Sunday, April 15, 2012

Your Outlook on the Future, and Why it Matters.

This article appeared in the May 2011 edition of my column, Fresh Brewed Theology, that I write for The Choteau Acantha. 

You may recall all the hype surrounding Harold Camping and his failed prediction of the end of the world.  What is funny about this particular article is that because of the way my deadline works, I had to have it submitted before May 22 (the day Harold predicted the end) for publication on the 25th. It wasn't a big risk though. If a prophesied event has already been fulfilled, whoever tries to predict it happening in the future will be wrong!

I think you will see that this article definitely pushed the boundaries.


Fresh Brewed Theology: Future Outlook
Popular Christian Radio host, Harold Camping has been proven wrong... again.  Last Saturday was his latest failed prediction of the beginning of the end of the world.  
In this column, I want to address a very fundamental question to which many Christians have not given any thought. That is, how does your outlook on the future affect your impact on society? 
Many modern Christians have a very short sighted, pessimistic view of the future. Popular sayings like, “don’t polish brass on a sinking ship” or “Satan rules this evil age” dominate pulpits and radio waves.  The expectation is that the world is under a Divine curse and will only get worse before Jesus comes to rescue us and destroy the physical planet. 
This pessimistic outlook starts a vicious cycle that ends up dividing communities in the long run. Let me give you just one example.
If the physical creation is destined to be burned up sooner than later, than why take care of it? With such a short sighted and negative view of the future there is no incentive to take responsibility for our actions when it comes to things like the environment. 
The responsibility needed to maintain true liberty in regards to property rights is ignored. This causes others who recognize real problems to lobby bureaucrats thousands of miles away in an effort to enforce new regulations to protect the environment. The loss of liberty causes citizens to resent those in office. They get behind other politicians who will use the power of the state to protect un-responsible behavior and the cycle escalates.
(Imagine how negativity towards the future influences foreign policy.)
However, with an optimistic and long view of the future individuals are motivated to look for ways to maintain sustainable environmental conditions voluntarily.  Wild places will be kept wild, not because of laws handed down from Washington but because people want their posterity hundreds, thousands, or even millions of years from now to enjoy them. Sustainable farming becomes very attractive instead of a short term burden.
Choteau is dominated by agriculture and tourism. Whichever outlook of the future dominates the minds and hearts of our citizens will have an enormous impact for generations to come, whether good or bad. 
So, is there a Christian theology with a long view of the future? You probably haven’t heard of it, but there is, and it’s growing. Covenant Eschatology is a movement within Christianity that takes Jesus at his word when he said that he would return before all of his disciples died. (Matthew 24) It argues a Spiritual fulfillment to Jesus’ prophetic teachings, and that the destruction of the Jewish Temple in AD 70 was the sign that a New Creation had been consummated. 
If the “end of the world” that the Bible talks about is actually in our past would that affect our outlook on the future? 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Stand Up!

What's the deal with Resurrection, and how does it affect family life? I think they are more connected than one might think. 

Here are some quick thoughts. 

Resurrection, from the greek word anastasis, is used to describe "the hope of Israel" (Acts 17:14-15, Acts 28:20). 

Israel as a nation, understood that they were "dead" because of sin. God had removed them from the promised land. They were individually alive people, but they had lost their communion with God. (See Hosea 13, Ezekiel 37, Isaiah 26 just to name a few.) 

Actually, the story of Israel parallels the story of Adam in the Garden. In a sense, we can see Adam as IsraelWhat Israel needed was the same thing that Adam needed. The ability to "stand up" before God. 


Now here is the kicker. Paul is clear that Moses (the Law), and the prophets taught that Christ would be the first to rise from the dead. (Acts 26:19-23) In fact, Paul says that he preached nothing outside of the Law and the Prophets. Everything he preached had to do with the hope of Israel! So, Christ, would be the first to "stand up" and would then proclaim light, not only to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles. 

Through Israel's national Resurrection, believing Gentiles would also be grafted into this resurrected Body. There is no salvation outside of Israel's redemption. 

Now for a quick side note. Adam died "in the day" he ate the fruit, even though he did not die biologically. Christ was "the first to rise from the dead," even though he was not the first biological person raised from biological death. If anything else, these two facts should cause us to seriously re-consider the true nature of "the death" of Adam. (See this post for the correlating idea of eternal life.)

Ok, now let's continue down the rabbit hole...

