Saturday, March 30, 2013

Jesus is risen

Now after the Sabbath, as it begun to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave. And behold, a severe earthquake had occurred, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and set upon it. And his appearance was like lightening, and his clothing as white as snow. The guards shook for fear of him and became as dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here for he has risen, just as he said. Come see the place where he was lying. Go quickly and tell his disciples he has risen from the dead; and behold he is going ahead of you into Galilee, there you will see him; behold I have told you.”

And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to the disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and take word to my brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see me.” (Matthew 28: 1-10)

… for you were slain and purchased for God with your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying in a loud voice,

“Worthy is the lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” (Rev. 5:6b, 11-12)

He is risen:

Friday, March 29, 2013

Ann Voskamp: food for Good Friday

For this Good Friday and yesterday, Maundy Thursday, I came upon a wonderful web site, “A Holy Experience.” It was a rather funny find; I was traveling through links which belonged to progressive, emergent writers and found A Holy Experience because someone thought the author was a Christian feminist because she had written a wonderful piece on the need for men (her son) to respect women. (As though orthodox and conservative women don’t believe men should treat women with dignity and respect.) There are two postings that have truly fed me: When You’re Tired of Being Torn: Why He Came {A Good Friday Reflection: The One-Piece Life} and When You’re Struggling through Holy Week (Thursday).

You can read about the author, Ann Voskamp here: Meet Ann.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Human love, God's love and marriage

Recently reading an article on More Light Presbyterians’ site I wanted to sit down with the author put my arm around her shoulder and tell her that she is loved but confused. She, like so many in this generation, is deeply confused about Christian identity and the love of God. Annanda Barclay suggests that denying any kind of love between people is denying God’s love. In her article, “Sack Cloth & Ashes” Barclay writes:

In church it is frequently heard, “We need love.” It is a trite important phrase, but I also wonder about those who already have it. For some of us who have love, how many of us can practice it without condemnation? The LGBTQ community is denied participation and celebration in our church regarding love. Christ’s resurrection also celebrates what is so often referred to as “their concept of love.” Whenever I hear such rhetoric my heart breaks a little. Love is simply love. God’s love manifested between two people how ever they self-identify is universal. By condemning same gendered couples to marry, does the church not also realize that it has condemned love?

While there are several misunderstandings in this statement, probably the biggest misunderstanding concerns Christ’s resurrection and “their concept of love.” But first, the church, bowing to the authority of scripture and the Lordship of Jesus Christ, not only sees same gender sex as sin, it also holds that sex outside of marriage, that is, fornication and adultery, are sin.

But even in a marriage, deemed legal by a state, love is not necessarily right or good, not even when the love is between a man and a woman. Think back to the Herod who married Herodias, his brother’s wife. Both people were extremely evil by all biblical and historical accounts. Their love had no connection to God’s love. And what of Ahab and Jezebel’s marriage—they constantly fed on each other’s evil.

Love between a man and a woman is not God’s love. But love between a man and a woman may be a gift given by God. In that sense such love can grow and begin to resemble the love of God who not only gave his Son for humanity but also resurrected him that believers might have both forgiveness and eternal life. Eros may grow into agape. Married love when both persons are united in Christ will become ultimately self giving, kind and tender. But this begins in obedience to Christ and his word, not in disobedience.

The love of God that comes to us through and by way of Christ and his cross and resurrection has no need of marriage to be experienced. Every person can experience such love even in the loneliest, darkest most abandoned conditions and places. God’s love comes to us by way of faith, repentance and trust. It flourishes in obedience to the word of God:

By this we know that we have come to know him if we keep his commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know him,’ and does not keep his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps his word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in him; the one who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same manner as he walked.” (1 John 2:3-6)

Such love sustains the church as each member shares that love with another. After John explains that he is writing an old commandment “which is the word’ which they have heard, he writes:

On the other hand I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining. The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in darkness until now.
The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness, and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (1 John 2:8-11)

There is a wonderful metaphorical story told by Australian author Tim Winton. Cloud Street not only contains a pig who speaks in tongues and an aborigine who reminds the reader of Jesus as he offers bread and wine, but it also contains a house full of pained and hurting ghosts. A young couple, who move into the house, become the exorcists, with the birth of their baby the ghosts are gone.

