” closet in Templeton’s diner and attempt to change the course of history.

And the real time connection I want to make is what you may ask?

Well now fellow American citizens who are spectators of the ongoing Presidential election campaigns being held this year, what can we identify with Al Templeton’s passionate, but simplistic and idealistic perspectives of how one man’s charisma would be sufficient to set aright one or more perceived “wrongs” that plague our nation?  Templeton viewed Kennedy as a man of sound reason and sufficient political influence to protect America from wandering down the wrong paths of whatever it is you may also feel America is headed toward (fill in the blank _________)...

Kennedy, a flawed man that harbored a darker and less visible secret life while projecting a vibrant public one, represents all that is wrong with the celebrity status of American politicians and the savior-like hopes voters put in such men and women today.  And the conflicts it raises for sincere Christian believers trying to vote their consciences with the diverse choices being offered can cause major headaches of political proportions…

{sigh}

How do I sort through the myriad of seemingly contradictive political platforms and promises made by candidates of every red-white-and blue stripe?  Simple.  I merely choose the votes that will cancel out the choices I know my ex-spouse would make…

And that fellow Coastlander’s of every political viewpoint and level of civic passion is how this somewhat jaded saint fills out his mail-in ballot when the political rhetoric hits the proverbial campaign fever fan in this polyglot, pluralistic nation known formally as these United States of America…

Think about it…

Amen.

P.S. and don't forget to vote!

Comment

God Our Heavenly Father: What is He Really Like?

Comment

God Our Heavenly Father: What is He Really Like?

Reflections by Joseph Ostrander

As we embark on the new teaching series about God the Father I most certainly can appreciate the broad spectrum of reactions that such a teaching can evoke.  If, as Chris pointed out, only Jesus knows the Father and those that Jesus chooses to make the divine introduction and connection, there could be some surprising discoveries awaiting us ‘round the next bend of Coastland’s gently flowing community river…    

If Jesus perfectly mirrored the Father’s character, and if He accurately expressed the deepest feelings of our Heavenly Father towards us in the Lord’s Prayer, then the meandering downriver pace we will be taking over the course of the next few weeks should allow us plenty of time to unpack the grander implications of this enigmatic Person of the Trinity Jesus claimed to represent perfectly…

I do believe this particular journey of discovery is unlike the teachings about the person of Jesus and the Holy Spirit we were recently blessed with, because “The God-Father” seems to have suffered the stigma of all the generic misconceptions of who God really is.  God the Father gets the bad rap for all the wrath, and natural “acts” of calamity and destruction that can be ascribed to His impatient and disappointed attitude towards the obstinate and disobedient human race.  It is this god-father that you best respect, blindly obey and whose perceived enemies are now your enemies…

Unfortunately, those non-believing critics that decry the angry, lightning bolt throwing caricature of a mob boss or bad-cop vengeful deity can be the better judges of divine character than those hyper-judgmental Christians that not only insist their god is Judge, Jury and Uber-Executioner, but they take vicarious glee in expecting to be granted front-row seats to a divine bloodbath that exceeds the most gruesome movie or video game reenactment of Armageddon 10.0!  It has always struck me as the ultimate irony that many of these hyper-judgmental Christians also condemn those very same violent and gruesome movies and video games as being ‘demonic’ and desensitizing…

Yeah…go figure…

{sigh}

This theological dissonance is being addressed in this current series on the Heart of our Heavenly Father.  It is very timely and a much needed review of who this deity is that Jesus claimed to know perfectly, and an oft misunderstood Father that Jesus wishes to properly introduce us to…

As one of my more profound theological Ostrander corollaries states: “Our degree (level) of trust we have in God will be directly proportional to what we believe about Him.”

Think about it...

Amen.

Comment

Do Dinosaurs Go To Heaven?

Comment

Do Dinosaurs Go To Heaven?

Thursday Theological Triflings by Joseph Ostrander

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. ~Isaiah 11:6

The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the Lord.  ~Isaiah 65:25

Okay imaginative Coastlanders, put on your theological thinking caps with me as we go back in time to the beginnings, or the Genesis of creation (no matter how you understand it), and consider an interesting premise that Bethany Sollereder’s article posted in BioLogos raises…

Hmmm…

Context: this intriguing consideration visits the theological implications about the pain and suffering of the non-human animal kingdom with regards to evolution.  Is the claim that human sin (The Fall) is responsible for all animal pain and suffering?  Does our faith in a loving and redeeming Creator God suggest that the pain and suffering of the natural world will ultimately be redeemed in the eschaton (the “last thing” or the end—Christ’s return)?

