Sunday, December 21, 2014

31 Days With the Real Jesus - Day 25 - Jesus Is the Messiah

Israeli soldier, in the Western Wall area,

Day 25 - Jesus Is the Messiah

One little sentence can say a lot. Here's a sentence that says much about the Real Jesus.

Ἀρχὴ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ [υἱοῦθεοῦ]. Which translated into English reads:

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God,...
- Mark 1:1

New Testament scholar Chris Keith  writes:

"Seemingly insignificant, this short sentence is packed with important information concerning Jesus. It identifies Jesus as the long-awaited Christ (christos, “Messiah”) and Son of God. With both these titles, Mark taps into Jewish expectations of a kingly deliverer who would rid Jews of foreign domination and reestablish Israel by reestablishing God’s reign in Jerusalem." (Chris Keith, "Jesus Inside and Outside the New Testament," in Hurtado and Keith, Jesus among Friends and Enemies: A Historical and Literary Introduction to Jesus in the Gospels, Kindle Locations 835-842; see Keith's The Jesus Blog, highly recommended by Ben Witherington) 

The word "Christ" (Χριστοῦ) means, literally, "anointed one." From this we get an English word that's not so much used anymore, "to christen," which can mean:


tr.v. chris·tenedchris·ten·ingchris·tens 
a. To baptize into a Christian church.
b. To give a name to at baptism.
a. To name: christened the kitten "Snowball."
b. To name and dedicate ceremonially: christen a ship. (See here for a recent "christening ceremony.")
3. To use for the first time: christened the new car by going for a drive.

Jesus of Nazareth was "christened" by the Father at his baptism when heaven opened, the Spirit of God descended on him like a dove, and a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)

Jesus is like a ship constructed for the purpose of sailing stormy seas to save people who have made shipwrecks of their own lives. At Jesus' baptism the Father launched the Christ into the dark waters of corrupted human existence.

Jesus is Messiah, "the Christ."


The book if Isaiah has been referred to as "the fifth Gospel" because of its Messianic expectations that fit the historical Jesus. Here's an excellent book to enter into this discussion -The Gospel According to Isaiah 53: Encountering the Suffering Servant in Jewish and Christian Theology, eds. Darrell Bock and Mitch Glaser. Some very good scholars contribute essays, to include Bock, Michael Brown, Craig Evans, and Walter Kaiser. See the book reviewed here.  

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Archaeological Discovery Lends Support to the Reigns of Kings David and Solomon

"A Mississippi State University archaeological team uncovered six official clay seals at a dig in southern Israel -- offering some support for the reigns of King David and his wise son Solomon as found in the Hebrew Bible." (See Six Clay Seals Discovered In Israel Linked To Era Of Kings David And Solomon; and MSU department announces major archaeological find.) 

Some Things to Read About the Meaning of Life

One of my MCCC philosophy students wrote this request to me: "I was wondering if I could get book suggestions about philosophy on life. Life in general."

Here are some thoughts I have.

I assume the request is for writings on the meaning of life. I don't take the request to be about the science of physical life (life as composed of cells, which are composed of nuclei, cytoplasm, mitochondria, etc.). 

So, assuming this is asking for readings on life's meaning (in my philosophy classes we talk about this), here are some thoughts I have. 

  • In philosophy life-questions are understood in terms of worldviews. Everyone has a worldview. A worldview shapes how one understands the meaning of life.
  • I define "meaning" as: fitness in a context. For example, one reason I do not understand a certain joke is that I don't share the joke's context. A worldview provides the broader context within which things have or don't have meaning. 
  • Many believe that, within the worldview of atheism, "life" has no meaning (ultimately). This is called nihilism. Or, perhaps, on atheism the meaning of life is that life has no meaning, to include no purpose, no telos. On atheism "life in general" is meaningless and purposeless. And, "life in general" is only physical. See Peter Watson's The Age of Atheists: How We Have Sought to Live Since the Death of God for atheistic attempts to find life's meaning, if there is any meaning to be found.
  • For life to have meaning there must be a "Narrative." Certain philosophies and all the world religions provide narratives, some of which are competing narratives and some of which are complementary.
  • On Christian theism "life on general" finds its meaning in the purposes of a Creator God. Like an artist creates a work of art to express meaning and purpose, so God has created the universe to express the same.
  • What's needed is to read and study worldviews. Two main intellectual disciplines that do this are philosophy and religion. 
  • For philosophy I would suggest Anthony Kenny's An Illustrated Brief History of Western Philosophy. I like Norman Melchert's The Great Conversation: A Historical Introduction to Philosophy. And Tom Morris's Philosophy for Dummies is excellent. (Morris is a very good philosopher.) 
  • For religion I recommend Derek Cooper's Christianity and World Religions: An Introduction to the World's Major Faiths. I also like Stephen Prothero's recent God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World - and Why Their Differences Matter. See also C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity on life's meaning as understood in Christianity. 
  • Art, music, and literature also provide narrative frameworks for life's meaning. In literature, for example, my Christian theistic worldview is represented in writers such as Annie Dillard, Flannery O'Connor, Frederick Buechner, and C.S. Lewis. 

