Monthly Archives: December 2009
Every year I read the Bible straight through, three chapters a day and five on Sunday. It’s a habit that’s stuck with me since my Bible school days. I think it’s fitting that at the end of every year, I get a reminder of the end of the age when reading Revelation. It’s normal on December 31st to think about the upcoming year, but reading the last chapter of Revelation gives me a yearly reminder of the ultimate end–the end of suffering, pain, disease, and tears. And then the next day I read the first three chapters of Genesis and the journey from the beginning starts all over again.
If you do the three-chapters-a-day-and-five-on-Sunday plan, on the first day of the year, you’ll read about Adam and Eve getting kicked out of the Garden of Eden and the angel denying them further access to the Tree of Life. The last day of the year, you’ll read:
And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
How fitting is it that the last chapter of the Bible is a recapitulation of the Genesis story? It seems to me that somebody is trying to tell us something.
To what extent do you feel this passage applies to churches in America today?
Take away from me the noise of your songs, For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments. But let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
I just received this video from Amnesty International today. As a Christian, it’s a great reminder that God calls His people to speak out for the oppressed.
Rhiannon and I would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. We pray that you are enjoying your time with friends and family. With Rhiannon being ready to deliver within the next two weeks, the Christmas story is taking on a new meaning for me this year. Yesterday we attended a service at a very large church in Albuquerque. The pastor really brought the message home when he said to the men, “Imagine taking your wife on a 70 mile trip riding a donkey pulling the wagon carrying your nine month pregnant wife. I’m sure that every other minute Joseph had to say, ‘Are you all right? Are you still all right? You want to pull over? Again?'”
The pastor’s point was that it must have seemed to Joseph and Mary like their world was falling apart because nothing was happening like they would have planned it. Imagine the shame that Mary and Joseph knew they would face from their friends and family knowing that few would probably buy into the whole God-impregnated-my-wife scenario. Joseph could have shamed his wife publicly or, even worse, he could have had her stoned (think about how relevant this story might be to Islamic cultures that practice honor killings), but he chose the path of love and faithfulness. Mary could have made a different choice as well. She knew the ridicule, and threat to her life that she might face, but she chose the path of obedience, and the world has honored her many times over for her choice.
What is the most difficult thing that God has asked you to do? None of us will ever be in a situation exactly the same as Mary and Joseph, but all of us can chose faith over fear, love over revenge, and faithfulness over cowardice. As you reflect on the meaning of Christmas this year, think about Mary and Joseph and the strength they found from their love for each other and for their Creator. May the Lord give you the strength to make the right choices throughout the next year, even when the choices are difficult.
Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
I’ve been thinking about the story of the thief on the cross. I’ve heard people say that they don’t believe in deathbed conversions. For many, it seems unfair that a person can live their whole life lying, stealing, cheating or–insert your favorite sin here–and make it to heaven all because of a last minute prayer. And yet, that seems to be exactly what happens in this story. It’s important to note that before this story begins, the same thief is on the cross mocking Jesus (Matthew 27:44). So we know that some time after the thief has been hanging on the cross next to Jesus, he has a change of heart. Here’s the story as recorded in Luke 23:38-42:
And an inscription also was written over Him in letters in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: THIS IS JESUS KING OF THE JEWS. Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, ‘If you are the Christ, save yourself and us.’ But the other, answering, rebuked Him saying, ‘Do you not even fear God seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds, but this Man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.’
Here’s a question that I would love some feedback on:
What saved him?
I didn’t get a chance to watch Barack Obama’s Nobel speech live, but I’ve read the transcript and found very little in the speech that couldn’t have been given by any number of past presidents—including George W. Bush. Granted, absent from the speech is the grandiose rhetoric of “Bring it on”, “You’re either with us or with the terrorists” and “Ridding the world of evil”, but should being less arrogant than Bush qualify someone for the Nobel Peace Prize? Probably not. On the other hand, Barack Obama’s rejection of unilateralism, his willingness to dialogue with enemies, and his understanding of the limits of power—howbeit nuanced—make him about as good of a president as we can expect on the foreign policy front given the current state of American culture and, more specifically, the American Church.
