‘I’M ON MY WAY! I’LL BE THERE SOON!’ [Part 4: The Resurrection of the Dead]

ᐈ Cemetery stock pictures, Royalty Free cemetery pictures ...

We live in a beautiful sea-side city. If I take a certain route to the beach front, I drive past a large cemetery where lie my father, mother, younger brother and sister. The family grave can take one more coffin – whose will it be? That’s the reality.

A brief summary of the Old Testament understanding of death and resurrection:

  • Throughout Israel’s religion runs the fear of death: ‘For my life is full of troubles, and death draws near (Sheol = the vague, shadowy world of the dead). I am as good as dead, like a strong man with no strength left. They have left me among the dead, and I lie like a corpse in the grave…’ (Ps. 88:3-5). Almost three years ago, I lay comatose for five weeks following emergency surgery and a viral respiratory infection. In that hallucinatory state I saw myself in a deep underground cavern, lying among corpses on a cold stone slab, watching my last minutes tick by. My own version of Sheol!? Lol!
  • However, even in Sheol, the OT held an expectation beyond the grave. Even here there were indications of Yahweh’s dominion over death: ‘you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your holy one to rot in the grave. You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever’ (Ps. 16:9ff). Sheol didn’t have the last word! (on personal reflection, thank God!)

The Garden Tomb, rock tomb in Jerusalem, Israel

Church of the Holy Sepulchre Pictures - The place where Jesus was crucidied at Golgotha

The New Testament picture of death and resurrection is much clearer! [On a trip to Israel some years ago, Melanie and I explored the beautiful garden tomb location of Jesus’ resurrection and the more likely resurrection site, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher] The difference between the OT and NT pictures is not that one lacks and the other has an eschatology. Rather, in the NT, the reality of Yahweh’s life-giving power is fully revealed. The focus is no longer on what God can do in the face of death but on what he has done! The apostle Paul reminds his apprentice, Timothy, ‘And now he has made all of this plain to us by the appearing of Christ Jesus, our Savior. He broke the power of death and illuminated the way to life and immortality through the Good News!’ (2 Tim. 1:10)

Pauline expert Tom Wright is unsurpassed when it comes to bringing to life the key resurrection passage of 1 Cor. 15 (in itself a summary of the whole Gospel):

  • Some in Corinth had denied the resurrection of the believer, on the normal pagan grounds that ‘everyone knew’ dead people stayed dead. In chap. 15 Paul refers to Jesus’ resurrection as ‘the first-fruit of the great harvest,’ when all who belong to him will be raised as he was (v. 23).
  • 1 Cor. 15 echoes and alludes to Gen. 1-3. It’s a theology of ‘new creation,’ not the abandonment of creation. The passage speaks of two different kinds of bodies, the present one and the future one. As a Greek expert, Wright makes the point that several popular translations (RSV, etc) have incorrectly translated the two bodies as ‘a physical body’ and ‘a spiritual body.’ Paul is in fact contrasting the present, decaying and doomed-to-die body with the future, non-decaying, never-to-die body. Our present body is animated by the human psyche, which gets us through the present life but is powerless against illness, decay and death. Our future body is animated by God’s pneuma, i.e. ‘the energizing breath’ of God’s new creation!
  • In second-Temple Judaism, resurrection was a peripheral topic. But in early Christianity the resurrection moves from the circumference to the centre. It was also central to the early Church fathers Clement, Ignatius, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus. In short, take away the stories of Jesus’ birth (important as that is) and you lose two chapters of Matthew and Luke each. Take away the resurrection and you lose the entire NT and most of the 2nd century church fathers. [1]
  • Judaism was vague on what kind of body the resurrected would possess. From the start early Christianity taught that it would be a body as real as the physical object occupying space and time right now. But, in addition, it would be a transformed body, a body whose material, created from the old material, would have brand-new properties. For Paul the new body would not be a kind of ‘spiritual body’ in the sense of a ‘non-material’ one. Our future body will be one of ‘transformed physicality,’ which we can hardly imagine while here on earth. Paul is making his readers think in new patterns: there will be a new mode of physicality, i.e. our future bodies will be much more real, more firmed up (thank God!) and more transcendent in every way. We sometimes speak of someone who’s been very ill as being ‘a shadow of their former self.’ Well, a believer in the present life is a mere shadow of his/her future self, which God keeps for us in his heavenly storeroom, made to measure and put on at Jesus’ return. As an Easter hymn says:

‘O how glorious and resplendent

Fragile body, thou shalt be, 

When endued with so much beauty,

Full of health, and strong, and free!

