In Living We Die, In Dying We Live

(One of my IHOPU classes, Basic Christian Beliefs, is giving the assignment of blogging on certain questions from the lessons every week. This week, I’m choosing the question “Why should Christians break bread together?”)

On the night before His death, Jesus acted out a picture of what He was about to do.

Don’t just read the verses. Enter into the quiet, sacred drama of the moment. Let it take your breath away.

And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”

And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

~Luke 22:14-20

This is one of the sacraments or ordinances that the Church has practiced together for generations. Jesus left us this tangible reenactment to keep His death fresh in our minds. When we come to the table, we come in humility, as a family of grace, each repenting of our sins and thanking Jesus again for His body and blood that were sacrificed for us.

This partaking of the bread and wine together is about many things, but at its core it is about embracing death in order to receive life. Consider this episode from earlier in Jesus’ ministry:

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum. When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” …After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him.

~John 6:53-60, 66

This kind of talk is confusing and offensive! Jesus clearly wasn’t trying to “win friends and influence people” here. He was inviting people into the experience of embracing His death and making His death a part of them. He wants us so closely identified with His death that we are willing to “eat His flesh and drink His blood.” He wants His death entwined into our DNA.

Paul said that baptism represents the same reality.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

~Romans 6:3-5

Again, life and death and death and life, all wrapped up in each other. Ted Dekker explored this theme in his novel When Heaven Weeps. “The path to life runs through death… In living we die, in dying we live.”

Paul actually said that when we take the bread and the cup, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26) He was warning the believers in Corinth about taking the Lord’s supper lightly, as merely a chance to eat and drink, without showing concern for one another and without repenting. This is not church snack time. This is a holy reenactment of the most scandalous, tragic, glorious event in history. GOD DIED. He had a body and it was ripped to shreds while blood gushed out. He was mocked, beaten, nailed to a tree, and died in agony.

“Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
~Matthew 26:27-28

When we take communion or “break bread” together as a family, we are corporately reidentifying ourselves with the death of Christ. His blood cleanses us, His suffering heals us, and His death brings us to life.

How dare we ever for a moment forget.

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To Love the Church Like Jesus

(One of my IHOPU classes, Basic Christian Beliefs, is giving the assignment of blogging on certain questions from the lessons every week. This week, I’m choosing the question “Can you love Jesus but hate the church?”)

“I love Jesus, just not the church.”

I’ve heard variations of this statement to varying degrees over the years. In a way, I understand. I really do. A lot of people have been deeply hurt by members of the Church. It’s very understandable to react by distancing oneself from the Church and to seek out one’s own spiritual path toward God. And in one sense, I am so pleased when such people feel hurt, and they still cling to Jesus. That’s a remarkable thing and a testament to who He is even when His people misrepresent Him. But here’s the thing.

Jesus is not bitter against His own body.

If we want to be on this journey of loving what God loves and hating what He hates, then we have to get His perspective of how He sees the Church.

He nourishes and cherishes the Church as His body.

For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. (Ephesians 5:29-30)

KristynHoganBrideAndGroom4-334x500He rejoices over His people as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride. We are His betrothed.

For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:5)

And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. (Hosea 2:19)

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Revelation 21:2)

We are called to stand alongside Jesus as friends of the bridegroom, to be jealous for the bride in the same way that He is.

The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. (John 3:29)

For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:2)

What best man (the modern equivalent of the “friend of the bridegroom”) would ever say before the wedding, “I love the guy, but I can’t stand this girl he’s marrying”? What groom would ever choose someone who was angry or bitter at his chosen bride to stand beside him on his wedding day?

Of course the Church has issues sometimes. Sometimes big issues, in certain areas. But she is in the process of being sanctified, and she will be ready on that Day. In the meantime, we need to give her lots of grace and love her as Christ loves her, and laid down His life for her. (Ephesians 5:24) We need to get a higher vision. The Church is not the broken individuals who hurt you. The Church is so much bigger and more glorious than that. (For one thing, the Church is global and eternal, not one localised expression or cultural agenda.) And if she’s not completely glorious now, she will be soon. Jesus sees her in that way, even as He sees us as perfectly holy and chooses to be blind to our flaws.

