The Most Important Need for the Church Today.

What is Needed Most for Your Life? For the Church?

I am sure many will have their own opinion as to what matters most for Christians and Christianity at a time when both are negatively portrayed in virtually every medium. Some will say there needs to be a restoration of love. Others will plead that we must return to prayer. Some might say the most important thing for the Church is serving the community where each is planted. Others might add that welcoming society’s outcasts and becoming more inclusive may be what is needed most. All are appropriate answers. But not the right answer. Subjective? Maybe. But allow me to be the one who will propose what most would not answer as the most important need for today: the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Before you associate me with fringe Christian individuals and write me off among those who have done bizarre, fleshly, and unbiblical things saying the “holy spirit” told them to do it; just hear me out and know that that is not me.

Let’s think for a moment. What was it that begun this entire thing called “the Church?” Of course we can point to Matthew 16 and Peter’s revelation of who Jesus was. And this being the beginning of the church since Jesus says literally, “Upon this rock (this revelation) I will build my church.” But we are talking after He resurrected.

So, was it radical inclusivity? Was it deep love and slogans about loving your neighbor? Was it a unifying push to see social programs be offered in every nook and cranny of Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and in the ends of the Earth? It wasn’t. it was none of those things. What put a “crooked generation” (Peter’s words in Acts, not mine) on notice was not one of these common items we often espouse as solutions to the lukewarmness of the Church. What it was, was this: the very power of God through the Baptism in the Holy Spirit which set the church ablaze with love; demonstrating the unquestionable power of God enabling them to add to their numbers daily.

No lights. No smoke. No podiums. No projectors. No committees. No buildings. No sermon series. No themes. No programs. No “catalyst”, “cutting edge,” or “dynamic” groups (or whatever catchy names we adore). No money. No building programs. No Awanas. No Christian cliches. No Christian Shirts or festivals. No bumper stickers. No freedom of religion. They had none of it. Only the Holy Spirit. They did more… with far less… and the more we have… we have done far less with.

Coming back to this thought of what is needed most; when we make the fruit of something the focal point we miss the place from where it stems. Things like love, welcoming our neighbor, sharing our goods, transforming our community, prayer and more—all of this is meant to come from individuals saturated and overflowing with the Holy Spirit of God, who was poured out upon the church for these very purposes. He is the vine where these things grow in our lives (Galatians 5 and the fruit of the Spirit). He and His power is where all of our common notions of what is needed most come from–granted they are biblical and from above. And so, we do not exist as social clubs on street corners turning our noses up at the masses. We exist as one entitity spread out across the globe unitied by a common Spirit who empowers, enlivens, and baptizes all Jesus followers for effective demonstration of the power of God–not eloquence of speech (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

Whether it be the gifts of the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12 or the leadership gifts of Ephesians 4:11-12 or even the motivational gifts in Romans 12—the Church is gifted to make a difference. We have all of this at our disposal and yet we have often neglected Who catalyzes all of it—the Holy Spirit who sets us ablaze with His abilities. At the very least we pay homage to Him and slap His name on our agendas like He is in the distant background akin to a Buddha sculpture on a shelf in a local Chinese restaurant.

I laugh when I am often pidgeon holed as some “Pentecostal” or crazy “charismatic” because I teach and encourage that all should be baptized in the Holy Spirit, pray in heavenly language, and seek the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Why wouldn’t I? Its literally what Scripture teaches. It isn’t a status marker. One group is not better than the other. I am merely communicating there is a clear pattern in the Bible. So… you must teach in the flow of the Word and the Early Church. Because I am adamant about this, I have had people leave my own church because I emphasize the Holy Spirit in this way. I have had people mock me as the “Holy Spirit guy.” At each turn though, I go back to the Word, read it over, and find again and again—this is the normal biblical pattern for effective Christian witness. There is no other way.

Because we refuse to accept this is the only way to truly be effective HIS way, we are a powerless church in many places. We are lukewarm and adulterous preachers—forsaking the anointing of the Holy Spirit for the gimmicks of the world. We long to see God move and complain when He does not. We possess dreams and visions and yet forget only the Holy Spirit can bring them to life.

You must know the feeling. Something deep down is missing. You read and study the same Bible I do. You read the same stories of people just like you and I. Is there not a part of you that longs to see the supernatural? Is there not a part of you that aches deep inside for a revival that spreads like a wild fire? Where you family, children, friends, spouse, co-workers and others—heck, even your fellow church members—come to radical life filled by the Holy Spirit? Filled and transformed just like those so long ago? I long to live within, serve under, and embody true revival in my own community. Shouldn’t all of us? We need the same Spirit poured out in the same way as so long ago.

That Day So Long Ago

The Holy Spirit was poured out in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost. Following the ascension of Jesus, Luke (the author of Acts) tells us that the 120 were waiting and praying in one accord for the promise of the Father (Baptism in the Holy Spirit) for effective witnessing. Note that we also learn this small group of Christians (the Church) were also in one accord. They were unified in their pursuit of this promise from Jesus in Acts 1. This brings to the surface a principle in need of recovery for today: spiritual agreement in prayer is a prerequisite for receiving the power of God for the church collective.

As already said, this Feast of Pentecost occurred 50 days after Passover. It was one of three major Jewish feasts commanded by God:

1. Feast of Passover – a week of giving thanks for God’s deliverance out of Egyptian bondage. 

2. Feast of the First Fruits – a day of giving thanks for the birth and growth of new crops and the beginning of the harvest season. 

3. Feast of Tabernacles – a week of giving thanks for the end and completion of the harvest season.

Pentecost was also known as “Day of the First Fruits (Num. 28:26), the Feast of Weeks,” (Ex. 34:22) or the “Feast of the Harvest.” Is it not surprising that this is the day God chose for the birth of the Church. The early church begins and ends with a focus on the harvest. This was no coincidence. Especially when reading Matthew 28:18-20 and Jesus’ Great Commission of “Go into all the earth…”

And so on this day the Church was consumed with what God prescribed as the most important thing post-resurrection of Jesus. It was a day marked with an audible sound like a mighty wind in that upper room. On the 120 present there were “tongues of fire” within/upon each that appeared as resting upon them. There was a sudden release of known languages involving at least 15 people groups depending on who you ask.

Some witnessing this phenomenon were receptive and inquiring. Others were mocking which still holds true for today. Many will always resist and some will always receive. This is the reality of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Shockingly, it continues to be an area of contention in many corners of Christianity except where revival is happening the most: the global south. Go figure.

Where Do You Land?

So, where do you land? I wonder how much of your understanding or reaction to the Baptism in the Holy Spirit been influenced by different church traditions? Assuming you have heard of this biblical experience and empowerment before. Many arrive at different conclusions. Perhaps it may be one or a combination of the following for you:

  • I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.
  • Spirit baptism takes place at conversion and there is no subsequent Baptism in the Holy Spirit (1Cor. 12:13).
  • The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is an endowment of power for service subsequent to salvation with praying/speaking in tongues (also known as heavenly language) as the initial physical evidence.
  • Although tongues may accompany the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, any of the gifts may serve as evidence.
  • The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity; additional awareness of the Spirit’s ongoing presence is available in the rite of confirmation.
  • The Baptism in the Holy Spirit, tongues, spiritual gifts, signs, wonders, and miracles were temporary gifts unique to the primitive church and unnecessary after the canonization of Scripture (1Cor. 13:8-10).
  • Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a specific experience and there is additional power available, but its optional and the role of praying in tongues is unimportant.

What Exactly is the Baptism in the Holy Spirit?

No matter where we fall, we must be wise to recognize what is shaping our conviction on a life filled with the Holy Spirit and to make sure it is in alignment with the Word of God. Scripture is clear that there is a subsequent experience to salvation. It is also clear that all who follow Jesus are to be baptized in the Holy Spirit for effective witness and anointing to do the ministry of Jesus. Yes, we have the Spirit at the point of new birth. However, the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is, as has already been stated, the literal immersion into the power of God, in His Holy Spirit for effective witnessing to the Kingdom of God. Not to mention the anointing to defeat the strongholds of the enemy in our own lives and to then walk in freedom and holiness.

It is not a one time thing we mark on a calendar. It is a continual refilling we seek to experience which is kicked off by receiving in faith, exercising the gift of heavenly language in prayer, and seeking to be filled daily or seek until we exercise heavenly language in prayer. The point is, we don’t stop. Acts 4:31 makes this clear as the same disciples were again baptized in the Holy Spirit and anointed just as Jesus was.

Peter says in Acts 10:38 that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” Are we better than Jesus that we do not need to be filled and anointed with the Holy Spirit? Or when Jesus says in John 14:12 that we (his disciples) will do greater things because He goes to the Father—don’t we need to be equipped as Jesus was? Who also said in Acts 1:8 to wait for the promise from the father. For it was then he said that we “will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses…”

I have always modeled, taught, and instructed that this is an additional experience stemming from the initial work the Holy Spirit began at repentance and salvation. I have wavered at different times in the past due to my own wrestling. However, I no longer can. Scripture is clear. This is the clear biblical pattern. For example, look over these five key examples:  Acts 2:4 // Acts 8:14-15 // Acts 9:17-22 // Acts 10:44-46 // Acts 19:6-7. 

So what essentially does all of this mean for the Church of today? The following…

  1. Gods plan and purpose is for all followers of Jesus to be baptized in the Holy Spirit, pray in heavenly language, and employ the gifts of the Spirit as He distributes for effective ministry and the tearing down of strongholds internal and external. Those who say this isn’t for them: why deny or refuse to seek all God has for you? Only that person and the Church at large will suffer in the end.
  2. This baptism (apart from salvation and apart from water baptism) is the fulfillment of the prophet Joel from 800 years before Pentecost. In the book of Joel he writes there would be (5) key elements of this out pouring that began in Acts and continues today: 1) the outpouring of the Spirit on ALL flesh, 2) prophecy, 3) visions and dreams, 4) signs and wonders, 5) and salvation to all who follow Jesus. 

Conclusion

Lest we try and think all of this was exclusive to those early believers. I beg you not to forget what Petersays to those who were “cut to the heart” asking what they should do after hearing the mighty things of God being declared in numerous unknown and known languages in Acts 2. He says, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.

The promise is still here. The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is still here. Heavenly language in prayer with God is still here. Physical healing is still here. Signs and wonders are still here. Prophecy, visions, words of wisdom, faith, words of knowledge, and more—all is still present under the guidance and infilling of the Holy Spirit. Nothing has changed. Repentance and submission is still the key. The promise was for them and all who were to come. 

