Going the Distance

I have been thinking about Johann Dober and David Nitschmann who were so determined to minister to the slaves in St Thomas and St Croix that they were willing to sell themselves as slaves. I don’t think they ended having to do this, but they were willing to go the distance. I have also been thinking about Gladys Aylward who was so determined to get to China to be part of the ministry there that she worked for years as a maid to pay her own way. She was willing to go the distance. When I think missions, I think a lot of things, and one of those things is that we must be willing to go the distance. We must be willing to do whatever it takes (biblically) to reach the people we so desire to serve. What cost is too high?

Paul says 1 Corinthians 9:22 I have become all things to all people so that some might be saved. Yes, this means we take interest in the things that interest other people and yes it means we give up things so not to as offend but it also means we are willing to go the distance and be uncomfortable. In Acts 18:3 it says Paul was a tentmaker in Italy because the people he was with were tentmakers (he was also a tentmaker). In 2 Corinthians 11:7-15 Paul says he did not take money from the Corinthians because he did not want to offend or burden. Paul was willing to go the distance.

I don’t exactly know what it means for me to go the distance and I more certainly don’t know what it means for you to go the distance in missions. But I do know we must be willing to do it. We must be willing to sacrifice and live a life that gives preference to the call of God. It can be hard, and it can be tough, but it will always be worth it.

When we serve God when we are willing to take up our cross when we are willing to go the distance people and things change. Yes, the people around us see Christ and find hope and healing but we also change. We become filled with less of us and more of Him. We pour out our lives as a drink offering and in return, God fills us with more of Him.

So as Dober and Nitschmann said as they left for the West Indies “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering”

Just a thought,

Mike.

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Four Statements you need to hear

Did you know God is calling you? Not on the phone, although I am sure he could. No, God is calling and has been calling you all along. We can think God is distant, but He is not. He is present and calling. I for one know there have been times when I know God is calling me and other times like after I sin that I am sure He is not calling me. But again, He is present and calling. Not only is He calling but I like the way River Tree church in Ohio puts it – He is For, With, One of, and In Us.

God is the one who sought out Adam and Eve after they sinned. It was God who initiated the seeking. It was God who called Abraham to leave his homeland and become the father of the faith. It was God who called Moses. It was God who called Samuel. When we read through Scripture we read God calls to people. If we go back further even than the garden to pre-creation creation itself, we read that Christ was slain before the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8 NIV). Because God is omnipotent He knew before forming Adam that He would have to send His Son to pay the penalty for sin and still He was for us.

Because God is for us He was moved to be with us. Because God loves us He was moved to send Jesus to take up residence with us. Jesus chose to leave heaven and take on human form. Not only did He take up human form He spent time with some really bad people. How often did the religious leaders of Jesus’ day accuse Him of being friends with and liking sinners? It makes one wonder if I could be accused of such a thing.

Moving on, God is one of us. This is the incarnation! An event so great that all of heaven sang out in wonder that Christ is born as they gave glory to God and proclaimed peace on earth (Lk 2:14). This was a moment creation and heaven was waiting for. This was the first of what I think are four of the most profound statements in the Bible that relate to God’s relationship to humankind. The first being that the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us (Jn 1:14). God clearly pronounced what it means to be for someone. The incarnation is God demonstrating His great love for us. While the world is still sinning and far from Him, He has come to bring life. This creates the possibility for a second profound statement when Jesus says it is finished. God’s being for us moved Him to be with us, living like us and then dying as one of us.

Finally, we get to the God is in us. This is the third profound statement when the angels declare He is risen! The grave could not hold Him, and He is alive once again. This makes a way for the final statement which is in Colossians 1:27 when Paul declares that the glorious wealth of the mystery is Christ in you the hope of glory. God was for us and now He is in us.

FOUR Statements that changed the world!

  • The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. John 1:14
  • It is finished. John 19:30
  • He is risen. Matthew 28:6
  • The glorious wealth of the mystery is Christ in you the hope of glory. Colossians 1:27

Just reread those four statements and let that sink in. If you are “far” from God read those statements because they tell you that God is not “far” from you. If you are a lifelong saint, then read those statements because Christ is in you and He is your hope so don’t forget that. If you are a new Christian read those statements because they will be what you hold on to in times of trouble. If you are wondering what the purpose of your life is when read those statements because they will show you that Christ died and rose just to be with you. The beautiful thing about these simple little statements is they show so much about God and so much about you. So what are you going to do about it?