Many sincere animal lovers have pondered: “Will our beloved pet dogs/cats/rodents be with us in heaven?”  The question is raised because we want to know if we will be reunited with our beloved pet dog Rex, or our cat Mrs. Finicky, or our pet rodent Ratatouille again.  Important as this is, the question has more profound theological implications than meets the eye.  If God’s creative process was ‘crafted’ evolution over the course of millions-of-years, it means countless creatures have suffered throughout the eons in a competitive struggle for life.  I happen to believe in a wild, raw earth that was in existence long before Mankind appeared on the scene.  If animal suffering was not due to human sin, because they lived long before humans were around, how are we to understand their suffering?  And what does God’s love and redemption mean for both the hunter and the prey in a violent world we observe today?

The theological consideration that death is not the end for non-human animals—that heaven or the new creation awaits them as well—is not new.  However, the common objection raised that animals don’t have souls does invite deeper discussion.

What constitutes a soul?  Following the works of Aristotle and Aquinas, all living creatures were thought to have a vegetative soul, while creatures that moved around had an animal soul too, and that only humans had a rational soul (or self-awareness).  It was thought that the animal and vegetative souls could not exist apart from the body.  So, when creatures with only these died, the entire soul ceased to exist.  Only rational souls—independent from the body—could survive death.  Therefore, only humans could experience life-after-death in heaven and enjoy being a new creation because only humans had some part of themselves that survived after physical death.  The existence of non-human souls was never really a question; the debate was whether they were the kind of souls that could survive death.

Can we challenge the rational soul requirement just for the sake of argument?  Two thoughts come to mind; 1) can other types of non-human souls survive death; and 2) could the ancient Greek understanding of soul hierarchy be deficient?  If so, then human and non-human creatures have some other body/soul composition.  Ancient Near Eastern thinkers viewed life this way, and it is reflected in Old Testament writings.  In Genesis 2:7 when God breathes life into the inanimate human form, it becomes nephesh, or a “living being.”  Humans are sculpted dirt that breathes.  Yet, other creatures are also called nephesh.  All the land and sea creatures created in the first chapter of Genesis (1:21, 1:24) and also the other creatures that the adam (the man) names in the second chapter (2:19) are called by this term.  There is greater continuity in Hebrew thought between the essential composition of human and non-human beings—all are understood as air breathing and made from the dust of the earth—and consequently there is a greater possibility of thinking they can enjoy being part of the new creation as well.  The Isaiah passages at the beginning of this post describe the wolf, leopard, lion, lamb, goat, yearling, serpent, ox, and child all co-inhabiting the messianic kingdom.  This can be understood as poetic imagery of a restored Paradise, but it could also imply they are the “same stuff” as we are and if we can survive death, so can they.

Curious consideration, no?  But what animals would be welcomed into the new life?  Some theologians, like C. S. Lewis and John Polkinghorne, considered the scope of redemption is in relation to humans.  Through contact with humans, non-human animals are brought into the sphere of redemption offered to humans.  Pets, for example, become part of the household or part of the fabric of life people, and that grants them a place in the new world since redemption for that human requires those creatures.  The argument is this: “Heaven would not be heaven without my dog, so my dog must be there with me.”

Is it a comforting thought that beloved pets will rejoin us in heaven?  But if creatures are only redeemed through direct relationship with humans, most likely it means no dinosaurs will be there.  Shucks.  Or any of the countless life forms that once flourished and are now extinct.  Not only would the new creation be poorer for lacking these wondrous creatures, but there would still be nothing to say about God’s attitude toward those animals that suffered all that pain with no afterlife to gain.

