Re-post: It’s Holy Week — Who Cares?

31 03 2015

“Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?” (Lamentations 1:12). What a searching question to ask ourselves during Holy Week!

I visualize the Book of Lamentations as written by the weeping prophet, Jeremiah, after Jerusalem had been sacked by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.

I picture him as sitting on Olivet overlooking the ruins – the temple is smashed and burned, the walls of the city lie strewn along the steep embankment of the Kidron Valley, and almost all human life in the city has ceased. It’s the picture of desolation.

At some point he must have noticed that travelers who passed the ruins went about their business as though nothing had happened and he sobs out, “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?”

There’s a place for that lament in our lives too. Sunday, March 28, for Christians is Palm Sunday and the beginning of what we call Holy week ending with Resurrection Sunday on April 4. To us today, Jerusalem is the city where, six centuries after Jeremiah, Our Lord was arrested, falsely accused, flogged unjustly and then put to death on a cross by the Roman authorities.

May we never forget that his death bore a two-fold testimony to the world. First, it bore witness to the exceeding sinfulness of sin. It was the sins of the world that put Jesus there –- greed, lust, selfishness, deception, pride — sins we all know about by shameful personal experience.

But, against all that darkness, the cross bore witness to the immeasurable greatness of God’s love for sinners — “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). John the Baptist dubbed Jesus, “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

It is fitting for us to hear Jeremiah’s question in a personal way: “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?” That is, when we see the devastation of sin portrayed in the cross and at the same time the redeeming love of God, how much does it matter?

Here are references to key happenings during the original Holy Week. You may wish to use them for your daily meditations:

SUNDAY. This was the day of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem cheered on by the mistaken notion of the throngs that he would use his great powers as a national king to drive out the Roman occupation. (Matt. 21:1-11; Lk. 19: 28-44)

MONDAY. Jesus curses the fig tree. It was a shocking “acted parable” of judgment against the nation that had failed its divine assignment. (Matt. 21:18,19)

TUESDAY. The Olivet discourse upon his return from Jerusalem to Bethany (Lk. 21:5-36)

WEDNESDAY. It is thought by some to be a day of silence. But his enemies were not silent. The ruling Sanhedrin plots to kill him. (Matt. 26:3-5; Lk 22:1-2)

THURSDAY. Preparations for his observance of the Passover meal and at the same time his instituting of communion in connection with the Last Supper (Matt. 26:20-35; Lk 22:14-30).

FRIDAY. This is the day of our Lord’s crucifixion. He is betrayed and arrested (John 18:2-12); tried before Annas (John 18:13-24); before Caiaphas (John 18:19-24); before the full Sanhedrin (Lk 22:66-71); before Pilate and Herod (Lk 23:1-25) He was on his cross from 9 A.M. To 3 P.M. (Jn 19:16-37); then hastily buried (Matt.26:57-61)

SATURDAY. The Jewish sabbath, a day of silence.

SUNDAY. Resurrection appearances (Matt. 28:1-20). The day of astonishment, joy, and the rebirth of hope. To prepare us properly for the Day of Resurrection we need the whole week for Bible reading, meditation and prayer.

Holy Week is the week in which Our Lord was betrayed into the hands of his enemies, forsaken temporarily by his nearest followers, flogged by the Roman authorities and eventually nailed to a Roman cross on which he felt forsaken by the Father because a holy God cannot countenance sin.

When the Apostle Paul reflected on the event he wanted to fellowship Christ’s sufferings (Philippians 3:10). May we be saved from any nonchalance this Holy Week and rather deepen in our identification with Christ in his life, death, burial and resurrection.

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Five Reasons You Should Read the Gospel of Mark Straight Through

23 03 2015

4543063042_6fdfde32e4_mMillions of Christians around the world are celebrating the season of Lent by denying themselves something — chocolate, a daily coke, or even one or more entire meals each week.

I have a different suggestion. Instead of going without something for 40 days why not add something? For example, why not read the Gospel according to Mark–the shortest of the four gospel accounts–in one sitting each of those 40 days?

