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In the Garden

In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ve probably noticed that there is a big push to “Go Green.” Environmentalism has entered into mainstream pop culture. Now with oil prices on the rise and sky-high energy prices, more and more people are jumping on the eco-train. And why not? Using less energy = saving more dollars.

What’s more, Americans are becoming more aware of the long-term environmental impact that everyday decisions can have. Global warming has become a household term and a serious concern for many people. We understand now that if we continue on the same track, there won’t be much of an earth left for our grandchildren to enjoy.

This is all good in my opinion. The only unfortunate part about this whole green revolution is that it has begun and is primarily sustained from a secular angle.

Let me explain. In response to the whole global warming issue, I’ve heard many Christians scoff, brush it off, and say that it’s all bumpkis. I’ve heard things like, “The earth can correct itself,” or, “Humans can’t destroy the earth. That’s up to God.” Then there are those who think that Jesus is going to come back and destroy the earth sometime in the next century, so it doesn’t really matter how we treat the earth.

Think about it. When was the last time you saw recycling bins in a church building?

Creation-care has not been the top priority of the church over the last couple centuries. If anything, it has been a passing thought or a footnote. But should it be that way? Should God’s people keep focusing on everything besides the environment? Or should the church be at the forefront of this environmental revolution?

I think it helps to look at God’s intended plan for His creation. In Genesis 2 we see God’s original intention for His prized creation. Just after God made man, He placed him in the Garden with a job.

“The LORD God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and to take care of it.”

The first job mankind ever had was tending to, working, and caring for God’s creation.

So you tell me. Does creation care matter? Can’t God just clean up the mess that humans have made of this world? Or is it up to us to take care of the earth, take responsibility for the mess we’ve created, and take measures to correct it?

From the beginning, God has left it up to us to make use of the land and tend to the land. The earth takes care of us, and we take care of it.

Salt, part 4

The hodgepodge crowds from around Galilee gathered together along the shoreline of the Sea. They anxiously waited to hear what this teacher would say. The rabbi stood atop the hill, looking down towards the crowds below, full of fishermen, bakers, farmers, and businessmen. A hush fell over the people, and the rabbi said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

And so begins the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus begins his most famous sermon with blessings. When Jesus blesses the poor in spirit, the meek, those in mourning, those hungering and thirsting for righteousness, people in the crowd new, “Hey, he’s talking about me.” These are the peasants, the outcasts, the beat-down, the lonely, the poor, the broken, and the have-nots. They were not among the spiritually elite. They were ordinary, helpless people who longed to hear some good news from God, because according to their preachers and rabbis, God blesses those who have it all together.

Not according to this rabbi. This rabbi says that God blesses those who are on the down and out. He comes down, meets them where they are, and blesses them.

After finishing the blessings, his next words are, “You are the salt of the earth.”

Who is the salt of the earth? My whole life I heard this verse in the context of Christianity. Those who have been saved by God, those set apart from this world, and those who are perfect example of following Christ — those people are the salt of the earth. Right?

But in context, Jesus is talking directly to these people who are spiritually starved. They are tired, run down, and tossed aside. They don’t have it all together, they don’t have all the answers, and they certainly don’t feel set apart for anything. Yet these people are the salt of the earth.

What are some of the qualities of salt? Most people know that salt is used to season food that is bland, and it can be used as a preservative, like for meats and such. But as we’ve seen over the last few posts, salt can be used to purify and cleanse. It has healing aspects to it. And salt was extremely valuable in ancient times.

So when Jesus says that these people are the salt of the earth, that term is loaded. They bring flavor to the complacent world around them. They are preserving the world from certain ruin. They purify and cleanse the sin that so easily infects mankind. And most of all, they are valuable. They have worth beyond imagine.

That’s good news! This is a blessing within itself.

So be salt for someone — offer healing and cleansing to those in need, and add some flavor to the complacency of life.

And know that you are salt — you have value and worth beyond compare, so let God use you.

Reflections on "Jesus Manifesto," pt. 3

CHAPTER 2


“You have been invited to share life with your Maker and Creator.

“And to top it all off, you have been made utterly, totally, fully complete in Him–here and now.

“Why, then, would you chase anything else? How can you be consumed with anything other than your Lord, Jesus Christ? And how can you graduate beyond Him?

“He is enough, even more than enough.

