Category Archives: bible

On Saturday…

In The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson portrays the presence of evil during the passion narrative with a character that sort of lurks in the crowd and follows Jesus as he is flogged and led to Calvary.  Immediately after Jesus “breathes his last,” the androgynous figure is seen in some sort of pit (apparently in hell), on his knees, beating his chest and screaming in utter anguish.  Presumably, Satan is now realizing he has been conquered by Jesus death—a resulting victory for Jesus and his followers.  The liberty Gibson takes here in the passion narrative—it is not recorded in the Gospels—betrays his understanding of the atonement, more specifically, Satan’s reaction to it. 

I recently read a book where a bunch of guys way smarter than me argue over the nature of the atonement.  One says we need to understand the crucifixion of Christ as a substitution for the death of humanity (penal substitutionary atonement).  Another argues we need to place primary importance on the victory of Christ over Satan, where Satan no longer holds humanity in ransom (Christus Victor).  I really don’t care—I think both are right.  The beauty of Jesus’ work is that it solves a multifaceted problem with a single act.  I draw upon Gibson’s take on the atonement because I think most Christians (myself included) view Good Friday as cause for celebration.  I don’t deny this.  But what is interesting to me is not a single disciple felt like a winner that day; this particular Friday was NOT a “Good” one.  The reality for the disciples was their hopes in Jesus as the Messiah died with the crucifixion.  The disciples did not have the advantage, as we do today, to view Good Friday with Easter Sunday in mind.  It is abundantly clear in the Gospels that the disciples had NO CLUE what Jesus was talking about when he repeatedly said, quite explicitly, that he was going to Jerusalem to die at the hands of Rome and rise again on the third day.  They didn’t get it—otherwise, rather than lopping a man’s ear off, Peter would have said, “Oh no problem, see you on Sunday Jesus! Thanks again…”

At this point, Jesus was no different from the scores of other “Messiahs” who had led temporarily successful revolts against Rome—but ultimately wound up with a violent death.  The disciples were in shock on Friday.  But they had a decision to make—give up their faith in Jesus as Messiah, find a new one, or both.  In fact, we have that answer: “We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel” (Lk 24:21).  On Saturday, their shock would have turned into mourning.  They now need a plan to save their own hands and feet from being nailed to a cross.  Peter was no fool; he was guilty by association.  He did what he did before the rooster crowed all in the interest of self-preservation.  Over time, if they didn’t suffer the same fate as Jesus, their mourning might have turned into fond reminiscing about the good ol’ days when Jesus walked the earth.  Some might have even been angry that they were fooled into believing Jesus was the Messiah.  But eventually, they would have moved on—maybe visiting the tomb of Jesus once in a while to remember him.  Maybe they would have forgotten about him completely when they found another one worthy to follow as Messiah.  Perhaps one strong enough to “restore the Kingdom to Israel”—at least one that was strong enough to escape violent death for insurrection (provoked by his own people, no less).  Whatever the case, the story of Jesus of Nazareth might have been told for a while, but eventually would have died out and surely would not have lived on until today.  Most importantly, on Saturday, Jesus could no longer be followed as Messiah, because he was dead.

(to be continued)

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post election post

After reading this article in a world renowned newspaper, the Merced Sun-Star, I felt compelled to address something that has actually been on my mind since election day.  The Christian community isn’t known for being silent over political matters, particularly relating to gay marriage or abortion.  While I think it’s somewhat of a travesty that we have chosen to throw our full weight and support behind only two issues and neglect others, my intent here isn’t to diminish that support or comment on what other issues we should be talking about.  So, I wasn’t surprised to see church folk proudly displaying “Yes on 8” signs on street corners in the days leading up to November 4th.  I wasn’t surprised to see the Christian community largely supporting the Republican Party and the subsequent disapproval of Obama’s victory.  I was surprised, however, to see the extent of the hostility and animosity Christians displayed at the outcome of the presidential election… and I’m still surprised that so many Christians seemingly place so much hope in a pagan nation.  I was further surprised to see the animosity Christians had toward even their Christian brothers and sisters.  Politics and elections seem to bring out people’s true colors.  I don’t expect Christians to be required to agree on anything non-essential to the Gospel, but I do expect Christians to treat each other with dignity and respect.  We are to bear witness to the transforming power of Christ by the way we love each other, NOT by the way we vote or “stand up for what we believe in” at the polls.  So, to spew venom at another Christian over their thoughts on politics is absolutely inexcusable.  If I have done this to any of my brothers or sisters, I am truly sorry…

