Sunday, August 12, 2012

Why Do We Need the Holy Spirit?

Jesus said, “It is to your advantage that I go away, the Helper will not come to you.  But if I go away I will send him to you.” (John 16:7) As a believer, have you ever wanted Jesus to be right there with you, to clarify your questions, to take up your burden, to ease your sorrow?  I have.  I have thought in the past that the Christian life must have been a lot easier for the disciples during their three year training because Jesus was right there with them and guided them.

But if I think about it a little bit more, I realize that the disciples didn’t seem to have an easy time of it.  They were often confused, not understanding what Jesus said and Jesus often rebuked them because they failed to act in a way in accord with Jesus’ teaching.  In other words, their life with Jesus isn’t all that different than ours.

So Jesus said that it would be better if He sent us the Helper, AKA the Holy Spirit, to us, rather than having him hang around all the time.   But many people seem to think that we don’t really need the Holy Spirit.  That the Holy Spirit is the extra person of the Godhead, almost decorative, but not really necessary.

Before we explore why we need the Holy Spirit, I think we need to summarize what Jesus said the Christian life looks like.  It is not just a life of intellectual assent, of having the right doctrine.  Jesus insisted that his disciples act like him (John 13:15-17), obey him (Luke 6: 46-49) and act in love all the time (Mark 12:29-34).  In other words, our Christian life is not primarily a life of belief, but it is a lifestyle.  Which, at the very end, will make sense, for every single person is judged by what they do, not by what they believe, so Jesus’ death and resurrection is supposed to lead us into a right life, not just right belief (Rev.20:12, Matt. 16:27; Rom. 6:4). 

 If the Christian life was only a matter of belief, we might not need the Holy Spirit.  Sure, the Holy Spirit might lead us to correct belief, but after that, we can use our reason and we don’t need any help.  But that is clearly not the case in the NT.  Not only are we supposed to live in the Spirit, we are supposed to walk in the Spirit—this is an ongoing process (Gal. 5:24-25).

But why?  Why do we need the Holy Spirit to be with us?

1.       Living in Jesus is too hard for any human
The lifestyle Jesus wants us to live in obedience and imitation of him, is simply too hard.  Jesus wants us to deny ourselves, to love our enemies, to stop being hateful, to not look in lust, to keep our promises, to confront other’s sin with gentleness, and on and on.  It’s just too much, frankly.  There is no human in the world who, on their own, could live this life.  But we don’t have to live it on our own.  Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit to help us live this life, so we aren’t on our own.  Even Jesus couldn’t help the disciples live this life that he exemplified.  But when they received the Holy Spirit, they could do it. (Mark 10:26-27)

2.       We don’t have the resources to live in love
Love is a lot of work, and requires more than what we have.  Jesus gave the Good Samaritan as an example of love, and look at what he did!  He had a donkey for transportation, he had money to pay the sick man’s bills and time to help him out.  Very few of us have such wealth!  Of course, Jesus is only asking us to give what we have, but he told us to love our neighbor, which means to do what we can to help anyone and everyone around us.  How can we do that?  It is interesting to note that Jesus himself did that with very few resources.  He healed the sick although he was not a doctor.  He feed thousands although he had no bakery or money.  All he had was the Holy Spirit.  It isn’t just that he is God—he expects every one of us to do what did.  How?  Through the Holy Spirit. (John 5:19; Phil 4:13)

3.       We don’t have the energy to keep up a life in Jesus
I have often been jealous of Jesus’ life.  He had a very difficult life, travelling around, teaching, crowds everywhere and, at the end, a horrible crucifixion.  But at times that seems easy compared to my life because Jesus only had to deal with it for three and a half years.  I’ve been working on this same life for a lot longer than that and my body is simply getting worn out.  I’ve had illnesses and I get so tired all the time, because I’ve been trying to keep this life up for so long.  But this is another reason for the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit gives us energy.  In Acts 4, the disciples were rejected and abused and torn apart.  But they asked the Lord for the Holy Spirit and they were rejuvenated and ready to do God’s work again.  Even so, if we are filled with the Spirit, we can have God’s strength to continue to live Jesus’ life. (Mark 13:13; Acts 4:23-31)

