Ascension: Our Glory & the Bible’s Hinge


jesus-christ-ascension-iconToday in the Christian Church Calendar is Ascension Day, where we celebrate Christ ascending into heaven after his resurrection and now sitting at “the right hand of God the Father.”

The Useless Ascension

“Ascension” doesn’t get a lot of attention nowadays in the Church. This, in spite of the fact that it’s an essential part of all the Church’s earliest doctrinal formulations. Additionally, the New Testament sees it as the primary proof of Jesus’ divinity and “lordship” and it’s the subject of the most-quoted Old Testament verse in the New Testament: “The Lord says to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.'” (Remember this verse.)

Maybe we neglect this because the Ascension isn’t really a “doctrine”–it’s an “event” and a “declaration”; and we western Christians love our systematic “doctrines” that we can pick apart ad nauseam and/or figure out how we can “apply it to our lives” in such a way that we can feel like we’re “good Christians.” But honestly, the Ascension isn’t “useful” to us in that way. There’s not much we can “do” with it.

Which is precisely why it’s so valuable. More than many other aspects of the Gospel and Christianity, the Ascension isn’t an “idea” to mull or unpack, but rather “news” to receive and let it act on us.
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Ascension: Our glory & the Bible’s hinge


jesus-christ-ascension-iconYesterday in the Christian church calendar was Ascension Day, the day we celebrate Christ ascending into heaven 40 days after his resurrection and now sits at “the right hand of God the Father.”

The Useless Ascension

The idea of “Ascension” doesn’t seem to get a lot of play nowadays in the Church. This, in spite of the fact that it is an essential part of all the Church’s earliest doctrinal formulations, and the subject of the most-quoted Old Testament verse in the New Testament:

The Lord says to my lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.”

Compared to other, non-creedal things like Hell, homosexuality, and “attacks on biblical authority”, the Ascension isn’t really talked about. Maybe this is because the Ascension isn’t really a “doctrine”–it’s an “event” and a “declaration”.

And we western Christians love our systematic “doctrines” that we can pick apart as nauseam and/or figure out how we can “apply it to our lives” in such a way that we can feel like we’re “good Christians.” But honestly, the Ascension doesn’t have many direct applications for today.
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My Grandfather’s Passing (Hope in Death?)


peep-paul-dance-2Today is the sixth anniversary of my Grandfather’s death. I am reposting this reflection I wrote at the time.

This past Sunday, the day after Christmas, I watched my grandfather die. This is the first death I’ve experienced of someone very close to me. I’ve known people who had died, sure, but no one as close as this.

This man walked with me and I with him for my entire life. I sat on his knee and was tickled by his hands. I grew up hearing legends about him, and I walked in a general sense of awe and disbelief when in his presence.

His name was (is?) Lester Travis Williamson, or as I knew him for most my life: Peep (a mispronunciation due to the first grandchild’s toddler lisp).

Peep represented for me a tenacity and determinedness of love that great stories of tragedy and triumph are built upon. As their old pastor said during the funeral, he was a man that if you asked for a crumb would give you the entire loaf and then chase you out the door to give you another loaf for the road.

But this is not to be confused with the contemporary pictures of the sentimental, gratuitously giving man–cheerful, talkative, jocular, and always-optimistic. If Peep was anything, he was the quintessential man of his generation–America’s vision of a “real man”–quiet, determined, and strong. He spoke with intention in every syllable, meaning what he said and saying what he meant.

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A Theology of Clean Water, Christmas, & Advent


Tomorrow is my 31st birthday, and instead of any gifts or Facebook Wall well-wishes, I’m asking people to give $31 on my campaign page at Charity: Water to give access to clean water to those in developing country.

But it is also Advent and Christmas season, giving an even deeper and fuller reason to give, especially if you would call yourself a Christian.

Yes, as Christians we ought to care about the pain and suffering of the world no matter what chapter and verse we can cite on a particular issue. But water, however, is uniquely theological and full of meaning.

A Theology of Water & Advent

Water is an essential and mystical part of the Christian story and message, giving us unique motivations and resources for addressing the issue of clean water. The Israel story begins with God creating the world out of the murky depths. The Israelite people are set free from bondage to a prince of death and find their redemption by passing through a Red Sea, which would have held certain death and return to bondage; they enter the Promised Land in a similar fashion. God promises to sprinkle clean his people with the waters of redemption. It is by more than one water well that Patriarchs find their wives and Christ finds a woman in need of redemption. It is in the world to come that the Tree of Life is seen once more, and a River of Life flows from its roots offering life and salvation to all who drink.

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A Prayer for Election Day


O Lord our truest Ruler and King, many words have been said these past months leading to this election day. Far too many of these words have been hurtful, fearful, divisive, angry, and anxious. Being able to see our nation’s policies so tangibly, it is far too easy to equate this nation with your Kingdom, and so act as if this election were of supreme eternal importance.

Lord, forgive us, we pray.

