Aniversario como Transición (Anniversary as Transition)

Photo of Stephen W. Hiemstra
Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

El Shadai DC, October 29, 2017, Georgetown South, Manassas, 3 p.m.

Preludio (Prelude)

Buenos tardes. Para aquellos que no me conocen, me llama Stephen W. Hiemstra. Soy pastor voluntario y autor cristiano basado en Centreville, Virginia. Mi esposa, Maryam, y yo hemos asistido la iglesia Presbiteriano de Centreville desde hace más que treinta años y tenemos tres hijos crecidos.

Good afternoon. For those of you who do not know me, my name is Stephen W. Hiemstra. I am a volunteer pastor and Christian author based in Centreville, Virginia. My wife, Maryam, and I have attended Centreville Presbyterian Church over thirty years and we have three grown children.

El pastor Julio me pida a decir unas palabras sobre mis experiencias aquí en la iglesia El Shadai DC. Voy a tratar a ser breve, pero no demasiado breve. El Shadai es una misión interesante establecido como una colaboración entre las iglesias locales y un equipo evangelistero, lo que voy a describir como el Equipo Martinez. Ojala que explicare porque El Shadai es interesante.

Pastor Julio asked me to say a few words in English about my experience here at El Shadai. I will try to be brief, but not too brief. El Shadai is an interesting mission set up as a collaboration of local churches and an evangelistic team, which I will refer to as Team Martinez. I will endeavor to explain why El Shadai is interesting.

Oracion (Prayer)

Vamos a orar. Please pray with me.

Padre Todopoderoso,

Alabamos a ti para tu sabiduría al reunirnos juntas aquí esta tarde a celebrar el primero aniversario de tu iglesia El Shadai DC. Sea especialmente presente con nosotros en este tiempo y este lugar. En el poder de tu Espíritu Santo, bendice nuestra alabanza y trabajo aquí en tu pueblo Geogetown South. En el precioso nombre de Jesucristo, Amen.

Almighty Father,

We praise you for your wisdom in bringing us here together this evening to celebrate the first anniversary of El Shadai DC. Be especially present with us in this time and place. In the power of your Holy Spirit, bless our efforts to worship and work in the Georgetown South Community. In Jesus precious name, Amen. 

Introduccion (Introduction)

Este noviembre pasado, Michael Edwards ha invitado me a asistir una iglesia nueva en Manassas, Virginia. El me di que la iglesia Presbiteriano de Greenwich ha soportado esta misión, pero ellos necesitaban alguien que habla la castellana a confirmar que el predicación en esta iglesia fue ortodoxa. Entonces, yo viní a Georgetown South con Michael a escuchar, pero decidí a quedar después.

¿Porque? (2X)

La Predicación.

El pastor Julio predica sobre Dios en la primera persona. Cada semana oímos sobre el trabajo de Dios, no en el pasado, no en el futuro, pero aquí ahora en su vida y en Georgetown South.

The Preaching.

Pastor Julio preaches about God in the first person. Every week we hear about God’s work, not in the past, not in the future, but here now in his life and in Georgetown South.

Pida a Pastor Julio de hablar sobre su experiencia con cáncer. Pida a el de hablar sobre la gente que el encuentra cada día aquí en Manassas. Pida a el de hablar sobre su accidente de carro. Pida a el de hablar sobre la provisión de Dios en su vida y en la vida de su familia y esta congregación. Cuando tu pidas a él, va a introducirte a un Dios todopoderoso quien te ama y cuida para su pueblo.

Ask Pastor Julio to talk about his experience with cancer. Ask him to talk about the people that he meets every day here in Manassas. Ask him to talk about his automobile accident. Ask him to talk about God’s provision in his life, the life of his family, and this congregation. When you ask him, he will introduce you to a powerful God who loves you and cares for his people.

La provisión de Dios es obvio aquí en El Shadai de las donaciones de los alimentos y las ropas disponible prácticamente cada semana después el servicio.

God’s provision is obvious here at El Shadai from the food and clothing donations available practically every week after the service.

El Equipo Martinez.

