Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Easter and the Death of Evil

N.T. Wright on Easter and Resurrection...
The message of the Resurrection is that this present world matters; that the problems and pains of this present world matter; that the living God has made a decisive bridgehead into this present world with his healing and all-conquering love; and that, in the name of this strong love, all the evils, all the injustices, and all the pains of the present world must now be addressed with the news that healing, justice, and love have won the day. That's why we pray: "Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven." Make no bones about it: Easter Day was the first great answer to that prayer. 
If Easter faith is simply about believing that God has a nice comfortable afterlife for some or all of us, then Christianity becomes a mere pie-in-the-sky religion instead of a kingdom-on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven religion. If Easter faith is simply about believing that Jesus is risen in some "spiritual" sense, leaving his body in the tomb, then Christianity turns into a let-the-world-stew-in-its-own-juice religion, instead of a kingdom-on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven religion. If Easter faith is only about me, and perhaps you, finding a new dimension to our own personal spiritual lives in the here and now, then Christianity becomes simply a warmth-in-the-heart religion instead of a kingdom-on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven religion. It becomes focused on me and my survival, my sense of God, my spirituality, rather than outwards on God and on God's world that still needs the kingdom message so badly. 
But if Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead, Christianity becomes what the New Testament insists that it is: good news for the whole world, news that warms our hearts precisely because it isn't just about warming hearts. The living God has in principle dealt with evil once and for all, and is now at work, by his own Spirit, to do for us and the whole world what he did for Jesus on that first Easter Day.
Read full article here - Grave Matters.

Monday, March 25, 2013


"He isn't here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen."
~ Matt. 28:6

As we approach the tail end of Lent, I’m getting more and more excited about our RESURRECTION celebration at Grace Church.  It's no secret that Christians enjoy Easter services very much.  Every church experiences well-attendance and, typically, a great opportunity to connect with many first time visitors.  This is wonderful; but do we really grasp the significance of the resurrection? 

Based on my interactions with many Christians throughout the years, we typically give much more attention to the death of Christ rather than the resurrection of Christ. Oh, we quickly affirm the resurrection as an orthodox Christian belief, but most Christians have very little reason or rationale behind the belief of the empty tomb.

So why did Christ literally and physically rise from the dead?

The 15th chapter of 1st Corinthians is the Apostle Paul’s lengthy treatment on the significance of the historical resurrection of Jesus. As you read the chapter you will find it to be full of rational argumentation (reason) for the validity of Christ’s resurrection. For Paul, Christ’s physical resurrection was not wishful thinking. It was actual and enormously significant because the entire Christian message culminates in the resurrected Christ – “…if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith (vs. 14)” and “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins (vs. 17).” For Paul, if Christ has not risen, nothing else mattered!


Why is the resurrection of Christ so significant?

The short answer is that Christ’s resurrection ushered in the beginnings of the new world and the new humanity (the renewed world and renewed humanity) promised long ago in the Old Testament (Genesis 3:15; 2 Samuel 7:16; Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-9; etc…). A humanity and world where sin, pain, and death are only in our past memories, not in our eternally present reality where peace, justice, and true life reign. According Paul, the resurrected Christ is the “firstfruits” of this new humanity; that we, though currently ailed by sin, suffering, and death, will one day experience a resurrection into a new physical existence much like Christ’s resurrected body (1 Corinthians 15:20-28). Here’s NT Wright’s explanation via Tim Keller:
"The message of the resurrection is that the world matters! That the injustices and pains of this present world must now be addressed with the news that the healing, justice, and love have won...If Easter means Jesus Christ is only raised in a spiritual sense--[then] it is only about me, and finding a new dimension in my personal spiritual life. But if Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead, Christianity becomes good news for the whole world--news which warms our heart precisely because it isn't just about warming hearts. Easter means that in a world where injustice, violence and degradation are endemic, God is not prepared to tolerate such things--and that we will work and plan, with all the energy of God, to implement victory of Jesus over them all. Take away Easter and Karl Marx was probably right to accuse Christianity of ignoring problems of the material world. Take it away and Freud was probably right to say Christianity is wish-fulfillment. Take it away and Nietzsche probably was right to say it was for wimps." ~ N.T. Wright, from his book Simply Christian; as quoted by Timothy Keller in is his book The Reason for God.

