Resurrection

Preparing for Sunday: Our Family’s Saturday Autobiography

Preparing for Sunday: Our Family’s Saturday Autobiography

It’s Saturday! In our household, that means a little more sleep in the morning and perhaps a nap in the afternoon. We treasure those 30 extra minutes. Remember college? In college, time was on our side. Naps were luxuries we took for granted. Now here we are: fifteen years have passed and five children later. Time matters a whole lot! The children are consistent early-risers. They are punctual little creatures. They love time. They love it so much that even without an alarm clock they detect that 6:30 is coming. They are not allowed to leave their rooms until 6:30. I am not fully awake then, but I can hear them coming. Sometimes they come silently. Sometimes they come like hungry warriors. But they come…consistently. My lovely wife makes the first move. She is more courageous than I am that early. She does it without flinching. “What a mom! and where does that magical strength come from?” I think to myself. Breakfast is ready. Children are fed. Sometimes the beach is a fine option. Soccer games. But the last few hours of Saturday are sacred. It’s our preparation for Sunday.

On late Saturday afternoon, we begin our preparation for worship. Sunday mornings with five little ones can be a challenge. We try to go to bed relatively early. We usually make no Saturday evening appointments. Saturday evening is sacred in that we prepare ourselves for the sacred gathering. It is almost a ritual for us. Ironing and showers are constant activities before dinner on Saturday. If we are hosting on Sunday it demands extra effort from our team on Saturday.  Preparation is key and we begin the preparation early so Sunday doesn’t become late.

Sunday arrives. The man of the house is also the pastor of the Church. He begins to prepare himself psychologically for the service. Sermon notes run through his mind; mental editing begins and really never stops until he begins preaching. He begins to hum through the psalms and hymns. Sunday mornings are created equal. It is always hard work but made infinitely easier by Saturday preparation.

When guests are coming over after church, we work even harder Sunday morning. “Is the beer in the fridge for the guests?” “Are the floors clean?” “Are the plates set?” “We need to leave in the next ten minutes!” The excitement builds. We love Church. We prepare for it. But with little children nothing is easy. There are a thousand things that can go wrong, but remember we have begun our preparation on Saturday. Mommy prepares herself. She makes sure that her war tools are ready: Diapers: check. Milk: check. Snacks: check. “I think we are ready!” She has her army under control. “Where are my clerical collars?” I ask. I have so many of them, but they never seem to be in the same place they were seven days ago. It’s naive of me to think they will be. But that is my liturgical pattern every Sunday.

 “A wizard is never late, nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means to.” -Tolkien

“Children, what day is today?” “The Lord’s Day!” “What do we do today?” “We worship God and sing His praises.” Yes, we do all these things, but it’s been a long journey until that moment. We died in one hundred different ways during the week, so we can be brought to life on the day of Resurrection. “Live the liturgy,” says the preacher. We are trying. It’s extremely challenging. It’s really very sanctifying. It’s holy work. Yes, it is.

Saturday Preparation

In an age when Sunday worship is treated with profound disrespect and viewed with triviality by the evangelical population, we need a return to its sacredness. I edited a book several years ago that developed this theme.  Yet, a missing part of the puzzle in my estimation is how to prepare for Sunday. I have been asked if there are some practical steps to preparing for Sunday. I offer here few thoughts which are not exhaustive and which can vary dramatically depending on family dynamics but may prove useful to starting this needful conversation in the home.

a) Ironing clothes on Saturday instead of Sunday morning has proved essential to our well-being on Sunday. Though we are not prone to sleeping in on Sunday, we discover that on the rare cases where ironing happens on Sunday morning, it adds almost 30 minutes to iron clothes for seven people.

b) Getting showers for the little ones on Saturday instead of Sunday morning.

c) Going over Bible texts and/or hymns will go a long way in making Sunday more understandable for the little ones. We have noticed that if a song has been practiced during the week, their Sunday participation is much more pleasant.

d) If hosting on Sundays, prepare tables or lay out the essential ingredients for the meal on Saturday. The children can be trained to get their rooms clean and living room area prepared for guests. This will take some practice, but when children participate in the preparation they benefit more from the event.

e) We rarely participate in events on Saturday night. It’s our family commitment to use that evening to calm our hearts and minds for Sunday.