Or, if reading the whole is too much, read four chapters at a time for a four-day read-through or, if not that, whatever fits your reading span. But, whatever the amount at a sitting, make it a point to keep the whole account together as a unit in your thoughts. In my Bible, Mark takes up 25 pages, the length of one chapter in a good novel.

Here are five reasons for reading so.

I. Mark is the first of the gospel accounts to be written. Matthew, Luke and John followed. Put into writing in the early 60s AD, the gospel of Mark is the story recorded closest to the actual events that took place when Jesus was on earth. According to tradition John Mark got his information from Peter when they were together in Rome toward the end of the apostle’s life. Peter had been one of the inner circle of our Lord’s disciples. All of this makes Mark’s account compelling.

II. Mark is the most action-packed of the four gospels. It reports more of what Jesus did than what he said, which means you move smoothly from one incident to another. The stories of Jesus’ ministry are vivid, told simply, and engaging to the heart. The story is fast-paced. That means even if you say you are not a reader the story is told so as to make it interesting to you.

III. Mark was steeped in early Christian history. His mother was a woman of means whose house in Jerusalem was a center for the early church (Acts 12:12). He was also cousin to Barnabas, one of the first missionaries (Colossians 4:10). Peter’s sermons, heard by Mark when Mark was with Peter in Rome in the latter days of Peter’s ministry, supplied the content for Mark’s gospel account.

As one might expect, given the above background, Mark wrote from the perspective of a personal faith. There’s no fluff and no “perhaps,” or “maybe” in his writing. He opens his account with this simple declaration: “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). He closes his gospel with the affirmation, “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to (the disciples) he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19).

IV. The gospel by Mark can support a stable faith in God during troubled times such as ours. According to early church tradition, Mark was written in Italy, very close to the time (64 AD) when Rome experienced the fire that Nero had likely set and then blamed on the Christians. Persecution ensued. Then or now, this gospel, assembled with its economy of words, can be a stabilizer to the troubled heart.

V. Reading Mark’s account in the straight-ahead fashion I’m recommending will bring you to the core of the gospel with each reading — Christ’s death and resurrection, and his call to belief and discipleship. After the stories of Jesus’ healing presence and his power over evil, we learn about our Lord’s crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. Without them there is no gospel.

Thanks to Mark’s account, as disciples living today, we have a trustworthy message for this life and an eternal hope for the life to come. How better to observe Lent and prepare ourselves for the celebrations of Easter?


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Resisting the Plague of Narcissism

16 03 2015

Narcissus by Caravaggio

Narcissism has been much in the news during this past week. I heard about it from the media in full detail three times.

Narcissus was a mythological figure known for his beauty who, it is said, looked into a pool, saw a reflection of himself, and fell in love with what he saw.

So Narcissism is the term used of people who are self-absorbed and pre-occupied with their own imagined superiority. They may come across as strong and self-assured but when that self assurance isn’t honored as they expect they are likely to react in a surge of punishing anger or even violence. The so-called big ego turns out to be amazingly fragile.

Narcissism has been on the rise in western youth in recent years. It often is manifested by a strong sense of entitlement. “I’m special and I deserve special treatment.” “I’ll not take just any job.” So why is this in the news especially this week?

A study on Narcissism has been released that gives a fresh understanding of the cause of this dominating state of mind. Co-authored by Brad Bushman of Ohio State University, the study surveyed 565 children ages 7 through 11 and 415 mothers and 290 fathers.

Narcissism, the study shows, can be traced to parents who “overvalue” their children during the developmental stage of their lives. Children between 6 and 8 are especially sensitive to parental influence. This inflated self-image of the Narcissist can be buried deep in the psyche.

If during those years children are told in one way or another they are superior, they are more than special, they do things better than others, and they are thus put on a pedestal, they internalize an undeserved view of their superiority. And other people come not to matter.

It used to be believed that Narcissism shows itself in children who are shown little parental warmth. The new insight from this study pointing to “overvaluing” supplants that understanding.

One might assume from the findings of the study that the condition is planted by parents who have a need to reach some personal star achievement of their own in their children. “My child can do no wrong; my child is unusual in every respect; my child deserves special attention from kindergarten on.” These can be damaging assumptions.

