Returning to Eden (But Much More): Judgment, Renewal, and Cosmic Peace

May 31, 2023

Texts: Revelation 20:11-15; 21:1-7; 22:1-5

Days 78-80 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days.

What will “heaven” be like? It is the place where God dwells within a renewed creation, filled with renewed relationships, and an ever deepening intimacy with God, each other, and the creation itself. It is a dynamic of loving intimacy that continually grows without envy, jealousy, violence, and broken relationships. It is not static but dynamic.

Judgment is that process by which God separates evil from good. This separation not only identifies and clarifies the reality of evil, but it also refines and purifies people so that god’s people are fully perfected in the love of God. Judgment is the moment when evil is identified, humanity examined, the earth is purified by fire, and the people of God—fully sanctified by the love of God—are invited into the new creation to live upon a new earth where righteousness dwells.

The new Jerusalem, the dwelling place of God, descends upon the new heaven and new earth to fill the new creation with the glory of God. It is God’s own presence joined in fellowship with God’s people. The creation will never again be filled with pain, sorrow, and death but with joy and life. The curse has been removed, and life will flourish. Having made all things new, the people of God inherit the fullness of the Abrahamic promise, including a people that includes all nations and a land in which to flourish.

This new reality is described as a city with a garden where living water brings life to the cosmos. There is no temple there nor is there any night because God dwells there and fills the city with God’s presence and light, that is, with God’s glory. This is the fundamental goal: God dwells with the creation. Every morning God will be new to the creation because we will never exhaust God’s glory and person, and the creation will enjoy a dynamic communion with God.

In this new creation, humanity is serves the one who sits on the throne, worships God and the Lamb, and reigns with them forever. The original vocation of humanity is renewed—they will reign with God within the new creation.

This reign entails that they will continue to fill the earth with God’s glory as they live in communion with God and each other. They will cultivate the earth through their reign. We might imagine that humanity will continue to create art, songs, literature, etc. as they renew their vocation in the new creation. What exactly that looks like no one really (or certainly fully) knows. But perhaps we can say, it is more than we could ever imagine.

Lord, come quickly.

Three Resurrections: Making All Things New

May 24, 2023

Texts: 1 Corinthians 15:21-28; 50-57; 2 Peter 2:11-13

Days 75-77 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days.

The voice from the throne announced, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5). Ultimately and finally, God makes all things new through resurrection.

Though Jesus was seemingly defeated by the powers in his death, God vindicated him through resurrection. When Jesus came to life again, this was no mere resuscitation but the birth of new creation itself. The body of Jesus was transformed from a life animated by flesh and blood into a body animated by the Spirit of God. His human resurrection body still participated in creation (materiality) but was now enlivened by the immortal life of God’s Spirit.

The resurrection of Jesus is the first fruit of a new humanity as part of this new creation. When we were baptized into Christ, we were baptized into his resurrection to walk a new life in the present and participate in his new creation resurrection in the future. In other words, the resurrection of Jesus entails our resurrection. Our mortal bodies will be transformed into likeness of the immortal body of Jesus the resurrected Messiah. His resurrection is our resurrection.

Furthermore, the resurrection of the children of God through the resurrection of Jesus entails the resurrection of creation itself. Both the body of Jesus and our bodies are part of God’s good creation. They are work of God’s creation and participate in the reality of creation. When God renews our bodies according to the pattern of the resurrection of Jesus, it involves the renewal of creation itself. It is, in effect, the resurrection of creation from death to life, from the bondage of decay to the freedom of liberation. It is a new heaven and new earth—a new creation. New creation resurrection bodies live in the new creation.

In this new (resurrected) heaven and new earth, the resurrected people of God will live and reign with the resurrected King Jesus in the cosmic temple of God upon the new earth forever.

Life in the Spirit: The Work of the Spirit Among Us

May 17, 2023

Texts: 2 Corinthians 3:17-18; 13:13; 1 Corinthians 12:4-7

Days 68-70 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days.

For many the Holy Spirit is an impersonal, imperceptible, and indiscernible force.  Cloaked in mystery, many find it difficult to “get a handle” on the Spirit. The Spirit has no “face” like Jesus nor any personal metaphors, such as parent, mother, or husband, like Israel’s God.

Our desire, of course, is not so much to control or manipulate the Spirit as much as it is to have a way of conceiving or visualizing the Spirit’s identity. Without any framework for understanding, we are at a loss to even identify what the Spirit does in our lives much less experience God through the Spirit.

