Advent: Week 4


Read Isaiah 35 Here we find hope. What has been declared in Christ already, we look forward to. “A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes, and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside is not a bad picture of advent.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Further reading: Isaiah 30:27-35:1)

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Advent: Week 3


Read Isaiah 35 Here we find hope. What has been declared in Christ already, we look forward to. “A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes, and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside is not a bad picture of advent.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Further reading: Isaiah 30:27-35:1)

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Advent: Week 2


Read Isaiah 35 Here we find hope. What has been declared in Christ already, we look forward to. “A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes, and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside is not a bad picture of advent.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Further reading: Isaiah 30:27-35:1)

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Advent: Week 1


Read Isaiah 35 Here we find hope. What has been declared in Christ already, we look forward to. “A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes, and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside is not a bad picture of advent.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Further reading: Isaiah 30:27-35:1)

Week 1 of Advent: Matthew 1:18-2:18 (The King Who Was Scared of a Child)

The first week of advent approaches the book of Matthew 2:18-22. Here we see the story of Mary’s Virgin Birth, The wise men visiting King Herod and slaughter commanded by King Herod that God plucked Jesus from. Take time and read this story.

As we exit the story, one thing comes to mind:Did Herod remember Isaiah 35? It is certain he did, along with the rest of a nervous Jerusalem. If you start in 30:27 of Isaiah, you see a God who rides in rescuing His people from the grasps of foreign pagan rule. Everyone knew this was aimed at Rome in Jesus’ day. King Herod, a ruler sanctioned by Rome had much reason to be nervous. “This child could incite rebellion very quickly and dethrone me.” It’s no surprise that Herod did what he did. This is not much different from today. Most of us in the western modern and post modern world like to think we rule our own lives, thoughts, and actions. We think we are the masters and keepers of our own being. Although there is a truth hidden in that statement, our highest hope is that God fully saves and rules us here and now. We are not over everything and we have to trust a righteous and just God at the end of the day. What do you hear when you think of a God coming to rescue His remnant?

Are you still waiting for the Kingdom to come? Do you hope for escaping? Do you fear for your life? Do you hear that there is a place for you at this table? Do you see hope in Christ’s way of living? Do you react violently to His challenges to your way of living? The God we serve is one that has come and will always come to rescue his chosen ones (in Christian tradition, this is the Church). Find your self aligning with Isaiah as we approach the gospels the next few weeks.

COME, THOU LONG EXPECTED JESUS – CHARLES WESLEY

“Come, Thou long-expected Jesus Born to set Thy people free; From our fears and sins release us, Let us find our rest in Thee. Israel’s Strength and Consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art; Dear Desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart. Born Thy people to deliver, Born a child and yet a King, Born to reign in us forever, Now Thy gracious kingdom bring. By Thine own eternal Spirit Rule in all our hearts alone; By Thine all-sufficient merit, Raise us to Thy glorious throne.”

I find a read through NT Wright’s Evil and the Justice of God a good help in understanding a God of the righteous remnant.

Symbols: Sandals


Sandalias del Neolítico de Albuñol (M.A.N. Inv. 595 y 596) 01We are in a series about the Early Church and the symbols that they used not only to mark their territory but also to remind each other what they were about. These symbols also remind us what we are about today. The symbol today is  sandals. Sandals were the sneaker of the ancient world. They really did not bother making a full fledged shoe until much later. The image of the sandal would be much like seeing the image of a pair of boots today was one of waking, traveling, moving, etc. This became one of the staples for our faith and should be one of the staples today.

Going is the image that we were meant to be left with. The earlier understood that for the movement to spread, it had to actually move. This is something that most organizations that have survived for long periods of time have understood. A movement cannot last for long if there is no plan to move forward and spread word of what is happening. This movement creates the momentum the group needs to grow. Although a movement based on changing the world is guaranteed to meet opposition, but when change towards good is in the air, the word must get out and people will be drawn towards that good change. Without the movement outward, the movement dies.

