Friday, July 28, 2006

John the (Humble) Baptist. (John 3:22-30)

We all would like to be popular to one degree or another. We would like to have people pay attention to us. How we behave when we get what we want can say a lot about our character. What can tell more though is how we handle competition.

John the Baptist was one of the most famous figures of his day. He had a big following. But one day it became clear that his prominence was being eclipsed by another; Jesus of Nazareth. Many people would have become jealous. Many would have decided to oppose Jesus. Not John though. He simply said: "He must become greater; I must become less."

There's a lot packed into that.

One thing that strikes me is that here is no causal relationship. John is not saying that Jesus' becoming greater depends on John's becoming less, as though John's voluntary capitulation was required for Jesus' greatness to grow. John is simply stating the fact that as Jesus becomes greater, he, John, will become less.

There is no hint of regret or anger in that admission of inevitability either. John accepts this as the end result of his ministry. He accepts this as being the fulfillment of all his work. So why then should he be upset? He has done all that he wanted, all that he was born to do.

If I may speculate for a moment: John had something that we typically lack; a sense of destiny. He had a strong sense, a specific sense of why he was alive. He knew specifically what his ministry was about, and when it was finished, when it had accomplished its goal.

The fact that John did not live long afterwards probably didn't bother him; he had done the greatest thing any of us can; fulfill life's purpose. Why would we want to live long after that?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

No Heaven Without Faith in Christ

In John 3:15 John makes the comment that the purpose of Jesus' being lifted up is so that "those who believe might have life in him."

A couple of things come to mind. First, the verb "believe" is used with no object. Taken on its own one might be tempted to think that one must simply be "a person of faith" in order to qualify for eternal life. Surely that is the theological direction that some denominations, most notably the RCC, are drifting towards. This would then promote the idea that being a sincerely religious person is enough. Because you are person who at least believes (apparently this is a meritorious virtue) God will grant you a pass for believing the wrong things.

But this is a good example of why we need to keep verses in context. Doing so helps us to see that we are not free to simply assume that there is no defined content to "believing". For in John 3:12 we see that Jesus includes, at least, trust and faith in himself and his teaching.

That, incidentally, is why I don't think we can say that Nicodemus is, at this point, a believer in Christ. He can say that Jesus is from God, but doesn't understand how much of an understatement that is. He s in fact incredulous about some of what Jesus teaches, and disbelieves some as well. The examples are not deep or minute theological details either, they are basics.

We really do need to be on guard against the notion that sincerity covers a multitude of sins. We need to believe, yes, but we have to believe in something, someone, specific in order to be saved.

The RCC is, IMO, leading people down the garden path in this aspect.

The RCC has this notion of a "baptism of desire" which posits that if a person is sincere they would want to be baptized (they believe baptism regenerates the person, is the instrument of the New Birth Jesus speaks of) and that's what counts. That's rather patronizing. Sincere practitioners a of other beliefs are not Christians, but they will be some day, regardless of what they believe now.

That, as far as I am concerned, is hogwash. There is nothing virtuous about being a person of faith as such in terms of salvation. The Essenes were sincere practitioners of their faith, and the Sadducees were as well. The sadducees were still taken to task by Jesus.

There is no substitute for a real, personal faith. Not in God's eyes.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Yes, A New Birth

While I often hear Christians refer to being "born again", I wonder if they have given much thought to what it means?

Some seem to equate it with some ritual or other they went through at some time, be it a baptism or an event where they "went forward" and said a "sinner's prayer."

But is that what Jesus was referring to when he spoke of being "born again"?

First, I'd like to point out that Jesus probably did not say that Nicodemus had to be "born again" but "born from above". The word "again" translates a Greek word which, every other time in John, means "from above." That's how we should take it here. Being born from above implies something that comes from God, not something that we do, and and implies a real and radical spiritual event.