Full of vigor, full of pleasure,

That shall last eternally!’

  • If we ask why we shall be given new bodies, the answer is they’ll empower us to ‘rule wisely’ over God’s new world (cf. Gen. 1-2). Forget those images of disembodied spirits strumming harps on cloud 9. There will be service to render, and we’ll relish it. All the talents, skills and gifts we have put to God’s service in our present life – and perhaps even our interests and likings we gave up because they conflicted with our present vocation, will be enhanced, ennobled and exercised to our Creator-Redeemer’s praise. Coming back to Gen. 1 and 2, the garden will need tending once more, animal life re-named, the ecology looked after, etc. All these are signposts to a larger reality, a reality to which most Christians give little or no thought. [I’m sure my wife will be allocated to the garden dept, while I’ll oversee the theological library dept – I hope so!]

When will this resurrection happen? In past years, philosophically believing that God is beyond space and time, I believed that we go, immediately upon our death, into the full resurrection state. However, if we stick closely to the NT text, that is unlikely. Paul says that, if Christ is the ‘first fruits’ of the resurrection, those who belong to him will be ‘raised at his coming.’ John’s Apocalypse and many contemporary Jewish writings speak of the dead waiting patiently, and sometimes not so patiently, for the time when they would finally be raised to the fullness of new life in Christ. As Wright has observed, ‘Time matters; it was part of the original good creation.’ [the subject of ‘time’ is massive, so no details here]

At the end of this Second Coming series, it’s time to make a simple choice. C.S. Lewis wrote in his classic ‘The Problem of Pain:’ “They (Adam and Eve) wanted, as we say, to ‘call their souls’ their own.’ But that means to live a lie, for our souls are not, in fact, our own. They wanted some corner in the universe of which they could say to God, ‘This is our business, not yours.’ But there is no such corner.’ Won’t you change your mind about God (‘repent’), come to a loving Christ just as you are and surrender all of you to him? Share that good news with someone today! Jesus won’t spare you pain on this earth, but he will be with you in it all, to the end of the age!

Joni Eareckson Tada: Why Should I Fear Death?

(Joni Eareckson Tada – ‘Why Should I Fear Death?’ Christianity Today [3])

Footnotes:

  1. Beware the many popular teachings today that maintain the answer to life lies within us, when the answer lies in Christ, who he is and what he’s graciously done for us.
  2. The Church has always been beleaguered by a kind of spiritualism/dualism that excludes the body from the final Christ-event. Man’s whole existence is affected by the revelation of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. There is no trace of dualism here… In this bodily existence the bell of the future sounds!’ (G.C. Berkouwer).
  3. Joni, the renowned quadriplegic Christian author and speaker, now living in chronic pain, testifies that that pain is eased by the prospect of her bodily resurrection and transformation in Christ.
  4. Dallas Willard (‘The Divine Conspiracy’) uses two pictures to explain the believer’s dying. The first depicts a child playing in the evening among her toys. Gradually she grows tired and lays her head down for a moment of rest, lazily continuing to play. The next thing she experiences or ‘tastes’ is the morning light of a new day, flooding the bed her parents tucked her into. Significantly, we don’t remember ‘falling asleep,’ we don’t ‘see’ it or ‘taste’ it! The second picture is of one who walks to a doorway between rooms. While still interacting with those they are leaving, they begin to see and converse with people in the room beyond. Before the widespread use of heavy sedation, it was common for those keeping watch at the bedside of the dying to observe how the one making the transition often begins to speak of those who have gone before. They come to meet him/her while still in touch with those they’re leaving behind. The curtain parts briefly before they pass through the door to life beyond the grave. These pictures helped me when contemplating my own mortality, post-surgery, a few years ago. I trust they help you too.