The felt need to foster self-esteem in their child is an entirely different matter. Self-esteem develops when children are helped to internalize within themselves the sense that they are valuable individuals but not superior to the extent that they can do no wrong. In the raising of them they will get the appropriate amount of teaching, correcting, disciplining, and such otherwise character-shaping treatment as needed, all within the context of warm adult parental love. It is “overvaluing” that does the damage.

Christian parents may foster Narcissism in their children if they adopt certain cultural modes of parenting rather than taking their teaching from the Scriptures and Judeo-Christian understandings of humanity.

Christian parents believe that children are not a possession; they are a trust from God and must be raised with that in mind. Valuable as we are to God and one another we are all flawed and that fact should be kept in sight as we raise children.

We should not be surprised when we catch a child in the first lie, or see the first tantrum, or discover the first amazing deception. Dealing with these with love and firmness is important.

Christian parents will affirm their children’s achievements to a degree appropriate to their ages and commensurate with the actual achievement. When a four-year-old makes his bed or a seven-year-old sets the table they are thanked, but not raved over as if that was the most amazing thing anyone had ever done. And when they do wrong, the call to account should be real.

Christian parents pray daily with their children and in this setting where the Christian view of human nature is shared children can be helped to face their failures as well as their successes. The early teaching of a developing child to worship God who is majestic and holy and far above them, is a first line against the development of Narcissism.


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Why Be Determined to Teach Children to Obey?

9 03 2015

1384954600_483e7e4698_mTeaching children to obey is often a wearying task, for the components of obedience are many: wrestling with a little one’s will; uncovering little deceptions; administering encouragement and rewards — and occasional punishments.

These and a score of other challenges make raising children demanding. Thankfully, the years for instilling the ability to obey are also replete with good times and pleasant parent/child exchanges.

The lessons for instilling obedience require constant teaching, whether we do it by calculated instruction, or by quiet example.

The responsibility can wear parents out, and there are times when they could find it easy to say, “Enough!” and leave the rambunctious child to his or her own devices. But the task is too important for parents to allow themselves to quit or even take breaks. The wise parent must carry on in hope even when the task seems exhausting.

The reasons teaching obedience is important, even crucial, are more numerous than might appear. One could say we must teach obedience to have peace in the family, or to help the child develop a sense of boundaries. Both goals are worthy, but I mention a broader reason in my book, God’s House Rules.

The larger and lifelong goal is to prepare children to live wholesomely under a complex pattern of authorities that are sure to shape their environment wherever they are for an entire lifetime. I write:

Imagine a husband and his wife with two children living in an apartment building. On the one hand, the parents exercise authority over the children. But at the same time, the parents are under the authority of the building manager and the building’s rules.

When that mother drives to her job in the morning she respects the authority of highway ordinances. The policeman in a cruiser tucked behind a bridge abutment is there for a reason.

Then at her work as a department manager, she oversees the work of her team; but at the same time she is under the authority of the superintendent of the plant. The multiple authority structures we all live under are many and require balance.

Isn’t it true that if children learn obedience at home they will function better in their childhood world – school, summer camp, Sunday School class, scouting programs, baseball leagues – not to mention how they will do later as adults?

In passing, I note that focussing on the Apostle Paul’s one word of counsel (Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right (Ephesians 6:1) leaves room for lots of play, pleasant exchanges, and fun-filled surprises in the home. In fact, fun experiences are even more likely when there is good order.

Some secular voices might counter that “obedience” is old-fashioned and overrated: after all, they say, children need to be free to be creative, to experiment and to test their wings. The two ideas of obedience and self-actualization are not mutually-exclusive, but creativity and experimentation need some degree of supervision.

Obedience goes to the heart of the matter, and if obedience is not viewed as fundamental other less wholesome styles of relating — chaotic or combative or competitive — will battle for dominance and prevail.

Above all, Christian parents understand that they are accountable to God for the task. And they know they are equipped by Him for the stewardship of parenting. They also know there are rewards to children when they are helped to live ordered lives (Exodus 20:12). God makes his promises.

