Sunday, April 24, 2011

Has anyone ever stopped to ask, "Did it really have to be like that?" Jesus and the Cross

We are thankful. We all rejoice. 
But has anyone ever stopped to ask, "Did it really have to be like that?"

Religious holidays are always a time of growth for me.  And not so much in the typical "spiritual high" sense.  They are a struggle.  I am always in a tug-of-war between remorse, rejoicing, and my own pride.  In light of Easter/Resurrection Day,  i find myself working through this conflict.  Part of me wants to fall in to humility and embrace the day with simplicity and gratitude.  People love to celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It is incredible.  But another part of me knows that this emotional, and very real reaction is just not possible for me.  Probably a portion is my pride, but certainly a greater part is the loss I know I would experience in the raw, majesty of the whole story.  But I can't just talk about Jesus' blameless life, brutal death and miraculous resurrection without honestly addressing this one questions.

Really?  I mean--I am grateful.  If this is what needed to be done, I owe every breath and more to show my gratitude to Him.  But I must ask--Did he have to be perfect?  Did He have to die?  Did He have to die like that?  And what significance does the ascension really have?  

Basically,  God--Your story is  brutal.  When I look to the cross, I remember a blameless, righteous man hang there.  His life was so full of love and conviction, and You say love wins.  But why didn't Your perfect Love win then?  Couldn't He just have been perfect, and died loved by all?  How is this Your plan?

And this is where Easter brings me.  My soul mourns.  My thoughts break.  And my heart bleeds.  And I remain incredibly grateful--and grateful in a greater way than I could access when I thought I understood.   

But here is my point--do other people ask these questions?  Or is what I ask heresy?  (Although, David and Abram--and even Jesus--all asked God tough questions.)  But my greatest regret is, "How could we not ask this?"

Jesus hung on a cross--one of the most excrutiating and humiliating deaths--for us.  

His dying hours were horrific.  If he was at-all/any-ration human, his last breaths must have been miserable.

His death began early, as the soldiers mocked and whipped him the night before.  Then, he was made to carry the heavy timber that would serve as his tool of death through the winding streets, as he shamefully struggled under its weight.  When they were crucifying him, they did not break his bones, as they often would to accelerate death.  Jesus did not take wine to numb the pings that must have shot through His body as the nails were driven through his wrists.  

Was he even aware of what was happening, or did it all become a blur?  I don't honestly know if the body can really comprehend this level of pain.

And if he ever was aware, did he ever feel foolish as he hang on the cross--naked and bleeding.  Helpless.  And all who pledged their undying love, denied Him in the most profound sense.  Even His father turned his back on Jesus in His darkest hour.  Jesus dies with Psalm 22, the death Psalm, on His lips.  He was faithful.  But did He ever question why this was His plight, or even--if He had been mislead? 

I do not paint this dramatic picture to draw salty tears from heavy hearts, but almost the contrary.  Isn't this absurd!  Jesus did not deserve this.  Yet supposedly our sin convicted him.  But if God made the rules, couldn't he have slanted the game a little in His favor here?  

If love wins, why didn't it?

So there must be more.  And I believe there is.  Firstly--although we tend to believe that everything Jesus did was completely miraculous and unique, there had been a pattern in Judaism around the time of Jesus where a wise rabbi who led a Godly and righteous life would develop a following, heal the sick, spend time with the poor, and die a martyr to be raised after three days, then ascending to heaven promising to send another helper.  I don't say this to diminish anything that Jesus did.  He is the one True Messiah, but at least in the culture of Jesus' day. this pattern already existed--whether in truth or apparition.  I think we put so much emphasis on a few qualities of the Jesus story, focusing on how unique his healings and ascension were, but it seems that the gospels and following books highlight other aspects of the story.  

I know most of us probably stay in the gospels today, but perhaps taking a look at Genesis 15 could help us connect the stories.  In a rather obscure moment between God and Abram, I find the entire purpose for Jesus' death, and I get a sense of God's incredible love for his people.

God has just promised Abram offspring numbering the stars, and a land which he can live his life under God's authority and a seed which would bless the nations.  All if Abram could continue leading a life of righteousness.   Abram, displaying quite the dosage of Hebraic hutspuh, asks God how he will know that these things will be.  And then, God sends him to gather a heifer, a goat, a ram, a dove, and a young pigeon.  

And we miss this.  

