On Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church

ntwright

“The work of salvation, in its full sense, is (1) about whole human beings, not merely souls; (2) about the present, not simply the future; and (3) about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us.”

 

April 15, 2017. Eve of the Feast of the Resurrection of Jesus.

In preparation for this year’s celebration of the greatest of days, I read Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (2008), by N.T. Wright, whose The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is I read for Resurrection Sunday 2015.

The book can be viewed as having two main points.

First: The historical and bodily resurrection of Jesus points not only toward life after death (in heaven) but, more importantly, toward the “life after life after death” (148), i.e., in the “final coming together of [the new] heaven and [new] earth, [which] is God’s supreme act of new creation” (208).

Second: We who are created in the image of God, and who have been redeemed from death through the atoning death of Jesus, are led and empowered by the Spirit to reflect (94) the Resurrected Lord to all of God’s creation here and now, on this earth, as well as in the new one. “The intermediate stage between the resurrection of Jesus and the renewal of the whole world is the renewal of human beings – you and me! – in our own lives of obedience here and now.” (249)

Before, between, and after his painstaking exposition of the above points, Wright does his best to expose the errors in the popular worldviews of materialism and Gnosticism and their modern/postmodern variants, and in popular beliefs about death, life after death, the second coming, and the role of Christians in this present world.

QUOTABLE QUOTES

Now to quote some of Tom’s sentences that either caused me to pause, to smile, or to weep:

On salvation:

“The work of salvation, in its full sense, is (1) about whole human beings, not merely souls; (2) about the present, not simply the future; and (3) about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us.” (200)

On life after death:

“Life after death, it seems, can be a serious distraction not only from the ultimate life after life after death, but also from life before death.” (198)

On reflecting God:

“One of the primary laws of human life is that you become like what you worship; what’s more, you reflect what you worship not only back to the object itself but also outward to the world around.” (182)

So in worship we reflect the Triune God back to the Triune God, and at work and in ministry we reflect the Triune God to the world. Wow!

On kingdom work:

“[B]uild for the kingdom. This brings us back to 1 Corinthians 15:58 once more: what you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly going to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are— strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself—accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.” (208)

Wow! In relation to the above, I can’t wait to read and maybe blog about Chris Travis’ inSignficant: Why You Matter in the Surprising Way God is Changing the World.

Still on kingdom work:

“We must therefore avoid the arrogance or triumphalism of the first view, imagining that we can build the kingdom by our own efforts without the need for a further great divine act of new creation. But we must agree with the first view that doing justice in the world is part of the Christian task, and we must therefore reject the defeatism of the second view, which says there’s no point in even trying.” (216)

And still on kingdom work:

“As far as I can see, the major task that faces us in our generation, corresponding to the issue of slavery two centuries ago, is that of the massive economic imbalance of the world, whose major symptom is the ridiculous and unpayable Third World debt… Sex matters enormously, but global justice matters far, far more. The present system of global debt is the real immoral scandal, the dirty little secret – or rather the dirty enormous secret – of glitzy, glossy Western capitalism.” (216)

And finally, on Easter:

“If Calvary means putting to death things in your life that need killing off if you are to flourish as a Christian and as a truly human being, then Easter should mean planting, watering, and training up things in your life (personal and corporate) that ought to be blossoming, filling the garden with color and perfume, and in due course bearing fruit. The forty days of the Easter season, until the ascension, ought to be a time to balance out Lent by taking something up, some new task or venture, something wholesome and fruitful and outgoing and self-giving.” (257)

Now, what new, wholesome, fruitful, outgoing and self-giving task or venture shall you and I take up in the next forty days? 🙂

Happy Feast of the Resurrection!

P.S. Thanks to Raam Dev for the new, cool Independent Publisher theme. And also to the Automatticians for Twenty Ten, my blog’s first theme.

P.S. 2  As in previous Resurrection Sundays (see e.g., 2016, 20152014, 2013), there were birds singing just outside or dogs barking happily at a distance. And this time, I also saw a rainbow. God is good.

 

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Remaining in Jesus’ Love

Resurrection Sunday, 2016. I was supposed to travel to Jakarta this morning, but due to a passport issue, that did not push through.

