Text Without Ceasing

 

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossian churches begins and ends with references to Epaphras and to prayer.

In the opening of his letter Paul gives thanks in prayer to God for “the word of truth” which is “producing fruit and growing” in the world and is now doing so among the Christians in Colossae.  Paul reminds them that the gospel had been brought to their “doorstep” (1: 6) by Epaphras. And, that their enabling to flourish was produced in them by constant prayer:

“That’s how you learned [the gospel] from Epaphras our beloved fellow slave. He’s a loyal and faithful servant of the king on your behalf. He it was who gave us the news about your love in the spirit.

“For this reason, from the day we heard [of your faith], we haven’t stopped praying for you. We’re asking God to fill you with the knowledge of what he wants in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. Colossians 1: 7-9

 

What struck me even more about Paul’s opening words is the faithful witness of Epaphras and the “we haven’t stopped praying for you” mature Christian’s devotion to prayer. Both commitments, it seems to me, are required of us: planting the Kingdom of God mustard seed and nurturing that seedling to full maturity (Matt. 13:31).

 

The Apostle Paul ends his circular letter to the house churches in and around Colossae with greetings from those supporting him and the work of the Gospel. Among those is “fellow slave” Epaphras. And though Paul sends on Epaphras’ warm regards, the message is no greeting card sentiment.  Paul was no sentimentalist. Paul was in prison because he spoke “the word of truth”. Paul prayed that the Colossian Christians would mature and also speak “the word of truth”. Paul was aware that, like himself, the Colossian Christians also may end up in jail for doing so. But, he pressed them to remain faithful to that “word”.

In the closing Paul relates how Epaphras is asking God that the Colossians remain resolute and unyielding in their commitment to the “word of truth” they had received:

 

“Epaphras, one of your own folk and also one of King Jesus’s slaves, sends you his greetings. He’s always struggling in prayer on your behalf, praying that you will stand firm and mature, and have your minds fully settled on everything that God wants you to do.”  Colossians 4:12

 

The tongue-in-cheek title of this post is meant to be a prod for Christians to mature and to pray without ceasing. The Apostle Paul, the former Saul, who met Jesus on the Damascus road thought that prayer maintained that revelation:

 

“Never stop praying”

1 Thessalonians 5:17

 

“Devote yourselves to prayer; keep alert in it, with thanksgiving.”

Colossians 4:2

 

Don’t worry about anything. Rather, in every area of life let God know what you want, as you pray and make requests, and give thanks as well.

Philippians 4:6

 

Pray on every occasion in the spirit, with every type of prayer and intercession.

Ephesians 6:18

 

To be sure, prayer is a mystery. We understand asking and confessing in prayer. Those are direct interactions. But interceding in prayer? It sounds right, but how does that work, especially when the objects of our prayers have a free will? Paul’s prayer for “God to fill you with the knowledge of what he wants in all wisdom and spiritual understanding,” would seem to imply that change in another’s life comes about through the effects of prayer.

Also, to be sure, those who call Jesus “Lord’ are invited into the mysteries of the Godhead. The Godhood’s desired relationship with you includes the mystery of prayer. (I don’t know about you, but I like mysteries. If I knew everything, life would be boring and romance less.)

 

From one Member of the Godhead we learn that prayer is required for life. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray he said we should ask the Father for our daily bread.

Also, from Jesus we learn that prayer is required for peace. Jesus told us to pray for our enemies and for those who persecute us.

From Paul we learn that we are helpless in prayer but not left to our own devices. We are told in Scripture that when we pray the spirit intercedes for us when we do not know how to pray.

See prayer as essential to all of life. Then, pray for your spouse and for those in your church to become mature in Christ and to gain spiritual wisdom and understanding. I look around and I do not see mature Christians. I see hobbling Hobbits.