It is my firm conviction that this seriousness in preparation will cause your children to see your commitment to the holiest of all days in the week.

What is Holy Saturday?

The Passion Week provides diverse theological emotions for the people of God. Palm Sunday commences with the entrance of a divine King riding on a donkey. He comes in ancient royal transportation. The royal procession illicit shouts of benediction, but concludes only a few days later with shouts of crucifixion as the king is hung on a tree.

The Church also celebrates Maundy Thursday as our Messiah provides a new commandment to love one another just as He loved us. The newness of the commandments is not an indication that love was not revealed prior (Lev. 19), but that love is now incarnate in the person of love, Jesus Christ. We then proceed to sing of the anguish of that Good Friday as our blessed Lord is humiliated by soldiers and scolded by the offensive words of the religious leaders of the day. As he walks to the Mount, his pain testifies to Paul’s words that he suffered even to the point of death (Phil. 2)But hidden in this glaringly distasteful mixture of blood, vinegar, and bruised flesh is the calmness of the day after our Lord’s crucifixion.

After fulfilling the great Davidic promise in Psalm 22, our Lord rests from his labors in the tomb. Whatever may have happened in those days before his resurrection, we know that Christ’s work as the unblemished offering of love was finished.

The Church calls this day Blessed Sabbath or more commonly, Holy Saturday. On this day, our Lord reposed (rested) from his accomplishments. Many throughout history also believe that Holy Saturday is a fulfillment of Moses’ words:

God blessed the seventh day. This is the blessed Sabbath. This is the day of rest, on which the only-begotten Son of God rested from all His works . . .(Gen. 2:2)

The Church links this day with the creation account. On day seven Yahweh rested and enjoyed the fruit of his creation. Jesus Christ also rested in the rest given to him by the Father and enjoyed the fruits of the New Creation he began to establish and would be brought to light on the next day.

As Alexander Schmemann observed:

Now Christ, the Son of God through whom all things were created, has come to restore man to communion with God. He thereby completes creation. All things are again as they should be. His mission is consummated. On the Blessed Sabbath He rests from all His works.

Holy Saturday is a day of rest for God’s people; a foretaste of the true Rest that comes in the Risen Christ. The calmness of Holy Saturday makes room for the explosion of Easter Sunday. On this day, we remember that the darkness of the grave and the resting of the Son were only temporary for when a New Creation bursts into the scene the risen Lord of glory cannot contain his joy, and so he gives it to us.

There is more to Easter…

There is more to Easter…

But if we regard the resurrection as simply a kind of certificate of authenticity for the atonement and sterling evidence for life beyond the grave, we have sold the resurrection short. {Michael Bird, Evangelical Theology, 435}

10 Reasons to Sing the Psalms

10 Reasons to Sing the Psalms

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Many of us grew up in theological backgrounds where the psalms were known, but not sung. These theological backgrounds are anomalies throughout the history of the Church. E.F. Harrison observed that “Psalmody was a part of the synagogue service that naturally passed over into the life of the church.” Calvin Stapert speaks of the fathers’ “enthusiastic promotion of psalm-singing” which he says, “reached an unprecedented peak in the fourth century.” James McKinnon speaks of “an unprecedented wave of enthusiasm” for the psalms in the second half of the fourth century. Hughes Oliphint Old argued that Calvin appealed to the church historians (e.g. Eusebius, Socrates, Sozomen) as well as the church fathers (e.g. Augustine, Basil, Chrysostom) for the singing of psalms. While the Reformers did not advocate the exclusive singing of Psalms they did express “a partiality for Psalms and hymns drawn from Scripture.” a 

The Reformer Martin Luther urged that Psalms be sung by congregations so that “the Word of God may be among the people also in the form of music b. By the end of the 19th century, however, most hymnals produced had limited psalms to a couple of well-known pieces like Old One-Hundredth. Beyond that, scriptural references had all but disappeared. Terry Johnson summarized the state of psalmlessness:

This eclipse of psalmody in the late nineteenth century is quite unprecedented. The psalms, as we have seen, have been the dominant form of church song beginning with the Church Fathers, all through the Middle Ages, during the Reformation and Post-Reformation eras, and into the modern era. By the beginning of the twentieth century the church had lost the voice through which it had expressed its sung praise for more than 1800 years. c

Though the last hundred years were not psalm-friendly, we have seen in the last 30 years a kind of revival of psalmody in the modern church, especially in the Reformed tradition. New hymnals, like the Cantus Christi, and many others are including old and new psalms ( metrical and chants).

