How do Christians Connect with God? (2)

Earlier I posted my comments before the Mubarak Mosque on October 15th.

The entire service is now available online in video (click here).

Photo of Stephen W. Hiemstra
Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Mubarak Mosque, Chantilly, Virginia on Religious Founders’ Day, October 15, 2017

Background

Good afternoon. My name is Stephen W. Hiemstra. I am a volunteer pastor and a Christian writer. My volunteer work focuses on Hispanic ministry and I write about Christian spirituality. My wife, Maryam, hails from Iran and considers herself a Muslim. We have been married 33 years and have three grown children.

My comments today will focus on how Christians connect with God. Because today we are celebrating Religious Founders’ Day, I take the inspiration for my talk from a sermon by the Apostle Peter that he gave on the day that the Christian church was founded, which we call Pentecost.

Invocation

Please join me in a word of prayer.

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14 ESV) In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Introduction

How do Christians connect with God? (2X)

Let me start by asking, what do secular people think about connecting with God?

Basically, they say that if you talk to God, that’s prayer, but if God talks to you, that’s psychosis. While pastor’s often tell this story as a light-hearted joke, psychologist Sigmund Freud described God’s existence as an illusion.[1] Karl Marx believed that religion (that is, God’s existence) was the opiate of the masses.[2] In other words, if you believe in God, Freud tells us you must be nuts and Marx tells us that you must be on drugs.

In my recent memoir, Called Along the Way, published this last month, I write that anyone in this secular age who takes God seriously must be considered a brother or sister in the faith. In this spirit, I would like to thank the Mubarak Mosque for the invitation to speak this afternoon to address this important topic.

Scripture

How do Christians connect with God? (2X)

The basic path to connecting with God is outlined by the Apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost. Hear Peter’s words:

“And Peter said to them, Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38 ESV)

Elsewhere, the Apostle Paul writes to the church at Rome about 30 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, some 2,000 years ago:

“…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Roman 10:9 ESV)

Rome at the time of Paul’s writing was the capital of the Western world much like Washington DC is today.

Because most of you here today are not Christians, you may be asking yourself why Peter and Paul are so adamant about two things mentioned in these two passages: confession of sins and belief in Jesus Christ (2X).

Transcendent and Holy

To understand the focus here, you need to understand the Christian understanding of God. Christians believe in a personal God who is both transcendent and Holy (2X).

God’s transcendence arises because he created the known universe. The first verse of the Bible in the Book of Genesis says:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1 ESV)

As creator, God had to exist before the universe that he created and he had to have been set apart from it. Time, as we know it, is part of the created universe. Consequently, God stands outside of time and space (2X). Because we exist inside time and space, we cannot approach God on our own. He has to reveal himself to us (2X).

Likewise, we cannot approach a Holy God, because we are sinful beings, not Holy beings. Our sin separates us from a Holy God.

To summarize, we cannot approach God on our own because he transcends time and space and because he is holy. Only God can initiate connection with unholy, created beings such as we are. There is no path up the mountain to God; God must come down (2X). As Christians, we believe that God came down in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, whose coming was prophesied from the earliest days of scripture. For example, the Prophet Job wrote (slide 5):

“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth.  And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27 NIV)

The Book of Job is thought by some to have been written by Moses before any other book in the Bible and before he returned to Egypt, which makes the anticipation of a redeemer all the more stunning. Moses himself lived about 1,500 years before Christ.

God’s Self-Revelation

So who is this transcendent God that loves us enough to initiate connection with us in spite of our sin?

Later, after giving Moses the Ten Commandments for a second time on Mount Sinai, God reveals himself to Moses with these words:

“The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7 ESV)

Notice that God describes himself first as merciful. As Christians, we believe that God love is shown to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because God himself has provided the ultimate sacrifice of his son on the cross, Christians do not need to offer animal sacrifices—in Christ, our debt to God for sin has already been paid. This is real mercy, real love.

