Archive for the ‘Christian’ category

Where in the World is God?

December 23, 2018


I have been listening with some relish to the new podcast, Ask NT Wright Anything, with Justin Brierley the host of Unbelievable! podcast fame. NT Wright is currently the Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at St. Mary’s College in the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. (Wikipedia) He is a renowned scholar and prolific writer and speaker.

In listening to the first few episodes of the new podcast, I have become interested in NT Wright’s view the kingdom of God, the ascension and what it means that someday Jesus will “come again on the clouds”.  calls westerners “innate Epicureans” who believe that “heaven is a long way away”. Thus, when we think of something like the ascension of Jesus, we imagine him rising up to heaven far away where He “sits at the right hand of the Father”.

This image of Jesus in heaven far away seems to be suggested in the passages from which we have coined the term ascension. The Gospel of Luke describes it this way: “While [Jesus] was blessing them, He parted from them [left them] and was carried up [taken up] into heaven”. (Luke 24:51 (NASB/ESV)) In Acts, the description is that “He was lifted up while they were looking on [taken up before their very eyes], and a cloud hid him [received Him] from their sight [out of their sight].” (Acts 1:9 NASB/ESV)

In Luke, the phrase, “parted and was carried” is a translation of the one Greek word, diístēmi, meaning literally “to set apart, to intervene, make interval” and translated as carried, parted and/or passed.[i] In the Greek, it appears (to me) that some interpretation is apparent in the English verb tenses used: “He parted and was carried [taken]”. The first phrase conveys action on the part of Jesus, and the second phrase conveys some action asserted upon Jesus, presumably from the Father.

The phrase is inserted as the interpretation of a single word so who undertook the action is really not implicitly expressed. It’s an interpretation (it seems to me). Further, the descriptor, “up” is added. That descriptor is not inherent in the Greek word, diístēmi. Rather, it seems to be a common sense addition to connect with the word translated “heaven”, which is ouranós. But is that an accurate translation?

After hearing NT Wright, I think not. Our western worldview filter may be to blame, and removing this worldview filter opens up a more accurate view, perhaps, of what the kingdom of God is, the ascension, and the second coming of Jesus.

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Christmas Thoughts: Ruth & God, the Kinsman-Redeemer

December 18, 2018


Have you ever wondered why the genealogy of the lineage of Jesus in Matthew includes five women? The inclusion of women in the genealogy of Jesus, the Messiah, from the First Century account of the life of Jesus by one of his closest followers, Matthew, should stick out as a curiosity to explore. At least it did for me.

I am reblogging a series of articles I wrote last year leading up to the celebration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas on the women in the genealogy of Jesus. Their stories are interesting and reveal something about the heart of God that shines through them precisely because they are women in a patriarchal society.

Some of these women are not even descendants of Abraham! Yet, they are included in the lineage of Jesus, the Messiah from the root of Jesse’s seed of the people of Abraham. What does that say about God? About His plan of salvation for the world?

The story of Ruth is such a tale. Ruth isn’t a descendant of Abraham, yet her timeless story is part of the lineage of Jesus. Her story has central significance in the story of God’s redemptive work through Jesus whose birth we are about to celebrate.

Navigating by Faith

maxresdefault-refuge-church-copyright-2016 maxresdefault REFUGE CHURCH Copyright © 2016.

My Christmas thoughts have taken me to the genealogy in Matthew of the lineage of Jesus and the curious inclusion of five women in that patriarchal history. They stand out, not only as women in a patriarchal society, but as examples of faith and of God’s redeeming love.

Tamar and Rahab, the first two women in the list, were unlikely examples. Tamar prostituted herself with Judah, and Rahab was actually a prostitute. That God would use such sinful and lowly women is shocking, if not remarkable. Their stations in life and their choices before the encounters which defined them were humble and base.

Their faith, however, is the story. They believed God. They made a choice to trust God and His promise. Though they were both flawed and of low station in life, they are remembered in the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the…

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Four Misconceptions about Christianity

December 15, 2018


I am continually impressed by the persistence of misconceptions about Christianity, even in the United States. The US is considered by many (still) to be a “Christian” nation. Most people may identify as Christian in the US, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we all understand the basic tenets of the faith. Maybe it’s an example of familiarity leading us to assume things that aren’t necessarily true. Following I address just four very basic assumptions that seem to be prevalent in the modern American world that are not consistent with the Christian perspective that is revealed in the Bible. (more…)

Finding God

December 12, 2018


“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

This is one of the more encouraging and hopeful verses in the Bible. It had a profound impact on me when I was first reading the Bible. I took it to heart, and it guided me into a relational position with God.

As with any verse or passage in the Bible, the depth, nuance and layers of meaning can be drawn out by focusing on the context. We can tease the meaning out further by considering application of it to my own life.

The context here is a letter written by the prophet, Jeremiah, to his people who had recently been exiled to Babylon. Though Jeremiah’s letter was written to a particular people in a particular time and place under particular circumstances, and it was particularly relevant to them, it has application to us today. Some people claim that an ancient verse like this that was written to a specific people in a specific time for a specific purpose shouldn’t be applied to modern life. I beg to differ.

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Truth in Love

December 10, 2018


“Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” Romans 13:10 ESV

This little tidbit from Paul’s letter to the Romans packs so much into it. God gave Moses 10 commandments, and law followed after law until there were over 600 different laws for the people to follow. Jesus summarized everything in two statements: love God and love your neighbor.