This is the right slant on human love. Whether the author of the book meant it or not, the demons of our time are expelled by the blessings of the covenant of marriage, be the blessing a baby or the acknowledgement that this is God’s covenant relationship between a man and a woman, which moves and functions beyond the ruses of the world. Attempting to tap God’s love in any place outside his Son will end in meaningless gibberish. And in God’s Son, human love is born out of obedience to the word. Such love enters into the marriage that exists between a man and a woman as they walk hand in hand with their Lord.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

He is King: Palm Sunday

“On the next day the large crowd who had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet him, and began to shout, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord even the King of Israel.’ Jesus finding a young donkey sat on it; as it is written, ‘Fear not, Daughter of Zion, behold your King is coming seated on a donkey’s colt.” (John 12:12-15)

I once had a lady in a class I was teaching express the thought that she did not wish to hear Jesus called King because in the United States we don’t agree with the idea of Kings ruling over us. But Jesus isn’t a fairy story; he is truly a king, the King. But he is the king who rode though death in order to carry his subjects into his kingdom. It is because of his death and resurrection that we are allowed to be a part of his kingdom. It is in his glory, the glory of the King, that we find joy in obedience.

Ride on, ride on in majesty! 
Hark, all the tribes hosanna cry, 
thy humble beast pursues his road 
with palms and scattered garments strowed. 

Ride on, ride on in majesty! 
In lowly pomp ride on to die, 
O Christ thy triumph now begin 
over captive death and conquered sin. 

Ride on, ride on in majesty! 
The winged squadrons of the sky
look down with sad and wondring eyes 
to see the approaching sacrifice. 

Ride on, ride on in majesty! 
Thy last and fiercest strife is nigh; 
the Father on his sapphire throne 
awaits his own anointed Son. 

Ride on, ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die; 
bow thy meek head to mortal pain, 
then take, O God, thy power and reign.

Henry Milman (1791-1868)

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The killing of babies-into darkness

The New York Times’ reporter calls the live babies viable fetuses. No, they were babies; baby A was murdered by having a pair of scissors plunged into his neck to cut his spinal cord. There is testimony that the cut was probably not complete and the baby died in great pain. But nonetheless this is what the reporter, John Hurdle, in his article, “Abortion Doctor’s Murder Trial Opens,” wrote:

 PHILADELPHIA — In opening statements in court on Monday, prosecutors charged that a doctor who operated a women’s health clinic here killed seven viable fetuses by plunging scissors into their necks and “snipping” their spinal cords and was also responsible for the death of a pregnant woman in his care.

The physician, Dr. Kermit Gosnell, 72, is charged with seven counts of first-degree murder as well as multiple counts of conspiracy, criminal solicitation and violation of a state law that forbids abortions after the 24th week of pregnancy. Dr. Gosnell had operated the Women’s Medical Society in West Philadelphia.

I made my day, no, the rest of my life, sad (outraged would be a better word) by reading a great deal of the Grand Jury’s report on this case. It was after reading the report about baby A that I stopped. I am going to place it here, so this is a warning, it is graphic. If nothing else, perhaps, prayerfully, hopefully, this will cause some of our broken sick society to understand that whether in the womb or out of the womb, this is human life, these are babies:

Baby Boy A
 One such baby was a boy born in July 2008 to 17-year-old we will call “Sue.” Sue first met Gosnell at the Atlantic Women’s Medical Services, an abortion clinic in Wilmington, Delaware, where Gosnell worked one day a week. The girl was accompanied by her great aunt, who had agreed to pay for the procedure, and who testified before the Grand Jury.

After an ultrasound was performed on Sue, Gosnell told the aunt that the girl’s pregnancy was further along than she had originally told him, and that, therefore, the procedure would cost more than the $1,500 that had been agreed upon; it would now cost $2,500. (Gosnell normally charged $1,625 for 23-24 week abortions.) The aunt paid Gosnell in cash at the Delaware clinic. He inserted laminaria, gave Sue pills to begin labor, and instructed her to be at the Women’s Medical Center in Philadelphia at 9:00 the next morning.

Sue arrived with her aunt at 9:00 a.m. and did not leave the clinic until almost
11:00 that night. An ultrasound conducted by Kareema Cross recorded a gestational age of 29.4 weeks. Cross testified that the girl appeared to be seven or eight months pregnant.

