Archive of ‘Theology’ category

The Meaning of the Cross

Picture from liftjesuscross.com

Picture from liftjesuscross.com

Did you know that, more in the place and time that Jesus of Nazareth lived, it was actually very common for someone to come forth every few years, claim that he was the Messiah, gain a huge following, and then be crucified for his message? This chain of events is not unique to Jesus. In fact, there is an incident in the book of Acts that alludes to this historical fact. Peter and other apostles are called before the Sanhedrin (the full assembly of the elders of Israel) because they have been preaching the gospel, the message that “The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead–whom you have killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those whom obey him” (Acts 5:30-32). The Pharisees are furious when they hear Peter say these things and want to kill him and the apostles. But one Pharisee, named Gamaliel, stands up and addresses the Sanhedrin, saying this:

Some time ago, Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He, too, was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God. ~Acts 5:36-39

Jesus, the leader of an entire movement, had died. He was crucified on the Cross. And yet his movement did not die out, as was the pattern of the day. It grew to even larger numbers and greater strength than it had when he was alive. And two thousand years later, the message of Jesus Christ is still spread and embraced around the world. Miraculous works are still being done in His name. Lives are still being transformed. What Peter wrote to the first century church still holds true today: Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy -1 Peter 8.

How is this possible?

I would propose a few things. First of all, that Jesus Christ truly is the Word who became flesh, God who, out of his immense love for creation, humbled himself and came to live on earth. Second, that on the third day, He did rise again and that His resurrection was witnessed by many. Third, that He did ascend to Heaven and is seated on the throne, constantly working to bring restoration to this world and His creation now. And this whole chain of events starts with the Cross.

The Cross is, I submit, the most powerful moment of all history because of what happened in the spiritual realm as Jesus died. I believe that effects of that spiritual battle caused those who witnessed the crucifixion to realize that something greater was happening, signs that caused the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus to exclaim, “Surely he was the Son of God!” ~Matthew 27:54. But I also believe that most of what was happening on the Cross, the reason the Cross is seen as victory in the Christian faith, was not seen by the human eye.

The Cross and Jesus’ subsequent resurrection are the cornerstones of our faith, but if we do not understand them, or do not understand them well, we could be left with a skewed picture of God. In my next two posts, I will present the two most common understandings of the Cross, Penal Substitution and Christus Victor. I don’t think the Cross can be narrowed down to just one meaning or one explanation, and it will always be surrounded with a certain sense of mystery and wonder. However, I hope that by using Scripture, we can uncover more of the beauty and victory of the Cross and more of God’s character. The Cross was an ugly symbol of death that Jesus transformed into one of triumph because of his love for us. And that is an amazing thing.

I hope you stick around for these next two posts and we can discover the meaning of the Cross together.

Note: In my previous post, Selma and the Cross, I briefly discussed another perspective on the Cross, which I think is also very important. That perspective comes from Liberation Christology. Here is an excerpt from that post and, if you’re interested, I suggest you read the full post:

“The significance of Jesus’ crucifixion is deeper and more beautiful and mysterious than we can ever know, but I am confident that a part of its significance is to show that the Lord Jesus suffered and died in solidarity with the countless women and men who have, throughout history, been strung up on trees, been beaten and mocked, been scorned and objectified, been made to feel as though they are forsaken by God.”

Is God Enough For Us?

Is God Enough For Us? | He is Making Everything New

I am now accepting orders for this motivational poster ;)

Let’s imagine that you are the only person on earth–you are completely by yourself but you have perfect intimacy with God. You get to experience the incredible beauty of God’s creation while immersed in His constant, sick unhindered presence. Would that be enough for you? Would it be enough for any of us?

I used to think that the answer was an obvious yes–God is all we need to live a joyful, info content, rheumatologist and fulfilled life. If we had perfect intimacy with Him we would never feel lonely and we would never need anyone else. Our real issue is that we live in a fallen world and all this darkness and sin gets between us and God, but if we could live in a place without sin, we would only need God to complete us, to fill our souls. But I don’t believe that anymore.