4.       Life presents tremendous obstacles between us and a Christian life
Accidents happen.  People are in direct opposition to our life in Jesus.  We face situations that we don’t know what to do.  We face people we don’t know how to love.  We fail.  We lose enthusiasm.  We get depressed.  These are all things of everyday life that seem to keep us from living as a true believer.  But the Holy Spirit helps us to deal with these obstacles.  He doesn’t keep us from stumbling over them, nor does he prevent them from being a barrier to us.  But he helps us find ways around them.  He gives us wisdom for the moment to live in Jesus. (James 1:5; John 16:13)

In summary, the Holy Spirit is the fuel, the power, the strength of the Christian life.  Without the Holy Spirit, a life in Jesus is, frankly, impossible for any human.  No human is strong enough to do and to endure what Jesus asks us to do.  But when we have God in us, when we are not dependent on our own strength, but Gods, then nothing is impossible. 

The Holy Spirit is the foundation for living an impossible life.

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

Saturday, July 21, 2012

What I Believe About Salvation

1. Salvation is not just the movement from death to life, but it is the state of living in God's life.

2. God made humanity as gaping holes of continuous need. Not only do we need food, water, sleep, clothing, hygiene, and health, but we also need a social context, security, contentment, purpose, respect and joy. Salvation is meeting all these needs, for all people at all times. Salvation is not primarily spiritual.

3. The means of salvation is Jesus. Not Christianity, not the Bible, not churches, not worship, not benevolence programs, not politics, not theology. The Jesus of real salvation heals the sick, feeds the hungry, comforts the outcast, teaches the ignorant, forgives the sinner, and brings all not only to God, but to God's power to enact salvation, not someday, but now.

4. Jesus uses the kingdom and the Spirit as the primary tools of salvation. The Kingdom is the realm in which Jesus alone is the Ruler, but is a community where all follow Jesus as Lord. This community uses all their resources to enact salvation to as many people as possible, but especially for those who recognize their need of salvation. The Spirit is the power of God to meet the needs of those who call upon Jesus.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Simply Irresistible

According to Calvinism, God's choice is irrevocable.  If you are chosen, no one can say you are not.  No matter what you do or who you seem to be, God's choice is solid, as real as a mountain, as just as immovable.  Even more.

And this is true even if you yourself don't choose it.  God chooses you, you do not necessarily choose Him.  God is the actor, we are the recipient. And if we try to refuse God, it doesn't matter.  God's choice is from the beginning of the world, and He will hunt you down like the Hound of Heaven He is.  This is known as irresistible grace.  God is going to bless you, if you are chosen, like it or not.  After all, He's bigger than we are.

It is true, Scripturally, that it is God who is the actor and that He is the initiator/seducer in our romance with Him.  Jesus said, "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out." and more specifically, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.". (John 6:44, 37)  

The proof texts for God's choice being irresistible are these: 

"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand." (John 10:27-29)

"For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, "FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED." But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."  (Rom 8:29-39)

The Romans 8 passage has it all: God's choice, God's grace, and the fact that no one can take that choice away.

However, in both passages, the point is not that no one can resist what God chooses, like it or not, but that no one can claim that God's choice is null and void.  The context in Romans 8 is one of persecution.  Religious zealots may claim that some-- namely Gentiles-- are not chosen of God, and that they deserve to be punished and shamed because of their claim to be of God.  However, Paul is saying that no one can take God's choice away.  The choice is indicated by the Spirit of God (as said earlier in the chapter) and no one can claim otherwise, and punishment or shame will not take that away.

But can one chose to reject God's call?  That is certainly shown in Scripture:

"I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne." (Revelation 3:15-21)

This passage is the letter to the church of Laodicea.  They are of the church, and so believers, but Jesus claims that they are on the verge of being "spit out" because of their shame.  Jesus begs them to open the door to him, and those who "overcome" their own sin will be in the kingdom of God.  But those who do not chose this way will be rejected.  It's all about choice.

In Hebrews there's a more interesting passage: 

In the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.  (Hebrews 6:4-6)

Not only can one who, by all accounts, has been saved fall away, but they cannot come back!  

In general, given the focus of repentance as being a presupposition to living a life in the kingdom, I'd say that God's choice is essential, but so is our own.  God's choice and our choice works together to bring God's people together into one nation.

What is the Nature of God?

The quick theological answer about the nature of God takes us through a quick tour of the “omnis”:
  •       Omnipotent: God is all powerful
  •       Omnipresent: God is in all places
  •       Omniscient: God knows all things
  •       Eternal: God is timeless

Biblically, I have questions about all of these statements.  But the fact is, biblically, to say that the nature of God is his being or essence is to miss the point.  That is a metaphysical answer to the question, not a biblical one.