Cross said that, during 13-plus hours, the girl was given a large amount of Cytotec to induce labor and delivery. Sue complained of pain and was heavily sedated. According to Cross, the girl was left to labor for hours and hours. Eventually, she gave birth to a large baby boy. Cross estimated that the baby was 18 to 19 inches long. She said he was nearly the size of her own six pound, six ounce, newborn daughter.

After the baby was expelled, Cross noticed that he was breathing, though not for long. After about 10 to 20 seconds, while the mother was asleep, “the doctor just slit the neck,” said Cross. Gosnell put the boy’s body in a shoebox. Cross described the baby as so big that his feet and arms hung out over the sides of the container. Cross said that she saw the baby move after his neck was cut, and after the doctor placed it in the shoebox.
Gosnell told her, “it’s the baby’s reflexes. It’s not really moving.”

The neonatologist testified that what Gosnell told his people was absolutely false.
If a baby moves, it is alive. Equally troubling, it feels a “tremendous amount of pain” when its spinal cord is severed. So, the fact that Baby Boy A. continued to move after his spinal cord was cut with scissors means that he did not die instantly. Maybe the cord was not completely severed. In any case, his few moments of life were spent in excruciating pain.

Cross was not the only one startled by the size and maturity of Baby Boy A.
Adrienne Moton and Ashley Baldwin, along with Cross, took photographs because they knew this was a baby that could and should have lived. Cross explained:

Q. Why did you all take a photograph of this baby?
A. Because it was big and it was wrong and we knew it.
We knew something was wrong.
* * *
I’m not sure who took the picture first, but when we seen this baby, it was – it was a shock to us because I never seen a baby that big that he had done. So it was – I knew something was wrong because everything, like you can see everything, the hair, eyes, everything. And I never seen for any other procedure that he did, I never seen any like that.

The neonatologist viewed a photograph of Baby Boy A. Based on the baby’s size, hairline, muscle mass, subcutaneous tissue, well-developed scrotum, and other characteristics, the doctor opined that the boy was at least 32 weeks, if not more, in gestational age.

Gosnell simply noted the baby boy’s size by joking, as he often did after delivering a large baby. According to Cross, the doctor said: “This baby is big enough to walk around with me or walk me to the bus stop.” [1]

The report goes on to detail the mother’s later infection and need for real medical care.

We are all, without redemption, capable of such monstrous evil. It sometimes begins with a call for some kind of rights—in this case the right to choose whether a child will live or die. (Calling a baby a fetus does not change what it really is) Our society is tainted by abortion, overshadowed by a sickness. Sins not repented of lead to utter darkness. As I have too often quoted, C.S. Lewis understood. He understood that some are progressing toward the splendor that holds a great glory. But he also understood that some are progressing toward a horror and a corruption that one meets in a “nightmare.”

I believe nations progress towards such characteristics also. The above story about Gosnell should be on the front page of every news paper and news web site. And the babies should be called babies.

 [1] There is a picture in the report of the baby.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Finding relevance in a gay supportive age? David Myers & the Covenant Network

It is tiring to hear over and over again how the church may become irrelevant if she does not progress on to accepting same gender sex. The Covenant Network of Presbyterians has posted an article by psychologist David Myers, “The Church’s Future in a Gay Supportive Age.” Myers insists that ethics should not be shaped by “popular opinion,” and then goes on to urge the church to accept same gender marriage because society is changing. Those who once accused the orthodox of being fearful are now suggesting that fear of loss of relevance is important.

Myers, who is an elder in the Reformed Church of America, begins his article by quoting from the introduction of Kevin De Young’s article, “Five Reasons Christians Should Continue to Oppose Gay Marriage.” Myers wants to point to De Young’s first point which is “Every time the issue of gay marriage has been put to a vote, the people have voted to oppose gay marriage.” And that has changed. So Myers, more concerned with the infallibility of De Young’s words than the word of God, uses De Young’s words to bolster his argument.[1]

But that belies the serious issues one should be concerned with when speaking about the church and same gender marriage. It isn’t about the church responding to society, or government, in such a way so that society will embrace the church, but rather as Karl Barth put it in answer to the German Christians:

The Church has not “to do everything” so that the … people “may find again the way into the Church,” but so that within the Church the people may find the Commandment and promise of the free and pure Word of God.

