Archive for July, 2011
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or, if you prefer a different type of hell…

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I’m fascinated about the topic of prayer. I have friends that all over the page when it comes to what prayer is, how it is and is not effective. I came across this quote today by a person who is about to write a new book on prayer. What do you think of the quote?

“To speak about prayer is indeed presumptuous. There are no devices, no techniques; there is no specialized art of prayer. All of life must be a training to pray. We pray the way we live.”~Abraham Joshua Heschel

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This is only one small excerpt from the book I am thoroughly enjoying–deep though it may be with commentary on the work of dead theologians. It’s worth the trouble if you have the time for a slow read. I love the following quote:

Most especially is this overarching by heaven heard to be the case with respect to the lack of parity in the Gospel message between heaven and hell. While scriptural references to heaven and earth tell of a creation in which earth is under heaven, even more so they tell of a redemption in which hell is rendered powerless before the keys of the coming basileia of heaven (Mt. 16.18-19). Contrary to any idea that heaven and hell are equally optional alternative states of affairs that can be actualized somehow by our decisions, it is precisely when beclouded by the direst forebodings and fear of the powers of heaven being shaken that hearers of the Gospel are told, in the words of Jesus, to lift up their heads because ‘redemption is drawing near’ (Lk. 21.28). (The Difference Heaven Makes 36)

With so much conversation in the blog world about hell, maybe inserting a little conversation around the idea of heaven would be beneficial. Although, to be sure, merely talking about heaven won’t make much difference. Bringing the reality of heaven to broken people, wherever they are, will. Heaven makes a difference when heaven is brought to bear on this world–and I believe that Christians have a vital role to play here in this regard.

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I have been on this crazy bender lately–listening to 3 or 4 sermons a day for the last several days. Last night I was listening to an older sermon Tim Keller preached concerning the Church, the culture, and how Christians fit into these worlds and so on and so forth. You can find the sermon here. (It’s not so much a sermon as it is a lecture, but it is worth the effort and time, and it is a little older, but it is still quite relevant with, perhaps, a few tweaks.)

As Keller spoke, he mentioned, near the end, a definition of salvation and what the ultimate purpose of salvation is. I wrote it down because it was so powerful and compelling:

“The ultimate purpose of salvation is a new heavens and a new earth. This world is not a theater, temporary theater, for the salvation of individual souls who get converted and then leave. Our individual salvation is a means to an end. The world is not the means and our salvation the end. Our salvation is the means and a brand new material world is an end where music is perfect, where farming is perfect, where there is no disease, where there is no death.”

This is just wonderful.

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Yesterday I held a newborn boy.  He was nearly perfect.

I also took my daughters horseback riding at a farm where a little five year old boy lives. He’s dying. There’s a good chance he won’t see the end of next month.

Last night I found out another little baby boy died. He was still born. His parents have been trying to have kids for years. They buried him on his due date.

Life is hard. I’ve had my share of hard times. Compared to kids dying though, they seem like nothing.

It seems that it’s always a matter of perspective. I mean, have you ever just asked yourself, “Who Cares? Who cares about this whole stupid mess?” Certainly the Psalmist did time and again.

Then of course there is the issue of Theology. There’s the issue of people who have no idea what to say, feeling like they have to say something. There is the issue of what is said usually being not all that helpful.

I’m convinced all of our stories were meant to be told together. We need each other.

And yet people hurt us.

There’s so much hurt and anger in this world of ours. So much about life that doesn’t make sense. Can I be honest with you? I think one of the biggest problems we have with God is that there is a lot to Him that we can’t understand. Oh we want to. We rail and scream against our lack of control but at the end of the day we simply cannot wrap our brains around this Divinity.

I think that’s the problem. We refuse to admit there is some ambiguity. We want certainty where God demands faith and obedience. One of my friends lamented to me that there is just sometimes where God doesn’t make sense. I couldn’t agree enough. We can’t see God. We cant’ touch God. I think that’s why God tells us we need each other.

Sometimes, we simply have to trust in God’s character, not our ability to explain Him. More often than we do currently we need to make room for disagreements. We need to make room for people to experience Grace. We need to remember that Jesus came so we can have life

together.

The apostles didn’t all share the same ideology. They did all share a relationship with Jesus. May we all be able to say the same.

