Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Contrasting Hope with Faith

The Hope of Job

In the Book of Job, we find Job enduring an indefinite period of intense suffering. For Job, worse than the suffering itself is his inability to find any meaning in it. He truly had been a righteous man and couldn’t understand why a righteous God would allow him to suffer so.

Even in the middle of his intense, indefinite, and apparently meaningless suffering, however, Job remains a witness to hope in God. Hope is our joyful confidence, our lively expectation, that the living God will come to us again today with his saving word of truth.

Pluto's Impact on Our Relationship with God

Jesus Christ is the truth who sets us free to glorify Abba by the power of the Holy Spirit burning brightly in our radiant hearts.

Pluto—false, defeated, now desperate god of money—still has other ideas. Pluto wants us to think of him as God Almighty or at least as a real god. He insists on the loyalty due a divine being. And he expects us to demonstrate that loyalty by living as servants enthusiastically fulfilling his will.

Sadly enough Pluto, for a little while longer, is still capable of getting us to devote ourselves to him. He does this in two ways. First, he attacks us externally through destructive relationships involving money. We all need money to pay bills. That’s not wrong but it does leave us vulnerable. Sometimes Pluto seeks to compel us, through necessity, to earn money in ways which serve him rather than God. Sometimes he seeks to compel us to lie, cheat, steal, hurt, or even kill another human being to protect ourselves or those we love.

Money as a Power of Evil

Paul tells us, “For freedom Christ has set you free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1, Revised Standard Version [RSV]). Through his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ set us free from all the powers of evil. Among these powers we may include the six deadly-dull gods of Olympianity, including Pluto, the false god of money.

Pluto is a power

Jesus tells us, “‘No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and mammon’” (Matthew 6:4, RSV). Mammon is the Aramaic term used by Jesus to refer to Pluto. In speaking of Pluto in this way, Jesus names for us a power which is phantom, spiritual, personal, active, and evil.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

False Appearances, True Words (Jeremiah 36)

Jehoiakim became king of Judah when he was 25 years old and died at the age of 36. He did evil in the eyes of Yahweh (2 Kings 23:37). He also rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, who responded by laying siege to Jerusalem.

Yahweh had not wanted this to happen. He had for years been warning his people and their leaders about the growing likelihood of attack through his prophet Jeremiah. It had resulted from the deliberate devotion of king and people to false gods and their callous rejection of Yahweh as the one true god and savior.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Who Can Forgive and Heal? (Matthew 9:1-8)

Some concerned individuals carry their paralyzed friend on a stretcher to Jesus. Jesus sees the faith of these individuals and, in response to it, first forgives then heals their friend.

Note that Jesus does not first spot this paralytic and then, seizing the initiative, forgive and heal him. The initiative is taken by the paralytic’s friends. We too may take this kind of initiative in relation to Jesus on behalf of others and expect the same gracious results.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Once upon a Time (annotated)

Previously I shared a summary of the Bible told in the form of a fairy tale. If you haven’t yet read “Once upon a Time,” I encourage you to do so now. Today, in this annotated version, I disclose the connections between the characters and events in the fairy tale and those in the Bible.

Once upon a time, there lived a very wise king (God the Father). He ruled the many realms of his kingdom (the heavens and the earth) in very wise ways. Because he very much loved one particular couple (Adam and Eve), he made them prince and princess (rulers, but under his authority) and allowed them to reign over one realm (earth) in his kingdom.

At first everything went well. While the prince and princess were not as wise as the king, they did live with a certain charming innocence (in the Garden of Eden). Everyone (God, Adam and Eve, plants and animals) got along well with one another.

Once upon a Time

The following story is a summary of the Bible told in the form of a fairy tale. I hope you enjoy it. If you really want to have some fun, see if you can relate the characters and events in this fairy tale with those in the Bible. Soon I will post an annotated version so that you may understand how I connected them.

Once upon a time, there lived a very wise king. He ruled the many realms of his kingdom in very wise ways. Because he very much loved one particular couple, he made them prince and princess and allowed them to reign over one realm in his kingdom.

At first everything went well. While the prince and princess were not as wise as the king, they did live with a certain charming innocence. Everyone got along well with one another.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Venus and Jesus on Love and Marriage (Matthew 5)

“But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28, English Standard Version, here and following).