Listen to the confession given by the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the church in Corinth:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [that is Peter’s nickname], then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinth 15:3-6 ESV)

Jesus, as the perfect son of God, is the bridge that God has given us to connect with himself through the Holy Spirit, as Peter said on the Day of Pentecost:

“And Peter said to them, Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38 ESV)

Through the Holy Spirit, we are able to pray to God with the assurance that we will be heard; we are able to read the Bible with the confidence that God will speak to us; and we are able to live our daily lives knowing that God walks with us each step of the way. In this way, as Christians we are always connected with God in Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit.

Conclusion

Will you pray with me?

Oh dear Lord, thank you for the gift of your presence through the person of Jesus. Forgive our sin and draw us closer to you day by day. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Presentation

Before I turn over the podium, let me read a few words from the acknowledgment section of my book, Life in Tension.

“In the fall of 2014, I was invited to speak at a local mosque about my book, A Christian Guide to Spirituality. Speaking at a mosque was new to me and anticipating this visit I spent three days fasting and praying for guidance. Instead of guidance on the mosque visit, God inspired me to write this book.” (xvii)

The reference here is to the Mubarak Mosque where we now stand. Consequently, I would like to present you with a copy of the book, Life in Tension. Thank you.

[1] Sigmund Freud. 1961. The Future of an Illusion. Translated by James Strachey. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opium_of_the_people.

How do Christians Connect with God?

Also see:

Blackaby Expects Answers to Prayer 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2fEPbBK

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Prayer of Praise

October table setting of praiseBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Lord Almighty,

All praise and honor be to your name,

the name of all names.

Lord of our comings and goings, our beginnings and endings, our good moods and bad ones.

For you have shared yourself with us graciously, the person of Jesus of Nazareth,

who lived as a good example to sinners,

died for our salvation from sin, and

rose from the dead that we might have life and hope eternal.

And in spite of our sinful state,

you gave us the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit,

who provides us with every good gift,

provisions and sustains our world, and

remains with us on good days and bad.

Accept our praise as we give ourselves to you.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Prayer of Praise

Also see:

Prayer for Shalom 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2fEPbBK

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Chapter 8 of Revelation: Deja Vu

CloudsBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

What does it mean to be silent before God?

One of the more stunning reminders of the horrors of modern war stands in downtown Berlin in Germany. It is called: Kaiser-Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche (memory church—see right). The church, built between 1891 and 1895 by Kaiser Wilhelm II, burned to the ground by Allied bombing on the night of November 18, 1943, except for the broken west tower. After the war, the people of Berlin built a new church (see below), but left the west tower as a reminder of the horrors of war.

The prophet Zephaniah (1:7).writes: Be silent before the Lord GOD! For the day of the LORD is near…

Why is it so hard to remember?

What is most interesting in Revelations 8 are not the four trumpets, it is the reason for the delay in their sounding.

The apostle John writes: And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel (Rev 8:3-4). The prayers of the saints delay judgment.

Do you believe in the power of prayer?

While some observers speculate that these are imprecatory prayers (damnation prayers such as Psalms 69 and 109), the delay of God’s judgment brings to mind the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matt 5:44). The prayers of the saints here echo Abraham’s response on hearing of God’s plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah: Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? (Gen 18:23).

Do you think that Abraham believed in the power of prayer?

The trumpets should also be familiar. The trumpet calls echo the plagues of Egypt in Exodus 9:22-25, 7:20-25, 10:21-23, and 10:12-15. For example, God commands Moses: Then Moses stretched out his staff toward heaven, and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down to the earth. And the LORD rained hail upon the land of Egypt (Exod 9:23). Again, the allusion here is the Olivet Discourse (Matt 24).

Why is it so hard just to be silent before the Lord?

Questions

1. What does it mean to be silent before God? (Zephaniah 1:7; Psalm 32:3; Proverbs 17:28)
2. What image comes to mind when trumpets are blown in the bible? (Exodus 19:19; Joshua 6:1-4). How many times is the trumpet blown in Revelations 8 and 9?
3. What plagues do we hear about? (Exodus 9:22-25, 7:20-25, 10:21-23, and 10:12-15).
4. How do these scenes compare with the Olivet Discourse (Mark 13; Matt 24; Luke 21)?
5. What woes come to mind in Revelation 8:13? (Luke 6:20-27; Matt 23:12-30)

Chapter 8 of Revelation: Deja Vu

Also see:

Chapter 7 of Revelation: Heavenly Worship 

Chapter 9 of Revelation: The Paradox of the Cross 

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2fEPbBK

Continue Reading

Chapter 9 of Revelation: The Paradox of the Cross

CloudsBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died….So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live (Num 21:5-9).