I pray we are filled with radical faith and trust to rekindle our passion for Him–the Holy Spirit who alone can enable us to effectively minister to a lost and dying society steeped in identity confusion, godlessness, and moral corruption. But may it begin in our churches first.

So, it only makes sense then to affirm that what is most important and needed for the church of today is that which was given to the Church first and foremost: a Baptism of fire in the Holy Spirit.

Want to reach your neighbors? Want to know how to communicate with boldness? Want to experience the clarity of the voice of Jesus internally and the Scriptures come to life? Do you dream of your church living with such deep and unconditional love that permeates your surrounding neighbors and community? Societal ills combatted? These and more… we must be filled with the Holy Spirit and lead the way.

Lastly, I encourage you whether alone or in your next time of prayer with others. Review Acts 2. Ask the Holy Spirit to baptize you as Jesus did them with the Holy Spirit and fire. Accept and receive in faith. Yield your vocal chords to the Holy Spirit and begin to speak and pray aloud as you feel the Holy Spirit moving through you. Remember that Acts says they began to pray in 2:4 as the Spirit gave them utterance. In other words, it takes two to tango. Begin to accept the Gift and walk with boldness nurturing your newfound relationship with the Holy Sprit with times of prayer and reading of Scripture. Begin to testify immediately with the new boldness you have received! Need help in this? Email me at NoahDSchumacher@gmail.org.

And remember, if any of this seems odd to you… especially praying in an unknown heavenly language…just remember this: you believe a dead guy came back to life and came out of a locked stone tomb three days after being dead. Is this not the epitome of supernatural? As much as some would like to, we do not get to pick and choose which supernatural parts of our faith are acceptable and which are not. I pray that the Church in the West would be set free from our closed in, non demonstrative, and at times boring approach to the greatest news the world has ever known.

So I beg you. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit. Do not quench His activity in your life and the Church. He is all we have. He is what we need most. And currently, His fire and baptism is what is needed most in the Church at large if we have any hope to bring in the harvest; to bring as many into the Kingdom of God as possible. Isn’t that the point?

Who/ What Shaped Jesus’ Understanding of Salvation? – Salvation Pt. 3

Masada, Israel

Second Temple Judaism and Salvation

Within the time of Second Temple Judaism the understanding of “salvation” did not change wholesale per se. There is however an important shifting that does in fact take place. During this era, the areas surrounding all areas of Palestine and were being heavily influenced by various streams of apocalyptic thinking which found their way into mainstream Judaism. Pertinent to our study is to focus on the imported theme of “resurrection” which is obviously an important part of salvation as well as the ministry and life of Jesus. To understand this more we will engage a few key scriptures from this era to help us see how salvation and at times resurrection were understood. We will draw our texts from the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, and Dead Sea Scrolls. 

In the Apocrypha we find a terrifying story of seven brothers tortured for their loyalty and allegiance to God. Within this story we discover the central hope or core emphasis which comes forth when they are pushed to their breaking point. In 2 Maccabees 7:9, one of the brothers who is being tortured communicates with his final breath, “You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws.” As is obvious, there is a focus on salvation not coming in the present moment but rather in the life to come. This understanding that the “King of the universe” is going to raise the brothers up speaks to an understanding of salvation that was present in the form of resurrection. Statements this blunt are not found in the OT, but they are in here. 

George W. E. Nickelsburg defines resurrection as the “eschatological act in which God brings the dead to life in order to recompense them for the righteous or sinful deeds that they committed during their lives.”[1] He continues to explain that, “In addition to a resurrection of the body, biblical and Jewish texts also speak of the ascent of the spirit or of one’s (immortal) soul to heaven and of exaltation among the angelic host.”[2] The question of how this understanding of salvation is taking on tones of resurrection and being “raised up” as seen in 2 Maccabees (among others) is important for our appreciation and study for both our own salvation and resurrection but also the resurrection of Jesus. 

And so, how did Judaism get to this progression? E.P. Sanders, in his monumental work appropriately titled “Judaism,” explains the origin for not only a salvific view of salvation but also of other widely held beliefs during the era Maccabees and other Apocryphal books were written—including Daniel. He writes 

A lot of unfortunate and evil things happen in the world, and all philosophies and religions face the problem of explaining them. In our period, Jews were torn between a straight monotheistic explanation of evil—God intends it—and a dualistic explanation—there is another power (Satan) or a congeries of other powers (demons).[3]

This crossroads that Judaism found itself in paved the way for differing cultural ideologies to creep in as well as religious imports in an effort to make sense of what was happening during this trying time of Israel’s history. Sanders goes on to credit Persian influence in areas of demonology and angelology as well as a belief in resurrection.[4] This importing of belief in the resurrection continued to influence the ways in which Israel viewed its own salvation. Though for centuries previous, salvation was sought out in the present by the intervention of Yahweh because of their covenantal faithfulness in keeping Torah, it was now taking on an additional depth involving the life to come at the resurrection. 

The Sadducees

The religious group who stood in the way of this were the Sadducees. This group of religious elites maintained their denial of resurrection in the afterlife because, as purists, they maintained a strict adherence to the biblical text alone. They did not entertain further traditions as other groups would, such as the Pharisees. Sanders, in explaining why the Sadducees were this way, states

Possibly Sadducees, like modern biblical critics, distinguished dates and recognized metaphors. Or, more plausibly, perhaps they accepted only what was in the Pentateuch. In any case, scholars usually connect their literalism with their rejection of life after death.[5]

This rejection of life after death and its application to salvation was somewhat rare. With the surge in apocalyptic literature surrounding early Judaism there were many diverse voices who began to focus heavily on the ultimate victory of God in the life to come with vivid imagery and language. 

Author Łukasz Bergel in his paper “God’s Victory and Salvation: A Soteriological Approach to the Subject in Apocalyptic Literature” rolls out an impressive schema in comparing the soteriological theme and language of literature found in John’s apocalypse and the apocalypses found in Judaism near the time preceding Jesus. The desired outcome of the paper is to ascertain what exactly are the consequences of salvation in both bodies of writing and the avenue of how God’s victory is achieved as perceived during this time frame.[6] Interestingly, his work brings to light how many of the writings during this era were intertwined with “victory” language. One could almost say apocalyptic writers during this time were enthralled with war and battle overtones throughout. He writes

Soteriology in apocalyptic literature is often presented in two aspects: the salvation and the judgement. These two issues are characteristic of the apocalyptic genre and are mutually connected. In their essence, they seem to stand in opposition, but in apocalyptic reality, they are complementary. Salvation concerns the salvific process – the events and actions that must be done – and the results of this process. The judgement is showed as a consequence of the refusal of salvation. The terminology and imagery of God’s victory can be related to both aspects. However, it is usually applied to the salvific aspect and even identified with it. Salvation is a victory.[7]

These complementary aspects of salvation and judgment comprise much of the eschatology we find leading into the time the NT was written. There is continuation with a subtle divergence as Bergel says above. Where the OT understanding of salvation is Israel clinging to the intervention of Yahweh; this is now moving into language describing a cataclysmic militaristic event involving the victory of Yahweh in which salvation is achieved for those loyal to Him. It is important for our brief study to investigate some of these writings before learning how Jesus understood and communicated this in His ministry.  

In the following texts we see God’s victory taking center stage. What is evident in each text is a theme revolving around a “chosen one” or the mediation of a messianic figure of some sort. This is beginning to take shape with the emergence of the “Kingdom of God” motif.

The Pseudepigrapha

The pseudepigraphal text 1 Enoch opens with a vision describing the victory of God with the imagery of a parade on display. In it we see God himself marching to bring salvation to His people after achieving victory. In verses 3 and 4 it states, 

3 Concerning the elect I said, and took up ‹my› parable concerning them: The Holy Great One will come forth from His dwelling,

4 And the eternal God will tread upon the earth, (even) on Mount Sinai,

[And appear from His camp] And appear in the strength of His might from the heaven ‹of heavens›.[8]

Down a little further in the same chapter the jubilation and praise shifts from focusing on God’s victorious entrance to the results of His arrival:

5 And all shall be smitten with fear,

  And the Watchers shall quake,

  And great fear and trembling shall seize them unto the ends of the earth.

6 And the high mountains shall be shaken,

  And the high hills shall be made low,

  And shall melt like wax before the flame.

7 And the earth shall be ‹wholly› rent in sunder,

  And all that is upon the earth shall perish,

  And there shall be a judgement upon all (men).

8 But with the righteous He will make peace,

  And will protect the elect,

  And mercy shall be upon them.[9]

The focus of Enoch is the establishment of an everlasting Kingdom of God where victory for God and His righteous ones, with salvation and judgment following. As can already be seen, this is different from the more one-dimensional understanding of salvation in the OT where the children of God are waiting for Him to intervene. Moving through Enoch we find that the prime antagonist is Azazel who “taught the people the art of making swords and knives, and shields, and breastplates” (1 En 8:1). This antagonist along what was brought with him is dealt with by a “Son of Man” later in the book when in 46:3-4 the author writes

3 And he answered and said unto me:

  This is the Son of Man who hath righteousness,

  With whom dwelleth righteousness,

  And who revealeth all the treasures of that which is hidden,

  Because the Lord of Spirits hath chosen him,

  And whose lot hath the pre-eminence before the Lord of Spirits in uprightness forever.

4 And this Son of Man whom thou hast seen

  Shall raise up the kings and the mighty from their seats,

  [And the strong from their thrones]

  And shall loosen the reins of the strong,

  And break the teeth of the sinners.

5 [And he shall put down the kings from their thrones and kingdoms]

   Because they do not extol and praise Him,

  Nor humbly acknowledge whence the kingdom was bestowed upon them.

This reference of the Son of Man recalls Daniel 7:13 where in the vision Daniel has, he says, “One like a Son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven” in reference to the coming salvation of God breaking in. Salvation during this time as seen in Enoch as well as Daniel is taking on a different nuance. It does not mean there is a new understanding replacing the OT view but rather coming into a sharper focus. Now, a messianic figure is taking the baton from Yahweh and bringing judgment and salvation here through the impending Kingdom of God while still establishing an everlasting reign in the life to come.

Before looking at how those who wrote the DSS view salvation, one more piece of writing that comes from this same era is found will help highlight this development. The Sibylline Oracles, like Enoch, also speaks of salvation as being preceded by a war where God reigns victorious in defeating sin and its corruption. Babylon and Egypt are the symbolic forces of evil against Israel and the main enemy of God is Beliar. He will deceive and lead many astray. In 3:71-74 we are told that God will destroy him and render his influence defeated. Salvation will then come for the elect people of God’s choosing and they will enjoy peace living around the temple. Bringing back a theme from Eden we see that God himself will guard them and fight for them so that there will be no war; much less evil. This is found in 3:702-709.[10]                                                                          

The Essenes

The Essenes (who were around Qumran where the DSS were written) were passionate and zealous lovers of Yahweh and Torah. They possessed views on the salvation of God’s people that were similar to what can be observed in Enoch, the Sibylline Oracles, and many other writings not named here. While there is not an abundance of literature on salvation from this group, there are three key texts which illustrate a belief in the resurrection in the life to come as it pertains to salvation. These are found in 4Q521, 1QH 14, and 4Q385. 

