Religion

Jesus Knew Disciple-Making Was Counter-Cultural. Do We?

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by Andy Blanks

Last week I wrote a post entitled “Are You Drawing A Crowd? Ask Yourself Why.” It looked at how Jesus seemed to (at least early in His ministry) repeatedly go to great lengths to distance Himself from the crowds that wanted to follow him. I mentioned how this was in part due to the fact that, by nature, the call to real discipleship can often be crowd-shrinking, not crowd-growing. I pointed out that this is a good reason for us to evaluate our message. Are we drawing a crowd for the right reason?

This post generated a pretty good bit of feedback across Twitter, Facebook, etc. So I wanted to follow up with one more thought, one I had wanted to include but didn’t.
Matthew 9

In Matthew chapter 9, Jesus gives two blind men their sight. Which, you know, is pretty amazing. And if Jesus were in the “ministry growth movement,” He would’ve asked these guys if He could get a statement from them to put on His website and on the back of His books. But that’s not what Jesus did.

In Matthew 9:30, after Jesus healed them, He said this: “See that no one knows about this.”

Now, let’s give a nod to good scholarship and acknowledge that the primary reason for this seems to be Jesus’ desire for people not to misinterpret the nature of His Messiaship or the nature of His Kingdom rule (which, you know, they misinterpreted anyway). Or at least not to do so this early in His ministry. But I wonder if there wasn’t another motivation, one that has application for us as 21st Century disciple-makers.
You see, I think Jesus understood that the atmosphere of the crowd is counter-intuitive to growing disciples.

Jesus was healing people, and teaching stuff that blew people away. Can you imagine the sights and sounds, the constant stimulus, the side conversations and arguments that surrounded this movement? It must have been a circus! But here’s Jesus, shaping the lives of 12 men, and maybe a larger group of other disciples, rocking their worlds with a crash-course in REAL religion.

The chaos of the crowd only served as a distraction to the real, slow, concentrated work of spiritual growth.

As we seek to lead our students toward a more meaningful life of follower-ship, we HAVE to realize how counter-cultural this pursuit is. Here’s what I mean:
Spiritual formation is slow work. Our culture demands results now.
Becoming a real follower is one step forward, two steps back kind of stuff. Our culture expects success on success.
Bending our lives toward Christ’s model means denial of self. Our culture says gratify the self at all costs!
The soul work of growing faith IDEALLY happens in silence with nothing competing with the Spirit’s work in us. But culture is multi-task friendly, stimulus rich, and data intensive.

Jesus understood that the process of becoming a follower happened away from the crowds. Do we?

Trust One Day at a Time

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by Rick Warren
God wants you to trust him one day at a time: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Not for next week. Not for next year. Not for next month. Just one day at a time.
Philippians 4:6 and 8 show us that there are four things that you need to do to trust God on a daily basis: “Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done… Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (NLT).
Worry about nothing.
Why is worry such a big deal? Because it’s not just a bad habit. It’s a flat out sin! But God keeps his promises, and you can trust that he will take care of you. “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matthew 6:34).
Pray about everything.
Prayer can change things. Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (NIV) God solved your biggest problem – getting into Heaven – when he sent Jesus to die for you. If God loved you enough to send Jesus to die for you, don’t you think he loves you enough to take care of all these other problems?
Thank God in all things.
No matter what happens, give thanks. The Bible doesn’t say, “For all things give thanks.” It says, “In all things give thanks.” You don’t have to be thankful for bad things in your life. You should never be thankful for evil. You don’t have to be thankful for cancer or a car accident or war or abuse. But God says in everything give thanks. Why? Because you know that God’s going to take care of you. You know he’s going to meet your needs. You know he’s going to help you.
Think about the right things.
God gives us a list of things to think about, things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and worthy of praise.
Where do you find things that are pure and lovely to think about? At the movies? I don’t think so. On TV? No. You will only find pure and lovely and honorable thoughts in the Word of God. You need to read it, study it, memorize it, and fill your mind with it. Isaiah 26:3 says, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!”

Questions Well Responded To

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Do you generally believe 1. Christ’s human nature was “unfallen”, i.e. similar to what Adam’s human nature would have been like pre-fall, or 2. Christ’s human nature was “fallen”, sullied in the same way the rest of us are (incl. Adam) after the fall?

John Wesley is, in my opinion, probably one of the strongest theological influences on the SDA church, especially through the influence of Ellen White.