Here’s a couple great articles/books on the Resurrection: 
Raised? Doubting the Resurrection 
The Dartmouth Apologia -Charles Dunn on the Resurrection 
Tim Keller – Why the Resurrection is More than a Story

Here's a couple quotes worth pondering from author, pastor, and scholar N.T. Wright on the resurrection:
“For Paul, the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the heart of the gospel (not to the exclusion of the cross, of course, but not least as the event which gives the cross its meaning); it is the object of faith, the ground of justification, the basis for obedient Christian living, the motivation for unity, and, not least, the challenge to the principalities and powers. It is the event that declares that there is ‘another king’, and summons human beings to allegiance, and thereby to a different way of life, in fulfillment of the Jewish scriptures and in expectation of the final new world which began at Easter and which will be completed when the night is finally gone and the day has fully dawned.” ~ NT Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God 
"The work of the church is to implement the resurrection of Jesus and thereby to anticipate the final new creation… We are called to be people of new creation now, in the power of the Spirit." ~ NT Wright, from his talk, “Resurrection and the Task of the Church”

And, lastly, check out Rob Bell’s video short, Resurrection.  It’s a great summary of the significance of Christ’s resurrection:

Don't get your undies in a bundle...
he's not talking about hell or homosexuality!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Holy Week + Resurrection Reading

Christians at the Cross: Finding Hope in the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus

NT Wright

Here's a great read for Holy Week and Resurrection reflection.  These 79 pages are equipping, instructional, and coincide perfectly with our current teaching series - Evil and the Goodness of God.  When Wright preached to the members of a mining community in northern England who had suffered grievous losses, he reflected on Jesus' death and resurrection, encouraging the people to unite their pain with the journey of Christ to the cross. The wisdom of his biblical reflections, gathered here, apply to all who suffer and offers a passage to hope through Christ and his victory over death.  


Thursday, March 14, 2013

God's Mission to Ireland, Leprechauns + Green Beer

st. patrick

When it comes to St. Patrick's Day most people think of shamrocks, leprechauns, parades,  and, ah yes, green beer!  But who was the real St. Patrick? Did he enjoy adding food color to his beverages and dressing up in green attire? Well, I don't think so. What I do know is that St. Patrick loved Jesus and lived a very missional life!

Let's start with several misconceptions about St. Patrick...First of all, and this is surprising to most, Patrick wasn't really a Saint, having never been officially canonized by Rome (don’t try to tell an Irishmen this, he won’t like it!). And Patrick couldn't have driven the snakes out of Ireland because snakes are not even indigenous to Ireland. (Of course, most say “snakes” where simply metaphorical because he did drive the “demons” and “serpents” out, so to speak, when Christianity replaced paganism.)  He was not the first Christian in Ireland and actually, he wasn't even the first missionary/evangelist to Ireland.  A dude named Palladius had been sent in 430 A.D., approximately five years before Patrick began his ministry in Ireland.  Oh, here’s a big one…green was not the original color associated with Patrick.  It was blue!  (I know, this is crazy!)  Also, Patrick isn't Irish, he was Scottish!  He was from what is now Dumbarton, Scotland (just northwest of Glasgow).

So here's what we do know about him. When he was a teenager, Patrick was captured in a raid and became a slave in the pagan country of Ireland. Far from home, he clung to the religion he had ignored as a young man. Even though his grandfather had been a Christian, some say he was a priest, and his father a town councilor, Patrick, according to his own admission, "knew not the true God." But forced to tend his master's sheep in Ireland, he spent his six years of bondage mainly in prayer, often reciting and reflecting upon the Lord’s Prayer. After his escape, here returned home to Scotland and devoted himself to theological studies.

It is believed that Patrick was in his forties when he returned to the land that had enslaved him some twenty years earlier.  What an amazing demonstration of the transforming power of the Gospel, rather than animosity and hatred toward the land that had kidnapped him, he refused to return evil for  evil and loved them with the message of the Gospel.  He simply could not resist the call of God to go and serve his enemies! Familiar with the Irish clan system (his former master, Milchu, had been a chieftain, i.e. a clan leader), Patrick's missional strategy was to try to convert the clan leaders first, who would then convert their clans through their influence. (Some reports tell us that Milchu was one of his earliest converts.)