 

Pray and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:8 (adapted)

 

~~~

Garden Praying:

 

There are times when the press of life so weighs on me that I find it difficult to pray. It is then that I go to my secret garden of prayer… 

 

In my mind’s eye I see myself standing and looking out the kitchen window. Behind me are the world of concerns which reside in my life. Out the window I see a lush garden bathed in sunlight. I feel a pull to go outside. I step out the back door and down the stairs. I walk the stone path to an arbor with two benches. The arch is covered in vines. There is a scent of Hyacinths in the breeze.

Jesus is sitting on the bench. He’s been waiting for me. I sit across from him. I want to look into his eyes. We sit in the silence of nature. Then He speaks.

“I have greatly desired this time with you.”

I begin to worship him. I confess my sins. I ask for his forgiveness. I tell him my concerns. I release control of my life. I release my control of other’s lives. I return to silence. I look into the Lord of Creation’s eyes. I see mercy and goodness and help and strength. Those eyes, those times, beckon my trust.

 

Pray the Jesus Prayer:

Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.

Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.

Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.

 

‘If there’s trouble, you should pray’

 

Hannah’s story of coming to faith and surviving a labour camp in North Korea

She prayed every day, often in the living room, quite openly. My father and I had to watch out for our neighbors. If anyone came close, we’d cough and she’d stop praying. Even on her deathbed—in the mid-nineties—she told us to always be thankful and to always pray. “Life is trouble,” she told us. “If there’s trouble, you should pray.” But she didn’t do one thing: she never explained to us how to pray.

All we could make out was, “Hanonim! Hanonim! Lord! Lord! Help.” And then we couldn’t understand the phrases that followed because she spoke so fast. Sometimes my father was annoyed with her and didn’t want her praying in the living room. So she went outside, even when it snowed. One time—when I was older—I sent my 9-year-old daughter after her to cover her up with a blanket.

Praying was so important for my mother that she even washed her hair and put on her nicest clothes. “We approach God with the deepest reverence,” she said. We had no idea who this ‘Hanonim’ was. My daughter even asked her one day why she wouldn’t simply visit this guy if he was that important to her. My mother replied, “One day I will.”

Because of my mother’s prayers, I was never as indoctrinated by the Juche ideology as other North Korean people. Especially after she confessed to me how I was born. My father and mother were married during the Japanese occupation. My father had been married before, but he was unable to have any children with his first wife. And my mother was also unable to conceive. But someone told her that if she prayed to Jesus she would have a baby. So she prayed. For almost eight years she prayed. And then, not long after the Second World War, I was born.

As I said, my mother never explained the full gospel to me, but when I got married in my early twenties, she shared this story with me. And I knew I was a gift of faith.

The Living Bird is Let Loose

 

“And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: “When a man has on the skin of his body a swelling, a scab, or a bright spot, and it becomes on the skin of his body like a leprous sore, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests.  The priest shall examine the sore on the skin of the body; and if the hair on the sore has turned white, and the sore appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is a leprous sore.

The above quote is the opening to The Law Concerning Leprosy as recorded in Leviticus 13.

Leprosy: Chronic skin-disease characterized by ulcerous eruptions and successive desquainations of dead skin.

Jewish Encyclopedia

~~~

In Luke’s gospel account, chapter 17 vs. 11-19, we learn of ten lepers who plead for mercy (“Have pity on us!”) at a distance from the crowd. Keeping a distance from others was in keeping with the law proscribed in Leviticus 13. Any leper who was examined after several specified intervals and then declared unclean was isolated, sent to the outskirts of a city. The “unclean” would be required to yell “Unclean!” to any passersby.

Most of us know from a Sunday School lesson what happens in Luke’s gospel account: ten lepers are completely healed by Jesus. The ten are sent by Jesus, in keeping with the Law, to a priest for examination. Only one of the lepers returns to give thanks to Jesus.

The_Healing_of_Ten_Lepers_(Guérison_de_dix_lépreux)_-_James_Tissot_-_overall

The Healing of Ten Lepers by James Tissot

“Is it really the case that the only one who had the decency to give God the glory was this foreigner?”

The healing occurs as Jesus passes along the borderlands between Samaria and Galilee on his way to Jerusalem. The formerly leprous foreigner, and not the nine formerly leprous Israelites, is the one who returns to Jesus to give thanks. Like the Samaritan women who would gladly eat the crumbs under the master’s table, this foreigner knew that Israel’s God was different from all other gods. How different, this foreigner would come to find out. The difference would make his skin tingle.