31 Days With the Real Jesus - Day 24 - Jesus Reinterpreted the Temple

Dome of the Rock, the Temple Mount, Jerusalem

Day 24 - Jesus Reinterpreted the Temple

One Sunday morning this past summer I saw a person I did not recognize at Redeemer. I went to her and asked her name. "Is this your first time with us?"

"I've been here before, but it's hard to get here since I have to walk."

That morning was cold, rainy, and very windy. "Where did you walk from?"

"LaSalle," she said.

This woman walked 5 miles in the cold, wind, and rain to be in the presence of God!

For ancient Israel the place to be, when it came to experiencing God, was the Temple. Observant, God-seeking Jews and Gentiles would travel, sometimes for hundreds of miles, to the great festivals held in Jerusalem that were centered around the activity of the Temple. Richard Bauckham writes: 

"The Temple was the symbolic centre of Jewish faith and it was also the place where God was accessible to his people in a special way. It was God’s holy presence in the Temple that made Jerusalem the holy city and Palestine the holy land. It was God’s presence in the Temple that made it the only place where sacrifice could be offered." (Bauckham, Jesus: A Very Short Introduction, p. 21). 

New Testament scholar Michael McClymond adds:

“The overriding importance of the Temple in first-century Judaism becomes apparent in the persistence of the Jewish people in rebuilding and maintaining the Temple and in the large place given to it in ancient literature. Bruce Chilton notes that the Jewish Temple was renowned throughout the world and was perhaps “the largest religious structure in the world at that time.”” (McClymond, Familiar Stranger, 53)

In Jesus's final weeks on earth we see him in Jerusalem, walking daily up the mountain to teach and stir the religious pot in the Temple courtyards. Jesus intimately referred to the Temple as "my Father's house." It was part of his family estate. The Temple was the House of God, the spatial locale where God especially manifested his presence. It was always intended to be a House of Prayer, where the dialogue happened between God and the people of God. It was a most holy, set-apart place. But, sadly, no longer. 

As Jesus the Light of the World stood in the courtyard, the Temple had become a place of spiritual darkness. Nothing more devastating could be said than Jesus's words in Matthew 23:13: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to."  (This is, BTW, the real meaning of "Church"; viz., the corporate, flesh-and-blood sanctuary wherein the presence of God abides.)

Because of this, Jesus said the Temple is going down. People won't worship God on this mountain anymore. Not one brick of this magnificent structure will be left standing. It is hard to grasp the enormity of what Jesus was saying. Imagine someone walking in the outer courts of the White House in Washington, D.C., openly proclaiming its impending ruin.

This Temple will soon be gone. It happened in 70 A.D. But the Temple will remain. Because Jesus has already said, with jaw-dropping self-referential clarity:

I tell you that something greater than the temple is here.
- Matthew 12:6


I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.
- Matthew 26:61

But the temple he had spoken of was his body.- John 2:21

Jesus reinterprets the Temple in terms of his own self. Jesus hosts the presence of God. As we abide in Jesus, corporately and individually, the followers of Jesus become portable sanctuaries that host God's manifest presence. 

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 
-1 Corinthians 3:16


See James McDonald, Vertical Church: What Every Heart Longs For. What Every Church can Be, on the loss of God's manifest presence in America churches today. He writes:

"Whether you are 15 people around a candle and a coffee table or 150 people in a tired building trying to turn it around or 1,500 people on the rise with plans for another service— regardless of size: if you don’t have the thing that makes us distinct, you have nothing, no matter what you have. And if you do have it— what we were made to long for; what makes us a true church of the one true God— you have everything you need, no matter what you lack." (Kindle Locations 1003-1006)

And that thing is...?

Friday, December 19, 2014

When to Break Off the Counseling Relationship

Over the years it has been my privilege to offer counsel to people, upon their request. If persons do not ask my counsel, then I don't offer it, since unasked-for counsel is usually received as criticism. I learned this from watching Dr. John Powell of University Baptist Church in East Lansing. John and his wife Bev were in a home group with Linda and I. John is one of the wisest men I have ever met. Professionally he was a Prof. of Psychology at Michigan State University. John has so much wisdom to offer! Part of it was the wisdom and self-control to not offer it to those who have not asked.

More than occasionally I have someone ask for my counsel and not receive it. To me the counselor-counselee relationship is not one in which the counselee debates with the counselor. While debate is fun and there is a place for it, I don't view it as productive when the matter is giving and receiving counsel. 