Just a thought,

Mike

Faulty Teaching or Bad Language Part 2

In the last post, we looked at the results of some ideas that were put forth by the author of an article. They were that Jesus is no longer human and that reconciliation to the Father removes humanity. This time I want to tackle the next three which deal with emotions as it pertains to Christ, God, the Holy Spirit, and us (humans). As a reminder the sentence in question is “after Jesus ascended into heaven, he was no longer human. He had been fully reconciled to the Father and wasn’t experiencing human emotions and doubts anymore.” So, what we are going to look at is:

  • Jesus does not have human emotions. Statement
  • God does not have human emotions. Implication
  • God’s emotions and human emotions are different. Implication

All throughout the Bible emotions are ascribed to God. So, the question we are really asking is, when the Bible speaks of God having emotions is it anthropomorphic like when the Bible speaks of God having physical human traits (eyes, ears, arms, etc.)? Put another way does the Bible give God human emotions like it does physical attributes so we can relate or understand Him, or does He truly have emotions? Additionally, are our emotions as humans different than God’s emotions, if in fact, He has them.

First, just to give a clear picture the Bible does use figurative language about God. There are multiple passages about the eyes of the Lord or the arm of the Lord. This language is sometimes used to convey a nearness about God or His seeking of people. This type of language is used to communicate something about God in a way that we as people can understand. We can grasp things like eyes being used or seeing or arms used for strength, but we cannot grasp how the spirit seeks or has strength. It is something that is beyond our understanding. That should lead us to ask if the language used about God having emotion is similar language. Is the language used about God having emotions figurative? I say no.

To start with we must go to the beginning. Genesis 1:26 God says let us create man in our image. This tells us a lot because if I tell you I am building something like a motorcycle then when you come by you already have a reasonable idea of what you expect to see. You know what a motorcycle is, and you would expect to see something similar. Here what we have is God saying “I am going to create something like myself” so we should expect that whatever we have is like God right? Now let’s work backward. If I tell you I am building something like a motorcycle and you don’t know what motorcycle is then when you come by you have no idea what to expect. But, and here is the kicker once you see the thing I have built and learn that it is like a motorcycle you will then have an idea of what a motorcycle is like based on the new information. So, for starters what we have is an understanding that we are like God because we are made in His image. We have emotions and He has emotions. But there is more that is not simple reasoning.

I could leave it at that and I think that is a fairly decent argument but because there is more I will provide more. Theology places the perfections or attributes of God in categories. Why? Because we need more categories in the world. Anyway, two such categories are the Incommunicable and Communicable attributes of God. Incommunicable are attributes He alone possess and Communicable are ones He shares (for lack of a better term) with us. An attribute like Omnipresence (all present) is His alone but truth, while He possesses it to the ultimate degree, He shares with us. Omnipower (all powerful) is His alone but unity, as in being united as the body of Christ, we can share in. We can see there are things about God that rubbed off on us in creation. These are just two examples.

Emotion is one of those things. But how do we know this? Well, the most two popular are probably God saying He is a jealous God and Jesus weeping. However, because we are arguing the point of emotions for a preincarnate and ascended Christ we will skip over the earthly life of Christ for now even though I think that foolishness.

Here is a brief list I stole from a website because I am feeling a little lazy:

The list above shows us that God not only has emotions, but He has multiple emotions. More than that He is in control of His emotions. God is able to have emotions and not let them control Him. This, by the way, is an attribute of God which I place in the unity section because there is no division within God. He does not wrestle with His emotions like you or I do. He does not have to be conflicted over being angry at sin or feel sorry He hated something. There is perfect unity in His emotions.

I think one of the reasons people might reject the emotions of God is because to acknowledge that God has emotions and is able to remain in control (for lack of a better term) of them highlights the lack of emotional control we feel. We know that sometimes our emotions get the better of us and that we should do a better job at keeping them in control. To acknowledge that God has emotions is to either run the risk of being afraid God will fly off the handle at you or is to suggest you are not as in control of your own emotions as you think.

Additionally, we cannot attribute our general basic understanding of emotions to God. For example, we overuse and misuse the word love so much that when we attempt to think of God as love we uncut the real meaning of what that means. In the western world, and especially the English-speaking western world, we can say we love everything and the meaning can be anything from a fleeting infatuation to romantic desire to lifelong service to a spouse. The biblical definition of love, however, is vastly different. I like the way Charles Ryrie puts is when talking about love “love seeks the good of the object loved.”[1] Love is an emotion, but it is so much more too.

