FRESH WIND, FRESH FIRE – THE BAPTISM OF THE HOLY SPIRIT (PART 3)

Free trees wind Images, Pictures, and Royalty-Free Stock Photos -  FreeImages.com

[Please Refer Parts 1 & 2 for Background]

BEING BORN AGAIN’ OF THE SPIRIT (JN. 3) CAN COINCIDE WITH, OR PRECEDE, ‘THE BAPTISM AND FULLNESS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT’…

E.g. John the Baptizer was ‘filled with the Spirit’ from his birth: Lk. 1:62-80. Saul of Tarsus was ‘filled with the Spirit’ when Christ revealed himself to him on the way to Damascus to persecute Christians: Acts 9:15-19. I’ve already described my own conversion experience which seemed to coincide with my ‘baptism of the Spirit’ and call to preach the Good News of the Kingdom. Some friends and I formed a ‘gospel team,’ preaching and testifying (Salvation Army style) on the city square, witnessing to folk in restaurants, etc: one restaurant-encounter led to the conversion of a young jockey who joined our team. We were as raw as anything, but God seemed to over-rule our immaturity and bless our efforts anyway – he definitely has a sense of humour!

Listen to Dr. Graham Scroggie (1877-1958)[theologian and pastor of Charlotte Chapel in Edinburgh and Spurgeon’s Tabernacle in London] addressing his students: ‘I know that there is a first filling of the Holy Spirit which constitutes a crisis in the life of a man or woman, and life after that can never be the same again. It came to me twenty four years ago. Though I look back with deepest regret over much failure during these years, 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. May this not be your hour of first experience, as that was mine? You know that God is willing, but, are you?’ [as we can’t contain wind in a box (Jn. 3:5-8), neither (I submit) can we biblical terminology]

THE MAIN PURPOSE OF ‘THE BAPTISM OF THE HOLY SPIRIT’ IS CHRISTIAN WITNESS

Events | Rembembering George Whitefield

The baptism of the Spirit is not a self-promoting, grand-standing, ‘feel good’ experience as so often peddled from post-modern platforms! I recall one very sincere church member who was forever trying to palm off her ‘baptism of the Spirit with tongues’ experience on my wife and others, whether interested or not. One day in her enthusiasm she volunteered to help me with our outreach to the very poor in a nearby shanty-town. She accompanied our little team but couldn’t wait to get away, never volunteering again. I’m not sure how she missed the simple promise of Jesus in Acts 1:8, ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth!’ (NIV) (cf. Mt. 28:16-20) [1]

We’ve already seen the role of the early disciples in extending Christ’s kingdom wherever they were and went. Church history since then is replete with outstanding examples of evangelism and mission. One could point to the 1860’s awakening under Dr. Andrew Murray (1928-1917) in the Western Cape (S. Africa): it started with a rushing wind and simultaneous prayer of the youth in a church hall – soon many of them made themselves available for mission wherever God should call them. Adults left for countries in Africa, especially Nyasaland (Malawi) – my wife’s distant forebears were part of that movement. Add the evangelization of the early 1900’s Boer POW camps in India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Bermuda, St. Helena Island, etc, which in turn spawned missionary volunteers to other parts of the world. Murray’s books on prayer, revival and mission are influential to this very day, all over the world.

I’ve just re-read the 500+ page ‘The Journal Once Lost,’ extracts from the diary of Dr. John Sung (1901-1944), a US chemistry PhD and outstanding evangelist to China and S.E. Asia. ‘Born again’ and powerfully ‘baptized with the Spirit’ in 1927 while in America, he returned to his native China to preach and train up gospel-teams by the hundreds in order to win his nation to Christ. Though suffering a serious post-operative ailment all his life, he prayed for the repentance, healing and exorcisms of tens of thousands wherever he went. Some were even raised from the dead after he laid hands on them.

A house church member has just given me South African-born Dr. Michael Cassidy’s amazing story, ‘Footprints in the African Sand.’ It includes the account of his God-given passion for the cities of Africa, during the 1960’s. I was privileged to meet up with him and his team during a mission at the Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg in the late ’60’s. Since then I’ve heard him speak at many key conferences. Author and speaker, John Ortberg, has written of him and his teams, ‘Perhaps no other mission agency has had the impact AE has had in the cities of Africa.’ Among other things, Michael and AE were instrumental in the prevention of a bloody civil war in South Africa during the critical first democratic elections of 1994. [2]

In the late 1980’s God led an American named David Bliss to read the works of Andrew Murray. God burdened him to visit South Africa and in particular the town of Wellington where Dr. Murray preached and pastored for many years. David decided to establish a missions training centre in Wellington, in order to stir up Murray’s lost message of prayer, revival and mission. In those days of segregation he befriended a isiXhosa-speaking pastor-intercessor from the Transkei, David Mniki. Together they made a formidable team. We decided to host a missions conference in Port Elizabeth, called ‘Bless the Nations’ (cf. Gen. 12). The conference took off, regular ‘concerts of prayer’ for world missions were held, and a small ‘missions school’ for church members was established which I was privileged to head up. This stir of the Spirit led many congregations in our area, including my own, to instigate short term mission visits in South Africa and beyond. God started to raise up some of the congregational members to undergo further training to serve locally and in Africa, the Middle East, Russia, Thailand, Japan, Peru, etc. Some are still serving in those distant countries. Those annual missions conferences continued for over twenty years, a few years ago taking on a condensed shape but continuing to mobilize folk for missions locally and abroad.

HOW DOES ‘THE BAPTISM OF THE HOLY SPIRIT’ TAKE PLACE IN OUR EXPERIENCE?

If you’re looking for a quick formula, I’m going to disappoint you, but there are some guiding principles. Ds. Riekert Botha, heading up a Bible School in the Western Cape, suggests that the baptism, biblically and historically, has happened in three major ways…

First, through corporate prayer, as illustrated in the Upper Room (Acts 1:4-5) and on the day of Pentecost itself (Acts 2:1-13). Two other great servants of God who have confirmed this approach were Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), New England Congregational theologian and revival preacher, as well as Charles Finney (1792-1875), American Presbyterian and ‘father of modern revivalism.’

Second, through Spirit-anointed preaching: ‘While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers … were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles…’ (Acts 10:44-45/Peter at Cornelius’ house). “‘As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said, ‘John baptised with water, but you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit'” (Acts 11:15-16/Peter at Caesarea). During Englishman George Whitefield’s (1714-1770) powerful preaching in Cambuslang, Scotland, the open air scene was like that of a battle-field, with some 40,000 people lying or kneeling on the ground, crying out to God for salvation.

Third, through the prayerful ‘laying on of hands’ (Acts 8:14-17). The apostles in Jerusalem sent Peter and John to Samaria: ‘When they arrived, they prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come upon any of them; they had simple been baptised into the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.’ We read of a similar happening when Ananias ‘laid hands’ on Saul of Tarsus, who became the great apostle Paul, sent to the Gentiles (Acts 9:11-19). [NB, in our own time we need to be discerning as to who lays hands on us because of the explosion of charlatan preachers, so-called ‘prophets’ and peddlers of occult spirits. Know the character and fruits of your local leadership/community (Gal. 5:22-25)]. One of our house church members was sharing with my wife how, when visiting a little Anglican Church on the beautiful Southern Cape Coast, she went forward for Communion. The visiting preacher gently laid his hand on her head and asked God’s blessing on her. Immediately, it was as if an electric current ripped through her body. She understood it as her baptism of the Spirit, receiving the gift of tongues (1 Cor. 12) at a later point. She has become one of our most mature members, with wonderful gifts of compassion and intercession!

