Heroic: 2 Kings 12:20-13:13

In our culture, one of the prominent arguments is that science and religion do not mix. In both the science community and the Church, we can find examples of people who are completely dismissive of the opposite side, like Richard Dawkins or Ken Ham. When we think of science and faith, our culture has trained us to think that you are either a full rationalist who thinks everything can be simply explained or a person of faith who ignores science. Our story picks up in the middle of an entire book that shows the interaction of God followers and everyone else. We have seen people outside of the faith and inside the faith. What is amazing is that the scenario of human knowledge verses faith was in some way present. Most people had theories about divine entities causing this or that thing to happen. In the Hebrew circles, God was supposed to be the only cause of everything.

In the beginning of this story, Jehoahaz takes over and does everything connected to what was wrong with Israel. Long story short, God does not stop foreigners from attacking. After much pleading from Jehoahaz, God intervenes. However, Jehoahaz keeps on doing what he was doing. Nothing really changes. Even after his country barely makes it out of the fog of war, which was a miracle in itself. When he died, Jehoash takes over and does the same thing as Jehoahaz. No word of wisdom about the greatness of God over every other divine entity ever spoken of. Without the details of this story, one would assume that Israel just got lucky. Elsewhere in this book, even mighty warriors of other pagan nations were experiencing God and noticing that the Hebrew people had something pretty special. The Hebrew people, however, were having a tough time recognizing this.

The crazy reality about religion is that complacency is an every present danger. People who do not expect God are expected to see something else when God acts. People who know God should see God when He acts. What usually happens though is that a noticeable amount of non-believers begin to see that they can’t explain things away and find that the most reasonable assumption is that their has to be a higher power at work. Christians on the other hand can have a tendency to assume God is not working when He really is. Christians tend to focus more on blessings that they could receive and can miss who is the center of our faith. God provisions and blessings do not guarantee that we are in track with His plans. God is always prompting us to join Him in his mission and will always be giving us the tools and resources to do the great, heroic acts that he has for us to do. However, our decisions do still need to happen. Walking with God is not just about what he does for us, but how we respond to Him also. And when we respond to Him, we begin to notice His faithfulness. We begin to realize that our science and religion categories really do not match the true reality, which is that God has a story for us. We begin to see faith as a completely new lifestyle. Seeing that we do not have to be defined by the categories handed to us by other people, but that God has created a single category for humanity. It encompasses all of life and leads to hope and love.

If we are going to be heroes, we have to grab onto faith. Faith does not actually include being academically sure or religiously blind. Faith is about trust. So many times in the Bible has told stories of faith that have nothing to do with certainties or blind zeal. They had do with obedience, trust, knowing that on some level God was their and was about to enact something amazing. It took faith for Abraham to become the father of a nation, for Peter to lead the Church. Even Jesus practiced faith that His Father would raise Him from the dead. The irony is that the ones who were considered zealous for God or even intellectually superior killed Him. What God has for us in a journey of faith will bring more good in the end. It will lead us to share in the resurrection of Jesus into the Kingdom which is to come.


Heroic: 2 Kings 10:1-36

I have no other way to describe this passage than violent. I’m not kidding, it’s a violent that would even make Quentin Tarantino squirm. The majority of this passage is filled with the endeavor of Jehu to rid Israel of Baal worship, which is just one giant massacre. We learn that he succeeds in doing that and he is honored by God for doing that. Baal worship was creating major problems for Israel. Despite that violence, the story ends surprisingly tragic. After all of his efforts to turn Israel back to God, the sin that was plaguing the dynastic history of Israel was still in place.

Have you ever met people like that. They have this very strong sense of moral responsibility for other people and will go out of their way to make sure that those who are not morally in line on a specific topic need to be set straight. Make not mistake, Jehu was used by God to eradicate Baal worship from Israel, but he missed a major part of God’s plan. He was relentless to pull people away from what was obviously wrong, but forgot that God also is calling us to something. God is not simply trying to tell us what not to do but is also giving us a mission and a task as a people. Also, there is always something that God wants to change. He wants to take us to better places and those places can look vastly different than we would expect them to be.