There is one statement about the nature of God that is repeated many times in Scripture, and yet it is rarely quoted, or certainly  not quoted as often as the omnis.  The best answer to “what is the nature of God?” is:

Yahweh, Yahweh God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in merciful faithfulness and truth, who keeps merciful faithfulness for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, yet he will not leave the guilty unpunished.”  Exodus 34:6-7

This statement, in whole or part, is repeated at least 12 times in the OT alone*.  It is the basic creed of who God is, and is the basis for the statement “God is love” and is the basis for the NT statements which say that we, as God’s children, should imitate God (Luke 6:35-36; Eph 5:1).

Thus, we should focus on God being:
  •      Compassionate: One who understands and desires to help the weak.
  •      Gracious: One who gives of Himself to those in need
  •      Slow to anger: Doesn’t instantly respond to offenses, but takes time to consider a proper response
  •      Abounding in merciful faithfulness:  When he keeps his promises, he does it for the benefit of those he is blessing
  •      Abounding in truth: Doesn’t lie, doesn’t break his promises
  •      Forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin: Is ready to cleanse the heart, mind and any debt incurred from any sin, real, ritual or imagined.
  •      Will not leave the guilty unpunished:  Forgiveness is for the repentant, not for those who continue to purposely hurt others.

This is the true nature of God, and the basis of all biblical truth.

*Passages that are a reference to Exodus 34:
  II Chronicles 30:9; Nehemiah 9:17, 31; Psalm 86:15; Psalm 103:8; Psalm 111:4; Psalm 112:4; Psalm 116:5; Psalm 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; Nahum 1:3

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


My family had a discussion on the topic: What would your utopia look like?

Below is our description of a utopia.  It is also a short list of what we expect the kingdom of God to be like.


  • Everyone has access to healthy food, clean water, toilets, shelter from weather, sleep without harassment, life-saving health care.
  • Every person has value and no innocent person is killed.
  • Everyone works with their strength and talents, at times for the sake of others, at times for personal development
  • Everyone is judge by actions, not by appearances, and there is tolerance for different opinions
  • Train our children to be cooperative and compassionate instead of ambitious and egotistical.
  • Volunteer listening centers for people who want to listen to people who need to talk
  • Everyone is trained to deal nonviolently and appropriately with conflict
  • Instant teleportation and a replicator in every kitchen.
  • No itching.

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Conversation about Sovereignty

God, eternal, omnipotent and sovereign:  you bastard, why am I alive?  Just so you’ve got a pin cushion, a punching bag to take your anger out on?  Look at all the crap you handed me.  I’d be better off having died a long time ago.  Actually, I think I would prefer have been aborted.

So, Roger, you’re blaming me for being born?  Don’t you think your parents had something to do with that?

Well, you gave me the no good sombitches that were my parents.  The old man runs out on me when I’m four and my mother might as well have been running a whorehouse with a revolving door with all the new “dad’s” around.  Why didn’t you give me a better set of parents?

Actually, they gave you life, I didn’t give them to you.

My wife was no winner, either.  The woman screams all day and wouldn’t ever give me any sex. I might as well be in an army camp.  Why did you give her to me?

If you recall, you are the one who chose her.  As well as chose to cheat on her so that she was angry all the time. And I think your three kids is enough proof that you got sex sometime.

Well, at least I know she didn’t open her legs to anyone—she hated sex.  But those kids.  Tommy won’t give me any respect.  Said “Ef you” and walked out the door.  I don’t care if he’s in his car, dead with a needle in his arm the way he treated me.

He learned to treat you the way you treated him.  You showed him no respect so he never learned any.

And Chelsea… damn.  That was the worst, you omniscient efing bastard. Why did she have to die?  Why didn’t you save her?  Why?  Why couldn’t it have been me?