Why do we extend our hands when praying over? | The Feast Posh

THE ‘BAPTISM OF THE SPIRIT’ SHOULD LEAD TO OUR BEING ‘FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT,’ BY SLOW PROCESS OR UNUSUAL HAPPENING, PREPARING THE WAY FOR SPIRITUAL AWAKENING OF THE SAINTS LOCALLY/AROUND THE WORLD…

In closing, I leave you with the words of C.S. Lewis. Christianity ‘is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into the hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be), is I think, preferable. It is true that some people may find they have to wait in the hall for a considerable time, while others feel certain almost at once which door they must knock at. I do not know why there is this difference, but I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait. When you do get into your room you will find that the long wait has done you some kind of good which you would not have had otherwise. But you must regard it as waiting, not as camping. You must keep on praying for light: and, of course, even in the hall, you must begin trying to obey the rules which are common to the whole house. And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and paneling. In plain language, the question should never be: ‘Do I like that kind of service?’ but ‘Are these doctrines true: is holiness here? Does my conscience move me toward this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular doorkeeper?’ When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house” (‘Mere Christianity’).

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Regarding the baptism of the Holy Spirit and ‘speaking in tongues,’ I refer you to F.F. Bruce’s commentary on ‘The Acts of the Apostles,’ Tyndale Press, p. 82. Therein he distinguishes between the glossalia of Acts 2 and that of 1 Cor. 12-14. What is quite interesting is that, during the 1960’s Indonesian Revival on the Island of Timor, ordinary unschooled island folk were heard in gatherings to speak in French, German and Hebrew (Mel Tari/‘Like a Mighty Wind’).

Years ago I heard the account of a Russian fisherman, seriously injured on a trawler off the coast of Namibia. A local padre was asked to visit him. They spent many hours conversing, the fisherman in Russian, and the padre in English. Supernaturally, they could understand one another through that extended interchange. They shared the Good News and prayed together. The sailor’s serious injury was healed and within days he was able to return to his craft and beloved family.

[2] Michael graduated from Cambridge University and Fuller Theological Seminary in California. He has written many books, of which I’ve read most.

FRESH WIND, FRESH FIRE! THE BAPTISM OF THE HOLY SPIRIT [PART 2]

Free Pentecost Cliparts, Download Free Clip Art, Free Clip Art on Clipart  Library

THE BAPTISM OF THE HOLY SPIRIT’ IS ACCOMPANIED BY UNUSUAL ASSURANCE, POWER AND JOY…

We’ve already explored this in the life of Jesus: see my previous post and Lk. 4:1-2a, 14-22.

We now turn our attention to the Apostles. Peter and John are brought before the Sanhedrin, ‘the church board’ of that time. This august body is severely rattled by the apostles’ bold proclamation of Christ and healing of a crippled beggar at the temple gate. In response to the Sanhedrin’s charges and full of the Holy Spirit, Peter let loose: “‘Rulers and leaders of the people, if we have been brought to trial today for helping a sick man, I’ll be completely frank with you – we have nothing to hide. By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the one you killed on the cross… by means of his name this man stands before you healthy and whole… Salvation comes no other way; no other name has been or will be given to us by which we can saved, only this one!’ (Acts 4:8-12/MSG). The clergy are transfixed by the apostles’ boldness and certainty. Their fascination deepens when they realized these two were ‘mere laymen’ with no formal education. “They warned them that they were on no account ever again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John spoke right back, ‘As for us, there’s no question – we can’t keep quiet about what we have seen and heard!’” (v. 18-20). After prayer with their fellow-disciples, ‘the place where they were meeting trembled and shook. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak God’s Word with fearless confidence… The apostles gave powerful witness to the resurrection of the Master Jesus, and grace was on all of them…” (v. 31).

Back to the present. Many in the Body are concluding, against this backdrop of Acts, that a large majority of Western Christians have been ‘saved’ but manifest little, if anything, of the primitive Church’s assurance, confidence and joy in the Holy Spirit. How many of us can whole-heartedly sing ‘Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine!?’

I recommend three remarkable scriptures as a kind of test-case. First Eph. 1:13-14, where the Apostle Paul is carried away with the saints’ ‘Spiritual Blessings in Christ’ (v. 3ff): ‘It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of salvation), found your home free – signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This signet from God is the first installment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life!’ (MSG). Second, 1 Jn. 5:13-15, where the Apostle John revels in the life of the Son, ‘My purpose in writing is simply this: that you who believe in God’s Son will will know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you have eternal life, the reality and not the illusion. And how bold and free we then become in his presence…’ (MSG). Third, 1 Pet. 1:8-9, ‘You (the persecuted believers of Asia Minor) love him, although you have not seen him, and you believe in him, although you do not now see him… you rejoice with a great and glorious joy which words cannot express because you are receiving the salvation of your souls…’ (GNB). C’mon, let’s be honest, where do we witness this today?? Give me an African-style worship any old day – even in dire poverty, believers express their joy in the Lord, their bodies moving and faces shining!) [1]

This is not mind-less enthusiasm. Take the example of Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French genius, mathematician, inventor (of a crude but working mechanical calculator in his time) and philosopher.

Blaise Pascal - Biography, Facts and Pictures

Raised a Roman Catholic, Pascal came to an intellectual faith in God. After suffering the loss of his father, he sought a more vital faith in God. He set aside a day to seek him. Nothing happened all day. He prepared for bed, and then it happened beween 10:30 pm and 12:30 am. He penned in his diary, ‘FIRE! GOD of Abraham, GOD of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and of the learned. Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace. GOD of Jesus Christ, my God and your God. Your God will be my God. Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except GOD. He is only found by the ways taught in the Gospel. Grandeur of the human soul. Righteous Father, the world has not known you, but I have known you. Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy. I have departed from him: They have forsaken me, the fount of living water. My God, will you leave me? Let me not be separated from him forever. This is eternal life, that they know you, the one true God, and the one who sent, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. I left him; I fled him, renounced, crucified. Let me never be separated from him. He is only kept securely by the ways taught in the Gospel. Renunciation, total and sweet. Complete submission to Jesus Christ and my director. Eternal in joy for a day’s exercise on earth. May I not forget your words. Amen!’ He sewed these notes into his jacket-hem, where it was discovered after his death. Our experience of the Spirit may be very different, but have we encountered the Lord in at least something of this dynamic and intimate way, bringing us his glorious assurance, power and joy??

‘THE BAPTISM OF THE HOLY SPIRIT’ IS ACCOMPANIED BY UNUSUAL LOVE…

God imparts his love to his people in abundance! There is a difference between a light drizzle and a mighty down-pour. The apostle Paul writes to the Roman believers concerning the peace, joy and hope following on their ‘justification by faith’: 5:5, ‘And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us!’ (NIV) This ‘love’ refers in the first place to the love of God for us, not our love for God. It refers to our sense of God’s love for us as his people. Paul probably had in mind Is. 44:3, ‘For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants…’ (W. Sanday & AC Headlam, ICC). The image is that of a cloud-burst, a flash-flood, in a desert-place. I recall a vivid childhood experience of mine, aged 5/6. My father, a police officer, had to write an exam in the nearby Karroo town of Cradock, a very hot and arid part of the East Cape. I begged him to take me along. Providentially he didn’t. Along the way, crossing an absolutely dry river bed, he was caught off guard by a wall of water from a cloudburst in the mountains. This flash-flood carried our family car down-stream for quite a way. He managed to escape – I would have drowned. I have an old photo of the family car sunken in the sand with just the roof protruding. That’s what a flash-flood can do, it’s something overwhelming and unforgettable. Some time or another, perhaps in different ways, every true believer will sense such a flood of God’s love in Christ poured into his/her heart by the Spirit! Have you known that, my friend? [2] [PS, this encounter is not to be confused with the ‘filling of the Holy Spirit’ as commanded in Eph. 5:18ff. The latter, and the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ described in Gal. 5:22ff, refer more to a slower process-experience, as we daily submit ourselves to Christ’s lordship. The Romans experience indicates something that happens to us, even unexpectedly, once-off or from time to time]

The great 19th century American evangelist, DL Moody, having found Christ by faith, desired ‘something more’ from God. One day in NY City he felt so overwhelmed by God’s love, that he felt he would explode – his mind and emotions just couldn’t cope with the glory of God’s love out-poured!