That wasn’t what you were expecting, was it?

Here’s the thing–the Bible tells us that our hypothetical scenario was real. God created the heavens and the earth and he fashioned one human being, Adam, to live in the world He created. There was no sin in the Garden of Eden, nothing to keep Adam from God, and Genesis 3:8 seems to suggest that God was present in the Garden in a physical form. And yet, God said that it was not good for Adam to be alone. Alone? But how would he be alone if God was there? But he was alone–Adam needed the presence of another human being to fulfill him, to satisfy the longings of his soul, in addition to his relationship with God.

Some might argue that God created Eve not because Adam actually needed her to live a fulfilled life, but rather that God wanted more children to pour out his love on and so he made Eve so she and Adam could have children.

But that argument isn’t convincing to me. If we did not need the community of other humans, wouldn’t God just create an infinite number of gardens and create a beautiful individual to place in the middle of each one? Or wouldn’t He at least create a less intimate way to procreate? And if relationships and community didn’t really matter, why would God strip himself of heaven to come and be with us on earth? Because of our salvation, you say? Well then, couldn’t Jesus have been born and then killed a few hours after his birth? Why was it necessary for him to become friends with a close group of men and women and live life among God’s children?

I believe God placed the longing for heaven into each human heart because he knows that we will never be fully satisfied without him. He wants to give us the desires of our hearts (Psalm 37:4), but I also think he made us for community. He designed us in such a way that we need each other. Our families and friends and spouses and children are not some sort of substitute for God until the Lamb breaks the power of Satan and restores God’s creation–we need these relationships to really live.

Now, of course, we do live in a fallen world and Satan twists our relationships to hurt us. But, in spite of this, we still need each other. And when we’re living in the new heaven and new earth, we will still need each other.

I agree with C.S. Lewis that “if we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” If we are in tune with the deepest longings of our heart, we will find that we have a longing for a place we’ve never been but that we somehow remember. We have a longing for home. But I would submit that we also have a deep longing for real intimacy, vulnerability, and the experience to be truly seen and known by those around us. The desires of our heart really go hand in hand–our pursuit of God should deepen our pursuit of human beings. And our relationships with those around us, people created in the image of God, should lead us deeper in love with the Lord.

This has practical applications for our lives. If you’re trying to take yourself out of the world so you can be more connected with the Lord, you’re missing out on a beautiful part of life that God created for your delight–intimacy and community–and actually might cut yourself off from a deeper understanding of God that we can only get from living life with others. And if you’re trying to find your identity and purpose for life in those around you, you’re never going to be able to fill the deepest longings of your heart.

The Giver | Is Love Worth It?

the giver

Warning: Spoiler alert for The Giver

I, gynecologist like probably every other student in the U.S., hepatitis read The Giver in middle school. I really wasn’t a fan, this possibly partly because I didn’t like my English teacher, and so when the movie came out earlier this year I wasn’t super enthused to see it. But when I did see it, I was absolutely blown away. The movie made the book come alive in a really special and beautiful day.

The Giver is set in a dystopian society that has gotten rid of all potential causes for conflict such as sickness, lying, violence, and race. But along with that they have also gotten rid of emotions, biological families, music, art, color, sexual attraction, and love. The Giver is the only one in the society who has memories of the past and through these memories he experiences all the pain that used to exist in the world, but also experiences true joy and love. Jonas is a young man who is chosen to be the Receiver, to receive all the memories that the Giver has. As Jonas receives these memories, he experiences both the pain and beauty that used to exist in the world, which the community he’s grown up in has eradicated. At the end of the movie he decides to escape from the community and travel through the world of “Elsewhere” to cross the boundary of memory so that all the memories will return to the people of the community. Jonas decides that even though returning the memories will mean that people will have to experience immense pain, suffering, disease, and war, it’s worth it because they will also experience the astounding beauty of love.