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In his book The Difference Heaven Makes, Christopher Morse notes that, among other things, heaven in the Scripture is conceived of as Community. This is a community that includes angels, beings, and the Host of stars and suns. It is, in fact, a politeia.

But that is not all. Heaven also includes us. We are a part of what Morse calls the ‘commonwealth.’ Paul the apostle announced that our ‘citizenship is in heaven.’ Here’s what he writes:

Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:19-21, my emphasis)

Is Paul saying that we have already gone to heaven? Do we already live there? Well, yes and no. I do think there is more to come, but in the meantime we have tasted. Morse goes on to offer salient comments relevant to this passage of Scripture. His comments are pointed and get to the heart of what the church seems to have missed in her longing for better days in some mystical heavenly place where float on clouds and play harps.

“For example, the announcement that ‘our commonwealth is in heaven’ sounds as if God’s dwelling, or, so to speak, God’s whereabouts, is not in isolation but with a blessed company of creaturely wellbeing whom God chooses not to be without. This is similar to the communal note of the Old Testament texts that tell of a heavenly host. In this instance, moreover, what is added is that those addressed by Paul’s announcement are told that they themselves, at least in some respect, presently belong to this heavenly commonwealth. Furthermore, the announcement that ‘our citizenship is in heaven’ extends the metaphorical import of this reference to include news of where the current rights and responsibilities of the hearers in their earthly situations now come from. The hearers’ right to exist on earth, the legitimacy of their being who they are and where they are as God’s creation upon the earth, is said not to derive from any earthly authority but from an authority coming from heaven. A somewhat similar note also occurs in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, where those faithful to the Gospel are told that their true freedom currently derives, not from any authority exercised, or status conferred, by the present, earthly Jerusalem, but from ‘the Jerusalem above.’ This community of a heavenly Jerusalem that, like Sarah, is said to engender and legitimate a faithful following of God’s promise now on earth is in this second instance referred to by Paul as ‘our mother’ (Gal. 4.26). One may conclude that any listeners, then or now, struggling for survival, whose legitimate right to exist is being denied or seriously questioned by the principalities and powers of the present age, might receive this announcement as good news. (18-19, my emphasis)

It’s a long quote, yes, but it is so important in helping us understand the why and how and what of our lives. Our citizenship is in heaven and that is good news. God himself has something to say about our lives and our safety and our purpose and our very right to live and breath and have our being. Our rights are guaranteed not by force of political action or by the might of military power or by the force of human rhetoric. Nor can they be taken away by such either. Our legitimate right to exist comes from a heaven–that one place in this created order that no man–no matter how powerful or wealthy–will ever corrupt or defile or consume.

And I do believe this is news that we should proclaim loudly–especially among those whose right to exist has been denied or questioned by the principalities and powers of this present age. I suspect there are many folks for whom such a life is a daily existence. It’s not wonder then that Jesus spend so much time on the periphery, the edges. I think Barbara Brown Taylor’s complaint is justified:

If I developed a complaint during my time in the wilderness, it was that Mother Church lavished so much more attention on those at the center than on those at the edge. (Leaving Church, 175)

The offer of the Gospel is the offer of a citizenship in a new kingdom–a kingdom of justice and love; a kingdom, again, uncorrupted by the principalities and powers of this world. And those on the edges are the very ones who are likely to be most receptive to the announcement of a citizenship whose legitimate rights cannot be co-opted, corrupted, or defiled.

The news, whether we may view it as credible or not, becomes that our help is in the name of the One who does make any situation we face on earth, however threatening or devastating, to be without the overarching forthcoming of an unimpeded dominion of love and freedom. (Morse, 17).

Citizenship indeed. Jesus has the power that enables him to bring everything under his control. And here is where I will let Morse have the last word because what his writes is not without power and beauty and should challenge every idea we have that heaven is simply a place we go at some point later in life or death. Heaven is too important to wait, its power too massive to control, its concern for justice too overwhelming to wait for us:

Running through all these varied references to heaven as a community is a recurring not heaven’s proximity to what is currently happening on earth. This should not go undetected. Contrary to more conventional projects of a ’sweet by and by’ reserved for later, it sounds as if a company of heaven is somehow involved, even indispensably involved, in what is actually taking place here and now. (Morse, 20)

Kind of gives new meaning to the prayer we are to pray: On earth as it is in heaven.