A century earlier, the English evangelist George Whitefield’s journal reveals that, one night, after just six minutes of his preaching, a man in the audience cried out, ‘He has come!’ The people praised God all night. Whitefield went home at midnight and wept at his own vileness and, on the other hand, God’s everlasting love for him.

For the encouragement of the more ‘average believer,’ here’s a little sample of my own experience of God’s gracious Spirit many years ago. I grew up in a very nominal Christian home. In my early teen years I became restless under a creeping awareness of God’s holiness and glory. I began to seek God in a very childlike way. I felt strongly that somehow I needed to please my Maker and earn his favour. One day, on an errand to the corner-store to buy bread, as I was returning home, the truth broke on me in an absolutely overwhelming way. God brought to mind a verse that I had read but not grasped, ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God…’ (Eph. 2:8). I tell you, I went home ‘walking and leaping and praising God!’ On my arrival, after contemplating God’s revelation to me, I felt totally immersed in the Spirit’s love and power. At age fourteen, I knew, simultaneously with my new birth, an unmistakable call to Christian ministry and preaching the Word. Besides my Bible, I started reading two books: James Hudson Taylor’s epic biography ‘The Man Who Believed God,’ and ‘Teach Yourself Preaching!’ (Since then I’ve often joked that the latter didn’t help my preaching much). With some new-found Christian friends, we started a Sunday School of sorts in a very poor area. My friends and I felt the Lord’s anointing as we reached out to others in different ways. Sadly, at High School, I lost the plot somewhat amid academic and sporting achievements. Following High School I started out on a career as Chemical Engineer. However, within my first year, I was powerfully reminded of my call to ministry. After three years of secular employ and study, I undertook four years of theological training and then went on to pastor four congregations over a period of thirty eight years – until God sovereignly called me out of the institutional Church fourteen years ago. I now teach and strive to enact the kingdom among the poor and via ‘organic house churches,’ roughly patterned on Acts 2:42. Over the years I’ve been privileged to witness to the Gospel on all the continents of the earth, Antarctica excepted, brrrr! Be encouraged, my fellow-pilgrims, what God’s done for others he can do for you!

Please join me again for PART 3 of this series and see Footnotes and hymn below the pic…

GOD IMAGES - These images show you who God really is

FOOTNOTES:

[1] In his book, ‘Joy Unspeakable,’ Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones relates the story of a sceptical woman invited to a packed croft meeting during the Hebrides revival: she could only peek through a window, but the sight of a radiant child’s face shining with the glory of God led to her immediate conversion!

[2] Do yourself a favour and listen to the 1904/5 Welsh revival ‘love song’ attached below, first in Welsh and then in English.

FRESH WIND, FRESH FIRE! [THE BAPTISM OF THE HOLY SPIRIT – PART 1]

A strange topic to write on as we approach Christmas 2020? I guess as perennial as the celebration of Christ’s’ incarnation can be, so it is with Pentecost! As a kind of confirmation, the well-known author Wayne Jacobsen recently posted a blog that resonated with a number of us: it was headed ‘A Fresh Wind is Blowing,’ denoting ‘a shift in the wind of the Spirit.’ In the comments section I noted, as a South African, some positive responses from Africa, although of course not exclusively. Cf. My archives for twin-blogs on ‘Revival’ (Nov. 14 &16, 2018), much frequented during the pandemic by visitors from all over the world, which perhaps confirms this ‘Fresh Wind.’

Photo by Oliver Sju00f6stru00f6m on Pexels.com

‘I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. HE will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire!’ (Mt. 3:11)

Photo by Adonyi Gu00e1bor on Pexels.com

Do you recall the Jerusalem Passover incident when Jesus confronted the temple traders and loan sharks with a leather whip, up-ending their tables and chasing out the stampeding sheep and cattle? ‘Get your things out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a shopping mall!’ (Jn. 2:16/MSG). I wonder what Jesus today, tazer-in-hand, would do in the many ‘cheap fire’ dispensing sanctuaries of our world?? Imagine the perspex pulpits, humongous flower arrangements, smoke-machines and anointing-oil jars flying all over the place! Contrast this flaky, superficial stuff with the glorious and powerful baptism of the Spirit, manifested in the early Church, down through Church history and in many unlikely places today…

About three months ago, after careful study of Watchman Nee’s ‘The Normal Christian Life’ (not so ‘normal’ now), one of our house church members, over a number of weeks, expounded the implications of Christ’s death and resurrection for the body today. This study and discussion opened the door for a fresh exploration of ‘The Baptism of the Holy Spirit’ according to Scripture and in the light of Church history. She and I worked on the latter as a joint-venture. We looked at the classic Scripture passages referring to this experience. We dipped into some of the great spiritual revivals of yesterday and in more recent history: this included the 18th century evangelical awakenings in Britain, Germany (Moravians) and North America. We also checked out 19th and 20th century revivals in South Africa, Wales, North Korea, the Hebrides, East Africa, Indonesia, N. America and China. Special mention must be made of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’s helpful sermon-series on our topic [1]: what an exciting journey it’s been for our local house church, and via social media with groups in South Africa, New Zealand and Hong Kong. I made notes along the way, and now share something of our joyful journey together. We pray that these diaries will make a real difference to your personal and corporate walk with the Lord.

John the Baptiser, in preparing the way for Israel’s promised Messiah, cried out in the desert: ‘I baptize you with water in repentance. But after will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire…'” (Mt. 3:11) (cf. Mk. 1:8; Lk. 3:16; Jn. 1:33). In the book of Acts, historian-pneumatologist Luke recalled Joel’s remarkable prophecy (Jl. 2:28-29) and its fulfillment in Acts 2ff: the risen Lord sent his Spirit with wind, fire and the evangel spoken in the many languages of God-fearing Jews from every nation. A fresh reading of Acts 2 works wonders: try and do so in a translation or paraphrase you don’t normally use to get the feel of it.

Herewith a few headings from my notes…

A BAPTISM OF FIRE…

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The image of fire is fascinating. Fire burns, hurting but also cauterizing. Fire purifies: think of the massive gold-smelting pots separating the gold from impurities in gold-producing countries like mine. Fire renews: in the magnificent Western Cape of South Africa our beautiful protea-bearing ‘fynbos’ (perenially earning gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show) needs an annual fire to burn away old stems, twigs and flowers – following good rain, the earth explodes with the most colourful shrubs and magnificent flora!

In another age, the apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonian assemblies urging them never to ‘quench the Spirit’ or ‘put out his fire,’ e.g. by stubborn unbelief or disobedience (1 Thess. 5:19, 23-24). By contrast many contemporary congregations and leaders remind one of those old-fashioned village fire brigades, armed with buckets and hose-pipes, quenching any semblance of fire!

SOME WARNINGS…

We need to guard against any self-exaltation and manipulation, and especially exalting our private, personal (perhaps very valid) experiences above Scripture.

Furthermore, we must guard against human ‘control’ and Western decorum on the one hand and ecstatic circuses on the other hand. E.g. Paul addressed the spiritual excesses in the matter of spiritual gifts in the Corinthian assembly, yet he obviously recognized many of the Corinthian believers as having been genuinely ‘baptised with the Spirit.’ In my own spiritual journey and early ministry years I must confess that I was a somewhat ‘controlling Calvinist’: this was much sorted out by my marriage to a sweet, spontaneous charismatic girl, lol! Yep, we need that balance between structure and spontaneity, reason and mystery.

Pr. Riekert Botha, from the beautiful Southern Cape, has reminded his radio and YouTube followers that, in many ways, our greatest enemy is not the devil so much as the ‘flesh,’ that ego-part of us that seeks attention ad nauseum. He gives the classic example of Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8:9-25: a man who believes, succumbs to materialism and power, only to be summoned by the apostles to repent or die! I.o.w. we have to pursue personal holiness if we are grow spiritually, following the baptism of the Spirit.