It is not the Church’s function to help the … people to recognise and fulfil any one “vocation” different from the “calling” from and to Christ. The … people receives its vocation from Christ to Christ through the Word of God to be preached according to the Scriptures. The Church’s task is preaching the Word. (Italics Barth’s)

The church is Christ’s; she must follow his leading although it, for the present, seems to be pointing toward turmoil and oppression.

Although they are aligned with society’s desire to embrace same gender marriage, Myers gives multiple reasons for accepting it. He refers to both the 2012 Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly and the first gathering of the Fellowship of Presbyterians in making his case. One of his arguments is that in the PC (U.S.A.) women are more inclined to accept same gender marriage than men. Myers in one rather strange line of thought attempts to use the long line at the men’s restroom at the Fellowship’s meeting in 2011 as proof that this is true. Obviously there must have been more men at the fellowship meeting since the men’s lines at the restrooms were longer then the women’s. And obviously if there were more men than women at the meeting more men are opposed to same gender sex than women!

Along side the damming thought that the church must be concerned with relevance, the other damming position and argument Myers makes is that it’s who you know, rather than what you know, that should shape your attitude about same gender sex. Myers is arguing that when a person has a friend or a relative who has just come out as homosexual they will often change their mind about same gender marriage. And undoubtedly that is so. But the true Christian attitude comes from both knowing the written word of God, and knowing, in relationship, the Word of God, Jesus Christ. That is, when someone knows Jesus and knows his word, they experience his saving, and transforming power and they know the truth of God’s word.

Knowing Jesus Christ is to be treasured above any other relationship. In obedience to him one both loves the friend or relative who is LGBTQ, and confesses that Jesus is both Lord and Savior; giving out with kindness, as a forgiven sinner, the message that Jesus saves the sinner from her sin.

There is no need for the Church of Jesus Christ to be afraid because the United States is becoming a gay-supportive society. The Church belongs to Christ; Jesus has and will keep the church within his love while the ages roll and fade into eternity.

“For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand … (Psalm 95a).”

[1] Myers excluded this statement which is still an important point- “To date 30 states have constitutionally defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The death of Christ and his shed blood

Thinking again of the death of Christ and his shed blood:

All who have read C.S. Lewis’ book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, understand that Aslan, Lewis’ animal character representing Jesus, dies on the ancient stone table for the sake of Edmund who has betrayed his own siblings and friends. The White Witch reminds Aslan that she has the right to the blood of anyone who betrays another in Narnia. She refers to it as the magic that goes back to the dawn of time. In the end Aslan allows the witch and her wicked cohorts to kill him in the place of Edmund. But Aslan is restored to life, the kind of life that is vibrant, eternal and bodily. When his two human friends, Lucy and Susan, after watching him die find him alive they ask what it all means. Aslan’s answer:

It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and death itself would start working backwards.

This quote is Lewis’ accounting of the death of Jesus Christ, and he leaves it filled with mystery by referring to it as magic centered in the stillness and darkness before “Time dawned.” And that is what we are working with when we discuss soteriology, the theology of salvation. The death of Christ, the blood of Christ, the atonement, they are matters much like the Trinity or the two natures of Christ. They are shrouded within mystery. When speaking of them we must put fences around them which allow us to say some things about them but prevents us from saying other things. And some questions about them cannot properly be asked because the answers are hidden in God’s mysteriousness.

So some questions about the death of Christ, such as “how could his blood save us” or “how could the death of an innocent victim save sinful humanity” are unanswerable. On the other hand a question about the fairness of Christ’s death can be answered.  It lies within the context of the biblical understanding of the Trinity. If the begotten Son is one in essence with the Father, although distinct from the Father, then it is God who takes on flesh and dies a human death. But we know that because scripture tells us that it is so. It is God’s decision—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The questions, which ask for instruction, can be answered. For example, “How can I be saved?” That question waits in faith before the authority of scripture.  The ‘how does this work’ questions belong to a worldly, sterile and overly materialistic generation.