What do I think?  No matter if you believe in a guided evolutionary process over millions of years, or if you believe in a young earth and the impact of mankind’s sin that left a pox on the animal kingdom, will animals be included in the “restoration of all things”?  I believe that everything God has created that we limited humans are totally clueless about (think of the size of the universe and every living thing we have no knowledge of) was originally intended for us to discover throughout the eternities.  It could be there will be living examples of every critter that God has fashioned: every bug, every ant, every bacterium, every plant, and every pterodactyl.  Numerous unspoiled living museums of every living thing in its unique ecosystem/habitat.  Heck, why not?  There is no reason to think that there will be a lack of space, or resources, or human caretakers.  To include all living beings in the new creation also places the concept of redemption squarely where it should be: in the redeeming character of God.  Remember, redemption and the new creation was God’s idea in the first place, and it seems to be one of God’s most satisfying expectations.  Shouldn’t all creatures participate in this new life because God loved them into being and included them through His masterful craftsmanship?  Is there any limit to the love of God?

Think about it...

Amen.

Comment

Coast Kids Ministry

Comment

Coast Kids Ministry

By Joseph Ostrander

Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these…”   ~Mark 10:14

Greetings moms and dads of the Coastlands family that have young children attending our Coast Kids Sunday School ministry.  Let me tell you from personal experience, Carrie Ellis, Children’s Ministry Director ‘Extraordinaire’, and the cadre of dedicated volunteers investing their time and talents into your children, are to be duly commended for their combined efforts Sunday mornings.

There is an incredible dynamic occurring ‘behind-the-veil’ (tongue-in-cheek-reference to the stage curtains) that takes place in the sacred space located there while the main service is going on in the gym.  I can attest to the spiritual atmosphere of the Coast Kids assembly, affectionately referred to as controlled chaos, that is not spiritually separated by the functional stage curtain keeping the noise at an acceptable decibel level for the adults out there on the gym floor.  The children are not removed from the communal life of Coastlands Vineyard Church during this time as if they were sequestered apart from the rest of the attendees due to their rambunctious energy and child-like attention spans.  After all, they are children, and they thrive in an organized environment provided by understanding and appreciative adult facilitators who enjoy the flurry of youthful energy, and the unique personalities of each and every child.

I have been blessed, and oft times worn out, from my participation in the children’s ministry; it’s a real privilege.  And I wish to express something about the children I have interacted with during my short time volunteering behind the curtain:

Parents, you have my utmost admiration for the quality of youth you are raising in a very challenging economic, cultural, spiritually dry and sometimes scary world we live in today.  I do not wish to comment only about the generic category of your children simply being ‘good’.  It’s not enough to state that your kids are “good kids”, or “such great kids.”  Here is where I do want to share with you a few of my observations…

As rambunctious as your kids can be, I am amazed that their language is not crude, rude, or filled with expletives.  Really.  In every case of hoarding toys, or tempers raised, or the occasional feelers getting bruised, I have not heard one hateful/hurtful word uttered.  Not one.  And I have not observed any hints of a child being excluded or picked-on by others.  There are no ‘cliques’ or friction between the genders.  Newcomers are instantly welcomed and included in the excitement and energy of the regulars.  And even when your darling angel's behavior needs to be addressed (you know, that very ‘rare’ event), they are respectful of authority and never talk back.  Yup.  I want to commend you on the quality of character that you are investing in your children during the 6 days we don’t get to observe them…

Wow.

Good job parents!

I can honestly say that I truly enjoy your children.  They are an incredible blessing not only to you, but to the rest of the faith community you have chosen to be part of.  I am honored to be a part of their Sunday morning encounter with the Holy Spirit and their peers in a fun-filled, encouraging, and safe environment.

Thank you for the opportunity to let me share in this multi-generational blessing with your children.

Amen.

Comment

Oh my...I've got sand in my shoes!

Comment

Oh my...I've got sand in my shoes!

Reflections by Joseph Ostrander

Friday night found 14 playful souls exploring the parameters of a new theological sandbox Chris assembled for us.

