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 Dr. Richard Oster, professor at Harding School of Theology, has a topic-specific blog called 7 Subversive Letters which opens the letters to the seven churches recorded in Revelation 1-3 in a very enlightening way.  These short writings hint at what is soon to become a book on the same topic.

I recommend to you both Dr. Oster and his blog.  I hope this taste will encourage you to investigate his writings further.

WHY IS JESUS WORTHY?

by Dr. Richard E. Oster, Jr.

I suppose that this question has more than one answer.  It is clear that John the prophet embraces the conviction that the Messiah Jesus is worthy. One of the best known and favorite perspectives on this topic is given in Revelation 5:12 where John relates Jesus’ worthiness to the fact that he was slain to redeem humankind: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:12).  Believers are probably attracted to this perspective because it reminds them of Christ’s sacrificial death and bloodshed on their behalf.

In our enthusiasm for this popular interpretation of Christ’s worthiness there is a related idea given by John that has sometimes been overlooked.  In Rev. 5:9 John writes, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” There are really two points in this verse; there is the traditional understanding focused upon Jesus’ vicarious death and secondly Jesus’ worthiness because of the global consequences of his death for the Christian mission.  In making this second point John tries to move the readers beyond two typical misunderstandings. The first of these tendencies is one that hides and secludes salvation from others because of feelings of nationalism or ethnocentrism.  The second misconception that John’s teaching combats is the idea that converts to Christianity are there to bolster the agenda, needs, programs, and budget of the church.  John’s emphasis is upon the fact that Christ’s role in the first instance is to purchase man and women “for God.”  The church never owns Christian converts; their only rightful owner is God.

It has been easy for a complacent church at times to laud, magnify, and praise Christ for his redemptive work on the cross, but manifest less enthusiastic about a commitment to the style of globalism in missions contained in the words “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9b).  One does not need to have advanced theological training, or even know Greek and Hebrew, to realize the necessary connection in the heart of God between a believer’s embracing the personal benefits of salvation and then showing a commitment to the globalization of those benefits.

Living in an empire such as Rome’s, a believer would clearer and frequently see the signs of Roman colonialism in Roman artwork recorded on coins, in statues, and on major monuments.  Christians knew they lived in an Empire that controlled the lands and seas between the rivers Thames and Tigris.  When Rome thought of “tribes and languages and peoples and nations” they imagined more areas to conquer, to dominate, and to exploit for their resources, both human and material resources.  It was difficult in antiquity to surpass Rome’s activity in human trafficking.  John the prophet, in contradistinction to the prevailing regime, saw “every tribe and language and people and nation” as parts of God’s alienated, but beloved, creation, longing for a partial redemption in the present, and a complete restoration and redemption in the New Heaven and New Earth (Rev. 21-22).

You can read the complete series at 7 Subversive Letters

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In 2005, Steve McCranie published a book called Love Jesus, Hate Church in which he addressed one of the most common manifestations of modern American Christianity. More than three out of five Americans identify themselves as being Christians, but over 40% of us don’t go to church more than once a year.

One Barna survey states that almost forty percent of unchurched Americans don’t go because they have had painful experiences with church or with church people.

Do you recognize any of these comments, all taken from articles about loving Jesus and hating church?

  • “You certainly don’t have to be a church member to go to heaven.”
  • “I like to express my faith through my hands,”
  • “I felt there was hypocrisy in the church, and I felt if I kept going, I would be a hypocrite.”
  • “If the church doesn’t meet my needs, I’m going to stop going.”
  • “Christians get on my nerves.”
  • “So much of American religion today is therapeutic in approach, focused on things you want to fix in your life. The one-to-one approach is more attractive. People don’t go to institutions to fix their problems.”

Having easily recognized the world we live in today, dare we ask if Jesus would go to church today?

Jesus didn’t have church, but he did have synagogue—not that much different!  Synagogues were places of assembly, probably begun during the Jewish Babylonian captivity after the destruction of Solomon’s temple. Synagogues were places for prayer and worship, for study of Torah, and for fellowship. As they evolved, they took on greater social and political roles, so that they were the basic organizational institution in Israel during the time of Jesus.