Our pneumatic imagination needs a little help. Paul, I think, offers such. The Spirit appears in practically every chapter of Paul’s letters, and saturates his theology. While “God in Christ” is the center of Paul’s theology, the Spirit is a living, enabling, and enriching presence that connects redeemed humanity with the Redeemer God. We have access, Paul says, to God in Christ “by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:18).

Without some understanding of the Spirit, then, our experience of God remains in a conceptual wasteland. That is not only lamentable but dangerous. Spiritual discernment entails that we “see” the Spirit at work in our lives or else we will mistake other spirits for the Holy Spirit.

So, what does Paul offer us by way of a conceptual landscape that will help identify the Spirit in our lives. I “see” in Paul a three-fold typology for thinking about the Spirit’s work. This typology is not a box in which to enclose the Spirit, nor is it a gizmo to manipulate the Spirit. Rather, it is a tool to unmask our eyes so that we might “see” what the Spirit is doing–to recognize the Spirit in our lives.


The Spirit’s foundational function is to facilitate communion between God and us. Our communion with God is the “communion of the Holy Spirit” (2 Corinthians 13:12).

Jesus did not leave us as orphans; instead, God poured out the Holy Spirit upon the church. This out-pouring is the gifting of God’s presence among us. We are inhabited by God through the Spirit (Ephesians 2:22); we are the temple of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 6:19). The Spirit is the one through whom we experience God in the present. The Spirit’s presence enables our communion with God; more than that, communion in the Spirit is communion with God.

This presence, which is the fulfillment of God’s presence in the temple in Israel and anticipates the fullness of divine presence in the new heaven and new earth, is how we now live in fellowship with God. We worship in the Spirit (Philippians 3:3), we pray in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18), and we are washed in the Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:11).  We are “in the Spirit because the Spirit of God dwells” in us (Romans 8:9). The Spirit is the air we breathe, and every breath is communion with God.

This communion, of course, is not merely vertical. It is also horizontal, that is, we commune with each other by what we share in the Spirit (Philippians 2:1). We love each other in the Spirit (Colossians 1:8). Because we have all been baptized in the Spirit and have drunk of the same Spirit, we are one body where ethnic, economic, and gender barriers are transcended (1 Corinthians 12:13;  Galatians 3:28).

We “see” the Spirit when we enjoy the sweet fellowship of others, experience the peace and joy of the Spirit in communion with God, and encounter God in the assembly of God’s people as we worship in the Spirit. We must not secularize these moments as if they are produced by our own internal powers. Rather, we relish them and delight in them because we know, by God’s promise, that the Spirit is present to generate them. They are moments where heaven and earth meet in the Spirit.


The Spirit communes with us, and this communion is transformative. The Spirit is no passive presence. On the contrary, the Spirit is an active, enabling and transforming presence. The Spirit dwells within us so that we might live in the Spirit.

Salvation involves transformation. Because we are children of God, God sends the Holy Spirit into our hearts and we experience the intimacy of divine communion. But this is not the end game; it is not God’s goal. This intimacy includes a shared life, and it transforms us. We are increasingly, by the Spirit, transformed (metamorphized!) into the image of Christ from “one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The Holy Spirit is the presence of divine holiness within us, and this holiness bears fruit. Paul called it the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22). This is what it means to “live by the Spirit,” that is, it is to manifest a life of love, joy, peace, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The Spirit leads us into a such a life by renewing our hearts, empowering our souls, and moving our wills.

The presence of the Spirit is a necessary first step for such a life, and without that presence there is no transformation that images Jesus who himself was led and empowered by the Spirit. The reality of that presence, however, is evidenced in a holy life as we are “sanctified by the Spirit” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).

We “see” the Spirit when we are patient with the stubborn, when we are kind to the ungrateful, when we are at peace in the midst of the storm, when we are generous with the poor, and when we are gentle with those who disagree. We must not secularize these moments as if they are self-actualizations. Rather, we give thanks that the Spirit is at work in our lives to empower them. We credit the Spirit rather than our programs, our will power, or our own goodness.


God gives the Spirit as a communing and transforming presence. God created to commune with us, and God redeems to transform us. And God goes one step further. God gifts us so that we might participate in the transformation of the world.

“Through the Spirit,” Paul writes, 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.

Too often the lists of 1 Corinthians 12 become the focus when talking about gifts. Romans 12 also has a list of gifts. The two lists are not the same; in fact, there is little overlap. Neither are exhaustive, and together they are not exhaustive. They are illustrative.

Gifts are 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 programming, musical ability, environmental passion—they are divine gifts. 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 in service to 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.


