Communal Life

January 20, 2020

The goal of God for human life is transformation into the likeness of God and participation in the communal fellowship of the Triune God. When humanity fully participates in the circle of God’s loving fellowship, then the reign of God has fully arrived.

This does not entail a loss of finitude or creatureliness. When glorified in the new heaven and new earth with glorified bodies that conform to the glorious body of the resurrected Lord, we will not be saved from finitude but invited, as finite creatures, to share in the divine fellowship of the Triune God. We will not become omniscient or omnipotent because we will not participate in the divine essence; we will not become little gods. But we will become Godlike, that is, full participants in the divine love.

At the same time, our participation in the divine love—because it is experienced as finite creatures—is a journey into the heart of God, deeper into the fellowship of the divine persons. Every morning God will be new to us because as finite creatures the infinite God will always have more to share with us and we will experience that love more deeply. God is like a bottomless well from which we will drink—we will experience daily filling of joy and satisfaction, but there is always more to drink. God will give us more moment by moment throughout eternity.

As community, we will grow more intimate with each other. The relationships we begin now will continue into glory. More than that, they will grow deeper, wider, and more inclusive. Our relationships will not remain static but deepen and expand. We will know not only those with whom we have relationships now, but we will also initiate new relationships with people we have never known. The fullness of the kingdom of God as a community is an interactive web of relationships which will provide opportunity for growth in the new heaven and new earth.

Moreover, the glorified community is not a static accomplishment as if we attain “perfection” and thus there is no more work, no more loving, no more growing, no more knowing, or no more connecting to be done. Rather, the fullness of the kingdom of God involves a dynamic growth into the heart of God as well as a dynamic growth among the people of God. When God recreates, just as God created in the beginning, the Triune God will create a dynamic reality that invites the redeemed community to pursue growth, intimacy, fellowship, and relationship within the new creation.

The oneness of the people of God will emerge brightly upon the new earth, and the unity of the body of Christ will be recognized as a gift of God’s gracious work. But the oneness does not entail some kind of Stepford human beings who are all identical. Rather, the oneness, like the oneness of the original creation, includes a diversity and a dynamism that reflects the reality of God who is both three and loving while at the same time remaining one.

The fullness of the kingdom, then, is a communal reality created in the image of God’s Triune fellowship. It is the experience of intimacy without fear, love without suspicion, and trust without doubt. It is love because God is love. There are no more barriers, no more ethnic bigotry, no more snobbish class wars, and no more alienation or marginalization. The kingdom of God will experience community in a way that images the community of God’s own life and participate in the community of God’s life.

Divine Judgment

January 16, 2020

As we read the story of God in the Bible, we see over and over again where God purposes to set things right, does—in fact—set things right, and promises to ultimately set everything right. God will not let evil stand; God will not let evil go unchecked; and God will not let evil win.

When people filled the earth with violence, God renewed the earth with a flood. When Egypt would not let God’s people go, it suffered divine judgment. When Israel did not care for its poor and shed innocent blood, God sent them into exile. When the Messiah came to the temple, he turned over its tables of injustice and exploitation. When the powers killed the Messiah, God judged the powers through the resurrection of the Messiah and set the world right through the exaltation of the Messiah to God’s right hand.

God’s vindication of the Messiah, and its corresponding subversion of the powers, is the revelation of God’s final goal, which is: God will set things right.

This is the essence of divine judgment. God discerns between good and evil; God destroys evil; and God ensures the triumph of good. And this is how the story of God has played out throughout the theodrama, throughout Scripture.

At the same time, God does not act as quickly or as thoroughly as we like. We want it over now, and we pray for the full reign of God in the world now. When we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we are praying for God’s final discernment between good and evil, God’s final destruction of evil, and God’s final triumph over evil. We are praying that God will set things right. We are praying, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

There will come a day, a judgment day, when the distinction between good and evil will become clear. We will see evil in all its stark reality, and we will reject it and acknowledge its opposition to the life of God. God will purge all evil from the creation, and evil will be destroyed and eliminated from God’s creation so that there is no more curse, no more sea, and no more evil in God’s new creation (Revelation 21:1-6; 22:3).