Second, I think its important for us to recognize the importance of Jesus' switching terms in 3:5. There Jesus speaks of being born from above in terms of being born of water and spirit. It would be easy to think that Jesus is referring to two births, here, one of water, and the other by the Spirit. I don't think that's accurate though. I think Jesus is referring to a single birth by two modes.

In the OT water refers (figuratively) to renewal and cleansing, while Spirit is the divine principle of life, which, according to Joel 2:28, the Jews (like Nicodemus) were supposed to look forward to in the New Covenant. The two are linked in passages like Ps. 51:9,10; Is. 32:15; 44:3-5; 55:1-3. Most telling of all is Ezekiel 36:25-27. It is this passage which I think lies behind Jesus teaching about a birth that is of water and spirit. It speaks to the radical nature of the effect of being born from above.

But do we appreciate that?

I honestly have to say that it feels like we don't when we too readily associate it with going forward at a rally or crusade or a ritual like baptism. It feels like we are making something radical into something religious. But Nicodemus was of the religious establishment...

Something to think about.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Little Nicky

As in "Little Nicodemus."

That's what Nicodemus thought Jesus was trying to create; a little physically reborn Nicky!

That of course comes from Nicodemus' interview with Jesus in John 3, which I have recently been studying.

There are many possible ideas as to why Nic would say "How can this be?" when Jesus told him that he needed to be born again, but I frankly find that Nic just didn't get it. He just could not grasp or believe that new birth was a requirement for entrance into the Kingdom of God. He figured, as he had been taught, that he had only to be obedient to the law already being a Jew, and hence, favored.

But Jesus was clear; the problem is not one that can be touched by rituals and such. Only a radical transformation of the entire person can make a person fit for the Kingdom.

Nicodemus' inability to understand says a lot about Jesus' words to him. Nicodemus had said "we see that you are from God". Jesus' response "that unless you are born again you won't see the Kingdom of God" implied that they didn't really see as much as they thought. In fact they could not, having not been born again. Nicodemus' lack of understanding simply confirmed Jesus words.

Its a nice bit of irony really, and highly applicable to us today:

We tend to think that we need to conform rather than be transformed. The fact is we can't conform to God's pattern apart from being transformed (Ro. 12:1-3). We can try to conform otherwise, but then we'll be like Nicodemus.

The problem of course is that, unless we have someone to tell us we don't see like we think we do because we are in need of transformation, we probably won't get it when we go to the Judgment and are found wanting.

That's not ironic though. Its tragic.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Destroy This Temple

I mentioned yesterday that I had noted two things about the whole cleansing of the temple discourse in John's gospel. The first had to do with the propriety of commerce of any kind in our churches. Today I want to focus on a second aspect of the cleansing of the temple.

Let me explain. I am referring to the portion of John 2 where Jesus is being questioned about his activity in cleansing the temple. Such a cleansing was not automatically a bad thing, but it was exceptional. It was the sort fo thing that would be taken on by a prophet from God the likes of which would not have been seen for many decades if not, indeed, centuries. The people questioning Jesus were wanting to know about Jesus credentials as a prophet for cleansing the temple.

Jesus' response is a bit confusing to those speaking with him. He effectively lays out a challenge; if they want to know about his credentials, then all they have to do is "Destroy this temple" and Jesus will raise it up in three days. This, presumably, would be a sign that would confirm his credentials.

The inquisitors assumed that by "this temple" Jesus was referring to the physical temple. IN fact he meant his own body. A few things are stirred in my mind as I consider this.

1) Although "the Jews" did not immediately call what they probably assumed was a bluff on Jesus' part, they ultimately did. They would eventually kill Jesus, thus destroying the temple of his body, and Jesus did raise it up in three days.

2) There seems to be a connection between the actual temple and the temple of Jesus' body, one that actually plays up the deity of Jesus. The temple in Judaism was very much the special place where God made His presence felt on earth. But Jesus is God made flesh. That means that when Jesus refers to His body as the temple he is saying that in his flesh you have God's presence uniquely manifested. That speaks both to the incarnation spoken of in John 1 (especially about revealing the Father), and to his statements equating seeing Jesus in the flesh with seeing the Father in John 14.