According to the CIA world fact book, roughly 77% of the American people are self-identified as Christians. From its inception, America has been a nation of people that name the name of Christ on the one hand and trust in the power of their military might on the other hand. The American civil religion of God, guns, and country has been around for a long time and it’s the height of naivety to think that a few good speeches and a teleprompter are going to change that. If Obama’s escalation of the Afghan conflict has taught us anything, it’s that liberals can be just as susceptible to the value system of might equals right as conservatives can be. Those of us that oppose the escalation can chastise the president all we want, but the fact is there was very little political wiggle room for the president to make any other decision than the one that he made. Even the “liberal” networks of NBC, CBS, and CNN are steeped in the tradition of glorifying military heroes and showing off the Pentagon’s latest weapons technology.
As much as I would love to flatter myself, I know that Barack Obama is never going to read this article, and neither is he going to read the tens of thousands of editorials and blogs calling on him to change his mind. With all of the attention going towards one man, and whether or not he deserves a peace prize, I fear that a larger point is getting lost; and that is that history is defined less by people on top and more by people on bottom. Wars are fought because cultural, religious, media, and economic establishments support them. Wars are ended when the groundswell of the population refuse to support the institutions that make them possible. Until the words “fighting for freedom” become more associated in the average American mind with strikes, boycotts, and voter registrations than with ground invasions and bombing raids, no president is going to be able to deliver on a “change we can believe in” slogan.
To borrow from Jared McKenna’s What if scenario, what if out of the 77% of the American population that self-identify as Christians, the vast majority of them became convinced that following Christ and renouncing the sword go hand in hand? What if John Howard Yoder replaced Augustine as the intellectual giant of the Western Church? For that to happen, a lot more Bible- believing Christians are going to have to be convinced that Romans 13 is not a carte blanche for Christians participating in state-sanctioned violence, that the Old Testament is a poor pretext for just war theory, and that John the Baptist wasn’t condoning violence when he didn’t tell the Roman soldiers of their day to give up their occupations. If there’s one thing to be learned from Martin Luther’s Protestant Reformation, it’s that Biblical paradigm shifts can have vast political consequences. It can happen again, but it’s going to take all hands on board. Any volunteers?
Below is a message written by my mother in law for her church bulletin. Nedra passed away in March 2005. Rhiannon and I have a collection of her messages. I’ll be posting them from time to time.
As beautiful as this world is, it’s filled with people who are suffering. In Matthew 16:21, Jesus warns His disciples, much to their dismay, that He, too, will suffer. He tells them, “…that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.” This goes along with Daniel’s prophecies that the Messiah would be cut off (Daniel 9:26), there would be a period of trouble (9:27), and the king would come in glory (7:13-14). The disciples would also endure suffering and, like their king, would be rewarded in the end.
As much as we’d like it to be, suffering isn’t always avoidable. Jesus’ friend and devoted follower, Peter, tried to protect Him from the suffering He spoke of, but if Jesus hadn’t suffered and died, Peter – not to mention the rest of us – would have died in his sins.
When we find ourselves in the midst of a difficult trial or persecution, it might help to remember Luke 21:17-19, in which Jesus says, “And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head shall be lost. By your patience possess your souls.” He wasn’t saying that believers would be exempt from physical harm or death during the persecutions. As a matter of fact, most of the disciples were martyred. Instead, He was saying that none of His followers would suffer spiritual or eternal loss. On earth everyone will die, but believers in Jesus will be saved for eternal life.
For Christians, there’s always hope and joy beyond the suffering. We have some wonderful promises to see us through: God will always be with us, as it says in Matthew 28:20, and one day He will rescue us and give us eternal life, which we can read in Revelation 21:1-4.
It should help us to know that Jesus identifies with us and understands our suffering. To know that He endured horrible pain and faced temptation should give us courage to face our trials. Jesus understands our struggles because He faced them, too, when He walked this earth as a human being. We can trust Him to help us survive suffering and overcome temptation. Hebrews 4:14-16 says, “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” When we know that Jesus Christ is with us, we can face any difficult trial with grace and dignity.
Jesus’ human life was on that He chose freely and throughout it, He chose to obey His Father, even though obedience led to suffering and even death. But because He obeyed perfectly, despite what happened to Hem, He can help us to obey. And God responds to His obedient children. As we are patient and obedient, He will not leave us alone with our problems, but He will stay close, helping us to solve them or giving us the strength to endure them.
