‘I’M ON MY WAY! I’LL BE THERE SOON!’ [The Reality of Christ’s Return – Part 1]

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Beloved of God, in introducing this series, we first need to respectfully yet boldly expose those who have obfuscated (lit. darkened, obscured, bewildered, stupefied) our minds as to the reality of Christ’s return. Regarding this event, it’s not so much about correct doctrine, though important in itself, but correct attitude. We live in a time of many, largely-Western, self-appointed and fear-mongering ‘apostles,’ ‘prophets,’ ‘teachers’ and ‘end-time specialists.’ One of our humblest, Spirit-taught house church members, when asked by her work colleagues, ‘Where are the prophets and why is God abandoning us to the pandemic?’ she calmly pointed them to Micah 3:4-7! Amid all the ‘white noise’ and ‘dark noise’ of our day, we need to fine-tune our radio dials to clearly hear the ‘gentle whisper of the Lord’ (1 Kings 19:12). What are our ultimate reference points? Surely God’s self-revelation in creation, history, the Bible and supremely in the person of Christ, the ultimate fulcrum. It will also help if we grasp the ‘big-picture narrative’ of God’s loving purpose for humankind (Jn. 3:16-17).

There are ‘end-time’ voices which immediately trigger all kinds of ‘red flags’ in my mind and spirit. These appear when:

Road Signs and Meanings: What Do Signs Mean?

  1. Well-meaning, believing folk, interpret Scripture with no/negligible reference to its historical context, the original languages, different literary forms such as narrative, poetry, apocalyptic imagery, etc. We read general literature alert to the last-named, but when it comes to Bible-reading, oh dear! In addition, we love to proof-text without the ABC of ‘comparing scripture with scripture.’
  2. Believers are so arrogant as to think that all Christians up to the late 19th century were complete nincompoops as to Bible interpretation. I refer to modern dispensationalist teachers like J.N. Darby, C.I. Schofield and, in more recent times, Tim la Haye. It is essential that we recognize that scholarly and saintly Bible students have embraced differing stand-points on Christ’s Return: e.g. ‘pre-millenial’ (complicated by pre-/mid-/post-tribulation variations), and yes, horrors, even ‘a-millenial’ and ‘post-millenial’ positions [1]. The esteemed Dr. Graham Scroggie once suggested that most, if not all of these views, shed at least some light on a complex topic.
  3. Believers totally dismiss those who dare question the ideology that God’s sovereign salvation-purpose in his world hinges on Israel’s national (‘real estate’) role, to the extent of ignoring the Israelite, Jesus of Nazareth. “Luke insists (Lk. 24) that, since Jesus really was raised from the dead, the ancient scriptures of Israel must be read as a story which reaches its climax in Jesus (my emphasis) and will then produce its proper fruit not only in Israel but in Jesus’ followers and, through them, in all the world. That’s why, when Jesus appears to his disciples in the upper room in v. 36-49, his opening of their minds to understand the scriptures (vv. 44-46) results directly in the new commission: that ‘repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’ This is not something other to the Jewish hope. It is woven into the scriptures from very early on that when God finally does for Israel what he’s going to do, then the nations of the world will come to share in his blessing. This, indeed, is one of the central keys to unlocking New Testament Theology’ (N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope’). Israel exists for Jesus, not vice versa (cf. Jn. 3:16). [my personal eschatology allows for a ‘remnant’ comprising faithful Israelites and Gentiles to fulfill God’s saving-purpose on earth] [2]
  4. Believers imagine that the biblical ‘last days’ are relevant only to us, ignoring that most basic biblical fact that the ‘last days’ commenced with Christ’s birth and the outpouring of his Spirit at Pentecost: cf. Joel 2:32-38; Acts 2:14ff. Does this mean that prophecy can’t repeat itself? Of course not, it does and will, to a lesser or greater extent. The NT and history testify clearly that many of Jesus’ prophecies were fulfilled almost immediately in the catastrophic ‘Fall of Jerusalem’ in 70 AD. I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to argue that there may not be recurring fulfillments of these prophecies (Mt. 24; Lk. 21) to the end of time as we know it.
  5. When a huge section of the Church today believes that prophecies were written only for post-modern America, South Africa and Israel. As someone put it recently (with respect to my gracious American friends and blog-followers), “Jesus was not a white, American man. The U.S. flag is not a symbol for the Church of Christ. The National anthem is not a Christian hymn. And He (Jesus) began to teach and say to them, ‘Is it not written, My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’?”
  6. On the basis of sound biblical exegesis and Church history, for me and many others, the popular Western ‘rapture theory’ remains just that. ** Sorry to disappoint comfy Christians: most/all Jesus-followers will not escape some suffering and persecution: 1 Pet 4:1a. 2,000 years of history support that. ‘If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!’ [I have often had my personal salvation in Christ questioned on the basis of believing differently re the ‘rapture’ of believers. I’ve also witnessed the sadness, depression, negativism and neurosis bad eschatology brings: as goes our eschatology, so goes our life. [**see YouTube ‘Is the Rapture Doctrine Biblical?’ Ben Witherington, Seedbed]
  7. Many teachers who insist on their nation being a ‘Christian nation.’ Frankly, there is no such thing as a ‘Christian Nation,’ whether that refers to the US, South Africa, Israel, or any other nation under the sun. As a South African I have experienced first-hand ‘a Christian nation’ trying to justify ‘Grand Apartheid!’ Just a few mornings ago I listened to a prophetic guru, going on about the fact that South Africa is essentially ‘a Christian nation’ and quoting the hopelessly out-of-date statistic that 80% of our citizens are ‘Christians’: that survey included those in every sect imaginable, the many African syncretistic religions, ancestor-worshipers, nominal believers, ‘church-goers,’ etc. Scot McKnight, the respected American theologian, has recently written in Christianity Today:
  • Nation-State and Christianity are too much at odds to become partners.
  • We have become a politicized Church, left wing and right wing.
  • The Church is a Church for all nations. Jesus wants to be Lord of all or not at all.
  • Nation-states are bounded by geographical borders, whereas the Christian Church is trans-national.
  • Nation-states build walls, literally or procedurally, the Church welcomes all, literally and procedurally.
  • Nation-states maintain their existence through military might, the Church bears witness to suffering love.
  • Nation-states seek their own partisan agenda, the Church’s most fundamental calling is ‘the ministry of reconciliation.’ The USA is not the hope of the world.

Let’s also clear up so much confused thinking re ‘the kingdom of God.’ The kingdom of God/heaven is not only future: it’s past, present and future. Right now we live in the tension of the ‘already’ but ‘not yet!’ (G.E. Ladd). Jesus reigned as King before the OT came into being, in his incarnation and at Pentecost, he comes again as the one who abides in his suffering Church, and he’ll come finally at his second Advent to consummate all things in himself. A few nights ago my wife and I started reading John’s Revelation: 1:4ff/MSG, “I, John, am writing this to the seven churches in Asia province: All the best to you from THE GOD WHO IS, THE GOD WHO WAS, AND THE GOD ABOUT TO ARRIVE, and from the Seven Spirits assembled before his throne, and from Jesus Christ – Loyal Witness, Firstborn from the dead, Ruler of all earthly kings… The Master declares, ‘I’m A to Z. I’m the GOD WHO IS, THE GOD WHO WAS, AND THE GOD ABOUT TO ARRIVE… Don’t fear: I am First, I am Last, I’m alive!'”

I acknowledge that we’re living in intensely dark days with accelerating evil, pain and persecution. At the same time, I and many others around the world, see God doing ‘a new (yet ancient) thing’ in his Body across the globe. One day people were standing around the Temple, remarking how beautiful it was, the splendor of its stone work and memorial gifts. Jesus said, ‘All this you’re admiring so much – the time is coming when every stone in the building will end up in a heap of rubble… Watch out for the doomsday deceivers… Don’t fall for any of that… keep your head and don’t panic. This is routine history… It will seem like all hell has broken loose – sun, moon, stars, earth, sea, in an uproar and everyone all over the world in a panic… And then – then! – they’ll see the Son of Man welcomed in grand style –  a glorious welcome! When all this starts to happen, up on your feet. Stand tall with your heads held high. Help is on the way!'” (Jesus of Nazareth: Lk. 21:5ff, 25ff/MSG) There is indeed light at the end of the tunnel for the repentant, and it’s not an oncoming train.

Hoping you’ll join me for my soon-to-be-posted Part 2 of this series. And if you’ve never bowed the knee to King Jesus, do so now, in the assurance of his great mercy and love!

FOOTNOTES:

[1] ‘Millenium’ means ‘a 1,000 years.’ The term is used a few times in Rev. 20, and significantly, nowhere else. It can be interpreted either literally or symbolically. Revelation being largely written in ‘apocalyptic’ (lit. ‘a lifting of the lid,’ ‘disclosure’) form, I hold to a symbolic view of God’s eternal reign. For brief (and fair) definitions of different millenial views, see YouTube ‘7 Minute Seminary’ Premillenialism, Amillenianalism, Postmillenialism https://youtu.be/Q8xdr0zBrLM  In greater depth, ‘The Millenium: The Last Days According to Jesus’ with R.C. Sproul. https://youtu.be/jd4ZAn

[2] Treat yourself to a brief but beautiful on-site introduction to ‘The New Testament in It’s World’ by N.T. Wright and Michael F. Bird. https://youtu.be/_uEEvKA3U3Y

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[Motto of the renowned Moravian Community based at Herrnhut, 1722ff]

 

SO WHEN WILL WE ALL GROW UP?!

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I asked myself this question a few mornings ago, after re-reading chap. 1 of the Apostle Peter’s Second Letter to the scattered communities of Asia Minor – see 2 Pet. 1:1-11.

It happened like this. I’d had a disagreement with a fellow-believer who had publicly taken me to task for something I’d written with factual back-up and good motives. What should my response be? The answer was right there in 1:7, I was to react with ‘brotherly and Christlike love,’ keeping my mouth shut and attitude sweet (with great positive results all round, btw). I jotted down some thoughts and decided to revisit the text later…

Where is Peter coming from in his Second Letter? An older, wiser man, he writes to unnamed recipients (Nero’s persecution of Christians was increasing), warning them of Gnostic ‘Christians’ infiltrating the young churches with their anything-goes libertinism. The purpose of the Letter is three-fold: (1) to stimulate spiritual growth (v. 2, 8, 2:18); (2) combat divisive teaching; (3) focus on Christ’s majestic return. [Peter had already caught a glimpse of his glory on the Mount of Transfiguration (1:16ff)]

What exactly is Peter saying in 1:1-11?