Judgment is not pretty—especially when it is deserved and avoidable.

Revelations 9 begins with the release of Satan from the abyss. V. 1 alludes to Jesus’ statement when the seventy-two disciples report by from their missionary trip: saying, Lord, even the demons subject to us in your name! And he [Jesus] said to them, I saw Satan are fall like lightning from heaven (Luke 10:17-18). Satan believes that he has won with Calvary’s cross, but he is defeated with resurrection on Easter morning. This is the paradox of the cross.

So what is the point of these horrible judgments? Our text provides two clues.

The first clue comes in the three references to scorpions (Revelations 9: 3, 5, and 10). The scorpion references are a reminder of the story of the fiery serpents in Numbers 21 cited above. When the Israelite people grumbled against God or, in other words, refused to believe in God, God sent fiery serpents among them. Of course, they deserved their fate, but God instructed Moses to construct a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. Those looking at the snake were saved. (In other words, if you see fiery serpents or scorpions, then the appropriate response is repentance). This story anticipates the cross of Christ.

The second clue comes in Revelations 9:20- 21. Those who repent avoid all these torments. What are they to repent of? They are to repent of worshiping demons and idols and of murder, sorcery, immorality, and theft—at least four of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20.

So what is the point of these horrible judgments? In Jesus, it is never too late turn to God and repent.

Questions

1. What image comes to mind when trumpets are blown in the bible? (Exodus 19:19; Joshua 6:1-4). How many times is the trumpet blown in Revelations 8 and 9?
2. Read Luke 10:17-18. What is the image of the star fallen from heaven to earth (Rev 9:1 ESV) bring to mind?
3. What is the point of these judgments?
4. What does the image of the smoke of a great furnace (Rev 9:2) remind you of? (Genesis 19:28)
5. What does the image of the scorpions bring to mind? (Numbers 21:5-9)
6. What is repented of? (Read Exodus 20).

Chapter 9 of Revelation: The Paradox of the Cross

Also see:

Chapter 8 of Revelation: Deja Vu 

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2fEPbBK

Continue Reading

Chapter 10 of Revelation: Take and Eat

Clouds“But you, son of man, hear what I say to you.

Be not rebellious like that rebellious house;

open your mouth and eat what I give you.

And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me,

and behold, a scroll of a book was in it.” (Eze 2:8-9).

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

What does it mean to eat a book and who is asking?

Let me start with the second question. The apostle John writes: “Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven” (Rev 10:1).

Mighty here means big because v. 2 reports: And he set his right foot on the sea, and his left foot on the land (Rev 10:2). The placement of his feet suggests authority over both, as in: “You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet” (Ps 8:6) which alludes to the authority of the Messiah.

Although this angel might be confused with God himself because he is: wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs like pillars of fire (Rev 10:1), this same description appeared earlier asking: “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” (Rev 5:2). It seems that this angel speaks with the authority of God and is tasked with keeping this scroll and commissioning prophets, as we learn later (Rev 10:11).

So what does it mean to eat a book?

The angel says to John: “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey” (Rev 10:9 ESV). Beale and Carson (1117) see the sweet taste of the scroll referring to the life-sustaining attributes of God’s word, but the bitterness arising because of the judgment woes to follow.

In his book, Eat This Book, Peterson (90-117) sees this verse inviting us to read scripture differently. He commends to his readers a method of devotional study first introduced by Saint Benedict called Lectio Divina: reading (lectio), meditating (meditatio), contemplation (contemplatio), and praying (oratio). The purpose of reading scripture multiple times with different attitudes is to enhance spiritual reflection rather than simple to approach scripture through the mind. In this sense, Lectio Divina is a means of eating the text.

Bon appetite!

Questions

  1. How was your last celebration of Holy Week? Did you do anything special for Easter? Good Friday? Maundy Thursday?
  2. What is the key verse in chapter 10? Why?
  3. How does the key verse alter your opinion about the rest of the chapter?
  4. When the angel speaks, how does the angel sound? (v 3)
  5. Is the voice from heaven the same voice as the angel? (vv 4, 8)
  6. Is this angel the same angel described in Rev 5:2?
  7. What is Lectio Divino? What are the four aspects?