So why should we sing the psalms? Aren’t the 19th century hymns and contemporary songs sufficient to fulfill the worship demands of the modern congregation?

The answer is a resounding no!

There are ten reasons I believe congregations should begin to sing psalms once again:

First, Psalm-singing is an explicit biblical command (Ps. 27:6). The Scriptures encourage us to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16). To have the word of Christ dwell in you richly means to invest in the rich beauty of the Psalter. How can we sing what we do not know? Is there a better way to internalize the word than to sing it?

Second, Psalm-singing was the ancient practice of the Church and it continued for 1,800 years. We honor our forefathers and our history when we sing their songs.

Third, Calvin observed that the psalms are “An Anatomy of all Parts of the Soul; for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that it is not represented here as a mirror.” The psalms are satisfying to the human being. We are homos adorans; worship beings. God is not against emotions, he is against emotionalism. The Psalter is an emotional book. It provides comfort for the people of God at different stages of life. As a minister I have never once walked into a hospital room and been asked to read a text from Leviticus or Romans, but rather every time I have been asked to read a psalm (most often Psalm 23). The psalms reach deep inside our humanity in time of pain.

Fourth, singing the psalms builds our Christian piety. It is nurturing to our souls. It is God’s devotional book; God’s hymnal. Singing the psalms restores the joy of our salvation. Ask me what book of the Bible I would take to a desert island, and I will not hesitate to say “The Psalms.”

Fifth, the psalms are ultimately made for the body. You may sing the psalms on your own, but they reach their culmination when sung together. They are meant to be roared (Ps. 47:1), because they were written by the Lion of Judah. When we sing together we are both being edified and edifying one another. “We sing because in singing we join together in common breath and melody in a manner that no other medium can duplicate…We become an assembly unified in purpose and thought. And by our singing, we hear God’s Word for us, and the world hears it loud and clear.” d

Sixth, we should sing the Psalms because they re-shape us; they re-orient our attention. We are a people constantly being sanctified by the Spirit of God, and the Spirit has specifically inspired 150 psalms for our sanctification. How should we pray? How should we ask? How should we lament? The Psalms helps us to answer these questions, and thus shape us more and more after the image of Christ.

Seventh, by singing the Psalms we are worshiping the Spirit. The Spirit hovers, shapes, re-makes in the Bible. He is the music of God in the world. In an age when the Third Person of the Trinity has become the source of theological confusion, the Psalms keeps us focused on His role and purposes in history.

Eighth, we should sing the Psalms because our current songs are often cheap and shallow. The Psalms are rich and full of substance. If we wonder why the evangelical community is so powerless, one reason for this is its trivialized worship. Modern worship is often a pietistic exercise, which is manifested in poorly constructed and pessimistic theology. But the Psalms teaches us that God is full of mercy and powerful over all His enemies (Ps. 2). The Psalms are political statements. They are direct attacks on those who challenge the supremacy of King Jesus.

Ninth, the Psalms should be sung because our children need them. Our little ones need to know the God they worship in profound ways from their earliest days. We become what we worship, and so our children will become what we sing.

Tenth, you should sing the Psalms because the world needs them. The world does not need a weak Gospel. She sees plenty of it already. She needs to hear a Gospel of a God who delights in praise, who will not allow evil to go unpunished, and who prepares a table for us.

This may all sound daunting and strange. But I’d encourage you to take that first step. What first may appear to be strange may become a wonderful journey into praise and thanksgiving to the God from whom all blessings flow.

For more information on how to sing the psalms, or for resources, please contact me at uriesou@gmail.com.

  1. See Terry Johnson’s The History of Psalm Singing in the Church; I depended heavily on that article for the quotes on this paragraph  (back)
  2. Luther, Martin. Tischreden. No. 2545. Quoted in F. Blume et al., Protestant Church Music (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1974  (back)
  3. Ibid.  (back)
  4. From the article: “Why do we sing the Psalms?”  (back)

I Give Thanks

Paul’s letter to the Philippians is filled with thanksgiving. Calvin writes that when Paul refers to things that are joyful he breaks forth in thanksgiving, which, Calvin observes, “is a practice we ought also to be familiar.”