In 4Q521 there is a direct reference to resurrection when the author exclaims in the Messianic Apocalypse: “For He will heal the wounded and revive the dead and bring good news to the poor…” (italics mine). It is clear that for this group who also comprised the famous War Scroll with its focus on apocalyptic warfare between the sons of light and the darkness—they saw that the impending salvation coming from Yahweh was to come in the form of a messianic figure. The Essenes of Qumran may provide Christians the closest understanding of Jesus’ own messianic aspirations and beliefs. N.T. Wright makes a clear point that the apocalyptic fervor and messianic hopes found in the DSS are not necessarily another form of Judaism. These are common themes and writings found in apocalyptic literature at large.[11] We can then surmise that in the same way the Kingdom of God was a common theme leading up to the times of Jesus, so too the understanding of how one or Israel is saved was also a theme taking on many rich nuances from surrounding areas and streams within Judaism. 

In 1QH 14 the reference is similar to what has already been explored. In 1QH14 the quotation we will focus on is “…and to all those volunteering to join the chosen of God, carrying out the law in the council of the Community, those who will be saved on the day of judgment…” Like Enoch, there is an emphasis that in the life to come there will be a resurrection in which judgment will take place for the wicked. But those who are the elect, or the chosen ones of the community will evade the impending judgment that is surely to come. At this point in our study on a few texts from the DSS, a few references relating to salvation, ought to come to mind. Scriptures like Acts 4:12 where Peter boldly declares that “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” What this shows us is that the salvation we know of today and often speak of stems from a rich tapestry of influences and cultures within Judaism surrounding Jesus. 

Before moving on to looking at how Jesus viewed and communicated salvation let us look at one more example in 4Q385. In this portion of the DSS the rising from the dead through the prophecy given to the dry bones from Ezekiel 37 is written out twice. Each is written to illustrate the work of Yahweh who says, “…they will live, and a large crowd of men will rise and bless YHWH Sabaoth who caused them to live.”[12] This along with the other two references illustrate that in a region close to Jesus at a time preceding Jesus there were expectations of the coming Kingdom of God which would both usher in and deliver salvation and judgment upon the righteous and wicked respectively. Prophetic expectation preceding this group finds their crescendo in the Essenes in terms of apocalyptic fervor and expectation. In fact, if we followed a line of development around salvation, we could say that the expectations of future salvation took on the form of apocalyptic hopes for the resurrection of the dead and a new life with God in transformed world.[13] A world where justice would be meted out and the blessing of salvation would be given. Would Jesus fall in line with all of the above? Where would he diverge? Jesus own view on salvation will be explored next in part 4.


[1] John J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow, eds., The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism (Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans, 2010), 1142.

[2] Collins and Harlow, 1142.

[3] E. P Sanders, Judaism: Practice and Belief, 63 BCE-66 CE, 2016, 410, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/j.ctt17mcs1x.

[4] Sanders, 411.

[5] Sanders, 522.

[6] Łukasz Bergel, “God’s Victory and Salvation: A Soteriological Approach to the Subject in Apocalyptic Literature,” Hervormde Teologiese Studies 75, no. 3 (2019): 1, https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v75i3.5443.

[7] Bergel, “God’s Victory and Salvation”, 2.

[8] Robert Henry Charles, ed., Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913), 188.

[9] Robert Henry Charles, ed., Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913), 188–189.

[10] Bergel, “God’s Victory and Salvation,” 3.

[11] N. T. Wright, Christian Origins and the Question of God, 1st North American ed (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 208.

[12] Florentino García Martínez, ed., The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: The Qumran Texts in English, 2nd ed (Leiden ; New York : Grand Rapids: E.J. Brill ; W.B. Eerdmans, 1996), 287.

[13] Freedman, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 1992, 5:908–9.

The Insanity of God’s Love

The love of God and the love of Man

The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.” So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will behave the same way toward you.” For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the Lord and to his blessings in the last days. 

Hosea 3:1-5

Years ago I was walking parts of Canton, OH during an evangelism night. I would go looking for individuals just hanging out and make friends, pray for any needs, and share the message of Christ where there were any openings. Well, I came across an older lady and she had a child with her. She was outside her apartment at the door. I introduced myself and we talked about simple things. She then asked me what I was doing in their area. I explained I was a Christian and I was seeing if there was anyone I could pray for, meet with, and share about the love of God. She responded, “oh, that’s nice.” 

But then she opened up in a profound way. We talked about her previous marriages, divorces, physical and emotional abuse she had been in, the pain of being physically abused. It was heart breaking. She then said, “that’s what i struggle to understand… that you are here talking about a loving God, but these men said they loved me.”  This led us down a long convo outside her door about the nature of God’s love vs. The broken love of humans. She quickly realized she had always lumped them together. I passionately explained to her how the love of God and especially the love of Jesus is nothing this world has ever seen or known. 

Near the end she began to begin to cry. I mean tears upon tears upon tears. She said, “I have always grown up hearing about that love but I just always thought it must have not been for me but for others.” 

What broke my heart about that was how she viewed herself as a person underserving of God’s beautiful and deep love. Unfortunately this is not uncommon. An experiment… if you could imagine God thinking about you, what would you assume he would think? A surprising number of us would be quick to use words like, “disappointment, hard worker, failure, and more.” We would use adjectives like these and every single one would be the opposite of how God sees us.  

In most cases it is usually our sin, we believe, that catches God’s attention first and foremost. That was the case for the woman I met that day as well as many of us. The consequences of this assumption is catastrophic for our experience of God’s love in this life. 

The Love of God is…

Regardless of what you have come to believe about God based upon your life experience, the truth is that when God thinks of you, love swells in his heart. God overflows with love for you; for humans. He is far from being emotionally uninvolved with his creation. God’s bias towards us is strong, persistent, and positive. Our God chooses to be known as love, and that love pervades every part of his relationship with us. 

Does this truth minimize sin? Of course not. Because sin does not change how God feels about humans. Read that last sentence again. It’s true. God is simply not that fickle. Like loving parents who see their child make a wrong decision—do you love this child less? Of course not. God loves us with a love that is not dependent upon our behavior. 

Christians who assume the opposite tend to live their lives focusing on sin and performance more so than the depth and beauty of God’s love. These are those who believe they are honoring God by focusing on sin as much as they can. At times this group will judge other christians for not taking sin as seriously as they do. This group tends to become uncomfortable with divine love and feel an urgent need to balance this love out by highlighting God’s hatred of sin. The saddest part is that this group will often give verbal recognition that such a deep and divine love exists; yet they will fail to experience much of it while they live their lives. 

On the flip side though, the one who can live their lives secure and at rest in the truth that God is head over heels in love with them as his daughter or son—what a different trajectory that one will experience than the others. Why? Because they are remaining in relationship with christ. Relationship with God is not found in performance or hatred of sin. Relationship with God is found in remaining in the very love of God:  

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

John 15:9-13

Do you see the primacy of love? 

What we see in Jesus was God’s heart all along. Hosea’s passionate plea for Israel to be faithful is not some original idea he woke up with and heard from God. The prophets and leaders before him were crying out for Israel to return to the divine and deep love seen in the garden of Eden. Even for us as Christians, the story of Jesus’ love for you and i did not begin with him…it began in genesis in the creation narrative. 

When this narrative in genesis is read as science, we are missing it. The goal of the biblical writer as well as the Hebrew language being used is not meant to be a scientific text. It was written as a love poem giving the origin story of humanity. Is it truth? Of course. Did God create the heavens and the earth? Of course. It is truth. But the entire narrative of truth rests on a deep love story between God and those he created.

And so, created from love and for love, human beings ran from this divine love in pursuit of what seemed to be “freedom.” The result was catastrophic. Freedom turned into bondage. Intimacy turned into alienation. Genuine love was reduced to self-love. All of this resulting in deep pride and unimaginable estrangement from our true selves and how God created us to be. Sin was the ultimate killer of faithful covenant love between God and us and has, ever since, led us into diluted and dysfunctional definitions and pursuits of love and intimacy. Many of us have been there, are there. We were never meant to stay in this place. Neither was Israel. 

God’s love for us is transforming… 

Hosea is living for us, with visible symbolism, the pain that God is feeling because of this rupture. His heart is in agony. Hosea is called to marry a woman who has been a prostitute and bear children with her. This prophetic action is illustrating how God, who is full of love, is patiently waiting for Israel to return to him and be faithful in return. But it isn’t happening. Its getting worse. 

Just when we think it is over, God goes further with Hosea. Look again at what Hosea is to do in an effort to rescue his bride

Read Hosea 3:1-3 above again. But slowly.

Can you imagine this? Hosea wakes up. He hears the rumors. He rushes to find gomer at the market. She isn’t there. He panics and hopes to God she did not return to the streets or to her pimp. He hopes she did not go back to prostituting herself. He thinks to himself, “why would she leave my love I am giving her, our love we have in marriage, and seeking “fake love” in these ways?!?” So he goes and finds her pimp. Poses as a customer. And says, “ill take that girl over there.” He pays for her. She comes and finds her customer. With shame she realizes its her husband. Hosea brings her back home. Literally brings her away from where she was because why? Because he loves her too much to be at peace with her decision to be in that place.] We will come back to this insane scenario but…

Lets not miss something so important about God’s love: Hosea shows us that the way to return to the place of God’s love and faithfulness is not a passive acceptance of where gomer is or where we are; but a shifting of our intentions, thinking, and actions, to leave that current place and journey into a new one. Do you see this? The love of man is passive and based on acceptance. It is focused on self and ego. Whatever makes you feel good…however you want to define yourself… love is love. For the world? Yes. This is true. For the love found within the kingdom of God? It is the opposite. The love of God is relentless and founded upon transformation. 

Hosea could not rest with his wife on the street. God cannot rest with his children living in sin. Does it change how much he loves them? Of course not! But it does not equally change his jealousy and passion for them to live lives that are being transformed by his love. 

This divine love of God, the love Jesus speaks of and Hosea demonstrates is transformative. Continually. If ever a message is preached or proclaimed that gives love without transformation—that is not the gospel. Repentance (turning from sin) is a foundational part of our faith. How can we discover true divine love if we do not leave behind our broken attempts at love? 

