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Review: Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church

Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church
Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the great Christian books of this era. Truly remarkable in scope and accessibility. You won’t think about eschatology the same again and maybe you’ll understand why it matters for the very first time.

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Toward an Evangelical Earth Day


Greening for God: Evangelicals Learn to Love Earth Day – Atlantic Mobile.

Above is a link shared by my geologist friend, Chuck Carrigan. I have to admit that as a very young Christian I went along with conservatives who marginalized the environmental cause. We were confusing “this world is not my home” (the world = whole fallen human enterprise with the will to power, sex, and money driving the daily engine) with “Christians should be unbridled consumers of God’s creation because soon I’ll be raptured out of here”. Up to that point I was unaware of Romans 8:19-23 and not considering how many biblical passages celebrate the glory and beauty of God’s creation. Oddly enough, we loved to use Romans 1:20 as an indictment against “sinners” (=people with different sin problems than me) because God made his invisible qualities evident in creation. Yet we ignored this on the positive side of considering God’s work sacred. The whole of creation is essentially presented as a temple in Genesis, built as an ideal environment in which we could walk with and worship God. How could the same people who sang In the Garden reject the care of that garden?

That was then. But knowing what we know about best practices for interpreting the Bible and being confronted with expanding environmental disasters and reaping the harvest of indifference how can so many still persist? I’m shocked that any Christian leader would say Christians are to “usecreation”! Obviously we shouldn’t worship creation. No biblical command could be clearer. But stewardship of all the resources and gifts God has given us, including creation, is mature worship of the Father. Genesis 1:28ff and 2:8-15 make it clear that “fill the earth and subdue it” and “have dominion over…” did not mean abuse it. God is our King. We are created a little lower than the angels to reflect His image in His world. Does God abuse and use up His subjects? No true King would. I’m out of space to share more biblical insights…

If Earth Day was started by pagans it’s to our shame. We should’ve been first to the party, but we’re showing up late. Yet we can redeem this celebration in fully Christian, biblical ways. In the season of Easter, when we celebrate Jesus as the first fruits of the resurrection, which will mean the redemption of the entire created order and our physical bodies, let us give thanks to Father for His fantastic planet. Let us confess that our fallenness has distorted it and our indifference has neglected it. It’s not our highest duty, but on our way to loving God with our whole being and our neighbor as ourselves, even as we are going into all the world to make disciples, let us teach them to obey every command, even the one to care for creation.

It’s a very small thing. But the children of our congregation are leading us in a paper drive this Sunday. As a response to worship we’ll march out and try to fill our paper recycling bin. One little act of stewardship. But I think the Father will be smiling because through it we seek to honor Him.

Jefferson’s Secret Bible

Jefferson’s Secret Bible (VIDEO).

Well, it’s not really a secret. I’ve known about it since I was a teenager and did some research on the faith of the founding fathers. But it’s interesting that Jefferson may have created it without sharing it with many others. What was it? A Bible created by cutting and pasting (literally) lines from the New Testament which he considered authentically from Jesus. He put them together into a sort of moral philosophy guide which he read many nights before retiring for bed. He was downright devotional about it.
It’s comforting to know that a founding father was a spiritual man. Better still, one interested in the bright side of moral philosophy. Even better that Jesus was a guide? Well, yes and no. A Jesus completely remastered. A Jesus pulled from the inspired pages which had delivered him to Jefferson. A Jesus diluted of full context. A Jesus in his own image.
But don’t get me wrong we all do this a lot. And like Jefferson we probably don’t tell anyone about it. Our own private Jesus to bring our burdens to and to confirm our own freshly-minted moral convictions. Our own private savior to comfort and affirm. Not quite the risen Savior who blows the lid off our comfortable reality yet offers us his raw self.
Ashes to Fire is a great time to get in the habit of spending personal moments with Jesus. Just make sure your heart is wide open. One day we will end our journey just like Jefferson did and our family and friends will pick up the Jesus we left behind. Will it be a Jesus in our own image? Will it be a cut and pasted and domesticated life chaplain? Or will it be Jesus: the One and only savior of the world?  It’s so easy to let our faith slide into this. But let’s not do it. No secret bibles.