My fellow researcher came across A.W. Tozer’s list of a number of subtle ‘self-sins,’ quickly quenching the Spirit’s fire: e.g. self-importance, self-pity, self-defence, egoism, pride, over-sensitivity, resentments, unforgiveness, etc. The marks of true discipleship are clearly indicated by Jesus in his call to self-denial (the ugly self) + daily cross bearing (not a necklace but self-crucifixion) + following our Lord, come what may. One of my spiritual heroes, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (who paid the ultimate price during WW2) often said ‘Salvation is free, but discipleship will cost you your life!’

THE EARLY CHURCH WAS VIBRANT!

There is no life in a graveyard, I promise you. En route to our beautiful sea-front, I pass a graveyard wherein lies our family grave: my parents, my young sister, my brother, and there’s one place left for yours truly! Graveyards are life-less and ‘as silent as the grave’: is this a picture of many a postmodern ‘church?’ The New Zealand blogger, Andrew Strom, wrote recently about how little we understand the darkness (life-lessness) of the present Church today, particularly in the West: he reckons we’ve had a millenium of gross spiritual darkness, not only in the world but in the Church! (My comment: witness the pathetic failures of the pro-Trump ‘prophets:’ you can be sure that they won’t be stoned as in Deut. 13 or rejected as in Jer. 23:9ff).

JESUS OF NAZARETH WAS/IS VIBRANT!

The evangelist Matthew, in writing about Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan river and temptation in the desert, records “As soon as Jesus was baptised, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending on him like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased‘… Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert…” (Mt. 3:13-17).

The evangelist Luke puts it like this, ‘Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit IN the desert… ‘ (Lk. 4:1-2a). Luke then tells of Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth: “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me (imagine the consternation of the very correct leaders and members), because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing! All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips…” Note the authority, the power, the courage, the gentleness, the assurance of Jesus’ words! Bonhoeffer spoke often of ‘the life of Jesus’: wherever he is, there is life, wherever he is not, there is no life. How does this reflect on our faith-communities today??

Here’s sincerely hoping you’ll join us again soon for PART 2! Wishing you the joy of Jesus over Christmas and in the New Year!

FOOTNOTE:

[1] I would highly recommend the good Doctor’s ‘Joy Unspeakable,’ criticized by some in Reformed circles but so important for the balance between good teaching and the experiential: Lloyd-Jones rightly speaks out against Reformed churches’ traditionalism, dryness and aridity. He teaches that ‘there is something more’ for the Church, and urges the Reformed Movement to dialogue with Charismatics and vice versa: apostolic ministry has not left Pentecost behind in history! We need reformation and renewal. In this regarded I re-visited once more the 1904/5 Welsh revival, under Evan Roberts. What uplifting stuff! (there is some good material available on YouTube). What is interesting is that this awakening started among the youth, was marked by the baptism of the Spirit, led to assurance, joy and bold witness among the working-class: within a relatively short time, 100,000 individuals in Wales alone had experienced God’s transforming power!

‘I BELIEVE IN THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS’ – REALLY?? [A TRILOGY]

The Apostles’ Creed declares, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins…’ Do we really?? Our house church recently handled this subject over a few Sunday mornings. There seem to be three key yet integrated biblical perspectives on forgiveness: vertical, horizontal and inward.

The Return of the Prodigal Son (Rembrandt) - Wikipedia

[Rembrandt’s ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son’]

FIRST, THE VERTICAL PERSPECTIVE: LK. 15:11-32…

We took a fresh look at the Evangelist Luke’s picture of forgiveness in his renowned ‘Parable of the Prodigal Son.’ In its immediate setting it relates of course to the story of Israel, and Jesus’ repeated confrontation of the religious hierarchy of his day with his explosive GOOD NEWS for all people (Lk. 4:16-30).

Over-familiarity with well-known Bible passages is always dangerous. We need a fresh approach here. Why not read Lk. 15:11ff in a translation or paraphrase different to what you’re used to? In our group we found the NLT and Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase The Message particularly refreshing. I guess interpreting a parable is a little like building a jig-saw puzzle: the little bits are interesting but must never detract from the overall picture. I agree with those who view the traditional title ‘The Prodigal Son’ as a misnomer. I’d suggest ‘The Loving Father.’ Namibian theologian Paul John Isaak is more extravagant, he calls it ‘The Waiting, Running, Embracing, Partying and Kissing Father.’ I like that!

Perusing our text-passage, we noted certain things often overlooked:

  • Lk. 15:11ff is the story of two ‘lost sons:’ the younger brother who, seeking instant gratification (sound familiar?), wanted his share of the farming estate immediately (perhaps he secretly resented his father’s lingering life); and the older brother, who saw his father only as the farm CEO rather than a good dad. He resented his daily farming responsibilities and probably also hoped for his dad’s passing sooner rather than later so he could take over the family business. Furthermore, the older brother considered his sibling ‘lost’ while blind to his own lostness! Self-righteously we so easily write off the ‘lost’ when not really ‘home’ ourselves. Back to the younger son: in the distant country “undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop but no one would give him any. That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.” So he practices his little speech on the way (haven’t we all?). Were his motives pure? Perhaps at that moment he was more troubled by his empty stomach than familial reconciliation… one wonders.
  • And the father? No doubt he’d been deeply hurt by his younger son, but chose to let him go in good hope of his return (many a parent has had to make that difficult decision). However, the young man was always in his heart. “When he was still a long way off, his father saw him (coincidence? I don’t think so). His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’ But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling his servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. Were’ going to feast! (South Africans, ‘Yay, we’re going to have a braai!’) We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here – given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!” The older brother, indulging in a good pity-party, refused to join in the lavish welcome-home, resenting his dad and brother. The father went looking for him too (!) and kindly said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours – but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’ Beautiful grace!
  • American Roman Catholic lay-priest and author, Brennan Manning, once commented in a sermon that ‘forgiveness precedes repentance.’ Think about that. Interpreting scripture by scripture, there seem to be contradictions. What is clear in this story is that the father had long forgiven his rebel son, probably from the day the he had left home! Swiss theologian Karl Barth reminded us, ‘Before we existed, before we even thought of Jesus Christ, God’s mercy sought us and found us in him.’ [1]

Very relevant at this point is the famed Henri Nouwen’s encounter with Rembrandt’s 300-year old painting of the Returning Son in the Heritage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. Catholic priest and top academic, Nouwen had exchanged academia for service at L’Arche in Toronto, Canada, to serve the mentally challenged. The adaptation was huge. Following a nervous breakdown, Nouwen visited St. Petersburg in Russia and stared at Rembrandt’s masterpiece for hours on end. That experience changed his life forever [2]. He identified first with the younger son, then the older son, and finally was challenged by a colleague to recognize himself in the welcoming father [3]. Btw, did you notice in the painting above the father’s hands portrayed as a male hand and female hand? We know that God is Spirit (not in any dualistic sense), neither male nor female, but mysteriously incorporating both fatherly and motherly characteristics in his self-revelation to Israel and to mankind. Nouwen was deeply impressed by the obvious intimacy between father and son in their embrace. Growing up in the Netherlands in a well-off family, he had from a very early age longed for acceptance and love. He’d asked his father often, ‘Do you love me, father?’ Through a lifetime of searching for intimacy, he finally felt the embrace of his heavenly Father’s love. As a result, he preached often on the theme of ‘God’s Beloved,’ which he saw as the key to our identity. This identity doesn’t lie in our achievements, reputation, performance or possessions. It lies herein: ‘I am God’s Beloved!’ Now do we see ourselves as such?? The implications are life-changing!

The Loving Father invites you and me into Rembrandt’s masterpiece to discover our own identity and story. Whatever he calls us to be/do, let us gratefully and joyfully respond, ‘Yes!’

FOOTNOTES:

  1. Personally I identify with much of John Wesley’s doctrine of ‘Prevenient Grace.’ Cf. YouTube’s ‘Seven Minute Seminary’ and ‘The Biblical Case for Prevenient Grace’ by Brian Shelton. Also ‘John Wesley’s Order of Salvation’ by Dr. Charles Gutenson.
  2. Cf. YouTube’s Sr. Sue Mosteller’s ‘A Painting, A Parable, and My Friend Henri Nouwen.’
  3. See my archives, ‘The Cry for Spiritual Fathers and Mothers,’ 20 and 22/02/13.

