Rick graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in Fine Arts and before going into ministry worked as a writer and art director at Young & Rubicam, an advertising agency in New York City. His work at Y&R included campaigns for New York Telephone, Rolaids, and STP.
Leaving Madison Avenue in 1988, Rick and his wife Katie joined the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ where he has served as Campus Director at Rutgers University in New Jersey, and for many years as Regional Director for the campus ministries of the Mid-Atlantic.
Rick currently serves as Publisher of Crupress (crupress.com) and is responsible for writing and producing ministry resources for the Campus Ministry. Rick is also a traveling speaker for Campus Crusade, speaking on campuses and at conferences across the U.S. His books include Flesh: An Unbreakable Habit of Purity in a Pornographic World, Jesus Without Religion (IVP, 2007), and A Million Ways to Die (Cook, 2010).
Rick lives in West Chester, Pennsylvania, with his wife Katie and their three children Avery, Whitney, and Will.
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
1 John 3:2
Iron, Magnesium, Hydrogen, Helium… if you ever gave thought to where those 92 elements on the Periodic Table came from you would probably assume, as most scientists did, that they were simply part of the universe from its beginning. In fact no one thought any differently until 1957, when the famous astrophysicist Fredrick Hoyle published a paper on stellar nuclear synthesis, or in less technical terms “how a galactic star burns itself down to nothing.”
Hoyle proposed that only two elements, hydrogen and helium, existed at the beginning of the universe, and that these two elements coalesced into stars. Extreme gravity inside the star causes the hydrogen to fuse with helium and this process is what “lights” the star and turns it into a massive fireball.
Eventually, after a couple billion years, a star burns through its fuel supply of hydrogen and helium and as it does so it produces the next few elements on the Periodic Table: lithium, boron, beryllium, and carbon. This brings us to 6 elements in the universe.
But the star, like some crazed pyro intent on incinerating itself, proceeds to burn through those elements and creates six more in the process, all the way up to Magnesium on the Periodic Table. But these too must go—everything must burn. In fact, as the star burns itself down it creates the first 26 elements of the Periodic Table, all the way to Iron. But that’s where the fire dies, “Iron is the final peal of a stars natural life.”
So where do the rest of the elements in the universe—elements 27 through 92 (Cobalt through Uranium)—come from? Well, when a star finally burns itself down to a cold iron core, it finally dies. But, oh, what a death, described here by Sam Kean in his book The Disappearing Spoon:
Suddenly lacking the energy to keep their full volume, burned out stars implode under their own immense gravity, collapsing thousands of miles in just seconds. Then, rebounding from this collapse, they explode outward. For one glorious month, a supernova stretches millions of miles and shines brighter than a billion stars. During a supernova so many gazillions of particles with so much momentum collide so many times per second that they high jump over the normal energy barriers. Every natural combination of element and isotope spews forth from this particle blizzard.
So here is the awaited analogy—and thank you for your patience. In the worldly furnace of trials and temptation, certain elements of godliness are produced in our lives: patience, kindness, self-control, etc.. Such elements could only be forged in the crucible of earthly sanctification. But when Christ appears, sanctification will be subsumed in a glorious supernova of resurrection power, “taking our weak mortal bodies and transforming them into glorious bodies like [Christ’s]” (Philippians 3:21), “we will all be changed— in a flash” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52), and we shall “shine like the brightness of the heavens” (Daniel 12:3) with a whole new array of elemental gifts and capacities.
The doctrine of Rewards would lead us to understand that at the moment of our transformation, what we are formed into will have everything to do with what we are formed from (1 Corinthians 15). The raw material of that supernova will be us: our choices, thoughts, actions, attitudes, character, our entire life, and what has been made of it. Our unique, individual life will be magnified, glorified, and transformed, and our reward will be in the resulting likeness: in our radiance, however bright; in our capacities, however gifted; in our being, however glorious; in our magnitude, however attractive. Our Reward will not simply be upon us; it will be us.
Unfairly, it would seem, talent, beauty, intellect, education, wealth, and opportunity have been meted out in this world without regard to personal merit: Brad Pitt does not deserve to look like Brad Pitt. Rewards flip this right-side up: our life here determining what will be innate to us there.
To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna…
To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life…
Looking at these promises of reward from the Book of Revelation, I’ll begin with an observation that is glaringly obvious, seldom observed, and embarrassing to point out: they’re not very motivating. I don’t mean not motivating to me, I mean not motivating to anybody. How can you be motivated by a tree you’ve never eaten from or by food (manna) you’ve never tasted? You can’t, not in any visceral sense.
