Monday, August 23, 2010

Glorious Day

When I read the Bible, I can't get away from this reminder. The writers just keep coming back to it over and over. In different ways they just repeat, "Don't forget the Last Day." It's like Jesus keeps saying, "Remember I'm coming back. And live in expectation." I was reminded again of that even as we celebrated his death this morning through the Eucharist with our church staff. Paul reminds us in I Corinthians 11:26 that we announce the Lord's death "until He comes again."

That's exactly what Peter gets at in verse 12 of I Peter 2. Jesus' second coming is the backdrop to Peter's ethical instruction in the previous verses. He's saying, "Live this way among unbelievers and your hope will be vindicated when Jesus returns and "judges the world."

Both of these are small references of what seems to be squeezing through the cracks of the epistles until like Paul, he can't stand it anymore and just has to spend a whole chapter (I Corinthians 15) to talk about the Resurrection the hope this gives us for our present work: "Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever in vain (15:58)."

So, for Mondays I'd hope this is something of an encouragement to anyone who feels the "grind" of labor. There is a day coming when Jesus will demonstrate to the world that all work and labor and perseverance in this world as Christians was not for nothing. There will be fruits for every seed we bury and a resurrection for every death we die.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Kingdom Under Siege

Watch the Debate:

"Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here." This was a statement made on August 3, 2010 by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg regarding the heated debate over whether a 13 story Islamic Cultural Center called The Cordoba House should be built two blocks north of the Ground Zero site.

Regardless of your position on the issue, the Landmarks Committee of New York City has unanimously decided to allow the construction of the Cordoba House. One PBS news report shows a woman in Nashville who protested the establishment of a Mosque in her city, which was located next to a baptist church saying, "They're just taking Christ out of everything. And you know with the mosque coming here and right next door to a baptist church, I'm afraid it's just gonna get worse."

On the one side, there are pleas for compassion, sympathy, and wisdom as they request the location be further away instead of within such close proximity to Ground Zero. Advocates for restricting construction say that this is at least polarizing and at worst smacks of a type of sacrilege near a "holy" or "sacred" gravesite for the 9/11 victims. But as one prominent Muslim American spokesperson, Nihad Awad, put it like this: "Emotion does not veto constitutional right." Furthermore, he "refudiates" in the words of Palin, being equated with muslim terrorists and insists that his religion is in direct opposition to that of the Terrorists.

No doubt this is a beautifully complex debate and there are many strains of the dispute worth having. There are many issues raised not least of which question the nature of tolerance, "sacred" ground, and religious freedom. However, I'd like to provoke some thoughts that I hope would be of some encouragement and challenge for those who profess to live under the Lordship and Reign of Jesus Messiah.

My initial reaction to the debate about the construction of this Cultural Center/Prayer Center/Mosque was ill. I just felt a sinking in my stomach and a degree of grief. I didn't lose anyone in the 9/11 attack, in fact I was flying to another country when it happened.

The following months after 9/11 I had a weird sense of identity. At the time I was trying to take on the cultural expressions, customs, and language of the Argentine nation and live open-handed with any markers of my U.S. nationality for the sake of punctuating the fact that my ultimate identity was that of the Far Country. What I mean is, I wanted to stand out because I lived in view of Jesus' authority, power, love, and kingdom, not because my clothes were baggy, and my Passport was of U.S. origin.

It was in the midst of that internal struggle that I felt thrown back into my own country- the United States. People were giving me free Cokes and hot dogs in the plaza near our house in sympathy of my nationality and what my country was suffering. Ironically, the same plaza would be filled with protesters against one such "Yankee" because of the U.S. role in the IMF's refusing to grant Argentina loan extensions to their government and consequently devaluing their peso by at least 300% in 2001.

Nevertheless, for the time I felt caught in between a deep sense of shock, grief, and even national pride. To my surprise I felt united to my own countrymen thousands of miles away and our family found ourselves praying more often for the U.S. and the advance of the good news of a loving and sovereign God through the tragedy. We were trying to make sense of it all like everyone else. Only, we were trying to look to the cross and the resurrection to wrestle with our own confusion and dismay.