Calling is an even bigger aspect of why we spread this good news of Christ as King. Before Jesus ascended he called us to spread out and call others to spread the good news. In Matthew 28, Jesus told his first followers,

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Jesus called us to share the Good News to everyone. The good news is that He is King and that He wants everyone to share in His kingdom. He is always with us as we go into the world. This is not simply a call to share this good news, but to do it fearlessly.

We are on mission because he has called us. This is not something that the early church took lightly and neither should we. It is the challenging part of what we should be doing. If you believe like the Early Church that this King is worth following, we need to follow Him into this mission. The question is will we? Will we continue forward and spread our message like God called us to.

Symbols: Fishes and Wheels


We are in a series about symbols of the Early Church and what they mean for the Church today. Today’s symbol is fishes. Have you ever noticed the fish decal on the back of cars. If you’re a traditional church-goer, you might know what it is. In case you do not, it is a Christian symbol. The fish has had a few variations in the Early Church. The first expression was simply a fish. The other was the outline of a fish with the greek letters IXTHUS in it. Once again, it was not just a marker of the presence of the people who followed God, but also a descriptor of who Jesus is. It became one of the most nuanced symbols that showed the identity of the Church along with the purpose and power of God’s work on earth.

220px-Ephesus_IchthysCropWhen God sent his son to the earth, it was not just a random incarnation. God had a point to what He was doing. The early believers knew this to be the case. One of the earliest drawings they used among themselves was a greek acrostic for the identity of Jesus that formed the image of a wheel. The full description was iota christos, theos uios, soter, which mean Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior. It also held the image of a cross, which represented a key part of the Christian story. These two things pointed to the purpose. Jesus was the Christ (messiah) according to Christian belief and he was considered God’s Son. Being God’s Son in the Bible was a title reserved for special people like kings. Israel would have clicked with this title since they had no legitimate king for hundreds of years. This led to the title savior, which in the Old Testament was connected to the idea of the king who was to come.

The acrostic, however takes a twist in including the cross. The cross, as we have noted earlier, was a sign of defeat. It meant death, which no one ever recovered from. According to popular belief, having a cross as part of your story meant that your movement was probably obsolete. This is not what christians think about the cross. Many early believers said they saw the risen Jesus. This turned the idea of the cross upside down. Instead of being an image of defeat, it was a symbol of what had been defeated. Death was done, the grave had no more power over people (1 Cor. 15:54, 55; Rev. 1:18). To Christians believed it was a power symbol. Even Saint Augustine once pointed out that the all the letters of the title found in the acrostic totals to 27 letters, or 3x3x3. This amount or this particular usage of the number 3 represented power to people of that day. Jesus, the King, had saved the world by defeating death, showing everyone that He was truly the most powerful force.

The symbol that most often accompanied the wheel was the fish. This was an interesting symbol to fish_clipartaccompany the wheel symbol, since there was no obvious connection between the two, but, there were reasons for using this emblem. One reason for the fish is the association with water, which Jesus seems to repeat along with the fish over and over again. From baptism, to the cleansing with water, to being fisher’s of men quote, the fish had a long-standing history of defining the way Christians are to live. The question is do we allow this perception of how to live spill into our own lives.

The questions we can ask ourselves is how powerful is the God we believe in? How does that affect the way we live? Do we live like the one who defeated death is powerful enough to save the world? Can we confidently say that the God has won His Kingship and is using it for our best interests? The end question is can God deliver. The early believers believed He was completely able to deliver. They believed He was powerful to save not just spiritually, but beyond every way imaginable.

So let’s live in the light of the powerful King who has called us into a mission to save the world and make it better.

 

Symbols: The Chrismon


Chrismon_by_Plotinos

We are currently in a series exploring the emblems of the early church and what they teach us about today. One of the major images of the early church and of today is the Chrismon. To most people, it’s a strange emblem. What most people do not realize is that this emblem is so Christ centered and speaks so much into how we see Christ. The emblem consists of multiple letters. We’ll cover them one at a time. As we look at each one, more and more of what Christ means to us.