God’s desire was always to find a people for himself, call them out from the world, and show them his deep and divine love so that they could then show the rest of the world that same deep and divine love. To do this, the people must be called out. This means repentance, leave their old life for a new—because the true deep love from above is so inviting that they cannot help but be transformed by it. 

I have often loved with condition. I have often lived trying to earn God’s love. Not a decade ago. More like a week ago. The enemy’s fingerprints are upon all of our lives when it comes to the love we give to others. We must be aware of it and consume ourselves with his love to protect us. But you know where all of this begins? In our own thinking. We asked the question, “if you could imagine God thinking about you, what would you assume he would think?” Perhaps adjectives like “unfixable, unlovable, unworthy” come into our mind. 

What lengths will this love go?

What is most often missed in Hosea 3 is the reality of the lengths God will go to show love to his beloved—those who think they are “unfixable, unlovable, and unworthy.” We already saw what Hosea did. But lets look for a moment not at “what” but “how” he did it. 

 So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley.

Hosea 3:2

He bought a person who was already his. Do you see this? And he does this for fifteen shekels of silver and some barley. For comparison, Exodus 21:32 says a slave cost 30 shekels, and joseph was sold for twenty in Genesis 37:28. So Hosea goes and pays a little less than a slaves wage to get back his wife from the pimp. He didn’t have to! She was his wife! But Hosea goes and brings her home to a place of safety where true love is found and he says, “stay here for many days and remain with me, and I will remain with you!” This is not Hosea making her his slave. This is not Hosea commanding her she must stay. This is Hosea, acting in the place of God, saying, “I know that you are already mine! I love you so much that even when you leave me again and again and return to your ways, I will search for you, I will find you, and I will pay the cost to have you back to me!” 

“I don’t know Noah. You think that shows a “great cost”? I mean, it was less than the price of a slave.” Ok. Fair enough. How about this… 

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16 

Though Hosea obeyed God, showing gomer the deep love and faithfulness of God, in the long run, Israel still was Israel. And so, God did it a second time. But this time it was not with the price of a slave; but rather the price of a King. But not just any king. God’s personified love was found in the person and teaching of Jesus who came from above. Who suffered a horrendous death and sacrifice as a means to usher you into a true revelation and encounter of God’s “garden” love. 

Many have experienced this love. They are experiencing all of it through Jesus and their lives are being transformed becoming holy, free from the pain and delusion of sin. But for many others, we are still trapped living as spiritual orphans and slaves This was the message Jesus told them again and again about the father’s love. But many didn’t get it. 

I leave you with this: God loves you. There is no sin too large for God to forgive. No life too far gone for him to redeem. His love for you has never changed. We have. Remember that the true love of God—divine love– will lead to new life characterized by repentance, holiness, and pure joy in him. A life shaped by the kingdom of God and his Son Jesus.

And so, 

Hosea went to find his bride. 

God sent Jesus to find his bride. 

In both cases, the bride was found. 

But for you and I, the question remains, “will we be found by God?” Stop running. Surrender to the love of God and begin to form habits that reciprocate that love: prayer, scripture, and meditating on the love of God. And I promise you. Your life will never be the same.

Amen? 

Amen.

How to Find Hope for Tomorrow in Unsuspecting Places

Here We Are. In the Desert.

I want you to imagine something with me. I want you to think about your life. With all the good, bad, and ugly you have walked through. The pain of the past. The shame felt. The hurt caused by others. The abuses absorbed. The labels received. The failed promises. The failed vows. I want you to put all of that at the forefront of your mind. All those things no one else knows or has seen you weep over.

Now, I want to ask you a question. “What would it feel like to be completely whole, healthy, and restored?” Can you imagine what that would be like? To take a deep breath again with full healing from your past and present?

I have asked myself this same question before. I often find myself comparing my own journey and growth. However, not with other people as much. More times than not its with the people I have heard about in the Bible. They ALWAYS seemed to me as the prototype people of God who got it right.

I would idolize people like Moses who parted the Red Sea who lived so close to God’s holiness and healing that he met with God face to face!

I would think of Mary the mother of Jesus who had the honor to be chosen as the one to bear in the flesh the very Person of God in Jesus!

I would and have often thought of David who was called a man after God’s own heart. Clearly his life demonstrates the perfect image of what it means to be healed and whole.

I often thought of Paul and Jesus as well for obvious reasons. 

When I would look at these individuals, foolishly, I would only look at their highs. Never their lows. Focusing on the positive of their lives but not on the hell they walked through. Why did I and why do we often do this when looking at people we are inspired by? Because we have an ingrained allergic reaction to anything that will cause discomfort, difficulty, and friction. We hate it. But the reality is, these are the things that bring us health and new life—oddly enough. We just want to skip it all. 

You may remember the Extreme Home Makeover show. Well one of the biggest keys to making this show work was literally constructing a house in days. Newsflash: this isn’t reality. The problem is that the footers and materials used to make homes required time to set, mature, and become strong. And then the house would be durable. Many of these houses were riddled with issues because of unrealistic expectations in constructing them. Our lives are often no different. If we do not embrace even the difficult seasons, years down the road our foundations will rock and we will be a mess because we sought for short cuts. We ran from the pain.

Desert Roads

Many of the individuals mentioned above walked difficult roads: 

Moses was on the run for murder in the desert tending goats when God found him. 

Mary was pregnant with Jesus AFTER an angel appeared to her and had to journey through the desert region of Egypt to escape the violence of Herod who was killing babies throughout the area in search of the chosen one. 

David, before he ever walked into the fullness of his destiny was on the run from Saul in the desert region of En Gedi where many scholars believe he wrote some of the most powerful Psalms showing his deep love and trust in God. 

And Jesus Himself? Before his ministry launched he was literally “cast out into the wilderness desert,” being tempted and tried by Satan Himself. 

Paul too, when he found Christ did not immediately excel to this place of wholeness and healing. Instead, he spent 3 years in, you guessed it, the desert.

God’s strategy to bring us back to places of closeness and intimacy is seen above with these individuals. It is one word all of the examples we just heard about had in common. Moses, Mary, David, Jesus, and Paul. All of them walked through the desert to get where God desired them to go. This is God’s playbook. 

A Wounded Heart Finds Healing

Now, lets take a step back. From Hosea 1:1 (a prophet in the Old Testament) all the way up to 2:13, God is hurting. His heart is tearing in two. Because those whom He created have forgotten about him. Not in lip service or when in need—but in living faithfully for Him and growing in their relationship with Him daily. God is a scorned and angry lover. He is so consumed with jealousy for his adulterous bride that he is ready to hit reset on everything. 

“Start the rain water!… Bring the fire and brimstone!… Lets blow the whole thing up and start over!” But He doesn’t. He can’t. Something within Him always comes back to love and never giving up! 

After the two-timing behavior of Israel is exposed, and after God breaks a few dishes and slams a few doors, God waits on the porch brokenhearted long into the night. He remains hopeful, not only that Israel will return on her own but also that He may be able to draw her not just back… but somewhere deeper. Where is this “deeper place?” You guessed it. The desert.

What is so special about the desert? Isn’t the desert places where things go to die? Exactly. All through the Bible the symbolism behind the desert is meant to display the locations where God’s presence and power is felt most. Rarely did transformation ever happen in King’s palaces, lush land, or places where all the needs were met. 

This is why affluence in Western society is the slow killer of our spirituality. We have everything we need so why do we need the intimacy of God? Why pray? We have it all.

But in the desert we are reminded of our need and hopelessness. In the difficult areas we run from, we are running from our need for Him to work within us. It is there that the Holy Spirit can reach us. This is God’s playbook! As it was for his wayward wife. But what happens in the desert? Through Hosea (2:14-15), God says,

“Therefore I am now going to allure her;
    I will lead her into the wilderness
    and speak tenderly to her.
There I will give her back her vineyards,
    and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she will respond as in the days of her youth,
    as in the day she came up out of Egypt.

I encourage you. Read it again. Comfort is found in the silencing of competing voices. Vineyards are restored, which are a symbol of blessing and restoration. Trouble and challenge are turned into hope and opportunity. “Valley of Achor” meant the “place of trouble.” Do you see the transformation God is inviting unfaithful Israel into? He is not calling for divorce. He is inviting full restoration!  It is a “return to your first love!” God says that Israel will sing again as in the days of her youth when she was first set free from Egypt. Can you see all of this? Eugene Peterson gives a great window into Hosea 2:!4-15 when he translates it:

“And now, here’s what I’m going to do:
    I’m going to start all over again.
I’m taking her back out into the wilderness
    where we had our first date, and I’ll court her.
I’ll give her bouquets of roses.
    I’ll turn Heartbreak Valley into Acres of Hope.
She’ll respond like she did as a young girl,
    those days when she was fresh out of Egypt.

God’s relentless heart and pursuit of us is beyond our imagination. The very places we hide from one another and from God, the best we can, are the very places God wants to bring to the surface in that wilderness time when we feel at our lowest. When we feel furthest from God, in a moment, God can transform it into the closest of times! Not to help us make a home there and stay in our brokenness… but rather heal and walk us through it. But for them, all of it was dependent upon one thing for Israel: willingness.

The Deceiving Hyphen

What stands before A – B is a small hyphen. Beware, the hyphen is deceiving. It leads us to think the route from brokenness to healing is a straight and easy line. It isn’t true. What is in the middle is the desert and we have to get through it God’s way. We may want to swim under it, jump over it, teleport to the other side, but we cant.

We. Just. Cant.

There is only one way from A to B. There is only one method of travel where Jesus will be found. And that is in treading water and swimming bit by bit to the other side. Often while holding a cinder block in one hand and a dumbbell in the other. It’s the desert. It isn’t easy. But even still, we tread and swim with Jesus there hoping and trusting we will find comfort, restoration, the transformation because of what we have seen time and time again in the Scriptures.

But if we aren’t willing to make that swim, we settle and exist with our cinder block, often times unknowingly hurting others. 

In the book Sacred Fire: A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity, an author named Ronald Rolheiser explains this journey through the desert to healing well in our culture. 

One of the challenges, at least in the western church, is an inability to deal with our wounds in a healthy way. Our training as Christians has been focused on Bible studies, small groups, and Sunday worship. But little thought has been given to the connection between our emotional and spiritual lives. This, I believe, is why people can inflict so much damage on and within the church. There’s tons of spiritual head knowledge, but without healing the wounds of the past they are unable to experience healthy relationships.