The difference can be seen in the questions asked by Mary and Zacharias in Luke’s birth narrative.  Zacharias is asking a how does it work question about Elizabeth’s coming pregnancy. “We are old” he suggests, “Give me an explanation for how that can occur,” to paraphrase.  Or as he actually said, “how will I know this for certain?”  Mary is asking for instructions; her question is already fed by faith. “How can this be since I am a virgin?” And the angel tells her but doesn’t explain to her or to us for that matter, the technicalities because they are hidden in God. We only know that the Holy Spirit came upon her and “the Most High over-shadowed” her.[1]

Many authors fall into this dividing line. Some write in faith asking only how to obey; others seek to explain everything. Christian authors tell their stories filled with the reality of mystery and redemption, without attempting to explain how redemption works. Flannery O' Conner was a master at providing eccentric pictures of mystery, reality and redemption. She in fact stated that she was always writing about the Incarnation for people who did not believe in the Incarnation. She did not explain her stories, no author should, but showed the reader, with words, salvation as well as damnation.

In “Parker’s Back,” O Conner’s main character is so covered by tattoos that he has only one empty place left on his back. To hopefully, finally, please his stern and religious wife he has an Orthodox iconic picture of Christ placed on his back. When Parker returns home, his wife sees the face of Jesus and doesn’t know who he is. When Parker asks her why she doesn’t recognize the picture she angrily and tellingly says, “It ain’t anybody I know.”

When Parker insists that it is God, his wife’s words deny the Incarnation, “He’s a spirit no man shall see his face.” In the end, beating Parker she sends him out of the house:

Parker was too stunned to resist. He sat there and let her beat him until she had nearly knocked him senseless and large welts had formed on the face of the tattooed Christ. Then he staggered and made for the door.

She stamped the broom two or three times on the floor and went to the window and shook it out to get the taint of him off it. Still gripping it, she looked toward the pecan tree and her eyes hardened still more. There he was—who called himself Obadiah Elihue—leaning against the tree crying like a baby.

The Incarnation, Jesus ‘divinity, his life, his death and bodily resurrection, denied in any part weakens the believer and the Church.  We kneel before the mystery of the Incarnation which includes the blood he shed for our redemption. We stand with strength before the authority of his word—“the sword of the Spirit.” The Reformed, Puritan writer John Flavel in his book, The Fountain of Life, writes of the blood of Christ:

Out of this fountain flow all the blessings that believers either have or hope for. Had it not been for this, there had been no such thing as justification, adoption, salvation, peace with God and hope of glory, pardon of sin, and divine acceptance these and our best mercies had never been. A man, as one saith, might have happily imagined such things as these, as he may golden mountains, rivers of liquid gold, and rocks of diamonds; but these things could never have had any real existence, had Christ not offered himself a sacrifice to God for us. It is “the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God,” that purges the conscience from dead works, Heb. 9:14, that is, from the sentence of condemnation and death afflicted by conscience for our sins.

[1] The understanding about the differences between the questions of Mary and Zacharias can be attributed to Father Patrick Henry Reardon in the 2012-13 winter devotional, The St. James Daily devotional guide.  I have enlarged on the idea.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Kimberly Knight & Margaret Aymer: on the blood of Jesus

“These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason, they are before the throne of God; and they serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tabernacle over them. They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd and will guide them to springs of the water of life and God will wipe every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7:14b-17).

Kimberly Knight of “Coming Out Christian,” has written an extremely provocative blog posting, “Washed in His Blood My Ass,” in which she disparages the effectiveness of the blood that Jesus shed on the cross. It isn’t that she dislikes Jesus or makes fun of his death. Knight doesn’t understand how God would need such a sacrifice. Not quite understanding the Trinity, God’s holiness and our own sinfulness, Knight writes, “First of all is the deeply disturbing (and some would say heretical) idea of a God that would NEED a sacrifice of one innocent to pay for the sins of the rest of our sorry asses. A blood thirsty God is frankly a warped vision of the Divine cast in our own vengeful image.”

And then Knight asks a question, “Second is the more esoteric question of HOW exactly such a sacrifice would pay for “sins”?” But she goes on to state what I believe is a truthful thought, that we are damned by the crucifixion. Well, actually we are already damned and crucifying the innocent One is the final symptom of our brokenness. It is the final nail that forever establishes our depravity. But God, if we do not reject the gift, takes our place, putting sin to death on the cross. And that means blood is shed, the blood of Jesus.