I share all of that to say, that I'm not anti-U.S., and I am profoundly thankful that I was born and raised here. But, when I was "born-again" my place of origin changed; my identity was rooted in someone deeper than the Founding Fathers, my future and my past were all rolled into Jesus. Just as the act of baptism symbolizes death, resurrection, and new life, we as followers of Christ must continually renew our allegiance to the King in whom we have died, risen, and been given new life (Col.3:3). The construction of this Islamic Cultural Center is one such occasion for Christians to renew their vows, reconsider the ground of their identity, and their reasons to hope.

Are we first and foremost North Americans? Are we U.S. citizens before we're citizens of heaven, from whom we await a Savior (not a president of our political persuasion)? Maybe the construction and location of the Cordoba House is wrong. Maybe it's insensitive. Maybe it's not. Quite possibly, there are muslims who are in fact sincere adherents to a religion that they are convinced does not advocate physical violence as a means of propagation. Or in the worst case scenario the Cordoba House is being funded by Al Qaeda and it's all part of a global effort to bring all peoples under the rule and reign of Allah via Sharia law.

Whichever the case may be, Christians have the resources to maintain a poise and composure in this conversation, something completely lacking more often than not. Why the vitriol? Why the fear and rage? Why is the U.S. nation defended with the same zeal as the Kingdom of Heaven? I suspect that we fall prey to our own emotions before passing them through a filter of scripture.

I submit that we remember there was once a few generations of Christians or "little Christs" as they were titled who lived under the empire of Rome who advanced the cause of Christ in the context of antagonism not religious freedom. In the first century they spread so much influence through sacrifice, service, compassion, love, and purity that they shocked their persecutors and political contemporaries. They seemed to be spreading like wild fire without revolutionary action! On the contrary, the charge of revolution and violence was only thrown at them to cover the insanity of some rulers (see Nero).

We would do well to remember that the situation of the 1st century Christians is not all that different from that of the underground church in China. Has communism stopped the advance Jesus Kingdom there? Could ancient Rome? Will the Cordoba House? The answer is "No." I suggest that the power that will confront opposition to Jesus in any form must come by the same means Jesus used- the cross. Frankly it's easier to forget that Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow me (Luke 9:23)."

Our power is wielded through our willingness to take up a cross and die, knowing that our deaths have an inevitable and glorious resurrection. Hear me, I am all for the taking up of the rights of others- by all means, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Nevertheless, only when the taking up of our neighbors rights dovetails with the laying down of our own, will God's Kingdom "come on earth as it is in Heaven (Matt.6:10)."

The most often repeated command in scripture is "Do not fear." Therefore, when Jesus teaches us to pray "Your Kingdom come; your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven", we can be sure that if "all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to (him)", we don't need to be angry or afraid when an Islamic Cultural Center goes up around the block- even if it's two blocks from Ground Zero.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Carol Giligan, a masters graduate from Cambridge wrote concerning the nature of women’s psychologically saying, “identity is defined in a context of relationships and is judged by a standard of responsibility and care.” One British Ph.D. geneticist and renowned neuropsychologist Anne Moir, bluntly puts it:

"Men are different from women. They are equal only in their common membership of the same species, humankind. To maintain that they are the same in aptitude, skill or behavior is to build a society based on a biological and scientific lie."

The sexes are different because their brains are different. The brain, the chief administrative and emotional organ of life, is differently constructed in men and in women; it processes information in a different way, which results in different perceptions, priorities, and behavior.

The way our brains are made affects how we think, learn, see, smell, communicate, love make love, fight, succeed, or fail. Understanding how our brains, and those of others, are made is a matter of no little importance.