Bless the leaders of our land–those currently in office and those elected today–that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth. Let this be the conviction of every leader as they model for us, however imperfectly, political relations amongst both their fellow countrymen and citizens of the world. Continue reading

Terror, Rage, Hope & Christmas Lights


Flickr-Advent-Candles-rabasz

This Advent, we’re meditating on the idea of Hope by looking at quotes from Christians and talking about what they might say about our Advent Hope.

“It is precisely because the Christian hopes for the ultimate and definitive, that she also hopes for the temporal and provisional. Precisely because she hopes with joy for the dawn of the great light, that she hopes with provisional joy for the little lights, which may come and go, but which will not come and go in vain.

These little lights act as temporary illuminations that can help the Christian to look and move more properly towards that which they can only point to, but which in their proper time and place can in fact actually represent to us!

Because the Christian hopes for the Last Day, for the eternal year, he hopes for the next day and the new year, from which, whatever they may bring, he can always expect at least new indications of the coming of Jesus Christ.”

–Karl Barth, Church DogmaticsIV.3.2, p.938 (edited for clarity)

Read those words again. Slowly. We need these words, especially this year. As predators of consumerism, terrorism, pseudo-fascism, jingoism, escapism, and liberal idealism lie in wait to consume our souls, we need a light in the darkness. We need something to hold on to.

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Ascension: Our glory & the Bible’s hinge


jesus-christ-ascension-iconToday in the Christian church calendar is Ascension Day, the day we celebrate Christ ascending into heaven 40 days after his resurrection and now sits at “the right hand of God the Father.” (You can read a prayer and poem I posted earlier for this Holy Day)

The Useless Ascension

The idea of “Ascension” doesn’t seem to get a lot of play nowadays in the Church. This, in spite of the fact that it is an essential part of all the Church’s earliest doctrinal formulations, and the subject of the most-quoted Old Testament verse in the New Testament:

The Lord says to my lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.”

Compared to other, non-creedal things like Hell, homosexuality, and “attacks on biblical authority”, the Ascension isn’t really talked about. Maybe this is because the Ascension isn’t really a “doctrine”–it’s an “event” and a “declaration”.

And we western Christians love our systematic “doctrines” that we can pick apart as nauseam and/or figure out how we can “apply it to our lives” in such a way that we can feel like we’re “good Christians.” But honestly, the Ascension doesn’t have many direct applications for today.
Continue reading

No, ISIS has nothing to do with the end of the world. Please stop saying that.


isis-flag-iraq

It’s been a long time since I’ve been immersed in Southern Evangelicalism where a certain brand of interpreting world events looms large. I grew up in the Bible Belt, where Saddam Hussein, Desert Storm, the fall of the USSR, the growing rise of Israeli nationalism, and “slipping societal morals” were all “signs” of the “end times” or “the last days”. I sat through youth group meetings where our senior pastor would talk about how the book of Daniel had coded prophecies about nuclear weapons in space.

(Being in high school, I saw no problem with him making that argument by saying that the book’s “original language” uses the Greek word dynamos from which we get the word “dynamite”; it was only later that it clicked for me that Daniel is written in Hebrew and Aramaic, not Greek.)

Moving to the Northeast, the bastion of mainline Christianity; and attending two different seminaries from traditions very different from this prophecy-interpreting one, I was under the false impression that this whole game of interpreting current events in apocalyptic ways was rightly losing steam.

But then, this past week, the tragedy of ISIS (or the so-called “Islamic State”) beheading 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians happened. I first found out on Facebook, when I saw a procession of ancient Christian articulations of mourning filling my news feed. “Come, Lord, Jesus.” “Lord, have mercy.” “Kyrie Eleison.” I, myself speechless, decided also to lean heavily on old words from our Christian family to find comfort and express lament.

Not everyone went this way, though. After these initial responses, my Facebook and Twitter feeds began to fill with phrases and out-of-context Bible verses that I hadn’t seen in years. People were posting blog posts and verses all of which were trying to say that these deaths amounted to some unique act of “global Christian persecution” that was somehow emblematic of the world’s “last days” or “end times”.

Today I’d like to offer a seven reasons why this is wrong-headed and unhelpful:
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Death & Life; Names & Vows | Genesis 3.20-21


The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living. And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.
Genesis 3.20-21

I don’t know why I’ve never noticed this before. Why does Adam only name Eve after they sin? Further, of all the things to do after receiving the curse from God, he does this covenantal, marital act: he gives her a name.

I know this isn’t in this text, nor was it on the mind of the original writer, but it reminds me of the odd line in Revelation where God promises to give each person a new name that only He and they will know.

It seems that in the whole sweep of redemptive history, the Bride of the first Adam received a new name when he brought death, just as the Bride of the second Adam receives a new name when he brings life.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Donald Miller is just plain wrong about church. But it’s not his fault.


donald-miller-bw-1

Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz, started a little kerfuffle last week when he wrote about how he doesn’t really go to church any more. He doesn’t learn much about God through sermons, and he doesn’t connect with God through songs. Church just doesn’t connect with him in any way and doesn’t fit within his own learning style, which is far more participatory. He says the Church is all around us and in believers so he feels free to “have church” in the way(s) that most connect him to God and others.