Mi educación seminario es de Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary en Charlotte, NC, que empezó como una escuela misionaria y continúa a honrar su traducción. Allí se encuentre muchos hijos de pastores (HPs) e hijos de misionarios (HMs). HPs son muchas veces rebelaos y resentir la decisión de sus padres a entrar el ministerio. HMs vean los cambios que sus padres traían en las vidas de la comunidad de fe y frecuentemente siguen sus padres en el trabajo de misiones.

Team Martinez.

My seminary training is from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC, which started as a school training missionaries and continues to honor that tradition. At school, I met a lot of pastor’s kids (PKs) and missionary kids (MKs). PKs are often rebellious and resent their parents’ decision to join the ministry; MKs see the changes brought about by their parents in the lives of the community of faith and they often decide to follow their parents into mission work.

El Equipo Martinez es notable porque los hijos comportarse como HMs, no como HPs. La familia completa es activo en la vida de El Shadai en el preparar, ensenar, y cantar del servicio de cada semana. Francamente, nunca he observado una familia tanto dedicaba al trabajo de Dios como el Equipo Martinez.

Team Martinez is notable because the kids act like MKs, not PKs. The entire family is active in the life of El Shadai in weekly setups, teaching, and singing in every worship service. Frankly, I have never observed a family so committed to God’s work as Team Martinez.

La Misión.

Cuando Moisés fue a Faraón, el rey de Egipto, Dios instruyó a Moisés a decir a Faraón:

«Deja ir a mi pueblo para que me sirva en el desierto.» (Exod 7:16 LBA)

Interesante es que fue durante los próximos cuarenta anos mientras el pueblo Israel viajaba en el desierto que se aprendían a caminar con Dios.

The Mission.

When Moses went to Pharaoh, King of Egypt, God instructed Moses to tell Pharaoh:

“Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness.” (Exod. 7:16 ESV)

It is interesting that it was during the next forty years that, while the people of Israel of Israel sojourned in the desert, they learned to walk with God.

En realidad, no es sorprendo que El Shadai también se encuentra por un camino desierto. Que es un reglo para las iglesias hispanas que se toma más o menos diez años a ser establecido por razón de muchas personas no son bendecido con ingresos regular y muevan frecuentemente.

Actually, it is not surprising that El Shadai also finds itself on a desert journey. The rule of thumb for Hispanic churches is that it takes about ten years for them to become established because people are frequently not blessed with permanent income and they move around a lot.

Termino (Closing)

El Shadai es un estudio interesante de posmoderno trabajo de misión.

Las misiones de hoy son de cualquiera lugar a cualquiera lugar (2X).[1] La idea que el Equipo Martinez seria llamado específicamente de Méjico a Manassas es alucinante de mi perspectiva, pero perfectamente razonable de la perspectiva de Dios. Recuerdan, aunque Jesucristo fue nacido en Belén, crecía en Nazaret, ministraba en Galilea y después procedí a Jerusalén. El camino de Mexicali a Manassas es un viaje similar.

El Shadai is an interesting case study in postmodern mission work. Missions today are from everywhere to everywhere (2X).1 The idea that Team Martinez would be called specifically from Mexico to Manassas is mind-blowing from my perspective, but perfectly reasonable from God’s perspective. Remember, although Jesus was born in Bethlehem, he grew up in Nazareth, ministered first in Galilee and then proceeded to Jerusalem. The journey from Mexicali to Manassas is a similar journey.

Oracion (Closing prayer)

Oramos. Let’s pray.

Padre Santo,

Gracias para las bendiciones increíbles que nos has dado. En el poder de tu Espíritu Santo, concédenos la fuerza y gracia a ministrar cada día en tu nombre para que tu paz llene todo el mundo. En el nombre de Jesucristo, Amen

Holy father,

Thank you for the incredible blessings that you have given us. In the power of your Holy Spirit, grant us the strength and grace to minister each day in your name so that your peace will fill the entire earth. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

[1] James E. Plueddemann.  2009.  Leading Across Cultures:  Effective Ministry and Mission in the Global Church.  Downers Grove:  IVP Academic (page 25). (Review: : https://wp.me/p8RkfV-oI)

Aniversario como Transición (Anniversary as Transition)

Also see:

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/2zRkNMJ.

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Prayer for New Churches

Ceramic churchBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Heavenly Father,

We praise you for new churches,

small churches that build the family of God in new places with new people.

