The Invisible God Made Visible


Thesis: Christ is the fullness of God made visible. God-invisible-and-unknowable becomes concretized for humanity and creation in the Christ. Love, flourishing and wholeness are the marks of God’s true nature and will for us. As the church, the “Body of Christ”, “the continuation of the incarnation” (my phrase), we are called (and gifted!) to tell that story and bear witness in both our words and our embodied lives.


ALL THINGS exist in Christ - fb.pngPaul is unequivocal that in Jesus, the Christ, the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (Col 1:19). He makes no real attempt to explain the metaphysics. Whether he wasn’t interested, or just recognized the futility, who knows. The closest we get may be John’s prologue:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it…  14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.  (John 1)

The LOGOS of GOD – the word, mind, thoughts, heart, wisdom of God. This has echoes of earlier writings:

Wisdom Speaks:

Proverbs 3:13 Happy are those who find wisdom, and those who get understanding, 14 for her income is better than silver, and her revenue better than gold. 15 She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. 16 Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. 17 Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. 18 She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called happy. 19 The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens; 20 by his knowledge the deeps broke open, and the clouds drop down the dew.

Proverbs 8: 22 The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. 23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. 24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. 25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth— 26 when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil. 27 When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, 28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, 29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, 30 then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, 31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.

Solomon, in writing to his sons, seems to foreshadow the truth of the incarnation. And he recognizes that this Wisdom of God in and by which the worlds came to be is something which can also dwell within and among us. God’s imagining and creating wisdom is not reserved for the divine, but is intended for us to experience and embody.


All things are created in, by and through the Christ, the Logos of God. This Christ became flesh and dwelt among us in Jesus, who fully embodied the Godhead. Again, this is a mystery that must be taken on faith, for the human mind and languages cannot comprehend or explain it.

Created in God’s image, we humans are free to choose how we will use our power. And often we use it to serve ourselves at the exclusion and to the detriment of others. This is the origin of sin and the source of much human suffering. It is the reason we need redemption. We need to be not rescued from an angry God, but reconciled back to God because of the natural consequences of our own individual and collective selfishness.


All things are redeemed in, by and through the Christ, the Logos of God. This Christ was crucified in the flesh in Jesus, and thus the fullness of God entered into, took on, and traveled through the brokenness of humanity. And in so doing, God redeemed our sin and the suffering of all creation, reconciling us to God’s self – “…in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them…” (2 Cor 5). But the work is not yet done.


We are held, and “held together” in the abiding love of God made known in Jesus. We means not just Christians, but all humanity – those who know and believe the story, those who reject it because it has been misrepresented, and those who have never heard it. And not just humanity, but all of creation.

Julian of NorwichJulian of Norwich envisioned this aspect of God as if someone were holding a hazelnut in the palm of her hand, and that small thing represented all of the known universe and the history of humanity past, present and future. Mirabai Starr’s translation is a moving and accessible edition of this writing. Whether a hazelnut, acorn, or something more relevant to your context, the impact is the same – God holds, nurtures, and preserves creation, life, existence itself.


The Works of God are not just something that happened one time, long ago and far away. When Jesus said, “It is finished” he meant his work was done. Our work was just entering a new stage of development as God’s children on earth. Paul goes so far as to say that “in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” Surely he does not intend to imply that anything was imperfect or lacking in God’s ability to redeem Christ’s death to accomplish our reconciliation. Rather, it is the continuing spreading of the message, and the living embodiment of that life, that Paul intends to illustrate here. What was “lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of the church” is in fact that they were time bound – they happened. In the Roman Catholic Mass rite, and in some other traditions, this is addressed by proclaiming that Christ continues to be crucified in the flesh in the mass. For Paul, it was a matter of living sacrificially for the sake of others, so that they could encounter this creating, reconciling, sustaining love of God in Christ for themselves. This is “the continuation of the incarnation” – that we who desire and claim to be followers of Jesus are in point of fact the actual ongoing embodiment of the incarnate Word. This is why Paul offers such stern cautions:  “23 provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven….  28 It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” (Col 1) When we accept as true the hope offered in Christ, and then blaspheme it, we mount up obstacles that hinder others from encountering the living Christ still incarnate in the world. True, God will find a way to work around us to reach people, but 1 Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! 2 It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.”  (Luke 17)

 Let’s say you decided to build a house for your family. You spent months looking at other homes to identify the very best features that will serve to create a wonderful environment for you to live your lives together, and to warmly welcome friends and strangers. You select only the best materials, and hire the most skilled artisans and craftspeople in every field. The lot you select is accessible and connected with neighbors, while providing a sense of peace and security and privacy, all with amazing views and just the right mix of sun and shade. You spare no expense in the construction and take all the time needed to complete every detail with excellence.

