Saturday, February 28, 2015

Christian Fellowship Is a Gift of Grace

Tonight I'm reading some documents that Payne Theological Seminary has sent to me regarding teaching spiritual formation course online. I get to be part of developing this at Payne, and am so thankful for the opportunity. 

One of the documents is "Spiritual Formation in Theological Distance Education: An Ecosystems Model," by Stephen Lowe and Mary Lowe. Lowe uses the ecosystem model of Uri Bronfenbrenner and others to establish the power of and need for authentic Christian community in transforming our hearts into greater and greater Christlikeness. 

While reading I found myself thinking how thankful I am that I get to be with my Jesus community tomorrow morning at Redeemer. I felt led to pull out Dietrich Bonhoeffer's beautiful book Life Together, and came to this:

"It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren." (Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Kindle Locations 81-85)

"How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" 
- Ps. 133.1

Friday, February 27, 2015

More Praying in Peru

Our Redeemer team is still in Peru leading a conference for about 150 pastors. They are teaching the pastors to take alone, abiding times with God. Here's another short video of the pastors doing one of their hour prayer times.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Book of Revelation - begins Sunday morning, March 22.

On Sunday morning, March 22, I will give the first of many messages at Redeemer on the biblical book of Revelation. We will go verse-by-verse through this incredible text until - a year or more later? - we finish it.

The commentaries I am using to preach Revelation are:

G.K. Beale, Revelation: A Shorter Commentary (only 562 pages)

Grant Osborne, Revelation

George Ladd, Revelation

Robert Mounce, Revelation

Craig Keener, Revelation: The NIV Application Commentary

Ben Witherington, Revelation

N. T. Wright, Revelation for Everyone

If you come to Redeemer I recommend you begin reading and re-reading Revelation to become more familiar with it.

Abiding and Praying in Peru

This video was sent to me today from our Redeemer team who are in Peru leading a conference for pastors. Here the pastors and leaders have been sent out for an hour to pray. 

The Dialectical Movement From Solitude to Community and Back Again (PrayerLife)


In my spiritual formation classes and retreats I do the following, methodically:

  1. Send participants alone to pray, using Ps. 23. The assignment is: When God speaks to you, write it down.
  2. Assemble participants in small groups to share with one another, with the guiding question being: During your hour of prayer, what did God say to you? Someone takes notes of the sharing.
  3. In our large group the note-takers share what God said to the people in their small group. After the note-takers share, I teach, coach, and discern the movements of the Spirit.
  4. I then teach the large group, sharing my phenomenology of spiritual formation, transformation, restoration, and renewal.
Then, after a sufficient break for lunch or dinner, we do #s 1-4 again.

If we have more time, such as a 5-day seminary class, we do these four things again and again.

This creates a dialectical movement (which means a progressive, back-and-forth movement) from solitude to community and back to solitude and then community, over and over. This environment cultivates movement of God's Spirit. 

Both solitude and community are needed. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his famous book Life Together, writes:

"Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and to the community. But the reverse is also true: Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. Only in the fellowship do we learn to be rightly alone and only in aloneness do we learn to live rightly in the fellowship. It is not as though the one preceded the other; both begin at the same time, namely with the call of Jesus Christ."

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Core Message #3 - "The Abiding Church"

Trees in my back yard.

This is the third of 6 core messages I'm giving at Redeemer - "We Are an Abiding Church."

You can listen to the message & pull up the power points here

Core Message #2 - "The Real Jesus Church"

Trees in my back yard. 
This is the second of 6 core messages I'm giving at Redeemer - "We Are a Real Jesus Church."

You can listen to the message & pull up the power points here

Core Message #1 - "The Presence-Driven Church"

Trees in my back yard.

This is the first of 6 core messages I'm giving at Redeemer - "We Are a Presence-Driven Church."

You can listen to the message & pull up the power points here

Monday, February 23, 2015


In Luke 19 Jesus invites himself to the home of the wealthy chief tax collector Zacchaeus. Zacchaeus is a hated, lonely man with, comparatively, a lot of money. The result of Jesus spending time with Zacchaeus is that Zacchaeus emerges from his house to publicly announce two things: 1) he's giving half of his money to help the poor; and 2) he's paying back four times of what he's stolen from people.