Often we don’t “feel” the Spirit in our lives, and sometimes we misinterpret what the Spirit is doing. There is no promise that we will always “feel” the Spirit, and there is the persistent danger that we will misinterpret what the Spirit does. This is why is it is important to “see” the Spirit through the lens of the biblical narrative, the story of God. Whether we feel the Spirit or not, God has promised the Spirit’s presence, and God has provided a narrative that frames our understanding of the Spirit’s work so that we might “see” the Spirit.

The most significant danger we face, I think, is the minimization of the Spirit. We minimize the Spirit when we secularize what is, in fact, the Spirit’s work. We often fail to “see” the Spirit because we attribute whatever goodness, joy, or warmth we experience to powers other than the Spirit. We fail to “see” the Spirit because we are blinded by our own pride.

The Spirit is personal, discernible, and visible. The Spirit is God among us to transform us into the image of Christ and to gift transformed people with good works for the sake of the body and the world. We “see” the Spirit every day, if only we have eyes to see what God is doing.

Missional Mandate: Fill the Earth, Subdue the Powers, and Shepherd the Creation

April 26, 2023

Texts: Acts 6:7; 4:23-31; 12:24; Revelation 5:9-13

Days 65-67 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days.

When God created the cosmos, God invested in humanity a particular vocation:  fill the earth, subdue the chaos, and shepherd (rule) the creation (Genesis 1:28). As participants in the new creation, the people of God extend this human vocation into the life of the kingdom of God as part of the new creation.

The goal is to fill the earth. Ultimately, this is not biological but filling the earth with the glory of God. The goal is for Jesus the Messiah to “fill all things” (Eph. 4:10). Participants in the new creation, fill the earth by continuing in the basic human vocation of living to the glory of God but also by making disciples as the church flourishes. Just as God intended both humanity and Israel to be fruitful and multiply, so God intends to fill the earth through the growth and multiplication of disciples (the verbs of Gen. 1:28 in the Greek translation are the same as in Acts 12:224, for example).

One aspect of filling the earth with God’s glory is subduing the chaos and/or the powers that oppose God’s reign in the world. Just as the part of the original human vocation was to overcome the chaos in the world for the sake of human flourishing, so part of the vocation within the new creation is to subvert the reign of the powers. This subversion includes naming the idolatries, liberating the oppressed, and living in missional communities that bear witness to the new creation. The early church, as in Acts 4, boldly proclaimed the message of the Lordship of Jesus that identified the powers and their evil.

Shepherding the earth was also part of the original human vocation and as we still live in a good creation and the human vocation is still our task in the present creation, new creation disciples also care for the earth. Further, the creation will participate in new creation, and even now the creation participates in the praise of God and the Lamb who is worthy. Disciples of Jesus are priests within the creation, for the sake of creation, and groaning for the liberation of creation.

The Formation of Community: Shared Generosity, Communal Prayer, and Giftedness

April 23, 2023

Texts: Acts 2:42-45; 3:1; Eph 4:7-8, 11-12

Days 62-64 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days.

Previously, we have seen the formation of community through a shared initiation (baptism), shared faith in Jesus the Messiah (through the apostles’ teaching), and a shared table (breaking bread). These were communal moments in Acts 2. Together, 3000 were baptized and then gathered in the temple to listen to the apostles and in homes to break bread.

Alongside the above three, community was also formed in other ways in Acts 2: communal prayer, shared generosity, and giftedness for the sake of the body.

When Acts 2:42 names “fellowship” (koinonia) it uses a broad word that encompasses many dimensions. Last week we concentrated on “breaking of bread” as one expression of that fellowship.

Another expression of that fellowship is an active community in their life together. They held all things in common (koina). This was the sort of fellowship meant people sold their possessions in order to meet needs within the community. It was, apparently, need-based, but it was a communal sense of shared life that generated resources to meet these needs. Indeed, the Jerusalem community was able to become what God always intended in Israel: “There was not a needy person among them” because “they had everything in common (koina)” (Acts 4:33-34; cf. Deuteronomy 15:4). The proceeds from the sale of property, including fields and homes were “distributed to each as any had need” (Acts 4:35). This generosity is expressed by the assembly of Jesus throughout the book of Acts (for example, Acts 11:29).

Another expression of fellowship was communal prayer. Acts 2:42 refers to “the prayers.” This identifies a particular set of prayers or timing of prayers, or perhaps a pattern of praying among the early believers. When Peter and John went up into the temple at the ninth hour of prayer (“the prayer of the ninth hour” or 3:00 PM), it refers to a specific moment in the temple courts when devout Jews gathered to pray. Peter and John joined them there. Apparently, it was their habit to do so. (Three in the afternoon was the time of daily evening sacrifices.)