(As you read the rest of this post, if you’d like to listen to The Katinas‘ “Mighty River”, just click the Play button below. To stop it, just click the Pause button.)

 

View of the sky at dawn from one of the east windows of my Nuvali house.
View of the sky at dawn from one of the east windows of my new house.

RESURRECTION SUNDAY, the greatest of feasts!

How deeply glad I am to have been able, by God’s grace, to start this day reading God’s Word. The church youth and I are reading through the New Testament, one chapter a day, and today’s chapter is the 15th of John. What struck me is the 10th verse, which says that, among others, if I obey the Lord Jesus’ commands, I will remain in his love. At first, the verse seemed to say that God’s love is conditioned on my obedience:  the more/less I obey, the more/less God loves me, which I knew in my heart not to be true. Soon, however, the Lord reminded me that his love is like a mighty “river of living water” (cf. Revelation 12:1-2) – always flowing, always giving life, abundant life and that it is truly I who leaves the river instead of remaining in it! God, Who is Love (1 John 4:16), truly is wonderful! What’s more, John 15:7 guarantees that as I remain in the river (or on its banks, like a tree), the more fruit I will bear, for the glory of God!

TSW - Newsletter - Vol 4 Iss 2-3 My TestimonyAfter reading God’s Word and eating a delightful breakfast of bread and fruit, I celebrated the resurrection of the Lord with the brothers and sisters at Saddleback South Manila, which is inside the community I live in – Nuvali. As soon as I got back home, I searched my archives for the testimony I wrote for my local church’s newsletter about my Saddleback experience 13 years ago. Here it is:

TSW – Newsletter – Vol 4 Iss 2-3 My Testimony

Isn’t it amazing how, thirteen years ago, I “chanced upon” Saddleback Lake Forest, California, and now, thirteen years later, Saddleback South Manila and I decide to live in the same community?

Happy Resurrection Sunday!

P.S.

As in previous Resurrection Sundays (see e.g., 2014, 2013), there were birds singing just outside, and dogs barking in the distance. Thank God for all things, big and small! 🙂

P.S. 2

I actually read a couple of books during the Lenten triduum (Stephen Smith’s The Jesus Life and David Platt’s Follow Me), and planned to blog about them, but instead, here I am blogging about God’s mighty river of love and about my Saddleback experiences while listening repeatedly to Mighty River. 🙂

P.S. 3

I’ve been wanting for a very long time to have a regular Christian activity at home, and on April 14, nineteen days after Easter and a hundred and thirty-five days after moving to my new house, I’d begin hosting a Saddleback Small Group at home! How did this happen? To make the long story short, on the Feast of the Resurrection I simply shared with Pastor Narry Santos my experiences at Saddleback Lake Forest and expressed my desire to be of help to Saddleback South Manila, and then he asked me if I wanted to host a Saddleback Small Group at home, and without hesitation I said, “Yes!” God is good!

 

On The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is

April 4, 2015. Eve of the Feast of the Resurrection.

COJI stumbled upon this book last Christmas. It was on sale yet gathering dust at a typical Christian bookstore, where the books that sell are devotionals and those that could be read as devotionals. Since I love books about Jesus, I grabbed it.

RSGThe author is N. T. Wright, former Anglican Bishop of Durham, whom Newsweek has called “the world’s leading New Testament scholar,” at least according to the Harper Collins blurb. More important for me than Newsweek’s pronouncement, though, is that it turns out that Timothy Keller, one of my favorite authors, praised Tom Wright’s book The Resurrection of the Son of God (2003, 813pp), which is Volume 3 of his magisterial series, Christian Origins and the Question of God (COQG).