In Part 2 below we examine the horizontal and inward perspectives on ‘FORGIVENESS.’ Why not take a short coffee/tea break, and then read on…

Woman Using Laptop

***************************************************************

‘I BELIEVE IN THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS!’- REALLY?? [Part 2]

SECOND, THE HORIZONTAL PERSPECTIVE: LK. 11:4

apostles creed | Apostles creed prayer printable puzzles Doug ...

‘Well of course we believe in the forgiveness of sins… after all, we are Christians!’ The early Church knew better, hence the repetition of the Apostles’ Creed. To believe in the horizontal forgiveness of sins is not nearly as easy as first imagined: hence Jesus’ reminder in The Lord’s Prayer, ‘And forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us’ (Lk. 11:4/NLT). There is no ambiguity in that prayer: if we don’t forgive, we won’t be forgiven! ‘There are no exceptions to it. He doesn’t say that we are to forgive other people’s sins provided they are not too frightful, or provided there are extenuating circumstances, or anything of that sort. We are to forgive them all, however spiteful, however mean, however often they are repeated. If we don’t, we shall be forgiven none of our own’ (C.S. Lewis). Ouch!

Three illustrations may help here, each hinging on Christ’s divine power from within (Rom. 5:5, etc):

1) Forgiveness won’t happen until we’ve bowed before the Cross of Christ. Sean McDowell, son of apologist Josh McDowell, relates how his dad had an abusive father, which led him (Josh) to atheism. Sean relates how it wasn’t his dad’s exploration of Christian apologetics that led him to Christ and empowered him to forgive his father but bowing at the foot of the Cross as a sinner in need.

2) During WW2, in occupied Holland, Corrie Ten Boom’s family hid Jews from the Nazis in a hidden attic of their Amsterdam home. The family was betrayed by a local, resulting in Corrie and her sister Betsie’s deportation to Ravensbruck concentration camp, where Betsie died due to starvation and ill health. After the war, Corrie returned to Munich to preach the message of forgiveness. Following her message on this theme, one of Betsie’s Nazi guards came to her claiming he had found forgiveness for his crimes against the prisoners but now wanted Corrie personally to forgive him. She froze for a moment, as the memories of Ravensbruck and Betsie’s torturous death flooded back. However, having preached on God’s forgiveness, she knew she had to forgive him even if his confession sounded superficial. After a quick silent prayer, she put out her hand: as she did that, a current of love flowed down her arm, enabling her to grasp his hand and say joyously, ‘I forgive you, brother, with all my heart I forgive you!’ What a witness to the power of the Cross.

Giving Thanks in All Circumstances – Corrie ten Boom ...
Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch savior « The International Raoul ...

3) Let me, with her permission, share the story of our eldest daughter. In her late teens she and a friend visited a large shopping mall. As they got into their vehicle afterwards, four gangsters, out on bail, held them up at knife-point and drove them to a desolate spot on the edge of the city. There they took turns assaulting and raping them. Their attackers drove off, commanding them not to follow them. Somehow they managed to walk to a nearby shop to phone for her help, only to spot their abandoned vehicle across the street with the keys inside. They drove to a suburban clinic where they were met by local police. The culprits were re-arrested, tried and sentenced to 15 years in maximum security. You can imagine the deep trauma of these two girls. We arranged for our daughter to get counseling from a clinical psychologist. During that time she asked us to book her into a tiny beach-front chalet in order to process the trauma during long walks on the sand. Afterward we noticed a definite improvement in her mental and emotional state. Eventually, as a confessing Christian, she deliberately chose to forgive her rapists, for her own and Christ’s sake. Four things motivated her: letting herself and her assailants know that what they did to her was ‘not OK’; letting go her of her many hurts; entrusting the final outcome to God; recognizing the brokenness of the perpetrators that led them to such a crime. I must confess that, as her dad, it took me much longer to heal and to forgive. Looking back my wife and I are so proud of our daughter and the road she has continued to walk with Jesus to this day.

Forgiveness also includes those within the body of Christ, for personal hurts and pain caused. Many thousands of committed believers and good pastors around the world have been deeply hurt by institutional congregations, especially in the West. On the one hand there have been controlling, narcissistic, ambitious and materialistic leaders who have totally subdued and ruined many a congregation. On the other hand there have been, in many congregations, ultra-orthodox folk, traditionalists, legalists, family dynasties, divisive Jezebel-types who have crushed good leadership and their families. My own family has walked this Calvary road. It’s taken years to heal, but by grace today we are whole and healthy, free and joy-filled. If you’ve been hurt by the Body, may I humbly suggest you graciously forgive those who have done so and choose to move on.

In these days of BLM, we also decided as a multi-cultural house church to discuss the relevant scriptures on racism. We were helped by an article by Frank Viola on Eph. 2:11-22. The text is headed, ‘One In Christ.’ The article concludes that each one of us as believers, whether Jew or Gentile, has been created/re-created in God’s image as his unique ‘poiema’ (Eng. ‘poem’), God’s ‘workmanship’ or ‘master-piece.’ The passage reveals Christ as the most unifying person in the universe. Through his Cross he brought about reconciliation between Jew and Gentile who despised each other for millenia. ‘In Christ’ and through new birth from above (Jn. 3), ‘a new creation, race, species and humanity’ has emerged. ‘For HE is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.’ We have seen this message work in our city and in our house churches, where believers of different races and cultures find each other in the ecclesia. In conclusion I’m sure you’d agree that ultimately reconciliation in this present world lies not in the hands of presidents or politicians, but in Jesus alone. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’ (Mt. 5:9/NRSV).

************************************************************************

‘I BELIEVE IN THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS!’ – REALLY?? [Part 3]

THIRDLY AND BRIEFLY, THE INWARD PERSPECTIVE: JAMES 5:13-20…

[This topic is addressed more fully in my blog ‘How To Really Love Ourselves,’ Archives 04/03/20]

It is critically important that, out of God’s magnificent love for us and a true self-love (cf. Mt. 22:34-40), we also learn to forgive ourselves for what we have regrettably been or done in the past.

We all know of so many who have been wrongfully bullied and hurt by a narcissistic family member or friends or church leaders and members, to the point of despair. Thus we have to set up personal boundaries, cf. Dr.’s Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s classic ‘Boundaries.’ People can appear to be very charming and ‘nice’ on the outside while behind the mask lurks total egoism. Jesus was kind, but at times not very ‘nice’ when he took on the hypocritical clergy of his day. Thus, by grace, we have to rise above self-pity, a victim mentality, self-condemnation and our emotional abuse – recognizing that, at all times, we are without fail ‘the Lord’s Beloved’ (Nouwen).

Jam. 5:13-20 and the practice of its principles are hugely helpful in this matter of forgiveness and healing. In our small groups we have seen the practice of Jam. 5 set many free: those in toxic relationships, others going through a painful divorce, etc [On Jam. 5, one would recommend handling confession on a same-sex basis][1]. Protestants don’t have confessionals, but we do have a great High Priest and kind ecclesia’s to help us heal!

Please see FOOTNOTE below the pic…

 
Prayer 101: How Do I Talk to God?

FOOTNOTE:

1) In the last months here in South Africa we have read of alleged sexual abuses and cruelties committed over many years in a huge ‘mission station’ of many thousands, well-known for revival in years gone by but over the years damaged by legalism and a highly controlling leadership. In my opinion one of the errors was allocating women to a ‘counsellor’ of the opposite sex. If the allegations are found to be true, it should serve as a stern warning to us all.

************************************************************************

‘REVELATION AND TRANSFORMATION’ IN THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST

The purpose of this blog is to re-inforce the biblical principle that ‘revelation’ precedes ‘transformation,’ both in our individual and corporate union with Christ, while both are integral to our salvation.

