Archive for August, 2017

Humility in the Wilderness

August 31, 2017

I’m leading (and creating) an in-depth Bible study on the book of Revelation.  It has been an adventure, to say the least, one that has left me with a deep appreciation for the awesome task of making sense of God’s Word, and the reality that our understanding is at times very limited in this respect.

Today we’re tackling Chapter 17, the beginning section treating the fate of three powerful entities aligned against the people of God, his Church, and ultimately God himself.  The events of Chapter 17 unfold in the wilderness, a locale scripturally associated both with God’s formative work in people’s lives (the people of Israel in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) as well as temptation (Jesus tempted in the wilderness, Matthew 4).  In John’s revelation, the wilderness is both where the Church flees from the persecution of Satan (Chapter 12), and is now also where John beholds the Great Harlot and her fate.

Even in just that simple paragraph I’ve no doubt offended, confused, or contradicted several dozen different interpretative moves amongst Revelation scholars.  I take comfort in that they also offend, confuse, and contradict one another, so adding my comparatively light academic and theological opinion to the mix is hardly the straw that will break any camel’s back!

But what struck me as I concluded my preparatory reading this morning was that  in the interpretation above, both the real and true Church of God, the bride of Christ who has been made pure, as well as the great harlot drunk on the wine of her many sins are in the wilderness.  Contextually, the Church is there because God has prepared a place of refuge for her there (12:6, 14).  We presume that the harlot is there in order to waylay those in the Church or those who might seek her.  She is there to seduce and misdirect whatever of God’s faithful she might, and to ensure that those currently outside of the fold of faith are unable (or at least unlikely) to reach it.  The harlot is attired in all the wealth and accoutrements and esteem so valued by the world.  It could only be by the very grace of God that someone was not fooled into following her instead of searching out the  bride of the Lamb clothed in fine but comparatively simple (and pure!) linen (19:8).

I side with those who interpret the woman to be the embodiment of the second beast (Revelation 13).  She is the lure of false religion as well as false teaching within the Church itself, leading to apostasy and rejection of true faith in Jesus Christ and knowledge of God as self-disclosed by God in his Word.  Which means you have the True Church as well as the False Church both out in the wilderness together.  Both contending with one another.  Both arguing for the truth of their identity and position and teachings.  One of them faithful and pure, the other terribly, eternally wrong.

If such is the case, then I would think it prudent for those claiming to be followers of Christ today to have a certain amount of humility and caution as they engage with one another.  Particularly I’m thinking of the current, codified version of an ongoing argument among Christians.   And I would particularly think that those whose major argument is for some sort of new divine revelation that directly contradicts thousands of years of theological understanding and interpretation would be just a tad wary that perhaps their arguments aren’t nearly as divinely inspired as they believe.  That perhaps they are being led astray into a false teaching intended ultimately to wrench them from Jesus himself.

This is not to say that longevity is to be equated with truth.  But within the Scriptural context, there is the clear warning against faithfulness that over time turns to unfaithfulness.  The bride or unmarried young woman who becomes the whore.  The danger is always that we are being led away by our own ideas and passions, which are not really ours but rather are the promptings of our ancient enemy, the Accuser.  I put a great deal more stock in the long-held interpretations and teachings of the Church over and against whatever spirit of the age might be popular.  It isn’t that the Church is never wrong, but it seems that the odds are better of her being right in the totality of her history and teaching than of me being right by coming up with some new interpretation or application.  Especially if it directly contradicts not just the teaching of the Church but the fairly clear Word of God itself.

We’re in the wilderness, that much is clear.  So we should be extra careful of the company we keep, so to speak.  One of the people we’ll meet in the wilderness is going to lead us to death, and the other to life.  One is going to seem obviously the right choice because of her wealth and power, as opposed to the persecuted and scorned condition of the other.  If our theological stance places us on the side of the spirit of the age and those self-entrusted with directing our ideas and values, perhaps we need to be very, very skeptical and nervous that we’re not in the right camp.  It isn’t that we haven’t been warned that it’s going to be confusing.  But it also isn’t that we haven’t been assured that the truth is available (Revelation 14:6-7).