When someone asks for my counsel on a situation, I give the best of what I have. While it may not be helpful, or may even be wrong, since I've been asked I do my best. Sometimes this involves correcting a person. When this happens with permission it is appropriate and, really, what the person is looking for. Consider the guitar teacher-student relationship. If my student is making a chord in the wrong way I tell them. This is not to criticize them (which would be absurd) but to help them. They want to play well, and I can assist. So, they will have to change some of their guitar-playing ways.

What if the counselee rejects it? Then I am no longer their counselor. Proverbs 1:23 says: "If you had responded to my rebuke, I would have poured out my heart to you and made my thoughts known to you." When there's no response, there's no more outpouring.

I especially like Proverbs 1:29-31, which says: "Since they hated knowledge, since they would not accept my advice, they will eat the fruit of their ways." Guitar-wise, this is translated: "Since you hated my instruction and refused to practice, your ears will listen to guitar mediocrity."

When I've broken off a counseling relationship I want to do it in love. I tell the person "I am no longer your counselor." This should be obvious if the person does not follow my counsel. It's unhealthy for the counselee to stay in a pseudo-counseling relationship. It is a waste of time to keep meeting (or taking guitar lessons) if you won't follow the asked-for advice (or practice the guitar). This kind of "counselee" will often go looking for a "counselor" who will only tell them what they want to hear. Which means they never really wanted counsel in the first place.

31 Days With the Real Jesus - Day 23 - Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath

Biblical scholar Hal Ronning, walking ahead of us in Jerusalem

Day 23 - Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath

I was born in the first half of the last century. In 1949. Some things were very different then. Like the Sabbath laws.

I grew up in Rockford, Illinois in the 1950s, and no one shopped on Sundays. Restaurants and grocery stores were closed. Gas stations took Sundays off. Every restaurant was "Chick Fil 'A." Only a little over 50 years ago, that was one way we "remembered the Sabbath to keep it holy." 

Sabbath. Shabbat! (Hebrew) Which means: Cease! Remember the Sabbath Day by setting it apart. (Exodus 20:8) In your weekly planner set aside one day a week especially dedicated to God. Which meant, for observant Christians and Jews, do no work on this day. Which raises the question: How does one define 'work'?

Linda and I were in Jerusalem on a Sabbath Day. It was here that I learned something about the meaning of work. We stayed in a beautiful hotel, on the 25th floor. What a view of the city we had! The hotel had six elevators. One day I rode an elevator non-stop to the first floor, got some food, and then boarded a different elevator to ascend. A hasidic Jewish man got on with me. The elevator stopped on floor one, but no one was there to get on. The door closed. Up we went, only to stop on floor two. Again, no one got on. I peeked outside the elevator to see if someone had pushed the button. No one was there. This elevator stopped on every floor. The Jewish man got off on floor 22. I had three more stops on my way to the 25th floor. I had boarded a special "Sabbath elevator." The reason it stopped on every floor was because pushing an elevator button was seen as "work," and Jews are to do no work on the Sabbath. Think of this as you read the following.

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man's eyes was a Sabbath.
- John 9:13-14

Uh-oh. You don’t make mud on the Sabbath, because that’s doing work. This irritates the religious leaders. How does the man feel about the fact that he can now see? Answer: very, very good.

Welcome to what scholars call the "Sabbath Controversies." Jesus was controversial. 

15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. "He put mud on my eyes," the man replied, "and I washed, and now I see."
- John 9:15
The former blind man has to tell the story a second time, this time speaking to a new audience and adding the dramatic note that it was the Sabbath. The crowd, understandably curious, wanted to know how the healing had happened.
The Pharisees ask the same question but with different intent. They want to determine whether any Sabbath laws have been broken. The man recounts his healing with great brevity (v. 15). 

Many scholars see in this an exasperation with having to retell his story. Perhaps the now-seeing man senses their displeasure and sticks to the bare facts, as peasants have a tendency to do when interrogated by the junta--not an inappropriate image for this story, as we will see.

16 Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath."
      But others asked, "How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?" So they were divided. 

- John 9:16

Jesus is seen as a "sinner," He's off the mark. Why? Because he works on the Sabbath. The Pharisees only show interest in the Sabbath violation. This is wild… because A BLIND BEGGAR JUST GOT HEALED!!!! This is an example of how rules and structures – while they can be good and even necessary – lock people out of what God may be doing.

So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. 
- John 9:16

The controversy gets white-hot in Mark 2, when Jesus makes a shocking self-referential claim. We read:

23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

New Testament scholar Michael Wilkins writes that we have here, coming from Jesus, "a remarkable clarification of his identity and authority." (Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 441) 

Jesus is Lord of all.

Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

How Loud Is Your Worship?