At that moment Jesus declares, "Today salvation has come to this house."

Zacchaeus got saved. In Matthew chapter 1 Joseph is informed that Mary will give birth to a child, the child's name will be called "Jesus." Why "Jesus?" Because "he will save his people from their sins."

The Greek word for "save" is sozo. The word "Jesus" means "he will save." Jesus is the soter (the Greek word for "Savior"), the one who sozos things, to include people.

"Sozo" is a big, holistic word. Some people think it's a fire escape out of hell. While it is that, it is far more than that. See Zacchaeus, for example. The sign that Zacchaeus got "sozo-ed" is that the poor get rescued. Salvation has socio-economic consequences. The heart of Zacchaeus gets transformed, and through him the heart of God gets demonstrated and people get blessed.

Michael Brown et. al. write that the New Testament usage of sozo means "to rescue, save, deliver, preserve from danger, etc." (212) "James 5:15 in particular provides an excellent example of the holistic usage of sozo." (213) The sick person will be "raised up," forgiven, and "made well" (sozo).

Zacchaeus's sozo-ing results in economic benefits for the poor. Prayers offered in faith can sozo a sick person. A more exhaustive word study of sozo, soter, and soteria would result in seeing how deep and wide and high and long is the love of Jesus the Savior. It is too simplistic to interpret sozo as "getting saved." This narrow approach undergirds discussions about people "getting saved" and getting into heaven but having lives that produce no Zacchaeus-like results. Sozo includes being healed, made whole, and delivered, and is applied not simply to individuals but to people groups and cultures.

A Brief Ontology of Sacrifice

Eldoret, Kenya
In my Torah class last night we looked at a few of the many details in Leviticus on the offering of sacrifices. After class I was asked, "Why sacrifices at all? God doesn't really need sacrifices, does he?" My brief answer to "Why sacrifices?" is this.

1. The universal experience of inner screwed-upness.

Something is wrong with me, and something is wrong with us. It has always been this way and it remains so.

The deep, inner individual and cultural experience of "seeds of destruction" (Thomas Merton) and "violence within" (Paul Tournier) is available to all sensitive seeker of answers to the corrupt human condition.

2. Something needs to be done about this.

Some kind of price needs to be paid to a God or gods or whatever is out there or in here. There ought to be something like "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." Justice must be served.

You'll find this basic ontological insight in all cultures in all times and all places. This has not changed as of today. All the "law and order" movies and TV dramas are rooted in the deep human sense that something must be done, justice must be served, things must be made right so as to return to order.

3. Life must be given where life has been taken.

No amount of money can make up for the damage we do when we hurt and "take life" from others. The only thing that comes close to making things right is by taking life from the violator. "Life" is more precious than inanimate material things. This is why cross-cultural sacrificial systems require the giving of life where life has been lost or reduced. "Life" can include plants (e.g., grain offerings), animals (from birds to bulls) and humans.

In our world throughout history most persons in most places have deep-believed in 1, 2, and 3.  These three deep, human realities delineate a common language and a shared world-experience. Hence, sacrifice. Hence, a price must be paid. This is something all peoples, everywhere, have understood and still understand.

This is the broader context into which the cross of Christ is planted and understood. This is the universal condition into which, according the biblical narrative, God came. God, in agreement with 1, accommodated himself to 2 and substituted himself in 3. The Jesus-response to 1, 2, and 3 is:

A. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
B. God has paid the price, in Christ.
C. A once-for-all sacrifice of life has been given, in which humanity is given cleansing and freedom from our inner fallenness.

BTW - every worldview has its own atonement theory. I see the Jesus Way as the most creative and brilliant, in theory and experience.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Spiritual Formation: The Journey Inward Precedes the Journey Outward

My prayer chair, in my backyard by the river

In the spiritual life being comes before doing

This is hard for people who want to "do" great things for God and see time spent alone with God as wasted time. 