To take this a little deeper, its not a bad thing that Jehu was acting on his moral conviction. Those things are not bad to have, but morality and ethics are not the bases by which we live. Character and virtue are the driving forces of our identity. When we live by character and virtue, we become consistent, honorable, valiant, loving, and many other things that define us as Christians. It’s easy to think that moral power can change the world, but it takes humility to believe that it is the Spirit’s power that transforms us (Romans 12:1). We really cannot change anything without God directing us, but we can be sure that every good thing that is every attempted is from God speaking into us and challenging us to create better worlds and live like heroes of faith.

Jehu was used by God the same way many humans are used by God. They are driven from religious zeal and try to eliminate anything that opposes certain rules. If we are to seek true heroism as found in Christ, we have to find the heart of the matter and speak in love. We have to seek people instead of law. We have to work with conviction and not coercion. It is always astounding when people begin to force people to follow a way of life have their character deteriorate. People who experience this most in their lives usually are in a community with low creativity and a high sense of legalism. Although some think that even if you are legalistic that you are at least doing the right thing. One thing that this story and even other stories in the Bible show us is that is not true. Even in modern times, some people are following a strict conservative rule book, but when you look at their hearts and their missions, you only see that they want rules and not relationship. The worry about the Bible being historically factual than letting it speak truth into their lives. They worry about fitting around certain taboos rather than letting the love of Christ guide their lifestyles.

What would happen if we choose creativity, conversation, and conviction over coercion and legalism? What usually happens is a real and vibrant faith. People begin to experience a real, loving, and creative God. The world begins see Jesus as the changer of lives and the creator of heroic stories. We begin to live the heroic stories we were made to live and become the changers of the world.

Hero: 2 Kings 4:18-37

Last week we talked about the Shumenite women being blessed by God with a son. This week we take a look at the continuation of that story. When we think of having children, most of think of positive words like joy, love, and thankfulness. It’s a great thing to have kids and if you are guided by God to be married, then having kids can be one of the blessings in life. If you have already experienced this, you know what that feeling is like. You also probably know how devastating it would be to lose a child. This women experiences this loss and immediately is demanding an explanation from Elisha, which is completely understandable. Elisha was prompted by God to promise a son to this woman. Now that the son is dead, the woman feels betrayed. Why would God reward her act of heroic faith with death?

This question is not limited to parents. Great heroes of faith of any type experience trouble everyday. Some even have things great for awhile and then lose everything. Some of the most blessed believers in the world have watched all that they owned slip from their fingers and go down the drain. It’s enough to make you question God’s plans for you. It’s that moment where you know you should trust God because you know that He is good, but you also have seen life experiences that have made question God’s goodness. Some of you may have even turned away from the faith and said that God is not to be trusted at all.

The woman turns to a man of God for some explanation. Have you ever turned to God like that? Have you ever asked God what He was doing since life was not making any sense for you? Have you ever been able to look to a body of believers for help rectifying the idea of a loving God when something tragic happens? When tragedy strikes it is alright to turn to God and ask questions. In the Psalms, we see again and again that the writers would question God’s commitment to His covenant with Israel because it looked like they were on the brink of destruction. It was not a sign of a lack of faith, but a sign of utmost belief that God made covenant with them. They could not believe that God would just abandon them, so they could not help but cry out. They would even cry out to their fellow believers, as we see in Job, for explanation. God has mercy on those who are in the midst of tragedy and question Him. It’s turns out that it is important to rest on God and our brothers and sisters of faith when we struggle.

Elisha shows what a response of faith is like. He immediately has the response, “Let’s move.” He is not wasting time exercising his faith. Elisha starts by sending his servant, which does not work. So he starts towards the woman’s house to do act on this himself. We might not know if God will change things if we move, but if we do not move, we will never experience God’s moving life’s obstacles away. Movement towards the needs of people is what cause us to see God’s miracles. When tragedy strikes, it gives us opportunity to be heroes to the people who have been heroes before. We all are being used by God to speak peace and love and healing into each other. We have to remember that doing something to curb evil in the world does not always work the first time. Sometimes you have to reassess the right move. Other times you have to find another person to help. Whatever the case, we cannot give up on God’s mission for humanity.