All of the gospel writers mention Jesus and the synagogue, so we have lots of material with which to work. Here’s what Jesus and they say about synagogues in the first century:

  • Synagogues were full of hypocrites, some who blew trumpets so all would know when they donated to the poor, and others made a huge show at synagogue when they prayed in public (Matthew 6:2,5)
  • Synagogues had good people flogged for breaking their rules (Matthew 10:17).
  • Synagogues had special places of honor for the “better” people (Matthew 23:6)
  • Synagogues were the home of special parties of Jews, like the Pharisees (Luke 11:43)
  • Synagogues had the authority to excommunicate those who did not conform to their understanding of God’s Will (John 9:22)
  • Synagogues were often organized around racial, national, or social distinctions (Acts 6:9).

This sounds pretty much like church to me!

Yet, here is what the writers recorded about Jesus and the synagogue:

  • Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people (Matthew 4:3)
  • Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues (Matthew 9:35)
  • Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue (Matthew 13:54).
  •  and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom (Luke 4:16)
  • And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea (Luke 4:44)

Some would wish that Jesus had abandoned synagogues and started house churches with no rulers and no rules and no entanglements and not many obligations.

Some would wish that Jesus had only assembled with good people, preferably those that he liked to hang out with.

Some would wish him to just continue teaching by the sea or on the mountain, just anywhere in nature!  And he should only tell stories—and don’t draw conclusions—and keep them short.

Some would wish him to just stay at home in Nazareth and let anyone who wants to know what he teaches come to him.  If they wanted to start their own Facebook fan page, that’s OK, just keep it to virtual meetings.

Some just want to get a podcast of his sermons whenever they want to listen—that’s all.

I have no doubt that Jesus would be at church every Sunday! He would be teaching, healing, praying, loving people, and praising God!

STOP!

Wait a minute!

Jesus IS at church every Sunday!

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14And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us . . . (John 1).

7And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn (Luke 2:7)  and he [Joseph] called his name JESUS (Matt 1:25).

8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

 14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

16And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 18And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

19But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

 20And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. (Luke 2:8ff)

1Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem2Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

3When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.

5And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,

6And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

7Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. 8And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.

9When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. 10When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.

11And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh.

12And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

4In him was life; and the life was the light of men.5And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. 9That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.

10He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. 11He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

12But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:

. . . and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Merry Christmas, and may God bless us everyone!

 

 

 

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Nobody can tell the story better than the Author. Here is the original. I’m  giving it to you in two parts: the Preparation and the Birth, and I’m using the King James Version in celebration of its 400th anniversary.

 Let me encourage you not to keep this to yourself. Read it to someone, share it with someone–it wasn’t meant to be kept a secret!

The Preparation

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2The same was in the beginning with God. (John 1:1-2)

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise:

26And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

28And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. 29And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

30And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. 31And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. 32He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

34Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

35And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.36And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. 37For with God nothing shall be impossible.

 38And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:18ff)

. . . his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. 19Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.

20But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. 21And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. 22Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, 23Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

24Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife . . . .(Matthew 1:18ff)

39And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda40And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth. 41And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:42And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. 43And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.

46And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,47And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.48For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.49For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. 50And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation. 51He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. 52He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. 53He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. 54He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; 55As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

56And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned to her own house. (Luke 1:39ff)

 1And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed2(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) 3And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

4And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 5To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. 6And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. (Luke 2:1ff)

To be continued . . .

 

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Santa is fat! When I was in the 4th grade, I played Santa Claus in our school play. Does that tell you anything?  I was the biggest kid in the class. If you want to work as a department store Santa, you have to either be fat or have a padded suit. The American Santa Claus is definitely fat.

Interestingly enough, most iterations of Saint Nick in the world are just the opposite.  Nikolaus in Germany is tall and lean. Some Nicks have scrawny beards and look like they have been sleeping on the streets since last Christmas.

Americans would never allow Santa to get so emaciated. We leave milk and cookies to fatten him up on the one night that he really works!

Now hold that thought!

Jesus is NEVER pictured as anything but lean! Occasionally in modern depiction, he might be burly—but NEVER fat!  Even Baby Jesus is never fat like the little cherubs that encircle the manger!