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So much conversation in today’s marketplace of ideas. There’s more drama in the church nowadays than there is in the L-B-C. I wrote yesterday that, frankly, I’m bored with the entire conversation. This is mostly because it doesn’t really seem to be making any progress or leading any place in particular. Given some of the conversations that exist in the Church today, I am cautiously skeptical that we are making progress; I am recklessly hopeful that in some way Jesus will redeem them.

Seriously, what progress are we making in world missions with all of the conversation about heaven and hell and who is and who is not saved? Do I really need Seven Reasons not to believe in Hell in order to be a good decent Christian? And if not, do I need to know another person’s reasons? What progress are we making for the Kingdom of God by continually engaging in conversations seemingly only meant to prove one side is right or that the other side is wrong? Are most of the conversations even necessary? Would these conversations even be happening if the blogosphere didn’t exist? For example, does contending for a ‘biblical’ view of gender (a term traditionally applied to nouns) have much to do with contending for the faith? Do conversations about whether or not we (as Christians) should or should not watch Harry Potter films or read the books help feed a starving child in our neighborhood? (I know, it’s an illogical, false comparison.)

How are we supposed to have any idea what we are to believe? How are we supposed to have any idea what to say to others who ask us about our faith (1 Peter)? How are we to contend for the faith that has been delivered (Jude 3) when there are so many ideas floating around? It is some sort of Cornucopia Christianity and everything must change. How can there be one body, one faith, when there are so many clinging tenaciously to things other than Jesus (Ephesians 4:3-6)–like opinions, ideas, politics, and so on and so forth.

(I’m guilty too since I cling tenaciously to the idea that Scripture is not as vague as some think it is. But I do wonder, seriously, about the effects these conversations have on people who are not part of our tribe. That is, many of these internal conversations that end up external seem to me to raise more doubts than they do faith. They do this among the church too. Frankly, there are days when I simply have no idea who is telling the truth, who to believe, or who is really a wolf in sheep’s clothing.)

Maybe when I go out I can tell people about God’s love. Maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe I can mention hell, maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe I should speak of a creation made by God in six days–as a foundational element of Gospel proclamation, maybe if I do I will be laughed at or ridiculed by other Christians. Maybe I can make my arguments from Scripture, maybe I should not (see in particular comments 14-17 in the comment thread). Maybe I should talk about Jesus, maybe I should talk about other Christians who talk about Jesus. Maybe holiness matters, maybe the journey does, maybe both.

Maybe the problem is that we have set up too many dichotomies in our conversations.

I’m not saying any of these conversations are necessarily wrong. What I am doing is asking a question: Are they helpful? Are they vital to the cause of Christ or are they culturally mandated and distracting and beside the point? Are they producing fruit in keeping with repentance or are they educated (or uneducated, as the case may be), lengthy ways of asking ‘Did God Really Say?’ Are they keeping our eyes off of the greater purpose for our existence which is, it seems to me, to know God and love him? Or are they helping us forward as we slouch closer and closer to Gomorrah?

I fully realize that what I am writing here will not be enjoyed by all because it will seem I am missing the point of the conversations, stereotyping others, that I am hopelessly naive, or that I am playing a significant role in helping perpetuate the very dichotomies I am so opposed to. I’m OK with that as long as someone in the world helps me get to the bottom of this problem. Accuse away! But please, help me understand what point we are trying to make and if we are saying things that, in whatever ‘end’ we may conceive, God will say, “Well said good and faithful blogger. Enter into the joy of Technorati Authority ratings.”

Maybe it is seriously time for Christians to stop fruitless conversation (1 Timothy 1:5-6) an ask the following questions: Is this conversation helpful? Am I helping the cause of Christ? Is my work advancing the Kingdom of God in a thoughtful, forward direction?

Or am I just trying to be right and out-shout the other person for whom Jesus died?

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Well, actually two lines; but you get the point.

“The supremacy of Jesus Christ as our sovereign and exalted God is our authority for mission. There is no one inch of creation, on culture or subculture of people, one lifestyle or orientation, one religion or philosophical system that he does not possess full authority over and command to turn from sin and glorify him.”

–Mark Driscoll, The Church and the Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World in The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, 133

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