I grew up in a musical household. My mother would play guitar in the living room and I would sit with her singing worship songs and camp tunes for hours. She used to love taking the break in between worship songs to sing ‘On Top of Spaghetti‘ with me; at least until I learned the alternative lyrics of ‘On Top of the School House‘! Some how whenever I broke into a different rift of words, the tune would sour and she’d stop playing. How important are the lyrics to the notes which are played along with them? Deeper still, must there be proper emotional response to the lyrics which go along with such notes?
Bevans and Shroeder reminded me of that early lesson in life with their analogy that, “Like a complex fugue or polyphonic motet, God’s unity is constituted by diversity and God’s diversity is rooted in unity of will and purpose; the church is the church inasmuch as it has been included in that harmony.” (Pg. #298) The lyrics of the church’s ecclesiology must be in the harmony and unity of the message to which it embodies or it ceases to be the church entirely! Nor can we void the internal depth of emotion to which that message is to be embraced as a missional community itself!
The contemplation of these last few months has brought a renewed vision to my heart and mind in the significance of a united harmony between the movements and ecclesiological practices of the individual believer and the church as a whole. Together we are on a mission which does not find significance in and of itself, but rather it points towards greater experiences of faith, hope, and love in the promise of a richer and fuller future. To use Bevans and Schroeder’s words, “Christians are incorporated into the divine life and experience a foretaste of the world’s destiny of full communion with God, with one another and with all of creation.” (pg. #299)
I’d be remised to say, like the small taste I had as a boy, I can’t wait for that day to sit with my mother again and sing praises to God; and I promise, I’ll get the lyrics right!
“I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (Luke 22:15) Jesus words echo through the cosmos of space and time as the church lifts bread and cup in the liturgy of communion again and again. Jesus embraced both the communion of Jewish culture in the Passover with the embodied call of the missio Dei in suffering and the cross. Both place and time found transcendence in everliving Christ and the Word of God.
As a boy I remember growing up in the Anglican Church. I practically knew the liturgy by heart and could walk through the alter boy routine with a blindfold. By my early teens though, it had lost its meaning. What was the spiritual significance, the enfleshing truth to reciting such words from a book? It would be years later that in a Church of Christ, communion would become a significance of faith and relevant again through the practice of shared meditation!
I told you this brief story as a reflection for you to see the significance of recognizing the transcendent realities of the missio Dei finding a communion of sorts to the culture and inculturation of contextualized space and time. As Bevans and Schroeder share in articulation to their sixth constant, “culture, for eyes of faith, becomes a way of deepening in a fully human and contextual way, human knowledge of and relation with the Mystery that is ineffable and yet closer to us then we are to ourselves.” (Pg. #303)
As I have journeyed through the history of the church in the last few months, I have come to recognize the ever deepening significance of the Word becoming flesh and blood through the communion of the missio Dei and the culture of the people it finds rest in. We cannot be afraid of the creativity in which the gospel finds expression in the everyday lives of its followers. Authority only finds root in what we give authority too and in giving all that authority to Christ in faith, culture ceases to rule and instead becomes a tool under Kingdom authority to express a story greater then itself.
The incarnation of the gospel is a marriage in which all find significance and meaning in the communion which brings strength to our cultures, the enriching of our diversity, and the eternal guidance of our mission as His church. As Francis Bacon said, “It’s not what we eat but what we digest that makes us strong; not what we gain but what we save that makes us rich; and not what we profess but what we practice that gives us integrity.”
 Cole, Neil. Organic Leadership: Leading Naturally Right Where You Are. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2009) Pg. #113.
We crowded into a dark lit theatre as we awaited the beginning to the telling of an age old story filled with adventure, action, violence, love, mystery, and yes, even the miraculous!! As the lights went down it was clear, no one around us could be recognized for their beliefs, no ones theology was visible to the neighbour beside them let alone written on their sleeves. We truly were Nicodemus’s in exodus of reality to a world of a called people and the wrestling with a God called “I AM”!!
I love these moments, the ones where we can retreat into our imaginations, seek out the deeper questions and meanings of these cultural stories, and see how they shape our lives and who we are! Yet, when the lights all come back on, it seems like the chains of dogmatic judgements, theological and denominational boundaries, all creep back in to enslave us back to the Christian Right to which we are supposedly apart of; as though our lack of imagination, our literal word for word expectations, and our inability to “read between the lines“, some how sets us a part from the world as people of righteousness; as people who are superior to that of the “non-believer”. What a people of enslaved grotesque spirituality we have become!