Judgment is that process by which God separates evil from good and separates the sheep from the goats. This separation not only identifies and clarifies the reality of evil, but it also refines and purges people so that the people of God are perfected in the love of God. Judgment, then, is the moment where evil is identified, humanity is examined, the earth is purged of its evil, the people of God are fully sanctified, and the people of God are invited into the new creation to live upon a new earth where righteousness dwells.

It often seems like God does not care about evil because God permits it to exist in such quantity with such intensity. We sometimes doubt whether God is all that concerned about evil and the trauma it creates.

The story of God, however, assures us that God does care. God examines humanity, and God discerns the difference between good and evil. God will destroy evil, and good will triumph. We see this in the life, death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus. And that is our hope. God will judge evil and exalt the good. So, we continue to pray, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

The Resurrection of Creation

January 13, 2020

Though often neglected, salvation also includes the liberation of the cosmos from its bondage to decay and destruction. The whole cosmos groans, along with humanity, for relief from the frustration to which the world has been subjected. God saves the cosmos by renewing it, by ushering in a new or renewed heaven and earth.

This hope is rooted in God’s promise to Abraham. The land, which includes the whole cosmos, according to Romans 4:13, is the inheritance of Israel. Abraham is the heir of the cosmos. The creation now belongs to a descendant of Abraham, the Son of David, the Son of God. As co-heirs with Jesus, we, too, are heirs of the cosmos.

Based on this promise to Abraham, according to Peter, “we wait for the new heavens and new earth, where righteousness will dwell” (2 Peter 3:13). God promised Abraham an inheritance, and that inheritance is a new heaven and a new earth. The Christian hope includes a new earth.

Too often Christians have thought they must escape the creation and fly away in glory to some eternal celestial heaven. If we mean that we want to escape the “present evil age” or escape the decaying, destructive powers of death, then I understand that point. I, too, want to escape that. God will dissolve all the evil and destroy the powers that enslaved the creation. But the biblical story is not ultimately about escape but redemption. 

God redeemed the body of Jesus through raising him from the dead and transforming his death-bound body into an immortal body. This is our hope as well. One day God will redeem our bodies through raising us from the dead and transforming our death-bound bodies into immortal bodies. This is also the hope of the creation itself.

The creation groans to be “set free” or liberated from “its bondage to decay,” and it hopes to share in the “freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). The resurrection of the creation is rooted in the resurrection of God’s people just as the resurrection of God’s people is rooted in the resurrection of God’s Messiah. The resurrection of Jesus, our own resurrection, and the resurrection of the creation are inextricably tied together. The resurrection of Jesus is the inauguration of new creation, our resurrection is our participation in the new creation, and the creation itself becomes new because it is the dwelling place of the resurrected people of God with their resurrected Messiah.

In this way, the creation is like a mother about to give birth to something new (Romans 8:22). The creation presently experiences something akin to labor pains as it groans in eager expectation for its liberation and transformation. The present creation will give birth to a new creation just as our bodies will give birth to new bodies in the resurrection.

The Abrahamic promise was first given to ethnic Israel but, by faith and because of the Messiah, it includes the nations as well. Perhaps on the new heaven and new earth the redeemed of ethnic Israel will dwell in Palestine—in the land between the rivers of Egypt and Babylon—and the rest of the earth will belong to the people of God among the nations as they again reign on the earth with God. The kingdom of God will fill the earth.

The earth is the inheritance of God’s people as Jesus promised: “The meek shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). One day the reign of God will fill it from the east to the west, from the north to the south. The whole earth, unlike its present condition, will be “Holy to the Lord” (Zechariah 14:20).

The Resurrection of Humanity

January 9, 2020

The hope of the Christian faith is the transformation of human life from its present bondage to sin and death into a new humanity where the love of God is perfected in our souls and our bodies are equipped for living in the new heaven and new earth. Our future glorification is a transformation or metaphorsis into the likeness of Jesus the Messiah–the new human–in both body and soul. It is a passing from this present old way of living in the God’s good creation to a new way of living in God’s new heaven and new earth.

We are saved from death, and thus our bodies are resurrected and transformed. We are also saved from corruption, and thus our souls—our hearts—are fully transformed. Through our union with Christ, we become a recreated humanity as the image of God is renewed and glorified. This is our final state of glorification as we are united with the glorified Christ who is the new human, and he reigns over creation in a glorious, resurrected body.