PRAYER—Lord, I ask that I may look for nothing, claim nothing, and expect nothing but you, and that I may go through all the scenes of life, not seeking my own glory, but looking wholly unto you, and acting wholly for you. Amen. JW*

*Beacon Hill Press (2011-09-01). Year B: Ashes to Fire: Daily Reflections from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost (Kindle Locations 461-463). Nazarene Publishing House. Kindle Edition.

Eric Meyers’ review of “The New Jesus Discovery”

Eric Meyers’ review of “The New Jesus Discovery”.

Eric Meyers seems right on the mark as a legit scholar pointing out likely identity of this latest “find”. Short version: move along, move along, nothing to see here…

It’s interesting to discover a tomb belonging to 1st century people but that’s about it. No real connection to Jesus of Nazareth or Joseph of Arimathea. If you read the very earliest Christian traditions, 1 Corinthians 15:1–11 (NRSV) you’ll see tradition already in writing within 2-3yrs of the resurrection. The very earliest Christians absolutely believed in the bodily resurrection of Jesus and paid for it with their lives. Eyewitnesses to the event are cited as still living at the time of Paul’s writing of this letter to the Corinthians. There were over 10,000 believers in this world-changing event within a few weeks of it occurring. There is nothing that could ever be discovered archaeologically that could overturn this reality. And no scientific methods exist to precisely identify 2,000 year old remains, if any were found. And without a sample, it would be impossible to compare it to the actual living Jesus. But in the meantime he can sell some books and get a TV show made. Below is the Bible passage, which absolutely proves there were not multiple interpretations of his death nor later theological traditions added onto the story of Jesus. The full Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John Gospels were written a bit later, but this letter by Paul is decades sooner and is referring to written tradition he received right after his conversion, which was right after the resurrection. They didn’t just believe it based on what they saw, they believed it based on the promises found in the Old Testament. So it was a very deeply rooted belief in the Scriptures as well as the testimonies. So there’s just no room for this Book/TV show’s understanding of early Christian faith. The history is just too documented. Instead, I think they’ve found a jewish tomb from the time with similar names… Greek inscriptions were very common for the time… Many/most Jews believed in the bodily resurrection that would follow the judgment so it’s not surprising for the hope to appear. Belief in resurrection in general is different than believing Jesus rose from the dead. That’s what was and remains the specific Christian belief since day one:

The Resurrection of Christ
(Cp Mk 16:9–20)
15 Now I would remind you, brothers and sisters, of the good news that I proclaimed to you, which you in turn received, in which also you stand, 2 through which also you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message that I proclaimed to you—unless you have come to believe in vain.
3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, 4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.

Recommended devotional guide

After Day 1 & 2 feedback from users I would encourage any Christian who wants to explore the Lenten and Easter seasons to pick up this daily devotional guide. It’s well-written. Takes you through the Daily Office plan for reading through the Bible, pulls highlights from these readings, and offers brief guides to prayer for each day. With your Bible in hand, you can go as deep as you want. On days you’re seriously pressed for time you can keep the discipline going by pulling from the highlights and praying. Along the way you have several opportunities to journal your progress and prayers. Inspirational Art. Prayers from past spiritual giants. A very complete portable guide to Spiritual Growth!
“like button”

