Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Suffering of the Lamb

What was on Jesus’ heart and mind as He suffered and died on the cross?

We have heard over and over again that it was His love for us, but I would suggest that answer is somewhat incomplete.

We’ve embraced a dangerous tendency as a church to wrap everything around ourselves, even much of our “worship” focuses more on ourselves and how we feel than it does on the character and nature of God. This me-centric theology is just an outshoot of our very self centered culture into our churches, it represents an area where the culture has been allowed to transform the gospel we teach, rather than the other way around. The consequences of this dangerous reversal are being felt throughout American society today.

When Jesus died on the cross, He was lovingly thinking of you; but His primary motivation was love for and the greater glory of His Father. We take a dangerous step if we believe that Christ’s care and concern for us exceeded His care and concern for His Father and His Father’s glory.

God recognized that redeeming sinful humanity, who deserved no such redemption being rebels all, would bring Him far greater glory than wiping evil from the face of the earth. He earnestly desires the worship of redeemed men and women from every tribe, tongue, and nation for Himself. For this reason, Christ Jesus our Lord temporarily put aside the glory that was rightfully His and embraced instead the cross.

He suffered and died the way that we ought to have, to redeem us for His worship. No other motivation could be more pure, nor could it be better and more loving for us. Let us reject the notion that all the actions of the Sovereign and Glorious Lord of creation revolve around us, and instead recognize His plan to redeem us for His own glory!

To get a more full understanding of the concept of God’s desire to glorify Himself and redeem the nations read Unveiled at Last, by Bob Sjogren.

The Supper of the Lamb

I intended this post to go up last night, but didn’t get the time to write it yesterday.

Matthew 26:26-29 NKJV

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.”

Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”

1 Corinthians 11:26-32 NKJV

For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.

Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.

The early church took the Lord’s supper very, very seriously. Look at what Paul says in 1 Corinthians as quoted above, to eat and drink in an unworthy manner brings judgement on the one who takes it. All this trouble about something that most evangelicals hold to be just a symbol, Paul?

I am deeply concerned that we have grown anti-sacramental as a church. Jesus said “this is my body” and “this is my blood” and then Paul strongly condemned those who partook unworthily saying some were sick and had died as a result. Yet we persist in this notion that these sacraments are mere symbols, a notion which in the rather long history of Christianity is very young indeed; in fact even Martin Luther didn’t accept the doctrine that the were mere symbols, that innovation arose from other members of the reformation movement.

You may ask then, if I am embracing the old Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation. I am not, the whole point of the sacraments is that we don’t fully understand them, that is what makes them sacraments. Instead I am saying that in some spiritual way that neither I or anyone else will likely understand this side of heaven, the wine and bread are the body and blood of Jesus Christ. And this is important because as Leviticus 17:11 teaches us:

For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.’

When we as followers of Christ partake of the Lord’s supper we are taking His life into ourselves for purification and nourishment. We are in a physical, tangible way, embracing the reality of our salvation through Jesus Christ and the indwelling of His Holy Spirit in us.

This Passion week, investigate these things for yourself. Especially go back and read the oldest Christian witnesses. Don’t sell yourself short by denying the inherit spiritual power of this sacrament in your life.

News Alert: Obama signs into law “Monsanto Protection Act”

I had intended to write mostly spiritually reflective posts about Passion week, but when I saw this I figured it had better be shared.

You can get the details from the link, but the short version is that the President has signed into law special legislation that provides Monsanto with protection from liability as the health effects of GMO crops become more well known.

It would be bad enough that we have allowed the thugs at Monsanto to patent living organisms and then destroy small farms by suing for patent infringement when there crops contaminate the neighbors field, but this adds a serious level of wickedness to an already wicked system.

I strongly urge you to take charge of your own food consumption and production while it is still legal to do so!

The Coming of the Lamb

A Passion Week Meditation on the Incarnation

This week, those who follow after Christ Jesus, celebrate the most significant event to ever take place on this broken and hurting planet. However, in order to understand the significant events we will celebrate this week, we must be clear of the identity of this man from Galilee.

In His own words:
*All passages are from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
– John 14:6

For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.
– Matt 18:11

Then they all said, “Are You then the Son of God?” So He said to them, “You rightly say that I am.”
-Luke 22:70

Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
– John 8:58

Notice especially the last passage, Jesus claims for Himself the covenant name of God by which He revealed Himself to the Children of Israel. This is the name by which God demonstrated Himself not only sovereign over all the God’s of Egypt, but also by which He revealed Himself as the God who reaches out and saves His people.

