No special qualifications?
Like the early church that exploded upon the world???
C.S. Lewis referred to it as “The Great Invasion.” In chapter 7 of Mere Christianity Lewis writes: “One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe–a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death and disease, and sin… Christianity agrees… that this universe is at war. But it does not think this is a war between independent powers. It thinks it is a civil war, a rebellion, and that we are living in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel. Enemy-occupied territory–that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going. He does it by playing on our conceit and laziness and intellectual snobbery. I know someone will ask me, ‘Do you really mean, at this time of day, to re-introduce our old friend the devil-hoofs and horns and all?’ Well, what the time of day has to do with it I do not know. And I am not particular about the hoofs and horns. But in other respects my answer is ‘Yes, I do.’ I do not claim to know anything about his personal appearance. If anybody really wants to know him better I would say to that person, ‘Don’t worry. If you really want to, you will. Whether you’ll like it when you do is another question.'”
The most a-cultural telling of Christmas is found in Revelation 12:1-7. We read: “A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in pain as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days. And there was war in heaven.”
Robert Mounce says that: 1) the “woman” here is not Mary, but the messianic community, the “ideal Israel” (231); 2) out of the messianic community is born a “child,” a Messiah; 3) the seven-headed red dragon is Satan (Rev. 12:9; 20:2); 4) Satan is looking to devour this child; AKA Jesus the Christ. Mary has already been prophetically warned about such things.
In Luke 2 we read that… …the old man “Simeon took him [baby Jesus] in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
All’s not calm
All’s not bright
Christmas Eve – that violent night when the Light of the World descended into darkness…
|Muslims here wash their hands and feet before praying in the mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem|
|Woman begging in Jerusalem|
You don’t need to be a hermeneutical genius to understand these words. Jesus separates people into two groups: “goats” and “sheep.” “Goats” are people who see hungry, needy, sick, thirsty, homeless, and imprisoned people but do nothing to help them. “Sheep,” on the other hand, are the real followers of Jesus who thereby, obviously (since it is Jesus whom they are following), actively help such people. Jesus himself was tight with the “least of these.”
N. T. Wright says that Jesus “ate and drank with all sorts and conditions of people, sometimes in an atmosphere of celebration. He ate with ‘sinners’, and kept company with people normally on or beyond the borders of respectable society… This caused regular offence to some of the pious.” (N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 149) For it isn’t to the palace that the Christ child comes But to shepherds and street people, hookers and bums – Bruce Cockburn, “Cry of a Tiny Babe” “Goats” are religious, pious people who know about the suffering of others (and who doesn’t today in our media-saturated world?), but don’t actually follow Jesus into the slums of the world. “Goats” don’t actively and sacrificially help the people who are low on the honor-shame hierarchy. The fate of the goats is clear: “they will go away to eternal punishment.” (Matthew 25:46). “Sheep” are actual Jesus-followers. They sacrifice their lives for others who are “less” than they are. They are the “righteous,” and their destiny is “eternal life.” The sheep of the Shepherd are always moving downward into their surrounding culture. There’s a great, separating, spiritual-litmus-test going on here, a Christ-defining either-or. The level of seriousness is intense. Jesus came for the least and the lost. Not to actively do the same is to be a goatish unbeliever. Because someone who doesn’t actually follow after Jesus is an unbeliever, right? True belief always leads to active following; theoretical-religious belief is dead because it lacks deeds.
I am the judge of none of this. But I can read.
“For I was hungry, while you had all you needed. I was thirsty, but you drank bottled water. I was a stranger, and you wanted me deported. I needed clothes, but you needed more clothes. I was sick, and you pointed out the behaviors that led to my sickness. I was in prison, and you said I was getting what I deserved.” – Matthew 25, paraphrased by Richard Stearns, in The Hole in our Gospel, 59.
|Horses threaten to get up close and personal|
|Playing soccer in Jerusalem|
Several years ago I received a phone call from a high school girl who came to Redeemer. She was crying as she told me about her high school biology teacher. This teacher at one point in his teaching left the subject of biology and stated, “There is no evidence that Jesus ever existed.” This shocked a number of students in class. The teacher then said, “If you can show me evidence please feel free to bring it to class.”
I suggested to her that she bring me into the class to present the case for the existence of Jesus. I wrote a letter to the teacher. When I learned his name I realized he was, at that time, a student in my MCCC Philosophy of Religion class!
When the time came for me to speak on the existence of Jesus at Monroe High School so many students had heard about this that it was decided to hold the event in the school auditorium. The auditorium was packed out as I spoke for 90 minutes, making the historical case for Jesus’ existence. There was a Q&A after my talk. Many students asked questions. They were so interested in the subject of Jesus! Now, years later, I’ve had people who were in the auditorium that day tell me how much it impressed and influenced them. A number of them enrolled in my college philosophy classes as a result of this.
Perhaps you have heard, or read on the Internet, the claim that Jesus never really existed, and that the figure of Jesus in the Bible is all made up. That claim is false. As small a point as it seems to be, Jesus actually existed. No reputable New Testament scholar believes otherwise (actually, maybe one does, but he is in the extreme minority). Even the skeptical Bart Ehrman believes Jesus existed.
If you want to read some more check out:
“Jesus Existed,” by Craig Keener
See my “Jesus Existed (but of course…)”
|Dancing in worship at Redeemer|
One major difference between Christianity and the other major world religions is that, in Christianity, God came to us. In the other world religions we are left on our own to try to discover God (or achieve enlightenment, as in Buddhism).
Christmas is about God coming to us, in the form of his Son. This is called the “Incarnation.” (Which means: “in flesh.”)
We see this in the first chapter of the Gospel of John. It reads: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. (John 1:1-2) Who was “the Word?” We find out in John 1:14: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. The Son of God, also referred to as God the Son, came to us from the Father and took on human flesh. This is the language of God as a Trinity of persons. God is a “triune” being: Father, Son, and Spirit. God, as I’ve heard J.P. Moreland express it, is a three-personed being. J.P. asks us to imagine a 3-headed person: 3 heads, 3 distinct personalities, sharing the same body. Greg Boyd has said the idea of God as a Trinity makes conceptual sense of the idea that God is love. This is because love requires relationship. In the very being of God there is, and everlastingly has been, loving relationship. God, in his being, is relational. I love this way of thinking about God! It is so rich and wide and deep and long and high.
Early Christians came up with a word to express the 3-personed being of God: perichoresis. This word is made of a prefix, “peri,” which means “around.” Like the peri-meter of a circle. “Choresis” is the word we get “choral” from, which can mean to sing, but also to dance, as in a “chorus line.” “Perichoresis” is to dance in a circle. With this word our 3-Personed God is described as Father, Son, and Spirit engaged in an everlasting circle dance. I like to refer to this as the Big Dance, into which we are invited (John 14,15, and 16). God the Son who became flesh has existed everlastingly in the Big Dance that is the being of God. Then, in the infant Jesus, God became one of us. If this is not true than the story of Jesus becomes just a tragic and minor piece of history. To understand the the Real Jesus we must begin with the Incarnation of God the Son, in whom there is neither beginning nor end. Jesus is the pre-existent God the Son, who has existed everlastingly.
*** (For you scholars this view of God as Trinity has been called “social trinitarianism”; viz., that in the being of God there is a “society” of three persons. See here, for academic ideas on this. But not, of course, for Islam, which vehemently denies the Christian idea of God as a Trinity of 3 Persons. Islam misunderstands this, as Judeo-Christianity has never claimed there are three Gods.
I also love the book The Shack as a way of figuratively expressing Trinitarian theism – i.e., God as a 3-Personed Being.)