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Amazing Things The New Testament Says About Jesus

2 03 2015

15405137033_54e73dfd56_mThe wonder of the crowds when Jesus stilled the storm on the Sea of Galilee: “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him.” (Matthew 8:27).

The aged Apostle John’s testimony following several decades of reflection after Jesus’ death: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:3).

God’s revelation of himself to the world: “In the past, God spoke to our fathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Hebrews 1:1).

What the Apostle Paul believed about who Jesus is: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” (Colossians 1:15).

Simon Peter’s declaration after he had seen Jesus at close range under all sorts of circumstances: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16).

The call of the Gospel to all who hear it preached: This is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son does not have life. (1 John 5:11,12).


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Re-post: Do Christians Worship One God or Three?

23 02 2015

Muslims charge that Christians worship three gods. Unitarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses make the same accusation. The word, Trinity, offends them.

Even some Christians are vague about what Trinity means because it seems mysterious. Mysterious indeed: God reveals himself first as one God, and, at the same time, as three Persons in one Godhead.

When God addressed Moses at the burning bush (Ex. 3) Moses’ world reeked with many gods. He knew that. Yet, Moses did not ask, “Which God is this now?” From the beginning, it was revealed to him that there was only one true God to reckon with.

Listen to the Shema of the Old Testament: “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut. 6:4). In that ancient world teeming with gods, the Old Testament holds Jehovah to be “the Sovereign Lord” (Hab. 3:19).

The New Testament continues the claim. During Jesus’ forty-day fast, Satan tried to entice Jesus to worship him. Jesus said, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’” (Lk. 4:8).

At the same time, Scriptures show that this One God manifests himself in three persons, and this reality is set forth repeatedly.

After the resurrection, Thomas worshiped the risen Savior. He exclaimed, “My Lord and my God.” If this declaration had been false but Jesus had accepted it, his acceptance would have been blasphemous. Instead, later the Apostle John reinforces Thomas’s declaration. He testifies of Jesus, “the Word was God” (John 1:1).

But what about the Holy Spirit? In the early church, when a couple named Ananias and Sapphira tried to deceive Peter over a money gift, Peter saw through their ruse. He said to Ananias, “… you have lied to the Holy Spirit” (Acts 5:3). Then he added, “You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:4). It is not possible to lie to a mere influence. The Holy Spirit is obviously more than a feeling or an influence. He is “personal.” He is God, the Spirit.

So, Jesus, at his baptism “saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove” and heard the voice of the Father saying, “This is my Son whom I love” (Matt.3:16, 17). In that moment we have the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in one event of revelation.

During the first four hundred years of the early church, the church fathers wrestled with these affirmations made in both Testaments. To give them order, they formulated this precious truth under the title of the Trinity.

They said, God is one in “essence” and three in “persons.” He must be worshiped without dividing the essence or confusing the persons. God the Father rules over all; God the Son is our Redeemer; God the Spirit is our sanctifier.

He is one God manifesting himself in three persons. The hymn our congregation sang to conclude worship on a recent Sunday morning included the following words:

Laud and honor to the Father,/ Laud and honor to the Son,/

Laud and honor to the Spirit,/ Ever Three and Ever One./

We sing this 700-year-old hymn in praise to our God who is revealed to us as the Three-in-One – the God who creates, redeems and sanctifies us.

If this truth still mystifies you, remember that it is in our worship of the God who is three-in-one that we come closest to grasping the reality of this great mystery of the Christian faith.

When we pray, “Our Father which art in Heaven” we worship the one and only God. When we say of Jesus, “He is Lord and Savior,” we acknowledge the one and only God. When we entreat the Holy Spirit to intercede for us, we entreat the one and only God. Three persons in one Godhead!

Let us worship our God!

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Can Marriage Be Redefined? Part 3

16 02 2015

5118561480_3296f53489_m_PeteEvangelicals almost universally believe that marriage is an institution ordained of God, a covenanted relationship bonding one man and one woman for life. They ground this belief in the Scriptures, and in doing so they are joined by many nominal Christians and also non-believers who nevertheless have a view of life deeply influenced by Judeo-Christian thought.

On this matter, I write with good will toward all, none excepted. My purpose is positive, not negative. I address only the one question: what does the Bible say on this issue?