‘I’M ON MY WAY! I’LL BE THERE SOON!’ [The Reality of Christ’s Return – Part 3]

Baltic Sea and Cloudy Sky - Free Stock Photo by 2happy on ...

[Baltic Sea and Clouds]

Clouds mean different things to different people at different times: to the pessimist, ‘those look ominous; ‘ to the farmer, ‘those look promising;’ to the optimist, ‘every cloud has a silver lining!’ The historian Mark wrote concerning Jesus’ promised return, ‘everyone will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory. And he will send out his angels to gather his chosen ones from all over the world’ – from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven’ (13:26-27). ‘Son of Man’ is a title Jesus used of himself. The prophet Daniel, in his night-time vision of competing kingdoms, saw ‘someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. He was given authority, honor and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal – it will never end. His kingdom will never be destroyed!’ (7:13-14) The evangelist Matthew added the thought of suffering to that of sovereignty: ‘And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the peoples of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory’ (24:30). The apostle John’s said concerning the all-conquering Christ, ‘Riding the clouds, he’ll be seen by every eye, those who mocked him and killed him will see him, peoples from all nations and all times will tear their clothes in lament. Oh, Yes!’ (Rev. 1:7/MSG)

Both Old and New Testament used the imagery of clouds. In the account of Christ’s ascension, ‘cloud’ represented divine covering and concealment (Acts 1:9). On the other hand, ‘cloud’ often signified God’s majesty on display: the Psalmist sang of mysterious, dark clouds surrounding God’s throne (Ps. 97); the fleeing Israelites were led by a special cloud signifying Yahweh’s presence, guidance and providence on their long journey to Canaan (Ex. 14). With regard to Christ’s second advent, clouds symbolized his splendid kingship over all. Quoting Dutch theologian, G.C. Berkouwer: ‘The ambivalence is no longer in the simultaneous concealment and revelation – distance and nearness at the same time – but in the glory that is manifested in its relationship to those who await or do not await Christ for their salvation… his coming on the clouds is not an entirely new and separate aspect of His coming, but an indication of His appearance in glory in this world!’  I.o.w. Christ’s second advent will be an event belonging to the same order of reality as all earlier visitations of God accompanied by cloud. Skepticism Too Easily Slides Into Cynicism – Scripturient

TOP 10 QUOTES BY RUDOLF BULTMANN | A-Z Quotes

Of course throughout the centuries, many have questioned the reality, perspicuity, visibility and personal nature of Christ’s return. E.g. for the influential German existentialist theologian Rudolf Bultmann* (1884-1976), all this was literally incredible for modernity. The New Testament’s ‘primitive’ world view, with its ‘mythical’ setting, was totally obsolete to humankind come of age. For him history didn’t come to an end… it would continue to run its course. With respect to Bultmann’s brilliant mind, such an outlook is nothing new. Peter, the cussing, practical, earthy disciple-cum-apostle of Jesus, reminded his persecuted readers of this thought-trend even in his time (2 Pet. 3:3ff). As Berkouwer points out, the important question in this debate is whether the meaning of the cross (according to Bultmann, the eschatological event of the NT) by its very nature excludes Christ’s coming again simply because our postmodern world deems it impossible and superfluous. Peter, an eye-witness of Christ’s empty tomb and historic transfiguration on Mt. Hermon,  Mount Hermon Israel Images, Stock Photos & Vectors | Shutterstock

just before his martyrdom (nothing more sobering than that), encouraged a suffering Church, “I will work hard to make sure you always remember these things after I’m gone. For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes when he received honor and glory from God the Father said to him, ‘This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.’ We ourselves heard that voice when we were with him on the holy mountain. Because of that experience, we have even greater confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets. You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place – until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts…” (2 Pet. 1:15-19). And so the Church of all ages, even in the darkest times, hears the words of her exalted Lord, ‘Yes, I am coming soon!’ and joyfully responds, Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!’ (Rev. 22:20).

