Posts Tagged ‘Theology’

Growing in the Word

A sermon I was able to preach recently, connecting to 2 Timothy 3…


(Click to Listen – Will open a new tab.)

He “lives”?

“..songs affect what we think because of repetition – singing the same songs over a period of years embeds the message; and when music is added to the text, an emotional element is introduced that causes greater attachment to the message of the song.” (Constance Cherry, The Worship Architect, 2010)helives

The above statement carries all sorts of implications for the music we listen to, the music we encourage our kids to listen to, etc.  But here we are asking about the words that shape our theology and faith over time.  Modern songs get a pretty hefty (and often deserved) criticism at times for their vague or shallow theology.  But there are plenty of songs (I’m looking at you, “I’ll Fly Away”) that we love to sing, that we should also be careful to examine/balance with Biblical teaching/awareness.

Today I’m asking us to re-examine the words of a song most of us probably sang over the weekend.  “He Lives” (#220 if you’d rather not use the screen), is a classic hymn with some great reminders in it.  “I serve a risen Savior, He’s in the world today.”  What a hope-filled offer for us to live toward!  But on further review of the entire song, there’s something significant missing from it: a resurrected Jesus.

Let’s pretend you don’t have it memorized for a moment, and examine the chorus:

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today,
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart.

Yes! Amen.  I love it.  I sing it loudly, and I even hold out the final “LIIIIIIIIVES” until the lack of breath begins to turn my lungs inside out.  Yet the Jesus in this song is not the physically resurrected Jesus we celebrate visiting His disciples and revealing His scars.  I’m not saying Jesus couldn’t visit us physically, either recognizably or hiding his identity (both are seen in post-resurrection accounts).  But I’m saying when most of us sing this chorus (and the rest of the song), we’re probably actually referring to the SPIRIT of Jesus at best…and the idea of Jesus at worst.

Yes, I believe the “presence” of Jesus we have been given through the Holy Spirit, and a God who is omnipresent/immanuel is “God With Us”.   That means so much of the song still rings true.  But if we lift this song up as our primary “Easter Song”, we can miss something vital to our faith:

We believe Jesus was physically resurrected ahead of all things.  That all humanity who have died or will die, continue to wait for a full and coming revealing of God’s fullness at which point we will all share in the same physical and bodily resurrection.

He does not “walk with me and talk with me” the same way He walked and talked with the disciples who saw him after the resurrection. Why? Because he has physically gone to be with the Father, to a location many simply refer to as “Paradise” (using Luke 23:43).  A place where it seems both non-resurrected beings (like the thief), and resurrected beings (only Jesus, for now) can be together in God’s presence as we await the final return of Jesus.

The promise and hope of the resurrection isn’t that Jesus has returned spiritually to “be in our hearts”, and help us not feel lonely along the paths we walk.  That’s one of the blessings of the encourager He has given us (Holy Spirit).  But the promise and hope we receive as we celebrate the resurrected Jesus are found in 1 Corinthians 15 (take a moment to read it!).  In Jesus we see the “first fruits” of all New Creation, and an example of what God has in store for all of us – our loved ones, and creation itself!

This is a foundational truth, and one of the greatest things we can clarify to a world that assumes we all think Jesus is a spiritual being hiding in our hearts that helps us to be “good behaving people”.  The Holy Spirit can help transform our hearts and minds, and the grace of God is actively moving to heal/restore the image of our Loving God He intended in creation.   But we believe there is much more to celebrate in Jesus, and much more hope for the embodied lives we live today.  These physical bodies (and this physical world) are tied deeply to the New Creation we believe will exist fully someday.  So caring for others, for creation, and for ourselves happens in fully embodied ways.  There are so many things still to say here, but plenty have already said them.  I just wanted to throw out a quick reminder.