Jesus made it clear to his disciples that his mission on earth, his vocation, was to his covenant people, the Jews. The Jews were the people God chose to bring light to the nations. But the Jews failed in their vocation. Rebellion, idolatry, stiff necked obstinacy, you name it. The people resisted their calling even after witnessing the extraordinary events of the Exodus – the Plagues, the Red sea dividing, the cloud by day, fire by night, manna on the ground in the morning and water flowing from a rock. The Covenant people resisted their calling even when given a tutor-personal words from God-to keep themselves from sin and sickness and to bring healing to the nations.

One leper returned to give, “God the glory.” Did those hearing Jesus words to this foreigner think about their vocation? Did God’s covenant people, Israel, presume a right to be an entitled people of God’s goodness. Were God’s people like the nine newly restored lepers with a focus on themselves? (Imagine a people focused on a right to healthcare.)

As one can see, the ten-leper account is an analog of the Israel’s history through the centuries. Leprosy is an analog for sin. Sin is that chronic soul-disease characterized by ulcerous eruptions of wickedness and successive offenses and sins of the walking dead.

Early on, Israel was told to eradicate idols from their lives. They were to be a separate and distinct people from the nations around them. When Israel became like other nations and chose to believe that God is not all that He was proclaimed to be, God sent prophets.

The prophet Isaiah, in the presence of God, declared as “the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” -Isaiah 6:5

In God’s presence, Isaiah was made aware of his and Israel’s’ condition. Isaiah would prophecy against Israel-the Northern Kingdom. Corporately, Israel was rich and prosperous under the rule of Jereboam. But individually, Israel was very corrupt. Israel would be expelled from home. By 621 B.C. Israel would be conquered and carried into captivity by the Assyrians.

In exile, Israel pleaded for mercy (“Have pity on us!”).

 

Let’s return to the ten lepers. After healing them Jesus tells them, “Go show yourselves to the priests.”

The following quote is The Ritual for Cleansing Healed Lepers as recorded in Leviticus 14:

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “This shall be the law of the leper for the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought to the priest.  And the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall examine him; and indeed, if the leprosy is healed in the leper, then the priest shall command to take for him who is to be cleansed two living and clean birds, cedar wood, scarlet, and hyssop.  And the priest shall command that one of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel over running water.  As for the living bird, he shall take it, the cedar wood and the scarlet and the hyssop, and dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water.  And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed from the leprosy, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird loose in the open field. He who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes, shave off all his hair, and wash himself in water, that he may be clean. After that he shall come into the camp, and shall stay outside his tent seven days. But on the seventh day he shall shave all the hair off his head and his beard and his eyebrows—all his hair he shall shave off. He shall wash his clothes and wash his body in water, and he shall be clean…

“Then the priest shall offer the sin offering, and make atonement for him who is to be cleansed from his uncleanness. Afterward he shall kill the burnt offering. And the priest shall offer the burnt offering and the grain offering on the altar. So the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be clean.”

Do you see any analogs in the above passage? What is it about the two birds? One is killed and the other set free. And, what about that earthen vessel in which one bird is killed?

 

In Leviticus 13, the priests were required to check the skin of the individual who was observed to have an ulcerous skin condition. The priest did this over several prescribed intervals. Each time the priest would examine the individual to determine if…

“If, after the scales of leprosy have spread over nearly the whole body, a bleeding and scaleless ulcer (miḥyah) is observed, the subject is unclean. Similarly, if the scales, having covered almost the whole body, fall off in one place and uncover an old bleeding ulcer, the subject is unclean.”Jewish Encyclopedia

It is interesting to note that in the next verses following the account of the lepers, Luke 17 vs. 20-21, that Jesus refers to what is observed to answer the Pharisees question, a question which was on every Jew’s mind. He reminds them of what you can see with Kingdom eyes:

“The Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God was coming.

“God’s Kingdom,” replied Jesus isn’t the sort of thing you can watch for and see coming. People won’t say, ‘Look, here it is,’ or “Look, over there!” No: God’s kingdom is within your grasp.”

In giving the lepers a renewed humanity and by restoring them to their communities and Synagogues from exile Jesus was doing the work of the Kingdom on earth. He hoped the nine of Israel (and the crowd) would have grasped this. We are told that the only one to “give God the glory” was the foreigner. Do you think he kneeled and grasped Jesus’ feet in thanksgiving?