The image consists of multiple letters. The first is the T, called tau in the ancient greek. Besides being the letter T, it also symbolized the cross. If you know anything about crosses, you know these were violent tools used to punish criminals and rebels during the height of the Roman Empire. One of the things we know is that this tool was used against Jesus. Now, Jesus was no criminal. As a matter of fact, most would say that he was a man of peace and love and pursued the cause of the needy. Such a man does not deserve death like he is some criminal. Neither was he really a rebel. He did, however, revolutionized how humanity would think of itself. The world did not know how to handle this revolutionary paradigm. And like the world does so many times when it does not understand change that must happen, it begins to bring death to the ones ushering in change. Which is strange, because the change that Jesus brought was to bring humanity to life and have us live out the greatness we were created to be.

This leads to the next letters in the emblem, the I and the V, which are iota and nun in the greek. These letters identify the one who hung on the cross, Jesus of Nazereth. In greek, Jesus name begins with the iota and Nazareth begins with nun. This Jesus was the center of their identity, but this was only the beginning. This name was changer of all history mentioned before. The next two letters complete what we should see in Jesus. The next two letters were P and X, the rho and chi in greek. This is important because this is where Jesus clashed with the rest of the world. Rome had a term called pax romana. This meant the peace of Rome. This is what Rome said the goal of their empire was. They way they brought it about was to conquer and bring their law into the land they conquered. You could follow it and live or you could be killed, most commonly on a cross. To the early christians, the peace of christ was realized by Jesus on the cross. The one who was the conquerer of empires, and the King of kings, won over the powers that be by being on their very tool of punishment. In a world of might makes right, Jesus changed history by choosing love as the core of his action.

If you take a look at the last two thousand years, the movement of Jesus has lasted and the Roman Empire has not. Which says much about what types of movements really last. Much of the world thinks that power and violence if necessary. Yet, Jesus took on violence. Note that he did not avoid action. His actions got him killed. But He did not impose the same tools of death the world used. He chose to show them that love brings the world into the order it needs to be in. Buying into violence by seeking violent punishments or answering violence with violence can send us into the spiral into a world of violence. Jesus drew the line in the sand, saying that there had been enough. Violence had to stop somewhere.

Many times, we see a blind devotion to ways of life by people who claim to follow Jesus. They never ask questions as to what would Jesus to challenge the status quo. Is there an alternative to what action is being suggested? These questions need to be asked by Christians every day. If Jesus was willing to be placed on a cross, then why are we never asking the questions that create alternatives. Jesus’ way means following a way that brings life and not death. The early church found it important to identify with this Jesus. Another important point is that God’s endgame is not for us to die, but to change the world. He wants us to create a reality that is full of hope. If you want to follow Jesus, the big question is if you are willing to take on the challenge of this Jesus. Are you willing to take on the challenge of love and face down the world of death?

All Saints Day


This holiday has a long tradition in the Church worldwide. Not every local church celebrates it, but it has carried on very important concepts which are important to basic Christian theology.

In the Western Church Protestant, most traditions that are Anglican, Lutheran, or associated with either will celebrate literally all saints locally and universally. It is a time to remember martyrs too. They usually, if traditional, sing songs such as Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”

Western Church Catholics celebrate this holiday the same as Protestants, but with a twist that in some places, it is mandatory as a Latin Rite. However, not all local Churches require attendance to Mass on this date. It must also be remembered that Catholics have particular tradition of Saints that are officially recognized by the bishopric and can affect the exact interpretation of the holiday’s observance. 

Eastern Churches tend to take an approach that pits the holiday on the first Sunday after Pentecost. The celebration is very similar to the West, though the origins are quite different. The neat thing about tying the holiday into the Pentecost season is that it can connect sainthood with Christ and further imply that one must be in Christ in order to be considered a saint.

