Monday, August 21, 2017

Underneath the Path of Totality

I drove as far north as I could in the time I had to get to the Path of Totality. I was maybe 15 or 20 miles below it, i.e., Cleveland, TN.  A colleague gave me a pair of glasses, so I could watch it, and tht was fun.  Slowly it got darker and darker, but not completely; about late dusk.  It was cool but I hate to say that I was not awe-inspired. Some people report life-changing religious experiences.  I just enjoyed it.  I didn't get stuck in traffic, either, or pay any money.

It struck me that fear is largely from lack of understanding.  Our ancestors did not understand the orbits fully and feared the eclipse, making up myths for it.  We know it is a sign of our ordered universe, and as such that lack of randomness should elicit spiritual feelings in us.

How much of our fear does come from lack of understanding?  Not lack of knowledge, per se, because I don't know what might or will happen tomorrow but I still get up and face the day.  But our understanding is limited in most ways, and our fears often come from that limitation.

Fresh Look at Matthew: Matthew 26, fourth take

“Cup” is a metaphor in the New Testament for suffering.  I am reading The Insanity of God and am about half-way through.  It is about those who drink that cup.  Not the suffering of being ill.  I am not fully convinced that illness was the kind of suffering Jesus and the apostles were talking about.  That is not to belittle suffering of that kind; the gospel has an answer for that kind of suffering, too.  However, I am pretty sure that suffering is referring to persecution, something I know nothing about.

Jesus prayed that the cup would pass from him.  This has perplexed the church for years, yet I think we miss the point and also trivialize the cross  It was not that Jesus thought he could get out of it.  As fully human, who would want to go through the cross? And as fully deity, he is going to be separated from God and become a sin offering (not sin; he couldn’t become sin), an unimaginable experience for God.  We see the subordination of the will of Jesus on earth to the Father; we see the desire that there was some other remedy for the brokenness of humankind and for reconciliation with God.  We also see that it is all right to pray for deliverance from the inevitable. 

Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man more than anything else.  That is pure identification with the only reference to it in the Old Testament, in Daniel 7:13.  “I was watching in the night visions, And behold, One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, And they brought Him near before Him.  Of course, this is not the only place where “son of man” appears; the angels often call the prophets that.  But here it is “the” Son of Man. We conclude that Jesus is referring to Daniel, but I think there is more.   

There is full identification with mankind, and to be a son means to be an heir.  He is going to be heir of all that mankind was supposed to be heir to.  He will have the dominion and power over the earth that the human race was supposed to have (I can’t end two sentences in a row with a preposition!). This is not to diminish Jesus’ place in the Godhead, but there is a mystery in Scripture, one of the biggest, I think, of how the incarnation of Jesus shifted the universe and even “taught” God something.  That sounds like heresy and I wouldn’t want to take that any further, except that Hebrews says “He learned obedience by the things which he suffered.”  In fact, in the fuller context, this brings us back to Matthew 26:

who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him, 10 called by God as High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek,” 11 of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.

Thus the enigma:  “having been perfected” or completed is referring to the perfect Son of God, who we would expect would already be perfected.  Something altered in the universe due to the incarnation. 

I conclude, lest anyone think me a heretic who is trying to start a new cult, with this:  We are determined to be certain about everything in the Scriptures when we should probably have more humility about our ability to think God’s thoughts and understand the God of the universe.  I get extremely uncomfortable when preachers claim to know things that are not really knowable. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Path of Totality

Man, I love that phrase.  Do we live the "path of totality"?

I live 30 miles or less (as the crow flies) beneath the path of totality.  I have an offer of glasses.  Now, getting up the interstate might be an issue on Monday.  The closer I can get, the better; maybe just park on the side of the interstate for it. 

It's going to be crazy here the next couple of days because of our proximity. 

The Insanity of God

I finished this book yesterday.  I rarely recommend the books I read because they don't have wide appeal (Dickens, academic subjects) but this is the exception. 

I really think everyone should read this book. I read it on Kindle.  Get a copy if you can.

Why?  Because it is reality.  The reality of what the vast majority of Christian believers face on this planet in places like South and Central Asia, China, Russia, and the Horn of Africa, to name a few.  The idea that after the fall of communism, persecution ended, is sadly untrue. 

Second, it is a compelling and accessible story.  Although an academic by training, the author (who goes by the name of Nik Ripken but that is an alias) chose to write in a straightforward style that I would guess is at the 8th grade reading level.  One need not be a college graduate to read and understand this book (which is not to say college graduates are necessarily smarter than the norm). 

Third, it will change your life or at least your way of thinking.  If you haven't been praying for the persecuted church, it should make you start.  If you are clueless about the lives of those outside the West, it's time to get over your cluelessness. 

That is not to say I agree totally with his conclusion, or that I understand his choice of title.  The title is catchy and probably helped book sales. Since it's a not a bait and switch situation, and since this story needs to be told, the title is not a problem; I just don't think it represents what is in the book.  Plus, are we in a position to say God is insane?  I mean, that is what the title is saying.  It is our perception sometimes from a human standpoint, and Paul says the cross seems insane to the unbelieving world, but . . . . I would question the title.

