Monthly Archives: September 2020

Bride of Christ (Revelation 17-22)

So, this is the Tale of Two Cities, which is also the tale of two women, which is also the one story of the earth’s history. The two cities could not be any less alike. Babylon is (18:2) “a home for demons and a haunt for every evil spirit” while New Jerusalem is (21:3) “the dwelling place of God [and] men.” Babylon is self-indulgent. New Jerusalem is sacrificially compassionate. Babylon’s sins are piled up to heaven (18:5) but New Jerusalem is clothed in righteous deeds (19:8). Babylon draws its energy from hell while New Jerusalem comes down out of heaven.

So we have two women who are two cities that express one age-old reality. That reality existed before there were cities, when there was only a garden, when there was Eden. It has expressed itself in city after city: magnificent Pi-Ramesses, Egypt; brutal Ninevah, Assyria; beautiful Babylon; intellectual Athens; powerhouse Rome; Enlightenment Paris; Nazi Berlin; Marxist Moscow; and Maoist Beijing. They all have rejected God’s rule and oppressed his people. Age in and age out, in one city after another, this spirit has emerged. Please God that “pursuit-of-happiness America” (as Eugene Peterson once put it) doesn’t follow suit.

Babylon is what takes God’s people away from him. It is seductive, luring people away from God to luxuries and distractions. It is also bloodthirsty, slaughtering the people of God, whenever they get in the way. When this letter was written, that spirit had broken out in Rome. Today, it is has emerged in China. Where will it rage tomorrow? It is ongoing but it is not endless. There will be a last battle.

The war will come to a head someday – perhaps in our day – and when it does, it will not go well with Babylon, or whatever its global expression is at the time.
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Why Is the Book Revelation so Hard to Understand? (Guest post by Kevin Looper)

This past week, I (Shayne) completed a series on The Church in Images – the biblical images used to represent the Church. We concluded with the image of the Church as Bride from The Book of Revelation (a sermon I … Continue reading

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Doormat Faith: There Is Something Better

By “doormat faith” I (following Dickson) do not mean faith that turns people into doormats but faith that gets people to the doormat and leaves them there. They remain outside of the kind of life that apprenticeship to Jesus makes possible.

Doormat faith is not the obedience-producing, righteousness-accompanying, love-expressing faith about which St. Paul so frequently wrote. Doormat faith brings no assurance. It falls short of being transformational.

This is not to say that doormat faith is a bad thing. It is certainly no substitute for the faith that connects a person to God, but it can be a precursor to it. Its strength is that it leads people to the doorstep of a richly satisfying life with God. Its weakness is that it cannot bring people through the door. It is good, but it is not enough.
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The Church: The Bride of Christ (pt. 1)

Before we start developing the image, though, there is a little straightening up to do. There are songs, poems, and hymns, as well as liturgies, that speak as if individuals are the Bride of Christ. That kind of talk began somewhere around the 14th century among Christian mystics. Union with Christ was romanticized. Individuals, both women and men, pictured themselves as brides of Christ.

In the Catholic church, a ritual emerged in which women who had taken orders – nuns – were ritually married to Christ. The catechism says, “Virgins who … are consecrated to God by the diocesan bishop according to the approved liturgical rite are betrothed mystically to Christ…”

There is much here I do not understand and do not intend to criticize. There is something beautiful in the picture of a person being mystically betrothed to Christ but it is not a biblical picture. It was not developed in the Bible but in the medieval Church. The biblical picture is not of an individual, not even a nun, being the bride of Christ. Rather, it is the Church that is Christ’s betrothed and will become, on some glorious future day, his bride.

With that, let’s turn to the Bible. Doctrines don’t come out of nowhere. St. Paul and St. John did not conjure up the image of the Bride of Christ out of thin air. They were men who knew the Old Testament, memorized large parts of it, and thought about its message a lot. As they thought about those biblical passages, the Holy Spirit gave them the image of the Church as a bride—the Messiah’s bride, the bride of Christ.
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People and Their Rituals: Why Do They Do That?

Life is full of rituals, from high church liturgies to baseball players’ on-deck circle routines. Humans are ritual-making creatures. Rituals connect us to the past and remind us of what is important in the present. How some rituals came into … Continue reading

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The Church in Biblical Images: Kingdom Colony (Phil. 1:27-30)

I am sitting in the TV lounge in the dorm during my freshman or sophomore year. There is a cluster of couches in there, all facing the television, with a dozen or more guys scattered around the room. The couch I’m on is full and my friend George Ashok Kumar Das is sitting next to me.