Such an observation would lead to the conclusion that there’s a deeper meaning to the imagery, that what’s being offered is greater intimacy with Christ in the life to come. But like the taste of manna, we again have no concept of this, and importantly, how it will differ or be an improvement upon what we already posses in having eternal life.
What I’m getting at, is Scripture does not disclose to us the actual reward but rather the promise of reward, and it’s a big difference. The active motivation of a promised reward is faith; the active motivation of an actual reward is the reward itself.
By not telling us what’s really being offered, all of the comfort and encouragement of this promise is derived by faith: faith that God knows how to give good gifts to his children, faith in God’s faithfulness, faith in God’s promises, etc.. However intimate, however trusting we have grown in our relationship with Christ, well, that’s exactly how motivating this promise of reward will be. Not an ounce more, not an ounce less.
This would seem to answer an objection sometimes raised about rewards: that a Christian’s motive for pursuing them is somehow defective or debase. But whatever is done for the sake of heavenly reward is done by faith like we do everything else in the Christian life. Because no reward has been disclosed the focus of faith and obedience remains upon the person and promise of Christ, not the reward.
On Jan. 10, 1992, traveling south of the Aleutians islands, 44-7oN, 178.1oE to be precise, the container ship known as the Ever Laurel encountered the high seas that made these latitudes maritime legend. En route from Hong Kong to Tacoma, Washington, the ship pitched and rolled, and on one particularly steep role, two columns of 40-foot shipping containers, stacked six high, lunged from the ship into the Pacific.
What was unclear until weeks later, was that the treasure that traveled in one of the lost containers was 28,000 rubber duckies. Well that’s not entirely true, there was an assortment of four different bath toys: a red beaver, blue turtle, green frog, and the iconic yellow duckie.
But this story didn’t become a story for several years, not until the ducks began turning up all over the world. Donovan Hohn, author of Moby Duck, writes:
In 1995, beachcombers in Washington State found a blue turtle and a sun-bleached duck. Dean and Tyler Orbison, a father-son beachcombing team who every summer scour uninhabited islands along the Alaskan coast, added more toys to their growing collection every year—dozens in 1992, three in 1993, twenty-five in 1994, until, in 1995, they found none. The slump continued in 1996, and the Orbisons assumed they’d seen the last of the plastic animals, but then, in 1997, the toys suddenly returned in large numbers.
Since 1992, the bath toys have bobbed tens of thousands of miles. Some have washed up on the shores of Hawaii while others have been log-jammed in Arctic ice flows. A few showed up in Newfoundland near where the Titanic sank. 19,000 headed for sunnier shores in Australia, Indonesia, and South America. Some traveled to Alaska, then westward to Japan, and then back to Alaska again.
In 2003, eleven years after the spill, The First Years Toy company Inc. offered a $100 US savings bond to anybody who recovered a Floatee in New England, Canada, or Iceland, fueling discoveries up and down the eastern seaboard. In 2004, the remaining castaways headed eastward, past Greenland, making landfall on the southwestern shores of the United Kingdom in 2007. And who knows, maybe some are still out there.
What’s unfathomable is that these ducks, arriving at destinations all over the world, all left from the same point of origin. The waves of the ocean “blown and tossed by the wind” seem to illustrate the random, unpredictable nature of life. But the waves are only on the surface.
Amazingly, oceanographers—with the help of sophisticated software—we’re able to predict each leg of the voyage of the Rubber Duckies because the ocean is governed by currents, not dictated by waves.
Whatever trial, struggle, or challenge you’re currently in or heading into is precisely the same. It will come out of nowhere and seem guided by nothing. It will toss you about erratically, with no sense of bearing. But this is just the surface. There is a current governing your every movement. God knows exactly where you are, how you got there and where he is taking you. The waves move us, but God governs the waves.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
1 Peter 1:6,7
The movie Batman Rises opened to expectations of being the top grossing Xilm of the summer and perhaps of all time. It opened instead to a massacre in Aurora, Colorado. James Holmes, who referred to himself as the Joker, entered the exit door of the Aurora theatre and sprayed the audience with gunfire, killing 12 and injuring 59. Of all the mindless, senseless, evil . . . There was apparently no motive for the massacre, so If there was ever a rogue event in the universe this would clearly be one. But consider this:
One of the victims was a 22-year old woman named Petra Anderson. Petra is a Christian, and she was hit four times with a shot-gun blast. While three shots lodged in her arm, the fourth was in her face: the bullet entering through the nose, traveling through the brain, out the other side, and stopping at the back of her skull. The prognosis was grim, and if she lived, brain damage was inevitable as the bullet traversed her brain entirely.