Unfortunately, you’re not done, are you? Designing and building the house is just the beginning. For it to become a home, you must occupy it. Eventually, after several years of waiting, you and your family finally move in and occupy a fully furnished home of your dreams that exceeds every expectation and hope you could imagine.

Now you’re finished, right? Well, not actually. You still need to heat and cool it. You need clean water coming in and waste being processed out effectively. And your family needs to eat, so you need some food coming in and being prepared regularly also.abandoned house ohio.JPG

OK, that’s it. Now you can rest. Nope. The home needs to be cleaned inside, and the yard maintained outside. Plus, occasional preventive maintenance will help protect your investment – keeping windows and doors sealed, and a good coat of paint on all the woodwork. We’ve all seen images, like this, of houses that were lovingly designed, constructed and occupied, but somewhere in time they got lost, forgotten, abandoned and neglected. The result is no surprise, but it is a sad outcome.

The same story could be told about our own personal physical bodies – they are given to us as a sacred trust to indwell, in and through which to experience the fullness of this life. But if we only treat them as a vessel, and do not care for them, then they will likely ultimately betray and fail us. This might happen anyway, for reasons beyond our control or influence (like when our home gets struck by lightning and burns down – not much we could have done). But it will most surely happen if we willfully neglect the very basics of self-care – healthy food, clean water, regular exercise and rest, safety from undue risk. These basic are like attending to the needs of the house to keep it strong and functioning well so that it can in turn serve us and meet our needs.

Now imagine we are talking about the church. This same narrative threat follows, but God is the designer and builder, and we are the occupants charged with its ongoing care, indwelling, usefulness and hospitality. Will we, like Paul, complete the work that is lacking? Will we work in our own lives, in our church, and support others toward “maturity in Christ.”

And this maturity, by the way, is not a destination or a stopping place either, but a way of being. It is a continual living embodiment of the incarnation, the indwelling of Christ in us as we indwell the world. It does no good for us to indwell the world if Christ is not in us, nor for Christ to indwell us if we are not in the world. God invites and asks both of us.

Paul enjoins the Colossians, and us, with the words of this ancient Hymn exalting Christ, and then immediately uses it as a platform from which to argue the importance of his own continuing ministry. Similarly does he call us to faithfully join him in the ongoing work of living and proclaiming the incarnate wisdom of God in Jesus Christ that Creates, Reconciles, and Preserves God’s great experiment of love that we know as this earthly, soulful life.


Text: Colossians 1:15-28; Also: Genesis 18:1-10a; Luke 10:38-42

#1 – Ken G Crawford (C) 2016



Where does identity lead you?

Our identity in Christ supersedes all others.
No allegiance is more important.
This is the basis for our unity in Christ.

In the Gospel of Mark, 1:14-20, we witness Jesus calling four fishermen (at least one of whom was also a disciple of John the Baptist) to become disciples of his. He does this by rooting the call in their identity – “You are fishermen. I will make you fishers of men.”

Our identity in Christ derives from and is rooted in our identity before Christ, with a continuity that bridges the gap., as Paul says, “4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” (2 Cor 5:4). Our transformation is becoming more fully ourselves.

As Paul was writing his early letter to the Corinthians, it was early in his ministry and he believed that Christ would return very soon. This led him to urge people to not try to move from one station in life to another “for the time is short.” (1 Cor 7) Slaves and masters, husbands and wives, whatever your situation, seek to make the most of it. That’s a hard pill to swallow today, because we are so interested in liberation from oppression – as well we should be. If we thought that the world we know were going to end within months, we might set different priorities, as Paul obviously did.

Paul says there is no longer Jew or Gentile, Male or Female, Slave or Free (Gal 3:28; Col 3:11). He’s not, of course, speaking literally. Christ does not eliminate these distinctions. He enfolds, encapsulates, eclipses. He takes down “the dividing wall, the hostility” that was rooted in these distinctives. God obviously loves endless variety and complexity, even within the church. Every snowflake and every face and every personality are similarly unique and wondrous. But no longer does our individualism or our group identity become cause or justification for our separation from others, our oppression and rejection of others.