I am sorry for you, Roger.  I know how much she meant to you. I could have saved her.  I could have reminded you to take her to the doctor so her lungs would have been checked and she wouldn’t have died of pneumonia. But you never asked me.  You never sought after me to come into your life. 
I accept your rant Roger.  I don’t see it as disrespect. Instead, I know that you are seeking me because your life is so screwed up.  I can help.  I will help.  Just sober up, cook yourself some breakfast and then go and see the pastor tomorrow morning.  Change for you is that close.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Quran Background 3: Muhammad in Mecca

For the first three years of Muhammad’s prophethood, he spoke out only to family and close friends. Many of the messages Muhammad received from Jibreel at this point were personal and dealt with his own submission to Allah.  During this time, Muhammad was taught a prayer ritual which became the standard prayer for every Muslim, the only difference being that Muhammad faced toward Jerusalem originally.  The method of his prophethood was primarily the recitation (which is the literal meaning of Qu’ran) of the messages Muhammad received from Allah.

Soon the numbers of the new religion began to grow to such a degree that the Quraysh tribe could no longer ignore it.  At first they called Muhammad a madman, or their local crazed poet.  But when Muhammad began declaring his message openly on the streets of Mecca, they knew that something had to be done about him.  For they knew that Muhammad boldly proclaimed his message of the one God, Allah, and they were afraid that Muhammad’s message might threaten their economic livelihood by hindering the pilgrimage, a pagan practice.  So to take a common stand against Muhammad, the leaders of the Quraysh agreed that they would name Muhammad a sorcerer, in an attempt to discredit him.

 The Quraysh would often dispute Muhammad openly.  At one point, one of the members of the tribe opposing Muhammad said, “I will never believe in you—not until you take a ladder and I see you climb it up to heaven, and until you bring four angels to testify that you are what you claim to be.  And even then I think I would not believe you.”  The majority of Quraysh agreed with this sentiment.  However, the revelation of Allah replied to them, “Waxed proud they have within them, and become greatly disdainful.  Upoon the day that they see the angels, no good tidings that day for the sinners….”  (Sura 25:21,22).

Despite the efforts of the Quraysh, Muhammad gained more followers.  Yet as the number of Muslims (which means in Arabic, “submitted ones”) grew, so did the hostility.  The Quraysh leaders desired to test Muhammad, so they asked some Jews of Yathrib for questions in order to do this.  Three questions were asked Muhammad, and a recitation was given in response giving the correct answers (see Sura 18).  Later the hostility turned to physical persecution against the Muslims.  Some Muslims were beaten for praying in open places.  Other Muslims who were slaves were beaten and threatened with their lives unless they renounced their submission to Allah.  But Muhammad was never threatened personally because one of his relatives, a leader in the Quyrash, was his protector although he was not himself a Muslim.

Muhammad’s early preaching consisted of sermons against polytheism and concerning the future events of resurrection and judgement.
                                “And of His signs
                are the night and the day, the sun and the moon.
                Bow not yourselves to the sun and the moon,
                But bow yourselves to God who creaed them
                                If Him you serve.”  (Sura 41:37)

                A year after Muhammad’s wife Khadijah, died (619 AD), Muhammad received a vision.  He dreamed that he travelled to Jerusalem in one night and from there he ascended into heaven where he saw Allah and many prophets.  Tradition states that when before Allah, he received the word that Muslims were supposed to pray fifty times a day.  On leaving Allah’s chamber, Moses asked Muhammad how many times he was to pray daily.  On learning this, Moses sent Muhammad back to Allah again and again to reduce the amount.  Moses continued to send Muhammad back until it was reduced to five times daily and even then he would have sent Muhammad back.  But Muhammad said, “I have returned unto my Lord and asked him until I am ashamed.  I will not go again.”  The announcement of the vision only increased the hostility of the Quraysh against the Muslims.

                Soon after this, Muhammad’s protector died.  At this point Muhammad began receiving serious threats against his life.  Knowing that these threats would soon turn into attempts, Muhammad decided that he would have to soon leave his beloved city.  Yet he had no place where he could go.

Prince of Lesser Darkness

Satan's Coffee
Sura 38 begins with the denial of Muhammad and his message by the Arabic pagans of Muhammad's day.  It continues speaking of God's judgment on them for their refusal to believe... which is a pretty common theme in the Quran.  What I find most interesting in the Sura is the discussion of Satan from verses 71 through 85.

The story goes like this:

God made humanity to rule the earth and required that all the angels of heaven bow to Man to recognize his rule over the angels.  All the angels obeyed except for Iblis (Satan) who claimed that his nature was superior to humanity, as created from fire instead of clay.  God then rebuked Satan, and proclaimed his ultimate judgment, but God would withhold such judgment until a later time.  Iblis then responded, "Give me some time to prove the inadequate nature of humanity.  I will prove them to be weak and unworthy of ruling Your creation."  God agreed that Iblis had the right to prove his case.  He said, "Hell is fitting for your, for your disobedience.  But all those humans who follow you and your ways I will put them in hell as well."