Being OK With Desert Silence and No Manual

All of us begin our lives in Christ with a child-like hope and belief that we will always remain in this faithful dialog with God and we will grow to become so close to Him and so whole. But as time goes on, Some of this begins to change.  God becomes aloof to us, we perceive. We lose interest. All of this becomes a mindless and numb existence. We settle for it as though it were truth. Suddently then, God becomes really silent. 

But it is in the silence of God, the desert and the wilderness, we actually discover Him in a real and new way. There is no sequence or method. There is no practical application when it comes to surrender, repentance, and discovery of the intimacy of God. These are all relationship words; not a manual to build a playground set. I mean, think about it. Do you look at your friendships and spouse this same way? Expecting a manual to make everything fit together perfectly?  There just isn’t one. All of it is relationship and mystery. But what I do know, in the mystery where we hit our wall and surrender to the needed journey through the desert—God takes us to higher ground and deeper intimacy as seen in Hosea 2:16-18.

“In that day,” declares the Lord,
    “you will call me ‘my husband’;
    you will no longer call me ‘my master.’
I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips;
    no longer will their names be invoked.
In that day I will make a covenant for them
    with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
    and the creatures that move along the ground.
Bow and sword and battle
    I will abolish from the land,
    so that all may lie down in safety.

Did you catch that key phrase? He says, “In that day…” 

In that day when you Israel decide its time to surrender.

In that day son and daughter when you are finally ready to say, “Not my will but yours be done.” 

In that day when you finally say its time to enter the desert for growth and new life. 

There is so much healing and empowering God has for us in the places we least expect. Whether it is where we find ourselves which is difficult (desert) or a place within us we do not want to deal with (desert)—no matter what, there is healing to be had there. This is the playbook of God. And when we decide to do things God’s way… then “In that day…” we will find wholeness. I still believe Jesus heals and delivers us from our pain and sin. Do you?

Maybe you don’t. But you know what? It doesn’t change God. He relentlessly pursues his people. He relentlessly loves you. Our bad behavior does not make God love and pursue us less just as our good behavior does not make him love and pursue us more. We cannot earn the love of God, for He is love.

Take Time

I encourage you to take time. Take time to look where you are at. Your desert may be areas you have ignored. Failed expectations. Broken vows. Broken promises. Things in your past. The desert could be your current situation. So… ask Him.

“Lord, what do you desire from me?

What is my wilderness?

Am I in a wilderness? Where am I?

Where do you desire me to go?

Am I running with you, to you, or away from you?”

Take time to be in the Scriptures and to pray so that the noise can settle. When it does, embrace the quiet and still desert air and trust that even in that place, God’s love is loud, present, and ready to do its healing work.

“So, you just got saved. From what? For what?” Part 1

Many who follow Jesus are able to pinpoint with clarity the moment they realized they were “saved” and the simultaneous relief and joy that surrounded that moment. However, understanding what they were saved from or for—that is less clear. I began following Jesus in April of 2002. Upon realizing my salvation, I began to evangelize those closest to me. With fervor and passion, I would explain the Scriptures to the best of my imperfect ability as well as what I believed God was communicating to me from them. I felt that I was well on my way to a healthy understanding of this new faith until a friend asked a rather simple question. Following my explanation of the Gospel to her and my reception of it she bluntly asked, “But what are you saved from?” Being unsure how to answer I gave a curt reply. “Hell, of course!” At the speed of light, another question followed. “But what are you saved for?” This one stumped me. It was then I realized although I could tell someone when I was saved, I was unable to give clear meaning to what this meant on a practical level for how I lived my life or functioned in the church I had recently joined.

In the many years since becoming a Christian I have learned that salvation is often spoken of in the church and yet rarely understood or even appreciated. I have noticed it becoming the favorite catchphrase between the spiritual “haves” and the “have nots.” Often people will cast judgement on others saying, “That person is definitely not saved.” or “This one over here is saved!” We haphazardly use this word so often that it has lost much of its root system from where it stems. As a result, the theology behind one’s understanding of salvation is often convoluted and rarely straight forward—just as it was for myself all those years ago. This should not come as a surprise since “salvation” (like all theological concepts) is developed from within contexts which possess their own contours. Whether or not those contours shift drastically, or subtlety will be the focus of what is ahead. 

For instance, protestant understandings of salvation are mostly born out of the struggle within the Reformation focusing on the tension of justification by faith which has brought about various stereotypes within Christianity. John J. Collins writes

Perhaps the most abiding stereotype of ancient Judaism is that it was a religion of the Law. Christian perceptions on this subject have been shaped to a great degree by the portrayal of the Pharisees in the Gospels as rigid observers of the letter of the Law. It is now recognized that this portrayal is polemical in nature and cannot be taken as an objective description.[1]

Add to this the subsequent influences of the enlightenment, scholasticism, revivalism, pietism, and many other “-isms,” the theological understanding of salvation moves well beyond faith and includes other imports that cloud a basic meaning of salvation which is tethered to its Judistic roots. Though not mentioned above but possibly the greatest influencer of such (negative?) diversity has been the fundamentalist/ modernist controversy where firm lines have been drawn to the point where biblical interpretation and how one does it can be a deciding factor if one is even “saved” or not.[2] All of these influences (not to mention the radical individualism and consumerism of Western society) has led many to “conceive of salvation in particular ways, shaped by the controversies of the past and the cultures of the present.”[3] We are left asking the question, “Will the real understanding of salvation please stand up?” 

New Testament[4] scholar Brenda B. Colijn asks similar questions of salvation while employing a unique method. In her book Images of Salvation in the New Testament she seeks to deepen the reader’s comprehension of salvation and what it encompasses. The goal of her study is not to land on one definition per se but rather appreciate the many ways it is described throughout the Scriptures. She explains

The New Testament does not develop a systematic doctrine of salvation. Instead, it presents us with a variety of pictures taken from different perspectives…. This reliance on images is typical of the Bible: ‘the Bible is much more a book of images and motifs than of abstractions and propositions…. The Bible is a book that images the truth as well as stating it.’[5]

If we want to go deeper in understanding what we are saved from and for or who the agent of salvation even is, the question we should then wrestle with is, “where do these concepts or symbols come from which are used to explain salvation?”

Being able to answer this question among others surrounding it positions followers of Jesus to better understand the story of salvation they are part of. Failure to do so will result in believers and a church unable to articulate why this message is called “Good News;” a truth about salvation that is not neatly defined; only described. 

To aid in our pursuit of understanding salvation it is imperative we remember that the core biblical description on this theme is embedded within a larger story that far expands outside of our individual selves. Joel B. Green states

The ongoing story of God’s relationship to the whole cosmos, and thus to all humanity, and especially to Israel, as this is narrated in the Old and New Testaments…. is grounded in the scriptures of Israel, and comes to expression above all in Jesus Christ, [and] continues into the present, and moves forward to the consummation of God’s purpose and self-revelation in the end.[6]

It is to this end—understanding salvation through the lens of the biblical narrative—that we must strive for. Anything short of a thorough study in what Green communicates above results in a stunted salvific understanding of God that is quickly reduced to the individualism which pervades much of modern Christendom. An individualism which communicates that salvation is simply the absence of judgment and condemnation resulting in heaven being our ticket. Thankfully there is much more to salvation than this tired and worn understanding of salvation.

As N.T. Wright famously writes regarding the importance of the New Heavens and New Earth in contrast to a simple understanding of going to heaven when we die, “There is life after life after death.”[7]

Much of the church’s thinking and language about salvation (and at times eschatology) is inadequate to reach those following Jesus as well as those who are yet to make the decision to. The only way forward is by going backwards to better understand what salvation meant to Israel, the Gentiles, Jesus, and early church. Will there be large differences? Will there be a linear understanding over time with minor shifting? It is hoped that through this journey of study that we will arrive at a wholistic understanding that better positions the Christian and church alike to give society something it has been longing for: “wholeness and hope.” A pleasant byproduct will also be the ability to answer what we are saved from and what we are saved for with the depth and beauty such a question, not to mention the Gospel of Jesus, deserves. 


[1] Abingdon Press, ed., The New Interpreter’s Bible: General Articles & Introduction, Commentary, & Reflections for Each Book of the Bible, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994), 285.

[2] Brenda B. Colijn, Images of Salvation in the New Testament (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2010), 21.

[3] Colijn, 21.

[4] “NT” will be used to denote “New Testament” moving forward except when quoted. 

[5] Colijn, Images of Salvation in the New Testament, 13–14.

[6] Joel B. Green, Salvation, 1st ed, Understanding Biblical Themes (St. Louis, Mo: Chalice Press, 2003), 3.

[7] This understanding of life after death is built upon N.T. Wright throughout his work on early Christian hope. See  N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, 1st ed (New York: HarperOne, 2008).

Becoming Excellent in How We Serve God

How would you define ministry excellence? This was the question I posed to my team last week. What came back were diverse definitions illustrating varying degrees of how this can be defined. This phrase though, “Excellence in Ministry” is relative. Anyone’s idea of what excellence is can suffice to that person. For instance, is excellence in ministry just doing out best? Some would say yes. Is excellence in ministry having everything professionally put together minimizing all glitches and issues? Some would say yes. To be clear, I am being rather narrow in my focus, looking at how churches are led as well as what takes place within the community of faith. But it does involve what happens outside the four walls as well in each of our own ministries where God has placed us.

I always come back to the Apostle Paul when trying to nail down a good definition of being excellent for the Lord. I have always been fearful of perfectionism as well as sloppiness in what I do for the Lord. But Paul has helped me find that healthy middle ground. He wrote in Colossians 3:17,

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

I know, I know. This too could be vague. Though it still might be; this nonetheless provides the impetus and definition of excellence in ministry. We seek to be excellent in what we do because its for Christ and the magnification of His Kingdom. The standard and definition for our excellence is the model of Jesus. While everyone must wrestle with how they define it; what matters most is that we are seeking after it. Those we lead and those on the outside are looking for communities of faith that line up with the excellence and ideals of Jesus in Scripture. So whether its in preaching, organizing, cleaning, or any other task in the Church–how are you being excellent? What areas need refined in how you are serving the Lord?

Here are the definitions from our Compassion Church team. Take your time in reading them. Notice the differences among them.

  1. Having a clear vision that points others to Christ; showing compassion by identifying and meeting needs by stewarding resources well. 
  2. Using the gifts God has given us to do our best acknowledging he has given us all perfect gifts. 
  3. To take initiative in being authentic to our vision and bringing relationship and structure together. 
  4. Doing ministry with integrity to empower and bring compassion and unity to the church community. 
  5. Using our gifts in unity to serve others in obedience to Christ in creating a Tov (goodness) culture. 
  6. Bringing people closer to Jesus in a well organized and truth way to achieve a clear vision centered on His will. 