Paul echoes those words of Jesus in Romans when he says” love is the fulfilling of the law” and equating love with doing no wrong to a neighbor. (Mark 12:30-31)

As I read Romans 13:10 this morning, I think about our Christian tendency to preach to the world about sin, a world that does not know God and has not accepted Him. I have heard Christians use the excuse that they are standing up for truth because Jesus says, “Whoever denies me before men, I will deny before My Father in heaven.” (Matthew 10:33) Paul told the Ephesians to “speak the truth in love.” (Eph. 4:15) Only Paul was writing to the believers in Ephesus, and he was talking about quipping the believers in the church in ministry and building up the body of Christ.

This is significant because, when we think of truth, judgment is not standing far off. Paul is talking to the church in his letters and instructing believers. Paul says, “What business of mine is it to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13) (The context is a man in the church who was acting immorally.)

The audience of Paul’s statement about speaking the truth in love seems significant this morning as I am thinking about all the times I have seen Christians blast their neighbors with “truth” on social media with not a lot of love. Social media isn’t like a sniper rifle; it’s like a shotgun. Anyone in front of the blast feels the sting – believers and non-believers alike.

Of course, what of the unbelievers who potentially face judgment for denying God? Do we have a heart for them? Do we care enough to get to know them and establish a relationship with them? When we speak the truth to them, are we speaking in love?

It seems to me that we often emphasize truth over love, and the result is that we tend to speak only the truth. We might as well not say anything at all. I’m afraid we often do more damage than good when we do that.

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Who Was Jesus?

December 10, 2018


Who was Jesus? A friend recently asked, “Jesus was a Jew preaching Judaism. Right?” He explained his thought that the people who came after Jesus created a new religion using him as the central figure in spite of who he really was – just a Jewish man preaching Judaism.

This is a popular Internet characterization of Christianity. I am not a scholar on the subject, but I did minor in religion in college. I took all the courses for a religion major, including the thesis course, and I even did the research and wrote the thesis. I would have had a religion major if I had turned in my thesis. I didn’t do it because I didn’t need the major. I took the classes because I was interested in them. I didn’t hand in the thesis paper because I didn’t feel good about it.

A religion major at a small liberal arts school meant majoring in “religion” generally. There were no flavors available for particular study. We looked at all religions, though we focused most heavily on Judaism and Christianity. That is because there was one “Christian” professor and one “Jewish” professor.

The Christian professor took the position that “all roads lead to the top of the same mountain”. Of the Christian road, he was very fond of Liberation Theology that took the position that the God has been changing, progressing and more or less learning to be God throughout time. Liberation Theology was born in South America among the people who were oppressed by the corrupt government and military forces in the 1970’s, and the Catholic priests who espoused this theology believed in taking arms in counter-insurgence against the oppressive political and military regimes.

My “Christian” experience included some very progressive literature. We were encouraged to sit in on lectures given by people like Hare Krishnas and a European Muslim – both lectures that I attended, among others. The Jewish professor was very much the modern, reformed variety – not conservative or Hasidic. This was my introduction to religion and to the Bible.

I did read the Bible from cover to cover in college, not only as an academic exercise as part of my course of study, but because I was drawn to it. In the midst of the all-roads-lead-to-the-same-mountaintop atmosphere in which I studied, I began to be taken by Jesus, who said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by me.” (John 14:6) This is because Jesus stood head and shoulders above all the other religious personalities that I read about. There was something transcendentally different about him.

As I have been thinking about the (largely rhetorical) question my friend posed about Jesus, I think of the sweep of the Bible – Old Testament to New Testament, beginning to end. Having been intimate with it for well over 30 years, having read it many times over, and recounting my own journey of discovery, I feel compelled to tackle the question, but the scope of the answer is daunting.

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Christmas Thoughts: God Redeems the Line of Judah through Tamar

December 7, 2018


Families and Christmas can be messy. The vast majority of us do not live in a Hallmark world. The fact that Christmas season always sees an uptick in the incidence of suicide is testament to the fact that the gap between Holiday cheer and reality can be a big on

But there is hope! Christmas is the remembrance of God stepping into world like a light shining in the darkness.

Last year at this time, I began a series of blogs on the women listed in the genealogical lineage of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. That a total of five women are even listed in his genealogy is kind of mind blowing. Genealogies, especially in the First Century patriarchal world, are dominated by men. What are these women doing there?

It occurs to me that maybe God is saying something particularly important by including five women in the genealogy of Jesus.

For starters, God’s view of women, I believe, has always been higher than patriarchal history gives them credit. After all, God made us, male and female, in His image. Men are only half the image of God if you do the math.

But something else is going on as well. When you dig into the stories of the people in the lineage of Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior, surprises are plentiful. His lineage isn’t particularly saintly. It’s “complicated”.

Jesus came not only as a light in the darkness of the world; he came as a light in the darkness of his own lineage. The story of Tamar is just one such example. She is the first woman listed in that lineage.

Navigating by Faith

 (c) Can Stock Photo / halfpoint(c) Can Stock Photo / halfpoint

Amazingly, the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew lists five women. In a patriarchal society governed by paternal lineage, that fact should jump out at us and cause us to take notice. What is God saying? What was He doing? How should we view that today?

We can gain insights by looking at the women who are listed. The first woman listed is Tamar. Her story is found in Genesis 38, and it is a wild one for people of polite sensibilities.

Tamar was the wife of Judah’s oldest son, Er. Judah was the fourth son of Jacob (son of Isaac, son of Abraham). It might seem odd that Judah, the fourth son, is the one from whom Jesus (the Messiah) descends, but that is only a minor oddity compared to the rest.

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