There are reports that evangelicals in some quarters are deviating from this understanding of marriage in the name of compassion. Does the Bible leave room for such a variance?

The answer begins with the story of creation. The opening chapter of the Bible declares that everything that exists was spoken into being by the word of God. Then it tells the story step by step, moving relentlessly forward to the pinnacle of God’s creative work — the creation of man.

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, in our likeness …’” (Genesis 1:26). Man, this planned, God-formed creature, the peak or exclamation point of creation as the story tells it, is going to be assigned to rule over all.

The fulfillment of this divine intention to bring humankind into being is then announced and nailed down by the threefold repetition of the word “to create.” “So God created man in his own image, / In the image of God he created him; / male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27).

Then came their united domestic assignment: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). Together they are “man” (Genesis 1:26) — that is, humankind — but as “man” they are “male and female” (Genesis 1:27). The implication is that together, through copulation, they will procreate, that is, act in behalf of God to bring human life into being.

Then comes Genesis 2 with its matchless story of Adam and Eve. Here is the ground for marriage as it has been understood for centuries. One man and one woman in a “one flesh” union.

I see Genesis 1 as the big picture of creation, taken with a wide-angle lens. Then the angle narrows and we look in upon the creation of man in greater depth. He is alone at first, and his name is Adam (man). God sees that he is lonely. He solves the problem with a divine surgery. Now there are two. They share a common human identity but there is a bifurcation so that they are attracted to each other by certain differences. They are male and female.

This is how the Bible gives us the first intimation of marriage. Adam and Eve are capable of producing children, which in time they do.

From that point in prehistory there is a string that runs through the Bible featuring marriage as a relationship of one man with one woman. Abraham had one wife, Sarah, though after her death he married Keturah. Earlier when he succumbed to Canaanite practices and took Hagar as a concubine to bear him an heir the Bible makes clear things did not go well. Concubines as second wives, were not in God’s plan.

Jacob wanted to have only one wife but his father-in-law tricked him into having two, and eventually there were four. In that story Bible readers are shown the negative consequences of polygamy: domestic disorder.

Ruth, the Moabitess married an Israelite man while he was living in Moab. He died there. She came to her mother-in-law’s home in Bethlehem and married the Israelite, Boaz. In each case, even for someone from another culture, one man and one woman was the standard.

The Bible favors this Adam and Eve plan. It also contains many examples of deviations from the plan. It appears to prescribe the former, and only to describe the latter.

The Proverbs also have a string of wisdom sayings to favor traditional marriage: “A wife of noble character who can find? / She is worth far more than rubies” (Proverbs 31:10). Notice: “a wife,” not “wives.” “May your fountain be blessed / and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth” (Proverbs 5:18). Again the model is one throughout life.

The New Testament is no less clear that a marriage is a union of one man and one woman. To the Corinthian church planted in a degenerate seaport city the Apostle Paul wrote, “But since there is so much immorality each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). To the Ephesian church likewise he wrote, “However each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:33).

The Bible has much to teach about the evil of deviations from this pattern of one man and one woman. Even the scandalous situation of Solomon with 700 wives and 300 concubines is only reported, not commended. Other reports of deviation are many. Lamech is the first to take a second wife (Genesis 4:19). The Sodomites veer to the course of same-sex intimacy and violence (Genesis 19:1–5). In all such deviations the reports do not condone any immoral practice or plead for the approval of what the Lord does not approve.

Most significant, our Lord spoke clearly to the issue of marriage when he was confronted by the Pharisees on what to them had become a sticky question — the issue of divorce (Matthew 19:3–9). Rather than entering their ongoing debate at that level he reminded them of the timeless account of Adam and Eve (Matthew 19: 4–6). And in doing so, he merged as God’s inspired word the accounts of Genesis 1 and 2, quoting from each together on the subject.

All Christians are called to treat with compassion the troubling issues others wrestle with in the realm of sexuality. But to do so by veering from the clear teachings of the Christian Scriptures will always be a response of unfaithfulness. Our sacred book makes clear that marriage cannot be other than the covenanted relationship of one man with one woman.


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