In Matthew 12:38-42, Matthew records the Pharisees asking Jesus to give them a sign. This was typical of the prophets per the Old Testament Law. Prophets had to prove they were from God by displaying signs and wonders. However, the unbelieving Jews continued to reject the signs Jesus was displaying (healing's, feeding the 5,000, etc.) all the while continuing to ask for signs. 

Jesus responds that their wickedness was driving their unbelief, and that no sign would be given them, except the sign of Jonah. 

There are two aspects to the Jonah story: 1) Jonah was "dead" in the grave for 3 days and 3 nights and then resurrected, standing again on the land. 2) The Gentiles that Jonah was sent to repented and worshipped God, despite Jonah's hard hearted and prideful attitude towards them. 

Part 5 of this sermon series explores this more in depth.

In fact, everywhere that Christ refers to his physical resurrection, he always says that it is a sign. A sign always points to something greater. 

I love looking at pictures of my wife, but they aren't the same thing as being with her. When I am with her, I put the pictures away, because the thing that those pictures point me to is there, right in front of me. 

So what did Christ's physical resurrection signify? Well it signified that he was "the first to rise from the death of Adam." He was the first to stand again in the presence of God, perfect and clothed with the royal robes of righteousness. 

Through this standing again, all Israel would be raised from the dead. The hope of Israel would be achieved through faith in Christ. This is why Paul and other New Testament writers can speak of an ongoing resurrection (Ephesians 5:14). It is also why Jesus, Paul, and other NT writers always go back to the Old Testament when talking of this "rising from the dead." 

In essence, we can say that the Body of Christ is true Israel resurrected. 

Of course this is going to be controversial for many Christians. It should cause a lot of questions about what we are typically taught about resurrection. These questions are good and should be asked. We need to wrestle through these types of things. 

Case in point: Both Daniel and Jesus pinpoint the timing of the Resurrection at the destruction of Jerusalem at the end of the old covenant age. (Daniel 12, Matthew 13:36-43, Matthew 24-25)

But how does this affect parenting? 

1) Christ's physical resurrection happened. 

The historical evidence is overwhelming as well as the theological evidence. Christ had to rise from the death of Adam, something that was not biological, so there had to be a significant sign. The entire OT is filled with stories that pre-figure this amazing redemptive event. 

2) Use this historical event to teach our kids how the Biblical narrative works. 

This "sign pointing to reality" is a great way to communicate proper Biblical interpretation. Particularly in this case, we can teach our children about the beauty of the sign that Christ performed to prove the reality that is accepted on Faith. We can show our kids how to connect the dots from Genesis to Revelation.

3) We can teach our kids that their reality is living in the Body of Christ, which means that they are standing up before God!

Of course this will cause even more controversy, but I believe it is high time that we start accepting (or at least considering) the corporate and covenantal context of the Bible. God always promised to be a God to "you and your children." Our kids are within our jurisdiction and that makes them a part of the resurrected corporate Body of Israel. If only one parent is a believer, then the kids are "clean" (1 Corinthians 7:12-16) The language Paul uses in this passage is ceremonial language. While our children are under our jurisdiction they are acceptable to God because they have legal standing in the Body. 

It is my conviction that fewer kids would leave the Church if we actually told them the truth about where they stand in relation to God. If we continually tell our kids that they are on the outside looking in, many will simply accept that vision and start living consistently. 

4) Grow your kids in the rich Garden soil of fulfilled redemption. 

I teach my kids that they are princesses and princes in God's Kingdom. They know nothing other than Garden living. Because the Body of Christ is resurrected Israel, we can boldly approach the throne of grace because we live in the presence of God. We have Eternal Life. 

Through the sacrifice, death, and resurrection of Christ we can finally Stand Up once and for all!

Resurrection is a reality. It is a reality that we should allow our kids to live in and enjoy as the their roots grow deeper and deeper in rich Garden soil. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Review of "Noah Primeval" by Brian Godawa

I am a big believer in approaching the Biblical narrative as one complete story.  If you think about it, story is the most effective way to communicate deep truths over generations of changing cultures and civilizations. No matter how things change as time marches on, the story still portrays it's original message.

Raising our kids with a healthy fascination and appreciation of a good story is something I hope to write about more in the future. It is also good for us adults to reacquaint ourselves with a good story from time to time. I don't do this often enough. I usually head for the theological or historical books, but ever so often I force myself to read fiction. I never regret it.