For more on this, check out: Surprised by Hope by NT Wright, Salvation Means Creation Healed by Howard Snyder, and Earthen Vessels Matthew Anderson

Why Does God…

In class this month, we’re studying theories of the atonement. It’s really big worded stuff (actually a great book) about why smart people think Jesus did what he did the way he did. It’s easy to shrug it off as unimportant, but as I spend time reading the words about theories like “Christus Victor”, “Penal Substitution”, “Healing View”, and “Kaleidoscopic View” – I’m struck by just how huge a thing God has accomplished, and continues to accomplish through Jesus. Sin has actually been defeated. Death has no victory. Jesus has suffered, and we no longer need to. We have been reconciled with each other, creation, and most importantly – God. There are great reminders from each of these theories – each of which is humanity wanting to know God more fully.

It can be done wrong, when it’s a quest to assert our position as “The One” that’s right. When we’re trying to formulate an argument or assemble evidence toward our opinion of the divine. It can be akin to Adam and Eve wanting to assert their own knowledge in the garden as superior to Gods’.

But it can be done well, also. I love my wife. I want to know everything about her, and the motivations of her heart. I want to know why she chooses certain things and certain ways. I want to know – not because I want to possess knowledge or control, but because I love.

I think this is why the new song by Waterdeep connected with me as I listened this morning. The words of Mary in response to what God is doing through Jesus and through her. It’s vulnerable. She seeks to understand, even as she’s honest about her vantage point.

In the midst of writing academic papers, and using limited words to discuss the divine – I want to shove it all aside and sing. To hear song. To recognize for a moment that this right here is a vital part of “doing theology faithfully”. I doubt I’d get an “A” if I submitted an mp3 instead of my next paper, but I can certainly hum this as I click “submit”. 🙂

I hope it finds your heart and life this week, as we begin the Advent season preparing our lives & homes to receive Christ anew…

re-tweeted theology.

2 Timothy 4:3 “For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires.”tweet

I’m sure most of what I say here could be found on some witty list of “Things Christians should stop saying.”  I’ve seen links to those posts all over the place, but haven’t really read them.  So just in case any of you have a similar experience, I really wanted to share a few things today.  I could probably post another one entitled “Gospel Quartet Music Theology“, but I won’t go there for now.  The point is, I think so many of us settle for a thin, re-tweeted, “click share”d, un-inspected theology these days.   We hear a rallying cry (or meme) of someone we have liked in the past, and assume whatever it says should be taken to heart, and passed along.

To write/say something against them can easily be dis-regarded as the common “cynicism” of young adults today.  That’s why I almost didn’t say anything.   But just in case it helps someone to rethink something they’ve heard and grow in their relationship with God…here goes nothing.

1. “Don’t pray for a lighter load, pray for a stronger back!” – It sounds good.  Certainly there are many of us, especially in the US, who need to stop complaining about small inconveniences as if we’re really suffering.  But this phrase was posted publicly on a church sign, in a city where many broken and suffering people drive by.  For a church to basically say to anyone driving by, “Suck it up!” , doesn’t seem like the love of Christ we find in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  So go ahead…pray for a lighter load.  Jesus knows the load you’re already carrying, and offers to hold it for you.

2. “Judge not, lest you be judged” – It was written to a friend who’s trying to clean up his life, and asked people to be more thoughtful about what they post on his wall.  Obviously he was killing a vibe, and the friends who noticed didn’t like it.  I’m reminded here of Matthew 10:34, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  Beginning to follow Christ means you’ll probably have people who don’t want to change, who are unwilling to be close to you as you change.  That’s okay.   Show them love, and keep doors of relationship open.  But don’t fall to the “God’s Word says not to judge” routine.  Because actually, the Bible says quite a bit about holding each other accountable.  Yes, in Matthew 7 and Luke 6, Jesus does talk to his followers and tell them not to judge.  He’s pointing out that we cannot have the same expectations of people who don’t know God, as we do for those who do.  It’s also a reminder that we don’t “think of ourselves as above” others, because we are all sinners.  God alone does the judging of worth (we’ve all been declared valuable enough to receive his mercy), and eternity.  But there are so many scriptures about the transformation Jesus wants to bring to our lives, the Love of God that changes our mind and behaviors, and the sin we are called to both be set free from, and proclaim the freedom for others from. )(1 Corinthians 5:12-13, John 7:24, 1 Timothy 4:2, 1 Corinthians 6:2-3)   So go ahead…live a transformed life, and proclaim the freedom from sin God has made available to others…in love.

