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Monday, March 12, 2018

The Lord is Not Slack: Why Has Jesus Not Returned?

One question which has nagged Christians and seekers for 2000 years since Jesus' walked the earth is why has Jesus not returned? 

This is a legitimate question, and I can remember being disturbed after reading one of my favorite theologians (who seemed to have answer for everything) say he did not know why God chose ¨soon¨ language to apply to Jesus' Coming in light of such a time gap!

This will be a longer than necessary post, in some respects, because I want to explain how I got from point A to point B in helping to answer for myself why the delay of Jesus' return does not invalidate the truth of The Way. 

The non-return of Jesus has indeed served as a basis by which some atheists and other assorted non-believers have scoffed at the Christian faith. 

And that Jesus (Matt. 16:28) and Paul (1 Thess. 4:15-17) (and presumably others; see James 5:7-9) seemed to think he, Jesus, would return in their lifetimes in the first century only exacerbates the problem. 

(On a more quirky note, Jehovah's Witnesses use this unfulfilled expectation to justify their failed prophetic speculations and subsequent disappointments.)

I understand many alternative explanations exist for the passages which suggest Jesus should have come back shortly after his ascension into heaven. 

Some have gone through each verse separately to explain why it does not teach what it appears to teach (John Piper takes this approach, for example). 

Living 2000 years on this side of the cross, I am conditioned to read these passages as if their writers and hearers were not anxiously expecting Jesus to return. 

However, a plain reading of the passages points in a different direction, prompting us to at least consider the possibility of a first century return expectation. 

The hope of the Coming of the Jesus in Scripture is routinely connected to the patient endurance the first believers were encouraged to have because they would be soon delivered (1 Thess. 4:15-17; Heb. 10:25; Rom. 13:12), not some future generation of Christians thousands of years later. 

At any rate, I am going to assume for the sake of argument Jesus did expect a sooner return, as did his followers.

So then what is the deal? Was Jesus a failed prophet? Were the Apostles and early Christians duped? 

That is, of course, a possibility. 

Indeed, maybe we are all wrong about The Way and Jesus is never coming back! 

Now obviously I do not believe that, but I am simply granting it as a logical (not actual) possibility. 

I believe the Bible shows how we may reconcile the teaching of Jesus' imminent return with his 2000 year delay to show neither Jesus nor the Apostles were wrong, per say, without forcing us to deny the earliest believers did, in fact, expect Jesus to return in their lifetimes.

Simply put the answer is that the soon return of Jesus in the lifetimes of his first followers was a prophetic prediction on Jesus' part, and that prophecy was conditional

I stumbled upon this answer while listening to the Bible Broadcasting Network, which airs sermons by the late Presbyterian Bible teacher J Vernon McGee who just briefly mentioned this view in answer to a related question about the end of times. 

Because this was an unanswered faith question of mine, I made a mental note to look more into it. 

However, it was not until I was doing some digging on Peter Enns' blogsite (Enns is an anti-innerantist OT Bible scholar) and saw he had featured some Bible scholars who had written a book taking this very approach (see their posts here, here, and here)! 

(I had also just read on the conditional nature of prophecy in Virkler and Ayayo's Hermeneutics for my hermeneutics class.) 

In other words, various streams of thought were coming together. 

So here is the basic argument:

1. Prophecy may be conditional. I won't spend much time on this but will refer the reader to the book of Jonah and Jeremiah 18:1-11 (other examples exist).

2. Jesus' soon Coming was conditioned on, at least, the repentance of the Jewish people. This is the linchpin of the argument. Read Acts 3:15-21 to grasp this point and compare it with Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:9-12.

3. Because the Jewish people did not repent, as was apparently the hopeful expectation of Jesus and the Apostles, the Messiah did not come as soon as expected (and we see a shift in the thinking of the church regarding these matters).