Recently I had the pleasure of reading Brian Godawa's Noah Primeval.  Brian is a very talented writer and has hit it out of the park more than once. He wrote the screen play for the movie To End All Wars and co-wrote the more recent movie, Alleged. (I highly recommend both of these movies if you enjoy movie nights.) He also wrote Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment.

Noah Primeval: Chronicles of the Nephilim is not your typical Sunday School presentation of the Noahic story. Brian delves into the ancient Near Eastern context of the story and brings you a fast pace, informative, suspenseful, and exhilarating re-telling of the familiar story without veering from the deep theological truths that undergird the Biblical narrative. In fact, I was surprised at how many allusions there were to many principles that come to us in the Scriptures. The more familiar you are with the Biblical narrative, the more you will see it in Noah Primeval. To me, that is great writing.

I also enjoyed how Brian presents Noah as a warrior-leader. His faith in God drives him to be a man of courage, yet he still has a complicated relationship with God. Doubt, anger, and stubbornness are not left out of the character. And why should they? They are as much a part of our relationship with God as anything else. Yet through these ups and downs, Noah learns lessons that every Christian should learn on their walk with God. Like I said, this is not your typical Sunday School lesson on Noah and his animals.

I also really enjoyed the appendices where Brian gives a synopsis of the ancient Near Eastern context that he is working from. Everything from angelic "sons of God" and their hyprid offspring, the Nephilim, to ancient Near Eastern cosmology that saw the world as sitting on literal pillars are explained and documented. Whether or not you agree with the conclusions, the book doubles as a great resource with plenty of footnotes pointing the reader in the right direction for further study.

Noah Primeval is a fantastic novel as well as a great way to expose yourself to great story telling. Enjoy it, learn from it, and pass on that love of story to your kids through your own version of the Noahic story, or any other Biblical story for that matter.

When kids become fascinated with the Biblical story, they become fascinated with their history as God's people! That is always a good thing.

Here is my review posted on

Friday, March 16, 2012

On Building Houses

Raising kids is like...

There are numerous conclusions to that sentence. Popular parenting books attack it in so many ways. One author said (and I'm paraphrasing) "raising kids is like working with wet cement. You only get so much time and then it is dry and hard." Before I had kids I bought into that type of an idea. I was going to "mold" my kids and shape them. I understood Deuteronomy 6:7-9 as something I had to do to my kids.

However, as I read, study, and interact with my own kids I am realizing that the Biblical paradigm is always based in relationship.

Now this presents a choice. What are we going to base our relationship with our kids on? Law or Grace?

Unfortunately, many "experts" advise that the parent-child relationship should be based on law.  Interestingly enough, I have found this to be true in my Reformed heritage because of the insistence that before the fall, Adam was in a Covenant of Works (something I have not come to reject).

If you are perceptive you can spot these "experts" by listening to their rhetoric.

Much, if not all of the emphasis is put on the parents so called duty to make their children learn obedience. Phrases like "first time obedience" and "bringing honor to the family" (through some arbitrary outward obedience standard) are very popular with this crowd. They hammer the "children obey your parents" proof texts and present them as a God ordained license to the parent to take whatever measures necessary to bring the child's will inline with the parents' convenience.

In short, the relationship is based on law. Obey and you're in. Disobey and you're out.

But there is an alternative: grace based parent-child relationships.

Following the Biblical example that is always grace first, then law, parents can build amazingly strong relationships with their children where true heart obedience can develop and mature as our children grow up in the Kingdom.  Deuteronomy 6:7-9 can be something that we actually do with our kids!

Imagine your relationship with your child as a house.

The cement foundation, the immovable rock that all else sits on, is grace. This is especially important as our kids are very young. They must always understand that parents love them like Pinocchio, no strings attached. This follows the example of God. He always extended copious amounts of grace before even speaking law.

If our kids see the foundation as law, that immovable slab will crush them.

Now law does come into play, don't get me wrong. However, if our relationship is not based on grace, they will never be able to respond to law in a proper and healthy way.

Law makes up the walls in our imaginary house. They sit upon the foundation, not the other way around. They define boundaries. They distinguish different rooms in the house. They have holes in them, called windows. Sometimes if the weather outside is beautiful those windows are open, letting in a fresh breeze. When there is a blizzard, those windows are shut keeping it warm and cozy inside. There are also doors in the law. They open and close. It takes wisdom to know when to leave a door open or when to lock it. Sometimes it is appropriate to knock, but sometimes it is ok to barge in. Sometimes you destroy a wall to make one room bigger or expand the house!