Of course, this was not the only time the church gathered to pray. In Acts 4:23-31, believers assembled to pray for boldness in the face of hostile powers advancing against them. “When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” The assembly of Jesus continued to pray throughout the rest of the book of Acts (for example, Acts 6:4; 12:12; 14:23).

Another expression of fellowship is gifted leadership. The Apostles are highlighted in the first chapters of Acts. Their “many wonders and signs” inspired awe among the people (Acts 2:43; 5:12-16). The shared resources were placed at their feet for distribution (Acts 4:35; 5:2). The people selected deacons or administrators to help distribute these resources (Acts 6:1-6), and evangelists were sent out to surrounding areas like with Philip to Samaria (Acts 8:4-8; 21:8). Along with these evangelists, God raised up prophets and teachers (Acts 11:27; 13:1; 15:32; 21:9) and appointed elders in every church (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2, 22; 20:17). God gifted the community with leadership—apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers are the leaders of the renewed Israel. This gifted leadership equips the body of Christ for ministry (Ephesians 4:8–16).

Through a shared life together, led by people gifted by God, the assembly of Jesus prays together and shares their resources with the needy among them. It is this kind of community that has the favor of people, and people want to become a part of it (Acts 2:47).

Lamenting While Waiting in Hope

March 29, 2023

Texts: Romans 5:1-5; 8:18-27; Hebrews 5:8-10

Days 71-74 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days.

Divine grace empowers hopeful waiting even as we groan for wholeness, for shalom.

We live in-between-the-times. The creation is a very good place to inhabit. Yet, it is presently filled with chaos, both natural and moral. In many ways, God’s good creation is also a broken place, especially where human sin contributes its nauseating and tragic influences. Some call this “fallenness.” Whatever we may name it, we live in a reality filled with both good and evil, both order and chaos.

Evil and chaos create suffering in human lives. And sufferers groan under the burden, yearning for deliverance. We groan for a world without suffering. We yearn for shalom in every aspect of life, both body and soul. We groan for release from the brokenness of the world. We yearn for the death of death itself. We seek something or someone who will free us from this bondage, especially death.

The gospel offers hope. The grace of God appeared in Jesus of Nazareth. Through the resurrection of Jesus, God defeated death. The gospel means, through the pouring out of the Spirit, that victory has already arrived and is experienced even now. But the fullness of that hope has not yet appeared.

We live with hope by the power of God’s grace, and yet we continue to groan under the bondage of decay. We groan and wait in hope. We lament and hope.

Divine grace empowers hopeful waiting even as we groan for wholeness, for shalom.

Pentecost: Renewal (Restoration) of Israel

March 22, 2023

Texts: Acts 1:6-8; 2:16-21, 37-41

Days 56-58 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days.

The prophet Joel promised Israel, who at the time was suffering a great national tragedy, a time when God would restore its fortunes. They would never again be same and all who called on the name of the Lord would be saved (Joel 2:25-3:1).

Peter announced in Acts 2, “This is what was spoken through the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:16). Whatever was happening on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 was a moment to which Joel pointed. It was the beginning of the restoration of Israel.

The question the disciples asked in Acts 1:6-8 about the time when God would restore Israel was not a bad question. They were, however, too anxious about the timing. Jesus told them to wait, and the Spirit would come. When the Spirit came, the restoration of Israel began.

Just as Joel foretold, God poured out the Spirit upon Israel through the newly enthroned Messiah. This pouring, however, was not limited to an individual or even to a specific group. Rather, it was poured out on “all flesh,” including Jew and Gentile, women and men, and enslaved and free. On that day, the Spirit testified to the reality of the kingdom secured at the right hand of God by the resurrected Jesus.

Just as God had gathered Israel at Mount Sinai, so now God gathered renewed Israel at Mount Zion. Through repentance and baptism, they became a newly gathered people who would continue the mission of Israel as a light to the nations. And they would inherit the promise God made to Abraham–experienced through the gift of the Spirit—to continue and purse that mission by scattering missional communities devoted to Jesus across the world.

Resurrected and Enthroned Lord: Filling the Earth with New Creatures

March 15, 2023

Texts: Luke 24:30-35; Matthew 28:18-20; Ephesians 1:20-23; Galatians 6:14-16

Days 52-55 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days.

We can only imagine the despair of the disciples in the crushing darkness of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. The Christian calendar calls it “Holy Saturday.”