Again, it is important to recall that Paul believed his world was coming to an end shortly: “…in light of the impending crisis…. and the appointed time has grown short…” (1 Cor 7:26, 29) This both energizes and tempers his thoughts on identity. Had he known that we’d still be here 2000 years later waiting for the second coming of Christ, might he have addressed the inequity in relationships, particularly between husbands and wives, masters and servants, differently? We can’t know. We do know that he urged Philemon to treat Onesimus as a brother rather than as a slave (Philemon 1:16-17). This may hint at what Paul thought ought to happen more broadly. “Brother in Christ” trumps the identities of “master” and “slave.”

What might this understanding do to our political landscape? Imagine if our politicians who consider themselves followers of Jesus were to join hands as sisters and brothers, owning the truth that their identity in Him trumps any political affiliation, ideology or “ism”?

What if in our social interactions and community conversations we looked first at people as sisters and brothers? Granted, many around us are not professing disciples of Jesus. We are called to love them just as much. For the moment though, let’s just consider those who are. When we look at those across town who are in need, and we realize that many of them are our brothers and sisters in Christ, how does that change our feeling, thinking, and acting?

What relationships do we intentionally cultivate with those who look and live differently from us? Those in whose neighborhoods we would not immediately feel at home? Might Christ be calling us to more than a passive and tacit acknowledgement of our filial love? Might God want a proactive and energetic engagement? What would that look like? Where would we even start?

If we actually took our identity in Christ seriously, how would we disagree differently? How would I listen more and worry less about convincing you of my point of view? Paul is so serious about this that he chastises the Corinthians for suing and taking a fellow Christian to court. Better, Paul says, to let yourself be cheated than to violate your relationship in Christ (1 Cor 6.1 ff). Can we bring forward the fullness of our unique identity AND affirm our unity in Christ?

**  A reflection for “Our Attachment to Identity” From 1 Corinthians 7:29-31   &   Mark 1:14-20 First preached Sunday 1/25/15 @

Follow the weak and the frail?

Could it be that as soon as the church finds itself on the top side of history we must immediately turn, look around, and go sit with those who are on the bottom side?  What if the only way to enter into the presence of God and remain with God is by following those who are dispossessed? Israel was always closest to God when they were the lost bride in need of redemption. When the people were lifted out of oppression and rose to power, almost immediately did they turn their backs on the one who had saved them.

In the midst of all the talk about race relations, community policing, inequity, poverty, crime, and yes, even outright systemic racism, could it be that Christians are missing the point? All of us, White, Black, Asian, Latin, and more? As we are now 12 days before Christmas, I’m reminded of the ways in which God entered into the underside of history, and everyone seems to have missed the point. Mary and Joseph ended up in a stable, which means they didn’t find hospitality from the rich or the poor. Herod tried to kill Jesus, but the wise men did nothing to protect him. The shepherds came and worshiped, and then returned to their fields, filled with joy, but presumably not to change the course of their lives. Even those who may have had some idea who this child was were left untransformed by his presence.

What needs to change in us so that we can finally be humble before those God sends to us as messengers, “Angelos,” to teach us and leads us to peace?

A Practitioner’s View of BiVocational Ministry

NOTE: the following is a guest post from friend and colleague Dennis Lundblad. Dennis serves as the Pastor and blogs at Sojourner Church in Asheville, NC and Lecturer in Humanities at UNCA.

A Reply to “Some Thoughts on Bivocational Ministry”

I have been a bi-vocational minister for about seven years. I am fortunate in that I have found a way to earn money by doing something that I really love while still being able to serve the Church as a pastor. This topic has come up more and more in recent years, and it has been interesting to observe the different approaches people take to the question of bi-vocational ministry.Some folks see bi-vocational ministry as the inevitable future of the church. The shrinking value of stagnant wages for most people ensures that churches and other charitable organizations receive less and less money in contributions, and that the contributions they do receive can buy less and less. If we can’t do anything about the economic issue (wage stagnation, income inequality, high unemployment) then fewer and fewer congregations will be able to pay a full-time salary to pastors. In this view, bi-vocational ministry is a thing the church must face as an unpleasant reality.

Others see bi-vocational ministry as something to be fought against; it’s a compromise that devalues the professional education of seminary-trained clergy and contributes to the further decline of the institutional church. Congregations need full-time, seminary-trained pastors more than ever, and rather than accept part-time and under-trained ministers as the new status quo, congregations must dig deeper, renew efforts in evangelism and devote more resources to caring for the ministers who care for them.

