I preached this weekend about the ascension of Christ. As I shared in a blog post earlier in the week, I think it’s important to consider why Jesus ascended to heaven instead of sticking around in visible fleshly form in His immortal body. The dialogue between Jesus and His disciples in Acts 1:6-11 helps to shed light on why His ascension was part of God’s plan. Below I’m sharing the sermon audio along with a written summary:
It’s a strange and beautiful thing to hear someone preaching your own thoughts in a sermon. That’s what happened for me last summer when I heard Pentecostal preacher Jonathan Martin‘s sermon series “The Songs of Ascent” about King David and the Psalms. My whole life, I have been on a journey of trying to understand the nature of worship. Growing up Baptist, I was instilled with a zeal for sincerity in worship. What is the difference between truly worshiping God and putting on a performance? In one sermon last summer, Jonathan said that King David’s worship was to delight in the discovery of God’s delight in him. This beautiful way of framing things is at the heart of Jonathan’s new book Prototype, which I would buy and ship to every Christian who has been wounded or disillusioned by the church if I had the money. Continue reading
I had a powerful encounter with today’s Daily Office reading. The gospel reading was John 17, one of the most beautiful prayers in the Bible that Jesus prays immediately before being taken into custody. I’ve read this prayer dozens of times at least. But this time the third verse stopped me completely in my tracks: This is eternal life: that they may know you the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. Continue reading
I’m going to start spending Mondays on my blog with Thomas Merton since I’ve been deeply influenced by several of his books. Merton was a Trappist monk who spent most of each day in prayer; his words are rich and beautiful and liberating. Because he is from a different generation and lived only with men, he doesn’t use gender-inclusive language, so I apologize for that distraction. Because he was evangelizing a secular intellectual audience, he doesn’t always fortify his paragraphs with scriptural proof-texts. This will make it difficult to accomplish my purpose, which is to evangelize evangelicals out of some of the more poisonous aspects of our theology. Those of you who fall in that category will hear things you don’t like that will be easy for you to dismiss as “un-Biblical,” but I urge you to be open to what God might be saying to you through the words of someone who pursued God relentlessly. Continue reading
There’s an elephant in the room when we talk about the cross. The cross is indeed solidarity with the crucified, the victory of God’s truth over Caesar’s power, the introduction of nonviolence into the world, a means of reconciling enemies, and a pouring out of sacred life blood that removes the curse of sin from the Earth. Jesus’ crucifixion also pays a price that needs to be paid for my sin. For many Christians, this sixth blessing of the cross is the only blessing it offers; ugly misrepresentations of this blessing have polluted our discourse, causing many other Christians to reject this dimension of the cross altogether. Regardless of that, we need to be justified by the punishment Jesus suffers on our behalf because only people who know that they are unjustifiable and entirely dependent on the mercy of God can enter the kingdom. Otherwise, we are a danger to the communion of all who live in the vulnerable safety of God’s mercy.
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I’m pushing the envelope regarding my Lenten blog fast, but I’m going to cheat and call this a sermon-related podcast (which I had decided to make exceptions for) because it’s a song that might be connected to a future sermon series. God has given me this word: we should not be asking Jesus to save us from the world, but rather to save the world from us. Hence this song is called “Jesus, save the world from me.” Lyrics are below. Are you subscribed to the podcast?
Is Jesus saving the world from us? It’s a different way to talk about salvation, but honestly it’s the gospel that I’m hoping to be true as an evangelical afflicted by what Rachel Held Evans calls “the scandal of the evangelical heart.” When did we become the Pharisees Jesus came to Earth to stop us from being? How many of us have been secretly asking that question in our minds? How many of us need to be saved from a toxic salvation? I really feel that we are in the midst of a great awakening. The legion of demons that poisoned our gospel for so long is running off a cliff in a herd of hateful pigs, leaving us to wake up in the graveyard where we chained ourselves. We are discovering that Satan is our accuser and oppressor, not God. We are realizing that our need to be right and justify ourselves has kept us inside a tomb whose stone was rolled away by Jesus. So I wanted to share five things God has been teaching me over the past few years about what Jesus saves us from and what He saves us for. Continue reading
In Matthew1:21, Gabriel says to Mary, “”You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” What does this sentence mean? We think it’s obvious. “Saved” means not going to hell. And that’s because we’ve adopted a story of salvation handed down to us by people who could not imagine needing a savior in a this-world, right-now kind of way. But when the Hebrew Bible talks about yeshuah (salvation), the word that cognates into Jesus’ name, it is never in the context of the plight of eternal damnation faced by the abstract everyman of Bill Bright’s Four Spiritual Laws that have defined the last half-century of evangelicalism. Yeshuah usually describes very concrete situations of desperation, often on the battlefield, in which the Israelites were rescued by God. When the black slaves in the American South heard about Jesus, they knew intuitively that they were one with the Israel God sent a messiah to rescue, the same intuition which continues to occur for poor people throughout the Global South. The awkward thing for privileged Westerners like me about acknowledging this other dimension to the salvation that Jesus brings is that it shows God to be in solidarity with the people who have been stepped on by our privilege, which has to be part of the reason why we either want to make Christmas into a Norman Rockwell painting or else ensure that Jesus is safely strapped to His cross and bracketed into an abstract atonement equation as soon as He hits the manger hay. But is that clean, abstract salvation really the yeshuah that Jesus was named for? It’s relevant to look at how the word is used in the Hebrew scriptures by which the term was defined for Matthew’s original readers .
I’ve been struggling through the beastliest book about the beastliest book in the Bible: Doug Campbell’s 1000 pager on Romans called The Deliverance of God. Campbell has been pummeling the exegetical claims of the Four Spiritual Laws gospel of Bill Bright (aka “decision for Christ,” “sinner’s prayer,” “getting saved,” etc) that has become such a brilliantly successful commodity in the evangelical salvation industrial complex that most of today’s evangelicals cannot really imagine any other purpose for Christianity. What’s interesting is that to Campbell, Calvin and Luther are not the problem behind the disaster of the evangelical gospel; the problem is the 18th century British empiricist/rationalist lens (Hume, Locke, et all) through which Calvin and Luther are studied and interpreted. I’m only about a third of the way in and only that far because I skipped a hundred or so pages. But one of the hugest potholes in the Romans Road I’ve discovered is the presence of virtuous (perhaps even heaven-bound?) pagans in two places in Romans 2. Let me share the passages and briefly reflect on them. Continue reading
I have always had a particular attraction to Philippians 2:12, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” partly because it creates a crisis for evangelicals with a formulaic “decision for Christ” account of salvation. I do believe that justification by faith is a core part of our salvation, but I also think that δικάιοω (justify) means “make just” more than “declare just” in a way that the English language screws up with the word “justification.” Though we need to have Christ’s justification declared to us to wrest us free from self-justification, it is a means to the end of the Holy Spirit’s sanctification by which we are made just. And God doesn’t need to have the results of an act that He authored “declared” back to Him through some contrived performance of feigned ignorance. You can call the trust that God instills in us a “decision” if you need to, but it’s a decision that must be remade over and over again, and furthermore it’s a surrender, not the product of dispassionate rational deliberation (sorry Bill Bright!). In any case, I was reading Psalm 2 in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament this past Monday. It may have been what Paul had in his head in writing Philippians 2:12 because it talks about “fear” and “trembling” and how they relate to the refuge that God offers to humanity. Continue reading