This resurrected body is neither immaterial nor some kind of ethereal reality. Rather, it is material and Spiritual. What I mean is our bodies will have material substance. They will share in the materiality of the new heaven and new earth but animated by the Holy Spirit rather than by “flesh and blood.” The life of the immortal body is not sustained by food and blood as in the present Adamic world, but it is sustained by the life-giving Holy Spirit in the new creation conformed to the life of the New Adam who is the Lord Jesus. The hope of the Christian faith is not an immortal soul but the immortal body which is a part of the new creation in the new heaven and new earth. Our redemption—our salvation—includes the redemption of our bodies.

The soul—or, whatever we call our inner selves—is perfected in the new heaven and new earth. While the process of perfection began in the past and continues in the present, it is not complete until we fully participate in the life of Christ at our resurrection. Then we shall fully be as he is though we do not know what that is like because we only now experience a foretaste of that future. We, like Jesus, will experience transfiguration in the new creation. We will be permanently transfigured into the fullness of God’s image and thus become a new humanity in both body and soul.

We will be saved in the new creation to image God in the new heaven and new earth. We will be saved for eternal communion with God and to serve God as God’s image bearers in the new temple, the new creation. God will restore our original dignity and function, and God will glorify us by reinstating our dominion or reign over the creation. In this way, with transformed bodies and souls, we will co-rule with God in the renewed cosmos.

The Resurrection of Jesus

January 7, 2020

Death is an enemy.

On occasion death can be a relative good. When the quality of life, for example, is significantly diminished and there is unbearable pain, we might think dying is better than living—but only in a relative sense. Life is better than death since God created us for life, not death.

But death, the enemy, reigns. We are powerless before it. We cannot control it. We have no authority over it. Death comes when it wills. We may be able to delay it, but it still comes.

Indeed, death has a long history. Though shalom or peace once ruled the garden of Eden in which God delighted and where God rested, sin vandalized the goodness of creation and death assumed its dictatorship. Death invaded Eden, and now chaos reigns through death. In Adam, Paul wrote, all die.

Without hope, death gives way to despair. But God has a plan. Jesus the Messiah is God’s response to living east of Eden. Resurrection is God’s answer to death. God does not intend for the creation to disappear into nothingness, including our bodies. God will raise our bodies from the dead that they might live in the renewed creation, the new heaven and new earth.

God has a plan, and it is Jesus the Messiah. Jesus was not only human—authentically human in every way, but he is the new human through his resurrection. He is the first of a new humanity, one that will live forever in resurrected bodies on a renewed earth. His resurrection promises a future for humanity. In Christ, Paul wrote, all are made alive.

Jesus is the first of a coming harvest. Jesus is the first fruit of that harvest; there is more to come. The resurrection of Jesus belongs to the future even though it occurred in the past as a promise of the future.

The resurrection of Jesus is a preview of coming attractions. But this preview does not leave us wondering what the end of the drama is. Instead, in the resurrection of Jesus, we see death destroyed.

The resurrection of Jesus is the power of God that destroys all authority, power, and dominion. Death no longer reigns, but Jesus does. The empire no longer wields power, but the kingdom of God does. Satan no longer holds the keys of Hades or death, but the living Christ does.

Death is the last enemy and it will not last. Death will not win. This is what we celebrate every Sunday, and this is what we celebrate on Easter. God has given us hope in this life and through the resurrection God will give us life after death—not just life “in heaven” after death but life in the new heaven and new earth after the resurrection.

God will not abandon God’s people in the grave. Life wins. Death will lose.

Life in the Spirit – Waiting in Hope

January 7, 2020

Life in the Spirit is always filled with joy, but it is also always filled with lament.

It is both because we live in the in-between times. We live in the space of the “already but not yet.” We rejoice because we already know God’s salvation, and, at the same time, we groan over the sufferings of this present world. We are always groaning and rejoicing because we live in this moment when, though new creation has already begun, it has not yet been fully realized.