A number of pastors and Christian leaders fall into this category. They may say "I want to pray," but unless this translates into a life of actually praying their desire is an illusion. 

Ontologically (in the order of being) the Jesus-life works this way: 

1) Abide in Christ; 

2) Out of the abiding, obey (this is the "doing" part).

Authentic, relevant obedience is a function of abiding.

I like how Henri Nouwen expresses this:

"Only out of the prayerful place of solitude and introspection can we hope for community and ministry. The journey inward precedes the journey outward, and the chronology is important. Spiritually, we need to know our selves and God in order to know other people. We need to love our selves and God in order to love each other. Communion with God precedes community with others and ministry in the world. Once the inward journey has begun, we can move outwardly from solitude to community and ministry." (Nouwen, Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit, Kindle Locations 2106-2109)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Speaking in Pennsylvania with Clay Ford April 16-17

Holy Spirit Renewal Ministries
 NEBRASKA EVENT - April 10-12     
"The Holy Spirit Is Not for Sissies:  
Real Men Need the Holy Spirit"    
Dr. Clayton Ford
  A joint effort of Nebraska American Baptist Men and First Baptist Church of Scottsbluff, NE.
Conference location at Camp Rock click  
(Located 35 miles southeast of Scottsbluff, or  20 miles west of Bridgeport)  
For Registration brochure
Click HERE 
ABCOPAD (American Baptist Churches of PA & DE) 
"Discipleship & the Holy Spirit"
Dr. John Piippo 
Dr. Clayton Ford
 Host Church:
First Baptist Church ~ Milton 
316 Golf Course Road, Milton, PA 17847

These two guys are just amazing; both of them move in the power and love of the Jesus Christ. God is going to move very powerfully through His Spirit to transform many lives, so get registered and start inviting people NOW! This summer we will be celebrating our 40th Anniversary Green Lake Holy Spirit Conference (we started in 1975, and we have met every summer at Green Lake since then!)
Dates for our 2015 Green Lake Conference:
June 27 - July 3, 2015
(Sessions start Sunday morning June 28 and end after Thursday night, July 3.) Be sure to put those dates on your calendar, and make plans to be there.

TO REGISTER, click here. 
Dr. Clayton  Ford, National Chair
Phone: 619-495-0818 (cell)
Facebook: Holy Spirit Renewal Ministries; Clayton Ford 
Website: click 
Mailing Address: HSRM, P.O. Box 2076, Chula Vista, CA 91912 

Michael Shermer's Category Mistake About Moral Progress

First Steven Pinker, now Michael Shermer. Both have jumped on the slender bandwagon of moral progress. Shermer's answer to "Are We Becoming Morally Smarter" is a happy "Yes!"

I find Shermer's reasoning confusing. He commits a Ryleian category mistake. Philosopher Gilbert Ryle coined the term. In The Concept of Mind one commits a "category mistake" if they attempt to analyze the relation between "mind" and "body" as if they were of the same category. Idealism makes a category mistake in its attempt to reduce physical reality to mental reality, and materialism makes a category mistake in attempting to reduce mental reality to physical reality.

Shermer does the latter, and then wants to talk about "moral progress" out of his sheer empiricist worldview. When Shermer writes something like this it strikes me as sheer Ryleian nonsense: 

"Thinking like a scientist means employing all our faculties to overcome our emotional, subjective, and instinctual brains to better understand the true nature of not only the physical and biological worlds, but the social world (politics and economics) and the moral world (abstracting how other people should be treated) as well."

And just what does "thinking like a scientist" have to do with "the moral world?" The answer is (as Steven Jay Gould knew), nothing.

Realize Your Own Faults (PrayerLife)

Justus DuPlessis - third from the right: David DuPlessis, on the Pope's right hand.

Somewhere in my first year at Redeemer (24 years ago!) a good-hearted man came up to me after church. He was crying, wrapped his arms around me, and said, "I don't care what others are saying about you. I think you are a great pastor." While embracing him, with eyes wide open and not feeling very comforted, I said, "Thank you." I was the object of some discussion, fairly and unfairly. 