The movie brings up poignant theological questions. I believe that we, along with angels and demons, have been given free will by God. This has created a world in which people do terrible things–there is murder, cancer, abuse, and rape. So why has God given us free will?  LOVE.  A world with free will is the only world in which there can be true love. And so the question is this: Is love worth it? Is the incredible beauty of love worth the pain and suffering we go through?

Some people would say no. But I agree with Jonas–love is inexplicably worth it. The warm hug of a parent, the feeling of holding your baby for the first time, your wedding day, being overwhelmed by the majesty of the world around you, crying at a beautiful song, feeling enveloped by the love of God, the power of forgiveness and healed and redeemed lives…it’s worth it.

As we fall more in love with Jesus, the more our heart breaks for what breaks his and the harder we fight against the powers of darkness. Because one day heaven will come to earth and there will be no more tears or dying or suffering because the old order of things will pass away. And He who is seated on the throne will say, “I am making everything new!” And we, empowered by the Holy Spirit, have the privilege and responsibility of living every day fervently calling the Kingdom of God to Earth.

And if you still don’t think love is worth it, watch The Giver and maybe you’ll be convinced.

What if we actually believed that we’re holy?

What if we actually believed that we're holy--He is Making Everything New

Last week I read something that was posted by Spiritual Ecology on Facebook. This is what it said:

The Babemba tribe of Africa believes that each human being comes into the world as good. Each one of us only desiring safety, disorder love, medic peace and happiness.

But sometimes, in the pursuit of these things, people make mistakes.

When a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he/she is placed in the center of the village, alone, unfettered. All work ceases. All gather around the accused individual. Then each person of every age, begins to talk out loud to the accused. One at a time, each person tells all the good things the one in the center ever did in his/her lifetime.
Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with any detail and accuracy, is recounted. All positive attributes, good deeds, strengths, and kindnesses are recited carefully and at length.
The tribal ceremony often lasts several days, not ceasing until everyone is drained of every positive comment that can be mustered. At the end, the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe. Necessity for such ceremonies is rare.

Isn’t that beautiful? It turns out that this story is most likely not true, but it still really stuck with me and I feel that we can learn a lot from it.

Most Christians have some sort of conception of original sin. Depending on one’s understanding, this can mean a few things. One understanding is that everyone who is born automatically shares Adam and Eve’s guilt for eating the fruit in the Garden of Eden. Therefore, when you become a Christian you are absolved of your guilt and avoid the punishment you deserved. Another understanding is that everyone is born into a fallen world and shares in the brokenness of this world, meaning that when you become a Christian, you receive healing of your brokenness. Or it could be some sort of nuanced combination of these two perspectives. I personally hold to the second view, but either way the end result is the same–a life free from sin.

Paul writes about this transformation constantly. Here are just some examples:

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. -2 Corinthians 5:21
God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. -Galatians 4:5, NLT
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” -Galatians 3:13
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. -Galatians 5:1
And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. -Romans 8:11

After we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, the Holy Spirit comes and dwells within us. We are transformed into sons and daughters of the living God, we become co-heirs with Christ, and we are set free from the curse of sin. But I think as Christians, we often completely forget this. 

Read what Paul writes in Colossians:

And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproachif indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister. – Colossians 1:21-23

Did you all catch that? You were FORMERLY alienated YET NOW you are HOLY and BLAMELESS and BEYOND REPROACH.

How many times have you been told by your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ that you are holy and blameless? How many times has that been taught on Sunday morning?

I think so many of us never make the switch of thinking of ourselves as holy, we continue to think about ourselves as sinners, alienated, hostile in mind, and engaged in evil deeds. And we forget the crucial words YET HE HAS NOW. You are not a sinner. You may sin but sinner is not your identity. Jesus did not disarm the powers and authorities by making a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross for you to continue to live out your identity as a sinner. You are a daughter. You are a son. You are equal to Christ (Rom 8:17). What if we really believed that?

