Why the Prince of This World Had No Hold on Jesus

IMG_1230

(Sunrise over Lake Erie, Monroe, 11/29/09)

Why the Prince of This World Had No Hold on Jesus

In John 14:30-31 Jesus tells his followers that “the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me, but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.” 

“The prince of this world” is kingdom-language. It’s two-kingdom theology. Jesus was a two-kingdom theologian. The kingdom-bifurcation goes like this: kingdom of God or kingdom of satan, kingdom of heaven or kingdom of earth; kingdom of light or kingdom of darkness. To Jesus, persons give allegiance to one of these two kingdoms. The Jesus-movement is a rescue mission to save (“sozo”) persons out of the kingdom of darkness and deliver them into the kingdom of light. 

The real King is Jesus himself, and his kingdom is “not of this world.” It’s an upside-down kingdom that inverts the prevailing, oppressive social hierarchy. The word “sin” is defined in terms of these two kingdoms. “Sin” is essentially non-love for the real King, and thus rebellion against God. Every act of sin is an act of allegiance to the prince of this world; aka satan, our adversary. 

When Jesus says that the prince of this world has no hold on him, the Greek words contain a double negative that literally reads, “This world’s ruler does not have anything on me at all.” This is legal language, prosecuting attorney accusatory-language. Jesus tells his disciples that he is “not guilty.” Of what? Of lovelessness and rebellion; viz., of sin. Satan’s non-claim on Jesus proves his love for the Father. Jesus’ thorough, total love for the Father results in him, in every detail, doing exactly as his Father commands. In Jesus the Son there is not one slight whiff of rebellion, not one moment of un-love. For this reason, and this reason alone, satan has no claim on Jesus. Jesus does not deserve the cross. But he goes to the cross out of perfect obedience to the Father, and out of his love for you and for me.

What about us? Does satan have any claim on you and on me? I think the answer is as follows. When we heart-claimed our allegiance to the Lamb, a “great exchange” was enacted by which we were transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. The result was, as Paul writes in Romans 6, that sin was no longer our master. Sin is no longer an internal force controlling us. Now Christ is the internal power in our lives. Sin is now an external power trying to defeat us. We belong to the realm of grace and no longer live in the realm of sin. Our power to defeat sin comes from the presence of Christ in our lives. We no longer belong to the prince of this world. We now belong to Christ. We are in Christ, and Christ is in us. Father, Son, and Spirit have come to make their home in us. Romans 6:7 says that we are now freed from the slavery to sin that we once experienced.

Paul wonderfully spoke of “Christ in me, the hope of glory.” As songwriter Charlie Hall wrote, now “sin has lost its power, death has lost its sting.” (“Marvelous Light”)

Black Friday & A Phenomenology of Discontent

bowling

BLACK FRIDAY & A PHENOMENOLOGY OF DISCONTENT

Thomas Merton writes:

“Why should I worry about losing a bodily life that I must inevitably lose anyway, as long as I possess a spiritual life and identity that cannot be lost against my desire? Why should I fear to cease to be what I am not when I have already become something of what I am? Why should I go to great labor to possess satisfactions that cannot last an hour, and which bring misery after them, when I already own God in His eternity of joy? It is the easiest thing in the world to possess this life and this joy; all you have to do is believe and love; and yet people waste their whole lives in appalling labor and difficulty and sacrifice to get things that make real life impossible.” (New Seeds of Contemplation, 159-160)

Today, on Black Friday, Merton’s words ring prophetically. Americans are consumers in a consumer culture that depends on human hearts that are miserable. Define ‘miserable’ as: ‘discontented.’ I now present to you a phenemenology of discontent.

Discontent is a dark mood rooted in a sense of lack. “Lack” equals the absence of a felt need. The stronger the lack, the greater the felt need, hence the greater striving to “possess” that which satisfies the felt need. One strives to acquire what one lacks, only to soon find that its contentment-power diminishes and is gone. Discontent returns. The felt need that is the sense of lack returns. Something else is neeed to bring contentment. We have here a rhythm of: discontent – striving – acquisition – discontent – striving – acquisition – discontent – … and so on ad infinitum.

