The surprising miracle of the Bible, which is still the best selling book in the world, is this simple fact: It was written by the hanged, by the executed, by the oppressed and downtrodden, and NOT by the executioners, NOT by the kings, NOT by the military generals or the victors. This is a very impressive feat. It is a celebration of the underdogs of history. It is the voice of the slaves, the women, the minority peoples, the pushed around, shoved around, beat up and displaced people of the world.
Psalm 139:16 “…all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (NIV) This verse clearly says that everything—all of our days—have been pre-scripted for us, right? Hold your horses there. Let’s take a look at what other translations have done with this text and look again at the context to conclude what the intended meaning is.
Was “Jesus was slain from the foundation of the world?” Most of us got this notion from the NIV translation. It gets the first half of verse 13:8 right, but still wrongly uses “from the creation of the world” to modify “the Lamb that was slain.” Other translations use the phrase to modify when the names were written. It’s easy to see there’s confusion even among the scholars around where this phrase belongs.
Ephesians 1:4 “God chose us in Christ to be holy and blameless in God's presence before the creation of the world. God destined us to be his adopted children through Jesus Christ because of his love. This was according to his goodwill and plan...” (CEB). Along with the shocking revelation of the Gentiles inclusion in the family of God, it was just as surprising that anyone could become family with God. God's plan to make (any) people his sons and daughters through adoption was only just being understood at the time of Paul’s writing—the first generation of Christians.
Romans 9 has intimidated more believers regarding predestination than probably any other passage in Scripture. Romans 9:18-21 “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use.” (NIV)
Some of us may feel like the bastion of certainty that used to be our faith is now riddled with bullet holes. Few walls remain standing. Some may feel that their spiritual life has suffered so many body slams, they aren’t sure if there is any pulse remaining. I read a poignant confession from someone who misses Jesus like she misses an ex. She misses the comfort in knowing that sweet Jesus is with her and looking out for her. She misses praying the prayers that she now no longer believes to be valid prayers. Her confession of post-deconstruction loneliness mirrors the feelings of a widow yearning for a lost lover, or of an amputee having ghost feelings in a lost limb.
There once was a king who wanted to throw a party. He prepared the finest food and drink and adorned the palace with lavish decorations. But more shocking than all of the extravagance were the unprecedented surprises he planned unveil at the feast. Unknown to the attendees, the king prepared three envelopes for every invitee. The first was a cancellation of all financial and legal debts. The second was a certificate of adoption, giving any person the right to become a son or daughter of the king. The third was the most scandalous of all. It contained a deed of co-ownership of the kingdom and a royal edict to share all authority with the king. Nothing like this had ever been done.
At first glance, Romans 8:29,30 seems to say, “God first chose you to be conformed to the image of Christ, then he called you, then he made you righteous and then he glorified you.” Chosen, called, saved, glorified—in that order—for each individual person. So, this proves that if Joe was not first chosen, then he cannot be called, saved and glorified. Right? Not quite.
Some use the phrase, “all who were appointed for eternal life believed,” from Acts 13:48 as proof of predestination. I hope to show you, that’s not what Acts 13 is saying. Contrary to the way the phrase reads in the NIV, this passage is not suggesting that only individuals who had been chosen by God beforehand can believe. We must remember that the biggest and most culturally disruptive revelation of the New Testament is inclusiveness.
Invitations go out first to the few and then to the many. In the first story, the reward is the wages; in the second, the reward is the banquet itself. Both stories seem to focus on people freely choosing or refusing an invitation. So, why would Jesus conclude, “many are invited to be saved, but only few are chosen to be saved?” He wouldn’t. Because, that isn’t the point of these stories.
Predestination is the idea that God chooses who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell regardless of any human merit, effort or virtue. Calvinism teaches that God must regenerate an individual before she is converted. In other words, before a person can desire to come to Christ and thus truly be saved, her desires must be changed first. And desiring God itself is a gift from God. For a person to really want Christ in their heart, their heart must first be changed to want Christ. (Confused yet?)
God is Renovating the Church. He is Refining his Bride. This is a time to embrace change, not refuse it. A growing number of people identify themselves as those who “love Jesus, but not the church.” Hashtags declare #EmptyThePews and #Exvangelical. Statistics show a drastic decline in church attendance in North America. This is troubling for church leaders, who consider this mass exodus a moral crisis for faith and for Christianity. This series of blog posts (I don’t know how many it will be, yet) will address why church as an institution seems to be dying in the West and why church (as a collection of people) is booming in the Global South and East. What sort of DNA…
We have this beautiful poem in the New Testament—the Kenosis Hymn—to invite us into the same “Aha moment” that the early church celebrated and commemorated. This “Aha” will change the way you see everything. It will redefine strength and godlikeness. It will become a flaming example of humility that burns away all pride and fear of smallness…
I grew up in a tradition that generally believed that the world was getting worse. The idea was in the atmosphere. It was also explicitly taught as coming from the Bible. There would be teaching series from the pulpit on Bible prophecy and what to expect for the future. It was always pretty negative. And depending on whether you believed in a pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation or post-tribulation rapture, you would have varying levels of anxiety regarding your future. But rarely ever hope.
This is so foundational to the way the universe works that even if you don't know that God sees you and has real affection for you, when you operate with this, doors will open. Things will happen. Resources will flow toward you. Opportunities will greet you. There are countless stories floating out there proving this principle.
...We are the wisdom of Solomon.
We are the heart of David.
We are the faith of Abraham.
We are the fear of Isaac.
We are the courage of Deborah.
We are Jonathan’s armor-bearer.
We are the strength of Samson.
We are the favored ones.
We are the mantle of Elijah.
We are the many-colored coat of Joseph.
We are the staff of Moses.
We are Joseph’s best dream.
We are the light of the world.
We Are One...
And then I saw it. And it seared an image into my soul that persists to this day. It awakened a hunger I did not know was possible or even permissible. Three rows in front of me, two of these seniors—two eighteen-year-old guys who appeared to be tough, masculine, strong and confident—had their arms around each other. One leaned his head on the shoulder of the other. I lost my breath. My eyes welled up with tears. I knew…at that moment…