  • He begins with a reminder of God’s grace in Christ and the ‘given-ness’ of faith: v. 1b/NLT, ‘I am writing to you who share the same precious faith we have. This faith was given to you (cf. Eph. 2:8, etc) because of the justice and fairness of Jesus Christ, our God and Saviour.’ Believers have obtained faith by loving decree – hence all personal merit is excluded.
  • Next Peter encourages his readers to ‘grow’ in their ‘given’ faith: v. 2, ‘May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord.’ ‘Knowledge’ here is personal, relational, down-to-earth and imparted: not the prideful human ‘knowledge’ of the Corinthian Christians, nor that of the ‘super-spiritual’ and immoral Gnostics.
  • The apostle reminds his readers of ‘God’s precious promises:’ v. 3-4, ‘By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life… And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.‘ Wow!
  • However, Peter reminds the churches that they couldn’t just sit back with folded arms. God’s grace both enabled them and demanded effort on their part: v. 5-8, ‘make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone’ [Peter doesn’t clarify the difference between ‘brotherly affection’ (philadelphia) and ‘love’ (agape): the former probably has more of the emotional about it, the latter ‘sacrificial love.’] ‘The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ…’ (v. 8). On the matter of ‘godliness,’ I well recall the ‘Keswick Conventions’ [1] of yesteryear across the world. Yes, there were some followers flirting with asceticism and legalism (e.g. dress codes), but more often than not the movement produced men and woman of exceptional character and spiritual stature. I recall as a young Assistant Pastor at a local city church having to introduce the saintly Dr. J. Sidlow Baxter at one of our services – as I recall a tall, striking man who carried in his very demeanour the fragrance of Jesus Christ! I remember that brief encounter to this day. As an inexperienced apprentice pastor, he made me feel like a prince! October | 2008 | unashamedIt’s a great sadness to me that we’ve so denigrated ‘holiness’ of life today to something stiff and starchy, unattractive and undesirable. The Bible urges all of us to zealously pursue it: see 1 Cor.13, Heb. 12:14ff (I’ve often failed here). ‘Holiness’ is essentially ‘Christ-likeness:’ humbly and ‘humanly’ displayed (Jesus was the man par excellence, the proper man). Such holiness we are summoned to pursue individually and corporately. A holy church is an awful weapon in the hand of God,’ said C.H. Spurgeon. Such holiness is also graciously rewarded: God promises us a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!’ (v. 10-11).

We return to our original question, ‘So When Will We All Grow Up?’ The child that stops growing becomes a challenge to himself/herself and those caring for him/her. When a man/woman stops developing mentally he/she has taken the first step to senility (H.L. Ellison). So what does our current character and behaviour say about our growth in Christ?

Here are just two things that will, under God, accelerate our growth:

  • Simple obedience. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (martyred by the Nazi’s in 1945) declared that ‘while mankind goes after success, God goes after obedience.’ In our Western ‘churches’ we are (more often than not) just plainly disobedient to the revealed will of God: ‘It is simply absurd to say you believe, or even want to believe, in Him, if you do not do anything He tells you’ (George McDonald). In our ego-centricity, we treat God as a kind of ‘spare-wheel’ for emergency use, and when things don’t go our way we rail and sulk like children who can’t get their way.
  • Spiritual sight. Peter says those claiming to know God but exhibiting zip spiritual growth, are ‘blind.’ V. 9, ‘But those who fail to develop in this way are short-sighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their old sins.’ Jesus called out the blindness of the legalists of his day (Jn. 9:39-41), Peter calls out that of the libertines of his time! The anomaly of ‘blind believers!’ Sadly they fill our pews and pulpits every Sunday. ‘Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus…’

A final question, how do we pursue spiritual growth?

  1. The worst thing we could do is to just wind ourselves up once more and ‘try harder’ (the common pulpit-recipe) – the best thing would be to take a fresh look at JESUS and what/who we are ‘in him:’ 1 Pet. 1:3-10; Eph. 1-3. How about restfully re-reading these key passages, maybe from a good paraphrase, and rejoicing in them anew? [on this, try and get hold of Watchman Nee’s The Normal Christian Life with its excellent teaching headed ‘Sit, Walk, Stand’ – we took several weeks over this in our house church with great benefit]. Note how, in Eph. 1:15-23, Paul prays for the half-seeing believers to have a ‘revelation’ of Christ’s person, and who/what they are ‘in Christ,’ so they may triumph over principalities and powers sent from the very headquarters of evil (Eph. 6:10-20). What held true for the Ephesians then holds true for us today.
  2. Let’s astutely understand our times. We live in a post-modern/post-Christian era, characterized by subjectivism, humanitarianism and libertinism. I watched with fascination an interview with Christian sociologist Tony Campolo and his humanist son, Bart. Bart has rejected his father’s faith, yet sees the need for a kind of ‘humanitarian community.’ Tony can’t ignore the divine dimension. He relates the example of famed French mathematician and inventor, Blaise Pascal, who had experienced a kind of mental conversion to Christ, but then lost his way for a season. He determined to find his way back to God. One day, on the 23rd November 1654, at 7 am, Pascal decided to shut himself in his room all day that he may find some answers. Throughout the day nothing happened, but around 10:30 pm that night God totally overwhelmed him over a period of two hours, leaving him changed for ever. He scribbled some notes: ‘GOD of Abraham, GOD of Isaac, GOD of Jacob, not of the philosophers and the learned. Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace. GOD of Jesus Christ, my God and your God… Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except GOD! He is only found by the ways taught in the Gospel…. Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy! … This is eternal life, that they know you, the one true God, and the one that you sent, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ! I left him; I fled him, renounced, crucified. Let me never be separated from him… Renunciation, total and sweet. Complete submission to Jesus Christ…’ Pascal sewed these notes into his coat seam, where they were discovered after his death. Remember how the fear of a single woman caused Peter to deny his Lord, and how post-Pentecost Peter preached fearlessly to thousands of hostile Jews to the extent that three thousand were added to the Church in a single day! The answer to our powerlessness lies in the Spirit-realm! We have a colossal task on our hands as Church in the 21st century: may God’s Ruach sovereignly encounter us all, so that this broken world may yet be restored through the reconciling love of Jesus Christ. [2]

26 Bible verses about the Holy Spirit

FOOTNOTES:

[1] These conventions were named after Keswick, a lovely country village in the beautiful English ‘Lake District,’ which Melanie and I were privileged to explore during a two-month honeymoon back-pack around the UK many ‘moons’ ago (forgive the pun).

[2] Via my blog inquiries, I’ve noticed a new interest, from all over the world, in the matter of ‘revival.’ In this regard I would recommend my twin-blog, ‘REVIVAL – SOME QUESTIONS AND SUBMISSIONS,’ posted 16th November 2018. I’m utterly convinced that God’s present ‘move’ is increasingly via grassroots, ‘simple churches’ as exemplified in the Early Church. Witness the underground Church in China, North India, and even Iran. PS, I heartily recommend two treasured books on my shelf: Dr. Andrew Murray’s The Believer’s Full Blessing of Pentecost’ and Dr. Graham Scroggie’s The Fulness of the Holy Spirit.’ Scroggie wrote, ‘It came to me twenty-four years ago. Though I look back with deepest regret over much failure during these years, yet I know that, in a little room in our home, standing on the edge of Epping Forest, East London, God filled me with His Holy Spirit, and made Christ Master for the first time in my life. Life has never been the same since…’ He adds, ‘You know that God is willing, but, are you?’

‘NEW HEAVENS AND A NEW EARTH!’

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Some years ago I re-encountered Is. 65 and v. 17-25 in particular. Then Melanie and I read it a week or two ago and discussed it briefly. On ‘Global Earth Day’ (22 April) I was reminded of celebrating and re-committing to our environment. The outcome? Digging a little deeper into the passage, a picture of God’s ‘new heavens and earth.’ For some background on Isaiah, see footnote [1].

First, some general observations. Like many ‘evangelical Christians’ of yesteryear I grew up with the idea of our earth not mattering very much because the main focus was on getting as many people as possible on board the ‘glory-bound train’ to the sky. Since then I’ve come to see things a tad differently: ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him. For he laid the earth’s foundation on the seas and built it on the oceans… Open up, ancient gates! Open up, ancient doors, and let the King of glory enter…’ (David Song, Ps. 24). The whole universe is God’s temple and dwelling place (Is. 66; Acts 7:44ff). Sociologist Tony Campolo sums it up, ‘If you think that being religious, being Christian, being spiritual is getting ready for the next world, you’ve misread the message of Jesus. Jesus didn’t come here to get you ready for the next world; he came into this world to transform you into the people through whom he could do his work in this world!’ N.T. Wright highlights the necessity of getting ‘the big picture/grand narrative’ of the Bible viz. God’s ‘covenant purpose’ for his people: when Israel failed to be a ‘light to the nations’ he raised up the faithful Israelite, Jesus, and ‘the Israel of God!’ (Gal. 6:16: comprising faithful Jews and Gentiles, cf. Heb. 8; 1 Pet. 2:9ff; etc). The Church’s chief calling today is to fulfill God’s ‘covenant purpose’ in Christ in the whole earth. It’s NOT about our individualistic destiny (a-la-pop psychology preachers) but Christ’s and ours ‘in him.’ When we fail to fulfill that holy calling, it’s like a genius violin-maker entrusting a perfectly crafted violin to a violinist, only to have him/her use it as a tennis racquet! (Wright)

  • Talking about the grand narrative, the God of the Bible is one who constantly ‘comes down‘ to mankind rather than catching up a select few into some Gnostic spiritual stratosphere now or in the future. Think of God’s ancient communication in creation, with stubborn Israel, and supremely via his Son the Lord of the cosmos! (Jn. 1:1-18; Rom. 1:18ff, 8:18ff; Col 1:15ff; Heb. 1:1-4)
  • The Bible focuses on God’s kingdom on earth: for millenia we have prayed, ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven…’ (Mt. 6:9ff/NIV). Surely this has huge implications for our present and future as Christ-followers.
  • The ‘salvation story’ begins in a garden, i.e. Eden’s garden cathedral (Gen. 1-2) wherein we reign as priest-kings over all creation. It concludes with a magnificent garden-city coming down from heaven and fed by the abundant river of life (Rev. 21 & 22). The ‘new Adam,’ the ‘gardener-Jesus,’ the one who agonized in a garden, was buried in a garden, died on a tree, rose and was mistaken for a gardener, still tends his garden in the world and continues his garden-project in/through us! (Jn. 15:1-17). In this garden, we feed, not from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (legalism) but the tree of life (grace) (Bonhoeffer).
  • Jurgen Moltmann has said, “Jesus healings are not supernatural miracles in a natural world. They are the only truly ‘natural’ things in a world that is unnatural, demonized and wounded.” Someone added, This is not limited to healing. The presence of the kingdom of God is the natural world He created and is restoring through Jesus,’ i.e. healing, life, forgiveness, love, generosity, joy, hospitality, peace, conservation, patience, et al.’ Yahweh’s ancient promise to Israel is at work, this peace which has already broken into our world means that power and brutality are not the last word! Christ is. What is our role in all this? ‘God will recruit as necessary from the human cast in order to reorder human history’ (Brueggemann). All those ‘in Christ,’ as God’s new creation (2 Cor. 15:7), are empowered by an indwelling Saviour to transform that broken world into one that reflects his proper glory! (cf. Jesus’ ‘New Creation Mandate’ to his followers in Jn. 20:19-23).