When I was about ten years old and Christmas was approaching, I saw an advertisement on TV for a mechanical bowling alley. It had a little mechanical man with a movable arm and open hand, into which you placed a small plastic bowling ball. It also had a mechanical pin-setter. You would hand-place the little plastic pins in the the holes, and then turn a crank to lower the pins in place at the end of the alley. A lever would pull the mechanical arm back, and upon release the ball would go down the alley into the pins. When I saw this I knew I wanted it for Christmas. My little heart also felt that, should I acquire this for myself, I would never lack for anything again in life. I mentioned this to my parents. They complied. Imagine my delight when, on Christmas Eve (which is when we opened our presents), before me was my heart’s desire. I did notice, however, that the box the bowling alley was in seemed smaller than what I had seen on TV. Had there been some mistake? The pins were so feather-light that, when the mechanical pin-setter released them, they were prone to topple. The bowling ball was light as well, and at times would launch itself over the pins. It was phenomenally difficult to get the alley level so the ball, when it did roll down the alley, would make it to the pins. I was discontent. To make things worse my neighbor friend John had gotten a battery-powered pinball machine that I wanted. It turned out that, when he saw my bowling alley, he wished he’d gotten that instead of the pinball thing. We traded the day after Christmas. Mutual discontent set in. Longing returned.

If everyone who says they are a Jesus-follower actually “learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:12), then Black Friday would be morphed into Good Friday, since all the striving that happens during the American folk-Christimas would be gone. Of course, should this actually happen, the entire American economy would be in ruins, since in America we must spend to keep the ship afloat. But, following Merton, real life would then be possible. Because deep, lasting things like family, friends, and joy are endangered by ad infinitum striving that grows out of a discontented spirit.

Two Modes of Thankfulness

mercy

TWO MODES OF THANKFULNESS

(“The One Who Showed Mercy”)

Not every mode of thankfulness is to be applauded.

The most morally and spiritually inferior form of thankfulness is the one that sees a beggar on the street and thinks, “Thank God I am not like this beggar; that, while she does not have a roof over her head and food to eat, I do. And for this, I give thanks.” This is hierarchical gratitude. One sees that there are people who have less than I, and this is accompanied by a feeling of gratitude for having more than they do.

“More than they do” means thngs like: more giftedness, more opportunity, more stuff, more money, more beauty, more experience, more square footage. The “prayer” that rises up to God out of one’s place on the status-honor hierarchy sounds like: “Today, God, on this Thanksgiving Day, we know there are people who do not have food enough to eat. We see them on TV. We read about them on the internet. But we do have enough to eat. And we give You thanks.”

This is Pharasaical thankfulness. It is a gratitude that grows in the soil of confidence in one’s own righteousness.

“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’  “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”” (Luke 18:9-14)

Pharasaical thankfulness is comparative, based on the idea that one’s physical condition and circumstances indicate the approval or disapproval of God. The man born blind must have sinned, or at least his parents must have sinned. Thus, he deserves his blindness.
“The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself.” This is a form of self-prayer that only makes sense on the honor-shame hierarchy. The occasion of thankfulness is someone else’s infirmity. I see someone who has less than me, and I thank God that I am not them.

This is not true gratitude. Real thankfulness, having a thankful heart, comes out of one’s relation to God and not to others. The core recognition is: I need God, and God’s love came down and rescued me. The kind of prayer is:

  • God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
  • You have had mercy on me!
  • Thank you God.

True thankfulness is a function of one’s awareness of one’s own neediness and not that of others, and the realization that God has displayed and is displaying his mercy towards me. When you realize how in need of rescue you are, and rescue comes, you will inexorably feel thankful. Prayers of thanks then become passionate. One outcome of such a truly and purely thankful heart is the heart-desire to be used of God to rescue others rather than to look at them and feel good about your own self. There’s no honor-shame hierarchy in the kingdom of God. We’re all beggars in need of bread.

