Category Archives: Theology

Scapegoating, Responsibility, and Neighborly Love in the Plague

Here’s a very relevant article to the age of Covid-19 – a brief history of the church’s response to another pandemic – this one in the 14th century. There are lessons for us here, and I recommend it to you.

The writer is my son, Joel Looper (PhD, University of Aberdeen), author of the forthcoming book A Protestantism without Reformation: What Dietrich Bonhoeffer Saw in America (Baylor Press). Continue reading

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Powerful Prayers: Make Yourself at Home

Why pray? Or, to be more specific, why do you pray? To be more specific still, why do you pray for other people – friends, family, your kingdom comrades from Lockwood or other churches? We often talk about what to pray but seldom talk about why to pray.

I suspect – I know this is true of me – that we usually pray because we are aware of a need, of discomfort, or of danger. We pray when we see a threat to someone’s health or security or faith. And when we are unaware of a threat, we don’t think to pray.

That we don’t think to pray when things are going well betrays a faulty understanding of prayer and probably a false belief: that God left us here to muddle through and keep ourselves intact in the process. When that becomes more than we can manage, then it’s time to pray.

But do you see what this reveals about our view of God? We think he’s like the butler in a Jeeves novel – the smartest, most capable person around – who (for some reason) has nothing better to do in life than to get us out of scrapes and make us comfortable. But to think that is to misconstrue our purpose here and God’s, his role and ours.

The Apostle Paul doesn’t think of God as if he were “our Jeeves in heaven.” It’s not that he doesn’t want us to pray about our need—he tells us to do just that: to present our requests to God. But most of Paul’s prayers in the Bible don’t seem to come out of a sense of discomfort or fear or even need. They come out of a readiness to join God in what he is doing. That’s different than a readiness for God to join us in what we’re doing. Continue reading

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Powerful Prayers: The Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation III (His Incomparably Great Power for Us Who Believe)

Paul longs for Christians to know, to the full extent of their mind’s ability, the supreme greatness of God’s power. He knows that when the Spirit of wisdom and revelation opens people’s eyes to God’s surpassing power, it changes them. It gives rise to reverence in them, what the ancients called “the fear of the Lord,” and makes them passionate worshipers. As our knowledge and experience of God’s power grows, the fear of failure, fear of people, fear of the future, fear of privation is extinguished. Knowing the power of God sets people free to try, to give, to enjoy, to love. We need to know, to the very limits of our ability, the power that God possesses.

This power, Paul says, is “for us who believe” or “for us the believing.” Do you think that is an accurate description of you? John the believing. Dawn the believing. Ethan the believing. Emily the believing. Not everyone is in position to take advantage of the power Paul is talking about. It is for the believing.

That begs the question, doesn’t it? What are “the believing” believing? In my experience, many people who confess belief in God have little more than a blur or smear of religious thoughts – some quite pagan – about a God who is generally nice and will look after us, and take us to heaven when we die. Would Paul recognize those folks as “the believing”? Continue reading

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Powerful Prayers: The Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation III (Incomparable Power)

Imagine you are at your high schooler’s track and field regional finals. She has already run the 100-meter relay and won’t run the 200 for at least a half-hour, so you mosey over to watch some of the field events. The shot putters are competing right now and they are well-matched and they are remarkably good. A couple of them are throwing around the 60-foot line.

Imagine you are at your high schooler’s track and field regional finals. She has already run the 100-meter relay and won’t run the 200 for at least a half-hour, so you mosey over to watch some of the field events. The shot putters are competing right now and they are well-matched and they are remarkably good. A couple of them are throwing around the 60-foot line.

What word would you use to describe the difference between this shot putter’s throw and all the rest? Greek has the perfect word for it: huperballon, which means literally “throw beyond,” and figuratively to outdo something by a long shot. That is the word St. Paul uses to describe the power of God. It is not even in the same ballpark with any other power we can name or conceive. It is beyond our grasp. Continue reading

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The Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation: The Riches of His Glorious Inheritance in the Saints

To date, NASA is pretty sure it has found around 4,000 planets outside our solar system and has compiled a list of 4,000 more promising sites. Since it is utterly impossible to see planets in another solar system, even with the most powerful telescopes, how does NASA look for them? Astronomers look for the temporary dimming of a star’s light, which they believe happens when a planet’s orbit takes it between us and its own sun.