But fortuitously the bullet traveled through Petra’s brain without touching Petra’s brain. As it happens, Petra’s brain has a peculiar defect she was born with, “a tiny channel of fluid running through her skull, like a tiny vein through marble, winding from front to rear.” The bullet entered her brain from the exact point of this defect and “like a marble through a small tube, the defect channeled the bullet from Petra’s nose through her brain,” as writer Brad Strait describes:
Like a giant BB though a straw created in Petra’s brain before she was born, the bullet followed the route of the defect. It’s just like the God I follow to plan the route of a bullet through a brain long before Batman ever rises. Twenty-two years before.
The God who shaped Petra’s brain into the Holland Tunnel, 22-years before a bullet needed to travel it, is blindsided by nothing and can prevent anything. We rightly trust him as sovereign over our trials and circumstances.
On a mission’s trip to China some years back, like all tourists I went to see the Great Wall. It’s quite a sight. And as I walked along the top of the wall I saw a government worker down below picking up trash. What captured my attention was the speed, or absence of speed, at which he worked. It was like a child picking up his room in a state of protest, one dirty sock at a time.
A few hundred yards away there was a shopping bizarre, selling miniature Walls, battery operated pandas, and what not. What was interesting about this market though was it operated on the free-market system. The people selling the souvenirs kept any additional profit they made, and there, in contrast to Mr. State Rubbish Collector, I beheld a motivated work force. Walking past a booth a woman actually grabbed me by the coat and pulled me into her stall and now I own a battery operated panda.
A comparison between the two workers would make a good argument for a free market economy: the state employee was going to make the same wage no matter how many McDonald’s wrappers he rescued, so why try?
But my observation isn’t political. What’s disturbing about this free-market theodicy is it seems to capture the motivational inertia affecting many believers. A steady diet of Eternal Security, Perseverance of the Saints, and other salvation-affirming doctrines, and the neglect of Scripture’s warning and promise of Loss and Reward, has instilled in modern believers the mindset of a Communist worker. Put bluntly, most Christians see little benefit in exerting themselves for a salvation that’s theirs no matter what kind of performance they hand in.
In contrast to this Soviet sensibility, there is a free-market mentality that permeates the New Testament: a motivation driven by the prospect of future reward, the potential for devastating loss, and the stern accountability for every investment made:
…and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
1 Corinthians 3:13-15
I don’t think this way. I think about going to heaven and being with Jesus, not about “receiving a reward” or “suffering loss.” Sure I’d like to hear “well done, good and faithful servant” but so-what if ends up being, “Nice try, James, we’ll get ‘em next time.” I mean, who can’t live with a 15-minute sit-down for a bad report card? That out of the way we can move on to eternity in the same joyful bliss as everyone else.
I don’t think anyone would come out and say this, at least not so blatantly, but most people don’t reflect on what’s NOT motivating them.
I’m not suggesting we ignore or de-emphasize the surety of our salvation and that we are saved by grace alone, and that Christ has suffered the judgment for all of our sin. Heavens, no. What I am suggesting is the need to rekindle a passion for the doctrine of Reward, an emphasis commensurate with the emphasis placed on it by Scripture. We need to know that what we do here matters and that it will matter forever and that is exactly what the doctrine of Rewards instills in us:
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
2 Corinthians 5:10
More on Rewards to come…
If you had been driving on the roads of Stockholm in 1967, you would have been tapping your steering wheel to the catchy pop song, “Hall dej Hoger, Svensson.” In English that translates to “Let’s All Drive on the Right, Svensson,” and its popularity was due to the long awaited change over in Sweden: from driving on the left side of the road to driving on the right.
“H-Day,” after the word hoger (Swedish for “right”), was scheduled for September 3rd when the entire country would get up in the morning, get in their cars, and drive, on what was to them, the wrong side of the road. As the day moved closer, prophecies and predictions of a looming traffic apocalypse continued to mount. An article in the New York Times stated, “What is going to happen here in September has cast many grotesque shadows all over Sweden.”