That’s why I loved the story of the African tribe so much…Even if Christians don’t believe that we are born holy, Jesus makes clear that we are re-born into holiness. What if when one of our sisters or brothers in Christ sinned we didn’t think, “Well it’s inevitable that we sin because we’re sinners,” but instead gathered around them and reminded them of WHO THEY ARE, of their own HOLINESS through Christ Jesus our Lord?

I know in my life I’ve had a really hard time seeing myself as blameless and holy and pure in God’s eyes–Satan’s really good at convincing us otherwise. And this is precisely why in our communities we need to remind each other of who we actually are and call each other higher. Because the deepest reality is that you are HOLY. You are BLAMELESS. You are LOVED by the Most High who does not doubt your holiness.

Dear Sponsored Child

Dear Sponsored Child- How do we respond to World Vision's announcements??

The past two days have been a bit of an emotional roller coaster.

Yesterday, health care World Vision, purchase a very well-known and well respected Christian organization that is “dedicated to working with children, epilepsy families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice,” announced that they would no longer discriminate against married same-sex couples during their hiring process.

The president of World Vision, Richard Stearns, said, “We’re not caving to some kind of pressure. We’re not on some slippery slope. There is no lawsuit threatening us. There is no employee group lobbying us. This is not us compromising. It is us deferring to the authority of churches and denominations on theological issues. We’re an operational arm of the global church, we’re not a theological arm of the church. This is simply a decision about whether or not you are eligible for employment at World Vision U.S. based on this single issue, and nothing more.”

Many of you probably know that I am a big supporter of gay marriage and believe that there is a strong Biblical argument in support of gay relationships and marriages (I will be blogging in the near future about this issue, including reviews of the books Torn by Justin Lee and God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines, which is coming out in April). So for me, this announcement was really exciting. I knew that this announcement would be really hard for many evangelical Christians to handle and that many would be disappointed and upset. What I did not expect was that these Christians would stop sponsoring their children as a result of this announcement. World Vision reportedly lost at least 2,000 sponsors in one day. That means that 2,000 children are now left without financial support, leaving them without adequate food, clean water, health care, and education, and also without the emotional and spiritual support that the children gain from the relationship with their sponsor.

Evangelicals, you sent the message loud and clear. Your hatred for gay people triumphs over the command of Christ to serve the least of these. You will stop at nothing to continue this culture war over an issue that Jesus did not say one word about. You will not hesitate to tell your gay brothers and sisters in Christ that the idea of working alongside them to bring God’s kingdom to earth is despicable. To you, the very existence of gay people is enough to stop providing for a sweet child of God.

Many Christian leaders, such as Justin Taylor of the Gospel Coalition and Denny Burk, professor at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, made public statements against World Vision, announcing that they were ending their sponsorships. (Burk wrote a blog post talking about “The Collapse of Christianity at World Vision.” Seriously? The collapse?). The Assemblies of God denomination urged its members to drop financial support from World Vision.

And I sit here listening to Same Love by Macklemore.

“If you preach hate at the service those words aren’t annointed. That Holy water that you soak in has been poisoned.”

Today, World Vision decided to reverse their decision. 

There are many amazing people who decided to sponsor children yesterday in support of World Vision’s announcement and to cover the children who were being dropped. Many of these people are gay. Many aren’t even believers.

I am so touched and encouraged to see that many of the people who sponsored kids yesterday will continue to sponsor them because they know that these kids are real people. They matter. They have hopes and dreams. They have the potential to live full and vibrant lives, they just need a little support to help them get there. And don’t we all?

I don’t sponsor a child through World Vision (although I regularly donate to various causes they support) but I do sponsor a child through Compassion International. Her name is Fresiah. She is 19, just like me. She lives in a rural village in Kenya, a country where much of the population is infected by HIV/AIDS and few girls finish high school. She loves basketball, her favorite book of the Bible is Ruth, she writes her letters to me in almost perfect English, she prays for my family and tells me about her day-to-day life. I am waiting to hear the results of her final exams, but I’m confident she did great. She wants to be a policewoman after she finishes high school. She is so beautiful and smart. I am so blessed to be a small part of her life and the idea of her sponsorship ending when she graduates breaks my heart. She is my friend. And no theological disagreement could stop me from sponsoring her.