In His disciples words:

Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
– Matt 16:16

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
– Acts 2:36

In the words of Angels:

And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.
– Luke 1:35

In the words of Demons:

And the unclean spirits, whenever they saw Him, fell down before Him and cried out, saying, “You are the Son of God.”
– Mark 3:11

In the words of the centurion who stood beside the cross:

And the unclean spirits, whenever they saw Him, fell down before Him and cried out, saying, “You are the Son of God.”
– Mark 15:39

In the words of the Ancient church:

I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:
And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:
Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:
The third day he rose again from the dead:
He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:
– The Apostles Creed

Obviously I have put forward a great deal of testimony about the person of Jesus, for this I have a good reason. If we don’t understand fully who Jesus is, then nothing that He said or did will carry the full weight that it ought with us. We cannot merely dismiss Jesus as an excellent moral teacher, because He refused to be dismissed as such. Had Jesus contended Himself to be a moral teacher He would have never faced the cross, instead He refused to relinquish the scandalous claim that He was the Son of God most high!

When we actually embrace the doctrine of the incarnation, though it is too much for us to understand fully, all of the rest of the Gospels becomes clear. The virgin birth, the miracles, even the resurrection are natural extensions of the presence and power of God Himself walking this earth beside us.

God chose to come down, in person, as Jesus Christ. He came fully human and yet also fully God, with the full authority and might of the creator coming into His creation. He alone had the power to live a life victorious over sin and death and to break the power of sin and death in our lives. The very hand that shaped man from the dust, willingly was pierced by a wicked nail and driven onto the cross for us. The very Word which spoke the stars into space said of your sin and mine “It is finished!”.

The real marvel to us, ought not to be that He who was fully God should rise from the dead or work miracles; but rather that the great I AM, the maker of heaven and earth should demonstrate His glory and love by willingly dying an excruciating death on a cross. Have you marveled today at the significance of the one who died for you? Nothing but His own will could take Him to the cross, and yet He went.

*Note: I owe a tremendous debt to J.I. Packer and his wonderful book Knowing God in influencing my thoughts on the significance of the incarnation.

The Bard’s Book Reviews: Folks This Ain’t Normal

I fell a bit behind on my book reviews over the last several weeks, and since I read quite a bit there will be a few over the next week or so. 

Folks, This Ain’t Normal is the latest book from lunatic farmer, Joel Salatin. For those who aren’t familiar with Mr. Salatin, he became well known after being referenced in Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma and appearing in the movie Food Inc. Mr. Salatin’s farm, Polyface, has been an active player in the local sustainable movement longer than most of what we would consider the local sustainable agriculture movement has existed and is a leading source of innovation in sustainable agricultural technique.

I have read a number of Joel Salatin’s books in the past and have always found them to be excellent, fast moving reads. In addition they are consistently packed with useful information about realistic solutions to the complex problem’s we are facing as a nation today, particularly in our food industry.

I would argue that Folks, This Ain’t Normal, is the most lay friendly book Mr. Salatin has written thus far. Anyone interested in agriculture should read his other books, particularly You Can Farm; but Folks, This Ain’t Normal is packed full of information for any reader looking for solutions to the issues we are facing with our industrialized, chemical food supply.

The book takes on a variety of issues and lays out how our move away from personal stewardship and responsibility over our food supply is directly responsible for many of the social and political issues today. Mr. Salatin doesn’t stop there, however, he provides common sense, non-government solutions to each problem he presents. Specifically, he presents many small scale solutions that can be implemented by the reader personally.

In addition to laying out practical solutions to difficult problems, Mr. Salatin also references dozens of other excellent books for further reading and like all good non-fiction works should the index in the book is lengthy and well put together.

I strongly recommend this book for anyone concerned, are not informed enough to be concerned about the dangers of the industrial food system, GMO’s, energy independence, sustainable agriculture, or the return of common sense.

The Bard’s Book Reviews: History of the Church, By Eusebius

History of the Church by Eusebius is the oldest known history of the Christian church. It begins at the life of Christ and ends with the formation of the peace under Constantine.

To be honest, particularly since it is now in the public domain and available free for the taking, this book should be required reading for everyone who calls them self a follower of Christ. This book provides a basic overview of the various church fathers beginning with the apostles and through the period of early persecution and the eventual rise of Constantine. The events that take place are the events that shaped the church in its infancy and in many cases we are still living under the effects of these events. I have long been concerned that the church is losing touch with its oldest and most cherished values, this book is a great starting point on this path. Being well aware of the testimony of the most ancient and apostolic Christian witness’s goes a long way towards preventing false doctrine in the church today. For example it would be very difficult for any serious reader of Eusebius to cling to the false notion that the Gospel brings with it prosperity and worldly riches, seeing as the book is filled with the stories of individuals who gave up everything for the Gospel’s sake.