“Now is the ruler of the world cast out” (Henchmen to follow)

 

Patria o muerte! [Homeland or death] Che Guevara, December 11, 1964, 19th General Assembly of the United Nations in New York.

“Executions?” Guevara told the UN General Assembly in 1964. “We execute! And we will continue executing as long as it is necessary.”

“Guevara was a man whose interest in justice is best summed up in his own words, as quoted by Fontova: “To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary. These procedures are an archaic bourgeois detail. This is a revolution. And a revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate.” –The bitter truth about Che Guevara

Che Guevara: “Judicial evidence is an archaic bourgeois detail. We execute from revolutionary conviction.”

Fidel Castro: “Legal proof is impossible to obtain against war criminals so we sentence them based on moral conviction.”

“The terrible damage that Castro has done will long outlive him and his regime. Untold billions of capital will be needed to restore Havana; legal problems about ownership and rights of residence will be costly, bitter, and interminable; and the need to balance commercial, social, and aesthetic considerations in the reconstruction of Cuba will require the highest regulatory wisdom. In the meantime, Havana stands as a dreadful warning to the world—if one were any longer needed—against the dangers of monomaniacs who believe themselves to be in possession of a theory that explains everything, including the future.”

-From Theodore Dalrymple’s “Why Havana Had to Die,” 2002.

~~~~~

Remembering Castro’s Crimes by William Doino Jr.

~~~~~

You say you want a revolution…

“So don’t worry away with your ‘What’ll we eat?’ and “What’ll we drink?’ and ‘What’ll we wear?’ Those are all the things the Gentiles fuss about, and your heavenly father knows you need them all. Instead, make your top priority God’s kingdom and his way of life, and all these things will be given to you as well. So don’t worry about tomorrow…” – Jesus as recorded in Matthew’s gospel 6: 31-34

the-earth-is-the-lords-horicon-marsh-wi

The Earth is the Lord’s – Horicon Marsh, WI ©Ann Johnson Kingdom Venturers

“Yes, the gospels affirm Jesus’s divine identity. Yes, they affirm his death on the cross as the climax of God’s age-old plan of salvation. But the purpose of God coming incognito in and as Jesus and the purpose of this Jesus dying on the cross was – so the gospels are telling us – in order to establish God’s kingdom, his justice, on earth as in heaven.” – from N.T. Wright’s “How God Became King”

~~~~~

In case you forget…

Psalm 97

The Lord is king! Let the earth rejoice;

    let the many coastlands (and Horicon Marsh) be glad!

Clouds and thick darkness are all around him;

    righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.

Fire goes before him,

    and consumes his adversaries on every side.

His lightnings light up the world;

    the earth sees and trembles.

The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,

    before the Lord of all the earth.

 

 The heavens proclaim his righteousness;

    and all the peoples behold his glory.

 All worshippers of images are put to shame,

    those who make their boast in worthless idols;

    all gods bow down before him. Zion hears and is glad,

    and the towns of Judah rejoice,

    because of your judgements, O God.

For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth;

    you are exalted far above all gods.

 

 The Lord loves those who hate evil;

    he guards the lives of his faithful;

    he rescues them from the hand of the wicked.

 Light dawns for the righteous,

    and joy for the upright in heart.

Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous,

    and give thanks to his holy name!

 

~~~~~

The Day The Revolution began…

“The modern world has displaced the Christian narrative; it isn’t just that most of our contemporaries profess not to believe in God or Jesus, but that they have in their heads a world narrative in which world history arrived at its redemptive moment in the eighteenth century with the rise of science and technology and banishing of God to a distant realm, to be visited by the pious few like a kind family calling on an elderly relative every Sunday.  The western churches have regularly colluded with this absurd diminishment of the Bible and the gospel.  But the cross, told as the climax of all four gospels and particularly John’s on which I have focused this evening, leaves us no choice.  ‘Now is the judgement of this world; now is the ruler of the world cast out; and if I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to myself.’ This is what it means that the Messiah died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.”