Lastly, because we have laid the groundwork we can probably now talk about the emotions Jesus has while in heaven and I will only mention one. Jesus sympathizes. According to Hebrews 4:15 Jesus sympathizes with our weakness. The Greek word is sympatheō. We could not even come up with an English word for the emotion or action. He intimately understands and relates to our weakness. Sympathy is an emotion and Jesus feels that for us while in heaven. This is why He lives to make intercession for His people.

None of this even gets into the emotions of the Holy Spirit see for example Eph 4:30. But whereas He is a full member of the Godhead He too has emotions.

We could probably keep going but I think the point is clear. Yes, Jesus has emotions because He is God and yes God the Father has emotions. God is not some impersonal force that is void of emotion who creates beings with emotions and then leaves them to fend for themselves. Jesus experienced all the “human” emotions and when He returned to the Father He kept those emotions.

We must be clear with the words we use to describe and talk about God because words are the basis for understanding and thinking. If we use the wrong words we start to get the wrong idea. It is not easy, and I have failed many times, but we must push forward never settling for cheap theology. We can never adequality explain God, but we can try to better understand and use the right words.

Just a thought,

Mike

[1] Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology, (Moody: Chicago 1999), 44.

Faulty Teaching or Bad Language Part 1

I think before I get started it is important for me to preface that I know I am a little weird. I get excited with things like theology, church history, word choices, church structure, and so on. Topics like these make me happy and if brought them up in a conversation you will quickly realize this. That being said, I also think it important to note that I get excited about them because they are highly important.

I was reading an article the other day and it was good. Nothing mind blowing but more of a comforting you can do it too type article. Nothing really jumped out at me except this line “After Jesus ascended into heaven, he was no longer human. He had been fully reconciled to the Father and wasn’t experiencing human emotions and doubts anymore.” At this, I slammed on the brakes. The brakes were hit because there are some large problems with this statement which is actually composed of multiple statements. I am going to give the author the benefit of the doubt and say they did not mean to express what I think this statement says and what it implies.

Here is the statement and some implications broken down:

  • Jesus is no longer human. Statement
  • Reconciliation to the Father removes humanity. Implication
  • Jesus does not have human emotions. Statement
  • God does not have human emotions. Implication
  • God’s emotions and human emotions are different. Implication
  • Jesus does not doubt. Statement

Of these statements and implications, only the last one has a biblical foundation. Jesus (i.e. God) does not doubt. That’s it. I have problems with every other statement and implication brought on by the sentence. I do not want to get long-winded here so I will try to be as succinct as possible while not doing damage to the importance of the problems brought on by these statements.

First, we have the question of the physical body of Christ post-resurrection and ascension but before we can get there we do have to look at the preincarnate and the incarnation of Christ. As Christians, we believe that before Christ walked on the earth He existed as the eternal Son. This is part of what we call the eternality of the Son. He was part of the Godhead along with the Father and the Holy Spirit. John chapter 1 speaks to this in detail. He had full rights as God. What happened at the incarnation was that Jesus came and was born of the Virgin Mary and became a man. He did not lose His deity but instead became a man as well. This is what we call the hyperstatic union of Christ. It means that the two natures (God and man) existed in Christ simultaneously but never mixing or diluting. He did not stop being God but as Philippians says He did not use that His advantage (Phil 2:6). Now there are many questions about this and not a whole lot of agreement on some of the questions brought on about this, but we have a phrase or word for it (hyperstatic union). That being said, it is a mystery. As a side note, a mystery is no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If you tell me you can explain or understand everything you believe you are a liar. If you could explain everything about God, you either have the wrong God or you are a little too big for your britches. Either way what we see in the incarnation is God becoming a man.

This was important for multiple reasons beyond substitutionary atonement (Christ died as a substitute for us). Jesus is called the King, Prophet, High Priest, and Apostle of the faith. For Him to be these things He had to have a physical body. If He did not, then, as an example, He could not be king in the line of David. A physical body was and is required for Him to be those things. If when we ascended into Heaven He somehow lost the body He would also lose the ability to be those things because those things require Him to be and remain human. More can be read on that here.