Abram must have been shaking in his boots.  He asked God, more or less, to prove or promise that God would honor his word.  And God basically says, with words not recorded, "Okay, Abram. Then, let's make a covenant.  Go get the animals, and you will know that I am serious."  

But we do not understand the ancient tradition of covenant, so we read right past this is and miss the story that connects the entire Bible.  

In some parts of the near east Bedouin world, this form of covenant is still practiced.  It is called a blood covenant--between two parties, always a lesser and a greater.  The greater establishes the term, and the lesser can either agree, or pass on the covenant.  Then, the animals are gathered, cut i half, and placed across from each other creating a literal blood path where that blood runs in the middle.  The greater party walks first.  Barefoot though the blood, and without a word, he confirms that if he does not meet his end of the covenant, the other party may stomp through his blood like he walks through blood now.  Then it is the turn of the lesser party.  He does the same, without a word, committing the covenant and understanding that if he does not live up to his word, this will be his plight.  

Now we return to the Genesis story.  

This is the context of where Abram and God stand.  God says--being the greater party he gives the terms (not in Gen. 15, but from other contextual references), "I will give you, Abram, my righteouss servant, offspring numbering the stars, a land which to can live your life under my authority, and a seed which will bless the nations.  All you have to do is be perfect."   And this is the deal.  Perfect.  Abram must be perfect.

And as night falls, Abram falls into a deep slumber (thanks, Mom) and a smoking firepot passes through the blood path.  The Genesis account tells us of two images that travel the path.  Assumedly, God and Abram.  The first image--the smoke--is obviously God.  Many times before and after this story, God is symbolized as smoke (burning bush with Moses, coals in Galilee, etc.).  Plus, He is the greater party, so this correlation is largely undisputed.  

And in covenant tradition, next up is Abram.  

But curiously, the image that passes second is a torch.  There is no textual reference of a human ever being portrayed as a torch.  

Only God is ever fire or a flame.  

And I have to think--in this moment, as Abram--in his altered state of consciousness--is preparing to assume his role as the lesser party and step in the warm blood.  He considers the weight of his covenant with God--to be blameless so that he may receive receive God's promises.  Abram must have realized that he would fail.  And failure within this covenant is basically writing away any promise of offspring, and land to call his own, and most devastatingly,  the messiah.  

And in Abram's sure distress, God appears.  

With the symbolism of a torch, God walks the path for Abram as to say, "Abram, if you and your people are not blameless, you may do this to Me."  

And in this moment, God convicts Jesus to die on the cross.  

God even foreshadows His own sacrifice when he commands Abraham to offer up Isaac.  But God provides, just as he promised in His covenant.

In the later aftermath of this covenant, at Mount Sinai, as God gives an identity to the sons of Abraham, he calls them a royal priesthood and a holy nation.  God commands His people to confirm this covenant with Him that they will again live under the authority of the Lord, as he has brought them out from Egypt.  The children of Israel, are to make a sacrifice two times, every single day--once in the morning, and again at 3:00 pm before twilight "at the place where [His] name is" (the Tabernacle, then the Temple) to remind the people of this promise.  (Exodus 24-27)

Although the daily sacrifices had become quite elaborate by Jesus' day, the people understood the sacrifice to be an offering, begging God to keep his promise--to bring the messiah who would atone for their unrighteousness.  This is slightly different than our understanding of the ritual sacrifices.  We would tend to focus on sacrifice being atonement for our transgressions, which is certainly part of it.  But to miss the desperation in these sacrifices--the cry of the children of Israel to their God--to please bring about the blessing to the Nations.  

And for a thousand years, this practice was done twice a day, and the entire Jewish world would pause at 9:00 am and 3:00 pm, awaiting the sounding of the shofar which would signify the blood sacrifice.  And in the hour of their remembrance, they could take comfort in the covenant between their forefather and their God. 

Almost 2,000 years after the covenant between Abram and God.  It is Passover, and the Judaic world crowds in to Jerusalem to be a part of the feasts.  

On a Friday at 3:00 in the afternoon, just like thousands of Fridays before, the shofar resounds from within the city walls.  

But something is different.  Just outside the city gates, at the Place of the Skulls, a man hangs on a cross, and perhaps cries out his last words from Psalm 22 ("He has performed it," in our English translation.) 


And it is.  God did it.  

God became the blameless sacrifice.  God offered salvation to the world through the life of Jesus and the death he had promised.   

Jesus' death was absolutely necessary.  Abram failed.  We failed.  This is our consequence.  

