Posted by: Jonathan Stepp | February 20, 2009

Merger

Beginning today Neo-Reformation and God Likes You have merged together into one new blog: Trinity and Humanity.

Tim and I have been publishing The Adopted Life together and blogging separately for well over a year now and we are both beginning to feel the pressure of trying to put out a monthly newsletter and keep up with our blogs – plus pastoring our churches and all the other ministry stuff we do!

Neo-Reformation will continue to exist as a resource and archive of the last 15 months of blogging but I won’t be updating with new posts here, I’ll be joining with Tim to put our effort into the new blog.

I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation with all of you at Trinity and Humanity!

P.S. If you subscribed by email or reader to Neo-Reformation you’ll want to subscribe to the new blog as well – your subscription won’t be automatically transferred.

Posted by: Jonathan Stepp | February 13, 2009

World Politics

I found this image inspiring and repentance inducing: Jesus Washing Feet.

I wonder how the politics of the world would change if more people had in mind this image of God – not as a distant Judge passing sentence on us all for our crimes but as the Son of the Father kneeling at our feet to care for us even when we will not care for each other. I think this image of Jesus would bring a neo-reformation in more than just Christianity.

Posted by: Jonathan Stepp | February 9, 2009

Noticing Glory

Would you notice glory if it shone into your life on a regular workday morning? Experiments suggest the answer is “no”.

A couple of years ago the Washington Post did an experiment where they asked the master violinist Joshua Bell to play his Stradivarius in a subway station in Washington D.C. during the rush of the morning commute. Over 1,000 people walked past him and almost no one took any notice of him. Even though Bell routinely plays concerts where people pay $100+ to hear him, only a handful of people stopped to listen that morning – never enough to even form a crowd – and his open violin case collected only $32 in donations.

One statement in the Post’s article struck me as interesting. According to the writer, the philosopher Immanuel Kant suggested that in order “to properly appreciate beauty, the viewing conditions must be optimal.” And, of course, rushing through a crowded subway station on the way to work is not an optimal condition for appreciating beauty.

This got me to thinking about church activities like Sunday worship, small group gatherings, and bible studies. Attending to these – and other spiritual disciplines – does not in any way make our Father in heaven love us more or make us more included in his life through Jesus by the Holy Spirit. Because of Jesus we are always and forever included in the glorious life of the Trinity, apart from our work or action.

The Glory of the Triune Life is always around us. But we do not always see it.

Worship, communion, the Bible, and other spiritual disciplines are all gifts of Jesus to humanity. They are the gifts by which he creates an optimal condition in which we might pause, see, and appreciate the glory of humanity’s adoption into the Trinity through Jesus.

And that’s why they matter. That’s why it is important that some of us gather together as the Church and begin to practice the life in which we are all inlcuded. Without an optimal condition in time and space called “the Church” the whole human race would keep rushing right by the faithfulness of the Father and never notice the glory of what the Spirit is telling us about our life in Jesus.

Posted by: Jonathan Stepp | February 5, 2009

Computing and Imputing

“Daddy can I use your imputer?” Lewis asked when he was 4 years old. He had trouble saying “computer” and his toddler language got me to thinking “what would an imputing machine look like?”

I didn’t get very far in thinking about it, but it does raise a vague sense of the ominous – machines that ascribe attributes to human beings instead of computing human input. Machines that input data into us instead of the other way around.

Some people think God is computational. They imagine a solitary, perfect being watching us all and computing our “goodness” score. Much like the ancient Egyptians we imagine our hearts being weighed in a scale and if the weight of our sins is computed to be less than the standard set by the Almighty then we are safe.

But the Bible says that God is not computational, he’s relational. God is the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit living in a joyful relationship of love. And love, the Holy Spirit says, “keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13:5). Love does not compute, as the robot from Lost in Space might have said.

The Father isn’t computing our goodness, he’s embracing us through Jesus in the love and life they share with the Holy Spirit. The Bible says “he’s not counting humanity’s sins against us” (2 cor. 5:19).

Since we’re human, not Divine, there’s no way we could ever get ourselves into the Divine relationship of Love that is the nature of the Trinity. So, the blessed Trinity has gotten us into their relationship – giving, i.e. “imputing” – their perfectly joyful life to us by adopting us in the humanity of the Son, Jesus Christ.

As far as machines go, give me computers. As far as my Dad in heaven goes, I’ll take imputation any day.

Posted by: Jonathan Stepp | February 1, 2009

God: The Big Game Fixer in the Sky?

The kids were all excited for another round of Bible basketball at Kids’ Club two weeks ago. As the evening began we went around the circle and prayed. In addition to the usual prayers of thanksgiving and requests for snow, the girls all prayed that the girls’ team would win that night’s Bible basketball game and the boys all prayed they would win.