Second, it’s important to grasp the biblical context of Is. 65:17ff:

  • Isaiah particularly depicts God as the one who does new things’ [2]. Here specifically Isaiah refers to what Yahweh is going to do for the exiles in Babylon by returning them to Israel. He chooses to create a new Jerusalem/new community, whose inhabitants will be faithful. In 65:17ff the prophet sets out, in extravagant language (not totally exclusive of a literal element??) conditions in ‘the new heavens and earth:’ no more weeping, long life, shalom/prosperity, abiding peace…
  • The prophet reveals One who has always offered relationship to his ‘chosen/my servants,’ via their faithful response to his kindly ‘hesed’/’steadfast love.’ Now Yahweh is saying, I was available to my people, I was rejected and I shall create ‘a new heavens and earth’ for those who are faithful, i.e. Israelites and all nations that look to him. Israel can no longer assume they are the ‘chosen people.’ New criteria have been put into place encompassing humble Israelites and foreigners who tremble at his word.
  • It must have been very difficult for Israel to envisage the peace of v. 17ff in their context of exile. God’s vision is so big!
  • Within the Christian context, we believe that Messiah is doing ‘a brand-new thing’ via his kingdom in the earth, ‘as it is in heaven.’ [3]

Now I’m going to let my imagination run wild… don’t we need a bit of lock down fun?? Please glance at v. 17ff again…

  • The prophet Zechariah (9:9) speaks of the Messiah coming to deliver his people, riding on a donkey, and ‘so waar’ (Afrikaans, ‘truly’) he does just that. God is full of surprises, one just can’t put him in a hermeneutical box! ‘What if’ we recognize each other in God’s new heaven and earth? (Jesus rose and was recognized in a trans-physical body). Even our wives? Lol, the NT may speak of no marriages in heaven, but what about those already married? (Mt. 22:29-30). Bear with me…what if we recognize our pets in heaven (after all, the lion lies down with the lamb)? I’ve often wondered about that, recalling my beloved miniature dachsie, Lulu, who helped me through my Master’s dissertation by frequent visits while busy on my computer. What about those of our family and friends who have died in the Lord? We’re surely all longing to see beloved ones who ‘fell asleep in Jesus,’ I am! Reminds me of the old hymn, God Be With You Till We Meet Again’ (can’t sing that without a tear or two) [attached below]. My wife and I were watching the story of the South African missionary family, the Korkie’s. Pierre, about to be released with the help of South Africa Muslim negotiators, was murdered in Yemen by radicals following an American military intervention gone wrong – it was heartbreaking to watch the mourning family back home, yet expressing the hope of reunion with their beloved son, husband and father. On another tack, I was summoned recently to the bedside of a saintly woman, deep into her 90’s, one of our most faithful members in our last pastorate. She had always loved her flower-gardens. We talked about them. I suggested that she’d be very busy very soon. She smiled. We prayed. Two weeks she died smiling – she was with Jesus in paradise.
  • And I’m just wondering about those other beautiful metaphors in Is. 65:57ff: comfort for the elderly, happiness and joy for all, no more weeping, no more forced removals (I’m thinking of our house church poor in our city slum and township areas), etc. Add to this: the well-being of children, employment and work-enjoyment, answered prayer, harmony between mankind and the animal world, etc! This is encouraging stuff, particular amid the many hardships we all face in our daily kingdom-service for Christ: ‘How we thank God, who gives us victory over sin and death through Jesus Christ our Lord! So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and steady, always enthusiastic about the Lord’s work, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless!’ (1 Cor. 15:57-58/NLT). I’m thinking of our faithful sent-ones, taking the Good News to Jews and Muslims and Buddhists and the poor of our world, often working under the radar – unnoticed by humankind but not by our loving Father!

Do enjoy the photo and song clips below… I found them picturesque, poignant and powerful. I wonder if the prophet would have enjoyed them? I hope so, wink!

Born Again as a New Creation | JesusOnline.com

The Lion And The Lamb Art Print by Jennifer Page

 

 

 

 

 

FOOTNOTES:

[1] It’s difficult to date Isaiah accurately, there are divergent views. Those who accept the unity of the Book would probably date it about 740ff BC, the promoters of multiple authors, much later. The first part of ch. 65 repeats Isaiah’s beloved ‘Salvation and Judgment’ theme, followed in v. 17ff by his vision of a ‘new heaven and earth.’

[2] See David Bolton’s latest blogs (under ‘Christ-Centered Christianity), ‘When God Does A New Thing,’ Pt. 2 and 3, awaiting Pt. 4. He writes of ‘The ‘God of Eternal Newness.’

[3] Many, including me, grieve the tragic ‘ambushing’ of the Western Church by the late 19th and 20th century dispensationalists, J.N. Darby, C.I. Schofield, Tim La Haye, et al. Their ‘rapture theory’ remains just that, a theory, based imho on shallow biblical exegesis. And how that error has truncated the Church’s mission in Christ’s ‘new heaven and earth’ at this historic time.

CRAZY CHRISTIANS! [The New Pharisees]

Our brokenness, an invitation for Divine Mercy – Irish Dominicans

There is a painful pressure in my spirit, as I write from what I believe is a more scriptural point of view, and also because of a deep sense of personal and community loss. I bare my heart because of interrupted fellowship with a few long-standing fellow-pilgrims on ‘the road less traveled’ (Scott Peck). It appears they’ve succumbed to the subtle pharisaism of the Hebrew Roots’ and Sacred Name’ Movements, so prevalent in the US and growing in my own nation (a cultural identity crisis of sorts?) Gradually over a period of years, some of my brothers (I was privileged to introduce one of them to Jesus many years ago) have cut themselves off from me and our house church network in the city. My personal salvation has been questioned, I’ve been accused of being part of the ‘church system’ (cf. ‘About’ at the head of my blog), etc. I used to meet bi-weekly with one brother for a coffee-shop breakfast, who seemed to grow more and more obsessed with the Torah and Jewish ceremonies. The last straw for me was when he, at a bacon-less breakfast, enthused about a booklet on How to Kosher Your Kitchen In Thirty days!’ I respected his views, but seemingly he didn’t mine. In hindsight there seems to be a common thread among these brothers and their families: a ‘laager (enclave) mentality,’ gradual isolation from different-thinking (non-libertine) believers, considering us ‘unteachable,’ a subtle pride and a puzzling materialism. A dear friend from another city told us of an extended family, self-contained and separate from the ‘un-enlightened,’ propagating that Jesus is only the ‘gateway’ into the ‘fuller’ Torah-observant lifestyle (an extreme example, I guess). In all this I pray the Lord to keep me humble and non-judgmental, though discerning. I know it takes time, but please glance at Rom. 2:28-29; Gal. 6:16, Phil. 3:3, and Col. 2:11-19 (v. 16-17/RSV, ‘Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance is Christ.’ When you arrive at your journey’s end (Christ), you surely don’t return to celebrate the sign-boards along the way! [1]

Apart from the above there are other legalistic manifestations in the Church today like Christian Zionism, which has replaced the Cross with American and Israeli flags. Mega-church pastors embarassingly beg for ‘seed money’ to sustain their pockets. And so on…

The apostle Paul encountered legalism long ago. He writes to the scattered little groups of Galatia, beset by Judaizers who couldn’t fully free themselves from law-keeping and ceremony-observance. This despite the Good News of Jesus so gloriously proclaimed by the apostle: ‘You crazy Galatians! Did someone put a hex on you? Have you taken leave of your senses? Something crazy has happened, for it’s obvious that you no longer have the crucified Jesus in clear focus in your lives. His sacrifice on the Cross was certainly set before you clearly enough…’ (Gal. 3:1ff/MSG).

I’m sure we’d all agree that the Gospel = Christ + nothing and – nothing. That applies not only to our ‘justification’ by faith (so individualized by the Reformers) but also our sanctification by faith: ‘For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God/the faith of the Son of God’ (Gal. 2:19-20, cf. NRSV footnote). Research professor of NT and Early Christianity at St. Andrews University, N.T. Wright, favours the latter rendering, and would even translate it by ‘the faithfulness of the Son of God…’ As my Scottish College Principal of old often said to us, ‘Now put that in your pipe and smoke it!’ Space doesn’t allow, but please make the effort to read Gal. 3:10ff, which reinforces Paul’s argument.

We return to Gal. 3:1-9:

  • Gal. 1 & 2 covers Paul’s defense of his apostolic mission and message.
  • Gal. 3 calls out the Galatians’ unfaithfulness to the Gospel as a result of legalists in their midst. Paul declares that their turning away from the Gospel was not only a kind of spiritual treason (1:6) but an act of gross folly. So ‘crazy’ was it that Paul wondered if some sorcerer had ‘bewitched’ them! Note, he uses the singular ‘who?’ – behind this heresy he detects the activity of satan, the deceiving spirit Jesus called ‘a liar and the father of lies’ (Jn. 8:44). John Stott helps us today: ‘Much of our Christian stupidity in grasping and applying the gospel may be due to the spells which he casts.’ [2]
  • The Gospel is not only a general instruction about the Jesus of history, but a specific proclamation of Christ crucified and risen (1 Cor. 1:23, 2:2). The force of the perfect tense of the participle estauromenos’ is that Christ’s work was completed on the cross and it’s benefits are forever fresh, valid and available (J. Stott). I emphasize, the ‘crucified Christ’ is all-sufficient for our justification and sanctification, the OT and NT idea of ‘salvation’ including both. The Galatians’ own experience (3:2-5) and the plain teaching of Scripture (3:6-9) expands on this. [3]
  • In summary, ‘the law and the gospel are contrary to one another. They are not two aspects of the same thing, or interpretations of the same Christianity’ (J. Stott).