Ridley Scott, in his film ‘Exodus – Gods and Kings’ has taken up the story of YHWH and his people once again. Yes, you heard right! It is not a story about Moses, Ramesses, or Pharaoh. It is a story about YHWH, the God named ‘IAM’, and the people he chose to call his own!! Hollywood got it right and it is the brilliance behind Scott’s film.
Sitting on the front opening to a house of a make believe king, Moses corrects an overseer to the Hebrew people who interprets the peoples name as meaning “One Who Fights With God” and rebukes him saying, “No, it means ‘One Who Wrestles With God’! There is a difference you know!” Ironically, historically this is what the Egyptian people did themselves with their gods as they appeased them through worship and sacrifice. To rebel against this was to fight their perceived powers; most often found in the natural elements of their culture. This is what the ten plagues was about! YHWH broke forth in showing His power by protecting his people while demolishing the gods of Egypt. Whether it was Osiris of the nile and the river of blood or Pharaoh himself pronouncing death to the first born; all of Egypts gods would fall to the greater power of YHWH, “I AM”, and his people. (Click Here to see the fall of Egypts gods to YHWH)
This paints an even deeper theme of wrestling that we find in the film. It wasn’t just the Hebrew people who wrestled with God; it was the Egyptians too! Who was this YHWH who held authority over their gods? Who were these Hebrew people, those called people of “I AM”? Who are they as a nation called Egypt, neighbours to YHWH’s called nation?
It wasn’t just Moses who sat on the shore of the Red Sea questioning God, “If I am not an Egyptian General, if not a deliverer, a messiah to the Hebrew people; who am I?” Ramesses too questioned his vocation and calling in the eyes of his creational identity. What are the issues a king is suppose to address – issues of glory, greatness, and inspiration or issues of legacy, death, and the altars of a tomb? From his own lips. “Am I a pharaoh who is to live as a Bedouin his hole life?” What contemplations that question may offer when you consider the coming 40 years Moses would spend roaming the dessert with the shadow of God in the midst of a Tabernacle moving from place to place!!
In Exodus 6:7 God speaks to his people and says, “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” What does it mean to truly know God?
The word “to know” in Hebrew is “yada“. Yet yada is to know in the most deepest way, the most intimate way, so that ones vocation, ones calling and characteristics, ones very identity is intertwined into that which they are in relationship of knowing. To yada God, to know “I AM”, is to be eternally wrestling with the very fabric of what he is doing in shaping your character, your personhood, your life. God is saying, “I AM in your work place!”, “I AM in your home!”, “I AM in your thoughts!”, “I AM in your marriage’s!”, “I AM in your friendships!”, “I AM in your churches!”, “I AM in your theatres!”, “I AM in your life!!”
Yes, this is a film of a great many of people who wrestle with God and the ways in which they encounter him. It is a wrestling that still happens today as we are confronted in dimly lit theatres and the oppression of the Christian Right’s cracking whip to resist wrestling with the one called “I AM” as apposed to the one called “I say”.
I’m sure, like me, there is much that you are wrestling with in Ridley Scott’s latest telling of Exodus; some of which may be fair. Yet let us wrestle with this freely as people who God has given a promised land of imagination, freedom of expression, creative artistic talents, and a living heart for the one true God. And to those who would turn a face of condemning judgement over those who dare to see beyond the confines of earthly empires and institutional structures; I say to you… LET MY PEOPLE GO!!!
I realize that I’m a nobody. I’m just a small house church leader in SE Calgary who’s voice is but a whisper in the midst of great speakers such as people like David Platt. But, I couldn’t help but cringe as I listened to these words in his post “Why You Should Not Believe in ‘Heaven is for Real‘“. Have we so lost our imaginations to the power of telling our story?
My mother lived to be 39 years old. I was 15 when we both were in a car accident in 1994 where she passed away and I would spend the next 3 months fighting for my life in the General Hospital Intensive Care Unit. Over that year I witnessed several miraculous experiences but one will be with me for the rest of my life.