Today is Thanksgiving Day. Give thanks in the right direction and for the right reasons. We have a God who comes to us.

Peace

IMG_0859

PEACE  

(Lily, in Bangkok)
Jesus says, in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” How shall we understand this?

First, when the disciples heard Jesus talk about the kind of peace that “the world gives” they would have thought of the Pax Romana, the “Roman Peace.” The world, so far as they knew it, was at “peace.” But this peace was far from satisfying since it was acquired through war and maintained through power and control. And, Israel and other nations were occupied by foreign armies and governors. From a Roman standpoint this looked good. But it’s sheer worldly peace maintained with military might. It reminds me of when I was teaching in Singapore, arguably the most peaceful Asian country there is. I was told that it was safe to walk any of Singapore’s streets. The crime rate was very low. But, as one Singaporean businessman told me one day, “We fear the police.” In worldly peace there is always fear. Historical peace-eras come and go. There are always wars and rumors of wars.

Jesus claims to give us a “peace” that is different from this. Jesus’ peace must be understand as phenomenon of the perichoretic union of Father, Son, and Spirit. This is a union of love, of togetherness of life and purpose, of a sharing in the same divine essence. This is real peace, from the perspective of the Godhead. This is the peace Jesus leaves with us. Note that Jesus does not say he will strengthen the variety of worldly peace we have. He is not interested in taking the very best political peace-solutions and tweaking them to perfection. Rather, Jesus says, “Here, take my peace. I’m leaving it with you.”

“To leave” has the sense of “to bequeath,” as when property is transferred to an heir through a will. In this regard New Testament scholar Andreas Kostenberger says, “Jesus’ parting benediction is more than a “cheap wish.” Jesus’ word is efficacious.” (John, 443) All this makes sense as we understand that, in John ch.s 14-17, we are invited to nothing less than a participation “in” the perichoretic union, which I now refer to as the Big Dance. In the Big Dance there are many relational things, one of which is peace. This peace is not a theory, nor is it a solution to some problem. It is the essence of God as a relational 3-in-1 unity of Persons. This peace is for you.

If You Can Read This, Then You Are Rich

IMG_0687

IF YOU CAN READ THIS, THEN YOU ARE RICH

The silly and heretical “prosperity gospel” (an oxymoron if there ever was one) tells us that God wants to “prosper us” in the sense of making us rich. Or, making us richer. For the “prosperity advocate” the cry “More, Lord!” has to do with money and things.

Consider this absurd scenario. I’m now writing this on my laptop and I cry out to God, “Give me a laptop, Lord!” How odd, because I already have a laptop and am writing on it. Analogously, how odd for an American Christian to cry out for “prosperity” (in the sense of money and things) as they are prosperous already. What’s going on here is simply gluttonous, like a person who has just eaten a 32-ounce steak and then burps, “More steak, Lord!”

Richard Stearns puts things this way. He writes that the good news is: “You’re rich, we’re rich, and the Church in America is rich.” (215) Do you have a laptop? Most people in the world do not have a laptop. A whole lot of people cannot even read, not because they are stupid, but because they are denied an education. If you make more than $25,000 per year “you are wealthier than approximately 90 percent of the world’s population!” (Ib.) Stearns asks us to “remember, of the 6.7 billion people on earth, almost half of them live on less than two dollars a day.” (Ib.) How positively weird and gluttonous to be sitting in a coffee shop looking at one’s laptop with a sense of impoverishment. Think of seeing some church on TV where people wearing nice clothes cry out for God to prosper them.

But a lot of people with a cup of coffee and a laptop don’t feel rich. So what’s going on? Stearns says “if you don’t feel rich, it’s because you are comparing yourself to people who have more than you do – those living above even the 99th percentile of global wealth. It’s also because we tend to gauge whether or not we are wealthy based on the things we don’t have.” (Ib., 215-216)

Yes, there are a lot of people in America who have a newer and bigger car than I have. While that’s simply a fact, if this fact is accompanied by even a slight sense of lack, then I have a deep spiritual problem, since “93 percent of the world’s people don’t own a car.” (Ib., 216) Stearns summarizes: “Our difficulty is that we see our American lifestyles as normative, when in fact they are grossly distorted compared to the rest of the world. We don’t believe we are wealthy, so we don’t see it as our responsibility to help the poor. We are deceived.” (Ib., 216, emphasis mine, and emphasis on me as I am not in the place to write with the experience, compassion, and conviction Stearns writes with.)