What a Gospel we have! Paul always exulted in it: “It’s news I’m most proud to proclaim, this extraordinary Message of God’s powerful plan to rescue everyone who trusts in him, starting with Jews and then right on to everyone else! God’s way of putting people right shows up in the acts of faith, confirming what Scripture has said all along: ‘The person in right standing before God by trusting him really lives.'” (Rom. 1:16-17/MSG).

So where do we go from here, practically speaking? A few pointers…

  • How about reading Galatians and Colossians in one sitting, perhaps from an easy-reading Bible paraphrase?
  • For those of us who struggle with Karl Barth’s voluminous writings, read G.C. Berkouwer’s superb ‘The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth’ (Barth commented that Berkouwer understood him best). Barth is reputed to have said, ‘The answer is Jesus, so what’s the question??’
  • How about a good dose of self-humiliation? I believe human ‘pride’ is a temptation we all succumb to from time to time, especially in our egoist age. As Richard Rohr put it in a recent Easter homily: ‘Grace is always free. Grace is always humiliating to the human ego. We just don’t like getting love for free – and that, beloved is the resurrection!’

[If some of the terminology above is as ‘clear as mud to you’ (lol) and you desire more background to this blog, kindly consult my explanatory notes below]

In conclusion, let’s all pray for soft hearts and open eyes.

Boy meets world: device lets blind see - Winnipeg Free Press

FOOTNOTES:

[1] I think I also have some ‘Hebrew roots!’ I was privileged to study biblical Hebrew for three years and Old Testament for four years towards an honours degree. I’m regularly in touch with a College buddy, a retired professor of Hebrew and Semitics. My wife (who has Jewish blood in her veins) and I were privileged to tour Israel under his expert guidance. Some of my favourite OT books include the prophecies of Isaiah and Amos. One of my favourite theologians is the already-mentioned Prof. Tom Wright, arguably one of the experts in the world on ‘2nd Temple Judaism,’ Jesus and Paul.  In summary, I would never exchange OT shadow for the full light of Christ, our ultimate hermeneutic. We should surely always read the Bible through the lens of Jesus of Nazareth, God’s final and climactic word to us all (Heb. 1:1-4; Col. 1:15-23).

[2] When it comes to the occult, Derek Prince is particularly helpful. Google him on YouTube: ‘Witchcraft Within the Church’ and ‘The Marks of Witchcraft.’ He identifies the core of legalism as witchcraft and ‘control.’

3] Some have labelled me and others as espousing ‘replacement theology,’ without ‘hearing’ our considered position. A question: have the HR folk not ‘replaced’ the biblical Jesus with the Torah and OT ceremonies?? This morning my wife shared Heb. 3:1ff (Moses a Servant, Christ a Son) with me: consider that Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses also ‘was faithful in all God’s house.’ Yet Jesus is worthy of more glory than the house himself, just as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself… Therefore as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the day of rebellion’… Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” I believe (with increasing numbers) that the faithful Jesus, the ‘Light of the World’ has ‘replaced’ unfaithful Israel who failed to be ‘a light to the nations.’ Those who sincerely see things differently, I fully respect. I do of course recognize from Rom. 9-11 the possibility/probability of a near-future Jewish awakening to Christ and the Gospel. The celebrated and godly Prof. F.F. Bruce wrote long ago on Rom. 9-11:

  • Israel’s alienation is not final: Rom. 11:1-16.
  • In OT and Apostolic times, God’s purpose in choosing his people was safeguarded by his reservation of a faithful ‘remnant.’
  • God wants to stir the Jewish people to jealousy, as they see many Gentiles entering our joint-Messiah’s glorious salvation.

[4] Cf. see on YouTube ‘N.T. Wright on Christian Zionism,’ etc.

[5] While in New Zealand I had six weeks to scour the teachings of the many-layered Hebrew Roots and Sacred Name movements, both those proclaiming and questioning it. Here are just a few resources, in no particular order, available on YouTube (NB, I don’t go along with absolutely everything they say, but each has some point to make):

  • Afshin Yaghtin on the ‘Hebrew Roots Heresy.’
  • Dr. Robert Zins. Torah Cult Movement: ‘Responding to Wolves in Old Testament Mosaic Law Clothing.’
  • ‘Another Jesus’ (Part 1) ‘Hebrew Roots Deception.’ Harvest Gleaner.
  • Interview with Sonia Azam//Former Hebrew Roots Member. Sonia is a Muslim convert to Christ, sucked into the HR movement and later abandoning it due to its extreme legalism (which she claimed was worse than Islamic legalism). She also exposes Kabbalistic mysticism and gnosticism in her talks: Sonia Azam7.

 

WHAT DO YOU SEE? BLEACHED BONES OR AN AWESOME ARMY??

Christ's Faithful Witness: Become a Prophetic Voice in the Heart of a Rebellious People

It started with three church leaders having coffee with a missionary couple about to return from South Africa to their ministry in North India. I felt an immediate affinity with the couple. The next step was to invite them to our local house church, which they accepted. The gathering was a powerful time of refreshing for all. The husband led us through Ezek. 37:1-14, concluding that the prophet’s call for believers today was, very simply, to be and do (amen!). This would include ‘prophesying’ to the sleeping Church in South Africa’ (the husband is South African), to awaken her to her true calling. Btw,  N. India is currently experiencing astounding growth at a ‘simple church,’ grass-roots level. My heart pounded. During corporate worship the wife had a vision of our local homes becoming a warm, welcoming place. She added, ‘God isn’t finished with you yet!’ (some in our group are older, including yours truly). We’ve been in email contact since, and the wife has shared a subsequent dream of a world-wide spiritual revival, commencing ironically in China, which spawned the Corona virus! (‘the enemy’s attempt to fiddle in God’s affairs’) I was privileged to visit that populous land twice some years ago to observe the underground Church first-hand. What an eye-opener! It confirmed my move to simple house churches.

I mentioned to our group a book by the missionary-pioneer, Floyd McClung, ‘You See Bones, I See an Army!’ Some years ago Floyd hosted seminars in our city on a new way of being/doing church and mission. I had also managed to arrange a coffee shop chat with him in Cape Town, where he and Sally had been pioneering discipleship and skills training in the vast townships with a view to tent-maker ministry in Africa (to the best of my knowledge, Floyd and Sally are both unwell at present, if you know of them please pray for them). One of Floyd’s mentors was the saintly Dr. Christy Wilson (1921-1999), Princeton graduate and veteran missionary in Afghanistan, later Evangelism Professor at Gordon Conwell Seminary. My wife and I were so privileged to host him in our home during a local missions conference. He had a huge impact on us and our future calling. We were keen to sign up for mission work in Malawi, but he encouraged us and our congregation to equip future world missionaries. In a humbling way, that prophetic word was powerfully fulfilled in our local congregation and our city to this day.

Next I felt constrained to re-visit Ezekiel’s vision in 37:1-14. Please read this passage right now, if you can. Then the following will make more sense:

  • As always, context is important. During Ezekiel’s time God’s people, including the prophet, were in exile in pagan Babylon. Jerusalem had fallen. Ezekiel and his fellow-exiles, after some ten years in that far-off nation, had grown despondent and hopeless (I guess some of my readers may feel like that amid the virus lock-down – fortunately Easter’s coming!). They felt like ‘dry bones’ bleached over the years by the desert sun (possibly they recalled the Israelite dead strewn outside Jerusalem, or along the road to Babylon). Had Ezekiel despaired of those bones ever coming alive again? Probably. Of course he was persuaded theologically, but his feelings told another story. He knew the living, covenant-keeping God could do the impossible, but lacked the faith to believe it! (Aren’t we all there, in a way?) Our recent house church on-line interaction has reminded us of that common default: contrast Heb. 11.
  • Then the living God appears to Ezekiel. With the assurance that those dry bones could/would live again, he comforts Israel with the promise of his life-giving Ruach (cf. Gen. 2:7). His exiled people would be restored to life, return to Jerusalem and become ‘a mighty army’ in his name! (cf. ultimately through God’s ‘new covenant-people in the Messiah: cf. Jer. 31:33ff, all of Galatians, Heb. 8) [1]

Why not get some coffee (in the past when I’ve sub-divided blogs, I’ve found folk reading part 1 but not the climax in part 2 – chuckle!)

Sip of coffee… now let’s follow the progression of Ezekiel’s faith. Note the partial  transformation of dry bones to corpses. The prophet hears a ‘rattling’ (Hebrew, a rumbling earthquake-sound). Then, in simple faith and obedience to God, Ezekiel prophesies to the Wind, and… the corpses are on their feet!! Down the ages, Torah without Ruach/Pneuma is still-born (cf.Jn. 3:8, which can vary from a gentle breeze to a wild wind). Reminds of my Theological College motto, Verbum Crucis Spiritu, ‘The Word of the Cross, by the Spirit.’ On the overall truth here, Anglican OT scholar J.B. Taylor comments, ‘What preaching couldn’t do, prayer made a reality!’ God always does the reviving, start to finish – his servants do the believing and obeying. Remember the old hymn ‘Trust and obey’?…’ Back to Ezekiel and the exiles: v. 11/NRSV, “Then he said to me, ‘Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely…’ v. 13-14, ‘And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live…’

A brief summary of Floyd McClung’s take on the vision:

  • There is a valley of dry bones God wants to use, but those bones won’t become an army until they are prophesied over. The dry bones are the poor, rebellious, marginalized, broken, and the young and rich humble enough to listen.
  • For dry bones to live again there has to be a desperation for divine intervention.
  • Passion for Jesus and his purposes is received, nurtured and passed on to others.
  • Jesus said those who believe in him will do ‘greater works’ than he (Jn. 14:12).
  • We must all commit to relational disciple-making, it’s the only way we can reproduce our lives in others. [2]

Where do we go from here??