Hurray for Rick Warren for speaking out against Uganda’s anti-gay bill, but where are the rest of the Christian leaders?
As a career missionary to Africa, I fear what would happen to me on judgment day if I didn’t speak out against what is happening in Uganda right now in the name of Christ. I was in the middle of typing my monthly newsletter when I decided to check my e-mail. The subject line read, “Pastor Rick Warren condemns Uganda anti-homosexuality bill.” Hurray for Rick Warren, but my question is where’s everyone else? Christian Right leaders in the U.S. are constantly griping that the media portrays them as bigoted towards homosexuals. Well Mr. Dobson and Mr. Sekulow, now would be a perfect time to prove them wrong. I’m still waiting for my urgent action e-mail.
I’m not talking about an issue that falls within the realm of perfectly legitimate political debate—like whether gay marriage should be legal or not. What I’m talking about is a bill that if passed would condemn homosexuals to prison, would give the death penalty for homosexuals with HIV, and would criminalize heterosexuals that support gay rights. The bill being considered would actually force heterosexuals to report their gay friends and neighbors to the authorities. I would expect something like this from a group like the Taliban, but from a nation with a vast majority of Christians? Who would have thought? But then again, I’m not sure why I’m surprised.
I’d like to think that American Christian leaders have nothing to do with the direction that Uganda’s government is sliding towards, but I know it’s not true. For starters, I’ve been to Uganda and have lived and traveled extensively throughout Africa. Based on my experience, the level of influence that American pastors, evangelists, and missionaries have in predominately Christian countries in Africa is astronomical, especially when you consider how many African churches and ministries are dependent on American support. As difficult as it may be to believe, in most English speaking countries in Africa, American televangelists are like rock stars. The way the average Ugandan feels towards people like T.D. Jakes, Reinhard Bonnke, and Benny Hinn is what the average American feels towards people like—ironically—Bono. If I’m exaggerating, it’s only slightly.
Lest I be misunderstood, I’m not suggesting that the above-mentioned leaders are guilty of stoking anti-gay bigotry in Uganda. I use their names only to underscore the fact that, in most cases, American Christian leaders wield a greater influence over the pop-culture in African countries than they do in their own country. Even pastors of small to mid-sized congregations in the U.S. can go to countries like Uganda or Kenya or Nigeria and preach to tens of thousands of people at a time—and maybe even meet with the country’s leaders. It happens every day. American Christianity has enormous influence in Africa. With great influence comes great responsibility.
Let’s not forget that there was a man about 80 years ago that came to power on the platform of criminalizing consensual gay sex. His name was Hitler. There’s a reason why the Apostle Paul said to the Corinthian Church, “For what have I to do with judging those who are outside?” (I Corinthians 5:12) Paul must have known that when Christians try to legislate morality outside the confines of spiritual discipline within the Church, the result is usually an ugly monster that looks nothing like Christ. It’s time for American pastors, missionaries, and evangelists, along with our African brothers and sisters declare loudly to the world—not in our name!
I’m a sucker for show tunes, which is why I watch Glee, though for the sake of keeping my man card, I must add the caveat of occasionally. I did catch the season finale last night though. I’m not sure why I was surprised at the ending, but I was. It looks like the main character has left his wife for another woman. Granted the wife was a piece of work, but I still found myself rooting for her, especially when she made her final appeal for him to stay with her. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but but by the end of the show, when the Glee club director ran to the other woman after an emotional song by his students, I was left confused. Perhaps I got the memo too late, but I couldn’t help asking myself “Were the writers of the show expecting me to root for the other woman?”
If so, then that’s a shift even for Hollywood morality. Yes, I know that I shouldn’t expect much from Hollywood these days, especially when matching it up to Biblical morality which limits sexual relationships to heterosexual monogamous marriage; but for the past two decades the Hollywood moral standards for its leading male characters has been as follows:
Multiple sex partners before marriage = okay
Fooling around with other women after marriage = you’re a scum bag
Apparently the second option is now okay, as long as the wife is neurotic.
I’m not sure if Hollywood is catching up with culture on this point or if the culture will eventually catch up to Hollywood on this point. Either way, it’s not looking good.