We have chosen our own pictures of both St. Nicolas and Jesus—since there are no photos of either.  So why are we only comfortable with a fat Santa and a lean Jesus?  It would be un-American to change one and sacrilegious to distort the other.

Here are a couple of thoughts:

  • It has to do with wealth and opulence. Santa is about gifts—lots of gifts! Santa is about feasts! Jesus, on the other hand, was poor. He had to borrow food from little kids or go to some wealthy person’s house for a big meal. His supper is just bread and wine.
  • It has to do with this world and the next.  Santa lives on top of the world. His “dominion” is material,  and he is celebrated because he operates in this world.  In contrast, Jesus’ message was about the kingdom of heaven being at hand. He left in a cloud, promising to come again and collect his own who will meet him in the air.

So the question is, who do we like better?  The guy who brings us stuff, who is fat and jolly and who loves a good party, or the lean, sober—sometimes sad—one, with no jingles, no cute stuffed red-nosed pets, and whose promises of good times all seem so long from now?

Knowing the world we live in, I suspect I know why Santa has stolen Christmas away from Jesus.

So who am I celebrating?

 

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I began my last post by imagining that the giant sequoia that fell over three hundred years ago suddenly some Sunday it appeared upright and alive again. What would the world do?

1.            The story would be printed and broadcast all over the world. For about five years, the site would almost rival Disneyland for yearly visitors.

2.            In spite of all the pictures and reports, some would not believe that it was true! (We talked about this in the last post: Fallen Monarch and Faith.

3.            Some people would begin worshipping the tree! Every Sunday there would be a gathering of thousands to talk about life and death and trees. Even hundreds of years later, those who now dance at Stonehenge on the spring equinox would come to California to dance around the wondrous sequoia, now called the Phoenix!

4.            Some would explain it through extraterrestrial powers.

5.            Scientists would immediately start searching for a rational explanation. Investigations of the tree itself would commence immediately. Although the very act defies scientific explanation, prominent arborologists would offer a whole spectrum of speculative explanations for the phenomenon.

6.            And some century in the not-too-distant future, someone would challenge the old story that the tree had ever been dead, suggesting that the more primitive science of the 21st century could not really know if it were dead or not.

You are much too smart an audience to need me to connect the dots for you between the fantastical sequoia story and the resurrection of Jesus.  And we have already talked about why we believe that Jesus is alive, so now let’s talk about something much harder:  how has this historical event changed your life?

Try to finish this sentence: Because Jesus was raised from the dead and is now alive, I ______________.I’ll go first:

1.            I have confidence that his claim to be the Son of God is true. If the resurrection is not a lie, then I become more confident of all that He said.

2.            I believe that if he conquered death, he is powerful enough to do the miracles attributed to him. He can calm the storms, he can feed the multitudes, he can raise the dead.

3.            All the dead people he raised died again! That’s not enough. I once read a fictional account describing Lazarus after Jesus called him out of his tomb and it was not pretty. Lazarus suffered from all kinds of skin and health issues for having been dead for four days.  But to restore life never to be lost again, now that is something I long for. That’s what Jesus has promised, confirming his promise with his own resurrection!

4.            I can live my life now with less fear of death. I do sometimes fear dying—the process is often difficult—but  that is a different fear than one of death as annihilation.

5.            I can approach my own death without a horrible sense of loss—because the promise of resurrection means that everything good, every person I have ever known who has sought God will continue to be a part of my life—forever! All the beauty of God’s creation will be redeemed. Whatever wisdom and truth I have discovered in my life will not be lost, but will be confirmed as God’s own truth—meant to be discovered.

6.            Because Jesus was raised from the dead and is now alive, I have a purpose and a task worthy of spending one’s entire life doing, that is, doing good and telling the story so that it is easier for others to believe that Jesus is alive.  My own resurrection does not depend on any success quota or measurement of skill, rather my own resurrection was accomplished on that Sunday when Jesus rose.

Do not leave this page without having answered the question: What difference does the fact of the resurrection make in your life? 

That’s my gift to you today!

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