This isn't the story of Satan told by the Bible, but it fits.
Book of Job

The Bible's story of Satan shows that Satan was humanity's enemy from the beginning, being the trigger for Adam and Eve's downfall.  Satan is "the god of this world" and most of humanity follows Satan through pagan ritual.  But Satan can approach God, condemning and accusing certain humans, especially those who are pleasing to God.  Satan tempts them and tries to get them to fall away from God, causing God to be forced to judge those who are pleasing to Him.

Christian theology of Satan is pretty different from the Quran, but it is different from the Bible as well.

Christian theology claims that Satan was the greatest of angels, but he rebelled against God, taking up arms against Him.  God defeated Satan with his hosts, but Satan and half of his angels fell from heaven and were declared unworthy of God.  This was supposed to happen at the beginning of the world, before humanity was created.  But if this is the case, then how is Satan in the garden and in the presence of God after humanity is created?

The problem comes in the interpretation of Revelation 12, which describes the war between Michael and Satan.  A close reading of that passage in the context of Revelation indicates that it takes place after the ascension of Jesus.  This really changes how one sees Satan working in the world.

Some say that Satan is an extension of Zoroastrianism, where there are two equal beings at war with each other.  However, a careful read of the Bible shows that the theology of Satan comes from pagan sources, where Satan is the equivalent of Zeus, Baal and Marduk, who declares himself ruler after fighting against his father, El, the creator of earth and humanity.  "Satan" is not a name, but a title which means "accuser".  "Devil" is also not a name, but is an insult "the devil".  "Beelzebub" is also an insult, "lord of the flies" which comes from a specific name for Baal, the Canaanite high god.

The theology of Satan is not a theological necessity to  place blame for evil on someone else.  Rather, it is to put pagan theology in its place.  To say that there is only one Most High God and that is the Creator.  You might call Zeus and Baal god, but they are nothing compared to Yahweh, the Lord of all the universe, including your so called gods.


In Christian theology, the theology of the Bible is called bibliology.  Some call the theology and study of the Quran, the Islamic holy book, quranology.

In orthodox Islam, the Quran is an eternal book, written from the foundation of the world, and then revealed, word-for-word to prophets.  It has never changed and is an eternal word for the ages.

However, if you read the Quran, it seems clear that it isn't an "eternal book" at all.  Rather, it was given to a particular people in a particular place and to read the Quran isn't to read an eternal volume for every time and place, written before the foundation of the earth.  This doesn't mean the Quran doesn't have eternal principles that one could glean from it.  But it is not for everyone.

Let's take Sura 54 as an example.

1. Arabic
Orthodox Quran students declare that the Quran isn't properly understood outside of it's original language, Arabic.  I think that there is a strong case to be made for that, as the poetry and tone of the book cannot be grasped in any other language than the original.  However, this also points to its cultural and linguistic limitations.  Arabic was, for a time, used as a kind of lingua franca amidst the Middle East and North Africa for a historic period of time, but it was never a majority language, even in the Muslim world's most extended empire.  And can it really be said that Arabic is the language before the foundation of the world?  There was a form of Arabic before Muhammad and a form of Arabic after, and the Quran is written in one form of Arabic.  But can we really expect Moses, Jesus and David to have spoken Arabic, or spoken to the people in a language they could not have known?
Sura 54 begins with a discussion about the splitting of the moon

2. Stories
The Quran makes reference to many stories also found in the many books that make up the Bible.  Sura 54 mentions Pharoah of Moses' time, Noah, and Sodom's destruction.  But it also makes mention of stories that only the people of Muhammad and those after him would know, like the 'Ad people.  Would Noah or Moses have spoken of events that would not have occurred yet?  Would Jesus have spoken a reference to an event that is not known among his people?  Or worse, would they have spoken of prophets that did not yet exist-- would Noah have spoken of Moses?

This is not a problem with the Quran, but with the theology that has developed about the Quran.  And I must admit that there are such problems about theologies that have developed around the Torah and the Bible.  Some insist on the Bible's truth to such a degree that they deny truth that has been proven without question, even if the Bible isn't explicit about the subject.  Some speak of the Torah as being eternal, denying it's proper place in the history of humanity.
"I speak for myself!"