NTPGAt only 204 pages, The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is (2000) can be viewed as Wright’s making more accessible to laymen like myself the first two volumes of his COQG series – The New Testament and the People of God (1992, 535pp) and Jesus and the Victory of God (1996, 741pp). In Challenge, he describes how a historical-critical reading of the Gospels reveals the following:

  • JVGTo Jesus, Israel was called as a nation to manifest the love of God to the world. It was to be the light of the world, the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13-14).
  • Unfortunately, Israel’s leaders have forgotten her calling, and so have forgotten the real reason for Israel’s continuing theological exile. As a result, their agendas with respect to pagan (Roman) rule – whether the revolutionary agenda of the Zealots and the Pharisees, the agenda of compromise of Herod, or the separatist agenda of the Qumran community – were all wrong.
  • In true prophetic fashion, Jesus then calls Israel to repent (of its wrong agendas) and to believe in Him, her Messiah-King, who will liberate her from the enemy, and in his way, the way of love, as explained in his sayings collected into what we now call the Sermon on the Mount. To do otherwise would result in judgment, i.e., the destruction of Israel, particularly the temple, its symbol of national security and pride.
  • Jesus also makes clear to his disciples at the Last Supper (Matthew 26:28) what action he will take to liberate Israel: his blood has to be poured out for the forgiveness of sins, which, for Wright, would also mean the end of Israel’s theological exile.
  • Finally, Jesus makes clear to Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:62) that he is the Son of Man in Daniel 7:13-14, and that he would soon be enthroned in heaven.
  • After this, as Israel’s Messiah-King, Jesus fights the enemy solo, and, in keeping with his own teachings, fights not using the weapons of this world but his own – love, expressed through his death on the cross.
  • Three days later, on the first day of the week, Jesus is vindicated through his resurrection. (I have blogged about the historicity of the resurrection elsewhere, so though Tom Wright allots a chapter to the subject in this book, and would eventually write the 813-page tome mentioned earlier on the subject, I won’t be discussing it here anymore.)

To his disciples, Jesus’ resurrection meant that all that he said – Israel’s calling to be light of the world, Jesus’ calling as Israel’s Messiah and Liberator, the coming of the Kingdom of God, the end of Israel’s exile – must be true! The first days of the Kingdom have come! And with them the promised blessings, not only for the Jewish believer, but for all the peoples on earth (Genesis 12:3) who believe in Jesus (Acts 13:31; Romans 10:9)! Hallelujah!

The question for us today is how are we to live out the meaning of the resurrection in this postmodern world? Wright suggests that we have to:

“learn that our task as Christians is to be in the front row of constructing the post-postmodern world. The individual existential angst of the sixties has become the corporate and cultural angst of the nineties… What is the Christian answer to it all?…What is missing from the postmodern equation is of course love.” (p.170)

I’ll end this post with this long quote:

“We worship other gods and start to reflect their likeness instead. We distort our vocation to stewardship into the will to power, treating God’s world as either a gold mine or an ashtray. And we distort our calling to beautiful, healing, creative many-sided human relationships into exploitation and abuse. Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud described a fallen world in which money, power, and sex have become the norm, displacing relationship, stewardship, and worship. Part of the point of postmodernity under the strange providence of God is to preach the Fall to arrogant modernity. What we are faced with in our culture is the post-Christian version of the doctrine of original sin: all human endeavor is radically flawed, and the journalists who take delight in pointing this out are simply telling over and over again the story of Genesis 3 as applied to today’s leaders, politicians, royalty, and rock stars. And our task as image-bearing, God-loving, Christ-shaped, Spirit-filled Christians, following Christ and shaping our world, is to announce…<big snip here>forgiveness…for all who yearn for it, and judgment for all who insist on dehumanizing themselves and others by their continuing pride, injustice, and greed.”

Working out the practical implications of the resurrection in the postmodern and post-postmodern worlds is of course not something that can be done in one or two days, so… till next time! 🙂

Happy Resurrection Day!!!

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and praise!”

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
    be praise and honor and glory and power,
    for ever and ever!” (Revelation 5:12-13)

Amen!!!

 

 

 

Resurrection – “Lord, I’m amazed by you, how you love me.”

The sky might be overcast but, rain or shine, today we celebrate the greatest of feasts, that of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ! It is a beautiful day, hallelujah!

I Am Free(As you read this, you might want to play Amazed in the background. From Ross Parsley’s album I Am Free, the song is about how amazing God’s love is. Just click on the Play button below.)

This morning, after thanking God for the resurrection of our Lord Jesus, I asked God, “Why, Lord?” That is, why the resurrection? Surely by the death of Jesus the penalty of all of the past, present, and future sins of mankind has been paid, so that everyone who receives Jesus has fellowship with the Father forever and ever (John 1:12). So why the resurrection?