I want to love what Jesus loves and hate what He hates. I want to see through His eyes–and His eyes are fiery with jealous desire for His bride.

Why Study Eschatology? (The Short Answer)

“Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” Matthew 24:30

(One of my IHOPU classes, Basic Christian Beliefs, is giving the assignment of blogging on certain questions from the lessons every week. This week, I’m choosing the question “Why is studying eschatology a profitable practice for a Christian?”)

Eschatology can be a really intimidating concept. Many Christians don’t really like to think about it in any kind of detail. We love to quote verses like “He will wipe every tear from their eyes,” (Revelation 21:4) but don’t really study the process that leads up to that moment. I’ve had family members and close friends tell me that their eschatology is “pan-tribulation” (“It will all ‘pan out’ in the end”) and that reading the book of Revelation is “too scary.”

This boggles my mind. The fact is, God is telling a STORY with humanity that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. We passionately defend the beginning and the middle, but sometimes it seems like we couldn’t care less about the end, so long as we all end up happily ever after somehow in “a better place.”

I want to know the story God is telling. He has wrapped up some of the most profound and stunning revelations of His character in those final few chapters. I can’t know Jesus fully unless I look at Him in the context of a Bridegroom, King, and Judge who’s coming back to rescue and marry His bride, rule the earth, and execute full justice. The book of Revelation is “the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Revelation 1:1)

Furthermore, that time is getting close. We would all agree that it’s closer than it’s ever been, but seriously, it’s getting CLOSE close. I want to have as much understanding of this time period as possible so that when things start happening, my own heart can remain unoffended and fully engaged with what God is doing, and I can also help others to stay in that place. There is no reason I should be caught unaware on that day. He’s already given me everything I need to understand what’s coming – the Spirit and the Word. He wants me to watch, stay awake, and set my heart to love the day of His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8)

Maybe it won’t come in my lifetime. It really might, but if it doesn’t, I will build a legacy for the next generation of this eager and faithful watching. When He comes, He WILL find a Bride made ready. (Revelation 19:7)

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.
~1 Thessalonians 5:1-6

And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
~Luke 18:7-8

Just “Jesus Being Jesus”?

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 (One of my IHOPU classes, Basic Christian Beliefs, is giving the assignment of blogging on certain questions from the lessons every week. This week, I’m choosing the question “Did Jesus perform any miracles before His public ministry?”)

There’s a tension in the Church related to how we envision Jesus during His time on Earth. Do we see Him as so completely ordinary that we confine Him to the context of history and miss the surging reality of His divinity? Or do we see Him as an ethereal, unreachable Being who is constantly gazing vaguely into the clouds with open palms while the Hallelujah chorus echoes around Him?

Both mindsets carry unique dangers and errors. However, for much of traditional church culture (although in emerging culture it’s somewhat the opposite), the latter seems to be more prevalent. We’ve put Jesus in a halo and told Him to stay there.

Part of the result of this over-sacredizing of Jesus is that we get this idea of Him practically sneezing out miracles like it’s nothing. I’ve heard people joke about Jesus as a kid multiplying food whenever he was hungry, or healing animals, etc… you know, just “Jesus being Jesus.” The trouble is that this is not what the Bible says. John 2:11 describes turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana as the “first of his signs.” That only happened after the Holy Spirit came upon Him at His baptism. (John 1:32-34)

When we get this idea of “Well, that’s just Jesus being Jesus. He’s God, so He just does stuff like that,” we miss the entire point of what Jesus was trying to demonstrate.

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise…. I can do nothing on my own.”
~John 5: 19, 30

Do you see the implications of this? All of Jesus’ miracles weren’t done by the power of His own divinity. They were done as a human in full submission to and partnership with the Holy Spirit.

So what does that mean for us? Jesus said it this way:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. …It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper [Holy Spirit] will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.
~John 14:12; 16:7

If Jesus was our example, and He actually did all that He did as a human empowered by the Holy Spirit, and He really has given me this same Holy Spirit, that means the exact same resources that were available to Jesus are available to me. I can heal the sick. I can raise the dead. I can cast out demons. All of it is my inheritance.

It’s not just “Jesus being Jesus.” The same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead lives in me. (Romans 8:11)

Hallelujah. God, help me live in that.