As in almost all literature, we need to allow books to speak for themselves.  A clear, lightly critical read of a book, any book, whether holy or mundane, will often give us an idea of what the book claims for itself.  The Bible is clearly not a single volume, but a collection of many books, many of them not written by a single individual, but a collected volume of many documents.  The Torah-- whether of Moses or Rabbis-- are collections of ancient wisdom, some of which is contradictory.  And the Quran is a collection of beautiful religious poetry written by and for Arabs of the seventh century AD.

That is not denying any of the eternal truths found in any of these books.  To say that Surah 54 was written for a particular people in a particular place does not deny the eternal truth of coming judgment.  All I am saying is that we "people of the book" need to take care that we do not put our holy volumes, written, compiled and transcribed by limited humans, above God who truly is eternal and unchanging.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Why Easter? Six Reasons for Jesus' Resurrection

"Easter" can be a pretty controversial word.  Even the root of the word is debatable.  Some scholars say it is rooted in the goddess "Ishtar", who had a spring fertility celebration.  Some say that it is rooted in the old English word for "dawn", which is when Jesus' resurrection took place.  We can choose which Easter to celebrate: the fertility celebration filled with eggs and rabbits, or the resurrection of Jesus.

Even when we talk about Jesus' resurrection, there is a lot of debate.  Was he resurrected "historically" or "spiritually"?  Is it just a story that the disciples passed on (which would be impressive, for they were killed for that story)?

No matter how we look at Easter, the point of Jesus' resurrection is often lost in the debates.  Let's get back to the meaning of Jesus' resurrection, as found in the New Testament.  There are a few reasons for Jesus' resurrection, all tied together into one story of justice:

Why was Jesus resurrected from the dead?

1. To grant him justice
Jesus was executed unjustly.  He was declared a blasphemer for presenting himself as the Christ, as greater than the High Priest, and as a threat to the temple.  Jesus truly IS the Christ, he really was greater than the High Priest and he was no threat to the temple.  Jesus, in the midst of execution, presented his case to the highest appeal court possible: The Lord, the highest Judge over the earth.  God the Father took the proper legal requirement: as other judges, he declared his response to the appeal on the third day (e.g. I Kings 12:12).  On that auspicious third day, God declared Jesus innocent of all charges, and he overturned the sentence of the Jewish court.

2. To show God’s rejection of the human court
Jesus, an innocent man, was declared worthy of death by the priests, by the Sanhedrin, by the political ruler (Herod).  Although he was declared innocent by the Romans, he was still handed over by them for execution.  In resurrecting Jesus, God declares that all these entities were unjust and so not worthy of existing.  To kill an innocent man curses the ground, and causes systems of justice to be overturned (Deut. 19:10; II Kings 24:3-4; Psalm 82).  After a fair period of opportunity for these systems to repent of their injustice, God overturned them.  Herod was killed by worms, the priests and Sanhedrin were destroyed.  Only the Romans survived, although their system of empire was radically changed and they no longer were able to expand.

3. To make Jesus Lord of the earth
God’s basic principle of power is this: “The one who exalts himself will be humbled and the one who humbles himself will be exalted”   (I Sam. 2:4-9; Isaiah 53; Luke 1:51-54; Luke 14:11).  Not only did the rulers show themselves to be evil, but Jesus showed himself to be righteous by allowing himself to be humbled beyond all other beings.  He was with God in heaven, became human and then as an innocent, he allowed himself to be killed as a rebel against God and God’s people.  Because of his extreme humiliation, God declared him through the resurrection, to be Lord of heaven and earth. (Phil. 2:4-11)

4. To establish the Kingdom of God
God had promised that the reign of David’s line would last forever, and God’s kingdom was completely tied into David’s descendants (II Sam 7:12-16).  The problem was finding a descendent of David who was worthy of such rule.  God chose Jesus, the Son of David, as the one who is worthy to rule over humanity.  Jesus was found to be the manifestation of wisdom and justice, judging only those who unjustly judge, and granting mercy to all the weak and innocent and forgiveness to all the repentant.  God established this system as His kingdom by having Jesus resurrected into a “spiritual” body that would never die, thus establishing His rule forever.