Do you ever think about things like this? I am. What the heck is an American Christian like me to do with verses like 1 Timothy 6:17-19? Shall we cut them out of my Bible, as a younger Jim Wallis once wondered? (Ib., 23-24) That would create a great “hole in our Gospel.” God, just what do You expect from us? Whatever else I do with those words of instruction from Paul to Timothy, I cannot waste my time in displays of creative rationalization that end with an appeal to pity on behalf of my own coffee-drinking laptop-surfing poor, deprived self.

I just returned from Bangkok. On the plane ride home I read Stearns’s book. I don’t quite know what to do with myself right now. I’m not panicking. I’m also not running. I take comfort in the fact that Stearns didn’t know what to do, either, as he drove his Jaguar to church faithfully on Sundays and other days. Throughout his book Stearns confesses, “I feel so ashamed…”

I can choose to do better today. Follow God today. Then, trust God today. I can look at something like 1 Timothy 6:17-19 and use it to guide my next decision.

17Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

“Command those who are rich in this present world…” By the way, that’s you and me.

Don’t Apologize for Anything

aslan edmund

DON’T APOLOGIZE FOR ANYTHING

As Jesus hung on the cross he did not say, “Father, have them apologize, for they don’t know what they do.” This word “apology” has the sense of “making a defense,” as in 1 Peter – always be ready to give a defense (“apologeo”) to everyone who asks you about the hope that is within you, doing so with gentleness and respect.” Apology is a mono-splendored thing. It’s one-sided. Apology requires nothing of the other person.

This is not so with the more robust, relational act of confession and forgiveness. To confess is stronger than to apologize because of its two-fold nature. Which is: 1) I was wrong about….; 2) would you forgive me for this? Just say those words the next time you hurt someone. I think they are harder to say for some very important reasons. But it can lead to: 3) the other cancels indebtedness.

Act I

To confess is to be vulnerable. In pure confession there is not a hint of defense. In “apology” the victim-words ‘but,’ or ‘however,’ are in the room with you. Confession is soul-bareing stuff. “I” am responsible for what I did/said to you. At this point the sealed and secured door into one’s heart is opened. There’s always the risk that the other might drop a grenade into it. Apology seems safer than this. But apology is not as powerful and effective as confession.

Act II

Confession’s second act is the request. Will you forgive me? Will you cancel the debt? I am in bondage to you. I owe you, as I well know. Forgive me. Set me free.

Act III

The offended person says the words, “I forgive you.” I cancel the debt. I won’t make you pay for what you did. You owe me nothing in regard to this. Of course, if money was stolen or a material thing broken the offender must pay this back. If one’s reputation was smeared the offender needs to go to make things right with other people. If an entire tribe is involved that understands forgiveness, then one may have to publicly confess, not for the sake of greater humiliation, but for greater personal and corporate freedom. But it must be noted that the one who does the forgiving could well cancel physical indebtedness as well, if God so leads.

Why cancel the debts of others who have wounded us? Because, by the wounds of Christ, your wounding of others and even your God-and-self-wounding have been cancelled. Those who deeply know this are able to forgive others. This act takes us way beyond the narrow scope of apology into the rarified air of the love of God. For me, at this point, it is instructive to note that I am not there yet, since recently I felt irritated at someone who looked at me the wrong way (as if I could alway judge this!). Years ago the singing group “Out of the Grey” wrote a song called “Three Beautiful Words.” They are not: “I apologize to you.” (I know, that’s four words…)

They are: “I… forgive… you.”

