New surprise encounter on twitter- Rick Jackson and Kerry Dearborn #imaginations

Signs of Grace

Churches can use some imagination.

Not imagination as a flight of fancy (although that can be good), but imagination that carries Christians into the hard places where reconciliation and transformation are most needed.

“Imagination gets us in touch with what is most real,” says Kerry Dearborn, a professor in the School of Theology at Seattle Pacific University. However, Dearborn adds, imagination is a “tool we haven’t allowed God to access.”

During a recent presentation Dearborn joined with Chris Hoke, who serves with Tierra Nueva Ministries in Skagit County, to explore the meaning of imagination in Christian life. Both have just published books that explore Christian imagination: Dearborn’s “Drinking from the Wells of a New Creation” and Hoke’s “Wanted,” a reflection on his work within prisons and among immigrants.

Hoke (who appears above in a CBN profile about a man cared for by Tierra Nueva) pointed toward the imagination as he…

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The difference between “ what would Jesus do” and “what IS Jesus doing”! You may be familiar with the popular fad that was revived in recent years that sought guidance for Christians in daily decisions by answering with WWJD. Like so many fads in Christianity, I always felt that though the intent was a sincere attempt to influence life’s decisions by reference to the historical Jesus, this version of what it means to be a disciple of Christ completely missed the heart of the Biblical Gospel.

In the last few days, I have been reading a book which confronts this misunderstanding in the American churches with a fresh exposition of the doctrine of the Ascension of Jesus. The book which was published in 2004 by Gerrit Scott Dawson, is entitled –

Jesus Ascended: the meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation“.

I read a lot and have considered myself a full-time student for over 50 years. It has been a long time since I have been as profoundly moved as I have in reading this book about the present life of Jesus of Nazareth now in His heavenly session as our King-Priest. The fact that I have been celebrating the Festival of the Ascension for over a week now was the preparation needed to be able to profit so much from this author and the mature understanding he has of this neglected part of the Biblical narrative. I would love to recommend this book to everyone but I won’t because of one principle that is a priority here at E4Unity and that is the recognition that each individual is unique and in no way would the many be able to profit in the same way I have from reading any book. In the area of what is called “spiritual formation” that means that real progress is made only when we are able to see these things for ourself, through the “eyes of faith”, and that means we must be patiently brought in life’s experiences to desiring such things as this present world can never give or satisfy our inner spirit with.

I want to leave you with some quotes from Dawson. He is an excellent writer and this book is very “reader friendly” in the sense that he tells you what his topic is, tells you how he is going to approach it, and even gives you upfront a short direction on “how to use this book”. I will tell you that he is a Presbyterian pastor and so he is thoroughly pastoral- that is he concerns himself in the end with the purpose of this doctrine in living here on planet earth, the life of Christ in heaven transmitted to us by the Holy Spirit as we learn to live, not in the flesh, but by faith in God’s abundant provision in His beloved Son Jesus.

He has included some of the rich comments from past teachers in the churches, both from the Patristic fathers as well as men like John Calvin,  Andrew Murray, and Lesslie Newbigin. He has a robust exposition of what the the Ascension of Christ has meant to the Church in the past as well as how it can be instrumental in reviving us in the challenge we are now facing in our own generation.

“We have such difficulty conceiving how, or even believing that, the body of Jesus went to heaven that we may want the doctrine to remain in obscurity” (p.3)

“In no way, then, did the ascension signal simply a return to business as usual between God and humanity. Rather, the ascension of Christ is a vital hinge on which turns the work of the Mediator, the incarnate Son, our Redeemer in all his offices.” (p.8)

“My premise is that the church- our local church and the churches of the west-needs to recover the meta-narrative of the gospel as a counter-story, indeed a better story to the one the world tells. . .one of those episodes, the ascension, has been sorely neglected in the church’s telling of the story. The silence. . .cuts us off from the present work of Christ in heaven and from the conclusion of the story. . .recovering a proper and robust doctrine of the ascension can reconnect us to a sense of our true citizenship in heaven and the implications of that identity for life in the world.”(p.25)

Dawson’s book is divided into three parts, and we haven’t even reached the second one yet. But I don’t want to impose on you so I will close for now with one more, this time, a quote from Andrew Murray. Murray has also been one of my favorite devotional writers for a long time. Dawson may be the first Presbyterian writer that I can think of among contemporary ones that utilizes the treasures in Murray so often and so freely. He says here, that ” the church can reclaim the fullness of its story, with spectacular results.” And then quotes Murray-