Still others see bi-vocational ministry as neither a sad inevitability nor a problem to be avoided. Bi-vocational ministry can be a positive choice even for those who are seminary graduates. It seems to me that the changing nature of the Church may require more people who earn their living doing something other than ministry so that congregations can find their purpose and vision for ministry without money and finances as the primary driver of decision-making. The founders of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) didn’t desire to designate clergy as a separate class of people; when I was in seminary (Lexington Theological Seminary, class of ’87), most of the professors were ordained clergy, but none of them had the title “The Reverend” on the nameplates of their office doors. I was told that this was because of our tradition of not buying in to the idea of a “clergy class,” which in frontier days was viewed (and justly so) with a fair amount of suspicion. I am a volunteer pastor; it allows me to connect with my parishioners in a direct way (I used to hear fairly often about what I would understand if I actually “worked for a living” as my parishioners did) without fear that my income (already less than that of a seasoned public school teacher) would suffer if I didn’t see things their way. It’s a very liberating thing not to worry about folks in the church using my salary as a lever or a wedge. The emotional systems of congregations can’t seem to resist using money to increase anxiety and lower the challenges of the pastoral vision.

I’m not worried that the Church is dying, as some are…the institutional church may be in decline, but the Church Invisible is not in decline, in my view. It is, however, changing, and if our approach to ministry is dependent on the institutional model of the last few hundred years, and if we see full-time ministry with salary and benefits as the best way to fulfill the calling of the contemporary congregation, then at the very least our congregations and denominations had better make a priority of addressing income inequality, because that’s what is desiccating our institutions.

On the other hand, if we see smaller congregations with greater involvement in the community as the best fulfillment of God’s expectations for the contemporary church, then we should do a few things:

1. Make seminary free. It’s hard to consider part-time or volunteer ministry if there’s an enormous debt-load to worry about.

2. Find a way to make retirement and health insurance for part-time and volunteer pastors a priority. I have had very little opportunity to contribute to my retirement accounts in the last ten years or so, and I suspect other bi-vocational ministers have some trouble with that, too. And don’t even get me started about health insurance.

3. Change the way we label seminary classes so that our 90-hour advanced degree will be recognized as having value to secular employers who don’t know much about the Church or the Master of Divinity. Identify “homiletics” as “public speaking,” “church administration” as “non-profit management,” “church history” as “history,” and so forth. If we are expecting pastors to get secular jobs, then our advanced degree should help, rather than hinder, that effort.

Thinking about Christianity and Disability

This post is a collection of thoughts and reflections on comments from Dr. Debbie Creamer, PhD, author of Disability and Christian Theology Embodied Limits and Constructive Possibilities, during her lectures at Ministers Week at Brite Divinity School at TCU and University Christian Church.

Dr. Creamer’s first lecture addressed four modes of reflection on disability: 1) moral, 2) medical, 3) social or minority group, 4) limits model. These four models have strengths and weaknesses. They impose limitations and blind sides to our perceptions, while also shedding new and different light. They reflect normative views in our culture and over time. Dr. Creamer’s work, along with others referenced below, is to discover new ways to imagine and articulate disability and God and our relationship/experience of both.

Churches think of themselves as inclusive, when what they often are at best is accessible. Inclusive means that people have full access so that their involvement is not a bother or problem for others. They are not only invited and welcomed, but can initiate. We often provide cutouts in pews, but how often to we readily enable access to positions of leadership in worship, such as the chancel and pulpit?

From access to inclusion – the insights of Brett Webb-Mitchell in Beyond Accessibility: Toward Full Inclusion of People with Disabilities in Faith Communities

She then spent time “playing” (her word) with images of disability that might surprise and enlighten us.

“Disabled God” Nancy Eiesland – “The Disabled God”  the image of a God who uses a powered “sip/puff” wheelchair. Powerful, mobile, assertive. What would it feel like to imagine God as disabled?

Jennie Weiss BlockCopious Hosting: A Theology of Access for People with Disabilities  –

“Interdependent God” Kathy Black, Healing Homiletic: Preaching and Disability – dispelling the illusion that we are independent. What if God is interdependent as well. God tells us stories of community where Jesus relied upon and needed others in his life and ministry.

“Bold God” – Disability requires people to be more assertive, and in this boldness we may see the image of God.

“Authentic God” – what if we think of disability as normative, as what it is to be human? We all are or will be disabled at some point, unless we die young and suddenly. We are made in God’s image, and thus what we are somehow reflects what God is. There are things that God can’t do. Limits can be good.

This was a helpful conversation, and I commend Dr. Creamer and her work to congregations and others who are interested in exploring and responding to these issues and to discover anew our common experience of God in the world.


A helpful brief article by Dr. Creamer is Theological Accessibility: The Contribution of Disability in Disability Studies Quarterly.