Category Archives: faith

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.

Advertisements

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…”

the uniqueness of Christ

For the past year or so there hasn’t been any rhyme or reason to what I’ve been studying in the bible. I usually just end up in the gospels somewhere, and I can’t really argue with that. But I figured I should branch out a little so now I’m reading 1 Peter. It’s amazing to me how just one verse or even a few words of a verse can just jump off the page sometimes. This time, it’s 1 Peter 1:21(a)… “Through him (Christ) you believe in God…”

I was watching the Heisman Trophy presentation the other night. In the acceptance speech Tim Tebow said he’d like to thank his “Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” Now, I have no idea what this guy’s relationship with Christ is like, but I’m encouraged that he would thank Christ by name. I think it’s hilarious how usually the winners at award shows thank “God” for whatever their amazing ability might be… “Thank you God for my amazing physical ability… for making my vocal chords so amazing… for making me the most amazing person alive”…or, whatever. “Through him you believe in God…” Is it even possible to believe in God without believing in Jesus Christ? I don’t believe so. We do not have access to God unless it is through faith, belief and trust in Jesus. Jesus is THE Way… the ONLY mediator between God and man. Christ is truly unique. Who else is there that has the right and authority to be the mediator between God and man? Nobody. Jesus is the only way to God…

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!

you still lack one thing…

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me… to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19

How do we overlook the teaching of Jubilee in Jesus’ messages, sermons, and conversations in the gospels? I’m realizing Jubilee, if not spoken of directly by Jesus (Luke 4:19), was at the root of a lot of his teachings and conversations with people. For example, the conversation Jesus had with the rich guy in Luke 18. The conversation went something like this,

“Jesus, how do I inherit eternal life?”

“You know the commandments…”

“Yes I do! And I’ve kept them since I was a boy!”

“Not really. You lack one thing… Sell everything and give it to the poor.”

I love the commentary you might usually get from people about this passage: “Well, he only was trying to prove the point that money was the rich man’s god. Jesus isn’t actually telling him to sell everything.” No, he was telling him to sell everything, that’s why he said, “Sell everything and give it to the poor.” In essence, Jesus is telling him, “Yes, you have broken the Law. You haven’t practiced Jubilee.” (James 2:10 – “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”)

How about: “This doesn’t mean we have to sell everything to be right with God.” Sure, but how are we exempt from keeping the whole Law and practicing Jubilee (as the rich man failed to do)?

This passage is so much deeper than Jesus speaking only to this man’s personal salvation or the rich’s inability to serve two masters. It’s about the reordering of the entire economy back to the way God designed it in Deuteronomy. There’s so much within this that I struggle with. How is a non-Jew (me) living in a non-theocratic nation (United States) supposed to view and follow the Law of Moses, particularly things like Jubilee?

One guy that got it was Zaccheaus. After a lifetime of stealing, hoarding wealth and using his power to exploit his own people, Zaccheaus finally gets it. Luke doesn’t say what Jesus and Zaccheaus talked about over lunch and for the life of me I can’t figure out why. I’d love to know what Jesus said that got through to him. Whatever it was, Zaccheaus declares he’ll give half of his possessions to the poor and pay back anyone he has cheated four fold. My amazing new IV commentary makes the point that Zaccheaus goes above and beyond the restitution the law required (Lev. 6 required full reimbursement to the defrauded plus 20% interest). Jubilee was at work, the economy was reordered, those he cheated were perhaps freed from poverty, and we absolutely can’t forget Jubilee freed the rich guy from bondage to money he didn’t even need. Yet, for some reason, I still want to be rich.

justification by faith alone?

Help me out here:

“You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” James 2:24 (read the passage in context here)

I’m guessing it was passages like this one in James that made Luther want the book removed from the canon of Scripture. It’s been drilled into my head ever since I became a follow of Jesus that I am justified by faith alone. Then I read something like this. It’s clear to me in scripture salvation can’t be earned, but what does this mean? Maybe it means I don’t have true faith until I actually do something that requires faith. Maybe it just means that I’m not justified by faith alone.