“Jesus Christ is like a vast ocean. He is too immense to fully explore, and too rich to fathom. You are like a bottle.

“The wonder of the gospel is that the bottle is in the ocean, and the ocean is in the bottle.”
____________
Imagine, the power and magnitude of the entire ocean contained inside a little glass bottle adrift in that very ocean. This chapter of Jesus Manifesto¬†explores the letter to the Colossians. Paul explains to the church that the great mystery of the gospel is that we are in Christ and Christ is in us! His life is our life. It is too small a thing to offer a part of ourselves to Christ when He has given His entire being (His power, His life, His divine nature) to us. The only appropriate response is to let ourselves be fully consumed and immersed in the Spirit of our Savior. Praise, worship, service–this is all we know to do when hit by the reality that is Christ in us.

This has become one of my favorite songs on the radio. I think the message really hits home with this reality.

Reflections on "Jesus Manifesto"


I recently finished reading an excellent book coauthored by Len Sweet (The Gospel According to Starbucks, Soul Tsunami) and Frank Viola (Pagan Christianity, Reimagining the Church). There have been throughout the centuries many pendulum swings of Christological thought. It seems that many theologians and scholars are content to take up arms in the debate between the “Jesus of History” and the “Christ of Faith.” Leaning too much to any one extreme, however, misses the richness and beauty of the God-Man that we worship. Sweet and Viola have done an outstanding job of refocusing the reader’s mind and heart onto the true awesomeness of Jesus the Christ. At the same time, they tackle the tough questions about living as the body of Christ on the earth. I thought I’d start back writing again with some reflections on various parts of the book.


Introduction:

I think this paragraph helps to set the stage for the rest of the book:
“So what is Christianity? It is Christ. Nothing more. Nothing less. Christianity is not an ideology or a philosophy. Neither is it a new type of morality, social ethic, or worldview. Christianity is the ‘good news’ that beauty, truth, and goodness are found in a person. And true humanity and community are founded on and experienced by connection to that person.”
Wow. What a statement. As I think back to my world religions class, I am still blown away by all the competing faiths, belief systems, moralities, and worldviews swirling around our culture today. It’s very easy to take a broad, sweeping view of all the religions and to think that Christianity has nothing unique to offer. It seems like all the major religions have their sacred texts, their god/gods/spirits, their earthly leaders/founders, their own code of ethics, their own belief about the afterlife, etc. It’s so easy to get caught up in the similarities blurring the lines that we lose focus on the truly unique nature of our faith.
Christ is what makes our faith as unique today as it was in first century Palestine. Yes, we believe in the Bible as the word of God, but the Word became flesh. Yes, we have a certain morality for which we strive, but all of that morality was fulfilled in Christ. Yes, we have a way of viewing the world around us, but we see the world as God sees the world. Yes, we believe in an afterlife, but we believe in eternal life here and now.
In Christ we find more than a list of rules and regulations. He gives us more than instructions on how to get to heaven. In Christ we find truth, beauty, community, acceptance, and a love that out-loves all other love that we could ever know. Christianity is Christ! When it becomes about “Christ and,” then we have lost our true focus. We have forgotten our first love.
I’ll leave you with this final quote:
“[W]e cannot properly love him if we haven’t caught sight of how incredibly glorious he is. But once we do–once we catch a sighting of Jesus Christ in all his glory–we will gladly exchange our dusty rites, Christian-speak, and pop-culture church-building tactics for the joy of becoming a walking, breathing ‘Jesus Manifesto.'”

God of the Outcasts, Savior of the Untouchables

In Living World Religions class, we just finished the section on Hinduism. I must admit that going into this class, I was almost completely ignorant about Eastern religions, especially Hinduism. I still am not as familiar with the religion as I would like, but I learned some interesting things about their worldview.

One of the more outlandish claims (to my Western, egalitarian eyes) is that of the Caste System. There are four main Castes, in a hierarchical system, with sub-castes in each of the four. But then there are the Outcasts, or the “Untouchables.” These are people who are “reincarnated” with some sort of defect, disease, or simply born into poverty. Essentially, their plight is their own fault – a result of some great failure in past lives. They are not allowed to associate with people in the other castes, they are given the lowest of the lowest jobs, and are given little more than table scraps to eat. They can’t live in the city; they must live outside of civilization. They are beat down, dragged out, spit on, tortured, even killed all because they are deemed “Untouchable” by the rest of society. What’s worse, despite laws to the contrary, people refuse to help any of these outcasts…because it’s their own fault they are the way they are.