In the comment section, most comments agree with Knight, some suggesting that the idea of sacrifice is there because of ancient religious views, including the Old Testament’s that sacrifice had to be made. Knight herself answers one person’s comment with this:

I think maybe you misunderstand how I read the bible and how I understand the history of our faith. I do not believe that God instituted a sacrificial system for sins. I not believe that God needed or needs any such of a thing. I understand that the Hebrew people of that time, much like people of different traditions around the world in similar eras, were struggling to understand their relationship to God as they understood God.

And there is the suggestion by Professor Margaret Aymer, who wrote the bible study on the Beatitudes for Presbyterian Women, that at the time of the early church there were the various mystery religions that practiced shedding blood. She writes:

Of course, that theology dates back to the first century, when the sacrifice of living things was part of everyone’s religion. Consider, for instance, the taurobolium in which a bull was sacrificed on a platform with gaps in it, so that the priest or priestess would emerge “baptized in the blood” of the bull and thus purified.

This is where the theology of Hebrews [the N.T. book] comes from. Christian theology has turned this into something far greater than a cultural imitation (because, by all means, Christianity MUST be unique).

Of course this is an extremely simplistic understanding. First of all the scriptural understanding of the sacrifice of Jesus was rooted in Judaism, through the death of the lamb at Passover, the sacrificial rituals of the temple and the prophetic words of Scripture. For example, Isaiah 53, “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities, the chastening for our wellbeing fell upon Him, by his scourging we are healed.”

And there are the differences between the Christian idea of atonement and that of the mystery religions.  Any blood shed in a mystery religion, and not all shed blood, was to appease human fear of the afterlife, but Jesus’ blood was shed for the forgiveness of sin.[1]

Also in an article on mystery religions by Marvin Meyer, he points out that because of some similarities between Christianity and mystery religions some attempt to see Christianity dependent on the mystery religions. However he suggests a more balanced view which “acknowledges the similarities but avoids simplistic conclusions about dependence.”[2]

Toward the end of her posting Knight, acknowledging the resurrection, writes, “Jesus does not return to punish the world who had rejected him. Jesus emerges with wounded hands outstretched in love and forgiveness.” This part of Knight’s writing is beautiful, because Jesus does stand with his hands outstretched in love and forgiveness. But this is not cheap grace, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it. Jesus, who is God, come in human flesh did die for us. As Peter puts it, “… you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with the precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.”

In 1990, my husband and I participated in worship at St. Paul’s in London. We sat with the choir for communion and amazingly one of the beautiful songs we sang was “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood.” A beautiful hymn written by a man, William Cowper, who felt terrible guilt because of his attempts to kill himself.

[1] Everett Ferguson, “Religions, Greco-Roman,” Dictionary of the Later New Testament & Its Developments, A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship, Editors, Ralph p. Martin & Peter H. Davids, (Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press 1997)1009.
[2]Marvin Meyer, “Mysteries,” Dictionary of New Testament Background, A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship, Editors, Craig A. Evans & Stanley E. Porter, (Downers Grove Inter: Varsity Press 2000) 724.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Eric Metaxas, John Piper, questions and answers about the hard issues of today

The video below is of Eric Metaxas, author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, and John Piper answering questions asked by Jason Meyer, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church. The conversation is both blunt and truthful. It is a clarion call to the church on the subjects of abortion and same gender marriage. It is a conversation that all orthodox Christians should hear. Metaxas is strong on Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church, Piper is extremely helpful from a pastoral and biblical perspective. Please listen; their answers are answers for the church of Jesus Christ.

Bonhoeffer QA with John Piper & Eric Metaxas from The Hub on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The darkness of the asherahs or Jesus who is the light

Lately I find myself not wanting to write. There are many reasons but I think I understand, tonight, that the chief reason is the heinous material I am seeing written by those who call themselves Christians. Progressive Emergent Christians, it is true, but nonetheless they write with the identity of Christian. In this case I began reading, thinking I was going to read a posting by an emergent Christian that would be a Christ centered devotional. After all the title is, “The Danger of the Light.