After prayer time was over, the following conversation ensued:

Me: Okay, you each prayed that the Father would fix the game so that you would win. If you had kids and they asked you to a fix game would you do it?

Keon: No way!

Emily: No!

Me: What would you do?

Joshua: Just let them play!

Emily: And have fun!

Me: So, do you think the Father will make sure one team wins tonight and the other loses?

All the kids: No!

I think the kids are getting the hang of what it means for us to all be uniquely and freely ourselves while always being in relationship with the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

Posted by: Jonathan Stepp | January 28, 2009

The Trinity and the Church

What does the Church need to be doing right now? There’s a very interesting interview with the theologian Elmer Colyer over at www.wcg.org that I highly recommend you watch. It’s only about 30 minutes but Elmer has some very interesting things to say about God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and how our knowledge of him in Jesus Christ impacts the way we do Church.

To watch the video go to www.wcg.org and look for the video on the front page labeled “You’re Included.”

Here’s some quotes from Elmer that really resonated with me (at the end of each quote is the time marker of when in the interview he makes that comment):

The early Church of Acts had no program of evangelism, no program of being culturally relevant, but what it did have is it had such a profound community of love that people wanted to become a part of it. It had a compelling witness all of its own without trying to be relevant to the culture’s terms. 16’51”

It’s not coincidental that in American Evangelicalism . . . the doctrine of the Trinity has not been the primary doctrine of God, it’s been the doctrine of the one God, the solitary individual . . . a super-model of the American individual. 17’37”

Quite frankly, I’d like to call a halt to all of those programs for a period of time… Sometimes what has to happen to us in our Christian life and in the Church – we have to utterly fail so miserably on our own with our vision of what it means to be a Christian and what it means to be a Church that we begin to go back and ask what God’s vision is of the Church and what it means to be a Christian. 22’02”

When the Church begins to manifest something of the miracle – the mystery and the freedom of the gospel – in our life together in the Church we’ll not have any problem bearing witness to our faith in the world around us, it will come spontaneously as an overflow of the power of the gospel. It’s because we’re trying to substitute something else for what only God can provide us – the miraculous character of Christian faith – that all those programs don’t work. 23’23”

When you go into a congregation and you want to bring about renewal you have to start with the basics of the gospel. 26’53”

Posted by: Jonathan Stepp | January 23, 2009

The Solidarity of Mankind

I think this quote from St. Athanasius speaks to the real struggle we are having in modern Christianity:

The solidarity of mankind is such that, by virtue of the Word’s indwelling in a single human body, the corruption which goes with death has lost its power over all. (On the Incarnation, 2.9).

Athanasius’ thought comes straight from the Bible: “As in Adam all die, in Christ all will be made alive” [1 Cor. 15:22]. But our modern Christian culture has become so immersed in individualistic philosophy that we have lost sight of the Biblical description of what it means to be human. We no longer see mankind’s solidarity the way Church Fathers like Athanasius did.

The Bible describes humanity as fallen in Adam and made righteous in Christ [Rom. 5:18]. It describes humanity as reconclied to the Father in Christ [Col. 1:20]. It describes humanity as living, moving, and having its being in Christ [Acts 17:28].

So, to be human is to be fallen in Adam but made righteous in Christ. To be human is to live and move and have your being in Christ and be reconciled to the Father in him. The call of the gospel is that we would believe these truths about ourselves and stop believing the lies that say we are unloved and cast out of the life of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

From a human point of view we see each individual as separate and cut off from his fellow human beings and from God. But Paul tells us to no longer regard anyone from a human point of view and instead to see our solidarity in Christ [2 Cor. 5:16].

This is part of the reason I call this blog “neo-reformation”. I think the Holy Spirit is leading a new reformation of the Church in our age, returning us to a Biblical and Partristic worldview which sees, believes, and proclaims the gospel from the basis of the truth of humanity’s solidarity in Christ.

Posted by: Jonathan Stepp | January 19, 2009

Prayer in the face of Death

Death came close again last night. Not to me personally, but to friends I know and love. While visiting with a friend whose elderly brother had died Saturday morning I got a text telling me that the friend of a friend was near death in a nursing home. So, I went from the funeral home to the nursing home and found my friend sitting with her dying friend.

In both cases the person who died and the person who was nearing death were unknown to me personally. What could I say or pray or even think in such circumstances? I had no personal stories to share or personal relationship to draw on.