In a very real sense then, we should think about Jesus as a replacement for the Temple under the New Covenant.

One might be tempted to think that this should make what happens in our church buildings less important, but I am inclined to think in exactly the opposite way. We are now the temple of God on earth, both individually and corporately, manifesting the presence of God. (1Co. 3:16; 1Co. 6:19; cf. Eph. 2:22). What happen in us, around us and to us as we gather for worship then becomes at least as important, if not moreso, sine the temple of Jesus' day was but a shadow. We embody the reality that the shadow was pointing to.

It is worth thinking about, anyway.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Zeal For Your House

I've been reflecting on the implications of Jesus' actions in the temple.

(Just in case someone cares: I think that there are two cleansings, not one. John describes the one at the beginning of his ministry, the Synoptics referring to one 2 or three years later.)

There are, I think, two aspects to Jesus' actions, at least one of which doesn't get enough attention.

The first aspect is the implication for what is becoming a common church practice. We make a habit of inviting people, usually musicians and/or singers, and we allow them to set up a promotional table somewhere and sell their wares.

Is this really allowable given the temple cleansings?

The excuse is usually something like this: Jesus problem was with the exorbitant prices being charged, which amounted to practical barrier to people coming into the presence of God. That's why Jesus wanted them out; they were gouging.

Is that true? Not in the first cleansing. In John, Jesus says nothing about the particulars of their business practice; he just says they don't belong in the temple courts at all. In John it seems clear that Jesus does not think commerce is appropriate in the outer courts, regardless of whether they are honest businessmen or not. It seems more that Jesus is saying that business is for the market and the temple is for worship, and we ought not mix the two.

It isn't even true in the second cleansing. People et the idea about dishonest business practices from Jesus' words about turning the temple into a den of thieves. But this misses the fact that the Greek expression implies zealotry and not robbery. As D.A. Carson notes, "by setting up in the court of the Gentiles, they have excluded the Gentiles who might have come to pray...". In that case, it really doesn't matter whether they were using fair business practices or not; they didn't belong there.

So there seems no good reason to permit these vendor tables in our churches.

What reinforces this is the fact that Jesus actions and words probably allude to passages like Zech. 14:21 and Mal. 3:1,3. The whole thing has to do with purity of worship. With that in mind we can see that having vendors is not conducive to worshipping with an undivided and undistracted heart.

That's the first aspect. The second I will deal with tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Look! Up In The Sky...!

There was an actual story in Superman Returns, which my family and I took in last night.

The story is about a young man named Clark Kent who went away to find himself, and came back home having failed in his quest. However upon his return he discovered that during the time he was trying to find what he did not have, he lost even what he had left behind.

The rest of the movie is about Clark's rediscovering his place in the world he had once thought to abandon in favor of a personal quest.

In a nice bit of irony Clark ends up getting the piece of "home" (Krypton) he had sought, only to find that it was deadly to him and to the home he knew. To save the home he knows, he has to get rid of the one he had spent years looking for.

That is a nice allegory for life really. We are meant to be with God. We were designed for that relationship, and yet we spend out time looking for it elsewhere. We end up finding that the life we are trying to find is poisonous to the one we really need.

I recommend Superman; he really is just an alienated person, looking for where he belongs. We belong with God.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

To Keep You Interested

I am going away for a few days in order to deliver my firstborn son to summer camp. In the meantime, to keep you interested in things theological, I offer the following related to the Da Vinci Code...