We can only imagine the joy of the disciples on the morning of the third day. The Christian calendar calls it “Easter.”

The movement from despair to joy is typified in the table at Emmaus. There Jesus revealed himself to two disciples; they experienced an epiphany that transformed mourning into dancing. They ran to join other disciples in Jerusalem, and together they celebrated at table with the risen Lord.

In Luke, it was at that table that Jesus commissioned them while in Matthew it was in Galilee. The commissioning brings the whole story of Israel to a climactic moment as the disciples are scattered throughout the world to fill it with the glory of God through making disciples among all the nations.

This old agenda (filling the earth with the glory of God) is renewed because the Messiah has ascended to the throne of David as the Lord of creation. This is new creation, and Jesus reigns as both Lord and Messiah.

New creation is inaugurated by the enthronement of the slaughtered but risen Lord. New creation has begun. As disciples scatter across the world, through the gospel God shines the light of new creation out of the darkness into the hearts of people who become new creatures.

A new age has dawned in the resurrection and enthronement of Jesus, who is both Lord and Christ.

Christus Victor: Abandoned to Death but not in Death

March 8, 2023

If you only listen to one in this series, listen to this one!

Texts: Mark 15:33-37; Matthew 28:5-10

Days 50-51 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days.

Death and Resurrection. This is the pinnacle of the gospel story. The Messiah is victorious in both death and resurrection.

In death, the Messiah is obedient to death, even death on the cross. That is victory over the powers of darkness arrayed against him, seeking to subvert his faithful obedience.

In resurrection, the Messiah is vindicated; he is justified as God’s anointed. That is victory over death itself, swallowing up death in victory.

In death, the Messiah is abandoned but not alienated. The Messiah abandoned to death, just as all humans since Adam have been. But the Messiah is not separated from God as if the Trinity has itself been torn asunder. On the contrary, the Father loves the Son, the Spirit of God rests upon the Son, and the Son knows the ending of Psalm 22 even as he shrieks its first words.

In resurrection, the Messiah is not abandoned in Hades, the realm of the dead. The Father, by the Spirit, raises the Son from the dead, liberating him from the grave. The Messiah, like the Psalmist, experiences deliverance and enters the sacred assembly to praise his Savior. The Messiah was given over to death but redeemed from it.

The Messiah was abandoned to the grave but not in the grave.

We, too, will be abandoned to death but not in the grave.

Jesus Suffers: Garden, Via Dolorosa, and Cross

March 2, 2023

Texts: Matthew 26:36-46; Luke 22:52-53; Luke 23:32-47

Days 47-49 in Around the Bible in Eighty Days.

Video available here

If we had not been sufficiently convinced of the humanity of Jesus, perhaps because he also God in the flesh, the movement from the Garden to the Cross might just seal the deal. Jesus suffers.

Jesus wrestles with God in prayer, recognizes the powers of darkness surrounding him, and hangs on a cross mocked and humiliated. Jesus enters fully into the human experience of death, persecution, and injustice.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus leaves eight disciples behind, takes three deeper into the Garden with him (Peter, James, and John), and then finds a place to be alone. He has come to pray, and his prayer is saturated with grief and his spirit is agitated. He goes off by himself three times, and each time he returns he finds his disciples sleeping. He prays without a sustaining community surrounding him. Sometimes praying is more important than sleeping. His prayer progresses from hesitation to acceptance, and ultimately to commitment. Jesus submits to the will of the Father.

As Jesus begins his way to his trial and to the cross—the via dolorosa (the way of sorrow), he announces to his opposition—hostile rulers—that “this is your hour—when darkness reigns” (Luke 22:53, NIV). Darkness evokes the memory of the chaos of Genesis 1:2. It remembers the power of God’s enemies, including Satan. When darkness reigns, innocent people are executed. When darkness reigns, the righteous are mocked. When darkness reigns, women weep over the loss of their children. Nevertheless, the light of the kingdom is present. Even as he hung on the cross, kingdom light breaks into the darkness.

While on the cross, according to Luke, Jesus speaks three times. He speaks about forgiveness, God’s Paradise, and trust. Though dying on a cross, Jesus prays for his enemies. He testifies to the death of evil and suffering because the Paradise of God is real. And, quoting Psalm 31, he expresses his trust in the Father.

Forgiveness, Victory, and Trust.

Though darkness reigns, the kingdom is revealed in Jesus from the Garden to the Cross. Amid the darkness, Jesus struggled, and then he accepted his journey, and finally completed it in full trust of the Father with forgiveness in his heart for his enemies and an assurance of the future to his new friend, a fellow-cross bearer.