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Codifying Arguments

August 30, 2017

Media is starting to be abuzz as conservative and liberal Christians square off against one another – predictably – over issues of sexuality and gender.  The Nashville Statement was released this week (I presume), as a statement of traditional, conservative Biblical understandings of gender and sexuality and marriage.  In response, The Denver Statement was crafted by a congregation led by ELCA pastor and media sensation Nadia Bolz-Weber.

First off, I question the value of these sorts of statements.  I’d far rather sit down with someone and talk with them about these things instead of just directing them to a website proclamation.  Then again, I’m blessed to be part of a confessional church body.  I don’t have to figure out how to articulate every nuance of theology personally because I’m part of a larger church body that works on this corporately.  Not perfectly, to be sure, but certainly an advantage.  For pastors and congregations without that benefit, I suppose proclamations of this sort become a kind of creedal formulation.

First off, I’m struck by core differences between the two statements.  The Nashville statement appears to be trying to repeat what people see the Bible saying.  The Denver Statement seems to be asserting what people are saying, but not necessarily the Bible.  For instance The Denver Statement claims that “The pathway to full and lasting joy through God’s good design for God’s creatures is clearly inclusive of a variety of identities…”  What does clearly inclusive mean?  How is it clearly inclusive, and on what basis?

I’m struck once again by the means by which media and activists strive to paint the various stripes of sexual and gender expression as roughly equal to heterosexuality.  The Denver Statement talks about those who “happen” to be traditionally heterosexual.  However by all accounts, the vast majority of the human population just “happens” to be heterosexual and more or less unconfused by issue of sexual and gender identity.  We’re talking about a very small percentage of people – well under 5% by most accounts.  It’s not just a matter of happening  to be traditionally oriented in terms of sex and gender identity.  It would be far more accurate to speak of the very small group of people who happen to not feel this way for any number of reasons.  And to question whether the assumptions this group has embraced might not be more prone to flawed thinking than the traditional viewpoints.

The Denver Statement denies the Biblical notion of holy sexuality, but on what basis?  Is our personal preference to be the basis for rejection of Scripture (and obviously I’m talking about Christians – I don’t expect non-Christians to accept the Bible as true!)?  Is my personal experience or preference the grounds for rejecting Biblical teaching and insisting on a justification of my experience or preference?  If I gather together with a few other people who share my experience or preference, does that make them any more valid in terms of Biblical revisionism?  Even within my own church polity, the dangers of like-minded people banding together to push their own ideas is always something to be on the watch for!

I think The Nashville Statement does a good job of trying to convey a love for all people without condoning the ideas and practices of all people.  Of course, in a post-rational culture, people aren’t going to be able to discern between the two.  Either you like me and therefore agree with me, or you don’t like me and disagree with me.

I’m all for Bolz-Weber’s insistence on taking the Gospel to those the larger Church is less inclined to reach out to.  I recognize doing so requires some unorthodox approaches.  The trick is always to know what is negotiable and what is not.  What is the Gospel and what isn’t?  How can God’s non-negotiable Word and love be communicated to people without simply deciding that ideas and thoughts and actions and words that contradict God’s Word must be acceptable.  It’s a dangerous tightrope to walk, and it’s one I’m not entirely unfamiliar with.   And it’s a tightrope Bolz-Weber herself seems to recognize, as this sermon from 2015 seems to indicate (follow the link and then click on the sermon entitled A Sermon on the Matrix, the Gospel, and the US Congress).  If politics can experience a repentance, a turning away from sin, why not sexuality and gender?  And why not assume that God the Holy Spirit can and will grant healing and grace and peace in such a decision?

Statements  don’t accomplish this.  Conversations do.  More accurately, the Word of God accomplishes this.  Even when we don’t expect it or don’t even want it.  That’s the glory and grace and power of God at work.

 

More Misjudging Nature?

August 29, 2017

Last week I wrote about how science interprets animal behavior through the lens of natural selection.  Every behavior must somehow fit into this very limited understanding of our world, thereby excluding any other explanations.  Scientists struggle to make sense of things like altruism in humans, looking for evolutionary causes rather than the possibility that we actually are altruistic at times.  And if humans can’t be allowed to actually be altruistic because it has no reliable natural selection explanation, then animals certainly can’t be credited with such complicated motivations.