I had faults that needed addressing. Charles Spurgeon once wrote, 'Get a friend to tell you your faults, or better still, welcome an enemy who will watch you keenly and sting you savagely. What a blessing such an irritating critic will be to a wise man, what an intolerable nuisance to a fool!'

There is a time and a place to be told of one's faults. This may come either directly from God, mediated through the Scriptures by the Spirit, a friend who knows you and loves you, or even an enemy.

You have faults. The question is: Are you correctable? When this is a God-thing it is received with words like, "Thank you, God, for revealing this to me." God uses people who come to grips with their own faults. God will not continue to use people who do not have periodic "Search me O God" moments.

Twenty years ago the great South African leader Justus DuPlessis spoke at our church. I found him to be a powerful person of God, and attribute what God was able to do through Justus to things like his humility and teachability. He must have been 70 years old when he was here. He stayed at our house. I asked him, "What was it like to meet with the Pope?" He pulled a picture out of his wallet, and there was Justus standing with the Pope. I thought perhaps I should show him some pictures of me on vacation. I don't think so!

Justus said, "I want to meet personally with you and show you something." The next day we met in my office, where he pulled out a 300-page doctoral dissertation written by a South African Christian leader. It was on the gift of tongues and other charismatic phenomena. Justus had just spoken at Kenneth Copeland's church, and Copeland had extra copies made so Justus could give me one. "I want you to review this and tell me what you think. I believe God could greatly use this work to help pastors. Please let me know what you think about this tomorrow."

I took the dissertation home and began to read. It was good work, but I knew that pastors would never understand it. It was highly technical and academic, and filled with dessertationisms. I knew I had to tell Justus what I really thought. How would he receive it?

The next day we met again in my office. I told Justus the truth of what I thought. "Pastors will not be helped by this book in its present form."

I will never forget what happened next. Justus said, "Let's go into the sanctuary and pray." Once in the sanctuary, now standing by the communion table, he said, "Let's kneel." Then Justus prayed. I did not know what to expect. He prayed, "O God, thank you for sending me to a man like John who would tell me the truth and point out my error." Justus asked God for forgiveness, thanked God for his great mercy and grace, and thanked God for me.

As for me and my soul, I knew I was in the presence of God. I was not thinking about how great I was in doing this, but that next to me was a man a lot wiser and far more experienced than I. I was getting another one of those great life-lessons that will never be forgotten.

Be teachable.
Realize your own faults.
Confess them before God.
Thank God for the rescue.

"Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."
- Psalm 139:23-24

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

J.L.Mackie's Logical A Priori Argument from Evil Against the Existence of God

Monroe County Community College pond

I divide my MCCC Philosophy of Religion classes into three teaching units. This week I began teaching the second unit, which is on The Argument from Evil Against the Existence of God.

"Evil," in the philosophical discussion, is usually defined as "gratuitous suffering," or "pointless suffering." (Peter van Inwagen refers to evil, generally, as undeserved suffering.)

If suffering has a telos, or a "point," then perhaps it cannot be considered "evil." For example: Suppose you and I are walking across a street, when suddenly I push you down. You fall and break your arm. You are suffering! You cry out, "Why did you do that to me?!" I point to a car that nearly hit you and say, "I pushed you so the car wouldn't hit you." Your suffering, while painful, is not pointless.

All suffering, therefore, is not gratuitous. But some suffering seems to be pointless. In other words, it seems there is evil in the world.

With this definition of "evil" in mind, we'll look at J.L.Mackie's famous, a priori, logical argument from evil, "Evil and Omnipotence."  Mackie posits a "triad" of statements" which, he claims, cannot all be affirmed at the same time without contradiction. They are:

1. God is all-powerful.

2. God is all-good.
3. Evil exists.

Mackie finds these three statements "logically inconsistent," in the same way that the following two statements are logically inconsistent: 1) John is a bachelor; 2) John's wife is Linda. Mackie aims to show, "not that religious beliefs lack rational support, but that they are positively irrational." (In Peterson et. al., 288)

Mackie adds two assumptions that stand behind his triad, which are: a) an all-powerful being is able to bring about any logically possible state of affairs; and 2) an all-good being would desire to stop evil from happening. That being true, what's the deal with evil? Mackie is certain that evil exists, and I see no reason to deny this.