This means we must wait. Waiting is precarious. It doesn’t always feel safe. Indeed, it is perilous at times and often uncertain. Waiting is painful; it opens the door to fear. Waiting tests faith. Waiting demands endurance. Though we already experience God’s salvation through the presence of the Holy Spirit, we nevertheless wait with endurance for the full realization of our hope (Romans 8:26).

While we wait, we often suffer. But this suffering, as strange as it may sound, is something in which we boast. Paul tells that we boast not only “in our hope of sharing the glory of God,” but “we also boast in our sufferings” (Romans 5:2-3).

It makes sense to boast in hope. Standing in the grace of God, we have peace with God because we have been declared right with God through Jesus the Messiah. Therefore, we have hope. But this hope has not yet been fully realized, and, consequently, we wait. As we wait, we suffer. And we boast in our sufferings.

Still, does it make sense to boast in suffering? Wherein does the boast lie? Is suffering meaningful? What is gained through suffering?

Paul boasts in suffering because he knows what it produces. We boast in suffering, Paul says, because we know it produces endurance. The word Paul uses refers to something that stands up under pressure. It is squeezed, pressed, and molded into something; it becomes something. Suffering is a crucible, a kind of pressure-cooker. What it produces is something that has withstood the pressure and been formed by it.

We boast in suffering, Paul says, because we know endurance produces character. This is what the pressure produces. The word Paul uses refers to a tested character, or as one older translation puts it, “approvedness.” Endurance produces an approved character, one that has been tested and refined by the process. Through suffering, we grow into something; we gain something. Suffering produces a tested and formed faith.

We boast in suffering, Paul says, because we know that character produces hope. At some point, we confess that the process of suffering has produced something worth the struggle. And that value is hope. It is out of the suffering that we learn to hope, and it is because we stand in the grace of God that we are able to hope. Suffering does not subvert our hope. It produces hope, and this hope does not disappoint us.

Hope is not some kind of self-actualization as if we produce hope through our own efforts or right-thinking. On the contrary, hope is something produced through suffering because of the presence of the Holy Spirit who has poured the love of God into our hearts.

Suffering produces hope because we know the love of God through faith, and we experience the hope of the Holy Spirit in the process of endurance that forms our character. We hope because of what God does in the power and pouring out of the Spirit into our hearts, and we experience that hope through the suffering we endure. In this way, we wait in hope.

Life in the Spirit – Lament

January 7, 2020

Life in the Spirit is always filled with joy, but it is also always filled with lament.

That sounds rather strange, doesn’t it? How can it be both? It is both because we live in-between the times. We live in the space of the “already but not yet.” We rejoice because we already know God’s salvation, and, at the same time, we groan over the sufferings of this present world. We are always groaning and rejoicing because we live in this moment when, though new creation has already begun, it has not yet been fully realized.

Some think that Christians should only rejoice, no matter what their circumstances. They find no place for lament as people who live in the Spirit. While there is always a place for gratitude in our lives, even when we are suffering, there is also space for lament as well. Though, for example, Paul was filled with hope and joy, he also groaned. Even though we have the first fruits of the Spirit, we nevertheless still groan while we wait for the fullness of new creation (Romans 8:23).

Lament, grief, and protest have their rightful place in hearts filled with the Spirit of God. Jesus himself lamented upon the cross, wept at the grave of a friend, and protested the unjust of economics at the temple. Indeed, we might say that the presence of the Spirit gives us voice in such laments, griefs, and protests.

It is because we are filled with the Spirit and enjoy the fruit of the Spirit in our lives that our voices are raised in lament. We groan over the suffering and evil in the creation, and we raise our voice to God whom we ask to end this suffering and rid the world of its evil.

It is because we are filled with the Spirit and enjoy the fruit of the Spirit in our lives that we weep over death, violence, and injustice. We weep at the graves of family and friends, though we weep as those who have hope. We weep over the violence that fills the earth, including our schools and homes.

It is because we are filled with the Spirit and enjoy the fruit of the Spirit in our lives that we protest the injustice in the world. We protest against evil in all its forms, including racial, economic, and gender injustice. We raise our voices in complaint, and we ask God to do something about the injustices that surround us.