The most loving, incredible, wise, Good man in the history of the world had to die at our hands.  And his salvation is, in a sense rooted in his death, but the way to eternal, or everlasting life, if found also in His life.  His life of love.  

So let us be somberly, gravely thankful for the death atonement, but let us celebrate the story.  Let us celebrate the breath of life within the narrative.  Let us praise a God so huge, and so loving, as to not only give us a way of salvation, but to actually become it.  

So, today, I celebrate God.  I love Jesus.  I look to His life, and I rejoice in the one and only Messiah Christ.  

Blessings, friends.  Stay dusty.

And if you are in a scandalous mood, another perspective on the Blood Sacrifice of Jesus.


Faith Lessons on the Life and Ministry of the Messiah (Home VHS Vol. 3) Home Pack/Bible Study Guides***much adapted from the teachings of Ray Vanderlaan.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Questions from Humans: the Rob Bell/Heaven+Hell Controversy

We are the body. And we are imperfect. But we must never abandon Love. We must never forsake correctness for Unity. Unity can embody differences. The church can encourage disagreements. We can believe with a Holy passion in the truths which God has revealed to us, yet to divide the church, or summon condemnation seems a hateful perversion of our commission as followers of Christ. First and foremost we are children of God. Always, we are his and dearly loved. As His children, gripped by the evil in this world, we are offered salvation on Christ. We follow His son, and build His church. His banner over us is love.

There have been several high profile discussions over Rob Bell's recent book: Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. I would never want to stifle the discussion of such eternal principals; however the trajectory of these blog commentaries seems minimally hateful and malicious. My heart is heavy and my spirit is saddened. Satan will use ANYTHING. He is quite resourceful.

I have not yet read the book, so I hold no position to comment on the content. However, my current understanding is that there are far more questions posed than answers offered. If this is the case, what are we all so afraid of? If we seek the Truth, does not God tell us thT He will reveal Himself. For even the mountains and rocks cry out the name of the Lord! Anyhow, as stated, I have not read it, so I have nothing further to say regarding Bell's book.

What I can observe, however; is the response of the Christian community. We are breaking apart. This is a tragedy that burns me to my core, in far proportion to incorrect doctrine. Although, if I were in tue opposition, this travesty would pain me greatly, as well.

There are many blogs. But this particular blog is the one I have gotten involved in, for whatever reason. I have posted the link, not to point fingers, but because I do feel there is a lot of very valid content from both sides. I mourn the egos that emerge, but if you are seeking textual support and opposition for Bell's claims, there are some very knowledgeable sources from both sides.

Please aim not to just adapt anyone elses view, but understand that we have been given (each of us) the mind of Christ to discern truth. Let us listen to our teachers and consider what God has placed in our heart and be willing to engage on an exploration of the truth that only God can reveal to us.

As always, thanks for stopping by. And please, friends... Stay Dusty.



Please pray that the power of love does win, as promised.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A prism, A God, and this world.

I used to serve a god.  Now I think I serve God.  

Bold statement for both my past and present associations, I know.  But in a whirlwind of hurt, chaos, selfishness and pride, I somehow found vulnerability, peace, love, and humility.  Needless to say, through this kenosis my perception of God has been completely transformed.  

I grew up in the church, and I am eternally blessed for the heritage of faith that I formulated within that community.  Yet, as most of us do in almost aspect of life, I took for granted the traditions and ideas that I received.  I do not mean to insinuate that there is any innate fallacy in my inherited faith, but I adopted the doctrine and interpretations of pastors, teachers, and professors without investing the necessary effort to evaluate for myself what God would have me hear in His Word.  I felt a strong connection to God, and I developed strong ideas within my faith about who God was, and who I am in Him.  I held to these ideas with a bona fide conviction that informed what I saw in the Text and how I interpreted my purpose in this world.  I sought Truth and I wanted righteoussness.  But--and, I would guess we have all felt this--there was some indiscriminate or inexctable fiber within the makeup of my beliefs that was just unresolved.  Not that there was doubt.  Not that there was blatant disregard, or even discontentment, but if we are talking about the God of the Universe and the Creator who reigns eternally, is there any validation for having any fiber, and moment, any formulation of thought that is not completely sold to this Being?   But all I knew was what I had been taught.  