The second issue I might conceivably have is his conclusion that persecution is a good thing.  I really, in my heart of hearts, would guess that those who live under intense persecution would prefer it be lifted.  I don't have the right to say "you are blessed to live under persecution" when I don't.  So I wlll continue to pray fervently that people like Kim Jong Un are taken out of the way (and I don't much care how) so that Korean people will have a better life and freedom of worship.  I will pray that ISIS is defeated so that Christians are not beheaded. 

"Deliver us from evil" we are told to pray.  I don't believe that we as Christians are supposed to embrace the worst in life; we are only to accept it, joyfully, when God chooses to bring it.  We would not embrace cancer; we would seek treatment.  Christianity is not a religion of submit to everything that happens just because.  We have a Savior who relieved suffering.

I don't believe this is what Mr. Ripken really means to say, only that bold witness is going to cause persecution, and it will.  But I felt at the end that persecution was shown as a good thing and I'm not sure it always is. 

Either way, the book is a must read and I recommend it thoroughly.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Fresh Look at Matthew: Matthew 26, third take

Again I notice Judas sought out the religious leaders, not the other way around.  The disciples asked Jesus where he wanted to eat the Passover, not the other way around.  Who makes the request makes all the difference.

When Jesus announces one will betray him, the others are honest enough to ask “Is it I?”  Perhaps it was fear of this egregious crime, but also awareness they were capable of it.  I have always been uncomfortable about hymns that uphold our own commitment to Christ, rather than his to us.  Ours is too full of gaps to sing about publicly!

When Judas asked, was it a whisper to the side?  Did they all hear?  Perhaps not—the others would have prevented him from doing it—unless they thought it was impossible or because Jesus had said the betrayal was prophesied and must go forward.  No doubt they were confused if they heard it.  Jesus answer is indirect but clear, “You have said it.”   

 A deeper question is why did Judas ask if he intended to follow through on the betrayal.  Was this a moment of indecision, or was he afraid he was found out?  The other passages say he left then.  The clock was ticking (although they didn’t have clocks back then).

Whenever Jesus predicts his death, he predicts the resurrection. 

Denying Jesus is not the same as betraying Jesus.  To betray his children is to betray Jesus.  We must never throw our Christian siblings under the bus, even if we say we disagree with them.
In light of what Jesus has told them at the dinner, one would think they would be anxious enough to stay awake, watchful, and prayerful.  Sleep is too much.  But Jesus doesn’t condemn them.  It’s just not the best behavior when your closest friend is about to die.  He had just told them what would happen the next day, and they were dosing off. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Fresh look at Matthew: Matthew 26, second take

In the story of the woman anointing Jesus, I have to wonder if there is a secondary lesson.  Don’t criticize others’ service.  The woman’s motivation was in the right place.  She made a sacrifice for the person who had forgiven her.  Either she knew something the others didn’t, or Jesus took it as an opportunity to interpret it that way, that is, that the anointing was in light of his death and burial in a few days.  This is a third lesson:  we have wildly imperfect perspective.  They saw it as a waste; Jesus saw the short- and long-term benefit of it in a totally different fashion than her critics did.

I am the worst in the world to analyze others’ service and say “they should have . . . “ I have no right to that.  My biggest target is “evangelotourism,” aka mission trips.   I think a lot of money is wasted on those that could be spent on more useful missions enterprises, and the people in the villages or churches in the foreign countries are being taught to depend on the U.S. (or that they are incompetent to build their own church, etc.)  So that’s my opinion . . . . So what? 
Perhaps Jesus is chiding their habit of quickly jumping to ignorant judgment; perhaps he is also defending a woman against their rampant misogyny.  He is affirming the woman, too.  It’s a wonderful account, and unfortunately people only see one statement, “The poor you have with you always.”  Well, yes, we do.  Do we have any fewer poor today than then, despite all our efforts?  Maybe a lower percentage, but poverty is still there.  Paraphrase:  “The poor are always available for your help.  Why are you taking advantage of this woman to be self-righteous?  You don’t know her heart or the long-term meaning of what she is doing.  Stay quiet.”  

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Fresh Look at Matthew: End of Matthew 26

The chapter ends with Peter’s denial, not once, but three times.  They progress in vehemency: denial, denial with an oath, denial with cursing and swearing. Thoughts:

In case anyone thought the apostles were goody-two-shoes plastic saints, this should convince them otherwise.  They were blue collar guys who hung out with blue collar guys before Jesus came, and he was a tradesman/workman for many years. 

In the first two denials, he denies to a young girl.  Fear has no boundaries or logic.

He wept bitterly when he realized what he had done.  We can weep from knowing that we are known by God.  Peter saw that he was known at his deepest core; he thought he would be strong enough, Jesus knew he would not.  Jesus wanted Peter to see himself before he could be fully used.  Peter had misconceptions about his own character and abilities.  This was the last straw for that.  We can weep from joy or from bitterness at knowing we are known.  Knowing we are known fully can be joyous and a comfort, too.

Poor Peter has been the butt of sermons for 2,000 years.  I have a sneaking suspicion most of us would have done the same thing. This story is here because it is a fact but also because it is a reminder to us to get and be real.   

Underneath the Path of Totality

I drove as far north as I could in the time I had to get to the Path of Totality. I was maybe 15 or 20 miles below it, i.e., Cleveland, TN. ...