References

Beale, G.K. and D.A. Carson [Editors]. 2007. Commentary on the NT Use of the OT. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

Peterson, Eugene. 2006. Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Chapter 10 of Revelation: Take and Eat

Also see:

Chapter 9 of Revelation: The Paradox of the Cross 

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2fEPbBK

Continue Reading

Tim Keller Makes Sense, Part 2

Timothy Keller, Making Sense of GodTimothy Keller.[1]  2016. Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical.  New York: Viking Press. (Part 1, Part 3)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Modern and Postmodern

The attempt to apply the scientific method to all aspects of life defined the modern era and people looked upon the professionals undertaking this project as cultural heroes. Early in life I knew people whose past time consisted to trips to the airport to watch the planes come and go, much like our grandparents might have spent time in adoration at a train station. Pilots, doctors, engineers, and other professionals (even pastors) earned our respect solving society’s problems and advancing living standards in the process.

The beginning of the end of the modern era came during the Second World War when humanity looked in horror at the application of scientific methods to the task of killing vast numbers of human beings. In a very real sense, the postmodern era began with a deep skepticism that rational thinking should be applied to all aspects of life, especially relationships among different ethnic and religious groups. The focus on efficiency in the modern era morphed into a focus on equity in the postmodern era. Just like a collage can contain different and contrasting pieces all hung in balance, people often held incoherent views and accepted the incoherence.

Introduction

In part two of his book, Making Sense of God, Timothy Keller examines some of these incoherencies. The general theme of part two is: religion is more than you think it is.

We care a lot about the existence of incoherencies in our worldview because they reveal hidden agendas that might not be accepted if brought into the light. Keller writes:

“I hope by now my more skeptical readers will see that neither secularism not Christianity has the main ‘burden of proof.’ Western secularity is not the absence of faith but a new set of beliefs about the universe. These beliefs cannot be proven, are not self-evident to most people, and have, as we shall continue to see, their own contradictions and problems just as other religious faiths do. One significant problem is that modern secularism’s humanistic values [like human rights] are inconsistent with—even undermined by—its belief in a material-only universe.” (53)

Secularism as an Alternative Faith

The fact that secularity is an alternative set of beliefs (an atheistic religion) means that, for example, it can be taught in public schools without the scrutiny and prohibitions given “religious” beliefs, a huge, practical advantage for those promoting these beliefs. For many Christians, this observation motivates alternatives like private and homeschooling, posing an enormous burden on family resources and energy.

The fact that many of these secular beliefs are not time-tested the same way that traditional religions have been means that we simply do not know how lives will be affected by the children who have been so vigorously indoctrinated. Given the huge human toll associated with the century-long experiment with communism, this lack of time-testing should be viewed with great suspicion.

Crisis of Meaning

“What is the meaning of life?” (57) For years people have joked about this question, but it poses a defining weakness in secularism, especially the Marxian variants. Placing the individual at the center of cultural begs the question of how the individual came into being and such prominence, in the absence of biblical faith. The secular account of creation claims that we evolved from a historical accident, which implies that life has no intrinsic meaning—we are simply a highly evolved bacteria. Political correctness (shouting down opponents) began with Marx who did not want people citing the Bible’s creation account because his theory, known as dialectical materialism, did not have a defensible alternative.

So Why Else Do We Care About the Meaning of Life?

Keller cites an interesting story by Atul Gawande who:

“tells of a doctor working at a nursing home who persuaded its administrator to bring in dogs, cats, parakeets, a colony of rabbits, and even a group of laying hens to be cared for by the residents. The results were significant. ‘The residents began to wake up and come to life. People who we had believed weren’t able to speak started speaking … People who had been completely withdrawn and nonambulatory started coming to nurses’ stations and saying, ‘I’ll take the dog for a walk.’ All the parakeets were adopted and name by the residents.’ The use and need for psychotropic drugs for agitation dropped significantly, to 38 percent of the previous level. And ‘deaths fell 15 percent.’” (58-59)

Why? Keller concludes: “we all seek a cause beyond ourselves.” (59) Obviously, a philosophy like secularism that denigrates human value and the search for meaning is seriously flawed. It is not enough to be housed and fed.