3. “God will not give you more than you can handle.” – This one’s hard to confess, because I’d love so much for it to be true.  Unfortunately, it’s a false teaching.  One that should be easy for us to realize, as God’s own son was given a death sentence on the cross.  Not to mention it makes it sound like these horrible things are given “by” God, instead of simply allowed as the freedom to sin spreads brokenness throughout our world.  Thousands upon thousands have died for Christ over the years, and it wasn’t because they really wanted to die.  It was because they were willing to follow Christ, even when it WAS more than they could handle.  There is a scripture, 1 Corinthians 10:13, that tells us God will not allow us to be TEMPTED beyond what we can bear.  But that’s a different topic.  Jesus told his followers, “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves…” (Matt. 10:16)  Not like superheroes, and not like people who can handle any burden easily because of the supernatural abilities given us by the Holy Spirit.  So if the tears are falling lately, as you’re suffering under what seems to be an unbearable burden, take heart.  It doesn’t mean you’re not a good Christian if you feel like things are horrible right now.  It means you live in a broken world where sin and evil are being revealed as the horrible things they are.  There IS hope, and Christ has proclaimed that justice is coming; that redemption is on it’s way; that all the current sufferings are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).  But don’t feel pressure to pretend everything is okay…it’s not.  So go ahead, lean on your brothers and sisters…allow yourself to be held by Christ as you suffer…and be there for those who are suffering.  We need Christ to come fully…and until then He is coming to the world even now, through you.

There are quite a few more on this list….but there are plenty of places already calling ’em out.  These are just a few that’ve been on my heart this week. 🙂

Childhood of Jesus

indexWhat would Jesus have been like as a child? What would it be like to raise him?  To be his parent?  To have a child simultaneously so completely childish, and yet full of Truth most of us could never imagine.  I know my own children have an incredible ability to help me see and think in ways I never would, save for their insistent and sporadic imagination.

Take all of that, and you get some of the tastes of J.M. Coetzee’s recent book, “The Childhood of Jesus“.  I picked it up, thinking it was actually about the childhood of Jesus.  As I began reading, I realized it was about a boy named David.  As I continued reading, I was surprised by all of the allegory and symbolism that pointed to the uniqueness and mystery wrapped up in the childish Jesus.  His origins, his run-ins with authority, and his (and any childs’) ability to make the grown-ups in his life think about the “big picture”.  I won’t give away much here….but it’s definitely worth a read.  Here’s just a short excerpt of his parental figure trying to understand why David is having a hard time in school…

“Put an apple before him and what does he see?  An apple: not one apple, just an apple.  Put two apples before him.  What does he see? An apple and an apple: not two apples, not the same apple twice, just an apple and an apple.  Now along comes (someone else) and demands: How many apples, child?  What is the answer?  What are apples?  What is the singular of which apples is the plural?  Three men in a car heading for the East Blocks: who is the singular of which men is the plural – Eugenio or Simon or our friend the driver whose name I don’t know?  Are we three, or are we one and one and one?  ‘You throw up your hands in exasperation, and I can see why.  One and one and one make three, you say, and I am bound to agree.  Three men in a car: simple.  But David won’t follow us.  He won’t take the steps we take when we count: one step two step three.  It is as if the numbers were islands floating in a great black sea of nothingness, and he were each time being asked to close his eyes and launch himself across the void.  What if I fall? – that is what he asks himself.  What if I fall and then keep falling for ever?  Lying in bed in the middle of the night, I could sometimes swear that I too was falling – falling under the same spell that grips the boy.  If getting from one to two is so hard, I asked myself, how shall I ever get from zero to one?  From nowhere to somewhere: it seemed to demand a miracle each time.” – The Childhood of Jesus, J.M.Coetzee (page 248)

There are a few scenes you may want to censor or pre-read for younger audiences….definitely read it first before offering it to your child/young adult.  But I think it’s a great book for capturing some of the wonder a boy like Jesus may have spread throughout the lives His intersected…

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