How would you define it?

Jesus and His Kingdom – Part 1

What exactly is this “Kingdom” Jesus speaks of?

On May 2nd, 2011, the news broke. Osama Bin Laden had been killed for his role in the September 11th, 2001, attacks on U.S. soil. The reception of this news for many was marked with euphoria, joy, and deep seated—decade long—emotions of revenge. The masses gathered in front of the White House in celebration with liturgy of song and chant. The singing of “God Bless the U.S.A” as well as the repetitious and synchronized yelling of “Rot in Hell.” Many interviewed in the streets were speechless in their attempts to communicate their relief. In watching these interviews, it was easy to see a disturbing and shocking trend woven throughout their thinking: God’s approval. 

In the following months details began to come forward from the “situation room” where the president and other cabinet members watched the operation play out. We were told that if the mission were successful and Bin Laden was captured dead or alive a code word would be given, “Geronimo.” What was said through satellite communications to the President that night was, “For God and Country, Geronimo, Geronimo, Geronimo.” There it was again. 

Following that night over ten years ago now I had many conversations with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ about the subtle tension I and others were feeling. It was a disturbing tension I could not remove myself from: rejoicing over the death of another while simultaneously invoking the name of God and His approval. It just didn’t feel right though I did understand it’s origin. I battled in my own flesh the emotions of satisfaction that this man received what my flesh felt he deserved. However, deep-seated within me is an ethic of love and non-violence formed by the teachings of Jesus which challenged those emotions. 

Nonetheless, I struggled to see how invoking God’s blessing over this action differentiated us from those who also perpetrated these attacks in the name of their own god. But it was one comment from an individual that stands above everything I had seen on T.V. After graciously putting up with my long discourse regarding what I felt to be so un-Christlike and un-befitting for Jesus followers in celebrating the death of Bin Laden, a friend said to me, “I felt like what happened was just. It was a win for the Kingdom of God.” 

Really? A win for the Kingdom?[1] I could not believe that someone I had trusted and admired as a mature student of the Scriptures would say something like this. I was determined to seek out a fresh understanding of the Kingdom of God in response to his statement. Since that moment to the present, I have come to realize this may be the most important area to grapple with for the modern church. Judging from that one conversation to many others I have had as a leader in the Church I have also realized it might be one of the most diluted and misunderstood aspects of Jesus’ message. If the Church has any hope at all in displaying the awe-inspiring wonder, beauty, and creativity of the Gospel—we must go backwards before we can go forwards. We must do the hard work of recovering the width and depth of what the Kingdom of God meant to Jesus as well as those who came before him.  

When looking at the New Testament it is beyond clear that the central fulcrum on which his entire message swings is this very topic. The Kingdom is, as Bruce Chilton says, “…the center of Jesus’ message both as a fact and as a mystery.”[2] If this is true, which I believe it is, then how this message is understood and conveyed is of the utmost importance in our desire to bring profound hope and truth to an unbelieving world. These noble aspirations unfortunately will never come to fruition if this Kingdom message is not embraced in its right context. Failure to do so can and is already resulting in a crisis of identity for the Church and her mission. 

Thankfully there is hope. A fresh re-understanding of the Kingdom opens the doors for both disciples and churches to reemerge as beacons of light and substantial hope in a weary and worn culture. Again, Chilton states, “But if it is true in general terms that we can know Jesus, then it must be possible to understand what he stood for…the Kingdom of God, is conveyed to us powerfully within the gospels. They invite us to share the power of that vision.”[3] If our pursuit is to know Jesus and his central message thereby becoming faithful disciples and Churches, then our journey, as already stated, must go backward before it can go forward. 

What didKingdom” Mean Before Jesus? Was it Original to Jesus?

Often where there is a lack of clarity in any topic the result is almost always due to vague and incomplete explanations. This same truth could be applied to our endeavor in seeking to understand what Jesus, in Mark 1:15 as well as John the Baptist in Matthew 3:1, are seeking to convey when they both respectively declared this coming Kingdom.[4] We are wise to assume that this understanding of a kingdom was widespread at the time within early Judaism thus contributing to a lack of need to spell it out in detail.[5] However, this does not mean we are left in the dark. We are still able to comb through the Old Testament as well as literature within Second Temple Judaism to ascertain a firm understanding of what this phrase meant as well as the emotion it evoked when declared. 

Beginning first from the Old Testament we see a complete absence of the phrase “Kingdom of God” however there is present a certain “kingly” rule that is often mentioned. The language is used to describe earthly kingdoms throughout Judah and Israel to “denote a territory or politically organized unit under monarchial rule (e.g., Gen. 10:10; Num. 32:33).”[6] Related but still an offshoot of this would be found in 1 Chron. 28:5 and 2 Chron. 13:8 where the phrase “Kingdom of Yahweh” occurs. However, to be fair we need to differentiate between the relationship of the two above. The implied “Kingdom of Yahweh” was not synonymous to the “kingdom of Israel.” Dennis C. Duling rightly communicates that even though Israel adapted near eastern ideas of divine kingship for the earthly king, God and the king were not identical; the god/king of the world was also the god/king over the people of Israel, and therefore superior to any earthly ‘divine king.’ Correspondingly, there was also tension between these two kingdoms.[7]

This tension continued through Israel’s history through the time of the prophets and well into the era of Second Temple Judaism. This becomes especially clear when we leaf through the late prophetic book of Daniel. Though it is found within the canonical Old Testament it deserves to be treated in the next portion looking into the literature of the Second Temple period due to its dating of ca. 165 B.C.E. 

The book of Daniel has long been used when talking about Jesus’ conception of the Kingdom and his own eschatology because of Daniel 7 and its corresponding usage by Jesus in Matthew 24:30 and 26:64 as well as Mark 14:62. It could be said that Daniel 7 and the “Son of Man” phrasing is a favorite saying of Jesus.[8] But what exactly do these connections mean? Up to this time in history there was a clear separation between the secular kingdoms of humans and the Kingdom of Yahweh even if the former was led by a client king. But in Daniel 7:13 where it is prophesied that “One like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven… to the Ancient One and was presented before him.” we see a major shift. Obviously, this is a serious departure from a human client king. 

What is represented in Daniel 7 can be described as a continuation of development regarding the eschatology from within Judaism. In his masterful study of the Kingdom of God, G.R. Beasley-Murray rightly summarizes that this vision of Daniel “accords a prime place to the coming of Yahweh to subdue evil and to deliver his people.”[9] This coming and arrival of “one like a human being” should be kept in its proper category as a theophany. This is God showing up on the scene in both a redemptive and punitive sense. To the faithful within Judaism the one who is coming on the “clouds of heaven” is meant to symbolize consolation to the people of God.[10] This is the ushering in of a heavenly Kingdom led by a “human-like” individual. Murray states that this individual is representative of God and his sovereignty over the world.[11] The desire of Daniel is to place in juxtaposition both earthly and heavenly kingdoms. In doing so he makes it clear that the origin of this Kingdom is from above.[12] Martin J. Selman synthesizes this prophecy of Daniel and its implication for how this era of Judaism viewed the coming Kingdom as something God will give his everlasting Kingdom to Men [and Women]. Although human kingdoms arising from the earth are doomed to failure, God does not in consequence keep his Kingdom for himself and his untainted angels…. The Kingdom of God will be given to ‘the holy ones, the people of the Most High’ (Dan. 7:18, 27), and to ‘one like a son of man.’[13]

This development within Daniel 7 represents an emerging eschatology consonant with other examples in surrounding literature. Paying attention to a small sampling out of many will help our goal of understanding the development of the Kingdom of God theme from the Old Testament through to the time of Jesus in the first century C.E. 

1 Enoch and the Book of Watchers (1 En. 1-36) contain clear statements which reflect a belief that the elect people of God, including those who are resurrected will live in a final state with God whose throne is situated upon a mountain. He will be known as a King of Kings, Eternal King, and King of the Universe.[14] The core writings from Enoch which represent this are found in 9:4; 25:7; 12:3; 25:3-5, and 27:3. Outside of the Book of Watchers other elements of similar beliefs regarding the Kingdom can be found in the “Book of Dreams,” “Animal Apocalypse,” “Apocalypse of Weeks,” and the “Book of Similitudes.”[15] As Duling makes clear, in 1 Enoch God is called King and the Son of Man is a king/messiah.[16] The book of Enoch along with the prophecy of Daniel represent a unique turn from the Old Testament and it’s understanding of the Kingdom.

Another example can be found in the Testament of Moses which is dated around the Maccabean period down through to the time of Jesus. In 10:1,3-4 it reads as the following

And then His Kingdom shall appear throughout all His creation, and then Satan shall be no more, and sorrow shall depart with him…. For the Heavenly One will arise from His royal throne, and he will go forth from His holy habitation with indignation and wrath on account of His sons. And the earth shall tremble; to its confines shall it be shaken; and the high mountains shall be made low and the hills shall be shaken and fall.[17]

This text holds three elements that give us a window into the apocalyptic nature of the Kingdom and how this points to Jesus’ own understanding. First, we see the appearance or revelation of a divine Kingdom impacting all the earth. Is this not the connotation we read from Jesus’ first declaration of ministry in Mark 1:15? The usage of ἤγγικεν regarding ἡ βασιλεία τοῦθεοῦ in Mark 1:15 gives the impression that this Kingdom has either arrived or is on the precipice of arrival. Could it be that Jesus is flowing in this same stream of thought regarding the arrival of God’s Kingdom? More on this verse shortly. Second, this apocalyptic Kingdom is one that will be in direct opposition with Satan. In Luke 11:18 Jesus gives a line of demarcation between the kingdom of Satan and the Kingdom of God. Joel Green communicates that “Jesus thus positions the work of exorcism within the larger matrix of the struggle between the dominion of Satan and the dominion of God.”[18] Lastly, the phrase “high mountains shall be made low” is significant to our knowledge of what the Kingdom was expected to usher in. The immersion of Isaiah 40 in the messaging of John the Baptist in Luke 3 along with this verse from the Testament of Moses makes clear that there are kingly expectations of equity and justice being dispersed with the coming reign of the One from  Daniel 7.

By only looking at three examples from this era of Second Temple Judaism we can be confident of a few things. There was an already implanted understanding of a coming King who would be other worldly as seen in Daniel 7. In addition to this was a deep hope that one day the righteous will experience a new Kingdom marked by justice and equity led by a transcendent Lord of lords and God of gods, and King of kings. Enoch seeks to capture all of this when speaking of Kingly rule or the Kingdom of God as a whole. The Testament of Moses showcases what can be found in many other writings of this time. Namely, a line between the righteous and the evil as well as Satan and God. All of these common expectations, hopes, and tensions were part of the economy of religion in this era where a definitive concept of “good vs. evil” is apparent.

