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Life and Death: Twin Moons Circling the Same Planet.

[I wrote this as a guest post for Matt Mikalatos’ blog The Burning Hearts Revolution. Matt is running a series of guest posts to celebrate the release of his new book Night of the Living Dead Christian, a fabulous book that I’ll be reviewing soon. If you’d like to comment on the content of this post, please head over to Matt’s blog and join the conversation there. As usual, though, I’m open to comments about the writing and presentation in this piece. So, if you have thoughts along those lines, go ahead and leave them in the comments here. Thanks.]

Hungry.

It’s been too long. I feel weak. Dizzy. Can’t think.

There. Down there. A woman. She’ll do. She has to.

Drop behind her. Cloak flapping in the wind. Didn’t make too much noise. Perfect.

Grab her shoulder. Push her head to the side. Savor the smell.

It’s time. Bite. Pierce the tender skin. Let the hot blood flow. Taste life. Feel it.

My strength returns. My mind clears. For the first time in days, my cold flesh feels warm again. I’m still dead. Nothing can change that. But, now I get to be dead for another day. She took care of that with her unwilling gift.

Blood is life.

Everything was so good just a few seconds ago. The concert was amazing and I haven’t had a girls’ night out in so long. A quiet walk home under the full moon seemed like the perfect ending to a lovely, summer evening.

Now something has changed. I can’t pin it down, but it’s not right. I’ve got that tingling feeling on the back of my neck that you get when you think someone is staring at you. But, there’s no one here. I’m probably being irrational. Maybe I shouldn’t have walked home alone.

What’s that? It sounds like a flag flapping in a stiff breeze. That’s odd. There’s no wind.

Someone’s grabbed me! I have to struggle, fight, scream, get away, anything. But, I can’t. Something’s wrong. I’m getting weak, dizzy. I can’t think clearly. Everything’s fading. Where am I? What’s going on? What’s happening to me?

I’m on the ground. How did I get here? A few bright red drops hit the ground in front of my eyes. Blood? My blood? I must….

Blood is death.

——————————–

One substance, two very different results. Life and death. Twin moons circling the same planet.

That’s how the Bible views blood. On the one hand, blood is what keeps us alive and allows us to be what God intended. In Eden, God created blood, and it was good. But, sin and evil entered the world and shattered God’s good creation. And, blood came to mean something else. Still the source of life, it also became the symbol of death.

You can see this most clearly in the biblical sacrifices. If you stop and think about it for a moment, sacrifices are weird. Imagine that you’re an Israelite and you’ve just sinned. What should you do? Why, go lop the head off some poor, innocent lamb, of course. That’s a great system. At least it is for the human; I’m sure the lamb sees things differently.

The point of the sacrifice, though, wasn’t to take out Israel’s problems on some innocent animal. That would be weird. No, the sacrifices demonstrated the devastating connection between sin and death. With clocklike regularity, the Israelites brought their animals to the priests and shed blood as a reminder of the fact that they lived east of Eden, in the brokenness of sin, in bondage to death. As Paul says later, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 3:23). And, every time the Israelites brought forward their sin sacrifices, they reminded themselves of this truth.

At the same time, though, the blood brought a promise of life. Israel always knew that somehow it was only by shedding blood that forgiveness and life would be restored to God’s people. God promised he would forgive and cleanse his people when they brought their sacrifices to him.

But why? What is the connection between blood and death on the one hand and the promise of forgiveness and life on the other? The Old Testament never says. The Israelites just take it on faith that God will be faithful and will do what he promises.

Then Jesus came.

And, we killed him, shedding his blood on the cross.

And the truth became clear.

We still see the dark side of blood. The betrayals, beatings, mockery, loneliness, pain, blood, and death. Could there be a clearer picture? The Messiah came, and we killed him.

But the blood of Christ means so much more. Jesus died so he could break the power of death. His death was not the pointless sacrifice of a tragic Shakespearean hero. It had purpose. Jesus died so that we might be reborn as those who have the gift of life.

Blood is death. Blood is life. On the cross, both are true.

“This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

Come and drink. An invitation to vampires everywhere.

[This post is part of our series on the Gospel. Please feel free to check out the posts and let me know what you think.]

A prayer for Sunday (John Chrysostom)

I’m cheating a little with today’s prayer, since it isn’t actually a prayer. But, the end of Chrysostom’s Easter homily (ca. AD 400) is so powerful that I thought it worth posting this morning. Have a blessed Easter!

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below.”
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.

Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

The king is dead! Long live death and destruction?

Aragorn, the king, has returned. Let the rejoicing begin! Victory is here!

