Mental Ascent

For some years now, I have been thinking about how Christians—with our anointing (I John. 2:20,27)—participate in the story of our Lord Jesus, the Anointed.  Like Him—or rather, in Him—we have incarnation, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection.  Recently, though, I have been thinking about the fact that the first advent of His story included a final piece which we call the ascension, followed by His enthronement at the right hand of the Father.

If I am crucified and risen with Christ (I can’t take the time just now to explain how I see our sharing His incarnation and life of ministry), am I also ascended and enthroned?  Well, Ephesians makes clear that I am seated with Him in the heavenly realms, so, yes.  This speaks to enthronement, at least; but what about ascension?

There is a day coming when our Lord will return to effect our literal ascension, our being caught up into the air with Him.  That is the ‘not-yet’ part.  What about the ‘already’?

Enter, Colossians 3.

“If you have been raised up with Christ,” says Paul, “keep your upward momentum!”  Look up!  Standing on your tiptoes, focus on the sky, not on the earth!  See Christ seated beside the Father!  Reach up!  Reach up as those who can’t wait to join Him there!

on-things-aboveWhat is pictured as a straining forward in Philippians 3, then, is a straining upward in Colossians 3.  Just as surely as we can live into our (Lord’s) resurrection while not yet having died physically, we are told to live into our (Lord’s) ascension while still living this earthly life.  The apostle says we do this by setting our minds on the things above.  In day-to-day life, this amounts to a murderous eradication of the aspects of ourselves which would seek to keep us chained to the earth (v.5).

One of the most striking features of the ascension that awaits us is that it is to be the moment of our final revealing.   The world around us is really in for a shock.  “The world knows neither Christ nor Christians,” wrote the 18th century NT scholar, J.A. Bengel, “and Christians do not even fully know themselves.”  He was referring to the revealing of Colossians 3:4.

The apostle John speaks in similar terms.  “… It has not appeared as yet what we will be.  We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.”  As always with the Lord’s apostles, such a thought leads quite naturally to a present-time application:  “And everyone who has this hope on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (I John. 3:2-3).  For Paul, in Colossians, it leads to the rest of what he writes in chapter 3: putting to death our earthly members, putting on the new man, clothing ourselves in love and much more.

When the Lord returns, He will start by bringing His dead out of the ground.  Then He will bring us all up into the air with Him.  Will this give us whiplash, or will we be found already stretching ourselves in His direction?  Or as He put it, “…hen the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth” (Luke 18:8)?

Father, thank You for raising us up with Your Son, our Lord Jesus, and for embedding us within Him so that His glorious revealing will be our revealing too.  Thank You for giving us—in Him—the power to kill the ugliness that still attaches to us to the fallen world and to put on the new man whom You are renewing in His image.  Lord, make me into a tiptoe Christian.  Like a toddler anxious to be picked up by his Daddy, let me strain upward to Your throne.  In the name of our risen, ascended and seated Lord, Amen.

Not FROM, but FOR

Six times in his little three chapter letter to Titus, Paul calls for Christians to be into good deeds (1:16; 2:7,14; 3:1,8,14).  The last of these six comes near the end of the book where he says, “Our people also need to learn to engage in good deeds…” (3:14).  He even goes so far as to say that the reason Christ Jesus saved us was to redeem us from our lawless deeds “…and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds” (2:14).  We cannot miss, then, the fact that God has not saved us just to save us.  He intends to make us into a people of active goodness in the world.

And in the context of all this emphasis on good deeds, the apostle writes, “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy…” (3:5).  Literally, Paul tells us that our salvation is ‘not from’—‘not sourced in’—any righteous deeds on our part (ouk ex ergōn = “not out of works”).  Instead, it is completely according to His mercy (and by the means of a bath of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit)!

[Huge sigh of relief goes here.]

Boy, is that good news.