Our inaugural theological theme requiring deeper contemplation and clarification was, at first glance, mere child’s play: what is the gospel?  The topic seems to be a simple exercise in constructing a basic Christian doctrinal definition.  You know, like making the cookie-cutter sand castle using the built-in turret bucket design that provides a ready-made element to our Christian faith foundation.  But after shifting around the sand in our attempts to mold our gospel definitions with our sandbox toys, we discovered there was still more sand beneath the holes we had excavated.  There was much more nuance to our understanding of the gospel than time permitted us to uncover…

One of the most challenging elements of the combined efforts was this: no matter how concise the definitions were about the gospel, it seemed the theological implications were inversely proportional.  Greater theological minds have condensed the extent of the gospel into one or two sentences, but they used words or phrases that still required substantial unpacking, definition, and additional consideration that was not easily recognizable in its original brevity…

I was amazed at the depth and breadth and diverse perspectives shared about what the gospel was, and even more importantly, what the gospel wasn’t.  From what was shared last night, it seems many of the attendees had been exposed to very syncretic versions of the gospel.  There were versions that were basically, ‘bad news’, or get-out-hell-free exhortations, to elements of a positivity themed over-emphasis, or the application of the blood of Jesus as a talisman, or a very narrow gospel of ‘me’ that somehow obligated God to respond more like a slot machine than a Heavenly Father.  In our efforts to construct a more accurate sand castle that better represented what we appreciated about the gospel, we first had to deconstruct what we agreed upon were mischaracterizations of how the gospel had been misused and misrepresented…

Even though I felt I had a good ‘grasp’ of the important elements of the gospel, I left the evening’s considerations with more nuances to contemplate.  There were elements of the gospel presented by the other attendees that were outside the moat of my own carefully fashioned sand castle.  And I do believe that is how it should be.  I will leave you with my own definition of how I understand what the gospel is at this juncture of my spiritual journey (a personal understanding of John 3:16-21):   

For me, the core of what is God’s Good News is found nestled within the most well-known scriptural references where Jesus is having a very heaven-and-earth shaking theological discussion with Nicodemus.  First, God loves the world (cosmos).  All of creation is what God loves and never stopped loving.  Next is the clincher for me: God the Father did not send Jesus on a mission of condemnation as a divine fire insurance agent.  Jesus was not the stern moralist proclaiming God’s loathing of the sin-stained human species and the collateral damage to the earth and the rest of creation, or the stored up wrath of divine proportions.  There is no fear mongering in the good news; there is no threat of punishment; there is no theological litmus test requirement of having the right understanding of soteriology; there is no hint of going through religious rites/rituals/hoops to be the beneficiary of said good news.  That’s why I consider the good news, well…good…
It’s God’s invitation of a vital, restored relationship with all of mankind where every possible hindrance has been addressed, once-and-for-all removed, completely disarmed, thoroughly rendered null and void, and declared to be the unchanging motivation of God the Father that was signed-sealed-and-delivered through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of His beloved Son, the Christ, Jesus.
No ifs, ands, or buts.  No religious prerequisites.  No fine print.

Think about it…

Amen.

Comment

Renewal

Comment

Renewal

Reflections by Joseph Ostrander

Brandon Silva brought us a passionate message about renewal on Sunday.  Being somewhat of a wordsmith, I made this curious observation about how many English words beginning with the letters “Re” express God’s active work in and through His saints.  Humor me as we traipse through the dictionary and thesaurus in search of such “Re” words as a ‘reminder’ of what God is doing in and through us…

Renewal: Regeneration, Restitution, Rekindling, Revitalization, Rejuvenation, Regeneration, Rebirth, Replenishment, Restoration, Renovation, Reconstruction, Re-creation, Refreshment, Rebuilding, Refurbishment, Reestablishment, Reinstatement, Reworking, Rewiring, Reawakening, Reviving, and Recovery…

I’m sure there are more words you could add to this list.  Such exercises can be a fun ‘review’ of the process of transformation that is a divinely motivated tangible working (ongoing) in and through us.

But the most amazing thing about this process of transformation is this: God invites us to cooperate with His process of renewal in us, and simultaneously to the world around us (the scope of our Good Samaritan neighborhood).  We get to fulfill the good works prepared in advance for us to do, because we are God’s handiwork (Eph 2:10 and Phil 2:13)!  God sets to work as the Expert Craftsman doing all those “Re” definitions in us so we can share in the kingdom expression of good deeds that brighten the day for others and brings glory to the Father (Matt 5:16).  Part of the good news is the fact that such opportunities are always open to us regardless of how we perceive the level of renewal going on within us; we are never disqualified from participating in any good work even if we don’t feel worthy.

At the core of all renewal within us is the key “Re” paradigm: Relationship.  God is extremely excited about restored relationship and the deepening familiarity He continually invites all of us to engage in.  In fact, Paul the Apostle was so excited about the good news of restored relationship that he expressed such a divine privilege this way:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  ~2Corinthians 5:17-21

Think about it…

Amen.