We are accustomed to assuming that scientists are right, and that animals have no such emotions or motivations, and rather are more strictly and simply motivated by survival instincts that have needed to become masked and made more complicated in human beings alone – for no readily explainable reason.

So this video of two hippos driving off a crocodile about to drown a wildebeest, must have natural selection explanations.  The hippos couldn’t possibly have just decided to save the wildebeest.

The explanations in the article hold the natural selection line by denying any possible altruistic motives.  The croc was too close to the hippos is the first hypothesis, which triggers their aggressiveness.  But it’s clear in the video that this is not the case.  The hippos close on the crocodile from far more than two meters.  The second theory, that the splashing triggered their territorial urges, also seems unlikely.  Most of the splashing occurred earlier, and the hippos were nowhere to be seen.  What size is the territory that a hippo stakes out?  Do two hippos stake out the same territory and work together within it?  If they are sub-dominant males, are they acting on behalf of the dominant male?  Isn’t that his job?  And if they share the watering hole anyways, why would territory need to be staked out if the basic relationship between the two species is live and let live?

Of course, there are lots of questions for the altruistic explanation that are just as slippery to answer.  Why save this wildebeest and not every wildebeest?  But I don’t think the behavior of two individuals in a singular situation need dictate a policy of sorts among hippos.

I don’t intend to (or even wish to!) completely undermine and dismiss all scientific observations.  But it seems to me that the lens of natural selection forces scientists down a very narrow path when interpreting animal behavior.  Maybe it’s helpful to just admit that they are more complicated than we often give them credit for, something that ultimately makes creation that much more amazing.

Select Who to Protect?

August 28, 2017

In case you missed it, that shining star of intellectual prowess and liberty, Berkeley, just had another stellar moment yesterday.  You might remember back in February when demonstrators against conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos ended up causing $100,000 in damage to the UC Berkeley campus and causing him to cancel his talk.  Yesterday, Berkeley police opted not to prevent armed alt-left antifa protesters from entering a park and assaulting at least five conservative protesters.

How should a city deal with perpetrators of violence – regardless of their ideological creed?  Apparently Berkeley’s mayor thinks the best way is to capitulate and hope they’ll play nicer.  Berkeley’s mayor requested UC Berkeley to cancel future planned speaking engagements by Yiannopoulos and other conservatives.  Fortunately, at least so far, the university has refused.

And rightly so.

It shouldn’t take a genius to recognize that you don’t end violence by giving violent protesters what they demand.  Our nation has enjoyed a long history of mostly peaceful demonstrations for various causes and ideologies.  Some of them are or were appealing and beneficial.  Others not so much.  But the important hallmark of America’s freedom of speech and freedom of assembly is that, so long as they are peaceful, they are allowed.  That such a tradition, and such liberties, should be usurped by any group using violence and intimidation ought to be repugnant to every American, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum.

Frighteningly, though, it doesn’t seem to be repugnant to everyone.  While President Trump was excoriated for his perceived inadequate response to neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, there has been far less call for such repudiation of the antifa movement by Democratic leadership, and far less criticism of them for failing to do so.

This is how freedom dies.  By police deciding not to enforce the law.  To wait until after the violence to make arrests rather than standing strong and calling for backup.  Were the police worried they would be overrun by masked street thugs?  Better that the police be overrun, that they call for backup, that they show these cowardly extremists for who and what they are, than allow citizens to be brutalized and the event to be passed off as a conflict between liberal and conservative ideologies.

It’s scary enough to realize that politicians and media are so painfully biased.  But it hits closer to home to think that the police might demonstrate such a bias as well.  That they might choose not to protect you and your family.  This is how freedom dies.  I hope that others will join in criticizing the decision by the Berkeley police to stand down and allow unarmed citizens to be attacked, rather than fulfilling their sworn duty to serve and protect.  Such an ideological decision is a black eye on law enforcement, one that I hope law enforcement leaders around the country will denounce.