In addition, tracking the available sources Eusebius references will give the reader an even larger reading list of early church leaders that would be difficult to compile elsewhere. This allows for an even more thorough reading of early church history.

And finally, in addition to reacquainting the godly bard with some very important historical reference points, this book will help the modern western materialist to reembrace mythic Christianity. The testimony of the early church is full of true stories that will bring you out of your comfort zone and force you to accept the fact that God is not limited by our perception of scientific law.

As I said above, this book is a must read for all godly bards, and all Christians in general. When I finally release my recommended reading list this book will be in the top tier.

Ecology and Global Disciplemaking

Considering that the creation mandate to take stewardship over the Earth and care for it properly never went away, and also considering that mass starvation, illness, etc. will have strongly negative consequences for everyone, but especially “the least of these”; I have long considered returning to a more normal ecology to be an integral part of the Mission of God’s people on earth. To accomplish a more normal ecology will, however, require significant cultural change. We will have to see a massive deurbanization as more loving stewards move back to the land, as a result there will be a massive cultural and economic shift back to the rural, as well as back to local. In order to fix our global ecological issues this will have to take place at the global level. Because this change will be so radical, we must ask ourselves how this will affect global discipleship.

In the first place urbanization has, without a doubt, greatly increased the ability of the church to access many unreached people groups that previously were very difficult to minister to due to geographic and political barriers. In many cases, here in these United States today, there are immigrant and student populations of unreached peoples on our own soil, living in major cities. However, accessibility should not be confused with receptivity. While urbanization has made some parts of discipleship easier, it has made others harder. Urbanites have much shorter, and often more disjointed relationship chains. Whereas, with the correct approach, the Gospel will flow very rapidly through existing relationship structures to reach a rural people, this growth is often dwarfed in urban cultures simply because those relationship structures don’t exist. For this reason, I would suggest than any access issues than urbanization has assisted with are offset by the difficulty of transmitting the Gospel throughout the entirety of a people group.

Urbanization and the False Gospel of Prosperity

An even larger issue, as far as I am concerned, is whether or not the Gospel being transmitted is pure and true. Now before I really launch into this, let me stop and say this: I am not accusing any church, mission agency, or other organization of deliberately teaching a false Gospel. As a general rule those involved in Mission are more detached from the false elements present throughout our church culture today; but it is often very difficult to separate yourself from the culture you were born into and this in turn can make it very hard to disentangle the Gospel message.

The problem I am seeing and experiencing is that Western, urban, materialistic culture is in direct contradiction to the Gospel; that is the values of urban culture are opposed to the Scriptural commands and values. All the emphasis on material wealth, and on prosperity in our culture has resulted in a Gospel diluted with promises of worldly wealth and prosperity. As a add on to this dangerous belief set, it then becomes hard for people who are materially “blessed” to recognize the lack of holiness and godliness in their lives. After all, if God is blessing me I must be doing everything right, yes? This wealth also sneaks in and steals away the church’s dependance on God. With an insurance policy for everything, and massive cash reserves its no wonder most people hardly recognize the old term “Divine Providence”.
A people who live on the land, can have the bounty of the earth without ever losing sight of the visceral connection between there hard work and their dependance on God’s grace. Returning to the land, almost automatically cuts modern humans back down to size. In the manmade world of cities, it is easy to gain a false sense of importance; but in the vastness of creation remembrance comes of the One who is actually sovereign. It is clear to one who works the earth, that the food it produces is the product of some unspeakable miracle. Shopping at the grocery store will give the impression that food comes from money, money “I” worked hard for.

While I do believe that there are some who can live in urban environments and still keep themselves pure from the prevailing materialism, indeed some are likely called to do so; for most this urban culture has lead them astray from the true Gospel and sent them off chasing wealth as fast as they can get it.

I would suggest that it is the bigger, cheaper, more convenient mentality of urban culture that has largely driven the modern church to give up discipleship and turn instead to numbers and marketing. Discipleship represents stewardship and slow growth, values best taught by those in a proper ecological relationship with the earth. Quick progress and rapid results are the goals of an urban culture that is used to everything being handed to it like a fast food hamburger.

Only a move back to a heathy ecological relationship with the earth, our younger sister whose care we have been charged with, will give us the edge necessary to stamp out materialism from the Gospel we preach.