The Olympian gods regard human beings as means to an end and encourage us to do likewise. Consequently, they tempt us to measure the importance of others in terms of their usefulness to us. We love others, in the Olympian sense of having feelings of affection toward them, so long as they are useful to us. Once they get in the way, become tiresome, or are used up, then we stop feeling affectionate toward them and love someone else. It’s that simple.

This point of view is shared by Venus, goddess of sex. Venus regards all forms of sexual intercourse as meaningful and measures a person’s importance in terms of their sexual attractiveness. We do the same when we devote ourselves to her.

Pluto's Smile, Yahweh's Plan

Olympianity has displaced Christianity as Western Civilization’s worldview. Consequently, the values of Pluto, false god of money, have displaced those we read in the Bible and find expressed by David in Psalm 12. 

David cries for help from Yahweh. When David complains about the absence of godly and faithful people, he means people loyal to, speaking about, and living the words of Yahweh (v. 1). 

One sign that tufluvian witnesses to Yahweh are missing is all the lies: the outright falsehoods, the flattering words intended to cover vicious plans, and the boasting. 

Gethsemane: Three Aspects of Death (Mark 14:27-42)

In Psalm 88, the psalmist cries for help and prays to Yahweh to hear him (vs. 1-2). His soul is full of torment, his strength has left him, he’s got one foot in the grave (vs. 3-4). His friends already think of him as dead and forgotten—even by Yahweh (vs. 4-5). He begs Yahweh to take away his inexplicable yet overwhelming anger (vs. 7, 16). He hurls at Yahweh the question of why Yahweh has forsaken him (v. 14). Unlike many other psalms which pray for deliverance from evil, this one does not end with any note of hope.

This psalm could well have been the prayer of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane the night of his arrest. There Jesus pulls Peter, James, and John aside and, “distressed and troubled” (Mark 14:33, English Standard Version here and following), tells them “‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death’” (v. 34). Walking a short distance from them, Jesus throws himself on the ground and prays, “‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will’” (v. 36).

God's Blessings to and through Us (Acts 27)

During his last visit to Jerusalem, Roman soldiers save Paul from an angry mob by arresting him (Acts 21:33). Because of an inability to receive a fair trial in Jerusalem, Paul as a Roman citizen appeals to Caesar (Acts 25:11). After being handed over with other prisoners to a centurion, Paul boards a ship bound for Rome. Though leaving Judea late in the season of fair weather, the ship makes it safely to Crete.

Paul advises the centurion to postpone the rest of the voyage to the following spring. Understandably enough, the centurion follows the opinion of the ship owner and presses on (27:9-11).

Soon a hurricane has the ship at its mercy (v. 14). Even after the crew throws all the cargo overboard to help keep the ship afloat, they despair of surviving the storm. Paul fails to resist the temptation to tell them, “I told you so” (v. 24).

Left and Right against Jesus (Mark 14:1-11)

It’s two days before Passover. Head pastors and leading theologians in Jerusalem are busy with secret meetings on how to rid themselves of Jesus.

Jesus’ presence in Jerusalem annoys these leaders of the religious establishment. Of course, Jesus is a popular rival. Worse, if Jesus is right, then they are profoundly wrong. Worst of all, Jesus comes to free all people from the control of all religious establishments because he comes to free all people from all religion.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Olympian Gods in David's Life (2 Samuel 11)

Yahweh has Samuel anoint Saul as first king of Israel. He later comes to regret this decision and so has Samuel anoint the David of the unimportant village of Bethlehem, the eighth and youngest son of Jesse, a shepherd, as king in place of Saul. By the power of the Holy Spirit which rushes upon David at that moment, Yahweh enables David to become king of Israel, center that kingdom in the new capital city of Jerusalem, subdue all traditional enemies of Israel, bring the Ark of the Covenant into the city, and even have his descendants established as dynastic rulers of Israel (1 Samuel 16-2 Samuel 10). 

Had the story ended there, everyone would have lived happily ever after. Instead, David commits adultery with Bathsheba while her husband Uriah is off fighting with the army of Israel. When Bathsheba informs David she was pregnant, David tries to hide his infidelity by calling Uriah back to Jerusalem and sending him home to Bathsheba. When Uriah refuses to find comfort in the arms of his wife while his companions are in combat, David has Uriah sent back to the front and placed where the fighting is fiercest so that he will be killed by the enemy. He is. 