What Is the Beauty of God?

(One of my IHOPU classes, Basic Christian Beliefs, is giving the assignment of blogging on certain questions from the lessons every week. This week, I’m choosing the question “What is the beauty of God? Is it a communicable attribute? How?”)

The beauty of God is such a fascinating subject to me because the more God reveals to me, the less I realise I know.

Revelation 4 is often described as a doorway into the “beauty realm of God.” Certainly it is that. Just last night in the prayer room we were singing a chorus based on these verses:

And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald… From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God.
~Revelation 4:3, 5 ESV

What must that have been like for John to behold? God’s beauty in that scene is truly overwhelming. But more than that, God’s beauty is directly tied to His holiness. God’s holiness is His complete OTHERness. Part of what this means is that His every characteristic is higher and more pure and perfect than its earthly equivalent.

God is beautiful in every single facet of his character, in His love and mercy as well as His wrath and justice. Think about that. Every justice system on earth is guaranteed to screw up. Human justice will always be imperfect, no matter how hard we try to refine the system, because no man can really see into the heart of another. But God’s justice is completely perfect. Every single time. No one will be under judgment who doesn’t completely deserve it, and they won’t experience a single drop more or less than exactly what they deserve. That is perfect justice. And even in judgement there is grace and mercy. Every single time.

That moves me to awe. Everything he does and is absolute perfection, and not just harsh, to-the-standard perfection, like a starched white cleanroom. No, this is vibrant, colourful perfection, like an overwhelming symphony of music and movement and colour that can break your heart with a single note.

And I do believe we can take on some of the beauty of God. It happens when His Spirit begins to transform us from the inside out. The more we become like Him, the more we shine with His beauty. As we are sanctified, our actions and motivations become more and more refined into the beauty of holiness.

I know that someday, when I see Jesus, I’ll be transformed into His likeness and take on more of His beauty than is now possible. (Colossians 3:4, 1 John 3:2) But in the meantime, I want to be set ablaze with His beauty in my spirit. I want every thought and every action to radiate His nature. I’m after holiness that hurts the eyes, and a light that flickers from every secret motive.

“Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name;
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.”
Psalm 29:2 NKJV

What is the Gospel?

(One of my IHOPU classes, Basic Christian Beliefs, is giving the assignment of blogging on certain questions from the lessons every week. This week, I’m choosing the question “What is the Gospel?”)

Gospel. Euangelion. Good news. Christianity’s favourite word.

So what is this good news?

We could give the bullet point version in the four spiritual laws. We could tell the story of eternity, what I like to call the History of the Universe Abridged. But beneath all of that, I think the gospel is very focussed.  All of the swirls of the message and the history and the “if-then” propositions slow down and come to rest in one very particular place.

Paul gave a concise summary of the New Testament gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-5: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you… that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” But the concept of God’s “good news” is so much older than that. This phrase has appeared throughout the Bible, particularly in a few notable places in Isaiah. And when I think about the fullness of what the gospel is, those are the places I go.

Go on up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good news;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good news;
lift it up, fear not;
say to the cities of Judah,
“Behold your God!”
~Isaiah 40:9

What is the good news? GOD. He Himself, and all of who He is, is the good news. When we proclaim the gospel, what we’re really doing is crying out, “LOOK AT GOD! He is beautiful, He is worthy, He is love, He is grace, He is HOLY!” The full gospel is the declaration of His character. What gospel did Isaiah mean? What gospel did Jesus preach before His death?

John Piper has said that missions exists because worship doesn’t. I believe that when we share the good news, we are inviting people into that circle of the seraphim before the throne, crying out holy, holy, holy. This is the point. HE is the point.

And then we get to go straight up to that throne, curl up on YHWH’s lap, and call Him Papa.

I hope your heart skipped a beat reading those words. Because this is the most sacred, beautiful truth of all. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. He has made a way.

And here the cross takes centre stage. In Jesus, in His incarnation and death, was the fullness of God openly displayed. God, stripped naked, beaten ragged, hanging on a tree with arms wide open. Humility. Justice. Victory. Love. Could there be a more beautiful picture of who He is?

So this, my friends, is the gospel.

There is a story, and it’s all about God, and you are invited into it.

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
~Isaiah 52:7