Elisha performed really weird actions when performing this miracle. Laying on someone to do a healing these days would get you labeled weird and possibly creepy. But Elisha does it and something begins to happen. God will continually use us to confront bad situations, but they will not always be ways that are proven theories or make sense to us. We have to be open to the strange way that God interacts with the world. But when we do the things He asks us to do, we will see the miracles start. We will begin being a hero and will watch fortresses that seem indestructible crumble to the ground like a house of cards. In the end, the boy is healed and returns to his mother. This was more than have a son come back to life, but a sign that God was caring for that family and keeping them from not having a way to survive, which is what having a male child meant back then.

This story is a response to the events that we cannot explain and leave God’s plan looking like a farce. God’s plan is one of resurrection. The boy was raised in this store and the promise of life and provision was upheld by God. When we see how the resurrection applies to us, we see that we identify with Jesus. Since we have been adopted by God, we are destined to be raised. If we live the heroism that God is calling us to, we will see not only the miracles of today, but the one of tomorrow. When God returns, no more death, war, injury, slander, injustice, lies, conspiracy, or any other evil thing will be allowed on the earth. God will recreate everything, even us. We will be walking miracles and will experience what it means to be completely heroic.

Alternative Currency of Grace: (Church Economics)

In an NPR Interview on Alternative currencies, it was reported that some businesses who do trade create internal currency of credit system. This system allowed companies to do business with a consistent trade value system. This would be unaffected by fluctuation in economies across the world. This was brilliant, because no matter where each business was located, they could have good business relationships based on an alternative to unstable economies.

There is another group that has an alternative currency. It’s the Church. Churches have an alternative currency of grace. When we look at our world, most currencies are based on greed, hate, and destruction. Some of it is merited, some of it is not so. The followers of Jesus are called to a different life. Although it seems like success is in taking by force, we know through Jesus, we are called to a life of graciousness and humility. Our way of life says that must show grace to everyone. It is a grace that is loving and yet challenges people to experience a better and more powerful life lived in Christ. We also have humility as part of our system. We do not always get the love part right. We also fail in living a life fitting to calling Jesus our Lord. We need the same grace we are called to give out.

This is not a normal exchange. It’s unique to the world. But it is a better way. The poor, widows, orphans, aliens, imprisoned, broken, lying, failing, and imperfect all benefit from this. It is the way Jesus prayed that we would live in John 17. It’s a way of submission offered as the alternative. It does not seek the status quo, but instead chooses a way that is unaffected by the world’s way of doing things.

This incubates the Jesus follower from conforming to the World. He must be focused on this lifestyle. It is our litmus test. It takes us to new territory. It makes us creative and blessed. It brings heaven to earth.

It is easy to take the path of selfish living, because it fits with our assumptions of power and control, which is the problem of humanity since Genesis 3. The power of living the alternative life in Christ is that it is not in getting what we want, but in being vindicated and blessed by God, regardless of our circumstances. This is a force that cannot be stopped. How do you stop a group of people that have no stock in the fights that everyone else is fighting. You could threaten them, spit on them, and kill them, but they would keep going, because they do not seek the control and power. They are free. The one who truly has power is God. He is the one who is able to conquer giants on our behalf. All they have to do is act and obey. This is about liberation as much as it is about grace and humility. Power and control never bring freedom or happiness. Only God can. Worldly power only brings pain and destruction.

I hope that God brings us to the path of being a servant and giving grace rather than us taking control of our lives, because, let’s be honest, we have no idea what we are doing and have a tendency to muck up the life. God has a better plan of grace, I say we should follow that instead.

Assumption Day

The story of Jesus being taken into heaven is found in Mark 16:19-20, Luke 24:50-53, and Acts 1:3-11. When we hear this story, our first thoughts are of orthodoxy. Christ ascended and that is the fact the must be accepted when being a Christians. But where does this intersect with real life? The abstract is fun to talk about because it can be kept out of our lives. When it starts to break in it become a life altering experience.

One historic help is looking at Ancient Near Eastern views on cosmology and heaven. The Bible’s universe is very small compared to the current scientific models. Mountains were known as the pillars of heaven, the sky was a barrier between heaven and earth, and heaven was the dwelling of God and the heavenly deities. So when Jesus gets taken to the higher realm, He is once again having His claims validated and He is being put in the realm of God.