  • The main characters seem to think that Jesus being married represents a threat to the doctrine of Jesus' Deity. That's not true. It is not the case that if Jesus is proven to be human then he is not divine; Christians hold that Jesus was both human and divine. We don;t hold that Jesus was 50% God and 50% human, such that anything that adds to one nature necessarily takes away from the other. We hold that Jesus was 100% God and 100% human. Anything that shows Jesus was human therefore supports one part of the Christian belief about Jesus without taking away from the other. If Jesus were married then it does no harm at all to the belief that Jesus was divine. There really is no theological need to cover up a lineage of Jesus, even if there were one.
  • Some might disagree, but I think its important to deal with Brown's book. Yes, I know it is just a work of fiction, but the reality is that Brown's book blurs the distinction between fiction and non-fiction with the claim to represent some concrete elements accurately. The average person though isn't equipped to know where the fiction begins and ends. If we don't stand up and say so, they'll make up their own minds, and, most likely, will get it wrong to the detriment of their spiritual walk.
  • I do not understand why people would think it so odd that Jesus would be celibate. Granted it was normal for a man to marry, Jesus was not an official rabbi. The pharisees, who were official rabbis, did not accord him that status (and Jesus never claimed it at any rate) that he should be required to marry. Besides, it isn't like it was unheard of for a man to marry for religious reasons; there was a group of very pious people in the area called Essenes who lived at Qumran (they were the keepers of the Dead Sea Scrolls) and they did not marry. They were well respected for that practice by the average Jew, too.
  • Why do these characters treat Gnosticism like it was a united, monolithic movement? It wasn't. There were several versions of it, often with mutually exclusive teachings. They would never buy Brown's assertion that these are all legitimate versions of Christianity; they all competed with each other to be the true Christianity.
Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Theology in Music

Why the World does not turn to God, by Squeeze:

Alone here in the Kitchen
I feel there's something missin'
I'd beg for some forgiveness,
but begging's not my business.

From "Up the Junction"

Ah, pride...

But can you dance to it?

Let me say right away, that I love music. I listen as often as I can, and I really only have one volume setting: loud! I prefer driving music with a message. But that's at home.

At church... Well that's bit different. The songs I enjoy there are more mellow. Not that these are my favorite kinds of songs, but they are the best of what I have to choose from. My choices are somewhat slim.

That isn't a reflection on the worship leaders in my church; they have the same limited selection I do. The reality is that the music typically produced for radio has thick melodies and sickly sweet sentimentality for lyrics.

There are exceptions of course. On the side of the fast-paced, "Days of Elijah" has a nice hook, it has energy, and it calls us to both look forward and see the future in the present; a nice inaugurated eschatology. There is a slow tune called "In Christ alone" which has a very nice tone of forensic justification.

I find a lot of worship music is the love song type of ballad. Which is fine if you're a woman or a really sensitive, in touch with your inner child male. But for those of us who prefer a more "barbarian way" of doing things, these songs don't do all that they could.

I want to stress that the problem isn't ballads as such. I like ballads. What I don't like are ballads that could have been written fort top 40 radio in both music style AND lyric. If I can change a worship tune to a top 40 ballad by changing 'Lord" to "girl" or something, then there is a problem. Ballads like "How Deep the Father's Love For Us" use biblical themes.

That's what we need more of. I used to defend contemporary music on the basis of precedent. Luther took bar tunes, songs relevant to the people he was trying to reach, and injected them with theologically significant themes and lyrics. We only do the first part of that now.

Time for a correction.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Time For Hockey Talk

Ottawa Senators Hockey Talk of course!

Zdeno Chara: The Sens did all they could to keep Chara, but there was no way they were going to offer 7.5 milllion per season. What is really maddening is where he ended up: with Boston. Now the Sens did well to make sure that new Bruins GM and former Sens assistant GM Chiarrelli could not go after Chara himself. Too much conflict of interest stuff involved. But Chiarreli did, in his interview witheh Bruins, give a detailed plan of what he would do as GM, and ther is no reason to think that did not include signing Chara. Is this tampering? Not strictly, since Chiarreli doubltess did not do any talking. Were the Bruins following Chiarrelli's plan? There is every reason to think so. It doesn't smell good at all.