Biblical Passages Concerning Blindness - Teaching Students with Visual  Impairments

In Eph. 1-3 the apostle Paul outlines to the Ephesian believers the very essence of the Gospel. Note how he prefaces it with prayer: ‘I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus… I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glory among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places… And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the Ekklesia, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all!’ (1:15-23/NRSV) Having pastored denominational congregations for 38 years, 14 years later I hope ‘I get it’ that many traditional pastors and Christians in pews ‘don’t get it.’ Perhaps the apostle Peter was making the same point in his second letter to Christ’s severely persecuted flock: ‘Therefore I intend to keep on reminding you of these things, though you know them already (cerebrally?) and are established in that truth that has come to you. I think it is right… to refresh your memory, since I know that my death will come soon… And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things’ (2 Pet. 1:12-15). Having clarified their marvelous election in Christ, he exhorts his readers to pursue goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, mutual affection and love: ‘For anyone who lack these things is short-sighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins…’ (v. 3-9). Hmmm….

The Ephesian prayer lies at the core of Watchman Nee’s classic ‘The Normal Christian Life’ [footnote 1]. In our local house church one of our members, who has thoroughly digested Nee’s book over many years, recently offered to share some of its gems with us. What an ‘eye-opener’ it’s been, even for seasoned saints!

30+ Best Watchman Nee images | watchman nee, watchmen, christian quotes

It was so rich, we spent seven Sunday mornings on this subject: teaching, questioning, discussing, digesting, revising, praying and rejoicing, with snacks and coffee in between.

At this juncture it’s important to grasp the ‘organic church’ type gathering that allows the above to happen. Frank Viola describes it as ‘a grassroots experience that is marked by face-to-face community, every-member functioning, open-participatory meetings (as opposed to pastor-to-pew services), non-hierachical leadership, and the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ as the functional Leader and Head of the gathering.’ Please, this is not another ‘church program’ but a 24/7 ‘lifestyle in Christ,’ with gatherings as needed [2]. Let me share a few one-sentence-gems highlighted over these Sundays. By grace and through faith alone believers share in the very life of Christ himself (Eph. 1-3). We can’t get into a room we’re already in! (Rom. 6:5). We know that our ‘old man’ (sinful self) has been crucified with Christ and we have been resurrected in him. ‘Did your pastor tell you you’re saved?’ (lol). Get the focus off ego and on to Christ. ‘So you must also consider (a command) yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus’ (Rom. 6:10-11). We are delivered from sin by a power outside of ourselves, i.e. the indwelling historical Christ. The battle has been won, it’s all about Christ in us! In Christ we stand, all day long. We ‘abide’ in Jesus by putting off the old and putting on the new: it affects how we think, live, read, inter-act, pray, sleep and rise. The Cross divides the old creation and the new creation: in this world we are ‘the walking dead.’ Baptism becomes a spiritual ‘water-shed:’ Mk. 16:15-16/‘The one who believes and is baptized will be saved’ (cf. Rom. 6:3-4). The Church is totally dependent on the constant, ceaseless impartation of Christ’s life. We ‘tread carefully’ as we infiltrate a hostile-to-God society (Mt. 5:13:16). Christ’s one fruitful Life is grafted into millions of others!

Over the years as house church facilitator I’ve found 3 other passages helpful in facilitating ‘revelation’ and ‘transformation:’

  • Mt. 18:15-20. Matthew’s ‘ecclesiastical Gospel’ defines Christ’s ‘ekklesia,’ commonly mistranslated ‘church’ with it all the baggage of buildings, institutions, hierarchies, rules and regulations. ‘Ekklesia’ never denotes a physical/organizational structure in the NT but always ‘a community of people:’ ‘For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them’ (v˙20). Jesus’ ‘new temple’ is not a building of literal stones but ‘living stones’ (1 Pet. 2:5). In Mt. 18 ‘ekklesia’ doesn’t denote the common Greek civic ‘gathering’ where citizens of a polis made decisions about governance – rather it must be understood in terms of the Greek OT, viz. the ‘congregation’ of God’s covenant people. Jesus now speaks of a new ekklesia, his ekklesia (Mt. 16:18): a new community, the ‘Israel of God,’ a (re)new(ed) inter-ethnic body, indwelt by his Spirit (cf. Jer. 31:31-37; Heb. 8; Gal. 6:16).
  • Heb. 10:19ff. The author calls his readers to persevere through the Cross: ‘… since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain… let us consider how to provoke one another one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together but encouraging one another, and all the more as your see the Day approaching.’ One simply can’t practice this effectively in a weekly highly structured pulpit-to-pew service.
  • Jam. 5:13ff. In the context of participatory prayer, James exhorts the scattered flock: ‘Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the ekklesia and have them pray over them… confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.’ Virtually impossible in a traditional ‘service’ – e.g, you come in lonely, and often leave lonely.

The secret of the Christian life, according to Nee, lies in our ‘abiding in the Vine.’ ‘I am the true vine (contrast Israel’s failure: Is. 5:1-7), and my Father is the vine grower… Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me… Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing… If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become (note) my disciples… ‘7 ‘abides’ in just a few verses. I much prefer the NRSV’s ‘abide’ to the NIV’s ‘remain.’ My home is my ‘abode,’ where I ‘abide.’ Growing disciples are those ‘totally at home’ with Christ, and He totally ‘at home’ with them. [3]

Sharefaith: Church Websites, Church Graphics, Sunday School, VBS, Giving &  Apps

In summary, the practice of Scripture seems to demand smaller, organic-type, grassroots ekklesia’s as portrayed in Acts and the Epistles (try reading Romans backwards – very insightful). Such ‘simple churches’ are thriving today in China, N. India, Iran, etc. God is sovereign [4], but to my mind it’s very difficult for radical ‘revelation’ and ‘transformation’ to happen in larger congregations. I observe this whenever called to preach in traditional congregations. As I contemplate our humble house church journey the past 14 years with our many failures, I believe it’s been life-changing for most – all praise belongs to the Life-Giver! Just maybe God is beginning to call you out of the 1700 year old institutional church system, so ineffective at disciple-making over the centuries? He has/is certainly doing that with multiple millions in the West and East [5]. The ‘road less traveled’ has proved costly for all, but it’s made all the difference!

Monarch Butterfly, Milkweed Mania, baby born in the nature. — Stock Photo

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Ni Tuosheng (1907-1972) was an indigenous Chinese church leader of renown. He suffered much for the sake of Christ: imprisonment, labour- camps, scorn, and eventually martyrdom. His writings on the nature of the Gospel are probably his best. I listened to a fairly recent sermon by the aged Stephen Kaung, mentored by Nee, wherein he remarked that the main problem with the Western Church was that it was ‘too strong!’ (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9)

[2] Ironically, Bruxy Cavey, teaching-pastor at a Canadian mega-church, has written: “Real church happens when we turn the chairs to face one another. And when we leave the chairs to go save the world… Sunday service only Christianity, where our spiritual expression is reduced to a weekly attendance in order to be ‘fed,’ is less like Jesus’ vision of an active and engaged sheep fold and more like a veal fattening pen.”

[3] One of my other spiritual mentors is South Africa’s Dr. Andrew Murray, who has treated Jn. 15’s vine theme magnificently. I visited the places he pastored, and particularly recall his home Clairvaux, over-looking the vineyards of Wellington. If you visit nearby Stellenbosch today, you’ll notice vineyards even in the town precincts, a kind of parable for believers?

[4] I think of the great 18th century revivals under Whitefield and Wesley. It’s interesting to note John Wesley’s home ‘class meetings’ which applied holiness in that smaller and familiar setting for years afterwards. (cf. ‘The Radical Wesley’ by Howard Snyder).

[5] Cf. American sociologist Josh Packard’s ‘Church Refugees,’ the story of 30+ million ‘dones’ with the institutional Church for their spiritual survival.