Ashes to Fire Year B Devotional Guide


Engage the Word: Power Play

As Engage the Word presses on we meet John (the baptizer), son of Zechariah the priest. His dad was a priest in the temple. But that just wasn’t his style. (Think: Billy Graham’s son smuggling Bibles into Turkey). A bit more brash. Having a bit of a problem with stuffed-shirt bureaucrats and hypocrites. We learned earlier that John was Jesus’ “cousin” through his earthly mother. Quite a pair these two. Born 6 months apart. Probably not your typical play dates when they got together. It says John was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth. Everyone told the story of his father’s vision and the special joy surrounding his birth. He didn’t have a self-esteem problem. More importantly he saw God’s vision for a new kind of Kingdom. One where nobody’s good enough but everybody’s welcome on their knees. Repent! Get right with God because he’s about to show up big time! He was an outsider who wasn’t caught up in the system. This blew everyone’s mind. So they listened. What he said made sense. Lots of people came out. Lots of people repented. John still gave people a hard time and said this better not be for show! “it’s not how wet you get, it’s how straight you walk on land!” (slight paraphrase!) He had spiritual authority and people listened.
But Herod Antipas had power. And he got it the old-fashioned way. His father, Herod the “Great”, paid for it! A weasel of the highest degree, Herod the “Great” was not fully Jewish and had bribed and betrayed his way to earthly power. He completely dismantled the true 2nd Temple and replaced it with a monstrosity larger than Solomon’s, with a nice Roman seal over the entrance. (He also built pagan temples in other towns.) So the true believers who were poor saw themselves excluded more and more from what their religion was becoming: a channel of Roman power and control…
Herod Antipas (the son) took his living brother’s wife. (The two deserved each other.) He had most of the negative qualities of his father and was quite bold in his disobedience to spiritual laws.
So what happens when true spiritual authority meets corrupt earthly power? Herod Antipas couldn’t corrupt John, so he put him in prison. This just made him more heroic to the masses and a continuing embarrassment.
You see, spiritual authority comes from God. You can’t buy it. If you oppose it by running away or trying to silence it, you’re only dealing with the messenger. You can’t avoid God. God is everywhere and will not stop trying to get through to you.
When Herod Antipas had John killed he thought it was the end of his spiritual conviction. But John was just the forerunner, paving the way for the ultimate authority: Jesus. Herod the great had tried to slaughter all the Bethlehem male babies. (Missed by that much.) He eventually allowed a crowd of people to call him a god. And then he got to meet God. Just when he’d finally gotten the ultimate thing he’d been chasing his whole life: god-like power. He forgot that every breath was a gift. (From God). That all earthly power is on loan. (From God). That justice is the reason earthly power exists. (Again, from God). And that all of us one day will answer to…you guessed it, God.
Jesus then returned to his homeland, safe from the power-crazy Herod the Great. But still under the immoral and self-indulgent authority of Herod Antipas, killer of John. John’s followers sensed even more of the same authority in Jesus and quickly followed. Suddenly Herod Antipas had an even bigger problem on his hands. He thought it was John back from the dead to haunt him. But it was God showing up again.
“God called. He wants his power back.”
Jesus went on to be the Messiah who saved the world and ascended to heaven.
In a bitter irony, perhaps the only ruler more corrupt and perverted, Emperor Caligula, banished Herod Antipas to exile. He had to live out his days in obscurity while the Good News about Jesus simply spread to the whole world…
Are you resisting God’s will, God’s way in your life? It’s not worth it. Submit to Him and find lasting peace. Are you struggling under earthly oppression right now? Stay tuned. The last line has not yet been written. God and His true servants are the ones to watch. Commit yourself fully to God’s mission today. It’s Good News for the poor and the poor in Spirit as we shall see…