With that said, on with the “post election post” and what inspired me to write this anyway…  If you read the article I linked to you above, something should immediately alarm you.  What’s alarming to me is that several times above I referenced to “the Christian community,” which can only be defined here as “white evangelicals.”  I have completely neglected my black brothers and sisters in Christ with my definition.  What alarms me is while white Christians were sickened by the election of Obama, black Christians rejoiced.  While white Christians were sitting in Church on November 9th in sackcloth and ashes, repenting on behalf of the nation’s choice for president, black Christians were blowing rams horns.  How can it be that we are so divided?  What is extremely disturbing is we are not just a reflection of the larger society’s division over race, we are even worse.  As Martin Luther King said over 50 years ago (and articulated VERY well in the book Divided by Faith), Sunday is the most segregated day of the week.  This fact remains and is weighing on my heart today.  Election Day, unfortunately, reveals this divide.

What I hope to be giving here is a desperate plea to Christians everywhere, especially to those who were born with contrasting skin colors, is to be united by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Don’t seek unity over a political party, economic policy or state Proposition… for in those things we will always be divided.  Yet, these issues pale in comparison to what really matters, which is the Gospel of Christ.

i probably won’t vote

This is a continuation of the conversation I was having in the comments section of my last post. Particularly, I wanted to address the statement “Barack Obama gives people hope.” Please understand, I don’t want to diminish the hope that he may give someone who may finally have, as Janey put it, “hope in a system that has wronged them or left them out.” I think it’s great that people (like my friend Janey) see the failures of the current system and have hope in change, whether or not that change is delivered by Obama or someone else. But, I guess this is an attempt to explain why my hope in Barack Obama or ANY political figure is extremely tempered, if not entirely absent.

I probably won’t vote in this years election. “What? Why?” they say, looking at me dumbfounded… well, because I just really don’t care that much. Even if I tried, I couldn’t get excited about either candidate and I can’t get fired up about any topic of debate among conservatives and liberals (except maybe for the conversation I had with Phil the other day about why I think supply-side economics is entirely bogus). “But people in other countries don’t have the opportunity to vote, so you should!” Still, can’t buy the rationale that ‘you should do this because other people can’t.’

You ever have thoughts about something that you can’t entirely articulate yourself? This is sort of one of those things for me. Luckily, I came across this post by Greg Boyd. Minus the comment that Barack’s speech was “the most brilliantly crafted and powerfully delivered speech I’ve ever heard,” (because I just didn’t get that same impression) I will throw my full endorsement behind this post by Greg Boyd. This is why I probably won’t vote and why both Barack Obama and John McCain do not give me hope.

Please read it all, but here are my favorite quotes:

I’m a citizen of a different empire (Phil 1:27; 3:20) and therefore a foreigner in this one (Heb. 11:13; 1 Pet 1:17; 2:11). I’m only here as an ambassador and soldier sent to defend and advance the interests of my own homeland while being careful not to get too involved in civilian affairs (2 Cor 5:20; 2 Tim. 2:4). Given this, I don’t feel I need to try to decide how much of Obama’s speech last night was rooted in reality and how much of it was empty rhetoric, as some allege.

Whatever good Obama, McCain or any other politician may or may not be able to accomplish, the ultimate hope and allegiance of all Kingdom citizens must remain in Jesus Christ and in the mustard seed Kingdom he established. Our call as ambassadors of Christ is to individually and corporately look like Jesus in how we love and serve people, including the poor, the marginalized, the judged — and women with unwanted pregnancies. And our call is to trust that God will use the foolishness of this humble, servant activity to advance his Kingdom and ultimately transform the world.