The point is, the law is not the immovable foundation, but a helpful tool to be used with wisdom.  We should understand that even if our kids are banging their head against a wall they are still standing on the foundation. Even more importantly, we should make sure they know that.

Finally, I would say that the roof is Love. Love covers everything. No matter when and where our kids are in the house they are under the shelter and protection of our Love.

If we think about it this is exactly the example that God gave to us in the Biblical narrative.

Law was a tutor to point God's people to Christ and bring them to full maturity as the Body of Christ. It was never the basis for God's relationship with His people.

Grace was the foundation, and God's love prompted Him to cover His people with the spotless robes of Christ.

We would do well to imitate this example as we raise our children in the Kingdom.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Sweet Slumber: Co-Sleeping from a Dad's Perspective

It's been a long day. My eyes are tired as I crawl into bed. I situate my pillows carefully and gently pull the covers to my chest.  As I roll onto my stomach I feel the tiny hand of Hannah come to rest on my back.

I know she is asleep.  The motion caused by me climbing into bed signals her to unconsciously connect with me. After I read to her a few hours earlier, we cuddled while she drifted off to sleep. I had reassured her that I would join her when it was my bed time. Feeling my back is her way registering that I kept my promise.

I pause one or two minutes to make sure she doesn't wake up. Her quiet, consistent breathing tells me that I made it in without disturbing her enough to fully awaken her, but just enough for her to know she has daddy next to her.

I lift my arm and slowly feel around for Abram.

He is a heavier sleeper. He sleeps in the twin bed pushed up against the queen bed.  That is, he starts there. Sometimes he migrates over to my empty spot after falling asleep. However, most of the time he doesn't get past "the crack" that the two beds create when pushed together. It is stuffed with blankets and a special connector to make a smoother transition, but his little body naturally deposits itself there, and fits quite nicely, I might add. (Better than mine. I know, I have spent many nights in "the crack.")

I hear his heavier, slightly louder breathing so I know it is safe to put my hand on him and connect the chain.

As I cuddle him I whisper softly, "I love you Abram."  He takes a deep breath, smacks his lips, grabs up his blanky, and repositions himself as he answers during the unconscious exhale, "I wuv you to daddy."

He doesn't seem to need to know that I am there like Hannah does. But, nonetheless, I need to let him know that I am there.

With the chain connected, I fall deeply asleep.

There is no telling how I will awake. Sometimes it is to Hannah or Abram informing me that they need to potty. Other times it is when they decide to tell me about a dream they had or they are excited about doing something in particular during the coming day.  Often it is just because I am uncomfortable because there are legs or arms draped over my neck, face, or stomach with a pair of feet under my back. (Of course this is their most comfortable position because they are always sound asleep when I wake up like this.)

However, the best is waking up exactly at the same time. To catch the slowly opening eyes of my child only to be followed by the very first smile of a new day! To be greeted with a good morning twinkle of the eyes that are fully rested and ready for adventure. Those are the moments that I especially treasure. There is no better way to be reminded that, "This is the day the Lord hath made. I will be glad and rejoice in it."

Co-sleeping can be a very enjoyable tool to help build a strong relationship with your kids. Nursing mothers can give a better testimony than I regarding the many advantages of this very natural sleeping arrangement. From a fathers perspective though, I have been amazed at what has happened since we decided to go this route. I wouldn't trade it for all the chocolate chip cookies in the world.

Now, I understand that co-sleeping is just not possible for everyone. Every family is unique and will adapt differently during their own parenting journey.  For us, co-sleeping was a necessity that turned into a luxury, and I would highly encourage everyone to give it a shot or at least look at some alternatives.

Nursing mothers can "side car" the crib.

If schedules don't allow co-sleeping, take advantage of family naps on the weekends.

Read to your kids at night and cuddle them while they fall asleep. This only adds 15 minutes or so to your bedtime routine, and I find that it's a great time to catch up on reading with a Kindle or I-pod.

Cuddle them in a Lazy-boy when they are tired. Even if they don't fall asleep the rest and bonding will do you both good.

You can always rock them to sleep after reading, and then transfer them to the bed.

My favorite is just to gather all the beds in the house, and push them together to make a giant family bed. Jump in together, give everyone their own covers, and see how it goes for a month or two. But then, that wouldn't be an alternative. That would be the real thing!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The "Ya'll" of being Born Again.