UNIVERSALISM UNPACKED [Pt. 2]

Isaiah 52:7 Images, Stock Photos & Vectors | Shutterstock

Essentially universalism looks at salvation as a hope outside the realm of proclamation. The Bible considers the proclamation of salvation to the ends of the earth, in the power of the risen Christ, the best news in the history of creation. It is, at the same time, a witness of profound seriousness. It would be a terrible mistake to underestimate that seriousness, for it’s also a warning against unbelief which can lead to outermost darkness, i.e. ‘the severance of all relationships!’ (G.C. Berkouwer, my favourite Dutch theologian, 1903-1996). G. C. Berkouwer | LibraryThing

  • Via a variety of images and concepts, the Gospels warn against a judgment brought on ourselves – hence the constant admonition to listen to the word of Christ (Heb. 3). The momentousness of the decision to turn toward Jesus, or away from him, is set in the midst of life. It has do with everyday things like insulting one’s brother/sister (Mt. 5:21-22), succumbing to temptation (Mt. 5:29-30) and failing to show compassion to the poor (Mt. 25:41-46). This has nothing to do with human legalism or moralism (the death of the Church) but is rooted in the reality of the gospel, which sets us anew on the right way to the future.
  • Perhaps no single Bible word has stimulated the imagination more or evoked more controversy as the term ‘Gehenna.’ This word referred to the horrific, idolatrous cultic rites practiced in the Valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, during the time of the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 32:26-35). These included the brutal sacrifice of new-born babies to the insatiable Molech! The outrage of Yahweh rightfully rested on those who practiced such horrors.‘This primeval note reflecting the decayed Israelite life in its misrepresentation of God’s love, serves in the New Testament to call back humanity back from the terror of this darkness to the salvation and light of God.’ Sadly, the triplets ‘Gehenna’ (‘hell’) and ‘sin’ and ‘judgment’ have over the centuries been divorced from the context of relationships – they have come to be treated as a ruthless threat, extreme harshness, with a total lack of compassion on God’s part.“It is the unmistakable duty of the church always to place these concepts in their proper biblical context… Has its message not been plagued again and again by moralism, making it well nigh impossible to free the word ‘hell’ from totally false associations?” (Berkouwer) How much harm has been done by moralistic preaching on ‘hell,’ even to young children, without the overwhelming biblical testimony to the light and joy of the gospel? History is replete with the almost limitless capability of human beings to commit unspeakable atrocities against their fellow-humans. My wife and I felt a tiny bit of this burden during a visit to the Holocaust Museum in Israel: think Auschwitz, Dachau, etc. What was the reason for such behaviour? Jesus, in the context of his followers’ persecution, gave the answer long before:‘This is because they have never known the Father or me.’ (Jn. 16:3)
  • The fact is that hell-fire-and-brimstone preaching (I plead guilty to it in my youth) has often produced a generation impervious (‘gospel-hardened’) to Jesus’ Good News. [By the way, before the bad news of Gen. 3 there is the incredibly good news of Gen. 1-2, so why do we still resort to ‘gospel presentations’ starting with the bad news of Gen. 3?]. The overall result is that postmodern people hear in the word ‘hell’ only the sounds of cruelty and hatred, and see it as a weapon maintained by ‘the Church’ to keep their members and the world at large ‘in line.’
  • How ridiculous such an approach when the Apostle Peter declared that such ‘judgment’ would begin with the household of God! (1 Pet. 4:17-18; cf. Zeph. 1:12)
  • No, the only ‘threat’ of the gospel lies in its intent to call people back from the dark ways of this life to gaze again on the beauty and loveliness of him who has shone unmatched as ‘the light of the world!’ (Jn. 8:12)

Returning to absolute universalism, it’s always dangerous to think and talk about ‘the love of God’ and what follows (as panentheists like to do) outside of the gospel, i.e. Christ’s incarnation, life, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension and return. I notice panentheists’ comments repeatedly commencing with the words ‘I believe that… ‘ – so it ends up with ‘your truth’ vs ‘my truth.’ It’s precisely at this point that ‘apocastatasis’ (ultimate reconciliation) becomes the crowning keystone of the structure of human thought. It appeals to our sense of charity. Thus it’s relatively easy to see why so many are captivated by ‘apocastastasis’ especially in times of great human distress (think collapsing economies, civil strife, imploding ecology, Covid-19, etc). The history of the doctrine of absolute universalism reveals a persistent and almost irresistable inclination to go outside the proclamation of the gospel to find a deeper gnosis,’ whether in the form of a certain esoteric knowledge or surmise. Remember the question often addressed to Jesus: Lord, will only a few be saved?’ Jesus’ aSavednswer seems so non-committal, so evasive: ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and not be able’ (Lk. 13:23-24/NRSV). But this evasiveness is only apparent, for this is the answer to this question! Certainly, as long as we see only in a cloudy mirror or parabolic riddles, many questions will remain unanswered. But this question has been answered – by the Lord of life himself.

How much we need a healing of our image of God at this time. The Apostle Paul prayed thus for the Ephesian church: ‘may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God’ (3:18-19). Thank God, our individual and corporate experience of that love is something a world turned-in-on-itself can never rob us of. Over the years I’ve been enriched by American author, laicized priest and struggling alcoholic (for much of his life), Brennan Manning. His focus constantly returned to God’s ‘white-hot love’ for him and all humans recognized in the face of Jesus. He tells of how as a young priest he was ‘ambushed by Jesus’ love’ in a little chapel in the mountains of Western Pennsylvania. He testified how, repeatedly, ‘the relentless tenderness of Jesus’ pursued him and healed his image of God, to become his beloved Abba. I could more easily contain Niagara Falls in a teacup than I can ...

Mercy « Michael Daly CJ Blog

Manning lived by the dictum,’God loves us just as we are, not as we should be, because we’ll never be what we should be!’ His dying words were,‘Steer clear of any god you can comprehend. Abba’s love cannot be comprehended. I’ll say it again: Abba’s love cannot be comprehended!’ This love is a love simply to be received.

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/8e/ce/bd/8ecebd361931b271dfe4120a5951b51c.jpgEach one naming the name of Jesus has a holy call to faithfully proclaim the Good News of Jesus to one and all, a ‘light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace’ (Lk. 1:79). ‘So don’t be embarrassed to speak up for the Master… Take your share of suffering for the Message…We can only keep going, after all, by the power of God, who first saved us and then called us to this holy work. We had nothing to do with it. It was all his idea, a gift prepared for us in Jesus…  nothing could be plainer: death defeated, life vindicated in a steady blaze of light, all through the work of Jesus. This is the Message I’ve been set apart to proclaim as preacher, emissary and teacher. It’s also the cause of all this trouble I’m in! But I have no regrets. I couldn’t be more sure of my ground – the One I’ve trusted in can take care of what he’s trusted me to do right to the end’ (2 Tim. 1:8-12/MSG). The Bible is clear: for the Church the resurrection doesn’t mean escape from the world but mission to the world, based on Christ’s lordship over the world’ (N.T. Wright). In the power of the Spirit, let’s be and let’s go! In the family circle, market place, among the poor, even to the ends of the earth, which these days is often on our doorstep.

challenges and restrictions surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic

 

UNIVERSALISM UNPACKED [Part 1]

Reasons for Jesus - 'The Shack' Exposed - Heresy, Universalism ...

DEFINITIONS

Universalism believes in the ultimate well-being of every person on earth. It has a pagan and Christian form. The latter teaches that in Jesus Christ, God’s elect-one for our sakes, all humanity is elect – however, that doesn’t mean that all will ultimately accept his free gift of forgiveness. More often than not, we’ve chosen to live in a self-enclosed ‘world’ of our own making, suspicious of the source of all love, goodness and truth. As C.S. Lewis wrote in his ‘The Great Divorce,’ ‘I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.’ For God to over-ride peoples’ wills and hearts, he would have to ‘un-create’ their humanity.