” Faith has in its foundation four great cornerstones on which the building rests- the Divinity of Christ, The Incarnation, the Atonement on the Cross, the Ascension to the Throne. The last is the most wonderful, the crown of all the rest, the perfect revelation of what God has made Christ (to be)for us. And so in the Christian life it is the most important, the glorious fruit of all that goes before.” (p.26)

In part two, one of the highlights for me was his discussion of Calvin’s interpretation of the Lord’s Supper as one of the means of grace directly connected with the ascension. We will have a great deal to come back to on another occasion. For now, we must get ready to celebrate once again another Festival: The Day of Pentecost.

The link to the book is the on-line edition where you can read most of it at Google.books.

Celebrating today with Sir Beethoven’s help.

The Ascension of Christ is an integral part of the Biblical story of the Incarnation; it’s public knowledge or what is referred to on this blog as “the open secret”. I am in the process of reading two books that I want to post about before the Day of Pentecost. One was written 100 years ago, the other in 2004, but both have the same objective: to encourage the revival of the Festival of the Ascension in the churches where it has been neglected or is unknown. They both are rich in the meaning the Biblical writers attach to the historical event and what it means in the spiritual life of the Christian Church, tracing it through church history. The festival indeed continues!

Consider what Lent Observance Means to so many

If you come from a faith tradition that is non-liturgical, one that does not follow the christian calendar for example, do yourself a favor. Take a peek at what the observance of Lent- the 40 days that begins on Ash Wednesday and leads up to the Easter celebration- means to the different faith traditions that practice the christian faith in this way. Follow the LENT ‘tag’ on WordPress to the wonderful diversity manifested in our unity of One Faith and One Lord.lentMy wife is reading through a book of meditations on the atonement-The Passion of Christ, by John Piper- I think this will make the third year she has used those meditations along with Scripture to great benefit. Me, I was thinking of choosing 40 chapters from the Apostle Paul’s letters to reflect upon his unique interpretation of the ‘flesh’ and our need to be rid of it in order to live the new life in Christ.

Here is the begining of my list, not in any order yet, but definitely ones I want to meditate on: Galatians 3,4,5; I Corinthians 1,2,3; II Corinthians 3,4,5,6; and Ephesians 2,3,4,5; Romans 1,2,5,6,7,8. I haven’t listed any from Hebrews or the Pastoral letters. I don’t think I’m going to have any trouble in finding 40 worthy chapters, do you?

As Presented by Eckhart Tolle

I was astonished Sunday evening as I watched 60 Minutes on CBS. There on national television was something that sounded very familiar: the center of all the problems we are facing in life is due to the EGO. For Oprah and in particular this author and his theory that all we have to do to break free is to learn how to get rid of ego, has been met with eager acceptance. oprahFrom the comments in the program and from those available on her website, I think it is fair to say that this has been embraced in Oprah’s version of christianity.

There is something very basic in this version that I believe Saint Paul himself lived and taught involving humanity under the bondage of sin. He used various ways to designate this human tragedy and what God has done in Christ to heal it- the old man, the flesh, Adamic humanity.

Yet in Paul’s christianity this problem of ego is first and foremost a problem of rebellion against our Creator and the solution begins with His own provision of the Savior, Jesus Christ. So getting rid of the ego/self life begins with being reconciled to God’s broken law and that Paul says happened at a definite time in the history of humankind at the cross of his Son. Here in Paul’s own words is God’s secret-

Justified by Faith  (letter to the Galatians)

2:15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified [1] by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness [2] were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

A New Earth                                                                                                     There is no doubt that there is a great spiritual hunger in our society for Tolle’s thesis and his books to find such success in the marketplace. On the otherhand, my own sense is that this is exactly where the churches with their version of the Gospel are not boldly speaking into that same society. I would even go further and suggest that the great majority of christians in America do not even know Paul’s secret of dealing with the ego- the part about what it means to be “crucified with Christ” in order to live free of the broken law. This is not just a theory, it is a way of living, and yes, it is about experiencing God’s new creation on earth. For Paul, this is included in what he called “living by faith” and “walking in the Spirit”.

Happy birthday to my oldest son, Philip!