 The Reformation view of salvation does heavily emphasize certain things that seem to run counter to a more libertarian view.
By this, of course, I mean to say that the specifically Reformed (so calvinist and the more predestinarian branches of Lutheranism) understanding of “total depravity” is fundamentally and radically different than what ends up being an arminian understanding of that depravity. Both Weslyan/Methodists and Adventists being distinctly Arminian (and having tendencies towards belief in “character perfectionism”) seem to have a less severe understanding of this depravity.

For example, Adventists have traditionally been adamant that “sin” proper denotes primarily chosen individual actions and not generally one’s state of being. This seems to match John Wesley’s 1 – high view of the role of the commandments of God in the believer’s life, 2 – the possibility of achieving “sinlessness” in this present lifetime, 3 – a less severe noetic effect of depravity such that “free will” actually becomes some kind of factor, contra TULIP.

I also find it interesting that the modern Molinist movement, in stating “ROSES” (their alternative to TULIP) softens “Total Depravity” to “Radical Depravity”, enough to separate us from God, but not so all encompassing so as to obliterate our ability to make choices etc.
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Now, I’m not 100% sure where Eastern Orthodoxy stands on the the free will issue, BUT I have for a while now felt that the early, more traditional/conservative brand of Adventism has some striking similarities to the Orthodox church, including:

1 – An emphasis on a more over-arching, cosmic salvation beyond individual redemption.
2 – Belief in original sin affecting us all in our inclinations but NOT in “original guilt”, so to speak.
3 – The fallen human nature inherited by Christ, (from which Adventists in particular extrapolate that we can overcome sin and temptations in the same way that Jesus did, granted that he was “like us in every way”).
4 – A strongly more “inclusivist” stream of thought with regards to salvation
[Some SDA thinkers going so far as to think that the “2nd Adam” thing in Romans 5 means that Christ’s work on the cross has effected all of humanity in the way that Adam’s sin affected all of humanity. CRUDELY, this might be expressed in terms of everyone being born in salvation kind of already handed to them in their laps, and then actually throwing it away through our sins and having to take hold of it again in what would be seen as a standard conversion experience.]

So I find it interesting that there are so many observable parallels. I’d be interested to see if there are more connections or else maybe if some of my previously noted possible connections are actually stronger than I had previously thought.

What Will We Do in Heaven?

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By Ben Smart

Heaven is a bit of a mysterious thing. We’re told Christians will be spending the rest of eternity there – that’s a lot of time. So, naturally, people want to know what it’s going to be like. How are we going to spend our time for those unending billions of years?

You often hear questions like these:
“Will there be football in heaven?”
“Will I be reunited with my dead pet in heaven?”
“Will there be sex in heaven?”

These questions – sometimes in jest, sometimes serious – are understandable. I mean, if heaven is so great, surely it must incorporate some of the best things from this life, right? If heaven is such a good place, it would have to include those things in this life that we enjoy most – otherwise, how good could it be?

Heaven is a good place, so we reason that it should surely contain those things which are most good. We ask about sex and football (or whatever you might think of) because we think that these things are those which we would want to spend an eternity with.

These questions reveal the things we feel to be most truly valuable because we couldn’t imagine an eternity without them.

So there’s a fundamental problem with the motivation behind these questions. The problem is that if it even occurs to us to ask these questions, we’re seeing things like sex or football as being the highest good, and we’re seeing God as a means to that end.

Are our appetites really that small?

Are we so entranced with the good things that God has made that we have forgotten that He Himself is far better than them all?

God is not a means to an end. We don’t follow God in this life so that we can go to heaven and enjoy football. We follow God because we recognise that He Himself is the highest good. When we go to heaven, we get GodWe get to be in His presence, unencumbered by our sinfulness and pride.

We get God’s intimate presence. We get His perfect love. We get immeasurable joy and goodness.

You see, it’s not as if God is keeping any good thing from us, as if He’ll be withholding football because He wants us to pay Him attention instead of enjoying ourselves. No, the reality is thatonce we’re in God’s presence, it won’t even occur to us to want those things any more. They will pale in comparison to the presence of God.

We get God Himself. Once we have Him, all those paltry pleasures of this world will taste sour in comparison.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to say that I know what we will and won’t do in heaven – the Bible simply doesn’t go into those things, so they mustn’t be that important for us to know. What I’m saying instead is that the questions that we ask about heaven reveal what we truly value, and they often reveal that we value the wrong things.

They often reveal that our vision is myopic, and that our appetites are far too small.