 

Reading Ramblings – September 3, 2017

August 27, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 3, 2017

Texts: Jeremiah 15:15-21; Psalm 26; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 16:21-28

Context: The readings for this week focus on the life of faith, a life of obedience to our resurrected Lord and Savior. Such obedience may be difficult. It may put us at odds with the world and make enemies of everyone around us. Yet we are still called to obedience and faithfulness, trusting in the Lord to deliver us ultimately to his eternal rest and joy.

Jeremiah 15:15-21 – These verses are a continuation of a dialog between Jeremiah and God, wherein Jeremiah laments his lot in life, his harsh treatment despite his service to the Lord, and asks God for vindication and deliverance. Verses 15-18 are Jeremiah’s justification for his request. He has been faithful. He has delighted in God’s Word. He did not waste his time with pointless or sinful parties. Rather, in response to the hand of God, he had been drawn out of and away from the company and companionship of others. We anticipate God’s solace and kindness, but first God rebukes Jeremiah. Verse 21 calls for Jeremiah to return to faithfulness. In his complaining he had been sinful. However God is willing to forgive if Jeremiah is willing to repent and return to his calling. If he will quit wasting his breath on complaints and instead speak the word of God that is precious, God will fortify Jeremiah in his prophetic role and provide him the strength and protection that he craves. God does not promise to rectify the main issue of Jeremiah’s complaint – a loneliness and separation from others – but rather promises that God will sustain him so that his detractors and enemies don’t prevail against him.

Psalm 26 – We are struck by the audacity of the opening line – that God should respond to us based on our own righteousness! The speaker prays for vindication, repeating this in verses 2, 9, and 10. The language sounds similar to Jeremiah, however it is likely that Jeremiah is utilizing this psalm’s wording, since his prophetic ministry takes place long after this psalm was written – perhaps as many as 500 years later. Verses 9-10 likely provide the context for the psalm, and a better way for us to relate to it. Apparently there are those who are lying and bribing, perhaps seeking advantage over the speaker publicly and professionally. The speaker’s livelihood and perhaps even life is at stake because of the false words and evil plans of unrighteous enemies. In this context, the speaker calls on the Lord to vindicate his conduct. Whatever he is accused of is false – he has acted uprightly and is not deserving of what is said about him. As such, the speaker remains confident enough to remain on the straight and narrow path and go about publicly and in worship, confident that God will show him to be right in this matter.

Romans 12:9-21 – What does a Christian look like? As we exercise the gifts of grace given to us by God in his wisdom and goodness, what does this do in our lives? Can we use such gifts maliciously and hatefully? Hardly! Can we apply those gifts towards sinful ends? Of course not. Rather, the good gifts of God naturally draw us closer in Christian community in love rather than hate or evil. Our character is changed based on the gifts of God Paul discussed in 12:4-8. We are fundamentally mistaken if we think these gifts exist for our personal pleasure and prominence. Rather, we are to be humble and honoring of one another instead of insisting on honor for ourselves. Paul continues his list. Those who have been blessed with the gifts of God will not be lazy but eager to serve the Lord. They will be generous and always on the lookout for opportunities to help those in need. Their lives will be characterized by the way they act towards others, seeking their good rather than their ill. Their hearts will be open to others, so that sorrow in one affects them and leads them to sorrow as well. They will associate with people of all social classes and standings rather than seeking the advantages of associating only with the rich and powerful. They will not be prideful or arrogant, but will always be considerate of others to a fault. Finally, they are to live lives of peace as much as possible, trusting in God to be their vindicator rather than demanding justice on their terms and in their timing. Rather, they are to be a blessing even to their enemies, which might lead to repentance. Rather than responding in kind to evil, they are to hold fast to the good they have learned in Jesus Christ, trusting that in the end, good will indeed overcome all evil.

Matthew 16:21-28 – In confessing Jesus as the Christ rather than just another prophet, Peter implies that Jesus has a job to do. But what is that job? Jesus begins to explain to them now what his work is and Peter is convinced that Jesus has it wrong. Jesus doesn’t understand the job of the Messiah even though He is the Messiah, and Peter takes it upon himself to correct him. In doing so, Peter is confronting Jesus with the same temptations that Satan set before him in 4:1-11! And just like Satan, Jesus must overcome the temptation in order to remain faithful to his identity and calling as the Messiah.