Be Ready for Every Good Work

3:1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. election-2

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. ( Saint Paul,letter to Titus)

This is just one of many scriptures that would make an excellent “exit poll” evaluation for Christians in America to do a little self-evaluation in light of this campaign which comes to an end today. I found it most humbling in light of our calling to be light and salt in the midst of just such a situation.

Michael Horton, editor-in-chief of MODERN REFORMATION magazine, writing the “Final Thoughts” for the recent September/October issue makes the statement that orthodoxy has always been risky business for the Biblical Christian. This essay has given me new hope. I quote it here at length and think you’ll agree, that in the midst of the present heated debate, we all need to ponder this reality of being

“in the world” and “sent to the world”, while not “loving the world”.  

The Risk of Orthodoxy

Orthodoxy is risky business. The choice before us, or any generation is not whether we’ll be apostates but to which side of the front we will defect. We will be faithful either to the spirit of the age, delivered through its parodies of God’s Word and sacraments, or to the Spirit of Christ, whose reign brings true freedom.

Either we will surrender to the market, the state, utopian ideologies, pragmatism, and the therapeutic worldview that feeds our narcissism, or we will be called out of ourselves by the surprising announcement that God has accomplished our liberation from the guilt and tyranny of our sins in Jesus Christ.

Ours is not the first generation that has had to decide to fight on. The early Christians might well have survived and thrived in the Roman Empire under the Caesars if it were not for their narrow-minded conviction that Christ alone is Lord and the only Savior of the world. It is never hard to go with the flow. Where did we ever get the idea that orthodoxy is for conservatives?

Today, religious pluralism has become the new orthodoxy of the American empire. But let’s not forget that the civil religion of our supposed glory days was as threatening to the health and vitality of Christian orthodoxy as it was for the era of “Christendom” after Constantine. Postmodernism becomes an easy target for those looking for a easy way of lionizing or demonizing whatever time we happen to be living in by God’s appointment. Yet regardless of our time and place, we are living in that tension of “the present age”, defined by sin and death, and “the age to come”, inaugurated by Christ’s resurrection, ascension, and sending of His Spirit.

Even in circles where we affirm the right doctrine on paper, do our lives indicate to our spouses and our children that we cling to Christ alone for our salvation and hope rather than to the ephemeral fads and fashions of entertainment and marketing? Do our children know by the way we speak and pray at home, in formal and informal ways, that the truth changes the way we think, feel, and live in relevant ways?

Or do they have reason to conclude that orthodoxy stops at the level of assent? Does it change the way we relate to them and to others? Connecting doctrine and practice…has always brought fresh witness to the watching world and service to our neighbors.

“Like the Word that defines it, orthodoxy is “living and active”, God’s true and faithful speech that creates the world of which it speaks. Before we can live it out, we must hear it, receive it, be bathed in it, and fed by it”.

 

CHRIST ALONE  (1964-2016)

As I’ve meditated on the Christian life over some forty plus adult years, there has always been a grave concern in the back of my mind. I have an ever increasing desire to focus on CHRIST himself, on the beauty and sheer majesty of my beloved and the riches that are in His person and in His perfect work on behalf of the human race as the one Mediator between His Holy Father and rebellious humankind. In Him truly are hid all the treasures and fullness of the Godhead in human flesh.

But in order for all this beauty to be seen by the eye of faith, I’ve come to believe rather strongly, that it must be seen against the background of what one has described as “the fallen man focus”; or simply a fuller and fuller vision of what God has said about earthly, sinful Adamic flesh. This revelation begins very early in Genesis and continues right on through Scripture to the very end.

If I had but one message left to proclaim before I would go to meet this lovely friend, Savior, and Lord, and enter into His everlasting Kingdom, I would want it to be about His cross where He really did do something definitively about this “old wretched man” of ours. And I would want to speak especially into the midst of the American evangelical churches that at present are so enamored with the ways of modernity-of technique, of “how-to’s”, filled with their confident “can do” self help philosophy.

Passing the Torch

Passing the Torch

I would remind them of the foolishness of God, of the way of the cross of His Son. I would stand in the gap and call all of us to make certain that we have in fact understood God’s once for all judgement on the flesh of Adam and the indispensable repudiation of that which is dearest and nearest to the old stony and deceitful heart of the self life. I wonder if God is not hearing again a lot of the “bleeting of sheep” in our midst that he has told us as He did a man named SAUL, in no uncertain terms, to put to death! Please read the Scripture at this link: I Samuel 15.