Typical A-Weighted Sound Levels

We run our worship band on Sunday mornings at a volume between 85-100 decibels. If someone complains that it's too loud and will damage our ears, this is not true according to OSHA standards (we have a copy of them in the sound booth). 

See HEREOSHA allows 8 hours of exposure to 90 dBA but only 2 hours of exposure to 100 dBA sound levels. 

So... what's really loud and dangerous to hearing? The answer is: sports events. See "Fighting Hearing Loss From the Crowd’s Roar." "Earlier this fall, Seattle Seahawks fans at CenturyLink Field broke the world record for loudest stadium crowd with a skull-splitting 136.6 decibels. That volume, as the Seahawks’ website boasts, hits the scale somewhere between “serious hearing damage” and “eardrum rupture.”
Just weeks later, Kansas City Chiefs fans at Arrowhead Stadium topped that number with 137.5 screaming decibels of their own."

31 Days With the Real Jesus - Day 22 - Jesus Reinterpreted the Jewish Festivals in Terms of Himself

Teacher and students, in Jerusalem

Day 22 - Jesus Reinterpreted the Jewish Festivals in Terms of Himself

The following story is not true.

On July 4, 2014, as all of America was celebrating Independence Day, John Piippo drove into Washington, D.C. in a rusty, beat-up car. A million people had gathered in the National Mall. A breathtaking display of fireworks was coming to a close as the military band led the people in the singing of the National Anthem. Piippo walked through the crowd and made his way to the top of the Lincoln Memorial. As the singing ended he grabbed the microphone and cried out, "You who have ears to hear, listen! I am the way to freedom! All who want Independence, follow me!" From that day on our government leaders made plans to put Piippo to death.

False. How absurd to view oneself as the fulfillment of over 200 years celebrating America's greatest holiday!

But... consider Jesus. "The Festival of Dedication then took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in Solomon's portico." 
-John 10:22-23

Uh-oh. It was Hanukkah. What is Jesus doing? Two things. He is attending the Festival as an observant Jew. And, he will interpret the Festival, indeed every Jewish Festival, in terms of himself. Craig Keener writes:

John's "Gospel connects Jesus' mission with features of each of the festivals: Jesus is portrayed, for example, as a (probably) Passover lamb. Likewise, he appears as the foundation stone from which living water would flow, a hope specifically celebrated at the festival of Tabernacles. John's Hanukkah passage might also make a similar point. Some scholars suggest that this passage depicts Jesus as consecrated or dedicated to God the way this festival celebrated the altar's rededication (cf. 10:36; elsewhere this Gospel connects Jesus with the temple)." (Keener, Jesus and Hanukkah: John 10:22-23)

Jesus takes Israel's "Fourth of July" and sees himself as it's real meaning, as that which it has always been pointing to. N. T. Wright writes: “Understand the Exodus, and you understand a good deal about Judaism. And about Jesus. Jesus chose Passover, the great national festival celebrating the Exodus, to make his crucial move.” (Simply Jesus, 33) 

As the cries of Passover lambs are heard in Jerusalem, Jesus hangs on a cross atoning for the sins of humanity. Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! And before that, recall how Jesus ate that last Passover meal with his disciples, and radically reinterpreted the wine and the bread in terms of his own life and death.

Jesus is the "new Moses" who is leading his people in a "new Exodus" to freedom. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Praying to Be Somebody's (PrayerLife)

Bamboo, outside of Brasilia, Brazil

Thomas Merton comes back again and again to the centrality of love. I like how he puts it here:

"In all these things I see one central option for me: to let go of all that seems to suggest getting somewhere, being someone, having a name and a voice, following a policy and directing people in “my” ways. What matters is to love, to be in one place in silence, if necessary in suffering, sickness, tribulation, and not try to be anybody outwardly. Not try to have a public identity."

- Merton, 
Learning To Love: Exploring Solitude and Freedom (The Journals of Thomas Merton), p. 15)

Pray to be Somebody's, not "somebody."

The First Scandal of the Jesus Story

Jesus had compassion on the world's poor people. He also came for the rich, but most rich people don't follow Jesus because it would mean forsaking all their material stuff. (Jesus said this, not me.)

When the Word became flesh and dwelt among us his birth was in a world of straw, manure, and financial nothingness. This was by design. In Introducing Black Theology of Liberation Dwight Hopkins writes:

"The glue that holds together all of the stories of the Bible is God siding with the poor for everyone's full humanity on earth. No amount of spiritualizing or metaphysical discourse or methods of analogy can erase the clear biblical story of God in Jesus in the poverty of a manger. God revealed the divine self to humanity not by accident but with purpose and plan —that is, to give birth to the new humanity out of the surroundings of dirt, dung, and oppression. This is the first scandal of the Jesus story." (Hopkins, Dwight N.,  (2014-04-10). Introducing Black Theology of Liberation, Kindle Locations 426-429)