Six Basic Human Needs

The core of Keller’s argument in part 2 focuses on six basic human needs: meaning, satisfaction, freedom, identity, hope, and justice. (216) In his own words, these points are made:

“…in each chapter, I looked at Christianity’s unsurpassed offers—a meaning that suffering cannot remove, a satisfaction not based on circumstances, a freedom that does not hurt but rather enhances love, an identity that does not crush you or exclude others, a moral compass that does not turn you into an oppressor, and a hope that can face anything, even death.” (216)

The purpose of this discussion is to convince secular readers that the Gospel is indeed a sensible alternative.

Assessment

My brief overview of the second part of Timothy Keller’s book, Making Sense of God, does not do it justice. Keller’s book is a jewel. It answers better than most books focused on apologetics some of the basic concerns of our age. In part three of this review, I will turn to Keller’s last question: how does Christianity make sense?

References

Gawande, Atul. 2014. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. New York: Metropolitan Books.

[1]@TimKellerNYC, http://www.TimothyKeller.com.

Tim Keller Makes Sense, Part 2

Also see:

Tim Keller Makes Sense, Part 1 

Keller Argues the Case for God 

Keller Engages Galatians; Speaks Gospel 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2fEPbBK

Continue Reading

How do Christians Connect with God?

Photo of Stephen W. Hiemstra
Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Mubarak Mosque, Chantilly, Virginia on Religious Founders’ Day, October 15, 2017

Background

Good afternoon. My name is Stephen W. Hiemstra. I am a volunteer pastor and a Christian writer. My volunteer work focuses on Hispanic ministry and I write about Christian spirituality. My wife, Maryam, hails from Iran and considers herself a Muslim. We have been married 33 years and have three grown children.

My comments today will focus on how Christians connect with God. Because today we are celebrating Religious Founders’ Day, I take the inspiration for my talk from a sermon by the Apostle Peter that he gave on the day that the Christian church was founded, which we call Pentecost.

Invocation

Please join me in a word of prayer.

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14 ESV) In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Introduction

How do Christians connect with God? (2X)

Let me start by asking, what do secular people think about connecting with God?

Basically, they say that if you talk to God, that’s prayer, but if God talks to you, that’s psychosis. While pastor’s often tell this story as a light-hearted joke, psychologist Sigmund Freud described God’s existence as an illusion.[1] Karl Marx believed that religion (that is, God’s existence) was the opiate of the masses.[2] In other words, if you believe in God, Freud tells us you must be nuts and Marx tells us that you must be on drugs.

In my recent memoir, Called Along the Way, published this last month, I write that anyone in this secular age who takes God seriously must be considered a brother or sister in the faith. In this spirit, I would like to thank the Mubarak Mosque for the invitation to speak this afternoon to address this important topic.

Scripture

How do Christians connect with God? (2X)

The basic path to connecting with God is outlined by the Apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost. Hear Peter’s words:

“And Peter said to them, Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38 ESV)

Elsewhere, the Apostle Paul writes to the church at Rome about 30 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, some 2,000 years ago:

“…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Roman 10:9 ESV)

Rome at the time of Paul’s writing was the capital of the Western world much like Washington DC is today.

Because most of you here today are not Christians, you may be asking yourself why Peter and Paul are so adamant about two things mentioned in these two passages: confession of sins and belief in Jesus Christ (2X).

Transcendent and Holy

To understand the focus here, you need to understand the Christian understanding of God. Christians believe in a personal God who is both transcendent and Holy (2X).

God’s transcendence arises because he created the known universe. The first verse of the Bible in the Book of Genesis says:

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1 ESV)

As creator, God had to exist before the universe that he created and he had to have been set apart from it. Time, as we know it, is part of the created universe. Consequently, God stands outside of time and space (2X). Because we exist inside time and space, we cannot approach God on our own. He has to reveal himself to us (2X).

Likewise, we cannot approach a Holy God, because we are sinful beings, not Holy beings. Our sin separates us from a Holy God.