For me, what is urgently at issue in our churches is no mere matter of difference in styles or methodologies, not even a question of how we do church, but a matter of a “breach of faith”- a failure to pay the price of covenant faithfulness. It is a matter of the one response to the love of God in the presence of His glorified and reigning King that He requires: true repentance toward Him and faith in the only flesh which He is well pleased with. The only flesh that will be allowed to glory in the presence of GOD.

Pay Close Attention to FLESH in his writings

“The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. . .all flesh is grass” -The Prophet Isaiah, chapter 40.

The subject of flesh and blood is one of those cords that is woven very distinctly throughout the fabric of Scripture: it is prominent in the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as well as in the understanding of His Apostle to the Gentiles. Consider just a few samples.

“Flesh and blood hath not revealed this to you…”( Jesus to Peter).

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (Jesus to Nicodemas, a ruler of the Jews)

“Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God” (Paul to the saints at Corinth)

“We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against…the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Paul to the saints and faithful in Christ Jesus at Ephesus)

The Apostle Paul gives us the “Resurrection” chapter of the Bible in the same letter which is begun with quite a lengthy discussion of the foolish ways of God and the wisdom of humankind. He makes a statement regarding the wisdom of God which goes to the heart of what is at stake: God’s way of redemption, of restoring His fallen creation, insures “that no flesh should glory in His presence”.

These and many other scriptures signal a basic truth: God’s ways are not our ways. When Messiah Jesus is sent into the world, it announced to all the earth (all human flesh) that God was doing an entirely new thing which would be the definitive thing in defeating our enemy for the glory of His Name. This new thing would involve the creation of a new human flesh; a flesh which was of heavenly origin, not earthly. It is through this heavenly flesh and it alone that the good and perfect will of the Father is at long last done on earth as it is in heaven.

The heavenly flesh was sent by way of the cross on its way to the resurrection and the glory that is to follow: “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit”(Jesus, speaking to his disciples just before his betrayal and death). The cross of the heavenly flesh is much more than the sinless sacrifice that “takes away the sin of the world”; it is the death of death itself that does away with the earthly flesh and all the corruption that goes with it. It is not this body that is raised with Christ. That flesh is to be relegated to the grave, and we are commanded to “reckon it to be dead”.

It was the “offense of the cross” that was at the center of all the resistance to Paul’s gospel preaching. Why? Because it meant that God had judged the earthly flesh once and for all and put it to death. The repentance that He now requires of all who would enter His everlasting Kingdom not only involves an agreement with His verdict concerning our sins of rebellion, but much more, what He has in fact already done with our flesh. What He now requires of us in true repentance is a drastic repudiation of our earthly flesh and a life of “no holds barred” mortification of it as long as we are in this body.

In Christ, He calls us to replace the flesh with the “grace and duty of minding the Spirit” (Romans 8:1-27), and of “walking or being led by means of the Spirit”. This is the way to read Romans 8 to obtain the greatest profit. This is the way to read Saint Paul and to learn from him what is the TRUE life of CHRIST (Galatians 5).

To be continued: If I had only one message to post before I die

Can your faith do this for you : supply you each day with a deep sense of well-being, a sense of being content with yourself and your surroundings?

The Christian Faith defined as the Life of Christ himself indwelling the Church, which is his Body, has this quality as expressed so well by the Apostle Paul when he wrote-

I Have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content! (letter from prison to the Philippian Church)

The most logical question that comes to mind is, “How did Paul learn this beautiful art of living?” For him it was a major and necessary part of his faith in Jesus, the Christ, for he speaks of this in his other letters. For instance, he tells Timothy that “godliness with contentment is great gain“. And he tells us that this had to be learned. If Paul had to learn it, who was his teacher? He was trained under the famous Rabbi, Gamaliel, a leading authority in the Sanhedrin; did he learn the art of contentment from this teacher of Israel in the Jewish Scriptures?

I’m leaving you with this question to ponder before giving you Paul’s own answer, found in another one of his letters from prison. Think with me for a few days just how desirable this quality in life is to actually possess and then meditate on how you believe in your own situation you can learn this art, this habitual practice as part of your daily routine. Through out the history of the Church there have been examples of those in prison for their faith that have also demonstrated this contentment and calm. If you are familiar with the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor/professor imprisoned under the Nazi regime in WWII, and later put to death just before the end of the war, then you will know something of the beauty and worth of this quality in a person’s life under the most difficult of circumstances.

Read a classic on-line: The Art of Divine Contentment by Watson