Mackie then gives some possible solutions to the problem of evil. He says we would have no "problem" of evil if just one of the three statements was false. If 1 is false, then 2 and 3 could logically be true, since God might desire to stop evil but could not do so since he would not be all-powerful. If God is not omnipotent, then no "problem of evil" exists, since God would not be able to stop evil from happening even, according to his all-loving natire, if he wanted to.

If 2 were false, then while God could stop any evil from occurring he would not desire to. If God is not omnibenevolent, then no "problem of evil" exists, since while God could, according to his all-powerful nature, stop evil from happening God would not want to.

If 3 were false and evil did not even exist, then of course we are not left with a "problem of evil" any more than we have a problem with unicorns. 

Mackie is certain that 3 is true. Therefore, according to his reasoning, an all-powerful and all-loving being we refer to as "God" cannot exist, any more than square circles can exist. (Note that the theist does not want to deny 1, 2, or 3.)

For Mackie 1, 2, and 3 form a logical contradiction in that we cannot affirm any two of them without the third being necessarily false.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Why The Rapture is a Bad idea - Greg Boyd

Anyone interested in the Bible should take note about this: understand Scripture in light of its context. 

The "Rapture" Theory Is Unbiblical Because A-contextual

Here's some more on the unbiblical nature of "rapture theory" - Craig Keener, "Left Behind." 

Some of the bullets are:

  • "No biblical text specifically and unambiguously mentions believers being removed before the final tribulation. That limitation may be why we have no clear record of any interpreter noticing the view in the Bible before 1830."
  • "The view was held by none of the church fathers, none of the Reformers such as Luther or Calvin, none of the leaders in various evangelical revival movements such as John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, or Charles Finney. I am reasonably certain that today the majority of evangelical biblical scholars (as well as virtually all other Christian biblical scholars) reject it."
  • "Jesus's saying that mentions some being "left behind" may refer to the righteous left behind when the wicked are "taken" to judgment (Matthew 24:38-41), to where vultures feed on corpses (Luke 17:34-37)!" (Here "taken" is bad, "left behind" is good.)
  • "After I became a Christian, I was initially schooled in "left behind" theology myself. Once I began reading the Bible carefully, however, I discovered that every text supporting this view was out of context." (Me too.)

Hearing God: Experiencing Wordless Hearing (PrayerLife)

Munson Park, Monroe, across from our house

In 1 Corinthians 3:9 Paul writes: we are co-workers in God’s service. I am a Jesus-follower, therefore I am "in Christ." I am a member of one Body; Christ is my Head. I receive my instructions from the Head; therefore, I am working, co-laboring, with Christ.

Co-working with Jesus is relational and intimate. There is no other way to do this. God is not some CEO sitting in heaven's office-suite detached from his people. The closer I allow myself to get to him, the more I develop an intimate life partnership with him. There will be times when I just know what God desires of me, and I do it. I experience a wordless hearing that emerges out of the intimate relationship.

Dallas Willard writes: 

"We become so close to God that we do not have to wait to hear his words. We don’t have to be asked but are engaged in free-hearted collaboration with Jesus and his friends in the kingdom... A coworker sees what needs to be done and simply does it. We become so close to God that we do not have to wait to hear his words. We don’t have to be asked." (Willard, Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God, p. 72)

Prayer becomes this for all who abide.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Evils of Atheistic Regimes

Blimpy Burger menu, Ann Arbor

Your basic non-reflective atheist claims (without reason) that "religion is the cause of all evil." When asked to justify this few can answer, except to mention "the Crusades." When further asked about the Crusades few can say anything about them, to include being able to state when they happened. Yet they believe.