This just got me thinking…Jesus came for the untouchables and the outcasts. He ate with tax collectors and prostitutes. He touched lepers. He healed the blind and the lame. He fixed a woman with a bleeding problem. He raised the dead.

When his disciples asked him about a blind man and who was responsible for his condition – him or his parents? – Jesus made it clear that the man’s blindness was not the result of sin, neither his own nor his parents’. God had a purpose for the man to be born blind.

When questioned by the Pharisees about why he ate with sinners, Jesus replied that it is the “sick” who need a doctor, not the “healthy.” Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost. He touched the untouchables. He made room for the outcasts. He preached the good news to the poor.

Hinduism is about as opposite as it gets to Christianity, and the caste system is just one small example of this. We have a God who is not detached and uninterested in an individual’s plight in life. My God did for me what I could not do for myself. We are all untouchable compared to God, but he took on flesh, became like one of us, and touched the untouchables. That’s my God. That’s my Savior.

Old City Cairo



The Old City part of Cairo, also known as Heliopolis or On, has been around from the time of Joseph and is built on the main road connecting Egypt with Palestine. This is the place where many Jews would have fled in the Babylonian conquest, and logically this is the part of Egypt where Joseph and Mary would have come to flee the wrath of King Herod.

Two of the places we visited in the Old City were the Jewish Synagogue and the Abu Serga Church. The synagogue in the Old City is where the Geniza documents were discovered. They were the oldest copies of the Hebrew Bible until the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Abu Serga Church is the oldest (or second oldest) Coptic church in Egypt, and according to the Coptic tradition is built directly over the place where Joseph, Mary, and Jesus lived for a couple years when they fled to Egypt. It is very possible, but I have never been one to put much stock in the place. It was still cool, though, because this is the first place we have visited where Jesus once was.

I wonder if Jesus was actually old enough to remember seeing the Pyramids…

It’s a Sad Day in America..but for a different reason in my opinion

I find it difficult to come up with words for my feelings right now. My prayers go out to all the Christians in America who are letting their anger and hatred show through. I have been appalled, disgusted, but mostly disappointed by the way “Christians” are handling this. To prove my point, here are some Facebook statuses which I have read from fellow Christians (directly copied and pasted):

“…ENJOY IT WHILE IT LAST OBAMA U WONT BE AROUND MUCH LONGER…HAHA.”

“…well guys it was fun while it lasted… wonder how karl marx we will get?”

“…wants to amputate his right leg from his knee down…”

“…is screaming at the top of his lungs “islamic people have always said they will destroy us from within!!!” Congratulations Obama voters you have doomed us all!”

“…is going to watch things fall apart…preferably from another country.”

“…NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.we. are. screwed.”

“…is thinking he can finally marry his boyfriend, then adopt a baby and kill it. Thanks America!”

“…is leaving America for the next 4 years……have fun being socialist….don’t say us McCain fans didnt warn you when change comes!”

I could go on, but I think you get the point. I sense so much anger, sarcasm, and rashness in the way people are reacting. But as I have been saying all along, there is no law that man can make which can rip away our freedom in Christ. We can be Christians no matter what kind of government we are living under, be it democracy, socialism, communism, monarchy, oligarchy. There is no law against loving our neighbor as ourselves. There is no law against spreading peace and meeting the needs of others. There is no law against caring for our fellow human beings. There is no law against love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control. (Gal. 5)

I have seen more division and animosity between Christians over this election than any other event or doctine. We are called to lay aside our differences, preferences, and opinions and be united with each other to the furthering of the kingdom. I will say that there are a good number of Christians out there who are willing to do this. Many of my brothers and sisters have accepted and stated that they are continuing to pray for our leaders and our country. They are unwilling to get caught up in the political mudslinging, name calling, and hostility. I thank God for those people, and I pray for those who aren’t at that point yet.

On a side note, I have also seen many people saying that they are moving to another country, like Canada, or Europe. Those people might want to do a little homework before they make a rash dicision like that. The rest of the world likes and supports Obama as much or more (in most places) than Americans do. Canada is socialist. Most of Europe and South America is socialist. The rest of the world is either Islamic, Hindu, or Atheistic. I don’t think they’ll be moving anywhere any time soon.