Additionally, to deny a continued physical body by Christ is dangerously close to Docetism which denied the physical body of Christ and said that Jesus only appeared to be human. Colossians 1:15 says “The Son is the image of the invisible God” and Colossians 2:9 says “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” Docetism is a form of heresy that was denied at the Council of Nicaea in 325. Now please hear me, I am not saying the author is a heretic. My point is only that we have to be careful of the seeds we plant. I would not plan the seed for an oak tree in the garden that butts up against my house. The seed is small, but it grows into a great tree that would fracture my foundation. We have to follow seeds along their path to know what will grow from what we plant.

Moving on to the next point which is an implication. The author states that Jesus is reconciled to the Father and while I have trouble with this wording I am going to chalk it up to bad writing because reconciliation carries a very specific connotation in Christianity. For us, as Christians, it especially carries the idea of being separated by sin and no longer having free-flowing relationship or fellowship. Christ came to reconcile us to the Father and God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. To say that Christ became reconciled to God would imply He experienced a time when He was out of relationship with the Father which would imply disunity within the Godhead and the whole universe would collapse because Christ as God holds all things together (see Heb 1:3). I suppose I have a bigger problem with the wording than I thought.

Anyway, the other problem with this statement is that it implies that humanity or humanness cannot be connected or near God. That Jesus being reconciled to God meant He lost His humanity would imply the same thing for us. After all the Bible says that we will be raised like Him and while this speaks to union and eternal life I see no reason why a physical body would not be included especially because 2 Cor 5 talks about a new heavenly body which is one that does not see corruption or death. This again is Docetism and Gnosticism which says the physical is evil and only the spiritual is good. This means the flesh can never be good and leads to hedonism. There is a lot more than be said about this, but I think you get the picture.

We will stop here for now and split the rest up into another post. For now, we can summarize what we have. Jesus ascended to heaven and kept a human body. He was glorified (not reconciled) by the Father and then returned to heaven again. The physical or matter is not inherently evil and when we are united with Him in heaven or on the new Earth we too will have new, but still human, bodies. Next time we will talk about emotions. That will be a fun one…

Just a thought,

Mike

Time Anxiety

Every once in a while, I like to get a little personal and today is one of those days. Lately, I have realized I struggle with some time anxiety. I hate wasting time. I am not entirely sure why but something about wasting time just feels so wrong to me. I feel like I have so much to do, to learn, to give that wasting time feels wrong. Because of this, I feel overwhelmed by the number of things to do, to learn, and the needs that need to be met. It does not help that I am a doer either. I am able to get things done and usually in a short amount of time. People usually pick up on this (at least at work) and come to me for help and to take things off their plate. This too only exacerbates the problem.

Lately, the problem is only growing because we are getting ready to move to Knoxville. I am going to go to school full time so I can finish up my degree in 2 years. The idea of working at my current job which is very time demanding and going to school full time has sent my time anxiety into overdrive. I have been trying to find a way to not have to work but unless $10-20k shows up in the mailbox I am stuck. So, what do I do? I start spiraling into time issues. I won’t have enough time to study, to fellowship, to learn, to enjoy my wife and daughter, to enjoy the process, and so on. It quickly becomes overwhelming.

It is not that this is a new revelation to me but there is something that is new. Last night I realized this again but also had a thought of “this is not good; God I need you to help me with this.” It was a moment where I realized I had a choice to make. I could again acknowledge my time issues take, God’s grace in the moment, and move on only to face this again next week or I could receive His grace to work through the problem. I want to work through it.

I get two verses of the day. Today they were James 1:5 and Ecclesiastes 7:14.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. – James 1:5

When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one as well as the other.
Therefore, no one can discover anything about their future. – Ecclesiastes 7:14

These verses spoke such life into me because I was reminded of three things. First, God listens not looking down on us because we are weak but wants to answer the prayers of His children. Second, I need to seek Him to help me with my problem. Third, time is His to hold and command not mine. I want to enjoy the process, but more than that I want to enjoy God. I want to feel His presence, His nearness and know that even when I don’t feel Him He is near.

So now what? Well, I am a firm believer that God will always continue the good work He starts in someone. So I am going to try and keep coming back to Him every time I start to get overwhelmed. I am also going to try and start coming to God before I get overwhelmed and put my “schedule” in His hands. If I trust Him like I say I do then I need to be willing to give Him everything and that includes my time anxiety.