And although I had questions, and sought answers whole-heartedly, my ideas guided my discoveries instead of the truth.  A scientist would even say that removing biases from an experiment is nearly impossible.  It is the ultimate goal of the Scientific Method to use empirical methods of observation, but we all know the results we are seeking when we care enough to structure an experiment, so creating an open environment where Truth emerges from the variables, is both necessary and arduous.  So, I would not completely condemn my previous understandings because I am aware that they have brought me to the point at which I presently stand.  Also, they were formulated from a genuine desire to know and understand God, which I thought was something I could achieve.  I think this whole journey (a.k.a: Life) is about pushing forward towards new ideas and better "us"es, so I allow for this shift in thought and regard, rather than regret, the tread stones that led me to today.  

Yet at a certain stone in my not-so-distant past, I experienced a world that had been somewhat hidden from my formative years.  As I looked to the world around me, I saw hate and evil to the same proportion I witnessed good.  I saw violence and favoritism from a god that claimed benevolence and a love for the whole world.  He says he is the Alpha and Omega, as the Beginning and End, but I began to doubt that he cared much for the other 20 Greek letters, or the entire middle section, for that matter.   And as the friction between my beliefs and my experience grew stronger, the discomfort in my spirit brought me to a moment of absolute humility.  

If God is the eternal Truth, and His Word is the primary source by which He reveals Himself to me, I should not be afraid to earnestly seek the Goodness within His Text.  If I opened myself to Truth, I trusted that truth would be revealed.  And So I decided to shed everything I ever thought I knew about God.  Not reject, but shed.  And I would allow Him, for the first time in my life, to tell me who He was, and to share with me the secrets in His Word.  This was scary because I was not sure whom I would discover, and what that would mean.  If God could harden Pharo's heart and drown Egyptian soldiers, and send His own creation into a burning furnace away from Him for eternity, I couldn't be certain I would want to server Him for the rest of my life.  And as if this apprehension were not sufficient means to abort, I was incredibly aware of my daunting role in receiving His revelation.  I was going to have to dedicate myself fully and thoroughly to this task.  I had no clue what I would find, or where to begin.

So I started with Genesis.  Seemed logical enough.  And when I began to read the opening scenes of creation, for what I would consider "the first time," I found myself so engrossed and in awe that I read the first four chapters no less than twenty times before I even wanted to move on.  Each time I reread our story, I found something so precious and new, that I wanted to read it again, in case I had missed something else.  This Supreme Being within the narrative of the created world was so much more than I had ever dared to dream.  The surreal realization of His greatness and majesty and mystery left me inspired by His awesomeness.  And then I saw my downfall.  I wanted to know God.  To understand Him and confine him within the limitations of my mind.  But I could never know or understand God.  Who did I think I was? Not even Jesus knows the mind of God.  So if I could not know, I had a decision to make.  Would I reject the ideas of Goodness, Perfection, and Immutability that I had grown up with?  Or was there another option?  Because this God of Genesis is incredible. If God is all He says He is, then He is everything.  Everything.  The good.  The Bad.  The beautiful.  The whole world--in both concept and matter.  For, in the beginning there was God (only God).  Therefore, He is the only substance of creation.  Every single aspect of this world we experience must be a realization of Him.  This may seem like blasphemy, but if His Word is True, and He is God, this is Him. So, how am I to reconcile that what I see in God and His creation does not appear to always be Good?  Well, who are we to question the Potter and how He molds the clay?  And who am I to assume I could ever exact any complete conception of Goodness.  If I cannot know God, and God is Good, how then could I even know the nature of Eternal Goodness?  Perhaps I cannot.  And when I accepted this God, I saw the world in a completely new light.  So I read one more time, our story of our God.  And this is what I see.  

In the Garden of Eden, God's creation ate from a tree that granted them the "knowledge of Good and Evil,"  making them "like gods."  

Point No.1: The "knowledge" of Good and Evil.  Adam and Eve did not create evil, or introduce evil into this world.  They received a perception that allowed for the distinction between Good and Evil.  Evil had always been there--creation simply could not separate it from the Good.  To Adam and Ever, there was no Good or Evil.  Only God.

Point No.2:  The tree was within God's garden.  God had planted it there, and even given instructions as to not eat the fruit.  Adam and Eve discovered a part of God that He had contained in the fruit.  This knowledge was not outside of Him.  

Point No.3:  God had wanted to intentionally disclose this knowledge from His creation.  God knew the effects of this knowledge.  He had a plan for His creation--that it be a perfect extension of Him.   He offered salvation in obedience, by not eating the fruit of the tree.