One thing I do know, though: the Father loves both of these people more than I can understand. He loves them so much that he has included them in his life forever [Col. 1:20]. He sent his Son to adopt them into his life and make them his own children forever [Eph. 1:5]. And Jesus has baptized them in his Holy Spirit, so that even in the face of death they can experience an un-earthly assurance [Acts 2:17]. And I also know that Jesus has conquered death and he has shared that victory with humanity, so that we have all been raised up in his resurrection [1 Cor. 15:22, Eph. 2:6]. One day the full glory of that reality will be revealed to us [Col. 3:3-4].

So, when I prayed with and for my friends I prayed from this certain knowledge of the good news about humanity in Christ. I prayed with the certain knowledge that all those I prayed for – the living, the dead, and the dying – are liked, loved, and included in the joyous and eternal life of God the Father, Son, and Spirit.

Posted by: Jonathan Stepp | January 14, 2009

Encouragement

Praying, thinking, and counseling with people struggling through depression this last week has got me thinking about how we view ourselves and the role it plays in mental health.

Depression, to one degree or another, is a struggle that virtually all people face from time to time. We know it has many causes, including medical roots that relate to genetics and brain chemistry, as well as cognitive and emotional components. Each person is unique and each experience of depression is unique in some way.

As I pray for and counsel others I take encouragement from the knowledge that there is always one fact that I can know about every person who struggles with depression: they are liked and loved by the Father and included in his life through Jesus by the work of the Holy Spirit.

Are you sad? You are sad in Jesus, loved by the Father. Are you happy? You are happy in Jesus, loved by the Father. Are filled with anxiety? You are anxious in Jesus and loved by the Father. Are you hopeful? You are hopeful in Jesus, loved by the Father.

Even in the midst of struggle, suffering, and trial the Holy Spirit is constantly at work to encourage us to view ourselves as loved children of the Father in Jesus. He doesn’t tell us to “just snap out of it”. He doesn’t tell us we need to fix ourselves. He simply encourages us by saying:

Your Daddy loves you, likes you, and has embraced you in Jesus in such a way that he will never let you go. You’re his child no matter how you feel or what you think. And when you’ve healed a bit and gotten through this rough patch you’ll look back and see you were always in Jesus and Jesus was always in you.

Such a view of ourselves goes a long ways towards not only encouraging us when we are down but also healing us from those wounds in the soul that have caused the problem to begin with.

Posted by: Jonathan Stepp | January 10, 2009

Hocus Pocus

Here’s an article of mine we ran in The Adopted Life a year ago. I looked at it again this week while updating The Adopted Life website and organizing all the articles from past issues by subject matter. (To see them, go to the website and click “articles”).

Since tomorrow is Epiphany Sunday, I thought I’d run this article as a blog post. “Epiphany” means “manifestation” and what is it that is being made manifest in Jesus? The reality of who we are in him. Here’s the article:

We don’t believe in magic, right? We’re good Christians who don’t dabble in the occult and the superstitious.

Magic is essentially the idea that you can control whatever gods or forces of nature there may be in the world if you know the right words, incantations, or rituals.

Interestingly, one of the well known magical phrases – “hocus pocus” – is believed to have its origins in a Christian ceremony. In the Latin mass of the middle ages when the priest lifted up the bread he said “hoc corpus” and it was believed that at that moment the bread was “transubstantiated” from bread to flesh (that is to say, its substance was changed even if its appearance remained the same.) Some scholars think “hocus pocus” is a corruption of that Latin phrase.

If you’re performing a magic trick you say “hocus pocus” at the moment of transformation, when the dove flies out of the handkerchief or the stick becomes a bouquet of flowers. The trick pretends that you have learned the right incantations by which to control nature and force the gods to do your bidding.

We often think that something similar happens at the “moment of salvation.” Call it transubstantiation of souls. It’s the idea that we are not – are not safe, are not included in God’s life, are not loved children of the Father. And then we say the magic words and we are transformed – we are saved, we are included, we are loved.

Can you see how this is magical thinking? We suppose that by knowing the magic words (“I believe”, “I accept Christ”, etc.) we have the power to change our nature, transform our souls, and compel God to do what we want: accept us, forgive us, let us into heaven. The good news of Jesus is that even though we have no magical power to change ourselves the Son of God has entered into our humanity and changed us (Rom. 5:18.) The gospel is the wonderful announcement of a fact: we are like, loved, included, adopted, and saved by the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit.

When we say “I believe” or “I accept Christ” we don’t cause our salvation to happen. It already happened in Jesus, when we were adopted and reconciled in him (Eph. 1:1-5, Col. 1:20, Eph. 2:6.) Our words of belief are simply our admission that Jesus really is telling us the truth when he tells us that we are already included in his life and his relationship with our Dad.

We aren’t adopted into the Triune Life because we say the magic words. We are adopted because our Dad loved us so much that he never let us go.

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