And the light that is Jesus can be dangerous. Didn't Jesus, speaking of himself, state, “This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” My eyes literally filled with tears as I read Julie Clawson’s posting. Clawson, who has recently written The Hunger Games and the Gospel: Bread, Circuses, and the Kingdom of God, writes:

As I listened to the discussion last Sunday, the illustration that came to mind was the repeated attempts one reads of in the Hebrew Scriptures to remove the lampstands from the Temple. Granted, the scriptures speak of removing the presence of the pagan goddess Asherah and tearing down the poles or trees erected to her in the Temple, but as archeology shows, those poles in the temple were the lampstands or menorahs. Asherah as a symbol of the feminine and embodiment of sexuality and reproduction was depicted by a tree with seven branches in bloom (to represent fertility) as shown in the picture, exactly the way lampstands for the tabernacle/temple are described in Exodus 25. It was this symbol of the female and of sexuality that was repeatedly removed from the temple, only to return again and again. 
 In other words the menorahs in the temple were symbols of a fertility goddess. Clawson continues with the words, “Light is dangerous. It illuminates structures of oppression and reveals the truth and beauty of women and the body. Such things are scary to a culture trying to cling to hierarchies of patriarchal power.”

However archeology doesn’t show that the menorahs were asherahs but rather, that the Israelites kept bringing the symbols of false goddesses into the temple. As for the Asherah poles being the lampstands of the temple, Professor Richard E. Averbeck, author of “tabernacle” in the Dictionary Old Testament: Pentateuch, explains that some scholars see the lampstands as partially formed like a “stylized tree of life” in ancient Mesopotamia. The Asherahs also have a history that links them to the ancient tree of life but not to the lampstands. Averbeck writes:
However it is important to remember two things. First, the Asherah tree itself derived from the tree of life imagery of the ancient Near East, although Canaanite religion associated it with Asherah the goddess of fertility. Any similarities between the menorah and the Asherah arise from their common background in this tree of life imagery.  Second it is clear from the text that Asherah were to be eliminated, along with other accoutrements of the fertility cults (see, e.g. Ex 3413, Deut 7:5, 12:3; Judg 6:25, etc.) Moreover they were not to be planted or utilized in the Israelite worship system, even at legitimate solitary altars (Duet 16: 21; cf. the solitary altar law in Ex 20: 24-26), much less in the tabernacle. The Menorah was in no way conceived of as an Asherah.[1]

Reading of Ezekiel’s awful vision of the abominations happening in Jerusalem and the temple one sees the utter desecration occurring. The “idol of jealousy” that Ezekiel sees north of the altar gate was an Asherah.[2] It was one among many examples of false worship going on in the temple at that time. Yet Bishop John B. Taylor in his commentary on Ezekiel points to Ezekiel’s remark that God’s glory was still there. He writes:

It is remarkable that, despite all the corruptions that existed, Ezekiel should say that the glory of the God of Israel was there (4). It was as if he wanted to throw in sharp relief the difference between the God who belonged there and the deviations which were practiced there, so making the crimes all the more heinous. Perhaps he was also trying to say that God would stay with his people until the very last moment of their rejection of Him. (Italics authors)

Clawson, after confusing the light that is Christ’s with that which with falseness illuminates sexuality and women’s bodies goes on to tear apart the scripture in an unbelievable method. The early church, she reasons, read stories of the martyrs therefore they considered such stories scripture. But now since certain texts have been canonized the martyrs are excluded. She writes, “Illuminating the oppressions and temptations of empire became too dangerous. It was easier to extinguish that light than to see what it revealed.” Amazing, Clawson doesn’t realize that many Christians today read and contemplate the lives of the martyrs!

Certainly the canon, (the Bible), contains the stories of martyrs: what of Stephen, and James the brother of Jesus? What of all of the believers Paul put in prison and had killed. What of the martyrs of Hebrews 11 or Antipas the faithful witness of Revelation? Very clearly John describes the martyrs under the altar—they were there because of the “word of God and because of the testimony which they maintained.” In fact, the light has not been extinguished—in this century and the last; the light of dying martyrs shines even brighter.

The lampstands undoubtedly pointed to God’s light. In the great festival of light Jesus taught in the temple proclaiming that he was the light. “I am the Light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” Some may choose to lift up the symbols of darkness over Jesus who is the light of the world. But like the ancient Israelites who turned their backs on the Lord, to worship the baals and asherahs of ancient fertility cults, they must know that God has and does plead for them. God in Jesus Christ, eternal Son of the Father, has suffered, died and offered life.  