Guide our efforts to be your light in a dark world.

Grant us strength, the grace to love the unloved, and peace where conflict reigns.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, bless our efforts with living fruit–

lives changed, hope lifted up in prayer, light in dark places,

joy where there is none.

In Jesus precious name, Amen.

 

Prayer for New Churches

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 11 of Revelation: Measures, Witnesses, and Arks

CloudsBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

All is well that ends well.

We are told in v 14 that a second woe has passed. As you may recall, three woes were prophesied in Revelations 8:13. The first woe consisted of the torment of the demonic locusts (Rev 9:3-11). The second woe came with the release of the four angels (Rev 9:14-19).

Even as these woes are released, God’s purpose in exercising these judgments is repentance (Rev 9:20-21). This effort to redeem the unrepentant comes as a surprise—under the Mosaic Covenant, woes were nothing more than punishment for covenantal disobedience (Deut 28:15). God is doing a new thing (Jer 31:22 and 31).

In case you miss this point, Revelations 11 offers two glimpses of God’s love for sinners who repent.

The first glimpse is in vv. 1-2 where John is asked to measure the temple just like Ezekiel before him (Ezek 40-43). The purpose of Ezekiel’s measure of a heavenly temple was to build a likeness on
earth. If our bodies are the new temple of God’s Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16), then the temple may be easily measured!

The second glimpse takes the form of two new witnesses (Rev 11:31-3). What is the point of sending witnesses if the gates of heaven are closed? And who are these two witnesses?

Historically, Moses and Elijah have often been believed to be the two witnesses in view—just like Jesus met with them on the Mount of Transfiguration (Mark 9:2). Metaphorically, Moses and Elijah are often thought to be representing the law and prophets—traditional divisions of the Hebrew scriptures. A Christian equivalent would accordingly be the Old and New Testaments.

Verse 19 is shocking from a Jewish perspective—God’s temple in heaven is opened so that all can see the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant was normally kept in the holy of holies in the Temple. Only the high priest was allowed to visit it and only once a year after cleansing himself (Exod 30:10).

This opening of the temple is reward to the saints (Rev 11:18) and an allusion to the day of Christ’s death when: And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom (Mark 15:38). The symbolism here implied that the saints are rewarded by given direct access to God.

All is well that ends well.

Questions

  1. Any things that you would like to share from your week?
  2. What is the purpose of the measuring rod in v 1?
  3. What is measured? (v 1)
  4. What is not measured? Why? (v 2)
  5. Who else in the bible has been assigned to measure things? What things? (Ezekiel 40-43)
  6. Where is the temple of God? (1 Cor 3:16)
  7. What do we know about the two witnesses? (vv 3-4)
  8. What is their purpose? (vv 3,7)
  9. What powers are they granted? (vv 5-6)
  10. What happens to them? Who do they remind you of? (v 7)
  11. How do people react to their death and resurrection? (vv 9-10, 13)
  12. Who are the witnesses? (Mark 9:2)
  13. What are the two woes mentioned? (v 14)
  14. What is different about these woes? (Deut 28:15…)
  15. What happens in verses 15-19?
  16. What is the significance of the Ark of the Covenant? (Mark 15:38)
  17. What is shocking about this situation? (Exod 30:10)

Chapter 11 of Revelation: Measures, Witnesses, and Arks

Also see:

Chapter 12 of Revelation: The Woman and the Dragon 

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

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Chapter 12 of Revelation: The Woman and the Dragon

Clouds“The LORD God said to the serpent, Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3:14-15).

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of my favorite paintings as a young person was Saint George and the Dragon by Raphael (1504-1506) which hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. In this myth, a young evangelist happens to come by when a town plagued by a dragon was about to feed the king’s daughter to the dragon. The evangelist slays the dragon and the king leads the town in committing their lives to Christ.[1] While the myth of Saint George does not follow the story in Revelations 12, it picks up on the spiritual warfare theme and, of course, involves a dragon.