Though Patrick was not solely responsible for converting Ireland to Christianity, he was quite successful. He ministered all over Ireland, and it soon became known as one of Europe's Christian centers.  Patrick died in his beloved Ireland, March 17th, about 460 A.D.
Daily I expect murder, fraud or captivity, but I fear
none of
these things because of the promises
of heaven.  I have cast myself into the hands of
God almighty who rules everywhere.

~ Patrick
St. Patrick’s Breastplate (a beautiful Christian prayer/hymn attributed to Patrick):
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.

I arise today
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.
I summon today all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.

Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.

Other St. Patrick Links you may find helpful:
Also see - 10 Things You You Didn't Know About St. Patrick's Day
And be sure to check out this recent article on St. Patrick by The Resurgence - Vintage Saints: Saint Patrick
The True Story of St. Patrick – Relevant Mag.
St. Patrick: One of the Greatest Missionaries Who Ever Lived – The Resurgence
Patrick the Saint – Christianity Today
The Conversion of Ireland – Christian Classics Ethereal Library
The Confession of St. Patrick – Christianity Today
Will the Real St. Patrick Please Stand Up? – Joyful Heart

Oh yeah, and…:

How to Make Green Beer

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Jesus and the Sea

“Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground...Thus the Lord saved Israel that day...” Exodus14:12-22&30
“When they came to the place called 'The Skull', there they crucified Him...he breathed his last." Luke 23:33&46

There are times when we are reminded how broken this world is, and for our community this has been such a time. I love what Pastor Heath has said regarding how we can respond to evil when it strikes, if I may paraphrase and condense his opening argument from the 'Problem of Evil' podcast, "one can abandon faith in God altogether, which many do, or one can trust in God as they stand against and overcome evil, for Jesus has overcome the world and the evil in it.” Now is a time to, as a church, face evil and help one another struggle with and overcome it. There is no better place to become equipped for this than the Bible. The Bible is a narrative with a developing goal or eschatology. This goal is to see evil eradicated and God's creation and people redeemed and restored. This is the entire purpose of the covenant and the forming of Israel according to Torah. Israel was to be a people through which God would rescue this world from corruption and humanity from exile.1

Through the Sea

Most know the story so Ill be brief. Over 400 years after God made a covenant with Abraham, his descendants (Israel) were slaves in Egypt. It seemed as though God had forgotten them and his promise. Generations were born and died as slaves without so much as a peep from the so called God of Abraham. God however was not absent nor asleep. Moses was delivered from the hands of Pharaoh and as an older man was confronted by the God of Abraham in a burning bush. He here receives his commission: Go and tell Pharaoh to let Israel go free. Moses does just this and, as we all know, Pharaoh was not an easy one to convince. Plague after plague disrupted and assaulted Egypt until the final one finally brought Pharaoh to a place of surrender. This final plague was death to all the firstborn children in Egypt, including Pharaoh's son, who did not have a lamb's blood on their door posts. Pharaoh let Israel go with Moses but then has a change of heart, or a re-hardened heart and gathers his army to chase down Israel and bring them back to slavery. Moses and Israel have reached the Red Sea where God has led them. There is no way around and Egypt is very close at hand. God instructs Moses to place his rod in the sea and, as the text above says, the waters part. Israel is able to cross through the sea and when Pharaoh and his army try to follow them the waters come crashing down destroying them. Israel passes through the Sea in order to escape slavery and death, they begin the Exodus.

This story becomes a controlling narrative for Israel. They find their identity as the people of God wrapped up in this story of the Exodus. From this time on even into the present, Jews see the sea as an exile and as evil that God brought them through in order for them to experience Exodus and restoration. Exodus becomes the main theme, motif and hope of Israel.