At some point during the movie we are watching, Taupu (that was his nickname) takes my left hand in his right. I recoil. I have no idea that in his culture, as in much of Africa and the Middle East, men hold hands as a sign of friendship and trust.

Every culture has its own customs. In Thailand, if you drop a coin and, to stop it from rolling under your car, you step on it, you might cause great offense. The image of the king’s head is on that coin, and to step on his face is a dreadful insult.

In Vietnam, if you signal to a restaurant server to come to your table, she may pour the soup in your lap because you’ve just treated her as if she were a dog. If you are caught selling chewing gum in Singapore, you could do up to two years in prison and be fined $100,000. Kingdoms and countries have their own codes regarding what it means to be a good citizen.

Those codes are sometimes exported. For example, if you were in the Bangladeshi embassy in Washington D.C. and saw two men holding hands, it might mean something quite different from what it would mean if you stepped outside onto International Drive and saw the same thing. The culture inside the embassy has been imported.

The letter we are looking at today was written to people who lived, worked, and played in an exported culture. Continue reading

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Humility: The Path Along Which All Spiritual Growth Proceeds

Jeremy Taylor was one of the most influential teachers and theologians of the 17th century. His influence reaches our day through writers like Geroge Macdonald andC. S. Lewis. His two most famous works are The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living and The Rule and Exercises of Holy Dying. My son Kevin recently showed me some of his instructions from Holy Living on the subject of humility.

Since humility is the path along which all spiritual growth proceeds, and since “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble,” true humility is of greater worth than gold. Taylor makes the following suggestions for anyone who would live in the “grace of humility.”

To begin with, we need to understand that “Humility consists in a realistic opinion of yourself, namely that you are an unworthy person.” For the self-esteem generation, this assertion cannot help but seem misguided and even harmful. It is perhaps the most difficult advice Jeremy Taylor gives on the subject – and the most important.

When Taylor says we are “unworthy,” he does not mean we are worthless. Far from it: our worth is incalculable. When he says we are unworthy, he means that we have done nothing and can do nothing to merit the value God has placed on us. Until I see this is so, I will always be trying to prove myself worthy by my strength, my intelligence, my kindness or even my spirituality. I cannot “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18) while at the same time trying to prove myself. It is impossible. Continue reading

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The Role of Desire in the Religious Life

Desire plays an important role in life. If it were not for desire, the human race would not propagate. God made humans in such a way that they need, and are capable of experiencing, desire.

Desire is also important in the religious life, though its role is seen in vastly different ways, depending on the religion espoused. In Buddhism, if I understand it correctly, desire (or longing) is regarded as the principal cause of suffering. Desire is the fetter that binds people and keeps them from reaching enlightenment.

The Christian view on desire is nuanced. The King James word for it is “lust,” which frequently refers to inappropriate and destructive desires (like the desire to have another person’s spouse), but occasionally refers to appropriate and healthy desires. Jesus, for example, “eagerly desired” – the word regularly translated as “lusted” – “to eat the Passover” meal with his disciples.

Buddhism approaches desire or longing as something to renounce and eventually eliminate by following the eight-fold path. There are many points of contact for Christians and Buddhists along the eight-fold path, though their underlying assumptions will be at odds and will inevitably lead them in different directions.

Christians are never asked to make a universal renunciation of desire. Such a renunciation would be counterproductive. Instead, they are told to “put to death evil desires” while cultivating healthy ones. While they know that desire can fetter a person to a life of lovelessness and suffering, they also believe that desire can be a springboard into a life full of love and contentment. They don’t want to get rid of their desires, they want to transform them. Continue reading

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Exaggerthinking: How to Counter It

St. Paul says (Romans 12:3) to “every person” (not just to the proud): “Do not exaggerthink.” But how do we avoid it? Some of us, because of the way we were raised – and I’m not thinking of kids whose parents were always bragging on them – are predisposed to exaggerthinking. How do we stay out of the trap?

In spite of the way dozens of translations render verse 3, Paul does not say we are to think about ourselves. What he says is: “Don’t exaggerthink but think in a way that leads to realistic thinking” (my translation). Realistic thinking can’t happen if you are only thinking about yourself. To think realistically, we must include God and others in our thoughts. Continue reading

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