What is our calling as we patiently await our Master’s return? Peter would have been aware of Messiah’s identification of his disciples as ‘salt and light’ in a rotting and dark world (Mt. 6:13-16). The apostle Paul’s gives us an interesting insight in his letter to the Philippians in Rome’s far-off colony of Macedonia: ‘Dear brothers and sisters, pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example. For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they only think of this life here on the earth. But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives…’  And we are eagerly awaiting for him to return as our Savior’ (Phil. 3:17-20). Remember, in the NT the gap between ‘heaven’ and ‘earth’ is paper-thin!

  • Moffat translated v. 20, ‘We are a colony of heaven on earth.’ Sadly, many Western Christians have in the past had little/no concern for this earth. They have argued, ‘our home is in heaven’ – ‘we’re just a-passing through.’ They’re on the glory-train to their real home ‘in the sky.’ That is not biblical Christianity. For many of Philippi’s inhabitants, as Roman colonials, their city was ‘a little bit of Rome’ away from Rome. In fact, Caesar didn’t want people living in Philippi and other colonies to return to Rome – the purpose of being a Roman citizen was to take Roman rule and culture all over the world! Similarly, the ekklesia of Jesus is ‘a colony of heaven on earth.’ His kingdom-citizens are tasked to bring something of the very life and rule of heaven, to earth. Hence Jesus’ prayer, ‘May your kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven (Mt.6:10). In short, Jesus will return at the climax of history to set up his everlasting kingdom of love and righteousness here on earth. The apostle John confirmed this in his Apocalypse, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them…’ So he took me in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and he showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God!’ (Rev. 21:1-3, 10-11). Throughout all of history, the living God has always come down to his people, to indwell them and live his divine life in them and through them!
  • As I write, renewed racial tensions have exploded in the USA, Britain and Europe. It’s not a new problem: it goes right back to the NT Jewish-Gentile divide and many others before. However, from that early ‘primitive’ Church there emerged a Jesus-type-radicalism that transcended all human barriers. In those early radical communities everyone was ‘family’: Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, rich and poor, male and female. To such an extent that the Roman world stood in awe as they saw people who had previously hated each other, begin to love one another and ‘do life together’ in the name of Jesus! (cf. Acts 2:42) (do read Eph. 2:14-20) Today still, in many places, there is a new race emerging, a colony from another realm, yet for this earth. It’s ‘the fellowship of the reconciled.’ In our local multi-cultural house church we have a dear brother, physically beaten up many times in the early 1980’s by white farmers on a rural citrus farm. Understandably, he became extremely bitter toward the white man. He sought help from classic Communists like Marx and Engels but found no ultimate answers as to his personal identity. One day a friend gave him a Bible, and for the first time in his life he discovered he was accepted, acknowledged and loved by God and others confessing Jesus’ name. What a testimony he’s been to our group, what a blessing, what a guide.

How to Ask God for Forgiveness (Christianity): 10 Steps

[In Part 4 we hope to deal with the resurrection of the body]

May our reigning and returning LORD JESUS himself inspire us all, as individuals and Jesus-communities, to true repentance (change of mind and character), greater humility and unselfish service in a world of selfism (C.S. Lewis).

* Bultmann was influenced by Martin Heidegger, the renowned German existentialist philosopher. Perhaps also by Enlightenment-thinking which notoriously insisted on splitting history and faith, facts and values, religion and politics. Hence Bultmann focused on the Church’s experience of faith rather than the historicity of Christ. In his mind the resurrection was not so much a fact of history but a projection of early Christian belief. On the historical Christ, I would heartily recommend the research and subsequent writings of N.T. Wright, leading NT historian and scholar today: see for example his ‘The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is.’ He questions the arrogance of modern scholarship which has not allowed Jesus to be a thinking, reflective theologian. He submits that not only Paul, John and the author of Hebrews, but also Matthew, Mark and Luke were highly gifted, reflective and creative theologians. ‘Why should we be forced to regard Jesus as an unreflective, instinctive, simplistic person, who never thought through what he was doing in the way that several of his contemporaries and followers were well able to do?’ Wright adds that modern psychology can’t even clearly work out our present culture’s issues – to suppose one can achieve clear results with someone from a distant time and culture is to go blindfold into a dark room to look for a black cat that probably isn’t there!