Life in the Spirit means that we groan, and our groanings take the form of lament, grief, and protest. We groan, in part, because the Spirit beckons us to a future where there is no suffering, death, and injustice. We groan because the Spirit moves us to acknowledge the frustrations of a creation bound over to decay. We groan because the Spirit has instilled in us a hope and a longing for the fullness of new creation.

When we lament, grieve, or protest, we join our voices with the voice of the Spirit who laments, grieves, and protests with us.

Perfected Through Suffering

December 30, 2019

Why does God permit suffering in God’s good creation? Everyone from the small child to the career philosopher and theologian has asked this question. But I have answer, which, for me, is the only honest answer. I don’t know. I simply don’t know. Whatever reasons God may have for permitting evil and suffering, I not only don’t know them. Further, though the story of God does not leave us totally clueless, even if I had some sense of the depth of God’sreasons I would never understand them. My intelligence is too shallow; my perspective too limited; and my heart too self-interested to fully understand God’s rationale. In other words, my brain is too small to accommodate the fullness of God’s wisdom.

At the same time, the theodrama, the story of God, is not silent about suffering. In fact, it provides the most astounding response to suffering the world has ever heard. It is the story of Jesus.

God became a human being; God became flesh. As a human being, subject to the pains and struggles of the present creation because of that flesh, God suffered alongside of us. God suffered with us. Prior to this incarnation, God had never experienced hunger, thirst, or death. God had never experienced the temptations of the flesh. God became one of us so that God might know us from the inside out as one who has walked in our shoes and fully experienced the human condition, particularly our suffering.

But that is only the beginning. The preacher in Hebrews describes this reality with shocking language. Jesus, the incarnate God, was perfected through suffering (Hebrews 2:10; 5:8-10). But what does that mean?

In part, it refers to the process of spiritual formation that matures our character through the trials of life. Jesus certainly experienced this in the wilderness as well as throughout his life. He grew in wisdom, and he learned obedience by the things which he suffered. In this way, God does use suffering to bear the fruit of righteousness in the lives of the disciples of Jesus (Hebrews 12:11).

But I think we can say more. Jesus, as God incarnate, followed us into our suffering not only to share in it but also to lead us out of it. He came to defeat it, overcome it, and liberate us from it. He followed us into death and pursued us into the grave. But Jesus suffered in order to create a path out of suffering so that he might bring others, along with himself, to glory. He led captivity captive and forged a path through suffering into glory. He was perfected through suffering so that he might perfect us.

In this way, Jesus not only shares our suffering, but we also share his. When we suffer, we suffer with Jesus just as he suffered for us. When we follow Jesus into his ministry, our discipleship shares in the affliction of Jesus, and by this we know the fellowship of his suffering. And if we know the fellowship of his suffering, we will also know the power of his resurrection—not just in the future but even in the present (Philippians 3:10). We know if we suffer with him, just as he suffered with us, we will also be glorified with him, just as he was glorified in his resurrection and exaltation (Romans 8:17).

Already But Not Yet

December 30, 2019

For disciples of Jesus, living in the present world is shaped by three horizons.

First, we, along with everyone else, recognize the present creation is filled with violence and suffering; it is filled with evil. The human condition is far from ideal as racism, homophobia, sexism, murder, and injustice appear at every turn. Moreover, tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes leave a path of destruction in their wake. As the apostle Paul put it, the creation has been subjected to futility or frustration. The creation has not yielded its full promise but lives in a bondage given over to decay. Consequently, even the creation itself, along with all humanity, groans for liberation; it groans for redemption.

At the same time, though groaning with the creation, disciples of Jesus also experience joy and hope because new creation has already begun and even now we enjoy the fruit of God’s redemptive work. For example, we already experience redemption through the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit who is the first fruit of a coming harvest. By the presence of the Spirit, we already participate in the new creation. The Holy Spirit knows our hearts, searches them, and intercedes for us. The Holy Spirit groans with us and also secures our hearts through the hope of redemption and liberation. While we groan over the brokenness and violence that is still part of the present creation, we also may know peace, joy, and hope by the presence of the Spirit in our hearts.