Another collection of writings from this era which give us a glimpse into the cultural thinking of the Kingdom of God were discovered in the caves at Qumran commonly called the “Dead Sea Scrolls.” The importance of these diverse writings cannot be overstated enough in terms of their importance for understanding Jesus in his own context. Scot McKnight explains that Jesus’ life and thinking took place within a diverse Judaism where there “options were many and orthodoxies were few.”[19] He further argues that Jesus and his thinking must be observed while keeping in mind the many complex societal communities of his day, especially the “sectarian Essenism of the Dead Sea Scrolls.”[20] Another noted scholar who would agree is James H. Charlesworth. On the similarities between Jesus and the Essenes he writes that they possessed the following:

the same territory and race; they were devout, religious, conservative, and anti-Gentile. They struggled against common enemies…were close to some Pharisees, were animated by the belief that God was about to bring to fruition his promises and were apocalyptically and eschatologically oriented.”[21]  

Within the large collection of writings found at Qumran the language and context of the Kingdom of God is well attested. For the present study we will focus on two primary areas: The War Scroll (1QM) and the Rule of Blessings (1QSb) due to their apocalyptic and eschatological orientation. Both scrolls highlight the thinking of the Essene community as it pertains to the reign of God in their time and space as well as the ethical implications of this coming Kingdom.

In 1QM 12:8 we see God being called “King of Honor” and “King of Kings” in 14:6. Around the portion where King of Kings can be found there is also an eschatological focus on a future kingdom being within Israel which will be established by the priestly prince of the congregation.[22] It is a kingdom where justice, peace, and a refined or renewed gathering of worshippers in a new Temple will manifest. 1QM 13:10 could easily have been the ideological atmosphere where many would be messiahs found their footing: “From of old you appointed the prince of light to assist us, and in […] and all the spirits of truth are under his dominion.”[23] The scroll reads like an anticipatory piece of literature marking out clearly who is righteous and who is not. The focus is on the eschatological reign of God that will soon be breaking in with the fighting of the “Sons of light vs. darkness.” (1Qm 1:11) The similarities thus far ought to be evident. The lines of demarcation as well as polemical language found here can also be found in the tone of Jesus and John the Baptist. 

The Rule of Blessings, though different from the War Scroll, gives a similar perspective on the eschatological Kingdom that is yet to break in. Our focus from this scroll is the “Prince of the Congregation.” In 1QSb 5:20-22 the prince will receive a special blessing from the Master which will confer upon the prince certain eschatological actions. 

The prince of the congregation… and shall renew for him the covenant of the community for him to establish the Kingdom of his people forever, [to judge the poor with justice] to reproach the humble of the earth with uprightness, to walk in perfection before him on all his paths.[24]

In this text we again see a focus on the ethical dimensions of the coming one. Both the War and Blessing Scroll illustrate something obvious: the time and era was ripe for an individual to come and dip their toes into the apocalyptic and eschatological pressure cooker which was continuing to grow by the day while Palestine was under Rome’s rule. 

Part 1 in Summary

In summary we can confidently see that: (1) the Old Testament had an understanding of the Kingdom of God that was connected to earthly kingdoms and client kings. There was tension brewing within the desires of the Kingdom of Yahweh in comparison with the kingdom of man, however, these references are scarce. So where did this development arise of a Kingdom that was to break in apocalyptically or eschatologically? (2) While Daniel (especially Daniel 7) is found within the Old Testament, for our purposes we included it in the framework of Second Temple Judaism due to its late dating. Within Daniel we see an expectation of a savior who is coming to establish a Kingdom in the here and now. As stated by Murray above, the vision accords a prime place in the vision and expectation of Yahweh who will subdue evil and redeem his people. The juxtaposition Daniel creates between two kingdoms in the Old Testament continues until “One like the Son of Man” comes from above. (3) In examining the Pseudepigrapha we can observe similar imagery and language in that of Daniel.

There is a coming one, an establishment of kingly rule, and his name will be Lord of Lords, God of Gods, and/or King of Kings. (4) All of this is continued not as a progression per se but more like the deepening of a well when we come to the Essenes and the Dead Sea Scrolls. In both the War Scroll and Blessing Scroll there is all the above with the addition of ethical components regarding this coming Kingdom. To be fair, a full exploration of the Old Testament, Pseudepigrapha, Apocrypha, and Dead Sea Scrolls would yield a multitude of ethical expectations for the coming redemption of God’s Kingdom. However, for our brief study we have chosen only a few. Now let us turn to see how these influences had an impact on Jesus’ own understanding of the coming Kingdom. But what did Jesus, as a Jewish first century rabbi think about the Kingdom? To this we will turn next.

(The above is an excerpt from a doctoral paper I wrote in late 2021)


[1] Moving forward in this paper, any reference to the divine Kingdom of God (except when quoted from scholarship) will be capitalized while other occasions involving earthly kingdoms and kings will not be. The same will done with “Church” when in reference to the corporate body of Christ which is to carry out the Kingdom mission of God. Both are inherent in the title of this paper which focuses on a robust and healthy theology of the Kingdom understood in its context (going backward) which is the remedy the church needs for today (to move forward).

[2]  Bruce Chilton, Pure Kingdom: Jesus’ Vision of God, Studying the Historical Jesus (Grand Rapids, Mich. : London: Eerdmans ; Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1996), ix.

[3] Ibid, Chilton, x.

[4] Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. Howard Marshall, eds., Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 417.

[5] A common parallel to this would be if someone were to comment on how well they did at something in saying, “Wow! You hit it out of the park!” Most in North America would readily understand this to refer to hitting a homerun in baseball which is a tremendous positive. Thus, there would not be a need to explain in detail how one hits a home run in the game of baseball. 

[6] John J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow, eds., The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism (Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans, 2010), 860.

[7] Duling, Dennis C. “Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven: OT, Early Judaism, and Hellenistic Usage.” Ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 4, Anchor Bible Reference Library (New York London Toronto [etc.]: Doubleday, 1992), 50.

[8] As confirmed by Scot McKnight in my first Doctorate seminar at Northern Seminary on the eschatology of Jesus. 

[9] George Raymond Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Kingdom of God, reprinted (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1987), 35.

[10] Ibid. 

[11] Ibid. 

[12] Barrick, William D. 2012. “The Kingdom of God in the Old Testament.” The Master’s Seminary Journal 23 (2): 171. https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=reh&AN=ATLA0001924487&site=ehost-live.

[13] Ibid. 

[14] Duling, Kingdom of God, 51. 

[15] Murray draws an interesting conclusion when analyzing the Book of Similitudes from Enoch. He states, “We are brought to the startling realization that the evidence points to the Similitudes as having been written at the same time as or during the generation after the ministry of Jesus. Does this suggest that the idea of the Son of Man as messianic representative was in the air, as it were, at that time?” He goes on to say that perhaps “we have the precipitate of two parallel movements of thought leading back to one source—namely, the vision of Daniel.” This statement by Murray furthers the mosaic of belief that was developing during and before the time of Jesus. (Murray, Kingdom of God, 68.)

[16] Duling, Kingdom of God, 51

[17] James H Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Volume One Volume One, 2016, 931–32.

[18] Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1997), 455.

[19] Scot McKnight, A New Vision for Israel: The Teachings of Jesus in National Context (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1999), 2.

[20] Ibid. 

[21] James Hamilton Charlesworth, Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls, 1992, 9–10.

[22] Freedman, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 1992, 4:52.

[23] Florentino García Martínez, ed., The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated: The Qumran Texts in English, 2nd ed (Leiden ; New York : Grand Rapids: E.J. Brill ; W.B. Eerdmans, 1996), 107.

[24] García Martínez, 433.

Missio Dei: Latin for “Mission of God”

I have always been enamored with the Apostle Paul in the Bible. He was relentless in seeking to fulfill his purpose and the mission God gave him. Whether we realize it or not the same is to be said about ourselves. This too is to be our legacy. As followers of Jesus (or even humans created by God in general) we were created to be consumed with the Missio Dei for all people. But what exactly is the mission? Jesus said in Matthew 28:18-20,

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The Missio Dei focuses on making disciples. The process of growth in following Jesus is called discipleship. It involves, as Dallas Willard so wonderfully put, “the journey of becoming who Jesus would be if he were you.”

Plain and simple. This was Paul’s passion, the 12 disciple’s obsession, and church’s mission. Making disciples involves sharing our faith with others and helping them to pursue the same life-giving path if they choose to follow. It entails loving people and showing them in word and deed the goodness of God within us. It involves gathering as groups and encouraging one another; pressing into God together in groups called “church.” This is how those early Christians as well as the Apostle Paul impacted entire populations with the love and message of God under severe persecution and impoverishment. Through house churches filled with disciples radiating the joy and message of Jesus.  

If you are a follower of Jesus (a Christian); this is your work and calling. We would be in error to think that our calling is our job. It isn’t. That is your vocation. Your calling as a Christian is to glorify your Creator and to allow your life to emulate His within you. The best way we can do that is by radiating the love and message of the Gospel to others around us. But where do we begin? Thankfully Jesus helps us answer this with an analogy from Mark 4 in the Bible:

“This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

Where do we begin living out the Missio Dei? According to Jesus the answer is found is the “empty fields.” All of us have “empty fields” around us. We are surrounded by people and situations desperate for the redeeming message of Jesus Christ. Will you be the one God uses today to reach them? Will you be the one who steps out in faith into the empty field around you fulfilling the Missio Dei? Transformation of entire regions for the Kingdom of God begins with just one person. 

So I encourage you to keep your eyes open for those empty fields around you. Find that “one” around you. As you step out to fulfill the mission God in making disciples and obeying Jesus, trust that God will not leave you high and dry. Believe deeply what Jesus taught His disciples for your own life. He said,  

“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

Be wise, be bold, and above all, be relentless. For the Missio Dei is the greatest purpose one could ever live for. May it be said about us that we too were obsessed with finding those empty fields and planting the seeds of the Kingdom. 

Blessings+

Taking the Leap Part 1: “What in Us Must Die?

23 But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. 24 Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. 25 He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor. -John 12:23-26

Gardening, Growth, and the Bible

I love gardening. I love witnessing things grow. To me it is still one of the greatest mysteries. You take a seemingly “dead” looking seed—dry and shriveled up—seeming to be at the end of its rope. You put it in good soil. Surround it with good nutrients. Shower it with the rains from above. And then it happens. A little shoot climbing through the soil seeking to make a name for itself. No matter what kind of plant it is–it usually begins the same—a tiny blade climbing through the soil. How it happens is still a mystery. Science can explain the many variables, but it cannot explain what activates the seed to bring the growth and to bear fruit. 