Under the Overpass

I just finished an amazing book titled Under the Overpass. It is the story of two Christian college students who decide to drop out for a semester and live on the streets of 5 different US cities for 1 month each. The book is actually written by one of the two guys, and it simply chronicles their journey.

Life on the streets is rough, but most people, including myself, have no idea just how messed up life can get. As Christians, we are supposed to be the ones feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. We are supposed to be the ones meeting the needs of our fellow humans who are suffering from poverty, addictions, mental illnesses, whatever. It was an eye-opening book in the fact that they visited numerous churches and encountered many Christians, but the place where the homeless, poor, and hungry should be able to seek refuge was the very place that turned its back on them (for the most part).

I would suggest every Christian (especially ministers and leaders of any sort) to read this book. It has changed my outlook on the important things in life. It has given me ideas for my ministry as well as for when I get back to the states. There is so much more that we Christians could, and should, be doing. We shouldn’t have to rely on the government to do the same job that Christians are called to do. In fact, we shouldn’t even rely on our congregations to use the money we donate to give to the poor and benevolence programs – for the most part the money does not go towards those causes. We should take initiative on ourselves and help people in the name of Christ.

I pray that all Christians will take this to heart no matter what the outcome of the election might be.

"Christian Politics"

OK, one more side-tracked post before I get back to the Egypt trip and Pyramids.

It saddens me, really, to hear people continue to hold on to the “Christian Nation” notion whenever they discuss politics. While I agree that one of the motivating factors in the drafting of the Constitution was religious freedom, so was freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom from tyranny, freedom from “taxation without representation”. To think that America’s Founding Fathers rebelled against the King of England (one type of “Christian Nation” if you recall) to form (another type of) Christian nation, then history is being rewritten. Many people focus on the roll of religion in the lives of our nation’s first leaders, yet they did not set out to form a “Christian Nation”. Otherwise, this would be a theocracy, not a democracy.

As it is, we do live under a democracy, meaning government by the people. Who are the people? They are Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, atheists, agnostics. They are Caucasian, African, Arab, Hispanic, Asian. They are rich and poor. They are straight and homosexual. They are pro-life and pro-choice. They are smart and ignorant. They are athletic and clumsy. They are beggars and prostitutes. They are businessmen, lawyers, and doctors. And they all have the same rights and freedoms. They all have the right to make their voices heard because they live here, too. And they all are loved by my Lord Jesus Christ.

While some “Christians” may have a hard time with the fact that homosexuals can wed in some states, Jesus is making an effort to reach out to the teenager who is struggling with his sexual identity. While some “Christians” may get up in arms over abortion, Jesus is embracing the unwed pregnant mother and whispering in her ear that everything is going to be OK. While some “Christians” turn a blind eye to the poverty-, heartache-, and sorrow-sticken in this country – not even letting them seek refuge in our churches, Jesus is crying out, “Come unto me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

It is my firm belief that America was not intended to be a “Christian nation”. Otherwise, why did we allow slavery and discrimenation to continue for so long? Otherwise, why did we even rebell against our existing government? Otherwise, why did we continue to fight wars amongst ourselves and our neighbors? If America was intended to be a “Christian Nation” from the beginning, then I don’t think I want “Christians” running my country because they failed miserably. If, on the otherhand, America was founded as a nation where Christian, Jew, and Muslim could all live peaceably together and work together to the betterment of the country and her citizens, then I say we’ve come a long way.

The biggest problem I have, however, with the idea of a “Christian Nation” is that this is the very idea that Jesus was trying to set straight about his Messiahship. Jesus didn’t come to reestablish Israel as God’s holy nation. He didn’t come to unite the Israelites in a revolt against Rome. That’s exactly what he DIDN’T want to do. People didn’t understand that. They were sure that the Messiah was going to come and establish an earthly kingdom the likes of which has never been seen. But when Jesus failed to establish that earthly kingdom, everyone was really disappointed. They didn’t understand that the kingdom of heaven wouldn’t actually be on earth. It’s in heaven. The kingdom of God is the body of believers who have their true citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3:20), not on earth. The very idea of America being a “Christian Nation” goes directly against what Jesus was trying to set up.