Comment

Longings of a Divine Nature

Comment

Longings of a Divine Nature

From the Theologically Fertile Mind of Joseph B. Ostrander

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.  ~Proverbs 13:12

Continuing with the concepts Chris addressed during Sunday service, I would like to take one or two and run with it awhile in this blog post.

Hmmm…

New Year’s Resolutions: I like how Chris stressed the difference between attempting to accomplish them by sheer force of will, versus the more Zen-like element of simply ‘becoming’…

I know, I know, sounds too much like Eastern mystical vagueness or New Age Pablum, doesn’t it.  Well, saints, as with most every element of human existence removed from the Grand Designer’s intent and purpose, such concepts can be simply peddled as some other inferior light…

How do you respond to the idea that God delights in newness?  God is in the business or newness, or restoration, or re-creation, or the holistic idea of rightness…God wants to put all things aright…

However, God doesn’t want to do so apart from relationship.  God wants to manifest newness within the confines of a dynamic relationship with His creatures made in His image…

He wants us to get as much of a kick out of Him being in the Divine Restoration Business as He does.  I picture the God of Restoration rolling up His sleeves, and whistling while He works, as He carefully makes renovations to the Imago Dei marred by our shame, self-preservation and fear.  Like any skilled craftsman, I envision the Grand Craftsman approaching each individual as a very unique challenge requiring the use of every divine apparatus in His sufficient tool belt of righteousness…

He invites us to participate in this process of renewal, this process of becoming.  Sometimes He delights in asking us to pick this or that tool out of His tool belt appropriate for the purpose.  Sometimes He simply tells us to close our eyes, be very still, and allow Him to proceed with this or that phase of the renovation project without our interference or participation.

Chris shared this scripture with us: “…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  ~Philippians 1:6

Here is where my theological understanding of God’s working in us may not be the common viewpoint.  I believe the current process of renewal at work in us was never meant to be completed, or perfected, in this life.  Furthermore, I believe there will be no instantaneous transformation when we die.  I believe I will be the same person I am at the point of spiritual maturity I have attained to in this life by the time I die.  I will carry over to the other side the level of renewal God has been able to address with my cooperation and that will be how I will arrive in glory.  The process of renewal, completion, transformation, etc. will then continue at a very enjoyable pace since there will be no hindrances to interfere with the process, and there will be an eternity to get it done.  No rush.  No deadlines.  No pressure or expectations.  No static level to arrive at.  No comparisons.  I do believe our experience of becoming all God intended us to be will be dynamic and continuous without end…and He will take great delight in that on-going process as much as we will…

Think about it…

Amen.

P.S. here's a wistful song that expresses a longing I can appreciate, even though it is not a Christian group that sings it.  however, it captures a sense of yearning that I do believe God has instilled into all of us...

enjoy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjm_hBFOW8g

Comment

Is God Love?

Comment

Is God Love?

Ruminations of Joseph Ostrander

What Does God’s Love Really Consist Of?

As with most Sunday messages here at Coastlands, the substance of what was shared should rightly cause us saints to pause, reflect, and review what Betty Frye communicated to us yesterday.

When we attempt to identify with the Almighty as His creatures created in His image, we can over simplify the similarity due to our very limited human experience and capacity to share in the Imago Dei.

Betty did not emphasize this one point that Chris has done on occasions: we are reflections of the divine blueprint that includes the entire spectrum of human emotional capacity.  We feel the full range of emotions at a less intense level than the Almighty does, but we feel them according to a divine privilege by design…

How do we rightly understand what it means when we claim that, “God is Love?”  (cite 1John 4, the love chapter).

Well dear saints, we may do God a disservice by trying to limit our definition of the love of God to the human experience that is a valid one, but limited in scope.

What does ‘love’ consist of?  What does it really look like?  How does that translate into the manner which we engage with others, let alone the Big Guy we also claim allegiance to?

There are very intense feelings of love we humans can experience that are heightened by the masterfully crafted hormones associated with the ‘feelings’ we associate with love (the entire spectrum and not limited by category).

Endorphins, testosterone (both males and females produce it), oxytocin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and phenylethylamine are the biochemical cocktails that stimulate the associated feelings of what we identify as love.