Jesus continues to clarify to his followers. If they expect that as followers of the Messiah they are in for royal treatment and reward, they are mistaken. They will suffer greatly for their association with Jesus, even to death just as He will! Yet they are to remain steadfast and faithful. Saving their own lives for the time being in the hopes of living out the remainder of their lives in peace and safety is a ridiculously bad trade-off for the eternal glory and joy awaiting them in eternity!

Jesus’ words in vs. 27-28 have perplexed scholars for two millenium. Many want to assume that Jesus is referring to the Second Coming – to the final judgment and end of the world, so that He is telling his listeners that some of them will not die before this happens. However this doesn’t seem to be the actual case. Others link Jesus’ promise here to his Transfiguration in Chapter 17, and certainly that would seem to be at least a partial fulfillment of his promise here. Others see his death and resurrection as fulfillment of this promise, and that seems reasonable as well. First in the Transfiguration and then in his death and resurrection Jesus’ disciples glimpse a portion of his glory and majesty, his reign in his kingdom.

Quiet Victories

August 21, 2017

My oldest son started school this morning.

Facebook is littered with smiling kids preparing to depart for their first day of school with placards indicating the year and the grade.  They’re cute and I’m happy for them, of course.  Then again, going into the next grade is sort of expected.  It was never a big deal when I was a kid.  It was what was expected.  It was my job, if you will.  To study and apply myself and do what was necessary and expected to complete one grade level and move on to the next.  We didn’t have commencement ceremonies for kindergarten or elementary school or junior high.  You didn’t get that until you were really finished, which was graduating high school.  At that point you had accomplished what was expected.  Everything leading up to that was nice and all, but not exactly worth celebrating.

That’s what my son is doing.  It’s what all three of my kids are doing, to be sure.  And I’m fiercely proud of each of them.  But it’s usually a quiet pride.  However I have to say something about my oldest boy today.  He’s continuing school, but it’s the first time he’s left home for school in eight years.  He attended a charter school for kindergarten and first grade before we were ready to begin home schooling.  For the last eight years he’s studied at home, and with that goes all the uncertainty and hope and doubt and angst as parents that is perpetual companion to the decision to do things differently.  Are we preparing him adequately?  Are we doing right by him?  What are our goals?  Who is he going to turn out to be and how do we both help form and shape that person as well as enable and equip that person as they grow?

So today he leaves home for school.  At 15 he’s entering the formal classroom again.  But it’s not a sophomore or high school classroom.  Instead, he’s entering a dual-enrollment program at the local community college.  He’s sitting in a college classroom with a college professor and peers that are, with the exception of his good friend who is 16 and taking the course with him, much older.

I don’t know how he’ll perform.  I don’t know whether it will be easy for him or not.  I don’t know what grade he’ll get, or even if he’ll finish the course.  At the moment, none of those things matter.  I have high hopes, to be sure, and the utmost confidence in both him and our ability to help him be successful.  But for the moment, I’m simply proud of who he is as I walk out the door to work.  Smiling.  Confident.  Excited.  Eager.  Willing.

To me, that’s one kind of accomplishment I can already credit my wife with in home schooling our children.  They have a sense of confidence and capability.  They assume that if they put their minds to something, they’ll be able to accomplish it somehow.   That’s a great place to start.

There will be disappointments and failures undoubtedly.  Hopefully small and manageable.  But to at least begin with the belief that you can make things work, that’s a beautiful thing to see.  And I have to believe it will make the disappointments easier to deal with when they come.  It will make getting up and starting again or starting over easier.

But for the moment, I’m so happy and proud of him and the glow that surrounds him as he prepares to head out into the world.  I thank God for all He has given me in my wife and family and the hope I have for this world and myself because of them.

Go get ’em, boy.  You can do it.