In a similar manner, scholars believe that the Apostle John adapted a myth of the goddess Leto well known in the middle east to communicate biblical truth. In this myth, the Leto was pregnant with Apollo, the son of Zeus, when she was attacked by the dragon, Python, who knew that Apollo was prophesied to slay him. Zeus sends strong winds to carry her to a safe island which the god Poseidon hid under the water. Python could not find the woman and when Apollo was four days old, he found Python and slew him (Beale, 624). Not bad for four days old! Other commentators see parallels with the propaganda of Rome where the goddess Roma plays the part of Leto and her child, the emperor, plays the part of Apollo (Keener, 317).

While some might question John’s use of a pagan myth to communicate God’s word, the power of stories is obvious. Stories communicate deeply held, emotional truth. Author, John Savage (77-100), lists five genetic types of stories that people tell: a reinvestment story (like economist becomes pastor), rehearsal stories (past events informing present challenges), the “I know a man who” stories (project your story on a third person), anniversary stories (grief or passion that comes around periodically), and transition stories (stories with an obvious beginning, middle, and ending). Most biblical stories take the form of a rehearsal story—something from our communal past with ongoing meaning.

In working as a chaplain, identifying the story that someone is telling you allows you to connect with them on a deeper, emotional level. The same is true of groups, like committees and even churches. Individuals and groups all repeat their most important stories on a regular basis. Identifying these stories and relating them to scriptural stories helps give these stories greater spiritual power and comparing the two may help identify areas of potential growth. One church that I know, for example, is clearly a Barnabas church sending many young people in pastoral ministry, missions, and careers in Christian education. How might the story of Barnabas help them in their own self-understanding?

What can we learn from the story of the dragon in Revelations 12? First, the woman, thought by many to symbolize Mary the mother of Jesus, is protected by God (vv 5-6, 14, 16) and the angels (v 7). Second, the dragon has many names: devil, Satan, deceiver, and ancient serpent (Gen 3:14-15). Third, the dragon loses the battle in heaven and is thrown down to earth (Luke 10:18). Fourth, although the dragon roams the earth, the kingdom of God has triumphed (v 10). Fifth, the dragon continues to pursue God’s people (v 17). For a church under persecution, Revelations 12 provides hope that God offers protection and is actively present in this world, in spite of the dragon.

What stories do you repeat? Which biblical stories are most meaningful in your walk with the Lord?

Footnotes

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_George_and_the_Dragon.

References

Beale, G.K. 1999. The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Book of Revelations. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Keener, Craig S. 2000. The NIV Application Commentary: Revelations. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Savage, John. 1996. Listening and Caring Skills: A Guide for Groups and Leaders. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Questions

  1. What constellation comes to mind in verses 1-3?
  2. Virgo means virgin in Latin. What virgin comes to mind?
  3. Who knows the myth of Leto and Apollo? What happens?
  4. What serpent (dragon) is being referred to? (Hint: Genesis 3:14-15).
  5. Who is the dragon a symbol for? (v 9)
  6. Who wins the battle in heaven? (v 10; Luke 10:18). How is he defeated?
  7. Who wins the battle on earth? (v 10).
  8. What is the point of all this?

Chapter 12 of Revelation: The Woman and the Dragon

Also see:

Chapter 11 of Revelation: Measures, Witnesses, and Arks

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

 

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Tim Keller Makes Sense, Part 3

Timothy Keller, Making Sense of GodTimothy Keller.[1]  2016. Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical.  New York: Viking Press. (Part 2, Part 3)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

A core tenet of the scientific method lies in using reproducible empirical evidence to validate or fail to validate a hypothesis. Because God created the heavens and the earth, he lies outside the created order, where evidence might be found. Therefore, scientific testing of the existence of God is impossible. However, the created order can be used to draw inferences about God, much like we might observe fingerprints of a potter on the pottery.

Introduction

In part three of his recent book, Making Sense of God, Timothy Keller summarizes six arguments for the existence of God from: 1. existence, 2. fine tuning, 3. moral realism, 4. consciousness, 5. reason, and 6. beauty (217). These bear repeating.

From Existence

For existence to even be, it had to have had an uncaused cause (218). Think about the evolutionary hypothesis. Life somehow presumably spontaneously emerged from non-biological substances and evolved until we were created—this is creation story according to many atheists. But who created the non-biological substances? The usual answer given is that the universe just always existed. However, according to the big bang theory held by most scientists to be the accepted theory of creation, the universe has not always looked like it does today. According to one online dictionary:[2]

“a theory in astronomy: the universe originated billions of years ago in an explosion from a single point of nearly infinite energy density.”