-from Prof. N.T. Wright’s “Saving the world, Revealing the Glory:  Atonement Then and Now.” Oct. 2016

 

The early Christian creeds – the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene creed – do not speak of the most important elements of why Christ came to earth.  It’s as if the creeds were written for man’s purposes and not for God’s purposes.

The kingdom life of Jesus, between his birth and crucifixion, is missing from the creeds. And, as recorded in the gospels, Jesus came to inaugurate his kingdom on earth as in heaven and not to impart the four spiritual laws and get off earth as soon as possible.

So, then, this is the gospel

That now at the name of Jesus

  every knee within heaven shall bow-

On earth, too, and under the earth;

  And every tongue shall confess

That Jesus, Messiah, is Lord,

To the glory of God, the father.

The Lord is King, Let the Earth Rejoice This Thanksgiving!

Forgiveness at the Threshold of Mercy

The Problem of Evil, a Good God and a Different Way to Be Human

Recently, on my daily train ride into the city, I had, for me, a ‘typical’ conversation with those standing in the vestibule. The subject:  going to church.

A fellow passenger brought up the fact that he attends to a certain church. Another passenger then mentioned that she attends a Catholic Church. I mentioned that I attended church near my town. A fourth passenger, a young woman carrying a black bag decorated with astrological and satanic symbols and the word “Spirituality” written boldly across the bag, looked up from her hand-held device and said, “I don’t go to church…Too much hypocrisy.” She said this looking directly at the woman who mentioned her attendance at a Catholic Church. The young woman went on to mention the priests and young boy abuse scandals.

I regrettably glibly said, “We are all hypocrites. Some people realize this and attend church to change their ways.” We then went on to discuss other things.

A deeper and honest and loving discussion on my part would have brought up the truth about God and the hard questions that she and I and all of us face in our daily lives. There are certainly questions of man’s brokenness, his hypocrisy and profound questions about evil, suffering and… a good God?

If you have read the ancient Book of Job then you would have come across man’s earliest known and hardest life question as the basis of Job’s story: Why does a good God allow suffering and evil?

And, if you have read Fyodor Dostoevsky’s (a Russian novelist (1821-1881)) “The Brothers Karamazov” you will have come across thought-provoking questions of the problem of suffering and evil. There, one would find man’s most pressing concerns in story form; concerns about God, good, evil, suffering, doubt and faith.

The Veritas Forum video below presents an insightful conversation at Duke University. Issues of war, pacifism, suffering, evil, moral ambiguity, hate crimes, death, the UN, International law, forgiveness and the Kingdom of God are broached by N.T. Wright, a well-known New Testament Scholar and author. He provides answers to many universal questions and places the answers in the context of the Kingdom of God and not the society at hand. The video introduces N.T. Wright and his book “Evil and the Justice of God”.

A conversation with Professor N.T. Wright at Duke University:

So God Gave Them Up

 valentin_paul_writing1800x1337

As you begin reading Paul’s letter to the house churches in Rome you clearly see Paul’s heart for the church and for the Kingdom of God now in place in this most cosmopolitan of cities:

 “This letter comes to all in Rome who love God, all who are called to be his holy people. Grace and peace to you from God our father, and King Jesus, the Lord.”

 Paul’s letter is tactful, spirited, full of information and pastoral.  He is excited and “not ashamed about the gospel” even though many outside the church are not eager to receive Good News of the Kingdom of God. Paul knew that Rome was the dominion of the “rulers of this age.”

 Paul clearly understood that by calling Jesus “King Jesus, the Lord,” that he was promoting another ruler above the Emperor.  This was seditious and dangerous for Paul.  But Paul knew the power of the Gospel.  Paul knew what God’s Good News had done in his own life and in the lives of others. He knew the cost of God’s mercy.

 Prior to Paul’s letter, Rome had gone through sweeping changes.  Pagan Rome didn’t much care for Jews and their purifying religious rituals.  They also didn’t very much care for the new “religion” in town, Christianity, which some of the Jews embraced.  Emperor Claudius had the Jews expelled from Rome.  The Jewish Christians left behind Gentile house churches. Some believe that these churches in Rome began with Gentile believers who were converted during Pentecost, while they were in Jerusalem.