All of this is God’s design of course.  These are the biochemical ingredients God translated into our physiological existence to provide us the means to identify with the divine source of all emotions.

For each of us, the love of God manifests itself in a myriad of ways that I assume are as unique as the personalities He has shaped us into.  How He communicates that element of divine love to us during our spiritual sojourns’ has no single precedent we must all conform to and accept as the norm.  And there are major characteristics of divine love that I cannot fully comprehend: God’s love is consistent, and comprehensive…

There are elements of God’s love that do not translate easily into our human experiential grid.  God’s love does not overwhelm the Source nor the beloved.  We cannot say that God is “madly in love” with His creation, although we cannot fathom the extent of what God’s love is, it doesn’t seem to be the emotional intensity that overwhelms God’s interaction with His creatures.  I do believe that God’s love is the divine core motivation that all other divine emotions are influenced by.  In other words, all other divine emotions that we can imagine are influenced by divine love.  There is no divine emotion that is not detached from love’s inspiration and intensity.  Just as we cannot separate our tripartite human entity of body, soul and spirit, neither can God isolate Himself from the influence of Love as the core element of His motivation toward every element of His creation.

Why do these considerations even warrant this commentary?  Because being convinced of God’s Love and His divine motivation toward us is directly proportional to the degree of trust we have in Him.  The Big Question of why bad things happen to even the most pious saint is beyond the scope of my theological pay grade.  It seems to be a divine enigma that we all must wrestle with this side of the veil.  Not all trials and tribulations are easily categorized as character builders or divine forms of discipline.  Jesus said in this world we will have trouble, and each day has enough trouble of its own.  It’s just like Immanuel to wax pragmatic on the topic while insisting that we, “…take heart!” because He claims to have overcome the world…

Think about it…

Amen.

Comment

Happy New Year!

Comment

Happy New Year!

Reflections by Joseph Ostrander

Happy New Year Coastlanders of all shapes, sizes, differing theological perspectives and the few brave readers of this blog that peruse my witty commentary on all things, well…worthy of consideration I hope…

What about those noble New Year’s Resolutions saints?  Are they promises made with purpose and good intent that have enough personal momentum to actually inspire you to greater goals for the next 12 months?  

Best definition of a New Year’s Resolution: Something that goes in one Year and out the other…

I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions.  Haven’t done so for many, many years.  I don’t like the tradition or the motivation behind them.  Why you ask?  Well, there are some things about mounting a new calendar upon my wall that makes me reflect more on the year that has suddenly ended than the unknown segment of time we categorize as the new year.

Looking back on all the old year’s that have passed, I must admit, there have been moments of personal accomplishment, wisdom gained, spiritual maturity acquired, and the subtle lifestyle adjustments that represent a shift toward making better choices about dealing with the BS of life common to all mankind.

To be more precise, the past 6.5 years of my life have been a concentrated experience of spiritual and emotional whiplash that has propelled me into the healthiest condition of my existence than the previous 54.5 years combined.  But the resulting freedom required an incredible cost; the toll it took on my fragile psyche cannot be minimized.

For those of you that have interacted with me during my graduate school academic adventure, you would not recognize me if you had any contact with me 7 years ago.  I am not the same person.  At least, part of that statement is true.  The truth is that I carry with me the accumulated elements of my past; all the brokenness, bruises, scars, and missing character foundations the Good Lord has deemed inconsequential to His continued providence and preservation which has not prevented what I am being transformed into…

I do believe I am a walking, talking, breathing miracle…

But let’s return to the New Year’s Resolution consideration.  I’ve learned a valuable lesson throughout the tumultuous faith journey I began in earnest 41 years ago; I would be the last person I would want to depend on to make any lasting character improvements during the developing new year…

There will be enough troubles today that will challenge the best of resolutions made and the resulting outcomes.

There but for the grace of God go I…

As the faith community that meets together as Coastlands Vineyard Church, let this be our corporate New Year's resolution: we will be there for one another as fellow members of this faith community and we will reflect the character of our Lord Jesus to those we come into contact with throughout the next 366 days (2016 is a leap year!).  This year we have one extra day to express the Incarnation more fully to the rest of fragile humanity…

Think about it…

Amen.

Comment