The End is Near…

Hal Lindsey wants you to be concerned about “…a mad scramble to convince the Palestinians to drop their request [for recognition as a State] and avert an international crisis.” He goes on to say this is “supernatural” and in fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Then he says he’s going to study the legal history of statehood to expose the lies behind this plan. Mixed message? Yes. This can’t happen, it’s the worst thing ever. This is fulfillment of prophecy ushering in Christ’s return. Isn’t it one or the other?
I want to throw some biblical light on the current events in the middle-east. Matthew 24:14 tells us everything we need to know about the return of Christ.
“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:6-8, 14 NIV)
Jesus made it very clear. So why all the Christian TV hysteria? God the Father will choose the appointed time based on His agenda to reach as many people as possible with the Good News. Political events will not force God’s hand. Even if these things were the key, if God wills them, why try to prevent them or be so anxious? The kingdom of God is not politics. It is righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit.
Agreed, times of tribulation are predicted for Christ-followers. But many of Jesus’ words on this were directed at an event which already occured 2000 years ago. Jesus said that the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem would be the sign of his vindication as the Son of Man/Messiah/Son of God. It should be proof to all of who he was and the downpayment that he would return to judge the whole world.
“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be…. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Matthew 24:15-21, 34, 35 ESV)
If we don’t try to overlay a whole preconceived system of thought developed in the last 150 years and just let Jesus’ words guide us it’s not so complicated. Now trying to figure out where the rapture fits? Complicated. Trying to figure out how current events hem these words in and define their meaning? Impossible, because they don’t. These words of Jesus clearly prophesy the Roman leveling of the Temple. Some who heard Jesus were still living, though elderly. A whole way of life came to an end. No stone left unturned. Just as he said. Boom. Vindication he was Messiah and that God is displeased with the compromised ruling class who controlled the Temple with Roman power. The tables turned. Prophecies fulfilled. The Book of Hebrews suddenly became incredibly relevant. Jesus as the once-and-for-all sacrifice for sin now standing in stark relief as the dust settled on fallen stones. Jews become a people of the Book instead of the Temple.
The End Times clock started ticking then! Christ could pretty much return at any time once the Gospel would be preached to the whole world. That’s the determining factor. Jesus said it straight out.
So back to the made-for-tv Christian hysteria. Honestly it’s something I’ve never understood. My common sense tells me these people may have motives more complicated than simple truth-telling. Sure is good for TBN ratings. In fact Lindsey tells us if we have friends influenced by “the world media” to “encourage them to tune in this week”. If it gets people to think about the Bible and judgment day, that’s probably good. But the tone often contradicts the plain meaning of the Scriptures.
Whether or not the tribulation experiences will be repeated just before Christ’s 2nd Coming is a matter of great debate. First, there’s simply no promise that Christians will avoid suffering. (I’ll have more to say about escapist thinking/teaching in another post.) As an interpreter of Scripture and student of history I think somewhat similar (although not the same) events have happened many times in history and will again, should Christ tarry. But they certainly happened in AD 70, exactly as Jesus predicted. The early church took it as the proof to all of who Jesus was and is now. I think that’s the main point.
So never assume you’ve got more time. For you, the end could come in the next few minutes. Live every day with eternity in view. Don’t cozy up to the world, then freak out when something looks like war over there. Live sober lives. Confess your sins if you’re out of relationship with God. Commit to following Jesus. Enjoy the wholesome gifts of life. Love God. Love your neighbor. Join in God’s mission to share Good News with all. And by all means look forward to His return! What’s next will be much better if we’re ready when our end comes. It will happen. But God chooses the moment based on maximum redemption. Not fear or politics or war. Don’t get distracted from the coming judgment by preoccupation with worldly matters. But neither be unduly focused in an obsessive way with current politics as the key to Bible interpretation. When he comes you won’t miss it! Get ready! Ready or not the end is near. It has been for 2,000 years!
“Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other… “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24:30, 31, 36-39 ESV)
I’ll have more to say on other relevant Scriptures, especially ones associated with judgment and the so-called rapture, in a forthcoming post.

Engage the world with the Word


The interesting thing about the Bible is that it took a long time to produce. About one thousand years. It has stayed in print for 2 millenia. Sometimes I hear complaints the first time people try to read it. It’s not easy to understand in places. Names hard to pronounce. A lot of history. Deep ideas. Wild stories. You name it. I’ve heard it. But should we really be surprised that something that took so long to produce in its final form would be a challenge?
The wisdom and inspiration of Scripture rose to the top like cream. It took a while. More than one read for most folks. But many kept coming back again and again. And for some, it connected deeply pretty early on. Others found that the effort required to read it was changing them. Their minds still didn’t understand everything, but their character was changing and their hearts were strangely warmed by the process. They considered that proof of inspiration.
I took a lot of Bible courses over the years. I even got the high score on the Old Testament Comprehensive Exam in College. (Almost as cool as that time I got the high score on PacMan in High School!) But I really didn’t start to deeply connect all the dots of the Old Testament until I’d lived with it year after year while trying, failing, succeeding, and growing in the midst of real life. And teaching and co-learning with others along the way.
We’re starting a journey next week called Engage the Word. If you do it (find links here) you will learn a lot. In 40 Days you’ll hit some of the key highlights of God’s story worked out in creation. You’ll still have questions. But that’s great! That’s what gets you to the next level. But what will bump you up a few notches is inviting someone to engage with you around the Word. A church friend? Great. Better? Someone who’s never read it before. Get together once a week with them to talk about the experience. You’ll be amazed at what you’re remembering, sharing, and learning. I promise. Combine this with serving someone else’s needs? Get ready to be rocked! It might just blow the lid off your life. (In a good-finally got the pickle jar open-way, not like the trash can lid blowing down the street way…)
It takes a while. But if there’s any fast-track it’s found in sharing and serving. Let’s get started. Together!