 After Claudius died in AD 54 Nero became Emperor.  Under a new Emperor the Jews and with them the Jewish believers returned to Rome. It is then that Paul writes his letter, circa AD 58, describing the sweeping changes brought about by the Kingdom of God on earth.  He writes about God’s justification of all those who believe that God would keep His Covenant promise. That promise was completely fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

 Paul was deeply concerned for Christ’s church at Rome.  His “masterpiece” letter hopes to resolve conflicts between Gentile believers and Jews now returning to Rome. And, more importantly, he writes to give the church an overarching vision of God’s Covenant plan to save the world from itself.

 As you read Romans you sense that the church and the world system at that time are not so different from that of our world and our own times. 

 At the beginning of the letter Paul writes that he was under obligation to barbarians as well as to Greeks, that he was  obliged to the uncultured and the cultured. He was obliged to speak the Gospel to the wise and to the foolish.   These kinds of people are with us today, are they not?

 Paul begins God’s creation salvation story with the problem:  man’s brokenness and man’s unwillingness to turn from his sin.  To make the point, within the first paragraphs of his letter the phrase “So God gave them up” occurs three times:

 “So God gave them up to uncleaness in the desires of their hearts, with the result that they dishonored their bodies among themselves.  They swapped God’s truth for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed for ever, Amen.

So God gave them up to shameful desires.  Even the women, you see swapped natural sexual practice for unnatural; and men, too, abandoned natural sexual relations with women, and were inflamed with their lust for one another.  Men performed shameless acts with men, and received in themselves the appropriate repayment for their mistaken ways.

Moreover, just as they did not see fit to hold on to knowledge of God, God gave them up to an unfit mind, so that they would behave inappropriately.”

 Keep in mind that Paul knew the Jewish canon.  He knew about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah – God’s righteous anger poured out on the sexual perversion within those cities. Those cities had been warned.  Paul was again warning the new Christians in pagan Rome about God’s Righteousness and Justice and man’s hardheartedness. Is not homosexuality worshipping the creature rather than the Creator? But Paul was revealing a way out ~ a path made straight by the One Jew who fulfilled all of God’s desires for His rebellious people ~ Jesus.

 And lest we read Paul’s words and become smug and judge others keep in mind Paul’s words in his letter to the Corinthians:  “Some of you were once like that.”

 “Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people–none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God

Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (I Cor 6:9-11)

 I don’t have to tell you that in our time the main stream media pours out filth and degeneration into our homes.  Our lives are constantly bombarded with TV programs, movies and advertisements that use sex or by political party advocates who call homosexuality a “right.”  Yet, a “right” does confer righteousness to the owner, only license and worse, in the case of homosexuality, licentiousness.

 The perversion and antinomianism now seems even more pervasive in our age than in Paul’s because of the ever-present media.  What can Christians do to heed Paul’s words today in our pagan world? It begins with worship.  So God will give them up – the people of this age – who follow in the footsteps of the pagan Romans but for us who believe we can give up to God what Paul writes later in Romans:

 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God–this is your true and proper worship.”

*******

Here is some helpful info if you choose to walk away from those chains:

http://www.narth.com/

NARTH 2012 Press Conference & Reparative Therapy

http://voices-of-change.org/

Beginning to Imagine the Kingdom of God

Recently I finished reading Professor N.T. Wright’s book, “How God became King:  The Forgotten Story of the Gospels.”

This book is a needed return to the focus of the four gospels:  the inauguration of the Kingdom of God here on earth.  On the final page the Biblical scholar writes:  “Part of the tragedy of the modern church, I have been arguing, is that the “orthodox” have preferred creed to kingdom, and the unorthodox” have tried to get a kingdom without a creed.  It’s time to put back together what should never have been separated.  In Jesus, the living God has become King of the whole world.”

 Being raised and ‘churched’ in an evangelical setting for most of my life my understanding of the Gospel (generally a misapplied Pauline bias) from out of all of the sermons and education (Moody Bible Institute) and Christian radio programs was that Jesus came to earth to die, to be resurrected and to save me from my sins, thereby giving me hellfire insurance and access to heaven ~ the Reader’s Digest of the Four Spiritual Laws.

 “How God became King:  The Forgotten Story of the Gospels” opened my eyes to a Kingdom of God understanding that I have been searching for over many, many years.