We groan because we have not yet fully experienced the promise of a new creation. At present, the creation groans in its bondage, and we groan over the evil in the world as well as our own suffering. Nevertheless, we are rescued through this groaning by hope, which is poured into our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our hope is the future redemption of our bodies in the resurrection as well as the future liberation of creation. We hope for the fullness of new creation when God will renew the present creation and rid it of its evils, sufferings, and chaos. While we have not yet experienced this future, it is our hope. Because God has raised Jesus from the dead and poured the Spirit into our hearts, we wait in hopeful expectation for that future.

We wait. That is the difficult part. Waiting involves endurance because our hopes and dreams are not immediately realized, and sometimes it seems they are mere illusions, the product of self-deception and wishful thinking. Waiting is a process of endurance drawn from the witness of the Spirit in our hearts who orients us to the future God is preparing for us. But waiting is hard.

This is one reason disciples of Jesus live under three horizons. On the one hand, we acknowledge the reality of the present evil age, and we suffer because of it. Yet, on the other hand, we already know the joy of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, which enables our endurance. But, and this is the third horizon, we do not yet fully experience what God has in store for us. We live in-between the times. We name the evil of the age, while we, at the same time, know the joy of the Spirit as we await the future.

Life in the Spirit: Transformation (Part 2)

December 19, 2019

Disciples of Jesus, like their Messiah, have been anointed with the Holy Spirit. Disciples of Jesus walk by the Spirit, live by the Spirit, and are led by the Spirit. The Spirit is the air we breathe and the one who empowers us. Ours is a life in the Spirit.

But what do we mean when we say that disciples of Jesus live in the Spirit? The Theodrama emphasizes three dimensions of this life in the Spirit: (1) communion, (2) transformation, and (3) giftedness.

First, as previously discussed, the Spirit is the one by whom we commune with the Triune God. Second, the Spirit is the one by whom God transforms us into the image of Christ. Now, lastly, we turn our attention to the gifts the Holy Spirit distributes within the body of Christ.

The Spirit distributes the gifts of God. These gifts range from gifts of mercy, teaching, leadership, generosity (Romans 12:3-8) to wisdom, knowledge, healings, miracles, prophesy, and tongues (1 Corinthians 12:8-10). These lists are exhaustive but illustrative of God’s work within the community of faith for the sake of the body and the world. The same Spirit disperses a diversity of gifts (1 Corinthians 12:11).

The Holy Spirit empowers our ministry as the Spirit gifts each of us for service in our faith communities as well as in the world. The Spirit equips for the “common good”—for communities of faith, for human society, and for creation. We seek these gifts through prayer, discipleship, and mentoring relationships.

God gives the Spirit as a communing and transforming presence. God created us for communion and redeems us to transform us. And God goes one step further. God gifts us so that we might participate in God’s mission.

“Through the Spirit,” Paul wrote, God gives the body of Christ the capacity to serve each other and the world. These “manifestations of the Spirit” are for the “common good,” and the gifts are “activated” and distributed by the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 12:7-8, 11).

It is important, however, to note that presence comes first, then transformation, and finally giftedness. We might think of this as a spiral of activity where there is reciprocity but also movement toward a goal. God dwells in order to commune. That communion transforms us, and, as people in the process of transformation, God gifts us so that we might participate in the mission of God. The gifts are best used by transformed people. This is why 1 Corinthians 13 comes between 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. Giftedness without love is useless; more than useless, it is detrimental. Transformation must shape the use of the Spirit’s gifts.

The gifts of the Spirit refer whatever capacity we have to participate in the mission of God. Whatever talent we use to further the mission of God–whether it is software development, musical ability, environmental passion—they are the gifts of God. Too often we talk about talents as if they are natural dispositions independent of God’s work among us. One of the reasons we feel so distant from the Holy Spirit is because we secularize our gifts. we minimize the Spirit’s role. Giftedness, inclusive of talents, is a manifestation of the Spirit!

We see the Spirit when transformed people (or, better, people in the process of transformation) use their gifts to further the mission of God, which is the transformation of the whole world. We see the Spirit when an environmental biologist cares for the creation, when a nurse compassionately cares for the sick, when a debt mediator reconciles a creditor and a debtor, and when an actor embodies the gospel in a drama (even if the drama never mentions God at all). We “see” the Spirit’s gifts in action when brokenness is healed.

The Spirit gifts us, not for our own glory, but for the glory of God as the mission of God is furthered in the world.