The authors I mentioned earlier have written a book to explain this (which I have not read) titled ¨When the Son of Man Did Not Come.¨ Their book's blurb summarizes their thesis in this way:

The authors argue that the deferral of Christ's prophesied return follows logically from the conditional nature of ancient predictive prophecy: Jesus has not come again because God's people have not yet responded sufficiently to Christ's call for holy and godly action. God, in patient mercy, remains committed to cooperating with humans to bring about the consummation of history with Jesus' return.

Theirs is not a new theory, but one I was up to this point unaware of. 

It does raise questions such as ¨well, is Jesus coming soon or not?¨ and ¨how does the snatching up (rapture) of the church fit into all of this¨, but the main takeaway, as one of the book's authors writes, is ¨the delay of the parousia [the Coming of Christ] does not falsify Christian hope.¨ 

The implications of this hypothesis are huge and I look forward to chewing on this more (and reading the book)! 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

When I Think of My Grandmother: A Tribute.

A reading from the book of Jonah chapter 1:

In my distress I called to the LORD ,
and he answered me.
From the depths of the grave I called for help,
and you listened to my cry.
3 You hurled me into the deep,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers
swept over me.
4 I said, 'I have been banished
from your sight;
yet I will look again
toward your holy temple.'
5 The engulfing waters threatened me,
the deep surrounded me;
seaweed was wrapped around my head.
6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you brought my life up from the pit,
O LORD my God.
7 "When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, LORD ,
and my prayer rose to you,
to your holy temple.
8 "Those who cling to worthless idols
forfeit the grace that could be theirs.
9 But I, with a song of thanksgiving,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
Salvation comes from the LORD ."
When my mother shared with me my grandmother's request that I say few words at her funeral service, I was both humbled and burdened.

I was humbled because, as with so many things, even in her death, my grandma was showing that...

she believed in me.
she supported my desire to minister and preach the gospel.
even though she never had the chance to hear me preach in a church setting like this, she was proud of me.

And as I reflect on this, I doubt she ever knew how much that meant to me.
Yet, I was also burdened by the task of taking

eighty-eighty years of life,

eighty-eighty years of impact,
eighty-eighty years of faith,

and doing it any justice in a few short minutes.

And while I can't say I have it all figured out, I will do my best and trust these words would have blessed my grandmother.
When I think of my grandmother I think of flowers.

My grandmother loved flowers.

The outside of her home was decked out in flowers--on her porch, in hanging holders in front of her home, and in large pots at the end of her driveway.

Hibiscus. Daylilies. Japanese Lilies. You name it.

On more than one lazy homeschool day, my mom and I went to grandma's house to abscond bulbs from some of those beautiful flowers and plant them in our own yard, they were so pretty.

Grandma knew exactly what to plant and when, when this or that flower would come up, and just how to care for them.

So, when I think of Grandma, my mind flies straight to a familiar image: her big house in the country, the towering trees guarding the edges of her property, the cool breeze in the summer time, and lots of beautiful, colorful flowers.

Flowers just as beautiful and as colorful as she was.
When I think of my grandmother, I think of her love of animals.

If you wanted to bring out the tender and the feisty from my grandmother, you need only ask her about her deer.

Heaven help the hunter who dared bother a single deer that visited her yard (or who upset even the wild turkeys, for that matter).

I think of her bird-feeders and the time she excitedly beckoned me to her dining room window to catch a glimpse of a humming bird who had taken up temporary residence there.

I remember and laugh about her love-hate relationship with Molly, her husband's bulldog and my grandma's reluctant housemate for many years.

Most recently, I think about how in her final years of life, God gave my grandma a dog she loved as a precious companion.

When my grandma and her dog first came to have each other, I remember she told me the dog’s previous owners had called her Ariel.

Suddenly, with all the seriousness my grandma could muster, still not betraying the characteristic humor in her voice, she looked me in the eye and said:

We are not calling the dog Ariel.

And that is how Ariel came to be known as Lady.

Truly, when I think of how that dog was with my grandma when she needed her the most, from beginning to the end, she could have been called a Blessing from God.
When I think of my grandmother, I think of her cooking.