This is an article that I wrote for my Fresh Brewed Theology column in The Choteau Acantha. It was published in January of this year.  I am posting it here because it pertains to a comment by Tabatha in a recent post, Biblically Defining Eternal Life.  

There is a great debate within Christianity about how an individual "get's saved."  (Calvinism vs. Arminianism) I have come to the conclusion that both were working from faulty a pre-supossition. They both ignored the Covenantal context of the Bible, and rather imposed their westernized framework upon the text. Hopefully, this article will stimulate fresh thinking in these areas. 

Fresh Brewed Theology, January 2012.

"Alter calls," "the sinners prayer," and "inviting Jesus into my heart" are all phrases that dominate modern Christianity.  It is not uncommon for Christianity to be summed up as a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  In other words, it’s He and I. This is amplified by the influence of the westernized rugged individualism of our culture. 
However, Biblically speaking this may be putting the cart before the horse.  Throughout the Bible, God always deals first and foremost with corporate bodies of individuals, and then with the individuals within that corporate body.  
Imagine the Hebrews of the Old Testament as a student body.  God brought them into His University when He brought them out of Egypt.  Over time though, that student body failed to graduate because they could not collectively pass the test of the law.  There were some individuals who followed God, but they could not bring the whole student body to graduation, because all sinned.   In fact, there are many places in the Old Testament that refer to this corporate body as “dead” even though it was made up of living and breathing human beings. 
Now let’s take a closer look at one of the more well known phrases found in the New Testament.  
John chapter 3 records Nicodemus as a ruler of this Old Testament student body when Jesus comes on the scene.  During this now famous interview, conducted under the cover of darkness, Jesus says to Nicodemus, “You must be born again.”  
The original King James version gets the “you” of this passage correct when it renders it “ye.” This very small, yet foundational variance should be recognized.  The “you” is plural and is speaking about a collection of individuals.  The greek language makes this variance clear, but modern english does not differentiate unless you grew up in the south where “you all” is squished together to make “ya’ll.”
Jesus is telling Nicodemus that ya’ll, the failing Hebrew student body, must be born again.  In order to graduate from God’s University there needed to be a new student body. 
Jesus was the first to perfectly pass the final exam.  Yet, the law, still put him to death unjustly.  Through that sacrifice, and vindicated by his resurrection, He became a new spiritually reborn student body that the law could no longer condemn.  Those who were trapped in the fleshly body of Adam that only brought death could now be released to join the reborn spiritual body of Christ wherein eternal life was found.  
Abandoning our own test score and putting our faith in Jesus’ test score is all that’s required to become a member of the class of Jesus.  However, it is not a one person class.  When one joins the body of Christ one is joining a corporate body that transcends time, race, tradition, denomination, culture and creed.  Together, the ya’ll is a New Creation. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Biblically Defining Eternal Life

What is Eternal Life according to the Bible? Have you ever really contemplated that question?

Growing up, I was always under the impression that "eternal life" didn't start until after I died.  I don't recall actually having been taught that specifically, but it was generally implied by the worldview and culture that I lived in.

Of all the shifts that I have experienced over the past few years, understanding what the Bible means by eternal life has been one of the most profound.

Do you realize that there is only one place in the entire Bible that specifically defines eternal life?  Yep, just one!  It is actually Jesus that defines it for us.

In John 17 Jesus is praying for his disciples as He prepares to embark on what is traditionally called "The Passion."  (On a quick side note, this is actually what should be called "the Lord's prayer". The traditional "Lord's prayer" that is recited on Sundays was actually what the disciples were supposed to pray, but I digress.)

Now read John 17 verses 1-3 again.  Maybe again for the very first time!

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.  And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Did you catch that?  Eternal Life, as defined by Jesus, is "knowing God the Father and Jesus Christ whom he sent."

In the Bible the language of "knowing" is often set within the context of sexual union between a husband and wife. It is presented as a deep intimate relationship.

To know God the Father and Jesus Christ is eternal life.

Is it really that simple?  Yes.

Unfortunately, that simple answer brings into question many of our deeply held traditions. Here are just a few.

If eternal life is relationship, then what is the "death" that the Bible talks about?

Is it possible that eternal life starts on this side of the grave, here in this world?

Is the message of Jesus actually about how to get into Heaven before you die?

Take some time to ponder how John 17:1-3 will affect the way you answer these questions.  And if you're not already, start living the eternal life that you already have!