But, suppose that the story unfolded a little differently. Rewind the tape a little. Go back to the part of the movie where Aragorn jumps off the ship—black cloak flapping in the wind, dark eyes fixed intently on the orc army, grim face promising death to all who stand in his way. The promises of the kingdom in his hands. The hope of all humanity on his shoulders.

And an arrow hits him right between the eyes.

Knocked back against the side of the ship, he slowly collapses to the ground in a bloody heap at the feet of his shocked companions.

The king is dead!

Without Aragorn, the ghost army has no reason remain. So, the ghosts all head back to their home under the mountain. There is no dramatic rescue of the humans trapped inside the city. The orcs win and the humans are all massacred.

No kingdom, no blessings, no shalom. Only shoah. The king is dead and all hope is lost.

Now, suppose that you’re the orc who shot the arrow.

I’m sure you really didn’t understand what you were doing. You’re an orc. So it’s not like you’re all that smart. You saw some dingy-looking guy dressed in black and holding a pretty wicked looking sword. He scared you a little. You’d heard that he was supposed to be some great king who would restore peace and order throughout the land, but you didn’t buy it. You thought he was the enemy. So, you killed him.

You killed the king.

You killed the only hope for the world.

Oops.

And, that’s exactly what happened in our story. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter had to stand up in front of an entire crowd of people and deliver some bad news. The Promised One returned. He came with all of the blessings of the kingdom: life, Spirit, peace, forgiveness, purity, new creation, healing—shalom. After so many long centuries of waiting, after all the uncertainty and doubt, after so many false hopes and broken dreams, the King came to restore the kingdom.

And you killed him.

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. (Acts 2:36)

The King came, and you killed him. The hope of the world, nailed to a cross.

Now what do we do?

[You can read the rest of the posts in this series on the Gospel book page.]

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I am the master of my fate…or not

“I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

What a crock.

I can’t even control whether I get to work on time. Just think about all the little things that have to go just right for me to make it on time. At the very least, my alarm clock has to go off, neither of the girls can have an early morning crisis, the car has to start, everyone else has to successfully avoid crashing into me (or each other) on the way there, and countless other details. It’s scary at times to consider how little control we have over the most mundane aspects of life.

Master of my fate? I can’t even get the cat who lives in my house to do what I want.

And, I’m certainly no master of anything bigger than me. I’ve tried commanding the wind a couple of times. Wind can be quite annoying—especially if you’re sitting next to a campfire and it insists on guiding the smoke directly into your eyes regardless of where your eyes are actually located. So, I’ve tried forcing it to stop. It doesn’t work. Sadly, even if I hold up my hand and yell “Stop!” in a really commanding voice—and I can do a pretty good commanding voice when I want—nothing happens. It just ignores me. I’m pretty sure it’s really laughing and insulting me in its deviously soft wind-language. And, if you’re curious, using the force doesn’t help either. Wind is impervious to Jedi mind tricks.

A master of the universe I clearly am not.

Jesus is.

“Peace! Be still!” Just a few simple words. And yet, when they sailed from Jesus’ mouth, the universe listened—the wind slept, the waves relaxed, the raging storm ceased. Before the voice of the master, the cosmos bowed.

And the disciples were terrified. Until now, they still had not really understood who they were dealing with. Sure, they thought he was the Messiah. But this? This is something else entirely. This is someone who commands creation itself.

What’s going on here? Is Jesus just showing off so the disciples will get a clue and start to realize who he actually is? Maybe a little. But, there’s definitely more to it than that. This is the Promised One, the One who will restore God’s creation so that it again serves as the theater of his glory. This is the One who will pour the Spirit out on all creation so that it again pulses with life, sheltering and nourishing his people. This is the One with the power and authority to make everything the way it was supposed to be.

This is the voice of the master calling forth shalom.

Water, spirit, and life: dry bones made new again

You’re standing by the Jordan River waiting for your turn. In the middle of the river, John the Baptist is just straightening up from baptizing your friend Joseph, water streaming down his arms and dripping from his beard onto Joseph’s head.

Suddenly John stiffens, eyes wide with surprise.

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (Jn. 1:29)

Um, what now?

This is the One? Are you sure? After all this time, could it really be?

Well, if it’s actually him, then surely he’ll do something cool next—fight some Romans, make water flow from a rock, or eat a locust. Well, maybe not the locust. John does that a lot, and it’s pretty disgusting.

And then the weirdest thing happens, not what you were expecting at all.

The One gets baptized (Mt. 3:13-17).

And, as he rises from the water, what looks a bit like a dove—only more ethereal and glorious—comes down from the sky and settles around his head and shoulders. Could that really be the Spirit of God? What’s going on here? Who is this guy?

Then.…the voice.

This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.