It does not mean it will all just go away because usually, we find that we are actually working through bigger issues but I am OK with that. I trust that God knows best and that He will lead me through my time anxiety. I trust that He wants to mold me into something better. I trust He is good and that He has a plan. I trust that He is God.

Just a thought,

Mike

The cat is out of the bag

The cat is out of the bag. God told Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But we all know the how that went. Adam and Eve ate and now we all suffer. We now have knowledge of good and evil. So, what do we do with this knowledge?

Well, there are two things we need to do with it according to Scripture. First, we must be wise about what is good and innocent of evil (Rom 16:19) and second, we must be trained to distinguish between good and evil. I must admit this seems a little confusing because Paul writes that we should be innocent of evil and the author of Hebrews says we should be able to able to distinguish between the two (Hebrews 5:15). If we need to be able to know the difference, then doesn’t that mean we won’t be innocent of evil? What’s the deal?

Have you ever heard the expression I know enough to be dangerous? It is like this – I know enough about how electricity works to know that if something goes wrong I need help. If my power shuts off I know to check the breaker box but if that is not it then I need help. The same with good and evil. We need to know enough to know what is right and wrong but not so much about what is wrong that we actually partake in it.

There are some people who think they should be completely cut off from the world and anything worldly, but I don’t think we should go that far with it. We need to know about things, but we need to make sure we are not intimately involved with those things. I can know there is a crack house in town without going there. I can know what is going on there without participating in. I can know that people who are going in that place are going to get drugs without getting drugs myself. I can know these things and then if someone tells me they were at that house I can safely assume they might need to go to rehab.

We need to know right and wrong because the cat is out of the bag. We have to know what is right and what is wrong. We learn this in large part by studying what is right, that knowledge of right helps give us an understanding of what is wrong.

Now we can use examples like a crack house but really it needs to get closer to home. God wants us to study the right things so much that He is able to shine a light on the dark things and we easily see it. God wants to sanctify us and that is just a fancy way of saying He wants to set us apart or clean us. We are sanctified in Christ but there is also an ongoing process where God strips away the old man and filth so that we are able to walk in the new life He has given us in Christ.

God wants you to study the right things so that when you are walking outside of His best for you there is a tug that makes you realize it. That tug is an awareness of the Holy Spirit saying, “hey remember what is right?” When you get upset and start dropping F-Bombs like you’re the star of an HBO show God wants you to have so studied the right things that you feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in you saying “really?”

Like I said the cat is out of the bag. We now have the knowledge of good and evil so now we have to study. Let’s study the right things.

Just a thought,

Mike

Kingdom of Heaven

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I have been thinking about the Gospel and the kingdom of heaven lately. I know it surprised me too. Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven some 33 times so I think it is kind of important. One commentary defines the kingdom of heaven as “the rule which God exercises through the person, work, and teachings of Jesus.”[1] I think that is a pretty good definition but to go a little further Edward Schillebeekx (no I did not make that up) says the kingdom of heaven is “a process, a course of events, whereby God begins to govern or to act as king or Lord, an action, therefore, by which God manifests his being-God in the world of men.”[2] I think that one is pretty good too. But I would simplify it a little and say the Kingdom of Heaven is God ruling now.

Have you ever heard the expression that some people are too heavenly minded for their own earthly good? I have and to be honest that is how we should live. The problem is that what is meant by that is some people are only looking forward to the after-death part of heaven and not the here and now part. I am not talking about heaven on earth as in everything is perfect but God ruling here and now in us. Jesus coming to earth, living, dying, and being raised again was an invasion. I mean think about it, Jesus came to earth to bring the kingdom of heaven here. He came to bring people out of sin and death and back into God’s kingdom.

We live in this weird now but not yet place of belonging to Heaven but still residing on earth. The kingdom of heaven lives in us and we carry around the kingdom of heaven everywhere we go. The Gospel message is that we can live in that reality of heaven now. Yes, one day when we die we will move there so to speak but we have it now. Right now, at work, at home, even in the car you have the kingdom of heaven because as a Christian you have submitted yourself to Gods rule.

As believers in the resurrected Christ, we live in the reality of this. This is why Peter writes to people and calls them sojourners or pilgrims. We should live heavenly minded but we should understand that it is a destination and position we currently hold.

 

Just a thought,

Mike

[1] HCSB Study Bible

[2]  Schillebeeckx, Edward, Jesus: An Experiment in Christology. London: Fount Paperbacks. pp. 140–141.