...Bless her heart.

Grandma’s cooking ran the gamut...quality-wise.

She made wonderful cheese balls, Chex mix, and puppy chow which I always looked forward to around the holidays.

However, the times Grandma stayed with us when my mom was hospitalized, let’s just say we ordered pizza more than once.

But more than her cooking, I think of family Christmases and Thanksgivings.

Her kitchen burst with as much family as with food, spilling over on to the couches in the living room , all the way on to the floor.

The air rang with a beautiful symphony of laughter and teasing and catching up.

And where was grandma?

Honestly, there was no telling.

Maybe she was in the kitchen making space for food or in the living room chatting, or...who knew, really?

She didn’t insert or assert herself; she just loved that we were all there.

She just loved us, her family.
For that reason when I think of my grandmother, I also think of her children, my parents and my aunts and uncles.

I think about their love for her and for each other.

It is a sibling kind of love to be sure, complete with ribbing and rivalries, (who could pretend otherwise) but each were present during this long year of my grandma's declining health.

In their own ways, each did what they could to help Grandma when the strength to help herself had long left her body (this includes those who lived states away).

And while not a single one of them would ever look for a back pat or a word of praise, their selflessness over the past few years, and especially in these last critical months, speaks volumes not only to their Christian character, but to the Christian character of the mother who raised them, the impact she had on them, and their love for her.
When I think of my grandmother, I think about the 17 grandchildren and great-grandchildren she left behind and their own testimonies of what she meant to them, two of which you can read yourselves:

Life will be so different now, especially when our family gets together.

-- She was never too embarrassed to sing "cha-cha-cha" in the car while pretending she had maracas,
-- she made it to every grandparents day at our school
-- she celebrated every victory, whether big or small, and made sure she mailed her cards in time for birthdays.

--she loved telling stories
-- she always talked quiet when she was telling you something important, and laughed whenever she was thinking ahead to another part of the story

We will always miss her and hold tight to the memories we have, especially the night she took my cousins, my brother John and I to the Virginia Theater while my cousin Courtney and I wore matching shorts that she made us I love the memories that we have, and that I was able to get here in time to hug her one more time.
And this one, as well:

I'll never forget the sleepovers, when she let me use her "fancy dishes" to make pudding and have tea parties, and every night that she read me the story of "Lara's Doll" from the Precious Moments Bedtime Storybook. She never minded that it was the only story I ever wanted to hear. She saw me, and she loved me. I got to hear her pray the last time we were together, and I'm so thankful that there's comfort in the fact that she's with Jesus now.
On that note, finally, when I think of my grandmother, I think most of her faith in God.

At the beginning of this meditation, we read a chapter from the book of Jonah which I believe contains one of the clearest presentations of the gospel of grace in the Old Testament:
"Those who cling to worthless idols
forfeit the grace that could be theirs.
9 But I, with a song of thanksgiving,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
Salvation comes from the LORD ."
My grandma knew this truth. She lived it. And she wanted others to know and live it, too.

Her favorite passage of Scripture was John 3:16-17:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Grandma had that life, that eternal life, which she lived out in word and deed.

No, she was not without sin, but it was for that very reason she exercised faith in Christ and was baptized into him for the forgiveness of her sins.

And you know something?

I will see my grandmother again.

The Bible says...
Brothers, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who are without hope. 14For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, we also believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him.

15By the word of the Lord, we declare to you that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who have fallen asleep.

16For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will be the first to rise.

17After that, we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord.

18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. -- 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

When Jesus comes again, all the dead in him will return with him to the earth in glory.

We know this is true because it is the first of three great promises.

The first promise was that God would send his Son, the Messiah, to earth to redeem us back to God.

We celebrate the fulfillment of that promise this season during Christmas.

The second was that the Messiah would be slain and raised back to life on the third day, which we celebrate during Easter or Resurrection Sunday.

The third promise is that Jesus will come again to receive us unto himself.