August 21, 2017

I woke up this morning pleased to say I didn’t know when the eclipse was happening today, but grateful that I wouldn’t have to hear about it any more.  I glanced at the sky as I headed out for the day, as the eclipse was supposed to be happening.  But it was a beautiful grey cloud and fog cover that hid the sun completely from my view.  I wondered how many disappointed people there were around the country who had built this moment into some sort of personal epiphany, and would have their hopes crushed by the equally wonderful but too familiar beauty of clouds.

It’s not that I’m not interested in nature, but I automatically distrust things that become an obsession in our media and culture.  The moon passes in front of the sun as it has innumerable times.  But now because we can communicate and plug in 24/7 it becomes an Event.  Perhaps an even greater Event than in the days when we picture uneducated peasants looking up at terror and imagining a dragon consuming the source of light and warmth and hope.

The Eclipse isn’t going to change your life.  It’s not going to provide you with fulfillment, or happiness or meaning.  At best it’s a distraction for the vast majority of folks.  For a small percentage it might serve as inspiration towards a particular vocation.  But what we don’t need is another distraction from the issues that need to be dealt with, whether personally or communally.  I wish we could get as excited and committed to dealing with those things as we apparently are with having the proper eclipse-viewing gear.

Reading Ramblings – August 27, 2017

August 20, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – August 27, 2017

Texts: Isaiah 51:1-6; Psalm 138; Romans 11:33-12:8; Matthew 16:13-20

Context: The texts for today emphasize the Lord’s working in our lives. All too often we are inclined to think that it is we who pursue and find God. But it is God who pursues us, who raises us from spiritual death to life in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Isaiah 51:1-6 – What begins as though a summons to the wise and spiritual and godly ends up with an emphasis on the saving work of God. Abraham and Sarah are invoked not because of their piety but because of God’s decision to work through them, particularly through their shortcomings (no children) in order to show his power and bestow his blessings. Verse three particularly seems to emphasize the Lord’s ability to grant bounty in the place of barrenness, a thinly veiled reference to his granting Sarah and Abraham a child despite their advanced ages. Verses 4-6 call us to turn our attention from ourselves and fix our eyes on God – on his righteousness, his salvation, his judgment, and his mighty arm. We are not the main characters in the story of our life. We are part of God’s story, and it is the story of him accomplishing all these things on our behalf. Our efforts amount to nothing but smoke, but the promises of God are eternal and reliable.

Psalm 138 – This three-part psalm praises God for his love and faithfulness, moving from a personal account of God’s saving hand to a general exhortation and expectation of praise to God from all the rulers of the earth, before moving back to a personal statement of confidence in God’s continued blessing and protection. The personal reasons for praise act as a spur, a reason for the more general expectation of praise. God’s care for the individual is the demonstration of his worthiness for praise by even the kings of the earth, who He expects to approach him in humility. The psalmist emphasizes God’s steadfastness – He is committed to his creation.

Romans 11:33-12:8 – Paul concludes his inspirations on the relationship of Gentile Christians to their Jewish brethren with an explosion of praise to God. Paul draws on Isaiah 40:13 in part to express his praise in the Lord’s inscrutable wisdom and ways. While we can’t imagine how the Gentiles will be used to reconcile the Jewish people in faith to Jesus Christ, the Lord has figured this out. It is this very omnipotence and omniscience of God, applied to the well-being of his creation, that should spur the faithful in Jesus Christ to obedience. God knows what is best and we would do well to conform to his wisdom in all things, thereby attaining to holiness and acceptableness in his sight. The world can only lead us away from God and his wisdom, but careful attention to his Word will draw us closer to him and closer to who He intends for us to be.

It is God’s wisdom which leads us to be all that we can be, but we are inclined to lean on our own estimations and understandings, imagining ourselves to be more faithful, more resolute in our faith than we actually are. We might consider Peter’s confidence at the last supper, assuring Jesus he would follow him even to death when Jesus knew full well that Peter would deny him three times that very same night.

God has indeed blessed us with gifts, however! And we should endeavor to embrace them and put them to use inasfar as He has equipped us to do so. The expectation is that we should see this diversity of gifts as a good thing – to our benefit – rather than an opportunity for judgment or determining who is more important or valuable than another. By focusing on utilizing our gifts, we will have less time to compare ourselves to others.