Well, this caused quite the backlash. He wrote again a couple of days ago in response, but it seems that most people still really disagree with him.

But here’s the problem: Donald Miller is absolutely right in everything he says if he still insists on calling himself an “Evangelical”, or at least using that as his frame of reference.

If you consider yourself an Evangelical in any traditional sense, and you’re looking at Donald Miller’s church practices with dismay, well then welcome to your future–the logical conclusion of your theology and how you’ve practiced church for a few generations now.
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Advent & Hoping for God to be With Us


icon-Nativity-christmasThis is the meditation I wrote that appeared in this weekend’s reading and reflection in Liberti Church’s Advent 2013 Prayerbook, which can be downloaded for free.

The Reading:

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.

If you’ve been keeping up with this Prayerbook (or any Advent guide), then congratulations! I hope it’s spoken to you and you have experienced God in its readings and meditations.

That being said, you might be wondering: why is this Prayerbook continuing after Christmas Day?

It was only a couple of years ago I found out that in the Church Calendar, Christmas is not just a day—it’s an entire season! Advent Season leads into Christmas Season. Why is this? Advent has a similar relationship to Christmas that Lent does to Easter: it’s meant to be the time of reflection, preparation, and repentance that prepares us for the unbridled, no limits, over-the-top celebration and joy of Christmas. Our spiritual ancestors knew that celebration takes time and preparation. That’s what Advent has been.

But now we’re in the Christmas Season—the time of complete unfettered celebration. But why?
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A Biblical Critical Advent: Luke’s Cosmic Christmas


Charles-le-Brun-Adoration-of-ShepherdsFor Advent this year, I wanted to put up a few posts looking at Matthew and Luke’s Nativity stories as they were meant to be read: as two separate stories with their own purposes and themes. We often just mush them together, and I think we lose something in that process. Last week, we sat with Matthew’s Nativity story. Today, we turn to Luke’s Christmas.

Matthew’s Nativity focuses on how Christmas plays right into Israel’s own story; how this is exactly how the Jewish Messiah should be expected to have come into the world. Luke’s Gospel, on the other hand, emphasizes Jesus’ significance to the entire world, all parts of society, and the entire cosmic order.

In other words, Jesus’ mission in Luke is much larger than simply Israel. These and other Lukan themes are brought out quite strongly and explicitly in his Nativity narratives. Today we’ll see how he does this through signs of the universal mission of Jesus, the story’s emphasis on the lowly and powerless, and his stories of Spirit-filled joy.

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Advent & Longing for Home


Sandorfi-MadeleineThis is the meditation I wrote that appears in a reading and reflection in Liberti Church’s Advent 2013 Prayerbook, which can be downloaded for free.

There is an incredibly profound way in which we don’t feel at Home in our own humanity.

Too often, Christians see their own personal spiritual growth as a loss, a lessening, or an abandoning of their own humanity. This can lead us to subtly use people and things to try and find our soul’s Home. And so we awake to find anxiety, manipulation, doubt, guilt, and self-loathing ruling and reigning so many parts of our lives and relationships. (Am I alone in this?)

We can sometimes think of Christianity as a process of our souls leaving the “Home” of their weakened humanity and finding a “new, spiritual Home” in Jesus. The logic goes that you were originally one way, then Jesus “saved” you, and now you are able (and are commanded) to be something else, now that you are His.

But Advent radically flies in the face of this.
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A Biblical Critical Advent: Matthew’s Old Testament Christmas


root-jesse-matthew-icon

For Advent this year, I wanted to put up a few posts looking at Matthew and Luke’s Nativity stories as they weren’t meant to be read: as two separate stories with their own purposes and themes. We often just mush them together, and I think we lose something in that process. Today, we look at Matthew’s Christmas Story.

It’s well-known that the Gospel of Matthew portrays Jesus as the fulfillment of Jewish messianic expectations. But the path Matthew takes in doing this moves against the way most messianic expectations played themselves out at time. Matthew recalibrates these expectations to show how even in Jesus’ infancy and birth, his “Messiah-ness” includes a retelling of Israel’s own history, both good and bad.

You can see this especially clearly in the way Matthew crafts his version of the Nativity story. Today, we’ll look at three particular aspects of this story that show his unique thematic and purposeful crafting of the birth story: his use of people and names, geography, and the fulfillment of the Old Testament.
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Advent & Hoping for Justice


Massacre-of-innocentsThis is the meditation I wrote that appears in today’s reading and reflection in Liberti Church’s Advent 2013 Prayerbook, which can be downloaded for free.

First, a question.

Think back on the Christmas story. After Jesus is born, when he’s about three-years old, King Herod puts out a decree calling for the death of all infants, trying to kill Jesus. An angel comes to Joseph in a dream and tells him to flee to Egypt to prevent Jesus from dying in this slaughter.

Here’s the question: why flee to Egypt?

If they stayed and Herod killed the child Jesus, wouldn’t that still be the Son of God dying unjustly at the hands of a Roman provincial governor? Why go to all that effort to wait 30 years later for the same thing to happen on a cross?
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