The Bible says:

For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. -- 1 Corinthians 1:20

He said he would come and he came.

He said he would rise and he rose.

He said he would return and he will return.

And when he returns, my grandma will be with him to meet us.

I know more than anything she wanted this promise to be true for her family.

For that reason, my prayer is that those who have not yet chosen to follow Jesus as Lord would do so and that, in doing so, they would find the true source of life and strength that made grandma’s life and death so special.

The Bible says precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of one of his faithful servants (Psalm 116:15) and I know that includes my grandmother.
The legacy she left is more than any one memory or even a collection of memories; it is an eternal legacy of treasures stored up in heaven.

While it pains me she won’t be there to know I passed Greek or to see me get married or to move to Mexico, I know she believed in me.

Grandma believed in all us, her family, because she believed in what God could do through us.

May we all endeavor to live a life of such faith and impact.

In memory of my Grandma Barbara Anderson (March 20 1929- December 7 2017) until we meet again it the twinkle of an eye:

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Men, Too? Men and Sexual Assault.

His name was Mohammad.

He was employed by a temporary worker company which my workplace regularly calls on to supply our team with extra hands on busy nights of setting up and tearing down events at our large hotel.

That Mohammad’s level of friendliness was a little much for my taste, I quickly chalked up to cultural differences (Mohammad is not from the United States), and the heavy load of the night’s work continued as per normal.

At one point in the evening, Mohammad and I were alone, loading supplies into one of our larger elevators.

Upon filling it up, there was just enough space left for the two of us.

Mohammad, picking up on my hesitation, insisted I could just stand in front of him, motioning me over with his hands.

Again, a little off-putting and weird, I thought, but obviously I had no real reason to feel uncomfortable.

In the end, the reflexive over-politeness to strangers drilled into me as a child quickly kicked on (“don’t be rude” “don’t make him feel uncomfortable”) and we piled in.

Button pushed.

Doors close.

Almost immediately, I felt a hand go down my shirt and start rubbing my back.

I said nothing. I did nothing. I stood there frozen with terror, unsure of what was happening and why.

An eternity passed before the elevator stopped (this service elevator is notoriously slow) and the doors flew open.

I didn’t realize I was holding my breath until I began to breathe again.

Upon exiting the elevator, I turned to face Mohammad.

He flashed me a knowing and lecherous smile.

I wanted to vomit. But I didn’t. I gave a tight-lipped hospitality worker honed fake face and pretended like absolutely nothing had happened (which included ignoring later flirtatious comments).

As soon as I could, I told my supervisor to not put me to work with him.

He acquiesced, and showed how seriously he took my encounter by making a joke of it later.

After summoning the courage days later, I related the incident to an assistant manager who informed director of my department.

They told me the offender would not be back at the hotel.

Mohammad, however, apparently did not get the message and showed back up a week or so later.

However, since there was no work for him, he was asked to leave.

That I know of, he never returned.

When women all over the country shared their #MeToo stories, I quietly wondered to myself, me, too?

I wasn’t raped. And I didn’t feel like my story was bad enough to count as assault.

Yet, more than anything, what silenced me was the overwhelming sense of shame I associated with the encounter.

“What did I do to make him think I would like that, that he could put his hands on me like that”, I obsessed.

I knew, of course.

When a man is assumed, correctly or incorrectly, to be gay (something I get quite often), that can be for him a great source of embarrassment and shame, especially if he is a conservative, Bible-believing Christian like myself (not as if being gay warrants such an advance because it most certainly does not).

And because being preyed on, cat-called, and propositioned by other men makes you feel dirty, sinful, and less of a man, when someone does put their hands on you or worse, the last thing you want to do is tell someone and intensify your shame

And this "shamed into silence" mentality is not ameliorated by the introduction of a female offender into the story.

After all, as my assistant manager blurted out to me after I told her what had happened, “this happens to us as women, but I never even think of it happening to men.”

And therein lies the problem.