Sin Has Destructive Reciprocal Consequences (2 Samuel 18)

In 2 Samuel 18:14-15, we read that David’s son Absalom dies. This incident did not happen in isolation. It was the consequence of a long and sad chain of events, sinful events.

This second book of Samuel begins with David doing quite well. David rightly mourns the death of King Saul and his son Jonathan. Next David is anointed king over Judah, grows in strength against a rival who challenges his authority, becomes king of Israel, then conquers Jerusalem, defeats Philistines, brings the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem, and even receives the absolutely gracious promise that God will establish a Davidic dynasty.

Everyone would have lived happily ever after had the story ended there. Instead, David commits adultery with Bathsheba and, once he learns she’s pregnant, he has her husband Uriah murdered to cover up his sin. There was no reason for these things to happen. Sin and evil are like that: absurd.

Hallowing God's Name in Song (Psalm 96)

Jesus teaches us to pray, “Hallowed be thy name” (Matthew 6:9). He teaches us to pray that Father’s name be hallowed, or held holy, or glorified by all for what he does for each. Psalm 96 provides us with an example of how to do that.

We may rightly hallow or praise God’s name by singing new songs about him (vs. 1-2). New lyrics and melodies allow us to celebrate what God is doing in our midst today with appropriate intellectual content and emotional depth.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

No Longer Victims of Circumstance (Acts 16:16-40)

Paul and Silas are in the Macedonian city of Philippi (Acts 16:12). While there, they are dragged before the city’s magistrates, face unjust accusations, hear a crowd verbally attack them, get illegally beaten with rods by the police, and end up in jail with their feet in stocks.

If we were to endure such mistreatment, we might be tempted to respond with great indignation. The injury and injustice of it all! Why us? Where was God?

Meaning of Life: Religion? (Luke 4:9-13)

Just after his baptism, Jesus gets tempted by the devil in fundamental ways. First the devil tempts him to pursue happiness as the meaning of life (Luke 4:1-4). Then the devil tells him life’s meaning lies in becoming the most powerful and glorious person in the world (vs. 5-8). 

Finally, the devil quotes Scripture to prove to Jesus that he’d fix everything if he’d just start a new religion (vs. 9-13). To be clear, religion is the understanding that we can set ourselves right with God and then become so good that God owes us. But Jesus refuses to think that he is holier than others and therefore deserving of special treatment. He refuses to act as if God owes him anything. 

Meaning of Life: Power? (Luke 4:5-8)

Luke speaks of three ways the devil tempts Jesus. The devil first suggests that Jesus might best prove himself to be God’s Messiah, and fulfill the meaning of life for humans, by making us happy. Instead, Jesus puts God’s truth over any comfort and convenience (4:1-4).

The devil then tempts Jesus to do the most good by establishing a world government under his personal control and then simultaneously setting all things right everywhere (4:5-8). Oddly enough, Jesus points out that pursuing power—the ability to control—would involve loyalty to a spirit contrary to God’s.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Meaning of Life: Happiness? (Luke 4:1-4)

In the Gospel according to Luke (4:1-13), we have the story of Jesus being tempted by the devil in three ways. With each attempt, the devil tries to get Jesus to be Messiah in a way that looks promising but ultimately betrays both his revelation of God’s nature and his fulfillment of human nature. By looking at the responses of Jesus to them, we may discern how we might witness more clearly to his lordship.

The devil first tempts Jesus to turn stones into bread (4:1-4). In Luke’s story, Jesus answers by saying that humans live not by food alone. In Matthew’s version (4:4), Jesus adds that the word of God comes first. So the devil first tempts Jesus to understand being Messiah in terms of making people happy. To be clear, we may think of happiness as the contentment that comes from comfort and convenience. The devil first tempts Jesus to establish his credibility in these terms.

Loving Our Enemies (Luke 6:27-38)

“But I say to you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6: 27-28, English Standard Version here and following).