Little can be said to justify the atheistic claim against religion. Because, as Alvin Plantinga writes:

"Of course the world’s religions do indeed have much to repent; still (as has often been pointed out) the suffering, death, and havoc attributable to religious belief and practice pales into utter insignificance beside that due to the atheistic and secular ideologies of the twentieth century alone." (Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism, K99)

See also atheist David Berlinski here

Prayer Moves God to Act (PrayerLife)

The Inn at St Johns, Plymouth, MI

When I began to understand what Jesus meant by "the kingdom of God" I prayed differently. The kingdom Jesus proclaimed is not a place, but the rule, or reign, of God. 

I prayed the Lord's Prayer differently. Once I saw this prayer as future-oriented. Now I see it as future and present oriented. God, let your rule and reign come now, in me, in my home, in my community, in my church family.

Stanley Grenz writes:

"Ultimately, all supplication is a request for God to act. It is a cry for the kingdom. It is a request that God's rule break into the present. In short, all supplication is addressed to the One who is able and willing to bestow the kingdom as a gift of grace." (Grenz, Prayer: The Cry for the Kingdom, Kindle Locations 889-891)

Grenz adds:

"Prayer affects the one who prays for his or her own needs when God's power is released toward the petitioner in response to prayer. Prayer affects the one for whom intercession is offered when God's power is released in response to such intercession.' Prayer affects spiritual powers as God's power is released by means of petition. In each of these situations, therefore, prayer moves God to act." (Ib., Kindle Locations 891-894)

The Real Jesus Was Not a Rapture Theorist

This morning at Redeemer I spoke about the Real Jesus. The Real Jesus, as a Jew, did not hold to a "rapture" theory of the end times. Here are some of my notes from this morning, with a  few additions.

As a new Jesus-follower way, way back in the early 1970s, I was taken by a book called The Late, Great Planet Earth, by Hal Lindsey. In the book Lindsey talked about a "rapturing" of Jesus-followers who would be taken away to heaven when Jesus comes again. Some, unfortunately, will be "left behind." Now, 42 years later, I no longer believe in "the rapture." But I do believe Christ is coming again, but to restore these heavens and this earth. 

Scripture affirms this.

The Jewish hope was always for THIS created world to be reclaimed.

Genesis 1 God created…and saw that it was good.

Isaiah 65:17 says:

“See, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.

20 “Never again will there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not live out his years;
the one who dies at a hundred
will be thought a mere child;

When Jesus comes again there will be a new heavens and a new earth. Scripture supports this.

a. Eph. 1:8-10 - "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment— to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ."

b. Col. 1:19-20 - "For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross."

c. 2 Peter 3:11-13 -"Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells."

d. Rom. 8:18-21 - I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God."

e. On Rev. 21-22 N.T. Wright says:“When we come to the picture of the actual end in Revelation 21-22, we find not ransomed souls making their way to a disembodied heaven but rather the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven, to earth, uniting the two in a lasting embrace." (N.T. Wright)

i. Rev. 21:1-4 - Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

But what about 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17?

“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of an archangel and the trumpet of God. The dead in Christ will rise first; then we, who are left alive, will be snatched up with them on clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.

Wright writes: “When Paul speaks of "meeting" the Lord "in the air," the point is precisely not—as in the popular rapture theology—that the saved believers would then stay up in the air somewhere, away from earth. The point is that, having gone out to meet their returning Lord, they will escort him royally into his domain, that is, back to the place they have come from. (p. 133)

This is Bridegroom-Bride language. We will go to meet the coming Bridegroom, and escort him onto the new earth to be with his Bride.

Ben Witherington says that, in ancient Roman culture, when a royal person arrived to their city, a greeting committee would go out and escort him back into the city. In Jewish culture, when the bridegroom approached towards where the bride was, a welcoming group went out with their lamps and escorted the groom into the wedding place. “The classic texts thought to refer to the rapture, especially 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, say nothing about saints being taken suddenly into heaven. Rather, they go forth to meet Christ in the sky when he is returning, and then they return with him to the earth to reign.” (BW, Revelation, 261)

Paul’s image of the people “meeting the Lord in the air” should be read with the assumption that the people will immediately turn around and lead the Lord back to the newly remade world. (NTW)

Further, we read in Matthew 24: That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40

Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be
grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
Rapture theory assumes being “taken away” is a good thing. It is not. (Being "taken" is not necessarily a good thing, right?)

