Today is Yom Kippur, Judaism’s day of atonement. It’s a day for fasting, repentance, and healing. Atonement is a concept that Christianity inherited from Judaism. Jesus’ cross is our Yom Kippur for our sins. The Hebrew word kippur means most literally “to cover.” In English, atonement is a compound of three words: at-one-ment. So what is being made “at one” with atonement? And how does being “covered” by something make us “at one”? Continue reading
I knew it was coming: the Piper tweet, this time quoting Job in response to the Oklahoma tornado. As the dean of the neo-Calvinist movement, John Piper likes to push the envelope with his commentary on God’s role in natural disasters. He did it about a year ago when tornadoes hit the midwest. In 2007 after the Minneapolis bridge collapsed, he wrote that he and his daughter discussed how God must have done it so the people of Minneapolis would fear Him because our sin against God is “an outrage ten thousand times worse than the collapse of the 35W bridge.” Piper would say that he’s just being Biblical and that it shouldn’t be surprising that speaking Biblically would make people feel uncomfortable. So how do we talk about God’s role in tragedies?
I just came across this video from Nathan Blanc, a 19 year old Israeli who has refused the mandatory time of service in the Israeli military because of his objection to the occupation of Palestine. Israeli law does not allow for conscientious objectors so they are sent to prison if they refuse to serve. Hear what he has to say and judge for yourself, and then check out this link to an article about other Israeli youth who are picking prison over occupation.
I preached this weekend about the ascension of Christ. As I shared in a blog post earlier in the week, I think it’s important to consider why Jesus ascended to heaven instead of sticking around in visible fleshly form in His immortal body. The dialogue between Jesus and His disciples in Acts 1:6-11 helps to shed light on why His ascension was part of God’s plan. Below I’m sharing the sermon audio along with a written summary:
Since it’s the last day of 2012, I have to cover three months in this final post of looking back so I’m going to give myself 12 posts from the past three months instead of just 10. This fall, we experienced two alternatives for responding to an election season: preachers endorsing political candidates from the pulpit or Christians coming together across the political spectrum to celebrate communion. Jerry Sandusky got convicted for his crimes, so I asked what would need to happen for him to enter into God’s kingdom and feast at the heavenly banquet with the boys he molested. I watched with anguish and tried to be fair in what I wrote as Israel and Gaza went to war. And Rachel Held Evans became this year’s Rob Bell after her Year of Biblical Womanhood drew a furious reaction from the evangelical establishment. So here are 12 from October to December. Continue reading
In Matthew1:21, Gabriel says to Mary, “”You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” What does this sentence mean? We think it’s obvious. “Saved” means not going to hell. And that’s because we’ve adopted a story of salvation handed down to us by people who could not imagine needing a savior in a this-world, right-now kind of way. But when the Hebrew Bible talks about yeshuah (salvation), the word that cognates into Jesus’ name, it is never in the context of the plight of eternal damnation faced by the abstract everyman of Bill Bright’s Four Spiritual Laws that have defined the last half-century of evangelicalism. Yeshuah usually describes very concrete situations of desperation, often on the battlefield, in which the Israelites were rescued by God. When the black slaves in the American South heard about Jesus, they knew intuitively that they were one with the Israel God sent a messiah to rescue, the same intuition which continues to occur for poor people throughout the Global South. The awkward thing for privileged Westerners like me about acknowledging this other dimension to the salvation that Jesus brings is that it shows God to be in solidarity with the people who have been stepped on by our privilege, which has to be part of the reason why we either want to make Christmas into a Norman Rockwell painting or else ensure that Jesus is safely strapped to His cross and bracketed into an abstract atonement equation as soon as He hits the manger hay. But is that clean, abstract salvation really the yeshuah that Jesus was named for? It’s relevant to look at how the word is used in the Hebrew scriptures by which the term was defined for Matthew’s original readers .
The UN General Assembly today passed a resolution to grant Palestine “observer-state status,” which Palestinian Authority premier Mahmoud Abbas declared the “last chance to save the two-state solution.” I’m actually opposed to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. I don’t think it can be supported Biblically, because the Biblical prophecy about Zion in Isaiah 2:2-4 says that it’s the mountain of the Lord’s temple to which “all the nations will stream” in order to receive God’s judgment and teaching so that no one will “train for war anymore.” There is no mention of national borders, checkpoints, 40 foot high walls, or barbed wire fences in Isaiah or Micah or any of the other prophecies about Zion in the Hebrew Bible, because the Biblical Zion is not an apartheid state in which non-Jews are disenfranchised and under military occupation. Christians who support the Bible shouldn’t be advocating a two-state solution; we should be advocating a one-state solution in which Arabs from Gaza and the West Bank have full citizenship rights as well as Palestinian refugees around the world, who should all have birthright citizenship no differently than Jews around the world currently enjoy. Continue reading
I realize I’ve had blogorrhea lately about the Gaza crisis. This is probably my last piece on it, taking a more theological angle considering Jesus’ command to love your enemies as a pragmatic foreign policy strategy and also proposing that we understand Satan to be the Great Terrorist who makes us all terrorists to varying degrees according to our influences, privilege, desperation, and access to tools of violence. I’m cautiously hopeful because the Israel/Gaza ceasefire scheduled for 2 pm EST today includes two provisions that I suggest in this piece. That’s why I decided to go ahead and post it. Please pray for peace. Continue reading
I realize I’ll get in trouble for writing this. I hope you can love me even when God puts it on my heart to advocate for people whose existence has been delegitimized with the label of “terrorism.” And I hope you understand that my advocacy does not connote moral approval of very evil things that have been done and are being done. I used to be a youth pastor to kids who society had written off on account of their being “gang-bangers” and “illegal aliens,” and I discovered they were beautiful children of God who needed someone to tell them that. Jesus’ ministry was defined by associating with people whose existence had been delegitimized with a label, whether it was “sinner” or “tax collector” or “prostitute.” Thus it seems like not an inappropriate emulation of Christ to try to understand and even defend the human dignity of “terrorists” in Gaza whether they’re labeled that way because of their own sinful deeds or because they share the same ethnicity, neighborhood, or even household with people who have engaged in acts of violence that create terror.
One of the most cogent things that Barack Obama said during his 2008 presidential campaigns was that he would sit down with America’s enemies since it’s bad strategy to “punish” them by not talking with them. He was widely ridiculed by people whose heroes Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon accomplished their greatest foreign policy achievements with the USSR and China precisely through their willingness to treat America’s enemies with dignity, which happened in a different time before American politics became an adolescent conversation. It has been painful to watch Obama walk back his stance so thoroughly that instead of continuing the somewhat successful (though expensive) counter-insurgency strategy of building relationships with enemies that worked in Iraq, now he sends in drones to speak with bombs and missiles instead. How would the Cuban Missile Crisis have gone if Kennedy had “refused to negotiate with terrorists”? Probably about as well as the Gaza disaster is going for Israel. The Communists were no less ideologically committed to the fall of America than Hamas is committed to the fall of Israel. And yet instead of negotiating with Ahmed al-Jabari, the Hamas military chief, Israel assassinated him, which was a huge strategic blunder if they have a genuine interest in peace.