I laid there, starring at the wall at the foot of my ICU bed listening to the beeps and the whirrs of the machines around me. Then a small pin light appeared at the foot of my bed. It grew over the next few minutes until it was the size of maybe a yoga ball that radiated all around the room. I didn’t really think or feel anything until a voice spoke to me from the light. My eyes filled up with tears and I could feel my self choking a bit as I heard my mother’s voice. It was warm and filled with love and only spoke a few words. She said, “You and your father will be ok.”
It perplexed me in many ways that I won’t share here but I felt a great sense of hope and peace knowing that my mother was with Jesus. Perhaps that is what many of these experiences and stories of the miraculous are meant to mean; a struggle or paradox between our rationality and reason with the ever present tense of the Kingdom of hope and peace being near! Should we ever hide these stories? Should we be quiet out of the fear that others simply will not understand?
David Platt is right that several of the biblical authors also experienced prophetic visions of heaven with Isaiah seeing the Lord on a throne with his robe filling the Jerusalem temple and angels all around him (Isa. 6); Ezekiel envisioning fire lashing out with gleaming metal (Eze. 1); not of Paul’s vision, but the testimony/story of another man’s vision of the “third heaven” – “whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.” (2 Cor. 12:2) (Interesting to note here that Paul himself accepted the story of a fellow believer while leaving the wonders of it up to God); and of course John’s vision of doorways to heaven, thrones, and voices like trumpets (Rev. 4)! Yet each grappled with what words to use to describe what they saw and each were ostracized, judged, and told to be quiet by the priests and community around them much like those who share such stories today.
There were also many who experienced resurrection and coming back from the dead such as the young girl who Jesus laid his hand upon as she “awoke” (Matt. 9:18-26); a widow’s son (Luke 7:11-17); and most famously, the story of Lazarus (John 11:1-44). Again, you are correct David Platt that the scriptures do not speak of any stories or experiences that these people shared and yet, that does not mean they did not share any. What stories do you suppose Mary and Martha shared with the villagers and those they saw in their travels? What experiences could Lazarus have spoke of while being dead in the tomb? Who are we to say, or were you there?!
I don’t profess not to struggle with some of the details in people’s visions like Colton Burpo’s story. But I don’t doubt at all that they experienced something significant that greatly affected the trajectory of their lives! So in what ways can these visions and dreams speak to us today?
In the first sense, these events happened to these people and their experiences have deep and meaningful significance to them. They have a right to speak of them and share how God may have spoke into their lives! We may not understand or even agree with everything they share but, we cannot deny that they experienced something in their life and it is shaping who they are.
Secondly, by listening to their stories we can find symbols of hope! By witnessing their testimony and the radical transformation that it has on their lives, we find an epiphany of God’s presence, love, and recognition to our existence. Though we know only in part, God’s glory is still in these stories. They are visions of God’s Kingdom come near in both the personal experience of the individuals and the communal promise of hope to the greatest story ever told!
Perhaps the greatest way we can treat these stories is by taking the advice of James, being quick to listen and slow to speak so that whatever righteousness God might work (James 1:19-20), might be done so through His works and not our own. Or should we become like the Pharisees commanding the crowds to silent at Jesus’ presence?! I think not less the stones begin to cry out! (Luke 19:40) If we all were willing to cry out “The Kingdom of God is near!” without fear of the judgements of others, perhaps then yes David Platt, we will recognize heaven is.. for real!
Lastly David Platt, regarding Kevin Malarkey… Who are we to speak against a person’s birth right and family name let alone that of a boy?! Does not the bible speak of the significance to a person’s family name? These are names of importance, history, meaning, and they deserve respect and honour in any room! To demean and mock them with a tact of bullying is in no way an act of Christ discipleship!
This might completely have you question the legitimacy of my Christian faith but, I am fascinated by apocalyptic films and television shows like ‘The Book of Eli‘ and ‘The Walking Dead‘. I guess I’m just enthralled by the wonder of how society and humanity would live without all the electronic, web connected, and media driven devices we are so used too and impacted by on a daily bases. As I get drawn into the stories and lives of these characters I recognize a simplicity to their practices and yet they each struggle to find meaning, purpose, community, and direction. They become heroic to me in their synergistic desire just to simply live and thrive as a community in mission; even if it is with flesh eating people all around them!