To summarize, we cannot approach God on our own because he transcends time and space and because he is holy. Only God can initiate connection with unholy, created beings such as we are. There is no path up the mountain to God; God must come down (2X). As Christians, we believe that God came down in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, whose coming was prophesied from the earliest days of scripture. For example, the Prophet Job wrote (slide 5):

“I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth.  And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27 NIV)

The Book of Job is thought by some to have been written by Moses before any other book in the Bible and before he returned to Egypt, which makes the anticipation of a redeemer all the more stunning. Moses himself lived about 1,500 years before Christ.

God’s Self-Revelation

So who is this transcendent God that loves us enough to initiate connection with us in spite of our sin?

Later, after giving Moses the Ten Commandments for a second time on Mount Sinai, God reveals himself to Moses with these words:

“The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7 ESV)

Notice that God describes himself first as merciful. As Christians, we believe that God love is shown to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because God himself has provided the ultimate sacrifice of his son on the cross, Christians do not need to offer animal sacrifices—in Christ, our debt to God for sin has already been paid. This is real mercy, real love.

Listen to the confession given by the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the church in Corinth:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [that is Peter’s nickname], then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinth 15:3-6 ESV)

Jesus, as the perfect son of God, is the bridge that God has given us to connect with himself through the Holy Spirit, as Peter said on the Day of Pentecost:

“And Peter said to them, Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38 ESV)

Through the Holy Spirit, we are able to pray to God with the assurance that we will be heard; we are able to read the Bible with the confidence that God will speak to us; and we are able to live our daily lives knowing that God walks with us each step of the way. In this way, as Christians we are always connected with God in Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit.

Conclusion

Will you pray with me?

Oh dear Lord, thank you for the gift of your presence through the person of Jesus. Forgive our sin and draw us closer to you day by day. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Presentation

Before I turn over the podium, let me read a few words from the acknowledgment section of my book, Life in Tension.

“In the fall of 2014, I was invited to speak at a local mosque about my book, A Christian Guide to Spirituality. Speaking at a mosque was new to me and anticipating this visit I spent three days fasting and praying for guidance. Instead of guidance on the mosque visit, God inspired me to write this book.” (xvii)

The reference here is to the Mubarak Mosque where we now stand. Consequently, I would like to present you with a copy of the book, Life in Tension. Thank you.

[1] Sigmund Freud. 1961. The Future of an Illusion. Translated by James Strachey. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opium_of_the_people.

How do Christians Connect with God?

Also see:

Blackaby Expects Answers to Prayer 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2fEPbBK

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Prayer for Evangelists

Photo of Stephen W. Hiemstra
Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty Father,

I pray for evangelists whose words of faith that can be shared, heard, and responded to.

Pour out your Holy Spirit on all those that have yet to hear your name

or have yet to listen to your voice

or have yet to open up their hearts.

Be especially present with those whose ears have been stopped.

Soften their hearts and our own.

May your voice be heard even as we mumble incoherently to one another.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

 

Prayer for Evangelists

Also see:

End Prayer Shaming

Prayer for Shalom 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2fEPbBK

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Chapter 6 of Revelation: Seals, Creatures, and Horses

CloudsAnd when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be
alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation
will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will
be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These
are but the beginning of the birth pains (Mark 13:7-8).

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

What exactly does judgment look like?

The images of the four horsemen of the apocalypses in Revelations 6 are as vivid as any in scripture (and likely taken from Zechariah 1:8). The allusion here is to the Olivet Discourse when Jesus stood on the Mount of Olives before entering Jerusalem for the last time and prophesied the destruction of the city (Mark 13; Matt 24; Luke 21). The prophecy was quickly fulfilled as Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman army in AD 70—within that generation (Mark 13:30).

If you think that the four horsemen are a horrible judgment, take a look at the blessing and curses listed in Deuteronomy 28—stipulations for the Mosaic covenant. There we read: And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God (Deut 28:2). The voice of the Lord, in this case, is articulated in the Mosaic covenant. Later we read: But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you (Deut 28:15). And, of course, Deuteronomy 28 lists more curses than blessings.