If God is to save me on the basis of my good works, I’m sunk.  Look at the list that characterizes us prior to the rebirth and renewal of the Spirit: “thoughtless,” “led astray,” “enslaved to various passions and pleasures,” “killing time in wickedness and envy,” “hated,” “hating each other” (3:3).  And it’s not as though Paul has the worst non-Christians in mind here.  Rather, he is thinking of all people in general.  That’s who he has just referred to in verses 1-2; if there is any particular class or kind of people in view, it is the people good enough to be in civic leadership (v. 1).  No, if God is going to save anyone, it won’t be related in any way to righteous deeds on their part.

Nevertheless, He saves us for good deeds.  Paul insists that Titus insist on this point.  Drenched in the Holy Spirit, Christians are to be a people of good deeds.  Justified by grace, Christians are to be a people of good deeds.  As heirs of the hope of eternal life, Christians are to be a people of good deeds.  As those who trust in God, Christians are to be a people who thoughtfully engage in good deeds.

Good deeds.  It’s not where our salvation comes from.  But it is what our salvation is for.

Lord Jesus, forgive me for my tendency to rest on the laurels of Your merciful salvation.  Make me a vessel of Your grace and love in this world.  I want to be profitable for people.  Father, wash me anew with Your Spirit for this purpose.  In Jesus, amen.

The One True Scandal

Donald Trump’s “locker room talk” is horrible but not at all shocking.

Hillary Clinton’s political surgical taking out of Bernie Sanders is also horrible.

And many, many more examples could be stacked up under each name.  There is no surprise in any of these things.

What is truly scandalous is that Christians continue to attach their hopes to either of these two people–or to anyone in Washington.

We have a King.  He is our hope.

Grieving for a friend…

I just learned that an old friend and colleague has lost his wife.  We knew that her health was pretty fragile, but did not know this was coming.  They have three sons, the oldest of whom is starting his senior year of high school right now.  We are sick at heart for them.

I am praying for them like this:

Oh Lord, grant Your grace and mercy to T___ and his boys!  Protect them from the evil one who will try to make their pain a ground for turning away from You.  Guard their faith!  Let them not be overcome in their grief!  Oh Lord Jesus, be present in their pain (Ps. 34:18; John 11:35)!  Oh, Conqueror of death, hold them close to Your heart!

Lord, A__ trusted You (Ps. 31:14).  Make the hearts of her family know that You have already opened to her the gates of Your eternal kingdom!  Make them know that You have taken her to dwell securely in Your house forever!  Oh loving Father, make them know that there will soon be a joyful reunion for them at Your table!  Even as they weep, Lord, by Your Spirit, give them grace for each day and hour and moment.

Through the precious and gracious name of our Savior, Jesus, I pray.  Amen.

Back to School!

My Fall Reading List

My Fall Reading List

Well, Lord-willing, this year I will be finishing off the MA I began a million years ago.
I actually had to meet with a few professors this summer to demonstrate competency and currency in several disciplines from classes that I took a long time ago.

I have completed 50 of the 64 semester hours for my MABTS (Biblical and Theological Studies).  So it’s 10 hours this fall, 4 in the spring, and it’s done!

On the docket for the fall are:
THS502  —  Theology II   (4 hrs)
THS560  —  20th Century Theology   (3 hrs)
NTS560  —  Thessalonian Epistles   (2 hrs)
RES500  —  Graduate Research & Writing   (1 hr)

Spring will be:
THS508  —  Integrating Theology and Ministry   (2 hrs)
RES502  —  Thesis   (2 hrs)

Though the 2-hours of credit I will receive for my thesis are to be earned in the spring, I have to do a significant amount of work on the thesis this fall.  I will be meeting with my reader-prof this week to find out the calendar due dates of various pieces and phases of drafts through the year.  I will also be finding out–hopefully–the limits and specific direction he wants me to take.  The thesis topic itself is related to a theology of heroism.  There will be more revealing of all of that on “Geberology,” my other blog, in the future.

I am headed into a pretty breathless next few months.
But I am grateful–to the Lord, to my wife, to my kids, to my church, to all the friends who have encouraged me to carry on serving the Lord and his people as a… what am I… a thinker?  Is that a spiritual gift? 😉

May the grace, peace and love of the Messiah be yours in abundance!