Each year, by God’s grace, I realize more and more how love (1 John 4:16) is the Triune God’s greatest attribute, and so it didn’t take long for me to “hear” the answer to my question.

  • As the Triune God — the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit — did the unexpected, creating humankind in God’s image, out of overflowing Love; and
  • As the Triune God did the unimaginable, suffering the separation of the Son from the Father (demonstrated in our dimension by the death of Jesus) out of sacrificial Love for humankind;
  • So the Triune God did the impossible, coming together again (demonstrated in our dimension by the resurrection of Jesus) out of unconquerable Love, so that we can have fellowship not only with the Father but also with the Son and the Holy Spirit — the Triune God — forever and ever!

Love is the answer! And so with Ross Parsley, I sing, “Lord I’m amazed by you, how you love me!” And I worship you!  Let the whole world rejoice in God our Creator, Redeemer, and Friend!

P.S.

I am indebted to Timothy Keller for deepening my understanding of the Triune God through The Reason for God and Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God.

P.S. 2

Just now I revisited my post last year on the Resurrection, and I realized I didn’t hear any birds chirping upon waking up this morning. But I did hear a dog barking in the distance, the kind of bark that a dog uses when happy at the sight of its master.  Given that I love dogs, how can I not be amazed at how the Lord loves me? 🙂

P.S. 3

After finishing writing this post, I looked out the window and lo, it’s a sunny day! 🙂

Trinity Sunday

This is my first time to post a blog on Trinity Sunday. Thanks to Timothy Keller, I’ve come to love and believe in the Triune God more.

(As you read this, you might want to play Amazed in the background. From Ross Parsley’s album I Am Free, the song is about how amazing God’s love is. Just click on the Play button below.)

Artistic representation of the Holy Trinity, Altar of San Isidro Church. Photo taken after the 6:00 am mass on my birthday early this year.
Artistic representation of the Holy Trinity, Altar of San Isidro Church. Photo taken after the 6:00 am mass on my birthday early this year.

When the Bible declares that God is love (1 John 4:8), I can now more readily understand it because:

  1. God is a community of three persons – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit — each person fully connected to the other two in selfless love. If God were unipersonal, God couldn’t be love, for love is social. And because of love, the three persons are One in spirit and mind.
  2. God created humankind and the universe out of the overflow of the unfathomable energy (love) coursing through the interconnections within the Trinity. God never needed humankind (Acts 17:24-25) but God created humankind in God’s image, connecting humankind to God (spiritual life) so that humankind could, through God and like God, receive and give love.
  3. And when the connection between God and humankind got severed (spiritual death) due to sin (Romans 6:23), God paid the penalty of every person’s sins so that the connection could be restored: so on the cross, with all of humanity’s sins upon God the Son (who is Jesus), the connection between God the Father and God the Son was severed (Matthew 27:45-46). Were it not for the almighty power of the Spirit of God, the Triune God would have been separated forever! But after experiencing spiritual death for our sake, the Father and the Son were fully reconnected, though forever bearing the scars of separation, the penalty of our sins. And all who believe this, that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, are reconnected to God by faith (John 1:12).

How can anyone not love such a loving God?

So together with Ross Parsley and all of God’s children, I sing, “Lord, I’m amazed by you! Lord, I’m amazed by you! Lord, I’m amazed by you, how you love me! How wide, how deep, how great is your love for me!” (Ephesians 3:18-19)

On Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God

Resurrection Sunday! The greatest of days! I don’t know why, but Resurrection Sunday has always been a beautiful day, complete with birds chirping in the air, wherever I am.

TimKellerKingsCrossAfter finishing Timothy Keller‘s Jesus the King: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God (JTK) (formerly King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus) on Good Friday, and having already found his earlier book, The Reason for God (TRFG), simply amazing, I now have to add Keller to my list of favorite authors!

JTK is Keller’s commentary on the Gospel of Mark, which he divides into two parts: Chapters 1-8, where Mark the Evangelist shows through events in Jesus’ life as well as Jesus’ words and deeds, that Jesus is King; and Chapters 9-16, where Mark shows that Jesus is The-King-Who-Goes-To-The-Cross-For-Us. This division instantly reminded me of Revelation 4 and 5 and of how I have worshipped God every morning since 2012: first as my Creator (Revelation 4:11) then as my Redeemer (Revelation 5:9-10).