Here is the third section (read the whole) of a lecture, ‘Imagining the Kingdom: Mission and Theology in Early Christianity’ by

 

N. T. Wright

Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity

 

‘Imagining the Kingdom: Mission and Theology in Early Christianity’

3. Early Christian Mission and Theology

 All this leads to my concluding remarks on early Christian mission and theology. For over a century now it has been commonplace within the discipline called New Testament Studies to assume that the early church had to jettison its Jewishness in order to be relevant to the Gentile world into which it quickly went. Thus it has been assumed, again, that Paul had to downplay the idea of Jesus as Israel’s Messiah and to switch, instead, to the more readily available category of the kuvrio~, the ‘Lord’. But this proposal, hugely influential though it has been, simply fails to imagine what ‘the kingdom of God’ meant to the early Christians, Paul included (he doesn’t use the phrase that often, but when he does we can see that it remains at the centre of his worldview). Paul, in fact, held firmly to the ancient Jewish belief, rooted in the Psalms, in Isaiah and in Daniel, that a world ruler would indeed arise from Judaea, that Israel’s God would thereby return to dwell amongst and within his people, and that through this means the long-awaited new creation of peace and justice would be inaugurated for the whole world. All of that standard Jewish expectation came to fresh flowering in Paul’s work. Of course, the communities which Paul founded were determinedly non-ethnic in their basis. But this was not because Paul had as it were gone soft on the essential Jewishness of his mission, or because there was something wrong (as Epicureans imagine) with Judaism, but because he believed that it was precisely part of the age-old divine plan that when God did for Israel what he was going to do for Israel then the nations would be brought under the healing, saving rule of this one God. Paul’s ‘gospel’, his eujaggevlion, was thus much closer in meaning to the various eujaggevlia of Caesar than most of modern scholarship has imagined. It was, as Acts 17 (already quoted) indicates, the royal announcement, right under Caesar’s nose, that there was ‘another king, namely Jesus’. And Paul believed that this royal announcement, like that of Caesar, was not a take-it-or-leave-it affair. It was a powerful summons through which the living God worked by his Spirit in hearts and minds, to transform human character and motivation, producing the tell-tale signs of faith, hope and love which Paul regarded as the biblically prophesied marks of God’s true people.

 The communities which sprang into surprised existence as Paul went around making this royal announcement were remarkably devoid of an obvious symbolic world. They were precisely not defined by the worldview-symbols of Judaism – Temple, Torah observance and so on. They certainly didn’t adopt the symbols of the surrounding pagan culture. How could this new community, this new sort of community, retain what for Paul was its vital centre, namely its strong unity across traditional social divisions, and its strong holiness in matters of our old friends, money, sex and power? For Paul the answer was simple. The community needed to understand what it was that had happened in Jesus the Messiah, and in particular who the God was into whose new world they had been brought. What we see in Paul is thus properly characterized as the birth of the discipline which later came to be called Christian theology, by which I mean the prayerful and scripture-based reflection, from within the common life of the otherwise disparate body called the church, on who exactly the one God was and what his action in Jesus and by the Spirit was to mean. Early Christian theology was not an exercise undertaken for the sake of speculative system-building. It was load-bearing. If the unity and holiness of the early church were the central symbols of the movement, they could only be held in place if a vigorous theology was there to stabilize them in the winds and storms of the first century. Theology, in this sense, serves ecclesiology and thus the kingdom-based mission. Actually, I have come to worry about a post-Enlightenment theology that doesn’t do this, that thinks the point is simply to ‘prove’ the divinity of Jesus, or his resurrection, or the saving nature of his death in themselves, thereby demonstrating fidelity to the Creeds or some other regula fidei. In the gospels themselves it isn’t like this. All these things matter, but they matter because this is how God is becoming king. To prove the great Creeds true, and to affirm them as such, can sadly be a diversionary exercise, designed to avoid the real challenge of the first-century gospel, the challenge of God’s becoming king in and through Jesus.