Given that the universe shows evidence of an uncaused cause, it is reasonable to infer that God created the universe in his own inscrutable way.

From Fine Tuning

Constants in physics appear to be precisely adjusted to allow life to exist. Keller writes:

“The speed of light, the gravitational constant, the strength of the strong and weak nuclear forces—must all have almost exactly the values that they do have in order for organic life to exist…the chances that all of the dials would be tuned to life-permitting settings all at once are about 10-100.” (219)

Given such a small probability that the laws of physics were randomly aligned in this way, many scientists have concluded that it is not an accident; it was intentionally planned this way. It is kind of like finding a working clock on the beach and assuming that it was randomly constructed—no reasonable person would assume that, but would rather assume that a clockmaker had to exist.

From Moral Realism

Most people, even ardent atheists, believe that moral obligations, like human rights, exist that we can insist everyone abide by. Keller writes:

“…some things are absolutely wrong to do. Moral obligation, then, makes more sense in a universe created by a personal God to whom we intuitively feel responsible than it does in an impersonal universe with no God.” (221)

Even an argent atheist would not idly stand by and watch another person drown or be killed in a burning house when something could be done to aid them in surviving. This kind of moral obligation is something that virtually everyone feels, yet is counter-intuitive from the perspective of personal survival—water rescues and running into burning buildings routinely kill rescuers, even those trained and equipped like lifeguards and firefighters. Why do we feel obligated to put ourselves at such risk? Christians answer that God created us with a moral compass.

From Consciousness

Keller, citing Thomas Nagel (110), writes that “all human experience has a subjective quality to it.” (222) It is pretty hard to argue, as does Francis Crisk (3), that

“You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” (224)

Keller summarizes: “Consciousness and idea making make far more sense in a universe created by an idea-making, conscious God.” (224)

From Reason and Beauty

Keller reports that has been popular in recent years to argue that our reasoning and appreciation of beauty both developed from the process of natural selection because they helped our ancestors to survive. Evolutionary psychologists have gone a step further arguing that even our faith in God is a product of evolution and natural selection because it helped our ancestors to survive.

The problem exists, however, that many animals seem to have survived just fine without developing any capacity to reason at all. Furthermore, if our faith is a product of natural selection, why wouldn’t we trust our reasoning capacity to tell us the truth? (225). The arguments for beauty parallel those for reason.

Keller, citing Luc Ferry, writes: “truth, beauty, justice, and love … whatever the materialists say, remain fundamentally transcendent.” (226) In other words, they all point to the existence of a loving God.

Limits to the Proofs

Most proofs of God’s existence focus only on making it sensible to believe in God in an abstract or philosophical sense. They really do not give us a detailed picture of God’s character, as revealed in the Bible.

Philosophers remind us that God transcends our universe being removed from it having created it—God stands outside time and space, as we know it. He is also removed from us by virtue of being holy—sacred and set apart. God’s transcendence makes it impossible for us to approach God on our own; he must initiate any contact that we have with him. Christians believe that God revealed himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

The Uniqueness of Christ

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ makes the case that God not only exists, but that he is God of the Old and New Testaments (228). Keller makes the stunning observation that only Christianity is truly a world religion; it has indigenous believers fairly evenly distributed across all regions and continents of the world, long before it became a religion in Europe and North America. He writes: “today most of the most vital and largest Christian populations are now nonwhite and non-Western” (228)

Why is it that Christianity continues to grow in spite of strong influence of secularism in the West and obvious persecution of Christians outside the West? For me, the answer lies in God’s continuing and loving presence in each of our lives. What about you?

Assessment

My brief overview of the third 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.

References

Ferry, Luc. 2011. “A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living.” Translation by Theo Cuffe. New York: Harper Perennial.

Crisk, Francis. 1994. “The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul.” New York: Simon and Schuster.

Nagel, Thomas. 2012. “What is It Like to Be a Bat?” Mortal Questions, Canto Classics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Footnotes

[1] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/big%20bang%20theory.

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

 

Tim Keller Makes Sense, Part 3

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

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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

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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

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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

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