But on September 3 the oddest thing happened; the roads in Sweden became safer. And not just for a day or a week, but it would take a full year for accident rates to climb back to where they had been. It was astounding and the results led to a small revolution in the field of traffic design, as the focus of road planners shifted from driver safety to driver alertness. See, the roads in Sweden hadn’t become safer because people were driving on the right; they had become safer because people were alert and paying attention. It turns out that a safe, predictable path is not the best way to travel from point A to point B.
Gathering data, highway engineers found evidence for this counterintuitive phenomenon everywhere: when dangerous curves were marked with warning signs and safety reflectors, people drove faster; the more stop signs on a given road the more likely people were to disregarded them or double their speed between the signs; the wider the roads the more cars tried to pass one another. The traffic system had been designed for safety and inadvertently produced the opposite.
In Europe people have been driving on the implications of this research for decades. Long stretches of highway have bends in them every mile or so, not because of the landscape, but to keep drivers alert. Safety signs have been taken down in towns and cities because drivers will take their cues from the signs and not what’s going on around them. Curbs have been removed to take away the perceived security they provide. In these European towns, drivers are alertly negotiating the real world, no longer following mindlessly the regulatory and cautionary signs that did the driving for them.
Unbeknownst to most of us, God has been laying down stretches of highway in our lives with a view toward alertness and relational engagement not safer driving.
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”
The blind corners, detours, roundabouts, and rumble strips of life are what keep us alert, engaged, praying without ceasing, reliant, humble and ever vigilant behind the wheel. To understand this is to never again ask the question, “Why doesn’t God make his will clearer?”
Now, you might say, that’s fine, I’m okay not having a road map for the rest of life but it would sure be helpful to have that clear, GPS voice of reason telling me when it’s time to make a turn, “TURN . . . RIGHT . . . IN . . .TWOPOINTFIVEMILES. But see, that wouldn’t keep you alert either. If you follow complicated directions using a GPS, you really have no idea how you got to where you were going, nor could you find your way back. One learns their location through the attention straining process of searching, and in the spiritual world that means constant prayer, reliance, openness and vigilance in seeking God’s leading and direction.
Talking to a pastor yesterday, he recounted an informal interview he conducted with someone leaving the church. The individual said they felt excluded and uncared for. The pastor reminded him of three recent invitations to lunch, but this didn’t seem change the person’s perception, probably because the reasons and rational given were not the real reasons. What those real reasons are, God only knows.
So much of what we do in ministry, or at least how we do it, seems to flow from the polls and interviews of Christian research. But I wonder what a Barna Poll of Jerusalem would have revealed about the first church: interviews with those resistant or rejecting of the gospel. I don’t imagine much positive feedback at all.
In March of 2000 Sports Illustrated ran a story about how top young recruits were leaving the Indiana basketball program. The story focused on the allegations of a former player, Neil Reed, who claimed that during a basketball practice, head coach, Bobby Knight, had strangled him, and that if the assistant coach hadn’t pulled him off he would have killed him.
No one had a hard time believing Bobby Knight would do such a thing. His temper was legendary.
But months later, footage from that practice surfaced showing Bobby Knight grabbing Neil Reed but little else. What was interesting was subsequent interviews with Reed revealed he wasn’t lying. He was absolutely wrong, but he wasn’t lying; he remembered it exactly as he told it. He thought Knight was going to kill him. Researchers label this a failure of source memory.
Failure of Source memory is common because memories and experiences are clouded by personal feelings, judgments, beliefs, and biases. Why this can be so deceptive is that we hold memory and experience to be objective and absolute. We retrieve experience with little suspicion that the image we’ve filed has been manipulated.
In light of this, I suspect a Barna poll of Jerusalem would have elicited comments about Christians like: They think they’re better than everyone else; They’re judgmental, They’re shoving Christianity down our throats, They’re strange and cliquish; They stir up trouble and anger; They break up families; They pollute our young people.
According to Scripture, this is not how God viewed the church, and this is the point. Whose assessment should we take more seriously? Should we change what we do on the basis of the perceptual distortions of unbelievers?
In response, one could say that perception is reality, and it matters little if Christians are being kind if they are perceived as being critical.
But somehow there has to be a more critical balance. Certainly feedback from unbelievers is helpful, and sometimes both justified and true. At the same time, it’s foolish to look at such research without acknowledging that the state of a person’s heart in relation to God and the church is going to produce a myriad of source memory failures: imagined exclusion, perceived judgment, suspected conspiracy, fabricated aggression. In fact, an uneasy conscience is much more likely to generate false experience and memory for the purposes of justification.