I fall in the Protestant tradition, so I am inclined to focus on the sainthood of all believers. I understand the value of picking certain Saints to be archetypes for all saints, but a protestant thinks that is arbitrary since our main archetype is Christ and that would mean we need no official recognition of any saint, not even Mary, to be our example.*

This very short post on the holiday is to help us that we all seek to value Christ on this day. The focus was never the saint, even in the Catholic tradition, but was the Christ they lived for. Christ is the one we find sainthood in and the one whose Spirit guides us to that saintly living.

This does not mean that we do not have people who serve as examples. Protestantism is filled with your Billy Grahams and Shane Claibornes who strive to live out the aspect of Christ those great mean live out to this day.

Jack-O-Lantern Shakedown (Halloween)


Halloween is today and, that’s right, the Christians are hard at work again. We cannot figure out if this is an appropriate holiday. In the mix are voices about pagan holidays, Christian holidays, scary movies, and trying to keep holy with the name “fall festival.”

And with that, let’s pause.

Take a deep breath.

Take another.

And let’s look at the history of this really confusing holiday.

I do not have official sources, but I do prefer a couple blog postings:

One is by an up and coming Doctoral student who I had the pleasure of attending church with at Seminary. His name is Michael Halcomb. He does seem a little more abrupt in challenging others to be accepting of Christian participation in Haloween. But he does bring a mix of thought and history into the argument.

The other is by Dr. Ben Witherington. A highly respected author and an excellent Biblical Scholar in the New Testament field. He seems a little more subtle about the point first, but he does eventually say that he thinks Christians should be more historically grounded in their critique of Halloween. An easy read that still explores history and still pulls some points that are not easily ignored.

So what do you think.

This holiday has gone from All Hallows Eve to Halloween.

From remembering saints, martyrs, and the dead to pretending to be Ghosts, Witches, and Freddy Kreugers, this holidays has been a hot bed for the church for a long time.

I say that the two bloggers I have mentioned are right. Let’s truly look at the actual holiday, even if you still disagree or begin to agree with participating with it in the end.

Grace and peace to you all.

Reformation Day


Tomorrow is Reformation Day. It is not the most popular Protestant holiday, but it has held the most important influence in history as a beacon towards progress and change.

The history of the Reformation’s effects reverberated throughout the western world when Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on the doors of All Saint’s Church in Germany. It not only created the Protestant tradition, but eventually led to changes in the Roman Catholic Church, who were the object of the protests. It is debatable as to why exactly Luther posted the list, but the common assumption is that Luther was not producing a doctrine, but wanting an honest intellectual conversation on the merits of the Church’s practices at that time, more specifically the practices related to the selling of indulgences by Dominican Friar, Johann Tetzel, who wittily coined the phrase “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory [also attested as ‘into heaven’] springs.”

Most Church folk know how this story played out. Luther gets into much trouble with the Catholic Church and eventually is kicked out. What started as a conversation starter turned into a battle of wills and led to a separation.

One may ask, what is the point of all the history lesson here. The point is that our more recent history is in some ways not so different from the one just described. How many times do we get into conversations with a person who has too many questions and then get frustrated with them? Have we not at times been guilty, even in the Protestant Church, of making the mistake of condemning and practically excommunicating them?

There have been those on the other side who have been exiled for merely observing things in Scripture that raise questions on theology and have been given hell for it. It is not that they were trying to sabotage the tradition, but they had questions, did not understand how the tradition matched with the Bible, or just wanted to see if the tradition could be made better by a little Q&A. Instead of being given grace and a safe place for questions, they were put on an emotional roller coaster that eventually pushed them away from church.

It makes one think of the command to not return evil with evil, but to do good only (Romans 12:17).

Although Reformation Day is a time to remember this great contribution that began with Luther and continues today, it is also a solemn time of remembrance. It is a time where we look at past mistakes and look inward to see if our mistakes are the same. Take some time today. It might be 5 minutes or 5 hours. Quietly reflect and seek God’s still small voice. In this time, you may find correction for your faults and comfort for your pain.

Challenge by fires of purification and healing by balms of soothing effects.

What are you celebrating today? Is it a time to appreciate the good? Or is it your time to do the same bad that was done to you? Do you want change and healing? Or do you want to feel safe and proud?