  • Ezekiel’s message is for desperate Jesus-followers. When we say ‘our nation is finished,’ ‘the Church as we have known it is finished,’ it’s a good place to be! Someone wrote recently, ‘You want revival? Pray for a crisis!’ (Joel News)
  • It’s for honest Jesus-followers.
  • It’s for dependent Jesus-followers, i.e. on the Holy Spirit and him alone (cf. the post-exilic prophet, Zecharia: 4:6-7)
  • It is for Spirit-filled believers.
  • It is for prophetic and apostolic Jesus-followers [4]. I’m reminded of Luke’s words in Acts 1:8, ‘But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (echoing our Lord’s ‘Great Commission’ in Mt. 28:16-20 – unfortunately ‘a great omission’ in many Church circles today). Are you and I intentional about disciple-making? Whom are we discipling? Our Indian missionary visitors challenged us to stir up the complacent Church in our land to enter the world of the Spirit, who is the Spirit of mission. Our own Prof. David Bosch once said, ‘Missiology is the Mother of Theology!’

‘What Do YOU See… BLEACHED BONES OR AN AWESOME ARMY??’ Trust me, I’ve struggled with unbelief for most of my life. The Lord Jesus, in his great mercy, help us all to step out of the boat and walk on water! [See footnotes 3-5]

Image result for Free pics of Ezekiel's vision of dry bones

FOOTNOTES:

[1] See my blogs on the new covenant, ‘The Freedom and the Glory!’

[2] The great C.S. Lewis said: ‘the church exists for nothing else but to draw men to Christ, to make them little Christ’s.’

[3] Amid the Corona lock-down in my country, I woke at 3 am (unusual for me), went to our lounge, and jotted down the following…

  • We need believers in the Church today who are obsessed with Jesus, his person and mission. Years ago I recall Keith Green’s definition of a Christian, someone ‘who’s bananas for Jesus!’
  • From time to time God initiates ‘lay-movements’ in the earth. Think of the early Church (cf. Acts); the Anabaptists at the time of the Reformation; John Wesley and the Moravians in the 18th century (cf. Prof. Howard Snyder’s ‘The Radical Wesley’); the Jesus Movement of the late 1960’s and 1970’s (conservative Billy Graham recognized it as a revival of sorts, but the institutional Church largely didn’t); the student revival at Asbury Theological Seminary in 1970, impacting the nation; the house church explosion in China, growing from some 1 million believers to 200+ million;  the united church front in Lebanon reaching out to the thousands of Syrian refugees in their tent camps; the multiplying underground house churches of Iran, etc. [during our current lockdown, the Lord is moving wonderfully among our house church members, truly experiencing ‘church’ 24/7]

[4] See my blog, ‘Apostles of Abiding Love,’ based on Leona Choy’s wonderful biography of Dr. Andrew Murray.

[5] Derek Prince has reminded us from 1 Cor. 14 that we should all ‘prophesy.’ In my mind, prophecy comes in various ways: it’s not so much fore-telling as forth-telling,’ although the first may be included from time to time. Prophecy includes ‘speaking truth to power,’ human or ecclesiastic, by way of rebuke or encouragement. Of course the former will hardly make us popular!

HOW TO REALLY LOVE OURSELVES, GOD’S WAY

hands heart love

Photo by ATC Comm Photo on Pexels.com

Chatting with my wife one day she raised the question, ‘How do we really love ourselves in a healthy and biblical way?’ Let’s face it, postmodern society has been swamped by a plethora of pop psychology answers with minimal or no reference to biblical values, courtesy Joel Osteen, Oprah Winfrey, et al. Melanie and I (still on a learning curve ourselves) decided to air the topic in our house church gathering over two Sunday mornings. We based our discussions on Mt. 22:34-40, Jesus’ response to the legalistic Pharisees: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Some introductory comments:

  • It’s always problematic when, in Pharisee fashion,’ officials’ rule congregations with wrong motives and legalism. [1]
  • Any kind of legalism heavily affects our self-image, as a community and as individuals. The Pharisees obsessed over the Old Testament’s 613 laws plus those of their many traditions.
  • Every day all good Jews recited the Shema of Deut. 6:4-5. Note how Jesus replaced the Shema’s ‘loving with strength’ with ‘loving with mind.’ I appreciate that, because my mind constantly boggles at the greatness of our sovereign, beyond-genius, loving God (cf. Is. 40:12-26). I also appreciate Jesus’ simplification of things, reducing the 613 commandments to essentially two! (btw, Jesus also particularized ‘neighbour’ as the needy person crossing our path –  it’s actually impossible to demonstrate his agape-love to the billions in our world today)
  • Everything hinges on loving God supremely. We love God because he first lavishly and unconditionally loved us in Christ (1 John 4:19). You see, a biblical self-image has everything to do with gracious relationship rather than clinical rules, i.e. our relationship with God, our neighbour and ourselves. Such relationship always leads to actions of love.

In a society obsessed with ‘self,’ personal ambition and success, believers need to heed the apostle Paul’s warning in 2 Tim. 3:1ff, ‘But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive… without love…’ (the ‘last days’ of course began with Jesus’ and the Spirit’s coming: Acts 2)

  • When talking about a valid self-love, we’re not condoning self-absorption and self-centredness. Jesus exhorted us to ‘deny’ ugly self-love, take up our cross (a killing instrument) and follow him (Mk. 8:34). Paul says the same in Gal. 2:20. What we are talking about here is a valid self-esteem balanced with an esteem for others: ‘Each of you should should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others’ (Phil. 2:4). Mt. 22:39 is rendered in the MSG, ‘love others as well as you love yourself,’ yet many evangelical scholars insist that Jesus’ words here don’t apply to a proper self-love, which I find puzzling in terms of the wider biblical revelation.
  • After all, all of mankind was created ‘in the image of God’ (Gen. 1 & 2), which pleased him no end. In addition, all believers, having been affected by disastrous egoistic choice (Gen. 3), have been ‘re-created’ in Christ! (2 Cor. 5:17). You have to love that! In fact, our bodies are now God’s magnificent ‘holy temple’ (1 Cor. 6:19-20). That should kill all Gnostic tendencies about body and soul.
  • Note Jesus’ own security and self-identity in the Father’s love. At his baptism there came a voice from heaven, “‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased'” (Mt. 3:16-17). That ‘blessed assurance’ sustained him through thick and thin. So it can work with us.

In summary, how do we pursue a valid and biblical self-esteem??

  1. By believing the Bible, the witness of God’s love for all mankind in Christ. It’s a  biblical and psychological fact that we cannot truly love others if we don’t truly love ourselves. To quote one of my favourite authors, Henri Nouwen: ‘Claiming your own blessedness always leads to a deep desire to bless others. The characteristic of the blessed ones is that, wherever they go, they always speak words of blessing. It is remarkable how easy it is to bless others, to speak good things to and about them, to call forth their beauty and truth, when you yourself are in touch with your own blessedness!’ (cf. Mt. 5’s Beatitudes).
  2. By finding our identity in the God of the Bible. [In these days of LGBTQ et al, personal pain would be much lessened if we (as recommended for example by apologist Ravi Zacharias in his responses to the gay movement), sought our identity in GOD] Furthermore, when secure in our divine identity we won’t be so quick to compare ourselves to others (their personalities, intelligence, looks, giftedness, etc), nor will we allow manipulators to ‘control’ us and steal our peace and joy. Anthony De Mello (Indian Jesuit priest and psychotherapist, 1931-1987) in The Way to Love, wrote bluntly, ‘Look at your life and see how you have filled its emptiness with people. As a result they have a stranglehold on you. See how they control your behavior by their approval or disapproval. They hold the power to ease your loneliness with their company, to send your spirits soaring with their praise, to bring you down to the depths with their criticism and rejection. Take a look at yourself spending almost every waking moment of your day placating and pleasing people, whether they are living or dead. You live by their norms, conform to their standards, seek their company, desire their love, dread their ridicule, long for their applause, meekly submit to the guilt they lay upon you; you are terrified to go against the fashion in the way you dress or speak or act or even think. And observe how even when you control them you depend on them and are enslaved by them. People have become so much part of your being that you cannot even imagine living a life that is unaffected or uncontrolled by them’ [2]. Wow! In John’s Gospel the Jews are said to be incapable of believing because they look to one another for approval: ‘How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?’ (Jn. 5:44)
  3. By learning to receive God’s love for us in Christ. This is fundamental to all Christian living and loving. Some of us find it so difficult to receive from others, even a deserved compliment.
  4. Mark de Jesus suggests we love ourselves according to the very practical 1 Cor. 13:4a (Paul’s Hymn of Love): ‘Love is patient, love is kind.’ Let’s learn to be patient with ourselves, with regard to personal and spiritual growth – life is a marathon, not a sprint. And let us learn to be kind to ourselves. One mother of a number of busy children disclosed how once per annum she books herself into a top hotel for at least two days, only to return a much better mom!

 

Footnotes:

[1] I must warn against a new tendency to draw the Church back into subtle legalism, viz the multi-layered ‘Hebrew Roots and Sacred Name Movement’ in the USA and even my own country, where many post-apartheid Afrikaner friends (I am 50% Afrikaans myself) imho are going through an identity crisis of sorts. These folk accuse us of ‘replacement theology,’ i.e. replacing the old covenant with the new, which of course is exactly what Jesus did according to all of Galatians, Col. 2:16ff, Heb. 8, etc! If we are ‘replacement theologians,’ then so are they, i.e. replacing Jesus (full light) with OT law (shadow). I don’t give up my bacon that easily, lol.

[2] Within days of our discussion, a middle-aged single mother we have been mentoring, phoned me. She was desperate to escape the accusations of a wayward and manipulating son that claimed she had never loved him nor would ever love him. I shared de Mello’s words with her. She wrote back almost immediately so say all false guilt was gone and she was free!

APOSTLES OF ABIDING LOVE

andrew_murray

There are some books worth reading a number of times, so when flying to New Zealand recently I took along one such, Dr. Andrew Murray’s biography by Leona Choy, ‘Apostle of Abiding Love.’ I re-enjoyed it so much as to motivate me to share some of its gems with you [1].

My own encounter with Murray came as a result of a missions awakening in our metro in the 1980’s, stirred up by American David Bliss promoting Murray’s ever-relevant burden for prayer, revival and missions. It was akin to my ‘new birth’ in terms of life-changing impact. As a result of this move of God’s Spirit, I was privileged to head up a part-time missions school for some twenty years, resulting in missionaries being sent out by local churches nationally, into Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Far East, South America, etc.

I share some snippets from Choy’s book. We’ll divide these under the three words of our title, viz. ‘apostles,’ ‘love’ and ‘abiding.’