Speaking of eating… I like to say this simple quote while watching these shows that absolutely drives my wife nuts; “Everything’s got to eat some time!” I laugh as she squirms and blurts out with sarcasm, “Erik!” But it is true, is it not?! We might like to think differently but the reality is that these worlds of flesh eating zombies and cannibalistic appetites really aren’t that different from our own world. We simply give it a different title so that it sounds more economic and humane. The word we use is “Consumerism“.
Millions of people spending hours a day wanting, desiring, craving, and some times even obsessing over the self perceived drive for MORE!! And it doesn’t seem to matter how we get it either, whether through sweat factories, cheap labour, political bullying, even war; we want more and even after we get it, we might be subdued for a brief moment but ultimately we fall back to that same drive for more tech gadgets, more money, more clothes, or more vacations. Our lists for more can be never ending! What is it that quenches the scales of guilt towards greed in Dante’s Inferno? A pound of flesh!!
A few days ago I took some time to simply unplug from the grid. No TV. No internet. Ok, I did listen to a little music but who can escape the melodic guitar solos of the likes of Jimmy Hendrix, Jimmy Paige, and Stevie Ray Voughn?! It was a day of simplicity as I cleaned house, did some reading, and hit the weights in my basement. I felt great, rejuvenated, and even a little nostalgic to the days when I lived without all the electronic gadgets my wife and I use today (yes, it is a reality that I’m beginning to get that old!).
Jesus would often retreat to the mountains or go off on his own to unplug from the demanding world around him (Luke 5:15; Matt. 14:23; Mark 1:35; Luke 6:12). Perhaps it was in the same way that he found rejuvenation, a time of refocus, and reconnection with his Father and the mission he came to complete. A mission not so much to take and consume but one to give and submit too. Of course, to complete that mission he couldn’t stay in the mountains; he had to return to that demanding world. Yet, even in the midst of those demands, he was not distracted from the very real purpose and work he came to complete.
My time in retreat reminds me that I have this same need for refocus in my own walk of faith. I must be willing to unplug from the demands of a consumer driven world if I am to become the person that God really wants me to be. I cannot allow my passion and desire for knowledge and understanding of God’s Word to become self consuming and absent of the actual practice of its calling and purpose. To do otherwise might place me into the same realization that one of my favourite characters, Eli, tragically comes to see in himself saying, “I spent so long trying to protect the book; I forgot to do what it says!” If I am not walking in submissive nature to faith and service, I am only one of the walking dead consuming anything and all in the name of more.
“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord.” God’s words here leaped in my heart as I reflected on the meanings to a rule of life. A rule of life must not be one of doctrine, complexity, or teaching, but rather an embrace of breathable naturalism and simplicity to which we ascribe in living communal practice with an expectation of becoming that which we are. Fyodor Dostoevski put it as, “The whole law of human existence lies in this: that man be able to bow down before the infinitely great”
The submission to communal life as a Christian is not sustainable through the life of just one and as our creator, it is God who first makes those relational ties with our inner being as he seeks intimacy and knits the fabric of life into the community around us (Jer. 1:4-10). Miroslav Volf rightly identifies that, “The Christian faith is not primarily about human doing but about human receiving. The barebones formal injunction to which the gospel can be produced is, ‘Receive yourself and your world as a new creation.’”
Catalyzing this receiving of new life and intimacy is the reality of God’s being in the foundation of love. This is not a reaction of motivated love but rather, “God’s love for humanity [as] freely given… The one true God does not need anything from humans, but exists as self-complete and yet not self-enclosed plenitude of self-giving and other receiving of love.” It is in a submission to receiving that love that we can then reflect it in response as an attribute to our being in the imago Dei. This existence however is not limited to our relationships solely between God and us but also in creational community. As we live deeper into this rule of life we recognize that love is not quantifiable and therefore not ours to give and receive, rather there is only one love in the identity of God which is shared and mirrored by all of his creation and intrinsically woven into the DNA of communal practice.
The universal inclusiveness of the Christian community gives birth to an alienation of its practice from that of the world’s understanding. Volf reflects the thoughts that, “through the new birth into a living hope, a ‘sect’ is born. And indeed, before the new born child could take her first breath, her difference, her foreignness, was manifest.” Hospitality and acceptance in the world’s perception is founded on a belief that it is quantified through personal individual meriting and yet, as Christians we fully live out an inclusiveness of hospitality and acceptance for all, despite difference, diversity, or social dictums. We love and entertain as God loves and entertains all!