Sexual assault is not treated like man’s problem and men who experience unwanted advances in the work place or outright have themselves forced upon are deemed outliers.

Even now, everything inside me wants to downplay what happened and re-frame it in a way that allows me to save face and not appear weak.

And if I feel this way, how do you imagine men and boys who are raped, molested, or otherwise sexually assaulted feel (I do consider what happened to me to be assault)?

Like a fungus under a warm log, safe beyond the bright rays of the sun, the shame incurred when someone sins against you sexually festers and grows when left in the dark, undisturbed.

The Enemy would have it that we all go on our merry ways and never make waves and suffer in silence and flash the fake smiles on Sunday morning because he knows that the bright light of truth is the silver bullet to his lies.

Thus, as children of the day, it is our job to create an environment in which the shame such sin engenders is undone by the grace and truth given us in Jesus Christ.

We do this by making such accounts common by including in our sermon illustrations and stories about sin examples of men who have been sexually violated (we don’t need to be graphic or detailed, but to simply mention that it happens).

We do this when we begin to plant and form churches that take the shape of confessional communities where believers can do more than confess their sin, and confess, too, the deeply painful ways they have been hurt and sinned against.

We do this by teaching a model of masculinity that looks as three dimensional as Jesus Christ.

We do this by talking up talk therapy (seriously, go).

We do this by having zero tolerance for offenders and predators.

We do this by telling our stories and by being advocates for others who are not yet at a sharing place (and who may never be).

I don’t know if we will change the stigma surrounding the sexual assault of males, but when I look into the eyes of men and boys who have been made victims of such heinous offenses, I know we have no other option but to try.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Whose Sunday is it Anyway? On Mixing Sports and Protest.

You can run, but you can't hide seems to best encapsulate the lament of Joseph Curl, news and politics reporter for the Daily Wire, as the never-ending reach of partisan American politics latched itself right on to Sunday Night Football.

Not a single cleat had hit the turf before Week 3 of the NFL promised to be a news-maker as three teams refused to emerge from the locker room during the National Anthem, with players by the dozens from other teams literally sitting the Anthem out (or kneeling) right there on the sidelines.

While the scope of the protests across several NFL teams on the same day was noteworthy, the acts themselves were not, following a string of similar actions taken first by controversial football player Colin Kaepernick to protest police brutality.

More specific to yesterday, the protests were prompted by a barrage of tweets from President Trump that began with him dis-inviting Stephen Curry and his championship winning Golden State Warriors to the White House and metastasized into a screed against those who "disrespect" the flag by not standing during the National Anthem.

Joseph Curl, in his subtly titled article "NFL Ruins Football Sunday", invites us to contemplate a simpler time before Sunday evening football was infected with all this political nonsense.

"There was a time you young people out there", Curl writes, "when Sunday was just Football Day."

Yet, for those who know anything about American religious history, the sense of longing Curl seeks to invoke for good days gone by doesn't quite reach back far enough, at least not for this young person.

 There was a time, Mr. Curl, when Sunday was just the Lord's Day (just ask my eighty-eight year old Christian grandmother!).

However, beneath the surface of his mythical Good Old Days™ construction, Curl unfurls a thought worth pondering.

He sets the stage thusly: "America had worked all week, drank a little too much on Friday night, did the chores and mowed the lawn on Saturday, and was all set for a peaceful Sunday watching big men smash into each other."

Erm. So far so good.

He continues, "Football Sunday brought the entire family together, as well as friends near and far and, sometimes, the whole neighborhood. Sadly, all that is gone. Now, there's politics in everything."

Imagine The People of America and Tom Brady going out on a date only to be interrupted by Uncle Sam's traveling circus featuring a trained donkey and an elephant and I think you've caught Mr. Curl's drift.

Of course, what matters practically is not whether the picture Curl paints is true to reality, but that he has tapped deep into the dreamy collective memory of many sport's enthusiasts.

Last Sunday evening saw many frustrated fans all over social media repeating similar refrains.

"I just want to watch the game in peace."