There are so many things that I liked about the book, but since this is a blog and not a paper 🙂 here are just a few of them:

1. The focus on the Triune God, whom Keller showed that Mark was very careful to reveal as being present at the start of redemption (Mark 1:9-11) as well as creation (Genesis 1:1-3).

TheReasonForGodI think that it was while reading Keller’s TRFG a couple of years ago that I first fell in love with the Holy Trinity. Previously I sort of viewed God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit separately; but since TRFG, I have tended to speak of them as a community, which in turn convinced me that God is, indeed, LOVE (1 John 4:8), not that God has love but God is LOVE. As Keller says in JTK:

If a unipersonal God had created the world and its inhabitants, such a God would not in his essence be love. Power and greatness possibly, but not love. But if from all eternity, without end and without beginning, ultimate reality is a community of persons knowing and loving one another, then ultimate reality is about love relationships. (p. 10)

2. Keller’s portrayal of Jesus as having done all he asked others to do. For instance, when he asked Peter and John to leave their fathers to follow him, he had already left his Father’s throne in heaven. When he asked the rich young man to give up his wealth, he knew that he, too, would give up his own cosmic wealth (which, in the currency of God’s Kingdom, would be nothing less than God’s loving presence, which he enjoyed even before time began, but which he would lose on the cross of Calvary, but of course get back at his Resurrection – which Christians all over the world celebrate today!)

3. Keller’s fresh translation of the words of Jesus or of those speaking to him. For example, Jesus could be viewed as saying to Jairus and to the disciples who were present in Mark 5:36:

Remember how when I calmed the storm I showed you that my grace and love are compatible with going through storms, though you may not think so? Well, now I’m telling you that my grace and love are compatible with what seem to you to be unconscionable delays. (p. 68)

And with exquisite tenderness to Jairus already dead little daughter (Mark 5:31):

Honey, it’s time to get up. (p. 73)

To the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7:24-30, whose little daughter was demon-possessed:

You know how families eat: First the children eat at the table, and afterward their puppies eat too. It is not right to violate that order. The puppies must not eat from the table before the children do… Please understand, there’s an order here. I’m going to Israel first, then the other nations later. (p. 95)

And her response:

Okay, I understand. I am not from Israel, I do not worship the God that the Israelites worship. Therefore, I don’t have a place a the table. I accept that… but there’s more than enough on that table for everyone in the world, and I need mine now. (p. 95)

And Jesus’ response before he delivers her daughter:

Such an answer! (p. 96)

4. The focus on the love of God. Keller ends almost every chapter with an invitation for the reader to surrender to God’s love. For example, at the end of the chapter on Jesus’ baptism:

He has gone before you into the heart of a very real battle, to draw you into the ultimate reality of the dance. What he has enjoyed from all eternity, he has come to offer to you. And sometimes, when you’re in the deepest part of the battle, when you’re tempted and hurt and weak, you’ll hear in the depths of your being the same words Jesus heard: “This is my beloved child – you are my beloved child, whom I love, with you I’m well pleased.” (p. 14)

I remember how, many years ago, I thought it impossible for God to tell me that.

Then at the end of the chapter on Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane, when he “began to experience…merely a foretase of [the spiritual, cosmic, infinite disintegration that would happen when he became separated from the Father on the cross], and he staggered”:

That love – whose obedience is wide and long and high and deep enough to dissolve a mountain of rightful wrath – is the love you’ve been looking for all your life. No family love, no friend love, no mother love, no spousal love, no romantic love – nothing could possibly satisfy you like that. All those other kinds of loves will let you down; this one never will. (p. 199)

And finally, on the very last page:

It can be your story as well . God made you to love him supremely, but he lost you. He returned to get you back, but it took the cross to do it. He absorbed your darkness so that one day you can finally and dazzlingly become your true self and take your seat at his eternal feast. (252)

May Tim Keller live a long and satisfied life of loving God and loving and teaching God’s people!

Happy Resurrection Sunday!

(Many thanks to Ada Pablo for introducing me to Timothy Keller’s writings through The Reason for God.)