Category Archives: Christianity

some Easter thoughts

I sat on the edge of the bed with Bella Easter morning and read from her “Toddler’s Bible,” a gift from our church when she was dedicated.  Though it didn’t show in my voice, I was anxious as I got to the part where Jesus was crucified.  Before I picked up the book and began to read, I was excited to tell Bella that Jesus was raised from the dead, but didn’t think the story all the way through (remember how Jesus was crucified on Friday, Brian?).  Each Easter morning when we walk into church, I always wonder what the Pastor will say.  I put myself in his position (I would use gender inclusive language there, but I’ve never heard an Easter sermon given by a woman) and think about the difficulty of shedding fresh and meaningful light on the greatest story ever told.  These pastors typically do a good job despite the difficulty.  Their next challenge should be to tell the passion narrative to a toddler.  How do you explain resurrection to a toddler who doesn’t even know about death?  What an enviable position my daughter is in – she has no comprehension about death in this world.  She is ignorant to her own mortality.  I immediately thought back to the story of creation and the first sin – thinking that Adam and Eve were in the same position as my daughter; ignorant of death.  But then remembered the instructions were clear:  if you eat of the fruit of that tree, you will die.  There will come a day when we have to explain the reality of death to Bella.  But on this day, I am completely content with proclaiming the reality of the resurrection.  “Jesus is alive!” she says… over and over again, carrying over to the next day.  My daughter has shed light on Matthew 21:16 for me:  “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise.”

It took some teaching, however, for Bella to arrive at that conclusion.  “Jesus died, but on the third day… do you know what happened on the third day, Bella?”  “The Easter Bunny came?”  My daughter is hilarious.  I’m wondering, however, if the Santa’s and Easter Bunny’s of the world aren’t just fun, little, meaningless things to do with our children anymore.  The reality is these things take the place of our reflection and praise of Jesus.  And anything that robs Jesus of his full glory is something that should give us pause.

Lastly, as we were driving to church, Gia shed some light on the resurrection in a way that I had never thought about.  Imagine, she says, that this morning we were going to grave of a good friend who died only two days ago.  Imagine the grief, sorrow, and utter confusion we would be experiencing.  Imagine the pride we would have to buy the best flowers, thinking of the moment we would place them on the grave to honor our dead friend.  Perhaps we would only feel grief, but we would undoubtedly swap stories about or friend:  how funny, intelligent, passionate, and inspiring he or she was.  The nerves would take over, however, as we walked from the car to the grave, facing the reality that we would never be able to have another conversation or enjoy the company of our close friend.  Then as we approach the grave, there is no body there.  Your friend lies in the grave no longer.  He is alive and well.  That is essentially what the women experienced on the morning they went to visit Jesus in his tomb.  On this Easter my only hope is that anyone who might be reading this will sit for a few moments at least, and ponder the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  What does that mean for you?  What does that mean for the world?  The situation you find yourself in right now is this:  either this story is probably the greatest fabrication and lie ever told to you, or it is real and a man really did die and resurrect from the grave.  If it is false, just keep living how you are.  If it is true, however, think about what that would mean for you, and for the entire world.

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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)

trying times

The last few days have been incredibly trying for the Davis family. It all started with flight home from Memphis, particularly with our “missed” connection flight from Denver back to Fresno. I promise to write a longer post about our travel charade later, but for now, suffice to say that we didn’t really miss our flight to Fresno, but United still decided to slam the gate in our face. (Yes, we literally watched the door close, then be informed, “you’ve missed your flight, sir.”  Like I said, more later…)  In the end, United dropped us off in San Jose a few hours after our flight in Fresno was scheduled to land and we needed my mom and sister to come pick us up (all the while our luggage went to Fresno, where our car was also parked).

We had planned to move to Pasadena the following day, which turned out to be somewhat smooth (and expensive) but very difficult since our apartment is on the 2nd floor and there were some tight angles to move around with all our belongings. Our first night in Pasadena turned out to be an eventful one. Isabella woke up around 2pm BURNING hot. Good thing our thermometer was in a box somewhere, but we honestly didn’t need it to know something was severely wrong. While most of you might have been singing Christmas carols in church during the last Sunday before the 25th, the Davis’ were sitting in urgent care. After about 4 hours and chest x-rays, Isabella was diagnosed with pneumonia. This is the third time in the past two months Isabella has been sick, and obviously, she’s more miserable now than she ever has been. To add to the trials, Gia had a sinus infection, and I’m currently getting sick (again… for the second time in the past two weeks).

My child’s sickness strikes me in ways that nothing else can. It prompts some deep interaction between God and I. I find myself asking God to heal. I ask Him for health. Then I ask Him… “is that too much to ask?”  Frankly, those prayers have yet to be answered, but that hasn’t stopped me from continuing to ask, and it hasn’t stopped God from responding.

As I sat down to journal at Starbucks, I was listening to music and Chris Tomlin’s “How Great is Our God” began to play.  Then, a pretty intense question popped into my head… Why? Why is our God great?  It seemed like a fair question, given the circumstances of the last few days and the song playing from my computer.  Chris Tomlin attempted to answer the question with his lyrics… because he is “clothed in majesty,” “time is in His hands,” He’s the “Beginning and the End,” and because “darkness tries to hide” and “trembles at His voice.”  In other words, God is “great” because He is large, powerful, timeless, all-knowing or (insert your favorite synonym of “great” here).  Yes, the core characteristics of God should truly inspire awe, but so should standing before Half Dome or the Pyramids of Giza.  So I guess my deeper question is this: should these things alone illicit a response from humanity of praise and worship?  Do we worship God because He is powerful and mighty and awesome and majestic?  Further, what do these things have to do with me?  What do they have to do with my daughter’s sickness?  

It seems appropriate for me to be thinking about these things on Christmas Eve.  For tomorrow represents why God is truly great, decidedly different from any other, and profoundly worthy of humanity’s admiration, praise and worship.  Our God is great because He took an interest–and truly much more than that–in my life, and in my daughters life, and in the lives of the billions who have ever walked this earth.  He is great because after Adam sinned against Him, He STILL called out… “Adam! Where are you??” (it occurs to me that God didn’t have to play hide and seek with Adam).  He hasn’t stopped pursuing us since, and ultimately, He entered humanity and died in our place.  I believe that is the true definition of greatness.

So, I will continue to pray for my daughter to be healed.  I will be persistent.  I will continue to be concerned but hopeful.  But I will also begin a new prayer… that God will show me His greatness in the midst of sickness and difficulty.  I pray that the incarnation of the sovereign God will be enough for my family and I during these trying times.  And I will joyfully sing “O come, O come Emmanuel…”

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)