The freedom in this endeavor to pursue God’s love and redemption of all things, returning his love to that which he creates, brings not a sense of enslavement, but a radical becoming and returning to who we are and who we were meant to be. No longer are we trapped by the self-consuming rules of ego but catalyzed by the movement towards communal self-realization and the rule of life. In Volf’s terms, “Every act of knowing God both satisfies and engenders human curiosity, every encounter with God both quenches and deepens human thirst. In the infinite being of God, the incessant movement of the human spirit begins to arrive at its final rest.”
Rest… indeed, a life long meditation on the practice of Sabbath!
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Je 31:33–34). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
 Dostoevski, Fyodor, Quoted in Philip Yancey’s, Reaching for the Invisible God: What Can We Expect to Find. (Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000),123.
 Miroslav Volf, Captive to the Word: Engaging the Scriptures for Contemporary Theological Reflection. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 51
 Ibid, 140.
 Ibid, 89.
 Ibid, 177.
“Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” – Jeremiah 1:6
Jeremiah was a young man and it seems he felt boxed in by the the pressures of his society’s and cultural expectations for qualification and vocational purpose. It was in his own thoughts and mind that the people around him and the fellow Jewish countrymen would find him lacking. He was too young, lacked in education, failed in pedigree, and generally had no authority for speaking on behalf of God or truth.
It seems like things have not changed much since those days. So often we fall into the patterns of society’s expectation of boxed in rules, perimeters, and requirements for the right to be considered qualified to speak or enact visions for change or mission. Success is even margined by the cultural expectations of independence, self sufficiency, and quality being judged through numbers or profit. It seems authority and power always comes back to that which the individual presents over that of others.
These social and cultural expectations scream at us, “You are not good enough!” “You cannot achieve or act because your not gifted enough, educated enough, wealthy enough, old or young enough, in the right titled or position of authority!” “You lack the abilities to succeed!” It is a worldly noise that fills our minds with the distractions of self doubt to the point that we just simply give up. We don’t even bother to try, and why should we? The world knows we will fail and we know we will fail.
It was here, in this mind set of self doubt, that God spoke to Jeremiah and like him, unless we are willing to quieten our own self defeat, we will miss hearing and listening to our creators voice and calling.
But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.” – Jeremiah 1:6-8
Jeremiah would not find his authority in the world’s expectations but rather would only find it in his relationship with the Lord. He was not to look to his society’s or cultures expectations of character and abilities but rather that of God’s character and abilities entering into his life and personhood.
God has placed you and I in a very special community and neighbourhood! When we look at our neighbours we are not under their judgements but rather sent to them by God’s presence in our lives to speak with his words, love and act with his understandings, and deliver a Spirit of freedom from the worlds expectations of success, power and authority. We live not within the boxed categories of the worlds view but that of our creators view of abilities, talents, and gifts which with him in our lives is endless!
“Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,” – Jeremiah 1:9-10
My neighbour is from Toronto and is a huge Maple Leaf fan. Try as I might, I can’t convince him that the Calgary Flames are a far better team! I must admit, I know I’m dreaming here a bit but, the hope of another 2004 Stanley Cup run just can’t leave my heart. Why am I sharing this story?
Despite the political differences my neighbours and I might have, the reality is God has placed all of us over this separation or relational gap. My neighbour and I can cross over the thresholds of our sports, political, ethical, and religious boundaries and embrace a conversation to which God can speak through and to both of us. We don’t have to have all things in common to relate as it is God’s presence that bridges the words and worlds between us.
“to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”
Listening to the voice of God in the relationship I have with my neighbours begins to break down the barriers of communal self defeat. No longer are they strangers, they are friends and they impact the person I am today. As we share in life together we begin to find parts of our worlds coming together which shape the meanings to authority that we have and our relationships with God.
It is in these relationships that I can plant seeds of thought through my actions and words which can bring God’s presence just a little closer to my neighbours and friends lives, whether they know him or not. In some sense, I see them doing the same with me. Together we are building community which in relationship with God, becomes a building of the Kingdom.