If you’re not convinced yet, let me point your attention to one of the passages in the Bible about heaven that is pervasively misunderstood, but if understood rightly, will tell us all that we need to know. I’m talking about Revelation 21, and the description of the New Jerusalem (you can read it here).

This passage is often misunderstood to be a literal description of the place that we’re all going to live after we die. Let me just say, if you take this as a literal description, you’re going to completely miss the point, and miss all that this passage actually does tell us about eternal life.

There’s a lot in here, but I’ll just be brief and point out a few main things.

Note that the New Jerusalem is made of pure gold (21:18) and that it is a perfect cube (21:16). There’s only one other place in the Bible that you see a golden cube (any guesses?).

To anyone who is steeped in the Old Testament (i.e. the people to whom the letter of Revelation was written), the picture of a golden cube would immediately remind them of one thing: the inner most room of the Temple, the Holy of Holies, which was also a perfect cube inlaid with pure gold (1 Kings 6:20).

So the point here is that the place where all God’s people will live (the city) will be the place where God’s most intimate presence is manifested (the Holy of Holies). Study the passage for yourself. It is absolutely rife with symbols and images that connect it to God’s temple, the place of His presence.

The passage also points out that there is no temple in the city (21:22), because “the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.” God’s presence is made perfectly manifest with His people, without any need for an intermediary. It goes on, “the city does not need the sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light” (21:23). Do you see it? It’s all about God dwelling with His people.

I hope you’re seeing the point of what this passage is saying about eternal life. I’ll point out one last verse: “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads” (22:3-4). God’s throne is in the midst of His people! We’ll spend eternity in His midst!

The point of this passage in Revelation is not to give us a literal description of our daily life in heaven. The more you study the passage, the more you see that the author is using biblical imagery to convey the important truths about heaven: we will be with God, and He will be with us.

It doesn’t try to tell us what we’ll spend our time doing in heaven. It doesn’t need to. That’s all of secondary concern. The point is that we’ll be with God. And what better thing could there be than that?

On Corrupt Agnostic and Atheistic Views

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By Okello Okello.

I am  sanctifying Christ as Lord in my heart, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks me to give an account for the hope that is in me, yet with gentleness and reverence, I want to point it out to atheists around the world that their belief on scientific law is futile without a supreme being also referred to in philosophy as the unmoved mover.

The Free Thinkers Initiative in Kenya (Fika) is an initiative to trail the footsteps of a renowned atheist Richard Dawkins, one of the world’s scientific intellectuals, specializing in Evolutionary Biology at Oxford University.  Kenyan by birth, Richard Dawkins is reflected as one of the great four atheists alive and logically speaking (in atheists’ world) that place him above all else even though most agnostics and atheists strive for equality. If Dawkins falls on top echelons in atheists’ society, can we claim out of pure reasoning that there might be a being greater than Dawkins?

As reported by Vera Okeyo in Daily Nation on July 3rd 2013, the agnostic views are propelled by economic and technological icons whose principles are effective and are shaping the world at the founders will: “Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Virgin Group’s Richard Branson, and Father of Psychology, Sigmund Freud; Even celebrities like actress Jodi Foster, Lance Armstrong, Uma Thurman, and Morgan Freeman have joined the bandwagon.”

That to me is what I prefer calling Tu Quoque Fallacy. The fact that Mark Zuckerberg founded facebook is not enough for me to follow him because he does not believe in a divine being however successful he might be. In other words anybody in his right faculty would not believe this invalid representation of argument also known as argumentum ad populum.  Are we going to let these technological pundits reason for us? The fact that they are good in a given field does not make them all knowing!

The savvier attacks by atheists to Christians on bases of religion show ignorance of the highest calibre because of the hasty generalization as they fail to specify different creeds and their dogmas. “The mass murders that have happened all over the world in the name of religion and sectarian clashes are greater than the death toll of the atomic bomb in Japan,” one member of ‘Fika’ writes in a group conversation. To respond to this in a friendly way without any attacks, I will comb the annals of morality and ethics and how agnostic and atheistic views have plunged the world more than any other world views ever known.

From the French revolution to communists’ China, a concoction of Atheism and political power has claimed millions of lives more than the unspecified figures talked about by my atheist friends. If reality is what to go by because we both want to defend our morals, then I would suggest that they first tell us the dark sides of atheism as is listed in the history books before clinging on technological advancements that we see today.

In 1917-1969, atheist Soviet Union destroyed 41,000 churches, myriads of the same in Eastern Union, Tibet China, over 7000 monasteries destroyed, North Korea has demolished over 60 Budhist temples, if world peace is what to go by, can we trust these people with power? If they cannot coexist with other world views does it mean that all their opposers must be wiped out?