Thanksgiving is the antidote to bitterness and gossip. How often do we falsely accuse others only to boost our own selfish interests? Thanksgiving is the reaction of someone overwhelmed by the goodness of God. It is the by-product of a life-story that echoes praise. Be certain that when bitterness and selfishness arise it is out of an ungrateful heart.

This is another reason worship is so central to the life of the church. Worship is a thanksgiving gathering. The very word we use for the Lord’s Supper, namely Eucharist, means thanksgiving. Worship is practice in giving thanks.

10 Things to Expect in a Federal Vision Church

10 Things to Expect in a Federal Vision Church

I recently read a post by a frustrated woman on the outcome of some decisions made in different PCA Presbyteries. Among many things, this individual observed that she was deeply concerned for the well-being of the people who attend PCA churches. She urged them to leave the denomination. Many of them have bought into the “Federal Vision theology,” and are possibly doomed to a “Christ-less eternity,” she wrote. They also are grace-less, because they emphasize a robust faith that is not dead.  Among the other things mentioned, apparently Federal Vision advocates do not care about personal relationships, but only church business, because we put so much emphasis on the church. And to top off the list of accusations, we have traded “a relationship with Jesus for religion.”

I am not a PCA pastor, but as someone who served in the PCA for several years, I do want to defend those brothers who are referred to as Federal Vision. Suffice to say, these accusations are childish in every way.

At the same time, I know there is a lot of misunderstanding out there. And in case you are either curious or tempted to visit one of these so-called Federal Vision churches, I would like to prepare the bold visitor for ten things he/she is to expect as they enter into a typical one:

1) Apart from using the term to clarify ideas and misunderstandings in friendly conversations and the occasional men’s study, the term Federal Vision will most likely never be used in the pulpit.  Further, opponents and even advocates of the Federal (Covenant) Vision differ on many points. The closest thing to a consensus is found here, but there are still are sorts of distinctions and qualifications that need to be made.

2) Be prepared for that archaic practice of singing the Psalms. Yes, we confess to singing from Yahweh’s songbook, as well as some old time religion music from the 4th century. Expect very vibrant singing; the one that roars!

3) Be alerted that we are a very friendly congregation, and contrary to what you have heard (if you have ever heard such a thing) we will greet you and likely invite you to lunch after church.

4) Also, do not be alarmed by the little cries in the congregation (Ps. 8:2-3). We really love our little ones and we encourage parents to train them up in worship, and the best place to do that is…in worship.

5) You may be asked to kneel (Ps. 95:6). We believe posture is important to God. Obviously, you do not have to kneel. It is optional, though everyone will.

6) The pastor may get a bit theological at times, he may take the time to explain the text in detail, but he usually explains his theologizing and biblicizing and is very consistent in applying his text and theology to the life of the body.

7) This may truly shock you, but we have the Lord’s Supper every week. And furthermore, we offer bread (real bread) and wine (real wine). This may take some adjustment, but I promise it will make sense after a while.

8) And I know the red flags are all over the place by now, and this is not going to help, but we also believe that baptized children are called to partake of the table of the Lord. Here is where we confess we have strayed from broad Reformed practices. But we have only done so because we believe that the early Christians practiced this. We further believe that I Corinthians 11 actually confirms our practice.

9) The ministers may wear an alb and a stole (though many others may simply wear a suit and tie). This practice serves to point out the unique role the man of God has in proclaiming God’s truth in Word and Sacrament. This may appear very Roman Catholic to you, and you are right. Of course, it is also very Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, and yes, even Reformed (see data on clerical collars).

10) Finally, you are correct to assert that we love the Church. We love her because Christ died for her. Our Reformed forefathers were clear. But the Church is no substitute for Christ, the Church is called to build on her firm foundation, which is Christ. You cannot separate Groom and  Bride. And what does this Christ demand of his Church? He demands repentance, and in repentance you will find fullness of life.

I trust you will visit us, but if you do so, we want you to be prepared.