Jesus wanted to make sure that his message was universal. God was now calling all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17), not just those in Israel – and definitely not just those in America. The beauty of Christianity is that we can practice it no matter what type of governing regime we may be living under. In otherwords, I can still be a Christian even if homosexuals are allowed to marry. I can still be a Christian even if women are allowed to teminate their pregnancies. I can be a Christian even if I live in a militant state responsible for the pointless deaths of millions of people. I can be a Christian even if a Democrat were in office. I can be a Christian even if…fill in the blank.

I hear all the time about voting like a Christian should vote. Let me ask you this one: if you were to take a good, hard look at the goings-on in Washington, how could you, as a Christian, give your full fledged support to any it? If democracy is a government by the people, and Christianity is a religion about, well, people, then wouldn’t it make sense that we can make a positive change in government by making a positive change in the people? To me this seems like a much more effective way of improving our country than casting a simple vote for the lesser of two evils.

Wow, this is much longer than I originally meant for it to be. To be honest, this is mainly in response to a church bulletin I just read. As you can tell, I get upset at some things other Christians have to say about politics.

Faith building in the land of Egypt

It’s incredible how much can happen in 8 days. The land of Egypt is so rich, so saturated with history and stories that it would be nearly impossible to take it all in, even with decades of study. Our tour guide, Osman, (who is one of the best men I have ever met) is by far also one of the best tour guides in all of Egypt. He is professional Egyptologist, tour guide, hieroglyphics teacher, and Biblical historian. Not only did he take us around to all the famous sites, but at each one he did his best to tie in all the geography, temples, etc. to the stories in the Bible. I never realized just how much Egypt had to do with the development of Judaism and ultimately Christianity.

I would like to start my summary of our trip by recording some of the things I learned that my Sunday school teachers never knew:

– The pyramids were seen by Abraham, Joseph (and his entire family), Moses, and Jesus

– There is technically more than one Temple. When Judea was overrun and many Jews taken captive and Solomon’s Temple was destroyed, many Jews escaped to Egypt and built a full-scale replica of the Temple, complete with priests and a sacrificial altar. In fact, a second full-scale replica was built on an island in the Nile called Elephantine Island (which archeologists are excavating right now). What’s more, the Egyptians built a temple of their own called the Temple of Philae which is based off of those other two replicas of Solomon’s Temple.

– The Ark of the Covenant probably wasn’t a big box. It would have been shaped like a small boat with a shrine area in the middle and two cheribum on either end. (I will post a picture later) How do we know this? Because in the Egyptian temples (which included a “Holy of Holies” where the god was and only the high priest could enter) the god was kept in an “Ark” which was a small boat with two long poles on either side which the priests used to carry the ark. Also, the 14 Commandments of Egypt were kept on display inside the ark. Moses, growing up around the main temple complex in Luxor, would have seen this ark taken out of the temple on many occasions.

– When the Israelites were encamped around Sinai and built a golden calf, it was most likely a representation of the goddess Hathor, one of the main goddesses worshiped in the time of their enslavement.

– The Egyptians had a god in their pantheon named Set, who was the god of chaos, evil, and the wilderness. From the name of Set, the Jews derived the name for Satan.

– The Egyptian priests made a practice of removing their sandals when they were inside the Temple, which was considered “holy ground”. God told Moses to remove his sandals, for he was standing on holy ground.

– The only exception to this practice of removing their sandals was during a time of war, when every man had to be prepared for fight of flight. God told the Israelites on the night of the Passover to keep their sandals on as they ate the meal, for they were getting ready to run. Paul told Christians in Ephesians 6 to keep our shoes on, which is the preparation of the gospel of peace, during a time of spiritual warfare.

– Early Christians made it a practice to use pagan symbols as their own symbols of the faith. For instance, they ancient Egyptians used a symbol called an ankh, which was the “key of life” carried by all the god, representing the Nile river. It looks like a cross with a circle on the top. Early Christians in Egypt used this symbol as their own to represent the life which we have in Christ.

OK, I’ll stop here for now. There’s more I could talk about, but I’ll leave that until the actual trip summary. I wanted to go ahead and write this stuff down before I forgot about it. All of this goes to show that God, in His infinite wisdom, has no problem with reaching people on their level. He used the things which the Israelites knew. He met them where they were and showed them the way to himself. Our God truly is an awesome God.