Point No.4:  God wanted His creation to choose.  Just as God is dynamic and changing, He wanted us to evolve and make choices with the same freedom that He himself has as Creator.  We are, after all, created "in His image." Therefore, He planted a tree that contained the wisdom of gods.  Yet knowing the burden of such understanding, God instructed His creation not to eat of its fruit, as to protect them from this knowledge, while still offering them the dominion to choose either obedience and Shalom, or disobedience and Chaos.  

I think we all know the rest.  

God must have realized that His light could always reign on this earth, if He preserved the recognition of the darkness.  But He could not just eliminate this aspect of Himself, and still achieve a full expression of His image within His creation. He had to offer the sovereignty to toy with the proportions and hues of God's character.  And did we ever.  Let me explain. If we consider white light, and its passage through a prism, we can access a metaphor for this transition.  White light could be compared (as it is in His Word) to the Love and Goodness of God.  God dwelt among His creation, and had complete dominion, so long as His people followed His commands.  Yet, when Adam and Eve ate of the fruit and the veil was removed, their eyes were opened and they saw the variations within the colors of God's light.  It is as if in that moment, God saw that they no longer chose Him, and He coated this world with an atmosphere of separation, dividing the physical from the spiritual realm.  God was no longer the ruler; therefore, He handed over the goodness of His creation to its own devices until a time when He could redeem it.  Redemption is the Reconciliation of God's creation--an hour when Shalom rules and God can reclaim His creation.  But until then, He allows His creation time to again chose Him, but must hide His fullness from the imperfections of our own misconceptions.  And our misunderstandings are the results of the atmosphere. Remember the prism?  If God's love is Light, and our disobedience required the installment of this atmospheric prim, the there is a change as His light enters our world.  When God's eternal Purity and Goodness pass through the earth's prism and fall to the world below, the light separates, and we see the many colors within the spectrum of His Providence.  Blue and Purple, Orange, Vermillion.  Each color could be seen as a point on the spectrum of Good and Evil.  We have gained perception of such a distinction through our disobedience, and now the character of God is difficult to conceive, as we would have to create a vortex that would combine every color in perfect proportion to again perceive the white light.  Through obedience, God could again lift the prism from our atmosphere. Yet we failed.  Time and time again, we failed.  God is so patient.  But He must have recognized our tendency towards evil, as we act foolishly in the knowledge that was never intended for us.  So He decided that He would enter our world and be the instrument of convergence.  He would lead a blameless life, and we could see the true form of God.  Sound familiar?  Well... we have established the effects of passing light through a prism.  The light is refracted, and separates into different colors.  But what could recombine these colors?  Incredibly, if we pursue this analogy a step father, it turns out that God uses the very same material to display his white light that was used to disperse it.  When light passes through one prism, it is separated.  When light passes through a second prism, it is recomposed.  Thus, if we are to at all access an understanding of God, we must first recognize His presence in every color.  And secondly, look to Jesus for any image of His Goodness.  And when I assumed this perception of the function of God's Goodness in our world, I grew hungry to imitate the life of Christ, as I fell in awe of the incredible mystery of God.

And in this new discovery, I encountered a God much greater and hardly recognizable to the god I knew before.  When I looked to the god I had accepted, I understood why my heart did not burn for His Word and His will.  I had created an idol, a counterfeit--he may as well have been Ashura or Baal.  My own little god was who I needed, and wanted to follow.  He loved me, and protected me, and justified many of decisions that were rooted in a heart of pride, conceit, and resentment.  But when I honestly assessed the cubicle I built for my god to live in, he did not seem to be any kind of a Creator of the Universe.  I had him figured out--more like an imaginary friend that fit in to my agenda.  But this God.  This God, I am incredibly aware that I can never fully know.  Not until he lifts the prism and His Goodness descends on this earth, at least.  And God wants to reign again.  So desperately.  Our only salvation is in the atonement of Jesus, who lived to be the example for a live of Shalom--everything exactly as God has willed it.  Then the world will again belong to Him. Every color will be reconciled unto him as the most glorious light--with vivid hues that we know exist, but can only experience and not perceive.  This is the day I live for.  When all the colors combine.  But for now, I live everyday in the light of the second prism.  Seeking the Goodness, Humility, Sacrifice, Vulnerability, and Authenticity that is undeniable in the Christ.  

Thanks for stopping by.
Be encouraged.  Seek the Light.  Walk in the dust.

Stay dusty.