When did it become Christ-like to use children as pawns in political, social, and cultural wars?

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. -John 13:34-35

I can’t really put into words the depth of my sadness around this whole situation.

I want to honor Matthew Vines and his reaction to World Vision’s reversal. He shows a profound understanding of the love of Christ and God’s grace.

So I sit here with tears in my eyes and my hand over my tattoo. And I remember God’s promise.

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Write these words down for they are trustworthy and true. -Revelation 21:5

Amen. They are trustworthy and true. God is making everything new. He will make everything new.

I pray for the release of His Kingdom on Earth.

I pray for the Holy Spirit to enter into the hearts of all followers of Christ.

I pray that the Church would be marked by love.

I repent of the anger and judgement in my heart and I pray, Holy Spirit, that you would help me love my brothers and sisters in Christ.

I pray for all the children around the world who are struggling to survive. I pray protection over them in the name of Jesus. I pray for provision for them, both emotionally and physically. Lord Jesus I pray they would known your unending love for them.

And Jesus, I pray that every single gay person who has been hurt by the Church, who has been hurt in the past few days, would know that You affirm them and love them.

Amen.

Many bloggers have written beautiful posts in the past few days. I encourage you to read them:

When Evangelicals Turn Against Children to Spite Me by Benjamin Moberg

I’ve been sitting in a swell of sad for a couple hours, because this is what I’m hearing: No, you aren’t even worthy to serve hungry children. You are so deeply unwanted that I will let a child die if it keeps you away from me. From us. From the body of Christ. I will spare no life if it keeps you far away.

These Are Real Kids, You Know by Nish Weiseth

I understand you may not agree with their employment standards as a Christian organization, but you know what? There’s a lot that we’re not all going to agree onBut, I think we can agree on one thing: Children should not have to suffer under the weight of poverty. And we can agree that World Vision is helping release kids from poverty through sponsorships. We can agree that your sponsorship dollars are doing an incredible amount of good in the life of a real, honest-to-goodness child. Someone’s baby is getting fed, educated and cared for because you have been generous in your sponsorship of that child. 
Please, I’m begging you, don’t make someone’s baby a pawn in the ongoing culture wars of American evangelicalism. Keep sponsoring. Keep praying for that kid. Keep giving.
Please, I’m begging you.
Choose love.

World Vision by Rachel Held Evans

When Christians declare that they would rather withhold aid from people who need it than serve alongside gay and lesbian people helping to provide that aid, something’s very, very wrong. It might not be hate, but it is a nefarious sort of stigmatizing, and it’s wrong.
Finally, all this overdramatic “farewelling” over non-essential issues is getting tiresome. It’s shutting the door of the Kingdom in people’s faces. It’s tying up heavy burdens and placing them on people’s backs. It’s straining gnats and swallowing camels. It’s playing the gatekeeper with smug, self-righteous pride when it is God who decides who comes to the table, God who makes the guest list, God who opens the doors the Kingdom.

World Vision Update by Rachel Held Evans

A comment on this post:
“I sponsored a child because of their original decision. His name is also Daniel and he lives in the Dem Rep of the Congo, which co-incidentally, I am planning on traveling to in November (though I have no plans to see him.)
As a gay man, I am once again disappointed by the actions of some evangelical Christians. I have learned not to expect much from conservative Christianity and tend to give conservative Christians a wide berth. I want to reconcile. I am a graduate of Azusa Pacific University and remain a committed, Episcopalian, Christian. But I often feel like Charlie Brown when he tries to kick Lucy’s football when engaging evangelical Christians and this is no exception.
However, none of this is the the fault of the child I sponsored. I’m not going to unsponsor because they reversed their decision. It’s ultimately about the child’s welfare.”

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