How does that affect us? First, it makes Jesus our true King. If He really is vindicated, then He really must rule our lives. He also has the best way to live. Even His own lifestyle is an example and His teachings a guide for us.

Another important aspect is hope. Hope involves waiting with anticipation. This very much like parents promising Disney Land or a boss verbally promising a raise. The is no real scientific guarantee of the event actually coming, but the certainty of the intangible has been placed in us. Since Christ has promised blessing at His return for those who follow Him, we hope.

Do you live in hope? Are you feeding hope to others? Do you live in faith, hope, and love towards God and others?

The Atonement Debate

Penal Substitutionary Atonement: the theory that states that God sent His son to serve as a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins and that Jesus died to save us from the wrath of God. Jesus is portrayed as pure lamb going to be sacrificed, just like in the Jewish tradition, except it is a once and for all atonement.

Those against it need to consult Scripture, especially Hebrews. We should not treat this theory as an enemy, but learn to understand it in light of covenant history in the Bible. We should read that Jesus is not simply making a God who is always angry happy by killing himself. Jesus did the will of God in this matter but it was a desire to save and not the desire to destroy that drove this action. Also, Jesus is not just taking on sin, but is providing covenant according to Jewish tradition. In this way he is not simply once and for all atonement, but is creating a once and for all covenant with humanity.

Those who are against all other theories might not understand the other theories and need to consult scripture, especially Romans. Take a closer look at it and see Christ as a rescuer more than one who simply takes punishment. He is a great liberator who defeats death and fear. Romans is not really that strong in substitutionary atonement theory. It uses more warrior metaphor and sounds something like the description of a Roman emperor freeing a people and bringing blessings to the people he recently conquered. It is a contrast to worldly rulers and paints a picture of Christ as a Messianic ruler who came to conquer the world and liberate humanity from death and sin so that they could live out their God-given purpose.

Instead of having one or the other, we need balanced view that includes all biblical models. The definition of the theories needs to be clarified according to the narrative of the Bible. It is important that God sent His son out of His love for us (John 3:16). Without that, we would have no hope of resurrection or complete relationship. As for the wrath part, a walk through much of the Old Testament use of the wrath or punishment of God is very temporary. This is due to the fact that this wrath is not so much a stative, emotional descriptor of God’s view of us as much as it is an experiential reflection on the human experience of God. When one rebels against God, it does not go well for them. It is true that God punishes, yet his punishment is always an attempt to bring those opposing Him to a deeper understanding of the way that God loves. One of the ways he does that is rescue which always follows punishment. Most of the prophets of the Old Testament could not say anything about the punishment of God without following it with the rescue of God. God always promises rescue to those who will turn to Him. This does not sound like a God who is perpetually angry with humanity and that Jesus needs to appease Him by dying. That view creates too much dichotomy between the Father and the Son and will logically lead to heresy. The best view is that God and Jesus share the same love and the same mission, which is rescue. Anger is not the high attribute of God, love and sovereignty is. Whether you are a neo-calvinist in the likes of John Piper or Mark Driscoll, or your more open like the minds of Greg Boyd and Joel B. Green, we must replace the thought that God hates in a purely emotional sense, which comes from modern definitions of emotionalism. The Biblical idea is that God hates rebellion. God, however, loves everyone, or else the Bible would have been more explicit on some receiving the revelation and others having it completely hidden from them on purpose due to the separation of the mission of God the Father and God the Son, which seems a mix of pure Augustinianism and Gnosticism, both of which have been rejected by the Church.

So let’s find a good and balanced view of atonement that reaches into the Scriptures and offers something pure and beautiful for the world, the way that God meant it to be.

How do you see God? Is He always angry or does he primarily love us? Is He out to punish us or give us new life? Are you finding reasons to be afraid of Him or stand in awe before Him?

*A good read that furthers this view is Ezekiel 18. In that chapter we see that God takes no joy in letting the wicked die. Contrary to people like John Piper, it also means He does not consider it a glorifying event either.

Fear and Evangelism: Uses of Fear in the Bible.