Depending on your field of study, researchers tend to land on either a nature or nurture side of why men and women are the way they are. Nevertheless, the trend in psychology, neuroscience, genetics, and biology lend persuasive evidence to a natural conclusion. As Moir goes on to say:

"Conclusive scientific research presents an irrefutable truth: The difference between men and women is not merely physical. It is neurological, too. Male and female brains are wired differently, causing us to think, feel, react and respond in strikingly different ways."

She has coined the term brainsex, which she describes as “The distinctive gender-based circuitry that determines how – and explains why – men and women respond so differently to the same emotional and situational triggers.”

Major studies are now pinpointing at least 9 major areas of difference between male and female brains, with a range of overlap depending on how much testosterone or estrogen the human embryo received in the womb. Nevertheless, these major categories have emerged after copious research: 1. total brain size 2. number of cells 3. cellular connections 4. density of corpus collosum 5. hypothalamus 6. language ability 7. inferior parietal lobule (IPL) 8. orbitofrontal to amygdale ratio (OAR) and 9. limbic size.

First, concession must be made for human variation. Not all women have the same amount of estrogen or are equal in language-association, empathizing, or data transfer across brain hemispheres. Likewise, men may not embody as many typically male traits due to a lack of testosterone in the womb. However, the point is this: anatomical differentiations in gender have corollaries in the brain that uniquely mark each sex.

Where these demarcations in anatomy and neurology are weaker, they lend toward a more masculine female or a more feminine male. Hence, responding to the biblical calling for males and females is admittedly more difficult in such cases. Nevertheless, God calls men and women to embrace bearing his image in gender distinction not gender “bending”.

When we find these lines blurred physically, dependence on an Almighty Creator, an All-Sufficient Redeemer, and an Ever Present Sustainer in the Holy Spirit becomes accentuated (2 Cor.12:9). The testimony of scripture is that gender is fully realized through a mature understanding of God’s designs, callings, and omnipotent ability to redeem our humanity. This reality should be no sooner abandoned by us than by the 1st century Corinthians who turned to Christ (I Cor. 6:9-11).

Finally, no human being on the face of the planet is excluded from the results of our first parents fall. All of us, men and women, are living under the affects of sin, corruption, moral decay, and physical death. Each of us is bent towards sin in a unique way. No one is without this struggle. We all share it. One singer-songwriter said it this way, “The broken heart is the tie that binds (Sandra McCracken, Tie that Binds).” We have all been partakers of sin and we are all partakers in its curse. That’s why our only hope is in Jesus who bore the curse for us, to presently and ultimately redeem us from it.

This is by no means an exhaustive analysis of current research concerning neuroscience and biology. And we are not experts. However, the information simply serves to attest to what the Bible has been saying in principle for millennia. Much of pop-culture and North America’s collective wisdom continue to draw a bold line between gender and sex. Thankfully, the Bible and reputably good science contradict this notion.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Reflection on Sacrifice

Blood stains the earth's floor
Like animals -yet noble souls reveal
Their flesh: the image of someone more- more.

Lost in crowds and confused
We sought frantic and afraid for you
You were curious and poised and learning more- more.

She bore him and gave him life
To be bereft and watch him die
Sent from heaven to swallow up hell and more- more.

Monday, March 1, 2010

for God's Sake

Lately I've been reading a lot. I'm learning that all of the subjects still fall under the category of "things that exist for the glory of God." I'm not saying I understand everything I'm reading or even that the first catechism question solves all the tension I feel about difficult subjects. Nevertheless, I'm seeing freshly- that people, gender, art, church, music, sex, and taking out the trash all exist for God's sake. As the Apostle Paul says by the Spirit, "in him all things hold together" (Colossians 1:17).

How incredible is it to discover again and again that Jesus puts the world together. He makes sense of mysteries. He sheds light on darkness. And he opens up new mysteries to explore- new enticements that enlarge our soul instead of shrinking it.