In experiments and analysis there is a term used, called an “X Factor,” the definition of which is: a hard-to-describe influence or quality that has unknown, but potentially determinitive impact on outcomes and results. This is the X factor missing from Christian research: what sin, hardening of heart, rejection of the gospel, and resistance to God’s spirit, does to perception.
I think an historical point needs to be clarified as it relates to Christ’s Return: the fanatical Christian worldview of a rapidly approaching Doomsday is neither fanatical nor Christian (strictly speaking).
It was not Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth that started the world buzzing about the End of Days—just the evangelical world. The world had been buzzing for some time. In 1914, a half-century earlier, H.G. Wells, seeing the inevitability of a world war, dashed off a rather sloppy anti-war novella entitled The World Set Free. At the center of the story is a fictitious element called Carolinum: an atom whose nucleus was so unstable that it was continuously casting off pieces of itself (radio-activity).
Realizing the power contained in these atoms, unscrupulous scientists begin making an “atomic bomb,” a term invented by Wells. King Egbert, the story’s protagonist, realizes that the only way to postpone Armageddon is to safeguard the world’s supply of Carolinum, and that he does, ushering in a reign of peace with the fateful element under lock and key.
Decades before the atom was ever split, Wells was predicting a very feasible end time scenario. Ten years before that, in 1904, Mark Twain wrote Sold to Satan, envisioning the Dark Lord in a radioactive body comprised of the newly discovered element, radium.
“I stand six feet one; fleshed and blooded I would weigh two hundred and fifteen; but radium, like other metals, is heavy. I weigh nine hundred-odd.”
This is where Doomsday began to capture the popular imagination. It was Well’s novella that circulated among the scientists of the Manhattan Project not books on Bible prophecy. Soon would come Hiroshima and Nagasaki, then the Atomic cafes, Neutron Diners, and Fallout shelters. The apocalyptic mindset of postwar America is, I think, captured in William Faulkner’s 1950 acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize, “There are no longer problems of spirit. There is only one question: When will I be blown up?”
Secular historian, Tom Zoellner, has observed that, “whether it comes from a genuine divine source or a neurological twinge (or both), the suspicion that the earth is ticking away its final hours… exists on a grand collective scale.”
Over the past 2,000 years more than a few Christians have wrongly predicted the End of the World. This is undeniably true. But when secular scientists, scholars, and writers begin shouting “the end is nigh,” well, this is something altogether different. This has been the somber, global awareness that civilization could end with the same push-button ease it takes to get a Snickers bar from a vending machine: whether that button ignites a bomb, or deletes the Internet. The scientific, economic, and political reality of our age is that to assume the world’s perpetuity (apart from God’s providence) beyond this next century is denial, gross optimism, or naivety.
Though often contorting the laws of biblical interpretation and exegesis and adding fuel to fanaticism, Christians have sought (rightly or wrongly) to make biblical connections to apocalyptic ruminations that existed quite apart from them.
Looking at Doomsday from this broader historical lens, brings out the irony of the age in which we live. The irony? Unbelievers running around as though the sky were falling while Christians stand on street corners, their placards reading “Relax. We’ve Made the Same Mistake Ourselves.”
As I walked past a newsstand in the airport the cover of a Newsweek turned my head like a face-slap. It read, “Apocalypse Now,” the subhead as follows: “Tsunamis. Earthquakes. Nuclear Meltdowns. Revolutions. Economies on the Brink. What the #@%! Is Next?” Yes, you heard me right, it was Newsweek.
This got me pondering, and I turned again to what Scripture has to say about the End Times. I’ll share my reflections—as I have the—over the weeks to follow.
In light of global events, those to which the Newsweek article is referring, I was thinking this morning about the question, “How close are we?” I’m no different from the disciples, and this is precisely what they wanted to know: ‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3).
In one sense, we’re always close. This, I believe, to be the point of Jesus’ teaching concerning his Coming: motivation more than information. It’s an evergreen encouragement, good for the duration of the church age. It’s like an exit on the Jersey Turnpike: wherever you are, it’s always just up ahead.
We can also safely say that we are getting closer. For the Christian, history does not repeat, it echoes. It moves forward, not in circles. Events do not reoccur but themes do, because history is a story whose author reveals his presence and plot through foreshadow. For those within the story, stuck inside its pages, it’s quite impossible to know with surety when the convergence of events indicates yet another instance of foreshadow or the actual culmination or climax of the story.