  • APOSTLES. Andrew Murray led the pack by example. His early days in the Free State were often spent in open-air gatherings surrounded by tents and wagons, with moonlight and candles for Bible reading and hymn singing. He was a pioneer missionary in every way (‘apostle’ essentially = ‘sent one’). You see, mission is not about church offices/officers but ground-roots disciple-making/disciple-makers. Contrast this with our contemporary ‘apostles,’ only five-star hotels and guaranteed mass gatherings with ticket sales will do for them! In a biblical sense, every believer is a missionary and every local ekklesia a mission-station, locally and to the ends of the earth. Our local house church regularly invites pioneer missionaries to our Sunday gatherings in order to stir up the fire of Jesus’ ‘Great Commission’ [Mt. 28:16-20]. We also endeavour to be faithful intercessors for and encouragers of missionary individuals and families. Long ago Murray concluded, ‘Holding this conviction – a conviction that has been gathering during these past forty years of my life, you will not take it amiss in me, standing as I do upon the verge of the eternal world, when I give expression to my immovable assurance that unless and until this supreme duty is more deeply felt, more powerfully realized, and more implicitly obeyed, not only by the individual but by the Church at large, we are only playing at missions, deceiving our own selves, slighting the command of our blessed King, and expending in all manner of fruitless struggle the power, the means, and the abilities which should be devoted with undivided enthusiasm to the spiritual subjugation of the nations.’ You and I choose to be mission fields or equipping stations!

 

  • LOVE. The other matter that loomed large in Murray’s life was God’s supreme love for him in Christ and, in return, his love for God and others. An intimate prayer jotted down on a back page of his notebook read, Infinite God: Make me empty and fill me of Thy Holy Spirit and love, full to overflowing, that then this weary world may see and drink. Full of Thy love to me: full of love to Thee: full of love to them: full, myself, of love, of loving kindness to everyone.’ Audiences in Europe and America were impressed with Murray’s humility and graciousness. Even his critics admired his Christ-like bearing as he responded to them. It was written of him, As the tree that bears the most fruit bends lowest and almost breaks under its own weight, so the holier he grew in advancing years and the more famous he became, the humbler he appeared and the more his very face shone with the glory within.’ A close friend wrote, ‘I saw him five months before his death, and his venerable face shone like Alpine mountains with the glow of the setting sun, so radiant, so benignant with the purity within.’ Back to earth: the only thing I have in common with Murray at this point of my life is age! I claim no special gifts or godliness, but I do long for, even if I die in obscurity (I’ve made peace with that), just a tiny fraction of my mentor’s experiential progress in the pursuit of God’s love and grace amid the nitty-gritty of daily life. Just before his death he said, ‘The great and wonderful God wants to live out His Life in us. He can do so only as we dwell in love. We can dwell in love only as we live out His life in us, when we are fully yielded to Him…’

 

  • ABIDING. It was Murray’s passion that all God’s children be led into the secret of ‘unbroken communion’ with Jesus. Any work or ministry should flow out of that total conviction, belief and practice. In 1871 Murray accepted an invitation to a small country congregation in Wellington, Cape. Many in his Cape Town congregation were shocked that he was prepared to leave the glitter of the city at age forty three when he was so much ‘on his way up’ in his denomination. Murray obeyed the Lord’s voice, and it was the very quiet, contemplative country-life in Wellington that led him a truer intimacy with God and the writing of his many books to bless the Church world-wide. There, with his home looking out on the vineyards bordering Wellington, God pruned and cut back his labours, enabling him to bear even more fruit (think of his influential book The True Vine,’ based on Jesus’ profound teaching in Jn. 15 [2]. I am sure that the busier and harder the Christian life today, the more we need quiet moments and places to renew and refresh us. Recently, out of the blue, a very gracious Christian friend blessed us with airline tickets to visit our children and grandchildren in New Zealand, whom we hadn’t seen for five years. It was a marvelous time for Melanie and me to rest and re-connect with our family in the earthiest and yet holiest ways! We were also able to have fun and commune with a house church family who emigrated a few months ago. For me personally it was a time of quiet, reading, research, reflection and rejuvenation! Returning to Murray, whenever he and his family passed through some joyful or painful experience, they saw it as a doorway to new growth and service. Thus it was when one of the Murray babies, only eight months old, died just before their departure to England in 1866. Later, when their two older daughters were abroad, two more little ones, Fanny and Willie, died in the same year from ill-health.  Andrew had to console his absent children in Holland, as well as himself, his wife and other children. How could he and his family cope with all this amid their busy lives?

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[Western Cape Vineyard]

Through ‘abiding as branches in the true Vine,’ Jesus Christ [Israel was meant to be a vine of blessing to the nations but failed miserably because of her constant reversion to law-keeping and idolatry]. Why is it that I, and many like me, struggle so to get this ‘abiding’ right? For years I missed it, until I became assured of Christ’s life within me by faith-union alone [cf. Gal. 2:20/NRSV, ‘and it is longer I who live, but it is Christ who likes in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in (footnote ‘the faith of’ ) the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’]. If Murray could so restfully abide, why not you and me? As a teen struggling to follow Jesus, we used to sing a song which apparently was Murray’s favourite at his conventions across the world, ‘Moment by moment I’m kept in his love; Moment by moment I’ve life from above; Looking to Jesus till glory doth shine; Moment by moment, O Lord, I am Thine!’

“Father, in your great and tender mercy make us ‘apostles of abiding love.’ We pray this in your Son’s strong and faithful name!”

FOOTNOTES:

  1. Scotsman Andrew Murray (1828-1917) was an exceptional South African Christian writer, preacher, teacher and missionary pioneer. He and his brother John trained at the University of Aberdeen and then Utrecht in the Netherlands. They both opposed the rationalism of their time and pursued personal holiness. Andrew was privileged to experience a powerful spiritual awakening in 1860 while pastoring in nearby Worcester. He founded the YMCA in 1865, the SA General Mission and many other missionary enterprises. He wrote much about the ‘Inner Life’ as the foundation for any missions enterprise. His books became world-renowned and are still popular among serious Christians today. From the Worcester revival, missionaries were sent into Africa, the Anglo-Boer War concentration camps in Bermuda and India, etc. Of those POW’s in the camps, 150 committed themselves to missionary training. The Murray family became renowned as one of the godliest – one guest commented that meals around their large family table were ‘like Holy Communion.’ [cf also W.M. Douglas’ ‘Andrew Murray & His Message’]
  2. As a result of Murray’s daily speaking engagements year in and year out, his voice broke down totally for two years (1897-1899). This forced him into quiet retreat at home and abroad. It also led into his inquiry into divine healing. After the two years, his voice was miraculously healed, never to trouble him again!
  3. A sea-side family vacation near tranquil Hermanus many years ago became life-changing for me in terms of the Spirit-filled life: courtesy Murray’s ‘The Believer’s Full Blessing of Pentecost.’ Recommended reading!

PEOPLE, POLITICIANS AND PILGRIMS

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My final blog for 2019 is about PEOPLE, POLITICIANS AND PILGRIMS.

Let’s talk about PEOPLE. Irish radio presenter and ex-Lions scrum-half John Robbie, who settled in South Africa in 1981, commented a few weeks ago that the Boks’ 2019 World Rugby Cup victory overshadowed 1995’s celebration with Nelson Mandela lifting the gold cup on behalf of our young democracy. Experienced South African journalist and ex-ambassador to N. Ireland, Melanie Verwoerd, added that the nation’s response to the Boks’ most recent victory demonstrated that as a nation, despite our many current racial/social problems, we’re more united than divided: ‘I don’t believe that we are as divided as the politicians would like us to think. On a human, person-to-person level I think most South Africans not only want to get on with their lives, but also care deeply about their countrymen and women – irrespective of race… Of course it doesn’t suit many politicians and political parties to allow us to live harmoniously. As was the case under apartheid, it is far easier to create fear and hatred than to come up with workable solutions to deal with our inequalities.’ She mentions the same scenario in N. Ireland years ago. For many years, after the Good Friday Agreement was signed, parties tried to retain the politics of hatred and violence. Ultimately the people got so fed-up that they began to ignore the polarized party politicians. She concludes, ‘Even more dangerous than nuclear weapons is… hatred. Blind hatred…’ [Nelson Mandela would have agreed]. She is confident that even in these days of racial and social turmoil South Africans essentially share a common identity, values and decency.

  • The Bible commences it’s story with people. I refer to the wonderful creation-account of Gen. 1 & 2. Sadly over the years, modern evangelical individualistic ‘gospel presentations’ have invariably started with Gen. 3 and the so-called ‘fall,’ to the detriment of the Good News of Gen. 1-2 regarding human beings created in their loving Creator’s image. The divine purpose was for all people to relate to their common Creator and those humans around them in the spectacular environment of an animal and plant paradise. Our parents’ offspring still carry something of the divine stamp upon them, enabling us to harmoniously rule over creation. While the puzzling entry of ‘sin’ (severed relationships) and ‘ego’ fundamentally altered that status quo, there was enough left of God’s image within all of us to function reasonably and harmoniously within the framework of his magnificent creation.
  • At the same time the Bible is clear that world and personal problems arise when humankind chooses to exalt the creation and their selfish ego over the sovereign and merciful Creator with terribly painful consequences for us all (Rom. 1:18-21).

Let’s talk about POLITICIANS.

  • The Apostle Paul in his early (57 AD) letter to the house churches of Rome under Roman rule, makes it clear that those submitted to Christ must submit to those authorities sovereignly appointed to rule over them. This they are to do by serving their neighbour, paying their taxes, faithful intercession for their leaders, etc. (Rom. 13:1-7) The same holds for us today.  The problem of course arises when divinely appointed governors begin to rule for selfish rather than national reasons, bowing before the gods of ideology, power and materialism. Thus most of the world today, including Africa, is rife with very poor leaders. This really complicates things for believing, law-abiding citizens, and that is a complex debate in itself! [1]
  • Paul goes on to say that the only ‘debt’ believers should owe is that of love to God and others (Rom. 13:8-10) [2]. When we tire in that mission, we should of course re-call Paul’s earlier reminder of the abundant ‘flooding’ (lit.) of God’s love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit given so freely to those who believe! (Rom.5:5).
  • Early Church history records how an overwhelming minority permeated the majority as Christ’s ‘salt’ and ‘light’ (Mt. 5:13-16). Sadly, Reformers like Luther and Calvin got this very wrong: despite their recovery of the doctrines of grace, they identified Church and State with terrible consequences for fellow-believers (that’s why I’m a proud Anabaptist!). Do read Leonard Verduin’s The Reformers & Their Stepchildren: ‘The NT conceives of human society as a composite thing – i.e, composed of factions. It expects that some men will glory in the very same Cross over which other men stumble… And it assumes that such diversity does not imply cacophany on the square. It thinks that even though men differ basically and radically at the shrine they need not clash in the market place… The State demands a loyalty that all men can give, irrespective of their religious orientation; the Church demands a loyalty which only he can give who believes in the Christ.’ Personally I don’t understand how supposedly ‘regenerate’ people (Jn. 3) today in some Western countries are determined to foist Christian norms on the ‘unregenerate!’ [remember the error of Constantine in the 300’s AD, from which the Church has never fully recovered]. The better way seems to me is to daily live those norms in such a way that they attract those who see things differently and point them to the Living God.