Do you see what’s happening here? Water, spirit, life. The Spirit of God descending on the Son of God to bring the life of God to the people of God. The Promised One is here!

That’s why John the Baptist gets so excited when he says that this is the one who would come and baptize people with the Holy Spirit (Jn. 1:33). Without the Spirit no one can enter into the Kingdom (Jn. 3:5) because the Kingdom is all about God’s people being brought to life by God’s Spirit so that they manifest God’s glory in creation. And, Jesus is the one who gives the Spirit to God’s people without measure (Jn. 3:34) because he is the one who is full of the Spirit (Lk. 4:1). Jesus is the Promised One who brings Spirit and life into the world again.

To a woman caught in a spiral of sin and shame, Jesus offered himself as the living water who would restore her to true life eternally (Jn. 4:14). To a crowd more interested in the spectacular and the miraculous, Jesus offered himself as the bread of life who would satisfy their deepest cravings (Jn. 6:35). To a woman crushed with grief over the death of a loved one, Jesus offered himself as the resurrection and the life—the one who would defeat death and bring hope to a people lost in despair (Jn. 11:25).

Water, spirit, and life returned to a broken world.

And, Jesus brought new life for the whole person. The lame walk, the blind see, the leper is healed…broken bodies restored to life. This wasn’t just some “spiritual” life that renewed our inner selves but left the rest of us relatively untouched. No, when Jesus offers new life, it’s new life for our whole being.

Dry bones. Everywhere you look, the lifeless bones of your people. Dead. Empty. Hopeless.

Then He comes.

And everywhere he goes, spirit and life seep into the parched skin of a once-dead people. He spreads it around like an overly exuberant flower girl at a wedding, unabashedly scattering multicolored petals of joy on the surprised guests.

God promised. Jesus came. Life returns.

[You can read the rest of the posts in this series on the Gospel book page.]

What reveals who you truly are?

Who are you? If someone really wanted to get to know you and find out what kind of person you truly are, how should they go about doing that? They could talk to people who know you well: your spouse, friends, coworkers, children, or people at church. But, would that reveal the true you? They could find out how you spend your time, what you invest your money in, and what hobbies you have. All of these things would tell them something about you, but even then, would they really know you? What if they took a peek at your computer and checked out your browsing history? I’m sure that would be enlightening.

But, would it tell them everything?

What reveals who you truly are?

I don’t know what it is for me. You could look at my books, read my blog posts, even ask my wife and daughters, but I don’t think any of these things really tells the whole story about who I am.

I don’t know what could.

You’d think it would be even harder for God. After all, he’s God. How could we possibly know even a small fraction of what it means to be God – his glory, majesty, power, grace, goodness, wisdom, love, justice, and more. If I can’t think of a way to show people who I am, surely it must be that much harder for an infinite God.

But, God doesn’t have that problem. He knows exactly how to reveal himself to us. And, he has done just that.

Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. (Jn. 14:9)

What an amazing statement. No hesitation, no uncertainty, no doubt. Philip asks Jesus to show them the Father and without missing a beat, Jesus points to himself—I reveal the Father so perfectly that if you have seen me, you have seen the Father.

Take a moment and think about that.

Some guy—a regular person, a construction worker—tells you that he and God are so tight that if you just look at him, you will see the Father. How would you respond?

And, Paul agrees.

According to him, Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15; cf. 2 Cor. 4:4). Although we were all created to be God’s image bearers in the world, revealing God in creation, Paul sees Jesus as the only one who really gets it right. The only hope for the rest of us is to be re-shaped in the image of Jesus so that we can again image God the way we were supposed to (Rom 8:29; 1 Cor. 15:49).

Indeed, Jesus reveals God so perfectly, that the author of Hebrews says that “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3).

How can a human being reveal the infinite God? I don’t know. But, he did.

Immanuel…God with us.

From the very beginning of the story, God has been revealing himself to us, reaching out to us and calling us to know him. Although always failed to understand, God never gave up. Instead, he promised that one day he would send a true prophet who would come and tell us about God.

Once again, God has done more than we expected. He didn’t send just another prophet with words we could ignore.

He sent the Son himself.

God promised, Jesus came, true revelation.

[You can read the rest of the posts in this series on the Gospel book page.]

The Messiah of the Month Club

You’re standing in front of a long row of pictures. Each presents the image of a man, and from the look of their clothes they all lived a long time ago. Underneath each picture is a brief bio. Intrigued, you lead closer and read about the first person.

Simon claimed to be the Messiah. He lived in first-century Palestine. Convinced that he’d been called by God to lead God’s people out of their Roman captivity and into the promised Kingdom, Simon raised an army in open rebellion against the Romans. He was captured and killed.

Hmmm. That doesn’t sound like a very promising beginning for a Messiah. So, you move on to the next one.