 This challenge, of course, required imagination: not the undisciplined fantasy of which left-brain thinking often accuses right-brain thinking, but the imaginative leap from the worldviews of paganism, with their many gods who might either be far removed, as in Epicureanism, or rolled into one and close at hand, as in Stoicism – or indeed from the worldviews of ancient Judaism, with their fierce concentration on the symbols of land, nation, temple and Torah. But the leap was not made into the unknown. The imaginative leap required was made on the basis of Jesus, Jesus the crucified and risen Jewish Messiah, Jesus the one in and through whom Israel’s God had at last returned in person to rescue his people and the world. And to sustain precisely that leap, the early Christians told and retold, and eventually wrote down, the story of Jesus.

 The four gospels, then, to return to our starting point, are thus appropriately named ‘gospel’, in line both with Isaiah 40 and 52 and with the contemporary pagan usage. They themselves, in telling the story of how God became king in and through Jesus, invite their readers to the imaginative leap of saying, ‘Suppose this is how God has done it? Suppose the world’s way of empire is all wrong? Suppose there’s a different way, and suppose that Jesus, in his life, death and resurrection, has brought it about?’ And the gospels themselves, of course, contain stories at a second level, stories purportedly told by Jesus himself, which were themselves, in their day, designed to break open the worldview of their hearers and to initiate a massive imaginative leap to which Jesus gave the name ‘faith’. The gospels invite their readers, in other words, to a multiple exercise, both of imagining what it might have been like to make that leap in the first century (both for Jesus’ hearers and then, at a second stage, for their own readers) and, as a further stage again, of imagining what it might be like to do so today. For too long gospel study has been dominated by the attempt to make the gospels reflect, simply, the faith-world of the early church. Why, after all, the radical critics used to say, would the early Christians have been particularly interested in miscellaneous stories of what Jesus actually said or did, when all that really mattered was his saving death, making the gospels simply ‘passion narratives with extended introductions’? The conservative response has been that early converts would naturally want to know more about this Jesus in whom they had come to place their faith. But this stand-off, on both sides, has usually failed to reflect the larger question: that the gospels tell the story of Jesus not out of mere historical anecdotage or faith-projection, but because this is how Jesus launched the kingdom of God, which he then accomplished in his death and resurrection. Even to hold this possibility in one’s head requires, in today’s western church, whether radical or conservative, no less than in the non-Christian world, a huge effort of the imagination.

 This imagination, like all good right-brain activity, must then be firmly and thoroughly worked through the left brain, disciplined by the rigorous historical and textual analysis for which the discipline of biblical studies has rightly become famous. But, by itself, the left brain will produce, and has often produced, a discipline full of facts but without meaning, high on analysis and low on reconstruction, good at categories and weak on the kingdom. One of the reasons I was excited to be invited to come to St Andrews is because this is already one of the very few places in the world where the imagination is taken seriously as part of the whole theological discipline. I hope and trust and pray that we will be able to work together at the challenging but richly rewarding tasks of imagining the kingdom in such a way that will simultaneously advance the academic understanding of our extraordinary primary texts and enrich the mission and theology of tomorrow’s church. It is just as difficult today as it was in the first century to imagine what the kingdom of God might look like. Rigorous historical study of the gospels and the other early Christian writings has a proper role to play in fuelling, sustaining and directing that imagination, and in helping to translate it into reality.

(emphasis mine)

Embrace the upSide Down

“But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.”

The words “upside down” came into my head last Sunday night.  I’m not sure why.  When these words showed up on my radar I immediately thought of the above verse from Dr. Luke’s account, The Acts of The Apostles.  I have been seeking the Lord about some ways for me to live out my life for the Kingdom of God – to return a profit for the Kingdom.  As is my nature I looked for something exotic to fill my days with:  some grand cause to devote my time, energy and money towards.  But, the “grandiose cause” turns out to be just my own desire to control the cause, make it mine and receive all the credit: “You are truly magnanimous!”  That type of thinking doesn’t get you very far in God’s Kingdom.  In fact, it only digs a rut to your own slough of despair.

Well, the Lord got my attention on Sunday night. I asked for wisdom and He gave it to me – pressed down, shaken and in good measure.  Words both old and new began to fill my head:  “when you pray…”; “when you fast…”; “when you give…” 

Now, I know what I need to do.  Who knows?  I may become one of those “who turn the world upside down.”