5. To help humanity escape judgment
While under systems of injustice, the people of the world enact injustice.  Because we are told to kill, we destroy the innocent and thus have innocent blood on our hands.  We are told to judge the weak, and so we are guilty of harming those we should have compassion for.  We are participants in systems of hatred, unrighteous judgment and destroyers of the weak and poor—all of which will be judged and destroyed by God.  Jesus’ resurrection shows that there is another kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy in the power of the Holy Spirit that we can join at any time.  This kingdom is not limited by physical space, and so we have the opportunity to immigrate to it in any place, at any time, and if we do, then we escape God’s wrath that is upon the nations.

6. To establish resurrection for God’s people
Jesus was not resurrected as God.  He was not resurrected as a superior spiritual being.  Rather, he was resurrected as an innocent man, living out justice who had been unfairly judged.  Even so, if we wish to be resurrected, we need to live as Jesus did:

Innocent before God.  Although we have sinned, Jesus told us that immigrating into his kingdom and repenting from our sin makes us acceptable before God. (Mark 1:15; Luke 15)

Establishing justice.  We need to provide mercy for the needy, forgiveness for the outcast, and declare the principles of God’s justice to all.  (John 13:13-16)

Persecuted unjustly.  If we live consistently to principles of God’s justice, we will run afoul of the systems of injustice, and so be declared guilty by them although we are innocent.  This doesn’t have to happen through the courts, but we must allow ourselves to be humiliated if we wish to be risen. (Mark 8:34-38)

This is the gospel—good news to the poor, persecuted and outcast.  This is the way of Jesus that we can take on ourselves. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Why is Good Friday Good? A Scriptural Guide

Through Jesus’ death…

...God overcame evil rulers—Mark 12:1-11

And Jesus began to speak to them in parables: "A man PLANTED A VINEYARD AND PUT A WALL AROUND IT, AND DUG A VAT UNDER THE WINE PRESS AND BUILT A TOWER, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. At the harvest time he sent a slave to the vine-growers, in order to receive some of the produce of the vineyard from the vine-growers. They took him, and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent them another slave, and they wounded him in the head, and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and that one they killed; and so with many others, beating some and killing others. He had one more to send, a beloved son; he sent him last of all to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' But those vine-growers said to one another, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours!' They took him, and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vine-growers, and will give the vineyard to others. Have you not even read this Scripture: 'THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone; THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES '?"

...Jesus was vindicated by God through resurrection—Acts 2:22-24

Peter said, "Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know-- this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.”

...We have been reconciled with God—Romans 5:6-11

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

...We were delivered from death—Hebrews 2:9-10, 14-15

Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings… Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.

...Our Sin was vanquished—  II Corinthians 5:21; Romans 6:1-11

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;  for he who has died is freed from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

...Satan was defeated—Colossians 2:13-15; Revelation 12:6-12

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.

And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron; and her child was caught up to God and to His throne. And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. The dragon and his angels waged war, and they were not strong enough, and there was no longer a place found for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, "Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. For this reason, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them.”

...We are reconciled with each other—Ephesians 2:13-19

But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR;  for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household.

Jesus didn't die because suffering is good.  He died so that we might all gain the ultimate benefit.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ultimate Justice

Sura 86, The Morning Star, describes the day of judgment:

The Day that (all) things secret will be tested,
(Man) will have no power, and no helper.
By the Firmament which returns (in its round),
And by the Earth which opens out (for the gushing of springs or the sprouting of vegetation),-
Behold this is the Word that distinguishes (Good from Evil):
It is not a thing for amusement.
As for them, they are but plotting a scheme,
And I am planning a scheme.
Therefore grant a delay to the Unbelievers: Give respite to them gently (for awhile).

Every secret will be revealed, it says, everything that everyone has wanted to be kept hidden.  All that is done, good or evil, will be revealed, and shown for what it really is.  The Good will be declared good and the Evil will be declared evil, without excuse.  This is something, the Quran says, to be feared, not taken lightly, for true life and true comfort and true punishment occurs after the day of judgment.

The skeptic scoffs at this.  "What proof do you have for a day of judgment?  And can't people accomplish the good without judgment?  There is no need for such a thing."

In every system of human thought, however you read it, there must be a form of ultimate justice.  In Hindu thought, this is accomplished through karma, the law of the universe in which every living individual is given what they objectively deserve in the next life what they accomplished in this one.  Most justice systems see themselves as the final right in objectivity and giving criminals what they deserve.  We need this in order to function well.  We need to know that justice will be done-- in this life or the next-- or else we will live in despair every time an injustice is done.  If injustice isn't righted, either now or later, then what use is any action?