[1]Richard E. Averbeck, “Tabernacles,” Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch, A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholars, Editors, T. Desmond Alexander & David W. Baker, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press 2003) 815.
[2] John B. Taylor, Ezekiel An Introduction & Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, D.J. Wiseman, General Editor, (Leicester Inter-Varsity Press 1969) 98. Scripture records at least three times that the Asherahs were placed in the temple.  

Friday, March 1, 2013

About Christian Persecution

Within the space of a few weeks both a friend, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein,  and an African American Pastor, whose blog I link to, Thabiti Anyabwile, have written articles about the persecution of Christians and how today’s global Christians and/or American Christians might find help and models in their respective ethnic group’s experience with severe persecution. The articles, “Are Christians the New Jews?” by Adlerstein and “Learning to be the Moral Minority from a Moral Minority” by Anyabwile, are both excellent. The advice is worthy of our attention and it is helpful.

But I have a little disagreement with one of Adlerstein’s historical assumptions and want to use that disagreement to make a statement about Christians and persecution.

Adlerstein writes, “When they [Christians who read about Jewish persecution] thought of Christian martyrdom, on the other hand, they had to turn for the most part to antiquity, to early Christianity under the thumb of Roman emperors. That is a widely held belief but it isn’t true. There has been and is Christian persecution in some places at all times. Most times such persecution is caused by those outside the faith, other times the persecution is caused by those who at least call themselves Christians.

And often persecution is a singular event. For example using a historical family diary, the writer Zane Grey in one of his two historical westerns writes of a whole Native American Church group that as they attempted to worship were killed by both renegade mountain men and other Native Americans. But other seasons of persecution have involved whole regions and great numbers of people.

For instance John Marsden, author of The Fury of the Northmen: Saints, Shrines and Sea-Raiders in the Viking Age, writes of how Christian communities were decimated by the brutal sailors. Marsden quotes two records of the devastation of Iona. “In which a great plague broke out in Ireland. The community of Iona slain by heathens, that is, to the number of sixty-eight,” and “I-Columcille was plundered by the gaill and great numbers of the laity and clergy were killed by them, namely sixty-eight.”

Another author, Shusaku Endo, using the genre of the novel writes of the persecution of the Japanese Christians in the seventeenth century.  In both The Samurai and The Silence amid fictional characters one is reminded of that horrific time when Christians were placed in the sea on crosses. Christianity was mostly eradicated from Japan during those years.

I have recently been reading in a very old book of the awful persecution of the Huguenots of France during the 16th and 17th centuries. This was persecution of Christians by Christians—but in this case, as is generally the case, the persecution was fed by greed, the desire for power and political interests.

The communist USSR persecuted Christians and communist China still does so. North Korea is the greatest persecutor. And during the Holocaust, the vile attempt by the Nazis to exterminate all Jews, some Christians, who would not bow to a political lord, also died. I have written of one—“Paul Schneider: A Chestnut Tree and the Confessing Church. My point is that only in small amounts of time has the Church known peace, freedom and safety. Jesus insisted that those who follow him must take up their cross as they follow. One is always reminded of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

Peter is undoubtedly speaking to many global Christians when he writes:

“Beloved do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the suffering of Christ, keep on rejoicing so that also at the revelation of his glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” (1 Peter 4:12-14)

Christians are not called into a triumphant faith, at least not until the coming of Christ. It is true, Christ has already won the great battle through his death and resurrection, but we wait in faith for that day. Part of that waiting includes sharing in the suffering of Christ. It also includes the good works that God has prepared for believers to walk in (Eph. 2:10).  
In a posting, whose popularity has surprised me and caused me some laughter—it was about the country song “The Great Speckled Bird,” I wrote of the difference between reformed and the dispensational views of safety. I will end this quoting (with corrections) from that posting:

In the song the Church is being attacked by her neighbors but is lifted, in their presence, to safety and kept from the “great” tribulation. But not so the Reformed teaching. The Church was born in tribulation, and still endures tribulation, not in all places but in some places all the time. From Nero to Hitler, from Domitian to Idi Amin, from North Korea to radical Islam the anti-Christs keep appearing and being destroyed by the will of God. And yes, there will undoubtedly be a final anti-Christ destroyed by Christ’s glorious return.

But not out of the tribulation is there safety, rather in the midst of common life and tribulation, normal workdays and dark eras the Christian finds peace, safety and comfort in the arms of Jesus Christ. His people are united to him, nourished by him, kept faithful by him.