Boredom

BOREDOM

“Boredom” is not having nothing to do; “boredom” is finding no meaning in what you are doing.

A person can work at a job for hours and the time is dripping like molasses down the wall like a Salvador Dali clock. One student sits in class bored out of their skull while another student is fully engaged and time is not noticed.

I live in an America where we are all bored out of our minds. Evidence for our cultural boredom is seen in things like: our inability to be still; our non-reflectiveness; the Facebook Nation and its many games; oxymoronish appeals that couple money, sex, and power; the mass marketing of diversions; the loss of true happiness (see Aristotle [eudaimonia], and J.P. Moreland); “church” as entertainment of the masses; the outrageous divorce rate. especially among “Christians”; and the Kierkegaardian herds of people “at loose ends.”

“At loose ends.” Like dangling strings flapping in the wind untied. Loss of integrity. Anomie.

Anomie: a personal condition resulting from a lack of norms. Sociologist Emile Durkheim wrote that “…The state of anomie is impossible whenever interdependent organs are sufficiently in contact and sufficiently extensive. If they are close to each other, they are readily aware, in every situation, of the need which they have of one-another, and consequently they have an active and permanent feeling of mutual dependence.” “Durkheim defined the term anomie as a condition where social and/or moral norms are confused, unclear, or simply not present. Durkheim felt that this lack of norms–or preaccepted limits on behavior in a society–led to deviant behavior.”

Anomie = Lack of Regulation / Breakdown of Norms (Ib.)

The bored person lacks life-meaning. The meaning of “meaning” is: fitness within a context. One reason we don’t get a joke is that we fail to understand the context. Where there is no context there is no joy.

The Christian theistic context is the biblical metanarrative. I believe this metanarrative is true, using, among other things, the logic of inference to the best explanation. This explains how I “fit” into the greater scheme of things.

Be honest now. Some “churches” are boring. Why? They’ve lost their sense of fitness in the Grand Narrative. THE MOVEMENT is not boring.

Hal & Mirja Ronning at Redeemer This Weekend

Hal and Mirja Ronning, from the Home for Bible Translators in Jerusalem, Israel, will be with us at Redeemer this coming weekend.

Here’s from their website: “The Home for Bible Translators and Scholars in Jerusalem, Inc. (HBT) is a nonprofit ministry supporting translators and scholars from around the world to deepen their knowledge of the original Hebrew language and the context of the Old Testament Bible while studying in Israel. The main service offered by HBT is a six-month study program in partnership with the Hebrew University in Jerusalem that is specifically designed for Bible translators and consultants. The Hebrew University is fully accredited with about 25,000 students. Since 1995, the Home for Bible Translators has helped train 82 Bible translators, consultants, scholars, and Bible students from 29 countries representing 57 language translation projects. Through God’s strength, HBT-trained translators and their teams will make it possible for over 68 million people to read the Old Testament in their own language.”

Our weekend schedule:

Saturday night, 7 PM – worship + Hal & Mirja teaching on The Culture of Israel and Understanding the Bible.

Sunday morning, 10:30 AM – “Psalm 23 from the Perspective of the Desert” – Hal

Sunday evening, 7 PM – worship + Hal & Mirja teaching on Jewish Understanding of the New Testament.

I am thrilled that Hal & Mirja will be with us. They are both great scholars and passionate Jesus-followers. It promises to be a very rich experience this weekend at Redeemer!

5305 Evergreen, Monroe, MI  734-242-5277

Nourish Your Soul This Week

nourish

 

 

 

 

To nourish my soul this week I’m going to:

  • take much time alone with God
  • re-meditate on John chapters 14-17
  • listen to music
  • get outside and ponder God’s creation
  • remember blessings
  • enjoy my family
  • eat well
  • exercise
  • turn off the TV and read
  • pray about struggles
  • cast my burdens upon God (1 Peter 5:7)
  • pray for others
  • take pictures (always carry your camera with you)
  • laugh
  • love others
  • be led by God
  • remember that I am not alone
  • live in gratitude
  • write in my journal
  • host the presence of God