 

How I Have Changed

Photo: Circa 2002, Senior Year at CCC...good times. Now: Ministers, missionary, pharmacist, military chaplain, financial advisor. God has been faithful! Kenneth James Conklin, Timothy J Russell, Matthew Fisher, Tom YuI spent a couple of hours today chatting with an old friend of mine. He is now a pastor of a Lutheran congregation. He is a fine fellow whom I long to re-acquaint face to face with a pipe and a fine beer. After all these years we have kept a relatively lively relationship over the phone. We have even joined forces to write a lengthy piece combating an evangelical prohibitionist advocate of our day.

Interestingly what brought us together even more so in these last few years have been our theological journeys. We both attended a fundamentalist college, but even back then we were already pursuing dangerous literature. One time he brought a book back from home that had a warning sign on its first page written by his mother. The first page stated that we were to be careful as we read this book for it was written by a Calvinist. Lions, and tigers, and Calvinists, oh my!

How far we have come! It has been over 10 years since we parted those glory college days, and now we both are pastoring healthy congregations. We are in different theological traditions, but very rooted in our Protestant commitments. Beyond that, we are rooted in a vastly historic tradition.

As I pondered that conversation I wondered just how much I have changed over this last decade. I went from a revival preacher to a liturgical minister. Now don’t get me wrong, I long for revival, I just don’t long for the same type my brothers long for. This revival I long for is filled with beautiful images, a pattern-filled story, tasty bread, and delightful wine; church colors, rituals– in the best sense of the term—and lots of feasting. While my fundamentalist brothers longed for the sweet by and by, and times they would gather at the river to sing of that ol’ time religion. Those romantic days no longer appeal to me.

How have I changed? In so many ways! But my changes were not just theological. I have held the same convictions I have today on a host of issues for over 10 years. My changes were more situational and existential (and normative for the tri-perspectivalists out there). My reality has changed. I now treasure different things that I did not treasure a decade ago. You may say marriage does that, but the reality is I have taken my sola scriptura to the next level. I have begun to see its applicability beyond the sphere of the mind. The arm-chair theologian no longer seems admirable. Even marriage carries a symbolic significance to me. This is not just a privatized institution; it is, to quote Schmemann, “for the sake of the world.” Yes, I have changed.

I have also changed existentially. I have learned to delve deeply into personal piety and have found it refreshing. In the past my piety led me into the valley of pietism. It was discouraging; pessimistic. Now my piety keeps me in green pastures. My existential struggle with doubt is no longer a reality. I have found objectivity in the most unlikely places. They have kept me secure and alert to my own tendencies; to the idols that I have failed to crush. Jesus has become more than an intellectual pursuit, but the heart of the issues, because he is the heart of history.

Yes, I have changed since my college days. I would like even to affirm that this is the new me; a “me” broken by idolatry and restored and renewed by word, water, and wine. Thanks be to God!

The Ethics of Creation

When God made the world he made it in divine priority. He made all things with an agenda, and to use the oft-repeated line, “he saved the best for last.” He made man on day six, and at the end he breathed with the breath of perfection (Gen. 1:31): “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”

Could God have created man on day one or day three? No. This was a divine priority. Man was created last purposefully. He made him on day six and then affirmed (Gen. 1:26-28) that he was to be over all things. Man receives a place of honor in creation because he is made in the image of God.

Under the Old Covenant he crawled in his infancy. He was unable to do much, and so God gave him tutors, angels to keep watch over him. But as he grew in maturity, man learned to walk. He walked with a limp (Gen. 32) to remind him of his humble beginnings, but he became more theologically civilized and warrior-like, capable of confronting bigger challenges. But God never left man alone. He was never made to be alone. In the New Covenant, God takes man from crawlers to inheritors (Rom. 4:13). As a promise, the ascended Lord gives man his Spirit. He provides mature and able man a comforter and a divine guidance counselor, namely, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity.

All of this was already symbolized in the creation account, but needed to wait until the New Creation to be put into place. Man was always meant to have a place of prominence in God’s world. This prominence is a not a blank check, it is conditioned on the faithfulness of redeemed man to serve and fear Yahweh with grace and truth (Rom. 12:11).