NEW BLOGROLL LINKS

I feel like I have to highlight the new links on my blogroll because these blogs are so good.

First, the White Pages. Randy and Tina White have been mentors, heroes and friends to Gia and I for the past 5 years or so. I’m sure most of you who read this blog know who they are, but Randy and Tina live in the Lowell Neighborhood, which, although there has been great progress, is still one of Fresno’s lowest income communities. Randy and Tina have given the past 15 years of their lives to help empower the people in Lowell, as well as motivate, equip and encourage others to do the same. So far Randy’s journey has led him from pastor to IV staff worker to Director of IV’s Urban Projects nationwide, and now, he’s taking an assignment with Bakke Graduate University, effectively taking over for one of his mentors and heroes, Ray Bakke. I share in Randy’s joy to teach at BGU, and also his grief for passing the Wise Old Owl torch to another. I’ll never forget the joy on Tina’s face when I told her Gia was pregnant–in fact, Tina could see the joy on my face and proclaimed, “you’re pregnant!!” before I could even get the entire sentence out of my mouth. So READ the White Pages and keep up on the lives of Randy and Tina.

Now go read the personal blog of Scott Bessenecker. Scott is Director of Global Projects for IV and author of The New Friars, which is also the name of his blog. I first met Scott at the Pink House when he and other IV workers were touring inner-city ministries in Fresno with Randy. My 2nd interaction with him came through email when I was begging and pleading with him to ignore that my application to the Global Urban Trek was late and allow me to go with one of the teams heading overseas. He graciously accepted my plea and sent my application to the Calcutta directors, which in turn completely altered the course of my life. I recently found out Scott is blogging and am very excited when he writes a new post. He has an incredible gift to take what may seem like the most mundane everyday task or encounter (such as spousal miscommunication or a hair cut) and find incredible biblical insight and application.

You’ll now find the White Pages and The New Friars on the Trio’s blogroll. Read them and be glad. Whenever you visit my blog make sure to give them some love, or better yet, add their subscriptions to Google Reader.

war and violence

I’ve been reading a series by Greg Boyd about the “violent strand” of God in the Old Testament. I recommend the series — although I’m sure it will make conservatives a little nervous. I agree with a lot, and disagree with some, but have found most of it to be pretty insightful. I haven’t read all of it yet, but my favorite quote so far:

If any Christian leader is going to appeal to the Old Testament to legitimize their nation’s warfare, they must commit to fighting the way the Israelites were commanded to fight. They must be certain that Yahweh himself has told them to enter into this war and must do so without any consideration of whether or not it meets someone’s criteria of a “just war.” They must refuse to take any practical or pragmatic issues into consideration and must place no trust in their military might or wisdom. And they must refuse to benefit in any way from their victory.

It has always been funny troubling to me when some Christians use the “God uses America as an instrument of His justice” rationale for America entering war or bombing terrorists. I think Greg’s quote shows us why. He goes further and contends that nobody since the time of Joshua has entered into war on the sole basis that God simply told them to do so. I think we need to stop using OT war and violence to justify America’s wars and violence.

What I appreciate the most about this series so far is the length Greg goes to explain how no matter what your thoughts are about the violent strands of God in the OT, it can not change your view of Jesus as being the incarnate God of the universe who sacrificed himself for you. If you are having trouble with the violence in the Old Testament (like I do sometimes), take heart, because Jesus is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” Do you want to know what God is like? LOOK AT JESUS.

“In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Col. 2:9)

the american council

A blog entry without pictures of my daughter? Hard to believe, I know…

I’m taking this class called Perspectives (on the World Christian Movement) with a good friend of mine. To try to give you some sort of insight as to what the class is all about and what I’m learning, here’s what I wrote for one of my “personal responses” that are required to get the certificate for the class. I’ve been trying to understand how to contextualize the gospel to unique people groups — and more specifically, what things, whether cultural, political, etc, have we (I) as rich American Christians added to the gospel and how these amendments hinder the gospel’s advancement in the world. Here’s an excerpt from one of my responses:

Christianity was so attractive to people in the first few centuries because it had no political, national, or cultural ties. This is why the Jerusalem Council was so important – it settled the debate, in effect, of how “Jewish” one needed to be (in culture) to be a Christian. The opening sentence in M.R. Thomas’ article “The Turning Point: Setting the Gospel Free,” reads, “The greatest crisis the New Testament church ever faced was actually a culture clash, although some believed the issues were doctrinal.” The Jerusalem Council was more about culture than it was about doctrine. If we can only contextualize the gospel to another culture, the doctrinal issues will be a non-factor. Winter explains, “Christianity was the one religion that had no nationalism at its root, partly because it was rejected by the Jews … once Christianity became locked into a specific cultural tradition and political loyalty, it tended automatically to alienate all who were anti-Roman.” At the moment Christianity became the official religion of Rome, it also became ill-equipped by it’s very form to reach any people group that was against. Thankfully, there were those in Jerusalem who stood up and said, “why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” If only there was a “Roman Council” like the one in Acts 15 to remove the cultural and political amendments of the “Roman” Gospel! Today, we face many of the same issues and are in need of an “American Council” that will proclaim the essentials, and ONLY the essentials, of the Gospel of grace. Too many Christians today tie the gospel to the Republican Party, or proclaim democracy as the “Christian” form of government, or capitalism as the “Christian” economic structure. The Republican platform, democracy, and capitalism may be important, but they can not amend the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We have so much work to do to in the non-Western world to deconstruct these ideas and amendments. We cannot allow the Gospel to become locked in to our American cultural traditions or political loyalties – otherwise the gospel then becomes democracy, capitalism, or wearing suit’s and ties on Sunday, which will alienate all who are anti-American. Winter explains it best, “Jesus died for these people around the world. He did not die to preserve our Western way of life.” We must contextualize the gospel within the systems of which other people operate.

 

So, my question is, if we had an “American Council” today, what would be discussed? In what ways do we amend the gospel with American culture and ideology?

Ok, ok… I lied. So what?

It was reading time with Dad the other night! Isabella is already reading at a 3rd grade level. This is a pretty good one…

She had a LOT of fun!

how to win an election

The Gospel of John gives us a pretty good example of how to set up an empire… or, for todays world, get elected to public office. With next years election in mind, I thought I would write a quick guide for anyone who wants to run for president…

Step 1: Get baptized by your cousin.

Step 2: Turn water into wine.

Step 3: Go into churches and throw stuff around.

Step 4: Heal people and forgive their sins.

Step 5: Let people follow you around the country until they are starving.

Step 6: Do a magic trick with a kids lunch, multiplying it by the thousands and feed them all.

Step 7: Let the votes roll in as the people elect you King…. or president.

But for Jesus… “knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” [John 6:15]

I wrote last time how it was widely expected the Messiah to lead a revolt against Rome and Israel to liberty. What actually blows my mind is even though it wasn’t his mission Jesus could have actually done it. John 6 tells the story. People were ardently following Jesus; it seems they have even forgot to feed themselves. You all know the story: Jesus see they’re hungry, and decides to teach a lesson in faith, compassion, and even waste management (“Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted,” v. 12). After their fill, the crowd begins to talk and word begins to spread. Like the telephone game in elementary school, “This has GOT to be the Messiah… pass it down…” Excitement builds slowly, but surely, to the point where they can’t even contain it anymore, and simply shout aloud “this is the Prophet who is to come into the world!” From what I understand, John most likely counts only men, of which there are five thousand. More than five thousand people have just punched their ballot for Jesus. If I’m a disciple, I quickly try to become Jesus’ campaign adviser: “Jesus, if you are ever going to assume the throne of Israel, THE TIME IS NOW.” Jesus has been elected, without even campaigning, and he even has the support of five thousand zealous men (the equivalent of a Roman Legion) who are ready for a revolt. The stage is set for Jesus’ acceptance speech… and he walked away…

It was for a time like this that Herod tried to kill him when he was a baby, why the disciples argued who would be greatest in his kingdom, and why Caiaphas explains how it’s better that one man die than for an entire nation to be destroyed.

Yet, Jesus walked away… And to me, that is absolutely amazing.