  • Reality is that many Christians in recent times have abandoned the institutional Church for their survival (I did 14 years ago) – some are resorting, I believe in an over-reactionary way, to all manner of teachers and writings, many healthy, some not so healthy. Top of the pops at the moment is best-selling American Franciscan priest Richard Rohr. In his latest book, ‘The Universal Christ,’ we are introduced to the ‘gospel’ of ‘panentheism.’ The latter could include much of North and South American native religions; elements of Hasidic Judaism and Kabbalah teaching; Islamic Sufi orders; some re-incarnationalists; some eastern forms of Christianity, etc. ‘Panentheism’ maintains that all will ultimately be ‘saved,’ through the incarnational and indwelling ‘cosmic Christ.’ Like many, I’m grateful for Rohr’s call to a more contemplative and cosmic Christianity – but not at the expense of Scripture. Rohr and his predecessors refer much to passages such as Ephesians 1-3 and Colossians 1. On closer examination, we find that both refer to the reconciliation of all those in faith-union with Christ (cf. also 2 Cor. 5:11-6:2). [For a fair, scholarly, 7-page critique of Rohr’s book ‘The Universal Christ,’ see British theologian Ian Paul’s Psephizo article,“Is Richard Rohr’s ‘Universal Christ’ Christian?”]

The Pachamama Rohrs – Catholic World Report

  • Please hear me out. I choose to distance myself from Western fundamentalists’ hyper-literal ‘turn or burn’ Bible-punching which seems to delight in the eternal roasting of the lost: try and read the Bible and Jesus without grasping the place of metaphor! Many, including myself, see God’s ultimate judgment as a place of self-imposed isolation and bitterness, ‘a place of total inability to laugh’ (Fyodor Dostoevsky, 1821-1881). As Christians our ‘ministry of reconciliation’ is not one of wholesale condemnation but rather loving declaration, by word and attitude and deed, of Christ’s Good News of forgiveness offered to all. [Tim Keller reminds those who so easily demean Christians as ‘exclusivist’ that ultimately all people are exclusivist by nature]
  • We must distinguish between absolute universalism and relative universalism. According to the latter, the universality of Christ’s sacrifice is seen in his death for all humankind – it remains, however for all people to accept his free gift of reconciliation accomplished via the Cross.
  • There is clear evidence that many postmodern Christians, whether they recognize it or not, are distant children of existentialism, which laid huge emphasis on personal experience of reality alone. Here we may reference German existentialist theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher (1786-1834), who questioned any access to ‘absolute truth.’ We could also include French paleontologist and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) – see his intriguing ‘Le Milieu Divin’ (‘An Essay on the Interior Life’), who in turn strongly influenced Richard Rohr. All these would ask how the Church today can preach reconciliation and at the same time maintain solidarity with modern/postmodern humanity? Certainly it would be condescending of us to cheaply dismiss their stance as mere rebellion and a denial of guilt. Nonetheless, the idea persists that human feelings alone cannot be determinative for making conclusions about life and the future – there must be a firmer foundation, a life-time norm (Augustine, 354-430 AD). Universalism appeals to the irresistible love and power of God, which are sufficient to overcome all obstacles in final matters. We agree, but respond that such love and power can never be kinder than the love of Christ as reflected in Holy Scripture.

FOUNDATIONS

  • When Scripture deals with the seriousness of ‘sin’ (i.e. ugly ego, idolatry, etc), it reflects the brokenness and lostness of humankind in contrast to the totally surprising and unexpected grace of God: ‘For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost’ (Lk. 19:10/Jesus to Zacchaeus). Surely if there’s hope for one, there’s hope for all.
  • God’s love doesn’t pertain to some. John the Baptizer points to Jesus and shouts ‘Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ (Jn. 1:29) The apostle Paul reminds the Corinthian congregation: ‘For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself…’ (2 Cor. 5:19). He tells his apprentice, Timothy, that God ‘wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth’ (1 Tim. 2:4).
  • Eph. 1:10 and Col. 1:20 have often been quoted in defense of universal reconciliation. Indeed, in both passages Paul speaks of a magnificent reconciliation of ‘all things’ in Christ. ‘For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything (‘ta panta’ = ‘all things’) to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross’ (Col. 1:19-20). While there is a universal perspective here, it’s inseparable from the message of ‘salvation’ in Christ calling on all to believe and accept him (Jn. 1:12).
  • Panentheists often use the term ‘apocatastasis’ (‘restoration’) to justify their views. In the Bible, significantly, the word occurs only once, i.e. in Acts 3:21. In this verse the apostle Peter is addressing the Jews who had crucified Jesus – he goes on to call them all to a radical ‘change of mind:’ ‘Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away. Then times of refreshment will come from the Lord, and he will again send you Jesus, your appointed Messiah. For he must remain in heaven until the time for the final restoration of all things, as God promised long ago through his holy prophets’ (v. 19-21). The text references the prophet Elijah, who proclaimed Yahweh’s restoration of all things via repentance: cf. Mal. 4:5-6; Mt. 17:11-13; Mk. 9:12-13. Understandably, the proponents of apocatastasis steer clear of Acts 3:21! Absolute universalists, at the end of the day, cannot forever ignore the fact that Scripture deals with the future only in the context of the Cross and our response to it. Brilliant Swiss scholar, Hans Urs von Balthazar (1905-1985), though standing in solidarity with the frailty and suffering of humankind, pleads for an eschatology that takes into account, at all points, the tension of faith, God’s call and human responsibility. Many people have argued that Karl Barth (arguably the greatest theologian of the 20th century) was a universalist. However, he rejected that label on a number of occasions: “The Church will not then preach an ‘apocatastasis’, nor will it preach a powerless grace of Jesus Christ or a wickedness of men which is too powerful for it.” What balance!
  • The fact is that, whenever the New Testament speaks of God’s love, it often does so in the context of judgment. Compare the well-quoted Jn. 3:16 and the less-quoted v. 36, ‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath’ (NRSV). The gravity of this point is revealed on the emotional plane of Christ’s life when he uncovers Israel’s blindness to God’s compassion, ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. And now look, your house is abandoned and desolate’ (Mt. 23:37-38). Paul’s testimony of God’s reconciling love is followed by the charge,“So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!'” (2 Cor. 5:20)

‘The doctrine of apocatastasis is a static, timeless, un-kerygmatic doctrine, a form of gnostic thought over against God and His love’ (G.C. Berkouwer). We conclude that the historical confessing Church has repeatedly, to a lesser or greater extent, implicitly or explicitly, repudiated the doctrine of an ultimate ‘apocatastasis,’ including Origen’s in the 200’s AD. The outrageous ‘Good News’ of God’s love in Christ continues to ring out to the ends of the earth, even in our time. The message goes out to everyone, indiscriminately, because God’s loving work in Christ is directed to the whole of humanity: Mt. 24:14; 28:10.

        [See footnotes and look out for Part 2’s nature of the judgment]

Jesus Christ wall decor

FOOTNOTES

[1] Recently I pointed out to a Rohrian panentheist that if one is in trouble at sea, it helps to have a lighthouse to navigate to safety. He responded that his ‘lighthouse’ was within him. True, but unfortunately not the whole truth. I find that many today appear to be adrift on ‘a sea of subjectivism.’ People are looking for answers from within, via New Age philosophies, yoga, Western Buddhism, etc. I observed real Buddhism in Xiahe, the birthplace of the Dalai Lama. I chatted to young monks in training, saw them (and the aged) prostrate themselves hundred’s of time around the extended monastery walls and spin endless prayer wheels. I perceived in some an uncertainty about eternal things. Many passers-by watched curiously as our small group celebrated an open-air Communion at a closed monastery door.

Teen Tibetan monk in tragic self-immolation | eNCA

[2] On the matter of ‘absolutes’ so maligned today, Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) of L’Abri fame, noted this curious mark of our own age: the only absolute allowed is the absolute insistence that there is no absolute!’

[3] I love the story of Martin Luther’s exasperation with his often over-introspective friend, Melanchthon. During one bad bout of Melancthonian rumination, Luther shouted at his friend ‘Melanchthon, the gospel is outside of you!’ Why is it so difficult for us to achieve a balance of objectivity and subjectivity? We do love to throw the baby out with the bath-water. God is a God of many antinomies.

‘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]

ᐈ Listening stock images, Royalty Free listening ear pictures ...

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.