Martin Gerber: At first, I thought this was an odd signing. Ray Emery proved himself capable of doing the #1 goalie job. Then again, if you look at the teams that made the final four of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, at least 3, and arguably all four, had goalies that were 1a and 1b. Anaheim, Buffalo, and Carolina all had two goalies that were starters. Edmonton, inlight of the way Markkannen picked it up after Rollie went down, made a case for himself in that role as well. It may well be the way of the future to have such depth in goal. On the whole, a good signing for a reasonable price and reasonable term.

Joe Corvo: This guy is NOT a replacement for Zdeno Chara. He is a replacement for Brian Pothier. On balance I think he is a better D-Man for the money than Pothier. Strictly speaking, we don't have a replacement for Chara. It isn't possible. Ottawa's defense will not be as good in the size and strength department, that's all. Corvo is a very good skater, with good offense. He is also locked in at a reasonable price for a long term. Good job Muckler.

Jason Spezza: I have already heard people complaining about Spezza gettgin too much on his new 2 year 9 mill deal. The comaprisons to Eric Staal are legion. But really the average salary for the two deals is identical. The fact that it is a year shorter is probably good. Granted it means that most of our bbest players will be up for signing in 2 years, we will have almost no salary commitments, and have a lot of felxibility. Muckler is thinking ahead.

Martin Havlat: It would be nice to be able to keep him, but we don't have the cap space. I am thinking that Havlat will be packaged with Smolinski, because we need to clear some space. We need to sign Peter Schaeffer yet, not to mention Ray Emery, Chris Neil, and Antoine Vermette. We just don't have the cap room for all of them. We need to fill out the roster on an average salary of $500,000. That isn't going to happen.

I am just not sure how we're going to get to the 22 man roster with only 5-7 mil to spend for 9 guys. At the moment we have 2 offensive lines (plus 1) and 5 defensemen signed, and one goalie, for 14 total. It may be that the Sens plan to only carry 12 forwards and 6 d and one guy who can do eiether, for 19 guys, plus two goalies (for 21 total) but even so, it will be tight. Assuming the roster number is kept to that, and we spend the 7 mil, that is still only 1 million per player. It doesn't seem likely we'll get to re-sign what we have for that much.

Bottom line, watch for trades.

Illogical Odds and Ends

Over the last few days I have encountered the same kind of bad reasoning in several, unrelated contexts.

It goes somethign like this (this is not one of the actual examples):

"The moon orbiting that distant star is too far away. It isn't important to life on earth."

"So is our moon. You need a telescope to see them both. There fore our moon is unimportant too. "

Now of course the comparison is ridiclulous. After all I can go to Zellers and pick up a cheap elescope and see our moon just fine; nothing short fo the multi-million dollar hubble is going to catch the moon around the distant star.

So what is this? It is ignoring the relevant differences, subsuming them under an irrelevant commonality.

Saying that two doctrines both require inference on our part to detect them and are therfore equally ambiguous in Scripture is a false argument when:

  • doctrine rests on 1 verse whch rests in a highly symbolic context (like Revelation)
  • the other docrine rests on 10 verses found in comapratively starightforward contexts (like letters)
Obvisouly this is ingoring the differnece in quantitiy and quality of evidence in favour of the fact that they both require inference.

But people do this sort of thing, and worse.

I also encounterd a situation where one person held that a new interpretive method was false because it was too subjective.

The oppsition came in the form of "well you have subjectivity too!" This commits two errors. The first is that described above (since the new method is used in addition to the old, yo are actually compounding subjectivity. You can't ignore that and say they are both equally invialid becuase they are both subjective when the amount of subjectivity in vovled in each is vastly different.). The second fallacy is accusing the eprson ofnot following their own advice. But that isn't an argument in favour of the new method.

I don't want every one to be a logician. I am not a logician myself. I would however like to see peple think just a wee bit more.