Recently, I read a passage in Refractions by Makoto Fujimura describing his perception of painting. Essentially, he cannot paint apart from Christ. He, Jesus, is the lens through which he sees his own creativity and its fruit. He says, "For me, Christ is painting itself; it is the one and only pictorial form." In running my eyes over that line again and again, it becomes plain that every action of righteousness and holiness can be placed in that sentence (Eph.4:24). Everything done as a new creature in Christ is itself a living expression of Christ on earth. Then, the parallel statement rings truer: "For me to live is Christ (Phil.1:21)." And as Piper interjects Paul, even "to die (more of Christ) is gain (v.21)." Indeed, "something lives in every hue Christless eyes have never seen."

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Firstborn Over All Creation

So I had some Jehovah's Witnesses visit me again this month. We had a great conversation and exchanged books. They gave me the latest watchtower revision of Jesus and I gave them a book by John Piper. It was a pretty unfair deal, but that's what makes it so good.

Just a little background first; i've been receiving the JW's for months now whenever they happen to stop on by. Usually it's a few women who are always very cordial, patient, and smiling. They always have a different on ramp into a discussion about Jesus, whom I'm happy to discuss.

This time it was, "Many people are wondering about who Jesus was this time of year. Who do you think he is?" So I launched into a short description of Jesus as the Divine, only-and-eternally begotten Son, who became and remains to be human. I gave a short explanation that the atonement or "propitiation" can't happen if Jesus is not divine, because only God could actually swallow hell for another soul.

Well, they weren't buying it, so they gave me a proof text for Jesus "created" status by quoting Colossians 1:15 which reads, "He is the image of the invisible God, firstborn over all creation." A strange pick indeed. The argument goes like this, firstborn means Jesus was born at a point in time and since He is the firstborn over all creation, he too was created. I know Athenasius has already been over this (see On the Incarnation), but let me just take a crack at it.

The word "firstborn" usually refers to the actual male who is the first to be brought into the world through his mother. These are obviously all created beings. Additionally, it may be said the Jesus' body was created and physically, though supernaturally, born. As Galatians 4:4 says, "When the fulness of time had come, God sent out His Son, born to a woman, born under the law." However, firstborn is also a title of status connoting preeminence. And if I might point out the obvious- whatever "firstborn" means in this context, it also means that Jesus is "the image of the invisible God (v.15)", that all things were created by Him and for Him (v.16), he's also the "firstborn from among the dead" (does that mean he was the first to die or even resurrect? No), and the fullness of God dwelled in Him (v.19).

Whatever you want to say about the truth of Jesus' "firstborn" nature, you can't say that He wasn't the unique, one-and-only just as divine as God the Father- Son. You can't say that he's like any created thing, because all things whether in heaven or on earth were created by Him and for Him. And you can't ever put him in a line up with any other human being or angel and say He's just a little bit higher and more special. Jesus is infinitely higher. He is the Son of the Most High God, who IS THE MOST HIGH GOD in the flesh. He is the Eternally Son. The context of Colossians 1 alone eliminates any category of created things to put Jesus in. He's outside of the "created" box. And so outside of it- he's actually THE CREATOR. Oddly enough this tends to jive with John 1 and the rest of scripture. And that's all I've got today. I love that Jesus is God and Man, my only hope in life and in death.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


We can't get away from it. Power seems to always tug at the heels of everybody. Nietzsche gets all the credit for exposing this little dark secret. But I'm pretty reluctant to say we're indebted to him. After all, he wasn't the first to put his finger on this dark matter that pushes from inside us to go up- up the ladder from wherever we are. Even if it means dethroning the Most High God, this debasing hot air makes us rise beyond what our constitution can stand. Like Icarus, our wings melt and we fall to our destruction. It's humiliating. Strange then, that the Most High God decided to get humbled first. Jesus went down into the world, down into ignominy- down, down, down to the cross. "For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God."(I Cor.1:18) I love that kind of power. Unlike our power grabs that reach up to bring others down, His power grab reaches down to bring us up to Himself- into His goodness and joy. Isn't that surprising? "Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine, according to the power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen." (I Cor. 3:20)