Busyness, the Urbanite versus the Small Farmer

It is no secret that modern urban people have filled their lives with all kinds of activity and rarely have time to do anything very meaningful. Some of these useless activities could be pretty easily replaced with activities that actually impact global disciple making, but some of them can’t be. At this point in time it has gotten very, very difficult to maintain a family on a single income; this is particularly true for younger workers in entry level jobs. The result is that children not only rarely see there fathers anymore, but now they rarely see their mothers either. One of the most central and basic ways of fulling the command to make disciples, the discipling and raising of children, has been outsourced almost entirely to the state and a group of experts at church. This alone has severely impacted gospel growth, and now according to some statistics we are confronting a generation of young people in which only 4% embrace a Biblical gospel.

This busyness gets far worse though, just ask yourself, or one of your friends, to make some sort of long term time commitment to reach the unreached. Try to get involved in working with international students or immigrants from unreached groups in your city. The time commitment involved is often fairly significant, perhaps 10-15 hours a week. Most people have a very hard time swinging this. Now I am not trying to criticize anyone, this problem stems from the nature of modern, urban life. When you spend the best 50-60 hours of the week, depending on your commute, at work; then it becomes very difficult to do anything other than come home, eat dinner, tuck the kids in, and spend a few precious moments with your spouse before falling asleep. By Saturday you are so behind on things around the house that between that and a little family activity the whole day is over before it starts. Sunday you go to church and put the kids to bed early in preparation for the new week and it all starts over. Worst of all, this process doesn’t stop it goes on and on week after week all year. There are no seasons, no rest times, just a few weeks of vacation and perhaps a holiday here and there.

This level of busyness has a strong effect on the Faith. First of all it keeps God’s people from being able to commit to ministry, but even more importantly it keeps them to busy for Him. Things like daily bible reading and prayer get completely passed over in the mad rush that is your average day for most modern Christians. It is no wonder our faith is weak when no one has time to spend with its author and perfecter.

Compare this to the hard working farmer out in his fields. His work is seasonal, during certain seasons he may work 80 hours or more, during other seasons the farm nearly shuts down. Even during these busy seasons the work is communal. If he has to work by himself the farmer’s thoughts are largely uninterrupted as he goes about more day to day activities, the days more difficult challenges will require some thought, but the steady daily chores can be done while remaining in a quiet state of fellowship with nature and nature’s God. The farmer also rarely has to work alone, all the work can be done communally. If family is important, the family can come participate. Children love gathering eggs, feeding animals, and playing in the dark dirt of the garden. It’s all like a giant playground to them, and so in a normal ecology children are with their parents most of the day. Others can be to, and as illustrate throughout our history books, often have been. Communities work together to accomplish goals and spend the days together. If a farmer wants to spend time with a international student or someone else, then that person can come tag along with him and will likely enjoy seeing what life on an American farm is like anyway. The farmer can actually do life with people, the urbanite is unable to do this because his occupation is so disjointed from his life.

In the winter as things slow down, a farm community can pretty easily afford to let several of its families go out of the community for several months for ministry, most employers would never allow someone to just take off work for 3 months or more.

From all this I gather, that the farmer first of all is rooted much deeply in the community around him. As a result they will all me mutually strengthened by each other’s faith. The urbanite has to make time to spend with people, in many cases he won’t even see many people at work because he is locked in a tiny box. The farmer has a strong family, held together by large amounts of quality time, shared hardships, and communal labor this gives the farm family a strong base for doing ministry together. The urbanite is fortunate if he can hold is family together long enough for his kids to graduate high school because he rarely sees them. The farm community has time to do things with and for people, the urban world is far to busy. From this I conclude that move back to a normal ecology, with more people on the land would free up more laborers, particularly those with a strong community and family foundation for ministry and mission.

Conclusion

It is my belief that a return to a more normal ecology would fix many of the larger problems the western church is facing today. Strong families and strong communities means stronger churches. Men and women who actually have time to spend with God and to observe His power constantly on display in creation are much more likely recognize their full dependance on Him and to acknowledge His total sovereignty. A stronger faith and more pure Gospel results in a better accomplishment of Mission and a more steady development of disciples globally and locally. The earth is a mess today as a result of our modern culture and ecological practices, there are people going hungry who just a few decades ago knew how to feed themselves. The age of cheap energy will be ending soon, and when it does we will be forced to return to the a more normal ecology, the benefits of which I have just described. The Church today is faced with a choice: Do we embrace this change and work to holistically solve these problems, or do we fight the change and let the problems run us over?