The TV series Lost was one of the most popular in the last decade, but after the first two seasons I stopped watching. Every time the plot seemed to be building to a climax, it dissipated, generating yet new story threads. I’d been suckered in by shows like this before: Alias became Alias Season One, than Two, then Three. By the end of Lost’s second season, anticipation had given way to cynicism—“does producer J.J. Abrams even know how to end a story?” As each apparent climax turned out to be yet another “build” in the plot, what was “lost” was my interest. I simply stopped watching.
Understandably, I think this is where a lot of us are as it relates to the End Times, not wanting to be emotionally drawn in, cynical it’s just another iteration of the theme, another build in the plot, and not the climax of the story. I’m sure it was for us—those tuned-in to the 2,000th season—that Jesus repeated his warnings to keep watching and to do so with growing anticipation, not cynicism.
Jesus lived at a time like ours, when eschatological expectations fueled messianic claims, rumors, and predictions. In light of this, what Jesus doesn’t say to his disciples is as surprising as what he does. He doesn’t say, “Don’t look for signs,” or “Avoid speculation.” Rather, he gives them very specific signs and encourages them to be on the look out for them.
And. So. If Newsweek has turned its attention to the signs Jesus gave for his Return, I think I’ll follow their example and re-engage with these texts.
More to follow.
Some recent work by E. Fermi and L. Szilard, which has been communicated to me in a manuscript, leads me to expect that the element uranium may be turned into an important source of energy. Certain aspects of the situation which has arisen seem to call for watchfulness and, if necessary, quick action on the part of the administration…
I can think of to the scenarios found in the book of Daniel. During WWII the government employed the best and brightest minds in the country and yet not one of them could interpret the data or provide any answer to the question of nuclear fusion. And so they pluck this old man out of the teachers lounge at Princeton University and ask him to solve the mystery on which the fate of the world hinged.
The word “mystery” occurs only ten times in the Old Testament and all of them are found in the book of Daniel. The content and meaning of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams were a “mystery:” vivid as an Ambien induced dreamscape but unintelligible. And so Daniel is sought out for he alone can answer the mystery and interpret the dream.
This is the significance behind Colossians 4:3: “And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ.”
Paul’s use of the word “mystery” can only be drawing from this one OT source —the book of Daniel. And it is the unlikely image of Daniel that informs Paul’s perspective on missions and evangelism.
The perspective is this: God has sent us into the world to reach people who are lost, who like Nebuchadnezzar, have no answer to the riddle of life, no way to interpret the events of history or even their own existence. For Unbelievers, life is Nebuchadnezzar’s dream: a mystery that no one can unravel and therefore up to each individual to invent his or her own interpretation.
In his evangelism, Paul sees himself as Daniel, holding the interpretive key to life’s meaning, and to the meaning of each individual life. He sees the gospel as the interpretation of the dream and Jesus Christ as the answer to the mystery—a really cool perspective I think from which to see our witness for Christ.
What Did He Say? What Did He Do? What’s the Point?
In Jesus Without Religion, author Rick James begins by clearing his throat. Free of creeds, quarrels and specialized theologies, he speaks of Jesus. No dogma, no politics, no moral at the end. Jesus. What he said. What he did. And what, exactly, was the point. The answers about Jesus, according to Rick James, are in the context. In his own unconventional way, James recalls the specific contexts that color Jesus’ story, bringing forward this man you’ve heard so much—and so little—about.
An unbreakable habit of purity in a pornographic world
Sexual immorality and pornography have become the defining issues and obstacles to spiritual growth and ministry. Written in a straightforward, gracious, and often humorous style, James does not stir up guilt but helps readers develop an unbreakable habit of purity amidst a pornographic world.
Flesh is divided into three sections. First, there is small group Bible study material because a large part of victory lies in establishing encouraging relationships of accountability. A content section follows with articles covering most every issue connected to sex, lust, sexuality, and pornography. Last, there is a month of daily devotionals to saturate the reader in the Scripture, develop new habits of the heart and establish a track record of purity.
The Only Way to Live
As Christians we talk often about resurrection, but what about our death and the many daily “deaths” that must come first? Through stories and biblical insights, Rick James reminds us that when Jesus tells us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Him, He is describing a path of death, not a path to death.
As we learn to embrace the little deaths of everyday existence, we lose our taste for lifeless religiosity. Our appetite for a thriving, vibrant life in Christ grows—and our own experience motivates others to live out their extraordinary missions on earth. As James so vividly illustrates, death is not an ending—it’s an invitation to more abundant life.