Traditional Evangelism of the 1900’s taught us of fear and fire. The people responded the only way they knew how, to run from fire quickly. Much like the monster in Shelley’s Frankenstein, we would run over anyone to get away from the perceived danger. Even today, there are many older evangelists who would have us resort to scare tactics in order to save. But what does the bible say.

The Bible uses of the word fear well over 300 times. OT Hebrew usage is around 320 times under the word yira. Though some of these uses address being afraid, the majority is an exalting fear or reverence towards God. Even a good portion of the afraid references are from angels saying do not fear. Some even contrast reverent fear with terror, chat, in the Hebrew. In the New Testament Greek usage: . Bernhard Anderson in Contours of Old Testament Theology tells us on page 263 that the use of the word fear in the contemporary English is not a good translation, but that awe and reverence is a proper translation the majority of the time when it comes to God. This fits with an unused dictionary meaning of fear, which is awe and reverence. Fear in the Old Testament did not state that you were in reverence to God primarily because of his ability to kill you, though that is to be noted. You revere God on account of Exodus, deliverance, salvation, the wisdom in His kind and benevolent sovereignty.

This raises the following question: Is fear a viable tool for evangelism? People think this needs a solid standing answer in truth. In order to get a more Biblical answer, we must turn to what the Biblical witnesses actually say. Many people turn to Jesus in the Gospels and His threats of judgment. However, when one looks closely at who is being threatened, it ends up being those within the realm of God followers. Acts, Paul and the rest of the New Testament give us a different view as well. They view the problem of Hell not so much as a threat. They view it as a state that already exists for humanity, an inescapable reality. Hell is definitely a destination, but it is also a state of being. The God of heaven need not condemn with a punishment of a destination we were already heading towards. And even though hell is sometimes termed God’s wrath, if you read Revelation 14 you find that God’s wrath is viewed as torment in God’s presence and not just separation from God. This shows us that hell is not primarily the place, it is the relationship with God, albeit a miserable one. The offer that the New Testament makes, in faithfulness to the Old Testament, is a peace with God, not only in relation to declaring your condemnation (which  you already have) but in relation to interaction itself (a peace which is new). This leads people to practice the fear of awe and reverence once saved. Fear is not the tool of one seeking to convict the non-believer. Reading about Paul and the Early Church in the book of Acts, we can quickly see that Paul uses reason and kindness to bring the pagan to Christ. Though judgment is mentioned, it is in the sense that it is an understood outcome of our natural being as a result of the Fall. The curse was already set in Genesis 3. We are not waiting for condemnation as we are trying to postpone the fires of punishment (I use fire metaphorically). We are seeking the one who can and does save us (Romans 8:1-4).

The Gospel passage in 1 Corinthians 15 tells us the full gospel needed to perform evangelism. Christ is the King who came to us yet was put to death. However, he was resurrected in His humanity, pointing to our inheritance of the same fate if we accept His Lordship and lifestyle. What’s so amazing about this event is that we are invited to participate in the Kingdom of the God who did this great work for humanity. Does this makes us live in dread? Or does this not give us conviction that God has been reeling in humanity ever since the fall and now has thrown in a net so that we could rush toward it? For me, it says how great the King is and how His mercy has brought me into the resurrection community. He promised me a future of resurrection and a life of shalom with Him, both now and at His return. Who would not want to follow this King?

What kind of God do we believe in? Is our God the God of mindless punishment and perpetual anger? Or is He the God that is slow to anger and quick to release any anger in order to redeem? Is our God the God of death and the grave or of the empty cross and the resurrection?

Evangelicals and Conversion

We recently were able to watch the debacle that is known as Election season. One of the things that is common in the election seasons for American is the interaction between religion and politics. The group of Christians that most commonly interact with politics are conservative evangelicals. Along with the voting season was the marriage vote that passed an amendment in the state’s constitution that said that marriage would be civilly defined as between one man and one women. This sparked much conversation in that it led the president to make a statement on the issue.

My point is not to make issue with the state, since the state will do what it will do as separate from the Nation of God, which is the Kingdom of Heaven. The issue at hand was the so-called Conservative Evangelical church, aka the Moral Majority, used Evangelical understanding of Scriptures to defend voting yes to the amendment. There is a problem with this position besides it being a law passed many years ago in that state. What was our point? Why did we got that route? Did we seek to save people or did we just want to let them know that they were wrong?