All-Time Best Seller

New museum to use science to tell Bible’s history –

Click the above link to a story that’s been brewing for a few years. Steve Green is an unlikely curator but the Evangelical entrepreneur behind Hobby Lobby is founding a museum. For several years he’s amassed an amazing collection of Bible manuscripts. That’s right. And he actually seems to get it, too. He wants to tell the world the story of the Bible. Not the stories IN the Bible, but the story of the emergence of the Bible itself. I’ve spent a fair amount of time reconstructing this story myself and it’s epic. Manuscripts, codices, fragments, printing presses, inquisitions, martyrs, goats, shepherd boys, heroes, villains, it’s got it all. If he tells it well, the world will be amazed. You can’t fully appreciate this holy book until you have some idea of the drama that brought it together. This is important for the whole world to see!
Green says this is a non-sectarian project. Jews, Catholics, and Protestants are all contributing and taking turns hosting this museum-on-the-move until it finds a permanent home. (My basement is available, by the way!) This is also in my top 5 ultimate field trips! I studied 8 semesters of ancient Greek and 2 of Hebrew. I love the history and story behind the manuscripts. There’s an art and science to textual criticism. I’m a complete geek for this kind of stuff!
To top it all, interesting technology will be used to display and experience The Book in its various stages and forms. When I was in Kansas City in 2007 for the M7 Nazarene conference, the Dead Sea scrolls were also in town. I saw first-hand how technology multiplies the productivity and allows anyone to get involved. After a fascinating workshop I was granted access to hi-res images of the scroll fragments, which can be opened in Photoshop and aligned. Let’s see…Dead Sea Scroll fragments, Photoshop, and my Mac! Yes I was drooling! This also allows damaged, previously unreadable fragments to be read through infrared photography! Like I said I’m a geek and I absolutely cannot wait to experience this museum. So are you up for the road trip?

What is Beneath the Temple Mount?

What is Beneath the Temple Mount? | History & Archaeology | Smithsonian Magazine.

Follow the above link to a fascinating article on the endlessly interesting saga of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It’s good journalism because it carefully reveals thousands of years of history while explaining current tensions. To me this sifting project would be in my top 5 ultimate field trips. I’m especially interested in the 7th century figurines, the Herodian floor tiles, the inscriptions from Jeremiah’s period and the coins. These are all from decisive moments in the development of Judaism’s full understanding of God, which formed the foundation for the New Testament.
It’s more difficult than ever to claim that Solomon’s Temple isn’t under the Dome of the Rock. In a perfect world, modern excavation techniques could unearth treasures, while leaving existing structures and peace agreements undisturbed.
How amazing would it be to be able to take an elevator down to stand where King David stood, or raise arms toward heaven where Solomon did on Temple dedication day? But alas it would likely unleash such turmoil the price would be too high. Totally confirms in me that religion is not the world’s problem. The problem is the will to power, using religion as a front. Politically-minded men have too often ascended to religious leadership. This is a bad combination. Makes me think of the movie, Kingdom of Heaven… And so the creation groans, along with us, for the fullness of salvation to be revealed… How long, O, Lord?
It’s easy to judge from an armchair, but where are the growing edges of our own faith journey? John the Baptizer said, “I must become less, that he [Christ] become greater still.” In this Lenten season we’re reminded that we can’t always get what we want. And sometimes that’s for the best. Jesus emptied himself of all but love on the way to the cross. Are there artifacts we need to let go of? Do we need help from friends to sift through decades of “stuff”, to find the real treasures? Is the landscape of our journey defined by altars of worship or bloody battlefields of selfishness? Almost a month remains before Easter. What’s beneath your Temple Mount? What story is told from the artifacts of your journey?

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