So, God made heaven and earth; at the last he will remake both and join them together forever. We, the Bride of Christ, will go forth to meet him when he appears, and lead the celebratory parade of the Bridegroom to his transformed earth. 

A few years ago, at our summer conference in Green Lake, Wisconsin, YWAM's Dean Sherman was preaching about these kind of things. Dean said one of those things that just stays with a person. Speaking of life after this life, he said "I don't want heaven to have streets of gold. I want heaven to look like Green Lake." Me too. Paul said, "the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed." (Romans 8:19) As beautiful as Green Lake, Wisconsin, is, how much more shall it be when the kingdom of heaven is established in all its fullness!
N.T. Wright quotes from: Surprised by Hope.

Ben Witherington quotes from: Revelation.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Tomorrow Morning at Redeemer - Core Message #2: Real Jesus Church

Ann Arbor
Happy Valentine's Day!

Tomorrow morning at Redeemer I'll give Core Message #2  - "Real Jesus Church." This is the second  in a 6-part series of sermons that express our church's core values and beliefs.

By "Real Jesus" I mean the historical Jesus stripped of cultural layering. I understand the task of getting at the Real Jesus. One section of my doctoral work was on the Christology of the Early Church. One must be humble about this, yet there is a world of beautiful, scholarly ongoing Jesus studies that is there for the taking. I've been doing historical Jesus research for 40+ years. I love studying about Jesus so as to know Jesus better. For me these are the best of times to be doing historical Jesus studies.

The Real Jesus is way more revolutionary and inspiring than the American Jesus or the Political Jesus or the Denominational Jesus. Jesus' Kingdom is "not of this world," and therefore transcends ideology and nationalism and sectarianism. Tomorrow I'll have the joy of sharing the Jesus I've come to understand and know with my church family.

I want to know about Jesus so as to know Him and make Him known to others. Tomorrow morning I get to boil years of Jesus research and Jesus-knowing down to 45 minutes of Pure Jesus.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Life Without the Presence of God is Absurd

Detroit Institute of the Arts

As a young undergraduate philosophy major I was introduced to existentialism. Some philosopher-existentialists are theists (Kierkegaard, Karl Jaspers, et. al.), and some are atheists (Sartre, Camus, and others). Existentialism fascinated me, especially the atheistic variety.

Atheistic existentialists told me that if there is no God, then life is "absurd." These thinkers expressed life's absurdity in stories and poems and plays (called "Theatre of the Absurd"). "Absurd" here means: meaningless and pointless (purposeless). On atheism, life has no meaning and no ultimate purpose. Everything we do is, truly and ultimately, pointless. Which is why I can't help but smile when I see some atheists getting evangelistic, trying to persuade theists to "deconvert." How silly, on real atheism, and what a waste of an atheist's time. Because (young atheists pay attention) on atheism life is, as Nietzsche knew, directionless. There's no God calling to us, there's no "path of life," there is no way, and no righteous living. You have far better than things to do in life then striving to convince Christians to join your faith movement, since it's all absurd anyway. (See, e.g., Camus's famous "The Myth of Sisyphus," or Kafka's Die Verwandlung.)

So I was interested, while slow-cooking in Henri Nouwen's The Only Necessary Thing, when Nouwen says that a life without hearing God call to us is "absurd." That is, a Christian who lives disconnected from God lives as pointlessly as does the atheist.

Nouwen writes:

"It is clear that we are usually surrounded by so much inner and outer noise that it is hard to truly hear our God when God is speaking to us. We have often become deaf, unable to know when God calls us and unable to understand in which direction God calls us. Thus our lives have become absurd. In the word "absurd" we find the Latin word surdus, which means "deaf."" (Nouwen, The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life, 82)

Life sans the presence of God is, experientially, no different than atheism. (Sounds like deism to me.)