Let’s start by taking a look at what makes an Evangelical. (This will not recognize the work of Scot McKnight, which is another issue with Evangelicalism that will not be covered here.)

  1. Conversionism: The need for personal conversion, or being born again (aka Personal Salvation, Redemption, Atoned, etc.; must be on a personal level),
  2. Biblicism: A high regard for biblical authority (This is a debated topic, but what is agreed upon is that the Bible is transformative),
  3. Crucicentrism: An emphasis on teachings that proclaim the saving death and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ (This obviously puts an emphasis on Christ’s work and off of Man’s works),
  4. and Activism: Actively expressing and sharing the Gospel of Jesus (This is a focus on the physical and verbal expressions of evangelism).

Observing this formula calls out some things that have been practiced by evangelicals in voting on legislating morality. The fact that we focus on personal decision tells us that forcing practice on those who do not believe is against our theology. The Biblicism aspect might bring us to the use of law to force a morality, but we are brought back to the reality that it is Christ that is the focus and not human law, which shows that the Biblicism along with Crucicentrism points to an internal transformative reality and not simply a legal reality. And only those who have been transformed can recognize the authority of the Bible as a covenant. This brings the focus on responding with Conversionism (personally coming to the faith) and Activism (expressing that personal decision to follow Christ). If that becomes our focus in responding to the Gospel, then we will find that we will need to interact personally with those not of our faith and use the Early Church method of conviction. We then would not be allowed to hide behind law and government to do the Church’s work, but would be challenge by the Spirit to do it ourselves.

Are you Evangelical? Have you used law as a platform for your religion? Are you willing to let Christ be your platform (or, better said, let yourself be a platform for Christ)? Will you allow the Spirit to guide you into real evangelism over votes?

Where Does the Church Look For Purpose?

Nature of the Question. This is loaded question, but one that many faithful Church folk ask. Where do we look for purpose, inspiration, and meaning. It’s not an easy question and we will need to consider multiple points for our question. The main thing we will try to do is to define our pursuit now for a better future by looking back at the line drawn on the map of History and Scriptures. It is not a straight line, but it is going in a certain direction since the Holy Spirit, when followed has served as a compass in our practices and ethics as believers in Christ.

Judaism and the Old Testament is the first marker as how we view our history. If you were to look at the Jewish order of the Old Testament, you would note that it ends with the Chronicles. Read them. They are quite depressing at the end. Israel falls and is left wondering where in the world they will be and when God will rescue them from exile. To the Hebrews who canonized the Old Testament, this is a tragedy and will always be remembered as such.

And what people need to realize is that this is a good way to end some stories. It teaches us. It can be used to call a people back to their original purpose. Who would not want to take full opportunity to serve God when He has accepted your worship and loyalty, however broken it is.

Christianity is similar in their approach by how they view the Bible, New Testament, and Church History. We too have an order of the Old Testament which ends with the prophets who were calling people back to God and pointing to rescue. This rescue is what we recorded in the New Testament as Jesus, the Messiah who came to be injured and killed for his people. This type of Christ has been our model for the Church all throughout our history. We have not been perfect. Our line on the map is not straight by a long shot. But we are pursuing that model and seeking to stay in communion and covenant with that Christ. And we look to a future found in the last two chapters of Revelation; the future of healing and heaven and earth all at once.

Church is the place where the present looks to it’s past in order to define where it is going and the past looks to where the future is going to define itself. We note our Jewish roots and look to them for lessons. We know of our Christ, in whom all history hinges and expresses itself. We look to our history for examples of where we are going. We live these lessons today and express them in word and deed. And we look to a future in active anticipation of the returning King.

Where do you look for inspiration? Do you value the Spirit’s work in the history of God-following? How do you apply this to your present and future?

(Remember this is about where in time we look for guidance. If you are confused about WHO to look for guidance, always look Christ. Since today is Epiphany, it is fitting to see this as important. Seek Christ always, just like the wise men did, and you will find exactly what you need for life in God and in the Church.)