But when this divine creational pattern is broken, the world is also broken. When the order of creation is switched, the world suffers ethical consequences. When trees and living things are placed at greater prominence than man, then we have a disordered creation. This is largely the fruit of the environmentalist movement.

When day six is not prioritized, the sacredness of life is also not treasured. Abortion is the result of a disordered creation narrative. When God said “Let us make man in our image,” he was prioritizing the life of man over the life of other created things. Yahweh stamped on mankind his image; and that image needs to be treasured above all else. The taking of human life is a phase of disorientation in the created order. It is a direct violation of the way things were meant to be.

The ethical consequences also apply to marriage. When day six is taken out of its place, the joining of man and woman—which is a joining officiated by God himself—is misplaced, and the doors of polygamy and sexual deviance are open (Rom. 1). And when mankind and current social norms disrespect the created order, God gives them over to their mis-prioritized minds. This is God’s way of saying that that which he made he made orderly and purposefully, and that order cannot be tampered with.

Ultimately, man can choose to honor God’s creational pattern, or build a week of their own. But if they do so, they will never come to the seventh day of rest.

It’s Worth Defending

Evangelicals overall do a fine job at defending the trivial but struggle to defend the hard things. Machen observed long ago in his monumental Christianity and Liberalism that “it appears that the things that are sometimes thought to be hardest to defend are also the things that are most worth defending (8).”

Machen was deeply concerned about where the lines were being drawn. He was sure that if we abandoned this battle, we would be swallowed up by heresy and forsake the tremendous work of our godly forefathers. He saw liberalism as another religion altogether; a totally different class of religious expression than Christianity (7). He saw the resurrection, virgin birth, and the divinity of Jesus being threatened on a consistent basis. But, he argued, these are the battles worth fighting; they are the hard battles of the faith. Once we lose the creedal ground, we will sink into oblivion. For Machen, this was not an option.

The Ascension of our Lord: A Brief Introduction

The Church celebrates the Ascension of our Lord this Thursday. Since most churches are not able to have Thursday services, traditionally many of them celebrate Ascension on Sunday.

The Ascension of Jesus is barely mentioned in the evangelical vocabulary. We make room for his birth, death, and resurrection, but we tend to put a period where God puts a comma.

If the resurrection was the beginning of Jesus’ enthronement, then the ascension is the establishment of his enthronement. The Ascension activates Christ’s victory in history. The Great Commission is only relevant because of the Ascension. Without the Ascension the call to baptize and disciple would be meaningless. It is on the basis of Jesus’ enthronement at the right-hand of the Father, that we image-bearers can de-throne rulers through the power and authority of our Great Ruler, Jesus Christ.

The Ascension then is a joyful event, because it is the genesis of the Church’s triumph over the world. Further, it defines us as a people of glory and power, not of weakness and shame. As Jesus is ascended, we too enter into his ascension glory (Col. 3:1) This glory exhorts us to embrace full joy. As Alexander Schmemann once wrote:

“The Church was victorious over the world through joy…and she will lose the world when she loses its joy… Of all accusations against Christians, the most terrible one was uttered by Nietzsche when he said that Christians had no joy.”[1]

But this joy is given to us by a bodily Lord.

We know that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father. He is ruling and reigning from his heavenly throne. He has given the Father the kingdom, and now he is preserving, progressing, and perfecting his kingdom. He is bringing all things under subjection.

We know that when he was raised from the dead, Jesus was raised bodily. But Gnostic thinking would have us assume that since Jesus is in heaven he longer needs a physical body. But the same Father who raised Jesus physically, also has his Son sitting beside him in a physical body.  As one author observed:

Jesus has gone before us in a way we may follow through the Holy Spirit whom he has sent, because the way is in his flesh, in his humanity.[1]

Our Lord is in his incarnation body at the right hand of the Father. This has all sorts of implications for us in worship. We are worshipping a God/Man; one who descended in human flesh and who ascended in human flesh. He is not a disembodied spirit. He is truly God and truly man.

As we consider and celebrate the Ascension of our blessed Lord, remember that you are worshiping the One who understands your needs, because he has a body just like you; he understands your joy because he has a body just like you.

[1] Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World. Paraphrased

[2] Gerrit Dawson, see http://apologus.wordpress.com/2012/05/16/ascension-and-jesus-humanity/