Human beings are more than just Biology, Chemistry and Physics put together. We should think metaphysically of a being supreme, divine and greater than us to deeply grasp the world around us otherwise shying away from truth is because of lack of wisdom.  I have said in the past and will continue to reiterate that science is the best prove and support of Gods existence.

This article is open to criticisms and debates and I will respond to all structured arguments with strong premises in relation to Christianity (theism) verses agnostic and atheistic views.

The Hard Eucharisteo

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By Kate Finman,

BA in Religious Studies and French
The day after Easter, I was devastated to learn that my younger sister had a brain tumor. In an instant, I was no longer just an almost graduated college senior. My thesis didn’t matter, my symposium didn’t matter. My friends, my work, my classes – none of it had any significance. I immediately packed a backpack and drove 3 1/2 hours to spend the next week in a hospital, feeding a recovering girl ice chips, massaging sore muscles, and helping her go to bathroom in the middle of the night. It was the hardest thing I had ever done.

I returned to school that Saturday at my parents’ urging.

Sunday was the most meaningful communion of my life.

Earlier this year, when I read One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp, I knew that it was going to be the most life-changing, non-Bible book I’ve ever read. And over the last months, it’s continued to echo reminders of grace in my life.

Eucharisteo

Greek for “to give thanks”, its root word, chara, means “joy”. In giving thanks for all things, we find that the joy of the Lord really is our strength.

I had the kind of week no one can prepare you for and no one ever wants to have. It started with the kind of phone call no one wants to get and sent me to places no one wants to be in.

In the early morning, as I sat in the critical care unit, I read:

Lean into the ugly

Whisper thanks

Give thanks for all things

At all times

Because He is all good.

Finding ways to give thanks in the darkness didn’t mean it wasn’t the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It meant I was receiving the grace to do it for another minute, hour, day.

And the grace strung those days together, turning fear into gratitude and desperation into hope.

Until, it was time to face the Eucharist on Sunday morning.

The ultimate giving of thanks.

I walked into church and I saw those communion plates shining gold right up in front and my heart went to my stomach. Tears flowed freely and my neighbor wordlessly acquired a box of tissues. I sat in the church at the cross and let the lament happen. Everything I didn’t let myself feel all week poured itself right out of my heart. And then I took that bread – the Word of God – on which I survive, the Body of Christ broken for me, and looked around at my family, my church family, doing this together. We took the cup – the Blood of Jesus – poured out for our salvation, our life, and how do you not rejoice?

And that’s when I felt it the realest I ever have: eucharisteo joy is not just about giving thanks when things are common or good or great, it’s about giving thanks when it’s as dark as it can possibly be and we’re just hoping for one candle to be lit. It’s about believing in a light that will shine in the darkness and not be overcome.

I’ve found myself wishing I had three hands because then I could play guitar and raise one hand up in lamenting worship and express my honesty and eucharisteo physically as well as with my heart.

I read Hosea this week and it solidified its place as my favorite book. I read it and I see who I am and who I’m not and it stills me.

Therefore, behold, I will allure her and bring her into the wilderness, and I will speak tenderly and to her heart. There I will give her vineyards and make the valley of Achor [troubling] to be for her a door of hope and expectation. And she shall sing there and respond as in the days of her youth and as the time when she came up out of the land of Egypt. Hosea 2:14-15

That just makes me fall deeper in a sea of love. The valley of troubling becomes a door of hope. She will sing.

I drew them with cords of kindness, with bands of love, and I was to them as one who lifts up and eases the yoke over their cheeks, and I bent down to them and gently laid food before them. Hosea 11:4

I knew (recognized, understood, and had regard for) you in the wilderness, in the land of great drought. Hosea 13:5

To be understood when you are confused, to be found when you are lost, to be known when you feel so very small, this is the river of eucharisteo satisfying the aching dryness of a weary soul.

But I think the hardest part of the hard eucharisteo is coming to terms with how selfish I am and how little I think of other people, and then when I do, how hard and foreign it is to put myself last over and over again. I don’t know how to do that, and I don’t like how it feels and I don’t like that I don’t like it. I am selfish and foolish and I only want the good and I can’t see that God is good at all times.

And so I sit with the body and the Body and the Blood and I weep and I give repent and I give thanks and I lament.

Eucharisteo

Return to your rest, o my soul
For the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.
Psalm 116:7