To better hear what Jesus is saying to us through these words today, we might do well to bear in mind two other biblical passages. Let’s first allow Paul to remind us: For if while we were enemies [of God] we were reconciled to God by the death of his son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life (Romans 5:10). Jesus will speak to us today about loving our enemies. While that might sound distasteful, we do well to remember that God loved us while we were yet his enemies—and still does.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Being a People of Hope (Psalm 98)

Our lord and savior Jesus Christ is alive and well. He speaks to you and me today just as easily as he spoke to Peter and Paul 2,000 years ago. He especially enjoys speaking to us through the words of the Bible. That’s why he calls us Christians every day to live as a people of hope; that is, as a people who read the Bible each day with the lively expectation that Jesus will again speak through it and enable us to discern, affirm, and share his truth, love, and vitality.

I once knew a man who was the first black to be elected to his town’s council. As a councilor he rightfully questioned a status quo that unfairly favored white neighborhoods over black ones.

Pardoned Sinners (Luke 5:12-16)

Jesus is in a city by the Sea of Galilee. Jesus: a marginal itinerant preacher. Galilee: a marginal rural area, exploited by local elites, occupied by foreign soldiers, dangling at the edge of powerful empire. No one expects anything extraordinary, let alone liberating, to happen here.

A leper approaches Jesus. A leper: a person even more marginal than Jesus, which is saying something. Everyone regards lepers as unclean, tainted, and therefore worthy of shunning. To be touched by someone with leprosy is to become just like them.

Friday, May 20, 2022

Angels and Demons

The following is my summary of Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Volume III.3: The Doctrine of Creation; Chapter XI: The Creator and His Creature; Section 51: The Kingdom of Heaven, the Ambassadors of God and their Opponents; Subsection 3: The Ambassadors of God and Their Opponents (translated by G. W. Bromiley and R. J. Ehrlich, 1960).

3. The Ambassadors of God and Their Opponents (477).

“The kingdom of God coming to us on earth is the kingdom of heaven” (477). When God’s will is done on earth as in heaven, this is both a divine and a heavenly event. It is a divine event primarily because God is its source, norm, and goal. But it is also a heavenly event, though secondarily, because, whenever God speaks and acts on earth, his angels always accompany him.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Barth on the Kingdom of Heaven

The following is my summary of Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, Volume III.3: The Doctrine of Creation; Chapter XI: The Creator and His Creature; Section 51: The Kingdom of Heaven, the Ambassadors of God and their Opponents; Subsection 2: The Kingdom of Heaven (translated by G. W. Bromiley and R. J. Ehrlich, 1960).

2. The Kingdom of Heaven (418)

To the dialectic of God and man corresponds, for the biblical witnesses to revelation, the dialectic of heaven and earth. What the Bible says about angels can be understood only in terms of this (418). “To say God in the biblical sense and therefore with a responsible Christian understanding is also to say heaven; and to say man in the same sense and with the same understanding is also to say earth…If we think in this twofold dialectic, we are necessarily led to the concept of angels appropriate to the context of the biblical witness and therefore true in the Christian sense. For in the relationship first between God and heaven, then between heaven and earth, and then and decisively between God and man, the angels have their specific place” (419).

The Limits of Angelology

1. The Limits of Angelology (369)

The challenge with angelology, the doctrine of angels, is to say enough without saying too much; to say all that can and should be said without indulging in unwarranted speculation. The challenge is that angels are “a reality which is distinct both from God and man, and therefore distinct from the true and central content of the Word of God although intimately related to it. The problem of angelology, the character of the kingdom of God as the kingdom of heaven, and the being and activity of heavenly messengers of God border on problems which are necessarily alien to the task and purpose of a dogmatics grounded on the Word of God” (370).

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The Mission of the Church

What follows is my summary of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics, Section 22 (The Mission of the Church), first subsection.

1. The Word of God and the Word of Man in Christian Preaching (743)

Jesus Christ is the revealed Word of God (743). Holy Scripture is the written Word of God: the human words witnessing to God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the form of the Bible, the Word of God manifests and maintains his absolute authority and freedom in relation to all other powers. In that form the Word of God also creates and sustains the relative authority and freedom of the Church and “becomes the object of the Church’s preaching” (744); i.e., the proclaimed Word of God. Jesus Christ: the one living Word of God in three forms: revealed, written, and proclaimed. Not although but because Church proclamation remains subordinate to the biblical witness, and those prophets and apostles remain subordinate to Jesus Christ, so “in the preaching of the Church as well we have to do with the Word of God…and therefore with God Himself” (745). By the grace of the Word revealed and written, preaching becomes “God’s own proclamation” (746).