The Teacher of Righteousness was believed by many to be the Messiah. He lived in first-century Palestine. Convinced that he’d been called by God to lead Israel to a true knowledge of God, he led a group of followers into the desert and established a separatist group committed to personal and corporate holiness. He died and the community eventually dispersed.

Well, at least he wasn’t captured and killed by the Romans. That’s a little better. But, you’d still expect a little more from God’s anointed one.

Judas of Galilee claimed to be the Messiah. He lived first-century Palestine. Also convinced that he’d been called by God to lead God’s people out of their Roman captivity and into the promised Kingdom, Simon raised an army in open rebellion against the Romans. He was captured and killed.

That sounds rather familiar. You’re beginning to wonder how many of these Messiahs were wandering around in first-century Palestine. Was there a Messiah of the Month club? Could you check out a Messiah for a few weeks and see if he was really going to live up to all the hype before the grace period expired and you had to keep him or send him back? I wonder who paid for the shipping.

Jesus of Nazareth was believed to be the Messiah. He lived in first-century Palestine. Convinced that he’d been called by God to lead Israel out of their bondage and brokenness, he gathered a small group of followers and proclaimed that God’s kingdom was at hand. He was arrested and killed.

Okay, this is starting to get a little repetitive. If they’re going to have a Messiah of the Month club, they really should mix things up a bit more. How about a barbarian Messiah who leads his savage hordes on a rampage through Rome? That would be cool. Or at least have a Messiah who actually wins. Otherwise, it just gets depressing.

[You can read the rest of the posts from this series on the Gospel book page.]

Flotsam and jetsam (1/6)

I actually had work to do today, so I’m a little slow in getting this out. Nonetheless, here are some interesting links for your web browsing pleasure.

For believers…the most decisive turning point was the year 33, when a Jewish rabbi—the Messiah—was raised from the dead in Roman-occupied Palestine….This turning-point is not only celebrated but is deepened and widened in its effects every Lord’s Day.  Wherever this gospel is taken, a piece of heaven—the age to come—begins even now to dawn in the dusty corners of this passing evil age.

While shame and remorse can be an appropriate motivating factor to correct ways of thinking and living, in the wrong hands it is often misused. Stigma unaccompanied by truth is merely an apparatus of a culture not oriented toward Christ, no matter how much they may resemble the Church.

All this being said, no, you do not have to read Lewis to be a thinking Christian. No, Lewis does not answer every question. No, Lewis is not the greatest theologian of the twentieth century. But I personally have found Lewis to be a worthy dialogue partner and someone who anyone can access, great or small, theologian or lay person. You don’t have to read Lewis, but you won’t go wrong in doing so either.

Give us some examples of university theology that has no ecclesial value or some ecclesial theology that reveals how this can be done better by pastors. I’m ready to be convinced but I want to see what is actually involved here.

Flotsam and jetsam (11/24)

There are various things that you could say that are sufficient to give some moral status after a few months, maybe six months or something like that, and you get perhaps to full moral status, really, only after two years.

Let it be clear:  The earliest Jewish Christian believers did not see themselves as departing from full loyalty to their ancestral deity.  They saw their devotion to Jesus as mandatory, in response to God’s exaltation of Jesus as recipient of this devotion.

  • David Fitch explains why he thinks that Youth Groups Destroy Children’s Lives. He concludes by saying how important that well-done youth ministry is for the church, but here’s his critique in a nutshell.

I think youth groups often do things that work against the formation of our youth into life with Christ and His Mission. They also soak up huge time and resources in ways that are a detriment to the community life of the church.

it seems fairly obvious that if a squad of terrorists did try to infiltrate Manhattan or any other urban area, they would not dress in camouflage to do it, and would not be sprinting.

Moises Silva on “the faith of Christ” (pistis Christou)

Thanks to Rod Decker for pointing out Moises Silva’s review of The Faith of Jesus Christ: Exegetical, Biblical, and Theological Studies edited by Michael Bird and Preston M. Sprinkle. As Decker notes, the most interesting part of the review is Silva’s own conclusion:

If some scholars are to be believed, Paul did not have enough sense to realize that the phrase pistis Christou is ambiguous. And to make matters worse, he unwittingly misled his readers by using the verb pisteuō with Christos as direct object again and again in the very same passages that have the ambiguous phrase! His bungling proved spectacularly successful, for in the course of nearly two millennia, virtually every reader—including ancient scholars for whom Greek was their native language—understood the phrase to mean “faith in Christ” and gave no hint that it might mean something else.

I haven’t been following this debate as closely as I should, but this sounds like a great, concise summary of the objective genitive view. If anyone knows of a similarly concise summary of the opposing view, let me know.