This topic is near and dear to the heart of God. Most analogies found within the Bible often refer in one way or another to agriculture and the seasons of planting, growing, and harvesting. Whether it be Mark 4:26-29 or Luke 8—seed planting and growing is everywhere. Especially within the words of Jesus. Why is this important? 

In Death Comes Life

Because in gardening there is a fundamental truth tht applies to all of life: in death comes life. In the verse above Jesus likens His own life to a grain of wheat which falls to the ground seemingly dead and yet goes into the soil and multiplies or bears fruit—which refers to His own resurrection. But Jesus decides to take it one step further and turn it around on His listeners then, as well as you and I. He takes the “death to life” principle he is living out and reveals this is in fact the life-pattern you and I were meant to live. 

This understanding of going from “death to life” is foundational to the Christian faith. So foundational that the author of Hebrews explains it as being “elementary.” She or he states, “Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God…” You get the vibe from this statement that from the very beginning they were instructed to leave behind the things which are dead within them and embrace newness of life in Christ. To cut ties with the actions which multiply sin and darkness within us and embrace new habits, desires, and disciplines which move us into maturity and growth in the love and truth of God. This would be that same pattern of living; from death to life.

But when you read the verse from John above do you notice how Jesus describes His own death? He says that “the hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.” He did not use the phrase “to die” or “to be crucified.” Instead he chose this phrase “be glorified.” Jesus saw that in death God can still be glorified. God was supremely glorified when Jesus went to the cross, died, and resurrected. I think for a Christ follower this conviction would be common sense. But remember how Jesus turned the gardening analogy around on you and I? That if we lose our lives we will truly find them? The same can then be said that when we choose to die to our own ways and desires and live for Him—we are glorifying Christ within us.  

What in Us Must Die?

This is the beautiful mystery of Christianity. We follow Jesus and in return experience the principle of death unto new life—if of course we allow the process to take place. What if the seed were to say to the gardener, “I do not want to be planted into the ground. I want to stay on the tree where I am. I do not want to fall into the soil and grow!” How ridiculous would this be? But the thing is we do this on a daily basis. We seek to cling to the trees we are planted on currently. The trees of bitterness, unforgiveness, sin, etc. 

Logically, the next question for ourselves then is, “what in us needs to die in order for growth and maturity to take root?” Is it gossip or slander? Is it addiction to alcohol, drugs, pain meds, or approval of others? Is it pornography which poisons the mind and pollutes the heart?  Perhaps it’s the love of money and possessions? Racism, prejudice, and/ or bigotry? Whatever it may be… it’s a dead work which is halting your growth. You must die in order to find life. You must call those things out within yourself and say, “Enough is enough” so that God is able to deposit within you something in its place. Something which brings true and everlasting joy, purpose, and hope. 

Jesus says in John 15:8, “This is to My Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” As followers of Jesus we are destined to bear fruit. We are destined to grow and multiply like healthy seeds planted in good soil.

But remember, to bear fruit a seed needs to what? It needs to die. Yes, its difficult. Yes, its painful. Yes, it’s a journey. But it’s the only way to leave a legacy for Christ. Isn’t that what you desire?

The alternative path is apathy. You do not want apathy. Apathy is the precursor to spiritual death where there is no hope of new life. You know full well you were created for so much more. Why settle? You’re bored. I understand. I have been there. But even in the pain of the wilderness and spiritual boredom we have to enter the door of death before we can walk the halls of newness of life. A newness best described as a daily living and breathing relationship with God where you are being used on the front lines for His glory loving and serving through the power of His Holy Spirit. It is impossible to have both. 

A Haunting Question for the Jesus Follower

One more thing. Do you notice what Jesus says in verse 26? He says, “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also.” The context of this verse is the Kingdom of God and the life to come. But the Holy Spirit brought this to life to me last week through a question. Jesus says the phrase “where I am” here. The question He gave me was:

“Is Jesus with you where you are or are you with Jesus where He is?” 

Of course, we could say both. But think about it. Is Jesus at our level consoling us in our continual haphazard efforts in growing but often choosing death? Or are we where he is which is the other side of “death to life” scenario. Grace abounds. We will never have it right all the time. But with everything we have in us, let us fight for new life. I want to be where Jesus is. I want to be driven by the Holy Spirit vs. continually consoled.

But to get to that place… I and we must die to ourselves and find new life in Him by trusting that His death and resurrection has freed us from everything which seeks to kill and destroy us.

What needs to die within you so that His life can resurrect you? 

A Life Beautifully Interrupted

Bloody Elbows; Ragged Knees

Day in. Day out. He sat there. His knees bruised, and elbows covered in blood stained patches. His knees wouldn’t function like others because since birth he had a genetic defect which caused him to be paralyzed from the waist down. He would use his arms and elbows to maneuver himself to sit upright the best he could. He possessed no friendships or kin to assist him. This was how he lived his daily life. However, there was one day that was different.

As the bright sun rose that morning he gathered his few belongings. A cloth mat. Moth eaten satchel. Stale pieces of bread. With everything he had he made his typical slow crawl to his corner. Though it was a small space to call his own, it was his home. He had nothing and no one—only his corner. He passed the time dreaming of what it would be like to walk and run. To be included and valued like everyone else.

Each day he faced the same routine in this little spot next to the largest church in the city. His morning began with the religious folks passing by conveniently ignoring his plight. Perched high on their thrones of ego and vanity they would throw boulders of judgement and pebbles of slander.If he was lucky someone would throw a gift. It would come in the form of a faint and sporadic sound of metal clanging in his basket. Coins crashing against other coins as they are dropped by one who possessed empathy, compassion, or guilt. For this pathetic man it was the sound of hope, bread, or at the least—an apple. On this particular morning that sound was rarely heard.

Desperation Sets In

As the day went on, he was desperately searching for anyone who would help him. Finally, he saw a man walking into the church from a distance. There were two. The other was coming behind him. They looked different than the others. Their demeanor was pleasant but intently serious at the same time. It was the one who led the way that locked eyes with the beggar. Seeing this was his moment to get his attention he began to frantically yell to him. The man, not hearing him the first time, finally heard him the second time as the beggar reached a fever pitch scream.

“Sir!! Please! Look at my situation. Look at my body. Please… oh please. Will you give me something, so I can eat?”

It was at this time the second man who was walking with him caught up. They stopped their procession into the church and stood there as the crowds continued to pass by. The first man looked into the eyes of the one he traveled with. With a sort of unspoken gesture, they both knew they wanted to give something to this beggar.

The man slowly takes in his hopeless situation. He looks at his swollen and ragged knees. He pulls his arm back to see his bloody elbows. The beggar, feeling pain from his hand touching his arm, pulls him away revealing his deformed and crooked fingers. The man then looks past him to see the few positions he clings to as his own.

An Unexpected Gift

With an uncanny and firm face he says to him,

Listen, I do not have any more dollars or coins which you would expect. I don’t have the common gift you seek each week from all of these people walking past us. But what I do have—I will freely give to you.”

The beggar—confused and intrigued—grabbed his hand. The man then said,

“By the authority given to me by Jesus of Nazareth, who is the chosen One, rise up and stand here next to me.”

The beggar was unsure what to do. He had never heard of this king who possessed such authority to heal someone. But he couldn’t deny the undefinable emotion coursing through his mind and body. Something was happening. He allowed the tension of the man’s hand in his to pull him to his feet. Crying out in pain and fear he slowly arose from the dust. The man held his shoulders smiling and telling him,

“You can stand! Come on! We will help you!”

It was then he felt the deformity from within his body leave. His knees strengthened. His ankles gave him support. Tears began to stream down his face. Not only his but the other two as well. Each of them realized in that moment they experienced something no human mind could explain. All they knew is that it was good and God had just done something among them.

The man was healed. He was no longer a stigma in the society of his day. He was no longer forced to bleed from his elbows and knees. To declare this new reality to the religious elite he burst the doors of the church wide open and danced his way through the aisles. Interrupting the liturgy and teaching he smiled and locked eyes with each self-righteous individual who elevated themselves above him. It was gloriously and appropriately petty. They were unsure what to do or say. They were speechless and dumbfounded. Marveled and angry. For they recognized this poor wretched one they were so busy ignoring.

A Life Beautifully Interrupted

The man and his companion gave a gift that morning on their way to the Church. It was a gift of healing.  They restored value to someone who was ignored day in and day out. They restored someone’s dignity. The means by which they gave this gift was an authority and power they could not call their own. It came from Another. They didn’t wake up with this goal in mind. They weren’t seeking to find someone to heal that day. They were simply keeping their prayer committment with fellow Jews. But their routine, their route, their pathway was beautifully interrupted. I wonder how many beautiful interruptions await us? Are we even willing to be interrupted?


Three truths from a retelling of Acts 3.1-12:

Value and Worth before Dollars and Coins. 

Give the gift of value and worth before dollars and coins. This is not either/or. This is both/and. People in need have deep layers of shame and humiliation. Restore their hope and heart first by sharing your life and listening to theirs. Learn from them, value them, and honor them. From a place of shared interdependence and restored hearts—give tangibly. 

Celebrate Interruptions; Embrace “Pseudo-Inconvenience” 

The two men, Peter and John, did not wake up with the intent to restore this beggar’s entire life. They simply walked. But what undergirded their walk that morning was the notion that their life was not their own. They were simply empty containers willing to be filled with the power and goodness of God and at a moments notice were ready to give that which was not theirs and in turn experienced a powerful move of God.

Be Bold, Be Brave, Be Jesus. 

The same Spirit who healed this beggar through the boldness of Peter and John is within all of us who follow Jesus and seek to be filled with His Spirit. Do not worry when or how someone will be healed. Be obedient in prayer and boldness. It isn’t your job to heal. Its only your job to give what is within you. So be bold and be brave. You are living for an audience of One. May Jesus say of us, “You gave what you had so that others might find me. You were willing to be beautifully interrupted for my sake.”

 

A Prayer

Lord, give us more of your Spirit. So that we might have eyes to see people in need. Upon seeing people in need all around us give us the words to say as well as the boldness to get out of the way so your Spirit can work through us. May we be open to the spontaneous surprises of our day—bringing Jesus, hope, and love to all we come into contact with. We repent of being those who conveniently ignore the outcast, “annoying,” the difficult, the inconvenient, and all else who are equally deserving of your healing and wholeness which only come through you. Please burst the bubbles and routines of our daily lives so that we might be beautifully interrupted. In your name, Amen.