"It didn't use to be this way."

"This was our time to enjoy."

It makes you wonder just whose Sunday is it anyway?

Quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers Ben Roethlisberger explained that the abstention by his team was a display of unity in light of "all the issues going on."

Curl, in contrast, argued that when the Jerseys are on, it's time to play football, not politics:

"Sports teams should have nixed any protest in the bud. Colin Kaepernick wants to protest against police brutality by refusing to stand during the National Anthem? Fired — with a simple message from the owners: You can do whatever you want on your time, but don't bring it to the stadium."

This brings us back to the question of who owns Sunday.

As a Christian writing to a mostly Christian audience, is it worth answering this question in the context of the Christian faith.

About the Jewish Sabbath, Jesus came under fire from some religious leaders contemporaneous to him for healing on this sacred day of rest.

We read in the Gospel of Matthew, "Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath" (12:10).

Jesus, not typically known for direct answers to his accusers, responds with unusual directness, retorting, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (12:11-12).

"Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath", he says.

You can't get much clearer than that.

Christ's earliest followers came to understand Sunday as a kind of new Christian Sabbath (while still respecting traditional Jewish observances on Saturday), his resurrection on the "third day" promoting Sunday to the preeminent day of the week.

Understandably, this is why many Bible commentators see Sunday in the Apostle John's reference to the "Lord's Day" in the biblical book of Revelation (1:10).

These earliest Jesus people, mostly Jews, took the spirit of Jesus' teaching on the Saturday Sabbath (i.e., "it is lawful to do good" on it) and applied it to the Christian holy day, Sunday, to do good on it as on all other days of the week, in keeping with God's will.

Sunday was a dynamic day of meeting, "breaking bread" (probably a reference to the Lord's Supper), teaching, and taking up offering for those in need (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2).

The new members of this fledgling religion got what the seasoned Pharisees had missed.

The Pharisees opposing Jesus were so wrapped up in their own opinions about the Sabbath and who Jesus was, they stooped so low as to hammer their point of the very back of a brother in need. 

They had nothing really to lose from this guy getting a new arm except that in doing so Jesus had flipped the script, placing them opposite the seat of power and in the same vulnerable position they had put others.

Which brings us back to Joseph Curl.

You see, contrary to Curl, everything is political and always has been, especially for black men and women (remember we are here discussing this now because of a black football player who first knelt to bring attention to the treatment of black Americans by police).

Politics controlled who among us could speak and when and how and what exactly we could say without sanction.

The only thing that's changed over time is the script, which, relative to American football, has undergone some major flipping by individuals who are not impressed by Joseph Curl's desire for a uneventful evening when there are real issues of which people need reminding.

Players like Colin Kaepernick are forcing sport's fans to ask whether they care about black men only as far as they can run, tackle, and score--like animated sacks of meat built only for their viewing pleasure--or for the real people they are.

And just as the Pharisees stood to lose nothing of real value from Jesus' work of healing on the Sabbath, neither does Curl from these protests.

Indeed, one stands to wonders what is at stake for him at all but a lazy Sunday evening relaxing?

Say what you will about President Trump, but at least his Twitter rants were a shot at addressing a moral issue on moral terms.

That is quite different from a grown man whining and crying because his night of mindless enjoyment was spoiled in the face of real people being affected by serious concerns of national injustice.

Sorry, folks, we interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to bring you an update from...real life.

What is more, in the end, Sunday belongs to Jesus.

He is the Lord and it is his day.

I am not saying the protests we are seeing on playing fields across America are uniquely or inherently Christian in nature (they are not) or that Christians should endorse them or that Jesus would even take a knee.

I will not make Christ a mascot for any political team or controversy.

However, I will say that such actions by Colin Kaepernick and the many players who knelt, locked arms, and sat in solidarity yesterday against deeply perceived wrongs in our country inch much closer to a vindication of the real meaning of Sunday, Christ's victory over darkness, than the apathy of those who couldn't see past their precious TV program.