Matthew 16:13-20 – The pharisees have recently demanded that Jesus perform additional signs and wonders so that they might determine who He is and whether they should place their faith in him. It can be assumed that the Pharisees have been keeping an eye on Jesus, and while not privy to all of his miracles (such as walking on the water in Chapter 14), they undoubtedly have witnessed other miracles, such as feeding the 5000 in Chapter 14 as well as his healings (such as Chapter 12). Jesus refuses their demands that He perform for them. So Jesus’ questions to his disciples in 16:13 and 16:15 are well timed. Having seen and experienced what they have with him, what are the conclusions they are drawn to? The crowds presume Jesus is a prophetic figure, but Peter is able to confess the amazing reality that Jesus is not just a prophet, but the Messiah and the Son of God.

We take this confession so lightly. Well of course that’s who He is! But we have the benefit of a great deal of hindsight! The Jewish people have been hearing about a Messiah for hundreds of years – for Peter to make the assertion that the Messiah has arrived here and now is amazing indeed. Impossible indeed. Rather, it is revealed to Peter by the Holy Spirit as directed by God the Father. Peter could have rejected this revelation, insisted that it could not be. But he seems to accept it and speak it aloud. Does it imply perfect understanding? Clearly this is not the case for Peter or any of the disciples. They have much still to learn and they don’t know nearly as much as they will after Jesus’ resurrection and Pentecost Sunday.

But Peter’s confession is a start. But it isn’t just a personal confession, or even the confession of the twelve. It is the foundational confession of all who will follow after. We the Church find Jesus’ words perfectly understandable, but how could Peter and the disciples? What is the Church? How does it relate to the synagogue and the Temple? Jesus commands silence but He might hardly have needed to, as they certainly wouldn’t have understood the implications of his words until after Pentecost when they were free to proclaim them!

The Church still bears the authority that Jesus entrusted to his followers. And while our understanding may be deeper, we remain followers of Jesus who understand far less than we think we do, and have fewer answers to our questions than we would like to have. But like Peter and the twelve, we are called to be faithful to the truth revealed to us by the Holy Spirit.

Misjudging Nature

August 19, 2017

This article caught my eye a few days ago, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.  It deals with a video of a bird apparently feeding some fish, and specifically tries to provide reasons why in the world a bird would waste its time doing something like this.  After all, the bird ought to be concerned just about itself, providing food for itself and its mate and its young, if it has any.

The assumption of course is that animals are only concerned about activities that provide them the necessities of life.  Unlike humans, the assumption often seems to be that animals are incapable of enjoyment, of pleasure as we think about it, or of compassion or other attributes reserved uniquely for humans.  However, if you assume humans are a result of natural selection (which I don’t), doesn’t it make sense that we would see some of our own attributes in other species?

I prefer the Biblical lens for animals and creation – God created all of these creatures, and presumably created them with the capacity for a lot more emotion and personality than we tend to give them credit for.  Pet owners can affirm that animals are capable of emotion – at least anecdotally.  Scientists are just now starting to talk more and more about how smart animals are, even deceptive.  If animals are capable of these sorts of things (again, which any pet owner could have told you without all the money spent on research), perhaps animals are capable of compassion, or enjoyment.  Perhaps a bird can just enjoy feeding fish, and there isn’t an evolutionary explanation for this behavior, atypical or otherwise.

I’m routinely asked if I think animals will be in heaven.  I say no, but I clarify.  Heaven seems to be the waiting place for those who die in Christ.  They are waiting for the Second Coming, for the final judgment, and for the reconciliation of a new creation.  I don’t think we’re spending eternity in heaven, but rather are destined for renewed and perfect creation.  And there, I firmly believe that there will be animals.  And there, I think we’ll finally realize how amazing they are, and how much both we and they lost in the Fall into sin.

 

If You Have Kids….

August 18, 2017

…or grandkids, you need to know that most likely, they aren’t on Facebook anymore.  Most of their social media interaction is taking places on alternate platforms, and you should know about them and determine the appropriate way to guide, inform, and look after your child’s safety.  This is a good list of some of the most popular social media apps.

And if it sounds a bit draconian to be monitoring your child’s social media access, here’s some encouragement.