The blessings and curses are attention grabbers. The expected response is: exactly what commandments, Lord, did you have in mind? (Remember: when scripture talks about the future, the purpose is to inform the present).

The clue to this question in Revelations 6 arises in the opening of the fifth seal. The martyrs of the faith ask: how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth? (Rev 6:10) What is the response? The martyrs are told to: rest a little longer (Rev 6:11). In other words—the message to the seven churches is: be patient under persecution and remember who you serve. So the four living creatures may be saying: come, but not yet!

The Olivet Discourse underscores this point in the next verses: But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them. And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations (Mark 13:9-10).

While looking out for the fearsome horsemen, we are to be about our father’s business (Luke
2:49).

Questions

1. Do you have questions from last week? Did any important events happen in your life this week? Do you have any thoughts that you would like to share?
2. What is the basic subject of chapter 6? a. What was judgment like under the Mosaic covenant? (Deuteronomy 28)
b. What does judgment look like in the Olivet Discourse? (Mark 13; Matthew 24; Luke 21)
c. What must happen before judgment? How are we to wait? How are we to respond?
3. Who are the four horsemen? What do they represent? (Zechariah 1:8)
4. What is special about the fifth seal?
a. What do the martyrs ask? (v. 10)
b. What is the response? (v. 11)
5. What is the allusion in the opening of the sixth seal? (Hint look at the references to the moon and what comes after in Mark 13; Matthew 24; and Luke 21

Chapter 6 of Revelation: Seals, Creatures, and Horses

Also see:

Chapter 5 of Revelation: Harp and Bowl

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2fEPbBK

Continue Reading

Chapter 7 of Revelation: Heavenly Worship

Clouds“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.… they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them” (Isaiah 49:6-10).

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Apostle John sees heaven as an eternal party. He paints the picture he sees with familiar colors.

When a passage seems mysterious, look for the key verse. In chapter 7 of Revelation we see everything leading up to verse 10 where we witness a huge choir singing: Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb (Rev 7:10). This conclusion is highlighted in the reference to palm branches in verse 9.

For the uninitiated, scriptural allusions can be found by checking the concordance in a good reference bible—the scriptural references in the middle of the page or off in the margins. Old Testament allusions are often the most insightful. In verse 9, for example, we find an allusion to Leviticus 23:40-43—a key reference for the Feast of Tabernacles. You shall dwell in booths for seven days…that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt (Lev 23:42-43). And, of course, we see the waving of palm branches (Lev 23:40). This party celebrates salvation—as mentioned in verse 10.

This chapter of Revelations is famous for its numbers. Here we read that the remnant of Israel will number 144,000. This is a big number, but the more important number comes in verse 9: a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages (Rev 7:9). The remnant of Israel is numbered, but the multitude of Gentiles is too big to be numbered!

The allusion here is to the parable of the wedding feast. The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. (Matt 22:2-3). The invited guests have no interest in the party so the king opens up the guest list: And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests (Matt 22:1). Our party is a wedding feast.

The most important allusion in Revelations 7 is to Isaiah. Isaiah 49, cited above, references one of the Servant Song passages—references to the coming Messiah. Jesus cited another Servant Song in his sermon in Nazareth: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor (Luke 4:18; Isa 61:1). Sunday morning worship is a rehearsal for the real party in heaven and we are guests of the king himself.

You have to love a good party! And guess what? You are invited.

QUESTIONS

1. Do you have questions from last week? Did any important events happen in your life this week? Do you have any thoughts that you would like to share?
2. What is the basic subject of chapter 6?
3. What are the angels doing? (v. 1) Why? (v. 3)
4. How many saints are sealed from Israel? (v. 4) How many others? (v. 9) a. What is the parable of the wedding feast? (Matt 22:2-10)
5. What is going on in heaven? (vv. 10-12)
6. What does the elder ask? (v. 13) What is the answer (v. 14)
7. What are the Servant Songs in Isaiah? (v. 16; Isaiah 42:1-4, 49:1-6, 50:4-9, 52:13-53:12, and 61:1-3)

 

Chapter 7 of Revelation: Heavenly Worship

Also see:

Chapter 6 of Revelation: Seals, Creatures, and Horses 

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2fEPbBK

Continue Reading
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