[Imho, the problem also lies with many ‘academics’ of our day (Bultmann didn’t tolerate any critics). Thomas Oden, American theologian, has said it’s more about theologians today than the biblical text. R.C. Sproul, who studied under Berkouwer, suggests that we don’t have to do away with our intellect in order to trust the Bible, but do we have to do give up our pride! The text itself should be allowed to interpret us, instead of (only) the other way round]

‘I’M ON MY WAY! I’LL BE THERE SOON!’ [The Reality of Christ’s Return – Part 2]

[As to differing views on the Lord’s return, none of these affect our standing in/with Christ. Being an a-millenialist/pre-millenialist/dispensationalist in no way excludes us from God’s great saving purpose. The key is personal relationship, not perfect doctrine]

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Allow me to echo Part 1’s encouragement to ‘fine-tune’ our ears to God’s voice amid the cacophony of voices clamouring for our attention today. Many years ago now, Melanie and I were backpacking our way around Britain. Toward the end of our trek, we found ourselves among the hills and lochs of N.W. Scotland. One particular day, high up in the hills, we were enjoying the breathless silence of the country-side. Suddenly the quiet was pierced by a shrill whistle in the distance. Then I spotted the Highland shepherd, whistling for his flock to gather and follow him. That experience has never left me. Years later, while studying the evangelist John’s story of ‘The Good Shepherd’ I was reminded of his words, ‘After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice’ (Jn. 10:4-5/NLT).

Scotland's oldest shepherd, 94, gets huge accolade for lifetime of ...

The NT often uses the word parousia/’appearance’ to describe Christ’s return. When the early Church spoke about Christ’s final appearance, their thoughts went back to his first. In his first coming, Jesus came to deal with sin and the devil – in his second coming he returns ‘not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him’ (Heb. 9:28). The disciples were familiar with Jesus’ effulgent mountain-top transfiguration (Mt.17:2) – they also grasped that he would some day return from heaven in the same way’ they saw him go as ascending Lord! (Acts 1:11) The term parousia isn’t limited to Christ’s coming, it’s also used for the coming of any person (e.g. Stephanas in 1 Cor. 16:17), even that of the ominous ‘man of lawlessness’ (2 Thess. 2:9). However, parousia obtains a special significance when used for Christ’s second ‘coming,’ ‘the parousia.’ This refers to his unique and historical return lying at the very heart of the Christian hope. Jesus’ return doesn’t spring from an obsessive compulsion to speculate about the Church’s future details nor to probe its inscrutable mysteries – rather it’s the simple announcement of Christ’s climactic, historic, visible and personal return to fully establish his kingdom on earth (Mt. 6:10). The Nicene Creed (325 AD) puts it beautifully: ‘For us and for our salvation he (Christ) came down from heaven; he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and was made human. He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate; he suffered and was buried. The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures. He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead. His kingdom will never end!’ These words echo the Apostle Paul’s gospel credo in 1 Cor. 15: how about reading the whole chapter (we wouldn’t dreaming of reading a love letter one paragraph at a time) from a Bible translation different to the one you’re used to? In this passage Paul affirms the death and resurrection of Christ, the resurrection of the dead and transformation of the body: what assurance, comfort and hope! In the mean time, we keep serving Jesus daily and faithfully in whatever circumstances. I recall my Scottish College Principal asking us, ‘What would you be doing if you knew Jesus was coming tomorrow?’ Before we could reply he added, ‘I know what I would be doing… lecturing you!’ (cf. Paul’s rebuke of the idle in 2 Thess. 3)

In the light of Jesus’ ‘return,’ we celebrate his abiding presence with us. After directing his followers to make disciples of all nations, he adds, ‘Be sure of this: I am with you always… (Mt. 28:20). As we presently live between the ‘already’ but ‘not yet’ of Christ’s reign, we recall his earlier declaration, ‘For where two or three gather together in my name, I am there among them!’ (Mt. 18:20) The present epoch is not an empty waiting-time. Paul repeatedly endorsed Christ’s living in/through the hearts of his followers (e.g. Eph.3:17a) as a present reality. Throughout history the Church has celebrated Christus praesens.’ We rejoice in this every time we ‘break bread.’ Before doing so we pray for grace to patiently await, with uplifted heads, our Lord Jesus from heaven. We eat and drink ‘until he comes again’ (1 Cor. 11:26). We’re led to the window through which we look out on the coming marriage-feast of the Lamb: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9). The images of our present and coming banquet merge into one another (G.C. Berkouwer’s The Return of Christ’ p. 147). [1]