Humans must believe that justice will happen.  Modern secularists see justice done through democracies.  In the natural rhythm of democratic societies, justice comes about.

Really?  Is that really true?  Tell that to the African slave, kidnapped and sold to "democratic" societies.  Sure, perhaps a limited sort of justice was accomplished over centuries, but only after the deaths of millions.  And millions of  those who suffered in slavery didn't see justice, ever.  Where is their justice?

What about the millions of natives in many lands, killed, enslaved or abused, stolen from and moved from their lands?  Are they, even now, getting justice?  Will they ever get justice?   

What about the victims of genocide in democratic lands (remember that the Nazi party was democratically elected).   Perhaps we say that we have gotten past such evils and are now able to accomplish justice better than ever.  Tell that to the homeless, who are told by cities that they are criminals because they don't have homes, and then the churches who want to help them are told that they can't because they don't have a sprinkler system. 

I am sorry.  No matter how you look at it, no matter what humanity accomplishes, justice isn't to be found on earth.  Not in our lives.  This doesn't mean we don't work toward it.  It doesn't mean we give up  on justice.  But please don't tell me that we can accomplish this.  Our prejudices and ignorance is just too deep.

If we recognize this, we are on the edge of despair.  

And so is the woman forced to watch her children starve because she lives in Southern Sudan or Uganda.  So is the man falsely accused of raping a child and is sent to prison for the rest of his life.  So is the child who is abused but no one knows, and no one will know. 

God gives us an answer.  He tells us that, yes, there is injustice now.  It is evil and, try as we might, it will continue.  Children will continue to go hungry, the innocent will continue to be falsely accused, the good will continue to be hurt and those who harm others will continue to live satisfied, even successful lives.  

But this will not continue forever.  God will finally get fed up with the injustice and stop it.  And every single person-- good and evil-- will stand before their Judge and receive a verdict.  God is just and merciful.  He sees all and will take into account all extenuating circumstances. But all who have had to live with injustice will be justified.  Those who hunger and thirst for justice will be satisfied, even as the unjust who are satisfied now will be punished.

Perhaps you just can't accept this, you don't believe it.  That's fine.  Deal with despair your own way.  But two things:

-Don't deny us our comfort given to us from God.  Our anger is only pacified by a God who accomplishes justice patiently and mercifully.

-Don't use your disbelief as an opportunity to harm others.  Look at all you do, and see how what you do effects others.  If you live a life of harm, of hurting those who needed mercy, then you WILL get your day of justice.  You will.  If you think harming others is just something you must do to live your life, then live in fear, great fear.  For the tables will be turned.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Intellectualism, Religion and Happiness

(Based on Sura 80 "He Frowned")

Muhammad was quite unhappy.  He was doing his usual poetry reciting when an intellectual interrupted him.  Now, mind you, Muhammad wasn't much of an intellectual.  Tradition says that before God spoke to him, he couldn't even read.

For most intellectuals, that is enough to dismiss a man.  There are so many books, so many arguments, so many  interpretations, so many details.  All of this is essential to the intellectual.  They have to discuss every iota of every atom.  Everything must be analyzed.  And if one doesn't have the capacity to know the analysis of the last thousand years, that person need not be paid attention to-- nay, they must be dismissed.

Nevertheless, Muhammad knew a thing or two, despite his lack of book knowledge.  He knew that life, as complicated as it is, is better approached with simplicity.   He says there are only a couple things that are most necessary to remember:

1. God made us all and provides for all our needs.  If we remember and acknowledge God's constant action in our lives, we will remember to live lives of gratitude and contentment.  And even the intellectuals have to admit that the studies show that those who are grateful and content with what they have live happier lives. Summary of science on happiness and gratitude.

2. God will judge us for our actions.  Our future can't be seen intellectually by anyone, but our future is dependent on our present.  What we do now effects our life in the future.  And our future after we live, for all eternity, is dependent on how we live now.  If we live for God, do good to all, then we will live in happiness for all eternity.  This cannot be analyzed, but it has been communicated by God again and again by all of His prophets and teachers.  And even the intellectuals admit that being moral and compassionate beings happiness. Study on altruism and happiness.

Religion and intellectualism CAN meet!