Let’s talk about PILGRIMS. I refer you to 1 Pet. 2:7-10, penned in the early 60’s AD to believers, Jew and Gentile, scattered throughout Asia Minor by Nero’s persecution.

  • The Apostle Peter, using OT terms originally referring to God’s ancient covenant-people Israel (not all Israel was/is Israel, according to Rom. 9:6!), now uses these same terms of God’s ekklesia. He refers to his readers as ‘a chosen people… a people belonging to God…’ (v. 9). (Paul in Gal. 6:16 greets Jewish and Gentile believers as ‘the Israel of God’). What  identity, certainty and calling Peter gives God’s persecuted people, then and now! I love Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Rom. 9:25, “I’ll call nobodies and make them somebodies; I’ll call the unloved and make them beloved. In the place where they yelled out, ‘You’re nobody!’ they’re calling you ‘God’s living children.”
  • Peter calls believers ‘a holy nation’ (v. 9). Imho there is no such thing as a ‘Christian nation’ in today’s world, despite what some North American and South African Christians may claim! (cold statistics kill that mis-perception: George Barna et al)
  • Peter calls believers a royal/holy (transcendent/pure/’different’) priesthood’ (v. 9). Christ is our High Priest (cf. the letter to the Hebrews). Under him we all serve as ‘priests.’ Thus we speak of ‘the priesthood of all believers,’ confessed by so many but practiced by so few [I ‘pastored’ denominational churches subscribing to this doctrine for some forty years, and never did we quite get past the ‘senior pastor’ thing – to our/my shame. Btw, I still have many good pastor-friends in that same denomination, some even secretly agree with me!]. Let me simplify this ‘priesthood’ by breaking down the Latin word pontifex, lit. a ‘bridge-builder.’ God has built a bridge between himself and us, and now we are to build bridges between ourselves and our neighbour, with the express purpose of pointing them to the great High Priest who by the bridge of his Cross brought us ‘out of darkness into his wonderful light!’ (v. 9). Thus we balance witness by word and deed.
  • Peter next goes on to remind us of our ultimate destination: “I urge you as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against the soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us’ (v. 11-12).
  • When we grow weary (I do) in such well-doing in this world, Peter reminds us to default to God’s marvelous mercy: ‘Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy!‘ (v. 10) Oh the ‘mercy,’ the ‘steadfast love’ of the LORD that never ceases! I have come to love the current worship song: ‘There is a river of gladness, That pours from Immanuel’s veins, This sinner was plunged beneath the flood And got saved… I’m undone (‘overwhelmed’: please read Isaiah 6:1-5) by the mercy of Jesus, I’m undone by the goodness of the Lord, I’m restored and made right, He got a hold of my life, I’ve got Jesus How could I want more!’ Yes! That wakes me up every morning and keeps me going and serving in my senior years…

A little revision…

  • Because the Bible is about people, may we always recognize our humanity, in a day when so many believers espouse Gnostic, super-spiritual attitudes and lifestyles before a ‘church-alienated world.’ One of my favourite theologians, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, often reminded his listeners that Jesus came to make us more human. We need to treasure ‘the common touch’ in all things and at all times!
  • Let us impact our politicians (rulers) and fellow-citizens by exemplary service and faithful prayer, without ever compromising Christ’s lordship.
  • And let us live very simply, modestly and unselfishly in this world, praying daily ‘May your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ (Mt. 6:10).

people on road

FOOTNOTES:

[1] I commend the YouTube speeches of Kenyan Law Professor PLO Lumumba as he courageously calls out the many abusive, corrupt, life-long presidents of Africa.

[2] In the US, Wayne Jacobsen of ‘So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore’ fame has just co-authored a book with Bob Prater and Arnita Taylor titled ‘A Language of Healing for a Polarized Nation.’ It challenges all believers to ‘move outside your comfort zone with a generous heart’ and really ‘hear’ and engage with those who see things differently.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A CELESTIAL CHURCH BEFORE A WATCHING WORLD

.{This blog title is a modification of Dr. Francis Schaeffer’s book title, ‘The Church Before the Watching World’ [1]}

John17:20-23

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My three pics illustrate a biblical progression from the loving unity within the Trinity, to Jesus’ prayer centered around his divine errand of redemption, to its global import.  Some months ago I felt the need to explore Jn. 17 with a view to better understanding ‘church unity.’ Besides the text I referred only to William Temple’s (1881-1944) classic, ‘Readings in St. John’s Gospel.’ Like Dr. Schaeffer decades ago, I am concerned about the considerable ugliness of the contemporary Church in so many ways and places, when she has been called to increasing splendour in the face of an increasingly alienated world. As I chewed on Jn. 17, I wrote down some personal key-points in my prayer diary [2]. I suggest we handle the prayer a paragraph at a time (largely from the NLT), each a beautiful pearl in a string of pearls, clustered around the supreme pearl, Jesus himself!

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The first pearl, v. 1-5…

  • Jesus had already, in a way, ‘overcome the world’ (16:33) as he approached Golgotha. In the consciousness of that victory, he commends himself to the Father and the shining forth of his ‘glory,’ i.e. the excellence and beauty of his love.
  • ‘Glorify your Son so he can give glory back to you… bring me into the glory we shared before the world began’ (v. 1, 5). Do you see the trinitarian inter-face, ‘the divine dance’ (Gr. perichoresis = ‘going around’ = ‘rotation’ = ‘dance’) in display? The glory of the Father and Son are inseparable – the Father perfectly sustains the Son and the Son perfectly obeys the Father.
  • As servants of Jesus, we also come into the equation of world redemption. We reflect the trinitarian ‘dance’ on earth through an obsession with the Father’s glory. Think of this in terms of your life and mine, and our faith communities – it’s a process that comes at great personal cost, hinted at Jesus’ summons to ‘deny ourselves (egoism), take up his Cross and follow him’ (Mk. 8:34). We are called to ‘mirror’ Christ’s self-sacrificing love in his world. This will never happen by a mere cognitive grasp of the truth but by a relationship, a personal friendship with the Son (Jn. 15:12-17).

The second pearl, v .6-8…

  • ‘I have revealed you to the ones you gave me from this world… they know that I came from you, and they believe you sent me’ (v. 6, 8). Because God is not only omnipotent but also ‘love’ (1 Jn. 4:7ff), he revealed himself to his own, for the world would not otherwise recognize and acknowledge him.
  • Here we have the purpose and climax of the Son’s mission, viz. ‘You sent me!’ And, ‘As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you’ (Jn. 20:21).

The third pearl, v. 9-12…

  • ‘I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those you gave me, because they are yours’ (v. 9, NRSV). Literally, ‘I am asking concerning them…’ This is an inquiry rather than an asking. Jesus is ‘consulting’ the Father regarding his disciples. Contrast this with our prayers of demand and clamour! Like the Son, we need a total trust in the wisdom of the Father. [Our prayers always give us away, don’t they!?]
  • ‘Now I’m departing from the world; they are staying in this world…’ (v. 9, 11): for the sake of the mission. The world remains the object of God’s redemptive love manifest in Jesus.
  • ‘Holy Father… protect (literally ‘attentively watch over them’) by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are… (v. 11) Jesus’ prayer is not firstly for the world but for his little handful of disciples, who remain part of the world (v. 15), and through whose character and unity the world is to be won! [This unity is much more than ecclesiastical unity, though it can’t be complete without it]

The fourth pearl, v. 13-19…

  • ‘Now I am coming to you. I told them many things while I was with them in this world so they would be filled with my joy (my emphasis)…’ (v. 13). This refers to the joy of union with the Father and all those in union with him through faith. Remember these first disciples had nothing/no-one but Jesus! A good place to get to be [3]…
  • ‘I have given them your word… make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth’ (v. 14 & 17)… The gift of God’s word (written and incarnate), i.e. Christ’s ‘real’ disclosure of the Father and his love to his disciples, is his supreme service to his people.
  • This ‘word’ both cleanses and consecrates. ‘And I give myself (what more could he give?) as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth’ (v. 19). Ultimately, truth (and our living it) must be beautiful and convincing [4]. What amazing grace, and at what cost!
  • The purpose of this consecration is the apostolic mission of Christ and his Church in the world, rooted in the Father’s sending of the Son.

How about a brief stretch or coffee break before the fifth pearl? V. 20-21…

  • ‘I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are onemay they be in us so that the world may believe you sent me’ (v.20-21). Christ’s divine ‘incarnation’ and indwelling in his disciples is the only way to saving the world! By the way, wherever there is a true disciple, there are others whom he/she has discipled or is discipling into God’s forever family. The institutional Church is surely failing ‘big time’ here?
  • William Temple puts it like this, ‘The way to the union of Christendom does not lie ultimately through committee-rooms but through personal union with the Lord so deep and real as to be comparable with his union with the Father… If we are in the Father and the Son, we certainly shall be one, and our unity will increase our effective influence in the world.’ A while ago a mature man, not claiming any particular commitment to Christ and his Church, was invited to join us for a day of informal fellowship over food (a South African ‘braai,’ yummy!). He confessed that he had attended many churches over the years, but never felt he wanted to re-visit them. He then mentioned that he had seen and experienced something in our group that ‘made him want to come back for more.’ To God be the glory.
  • In this divine mission lies the one hope of the world. The world’s supreme need is to discover that it’s hope lies, not in power or materialism, but in the fact that the Father has sent the Son!