300+ Free Communion & Eucharist Images - Pixabay

There is an ancient Christian legend about an evil angel roaming around to deceive someone, who, on an occasion encounters a good angel. Catching the evil angel off-guard, the good angel asked, ‘What do you miss most since leaving heaven?’ The evil angel intuitively replied, ‘The sheer joy, the exhilarating morning and evening praise!’ Oops! While busy with the onerous task of re-building the temple after its destruction, Nehemiah encouraged Israel not to be dejected and sad, for the joy of the LORD is your strength!’ (Neh. 8:10). What else could have turned the beaten-up Paul and Silas in their Macedonian prison to joyful praying and singing around midnight while the other prisoners were listening? (Acts 16:25). It was the joyous fore-taste of heaven that would sustain the Apostle Peter and his readers in times of terrible persecution by Rome: 1 Pet. 1:8ff, You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious and inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.’

Larisachayka

Finally, hand-in-hand with our anticipation of the Lord’s return, goes an openness, courage and confidence in Christ (Heb. 3:6; 10:19) – this in stark contrast with the fear and uncertainty of unbelief. Rather, the unbelieving cry for the mountains and the rocks to fall on them and hide them from the face of the one who sits on the throne (Rev. 6:16). This unease stems from a life-time of ignoring and neglecting the beautiful face of God revealed in Jesus. There can be no doubt as to the concreteness with which the NT speaks of this judgment. Although it concerns ordinary existence, there is nevertheless no hint of moralism to it. The judgment is Christ’s, who has come and will come again. In it, all of life is manifest. The entire judgment has been given to Him (Jn. 5:22). Clearly and simply it points to the depth of man’s crisis: ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life.’ The judgment – the crisis is concentrated in Christ himself: it is not (only) an unveiling of all things in general, but of one’s relationship to Christ in particular… Love sets the criteria for judgment, the love of God that appeared in Christ” (G.C. Berkouwer). Ultimately we’re all accountable. The central decision of life, namely for Christ or deliberately/unconsciously against him, remains the crucial factor and circumscribes our life in its entirety. With regard to these somewhat puzzling eternal issues, I’ve been greatly helped by C.S. Lewis’s ‘The Great Divorce.’ It journals a bus-trip of ordinary folk on vacation from hell, leaving their dark and dingy world and shown a beautiful vista of heaven – only to re-board the bus and return to their gloomy existence. The gates to hell only have a handle on the inside! (Lewis). The Great Divorce

Hence the necessity of ‘gossiping’ the gospel to the world (Mt. 24:14), even in a day of populist pluralism, costless discipleship and cheap ‘Christian’ universalism. I repeat, what is said in the Bible about Christ’s parousia is no fantastic series of events to speculate about but something to be proclaimed to one and all. This in a day when most ‘churches’ focus inwardly on selfish personal achievement and ‘self-discovery’ (as important as the latter is in itself) rather than publicly proclaiming (by word and deed) Christ’s good news to the broken and the poor. Paul rightly says, ‘an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!’ (1 Cor. 9:16). For your/my encouragement, it was over-hearing three humble old women standing in a sunny Bedford doorway ‘gossiping the gospel’ that gave the world the great John Bunyan!

I trust you’ll join me for PART 3 of ‘THE REALITY OF CHRIST’S RETURN!’

FOOTNOTES:

[1] See my Archives for a blog-series, ‘Re-Thinking Communion,’ published 24th November 2012.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Guilded crown and cross — Stock Photo

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]
  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 the different millenial views, see YouTube ‘The Millenium: The Last Days According to Jesus’ with R.C. Sproul. https://youtu.be/Ejd4ZAnXmMM

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

Moravian Church - Wikiwand

 

 

 

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

 

SO WHEN WILL WE ALL GROW UP?!

Set Growing Evolution On White Background Stock Vector (Royalty ...

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?

Image result for fREE PICS OF BOLAND VINEYARD SA

[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!