Doing astronomy is a little like solving a detective mystery: one must search for clues. In a mystery novel, the brilliant detective walks into the room and knows almost immediately that the duke slumped over in his chair did not die of natural causes. He’s certain someone else was in the room when his lordship met his untimely death. The police, of course, noted the wine glass on the tray but only he understood its significance: the dead man was a teetotaler.

Those are clues for finding murderers and exoplanets but what clues would a detective (say, an apostolic detective) look for to determine whether God was in a church? St. Paul knew the signs and referred to them again and again. When you find (v. 15) the presence of faith in Jesus, along with a love for all the saints, you can be sure God has been there. No one else leaves precisely those clues. They are as good as a fingerprint. They are God’s fingerprint. Continue reading

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Where is Heaven? (Clue: It’s Closer Than You Think)

In 1869, The Scientific American ran a short (and sardonic) piece on Dr. D. Mortimer, a medical doctor who believed he had found the location of heaven. His suggestion, if I understand it correctly, was a fascinating one. According to Dr. Mortimer, heaven lay within the sun as a vast globe, “at least 500,000 miles in diameter.”
Apparently, Dr. Mortimer believed that the blessed occupants of heaven were either shielded from its heat or transformed physiologically (an idea based on the Apostle Paul’s writings) so they might flourish there. This location also offers the added convenience of close proximity to a large “lake of fire” for those who are not blessed. Continue reading

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Powerful Prayers: The Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation

We’ll discover another way to pray for the people and the church we love.

After Josh Ferrin of Bountiful, Utah, bought his first home, he went poking around and found a little access panel in the ceiling of the garage. He thought it might be a place his kids would like to play. When he investigated, he found eight boxes, each with rolls of cash wrapped in twine – $45,000 worth.

He called the previous occupant, whose family had owned the house for years, and told him to come and get the cash. The owner, a Mr. Bangerter, never realized what treasure he had in his own home.

St. Paul knows that Jesus’s people might not realize what treasure they have in their relationship with Christ, so he prays that they might discover it. Continue reading

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I AM the Vine

But what is our part?

It can be stated in three words: Abide in Jesus. That’s job one. If we do that, we will be okay, no matter what else happens. We will produce abundant fruit. Christ’s life will be apparent in the fruit that grows from us. Our greatest danger doesn’t arise from trials but from failing to abide.

Jesus says in verse 4: “Remain” – that’s how the NIV translates the word the King James has as abide – “in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”

To abide is to stay or remain or reside. According to Jesus, this is the key to being fruitful – that is, the key to experiencing fulfillment. Verse 5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit…”

Is abiding something mystical? Not really. I abide in my home. When I go somewhere – whether to town or across the country – I come back to my home. My life is oriented around my home. That’s where I eat meals, where I sleep, where I work, where I communicate, where I relax. I know how long it takes to get from my home to most all the places I go. I know how long it takes to get back. I plan my life around my home.
To be homeless is an enormous trial. It disorients a person. It throws everything off. Some people are spiritually homeless. They are disoriented in their spirits. They are not abiding – not residing – in Christ and so everything for them is unsettled. Continue reading

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I AM the Vine

Excerpt from I AM the Vine http://lockwoodchurch.org/media (Listening time: 21:00) An exceptionally popular pastor and writer came out with a book in which he criticized the church’s “incessant habit of reaching back into the old covenant concepts, teachings, sayings, and … Continue reading

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Nostalgia and Faith: Can They Coexist?

No one needs faith for something that has already happened. Faith, by its nature, requires a future component, a measure of uncertainty. In situations where there is no uncertainty – the package has already arrived, as promised, the test has been scored – faith is superfluous.

Does this imply that people of faith, like myself, will not be nostalgic, since nostalgia is about the settled past and faith is about the unsettled future? I hope not, because I sometimes wax nostalgic, particularly around the holidays. I remember winter mornings when my brother and I would run out on the front porch in our bare feet to retrieve the foil-topped bottles the milkman had left. We’d pour ourselves a glass, then chew the frozen milk crystals that collected on the top.

Such memories are pleasant to me. Nostalgia is not about times of loneliness and sorrow, but about times of peace and camaraderie. The past I remember seems simpler, gentler, and more manageable. Unlike the future, the past never incites fear.

When the term “nostalgia” first came into use in the 17th century, it denoted a kind of mental illness. The doctor who coined the term described it as a “neurological disease of essentially demonic cause.” It was thought to be a type of home-sickness – the term coming from the Greek roots for “returning home” and for “pain.”

In recent years, however, social scientists have discovered various benefits that accompany nostalgia. Continue reading

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