The sixth pearl, v. 22-24…

  • ‘I have given them the glory you have given me (v. 22)… Father (no epithet here, signifying the personal intimacy of the Son and Father), I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see (lit. ‘behold,’ give careful attention to’) [5] the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began’ (v.24). Jesus longs for the eternal companionship of his friends in the Father’s presence! Wonder of wonders.
  • It is a special, unique ‘glory,’ compared to which all other glories appear tarnished and tawdry [Our beloved Springboks have just lifted the coveted Rugby World Cup against all odds; we revel in the excitement and the glory, but these inevitably pass away]. This glory is the perfect love of the Father for the Son and of the Son for the Father – which is the Holy Spirit. It is the glory of the Godhead!
  • The purpose and consequence of this ‘gift of glory is that the unity of the Godhead may be reproduced in them – in us… so through the perfecting into one of the disciples and their converts (v. 23), the world is enabled progressively to recognize the divine activity at work… it is the manifestation of God’s love in us in our mutual love which shall at last convert the world’ (W. Temple) [6]. The Church in the West is splintered into tens of thousands of ugly bits, but recent research reveals that there is a united and beautiful Church emerging in the most unexpected parts of the world, e.g. China, Iraq, Iran, North India, North Africa, etc.

The seventh and final pearl, v. 25-26…

  • ‘O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. I have revealed you to them, and will continue to do so…’ (v. 25-26). An unbelieving world still rejects the splendour of God. God’s people have come to recognize something of his splendour, viz. his character of righteousness and love. The full picture of this splendour is yet to come!

Where do we go from here?? A few practical suggestions…

  • Read and re-read and re-read Jn. 17, until it gets hold of your head, heart and life.
  • If you’re into ‘simple church’ like me, try to network with other such groups in your town, city and nation.
  • Take opportunity, where possible, to join hands with fellow-believers who have a genuine ‘Jn. 17 heart and mission,’ even in traditional denominations.
  • Pray the Spirit to lead you into holistic cross-cultural ministries, especially to the poor. Or perhaps join hands with those fighting our polluted ecology.
  • Will you get hurt in your efforts at times? Inevitably – Jesus was. As my Scottish College principal used to quip, ‘To live above with the saints we love, that will be grace and glory! To live below with the saints we know, that is another story!’
  • Praise God and incessantly pray for Christ’s united body in all the world.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Schaeffer’s book was published in 1971. In it he addressed the desirable tension between the purity of the visible church in regard to doctrine and life on the one hand and the practice of an observable love on the other. [Some well-meaning folk totally spiritualize this unity, to the extent that there is no visible demonstration on earth. Many years ago there was a church-plant in Johannesburg (SA) called ‘The Invisible Church’ – did they gather invisible members I wonder??]

Paperback Church Before the Watching World Book

[2] To distill Jn. 17’s prayer into one or two blogs is virtually impossible. You can get a fuller handle on this passage in Michael Cassidy’s ‘The Church Jesus Prayed For.’ It’s a wonderful read, carved out of African Enterprise’s evangelistic and reconciliation quest in Africa and around the world over half a century.

[3] See my blog on the Church in Iraq, ‘When You’ve Lost Everything,’ dated 26/05/2015.

[4] I once again recommend Brian Zahnd’s fairly recent, ‘Beauty Will Save the World.’

[5] In his classic, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning,’ the famous Jewish psychiatrist and holocaust survivor, Dr. Viktor Frankl, vividly describes (in prison) visualizing (‘beholding’) his wife’s love in his quest for survival and future hope. Unbeknown to him, she and most of his family had already been incinerated in the ovens of Auschwitz.

[6] At our most recent annual ‘simple church’ gathering on an isolated Southern Free State farm, my room mate and I, on the last morning, way before dawn, were reviewing the weekend through a window with a brother on his way to switching on the power generator in the semi-dark. Our conclusion? ‘It’s all about love (Jesus’)… and practicing that love in the every day.’  

 

 

 

LOVERS OR PROSTITUTES?

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bride and groom holding hans

Dr. David Ryser was teaching at a school of ministry in the US. He quoted Sam Pascoe, ‘Christianity started in Palestine as a fellowship; it moved to Greece and became a philosophy; it moved to Italy and became an institution; it moved to Europe and became a culture; it came to America and became an enterprise.’ He mentioned that ‘enterprise’ can also be rendered ‘business.’ Martha raised a hand, ‘A business? But isn’t it supposed to be a body?’ He replied, ‘Yes.’ She continued, ‘But when a body becomes a business, isn’t that a prostitute?’ The room went dead silent and God’s presence fell on them. Dr. Ryser adds that the American Church in our time has become heavily populated by people who don’t know God, much less love him! [1]

Of spiritual prostitution there are plenty contemporary examples from around the world:

  • I live in Africa. Weekly I visit with friends in one of the poorest parts of our city. We run an organic garden supplying two soup kitchens feeding hungry children. These folk are plagued by American-style ‘prophets,’ ‘bishops’ and ‘apostles’ who take advantage of the poorest of the poor – bear in mind that in my country the bottom 10% of citizens bring home less than US $23 per month! These prostitute-churches have baskets for offertory plates, peddle ‘holy water’ and other paraphernalia all at a price. In our Gauteng Province there is one mega-church ‘pastor’ owning private planes and multiple luxury vehicles – he recently gave his very young daughter an Italian Maserati limo for her birthday. His ‘church’ can hardly cope with the thousands of devotees who worship him as ‘Daddy’ and ‘Major 1.’ [2]
  • Right now in my country top political figures who have been implicated by the Zondo Commission investigating ‘state capture’ are visiting various ‘churches’ for prayer, the clergy almost falling over their own feet to ‘bless’ them. [3]
  • A few days ago The New York Times high-lighted ‘the phonies, the charlatans who wave Bibles, the theatrically pious, and they are legion… Vice President Mike Pence wears his faith like a fluorescent orange vest. But when he visited the border this summer and saw human beings crammed like cord-wood in the Texas heat, that faith was invisible.’ President Trump tweets of himself as ‘the second coming of God.’ Brennan Manning wrote years ago that one of the greatest causes of atheism today ‘are Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world finds unbelievable.’ ‘Lord, please keep me from being among that number!’ [4]
  • More subtly, Dr. Ryser suggests that many of us came to Jesus because of what we were told he could do for us, viz. bless us in this life and then take us to heaven. And so some married Jesus for his money, and they don’t care if he lives or dies as long as they can get his stuff. Many have made his kingdom into a business, merchandising his anointing.  All this while the Church is supposed to be Christ’s bride and we God’s lovers! That’s pretty intimate stuff. How can we love someone we don’t even know? Prostitutes (male/female) and those using them pretend to love. Hyser concludes, ‘Take it from a recovering prostitute when I say there is no substitute for an unconditional, intimate relationship with God… there is no palatable substitute available to us… we must choose.’

Is the above a little ‘over the top??’

  • Yahweh commanded the 8th century BC (?) prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute to illustrate Ephraim and Israel’s spiritual condition: “‘I know you, Ephraim, inside and out. Yes, Israel, I see right through you! … Ephraim, you’ve played your sex-and-religion games long enough. All Israel is thoroughly polluted… Every breath they take is a whore’s breath, They wouldn’t recognize GOD if they saw me.” (Hos. 1:2ff; 5:3ff/MSG)
  • The prophet Jeremiah prophesied much later against his beloved Judah’s adultery with idols: “A long time ago you broke out of the harness. You shook off all restraints. You said, ‘I will not serve!’ and off you went, visiting every sex-and-religion shrine on the way, like a common whore. You were a select vine when I planted you… And look how you’ve turned out…” (2:20ff/MSG; cf. 3:1ff) (Jn. 15).
  • Following on Jeremiah, Ezekiel issued the same rebuke (Ezek.16:26ff; 23:1ff; 23:27).
  • By contrast, the apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian Church, holding up the beautiful Bridegroom-and-Bride theme of the Bible before all husbands: ”He (Christ) gave up his life for her (i.e. his Bride), to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without blemish…’ (Eph. 5:25-27)
  • In his Apocalypse John addressed the Church in Sardis: “‘Yet there are some in the church in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes with evil. They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy'” (Rev. 3:4-6). And again, “I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband… ‘Come here. I’ll show you the Bride, the Wife of the Lamb…’ (21:2,9/MSG).

So how do we as individuals and assemblies [5], transition from spiritual prostitution to lovers of God?? Ultimately there can only be one answer, by encountering afresh the agape of God (nothing sentimental here, nothing superficial, no easy-going love on the part of Christ). Only the Spirit can realize this in our hearts. That’s why Paul prayed for the Ephesian Church to experience ‘the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God!’ (Eph. 3:16-19/NLT). When I need re-assurance of God’s love for me, I often turn to Brennan Manning [6]. He described God’s love in terms of an intense, ‘furious longing’ for us. That love is totally unconditional: God loves us as we are, not as we should be, because nobody is as they should be!’ ‘My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it. In admitting my shadow side I learn who I am and what God’s grace means.’ Where do we start? ‘We must go out into a desert of some kind (your backyard will do) and come into a personal experience of the awesome love of God’ (Manning). Why don’t you and I do just that at first opportunity and trust God for the outcome?!

At the end of the day a choice lies before us and all communities of faith, the Lord enabling us: to live the life of religious prostitutes or authentic lovers of God. What will I choose? What will you? Today is the day…

god images photos worship

[My Jesus I Love Thee by Go Fish]

 

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Down-sizing my library several times, I regret giving away Francis Schaeffer’s out of print The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century.’ It included a special section on the apostasy and adultery of the Western Church.

[2] ‘Mixing Christianity with party politics is like mixing cyanide with grape juice… you cannot be wrapped up and consumed with today’s political system and be useful in the kingdom of God. You cannot embrace nationalism and embrace God’s kingdom.’ Frank Viola’s Insurgence, p. 390.

[3] Malawian ‘Pastor’ Bushiri and his wife are currently appearing in a South African court on various commercial charges. Our South African ‘Public Protector,’ whose competency and political motives are questioned by many across the land, is also doing the church-round.

[4] I attended a missions conference recently where the plenary speaker, David Broodryk, quoted research by Christian Schwarz to the effect that the longer people (in the West?) are Christians, the weaker their spirituality.

[5] I have pastored traditional churches for 38 years and facilitated organic house churches for 13 years. I can tell you that spiritual ‘prostitutes’ expose themselves and heal more rapidly in small, simple ekklesiae. One can comfortably hide for a lifetime in ‘Church-As-We-Know It.’

[6] Brennan Manning (1934-2013) was an American author, laicized priest and public speaker. His best-known work was The Ragamuffin Gospel. Manning confessed to a life-long struggle with alcoholism, his ‘shadow side’ (don’t we all have our ‘shadows?’) – his vulnerability seemingly added to his credibility.