A Sea of interpretation

It is important to take a moment to see a popular use of symbolism not just in the Bible but also in other ancient texts. The Sea was a very ominous and feared thing in the ancient world. Of the Sea there are countless stories of vanishings and monsters, dangerous forces that threaten from its depths, storms and waves wiping out whole villages and cities...the Sea is an unpredictable and dangerous thing. Thus in ancient literature, such as the Bible, the Sea is a metaphor and symbol for evil and chaos 2. Please do not think I am saying the Bible is just a collection of stories and metaphors! Metaphor and symbol do not mean untrue story, but rather that the Bible does not contain a history for the sake of history, but a history with more than literal truth 3 a history with a purpose. God has an intention to restore his creation and destroy evil, this means that everything he has ordained has something to do with this mission. This means that not just the forming of Israel but also the sea crossing and the exodus are things planned with a purpose of contributing to the grand scheme of restoration, a purpose of solving the problem of evil and humanity's fall and exile from Eden (Genesis 3).

It is important to also note that the exodus of Israel is the compact micro version of the grand final Exodus God promises the whole world and all the nations through his covenant. As I have heard N.T. Wright say in quoting a rabbinic saying, “We Jews are just like everyone else, only more so.”

The New Israel in Person

The Gospel writers want their readers to understand that Jesus believes he is the one that is to be and do what Israel was supposed to be and do but were unable. The Gospels reveal a deep sense of vocation within Jesus' thinking that help us to make sense of his radical movement. Throughout the Gospels Jesus is reenacting the story of Israel with his own version and twist. For example in his baptism by John, Jesus passes through the waters and then is out in the wilderness for forty days where he is victorious over the Satan. Jesus again reenacts the Exodus when he walks out on the storm raged sea and calms it. In feeding the multitudes be it the four thousand or the five, Jesus is deliberately replaying the wilderness wandering of Israel; As God fed them manna in the wilderness so Jesus fed them the fish and the loaves.

Through the Cross

Having hopefully established that Jesus was indeed the Israel in person, it is now time to look deeper into the exodus story in light of the vocation of Jesus. Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross outside of Jerusalem. Crucifixion was an ultimate declaration of Roman victory over rebels. The Jews had seen many of their people and leaders, including would be Messiahs, hanged till dead. A dead Messiah was a defeated, false Messiah. There is not the space here to elaborate on this pragmatic characteristic of Messiahship, but it is interesting how Jesus was crucified as a revolutionary against Rome as were many of his contemporaries, yet Jesus is the one remembered in history.

If the sea is a literary device to denote and describe evil, then the cross is the place where this sea came in all its power and force in order to drown the son of God. As Israel went through the Red Sea so Jesus was brought through the real raw thing called Evil. The serpent that slithered seemingly out of nowhere into the Garden, the Satan that worked so hard to tempt and destroy him, the Roman oppression and domination system of violence and terror that haunted the dreams and waking thoughts of all under the Empire's control, being abandoned by those closest to him, unfiltered pain caused by violent torture, his mother's terrified and broken face, the nails, the thorns, the sin of the world, the dashed hopes and dreams of all who believed in his movement, the laughing and mocking of the centurion, the games at his expense, being forsaken by the One whom he loved and obeyed perfectly...Evil came upon Jesus and destroyed him in every way it could devise. He hung on the tree in the climax of history and the covenant, suspended for all to see, humiliated, naked and alone. The sea was exceedingly violent and terrible that day as every monster it could muster from its depths ravaged the dying messiah.

Then he died. What a relief it must have been to finally give up such a painful life. All the agony at Gethsemane was laid down when his labored breathing stopped and his body hung limp. He was placed in a tomb, and with exception of a few close family and friends, was headed like so many before and after him into the abyss of the forgotten and though with good intentions, the failures.


As Israel was brought through the sea so Jesus was brought through death and evil. Like Israel he too would be delivered. The God who declared Jesus his chosen son at his baptism declared again this affirmation by resurrecting him from the tomb. Resurrection is not merely a spiritual or metaphorical thing, nor is is seen anywhere else besides Judaism and Christianity4. It is the actual victory over evil, and the evil one. It is the new world promised by God through the prophets in Torah finally breaking in. That Jesus died and was buried and then raised back to life is the only explanation as to why Jesus could be crucified by Rome and yet still inspire a movement and community that would soon take over Rome. Resurrection reveals that Jesus was not a defeated Messiah, but the true one.

The New Testament declares that Jesus is a better Moses and the one who delivers through a final Exodus. This Exodus is not from only political oppression, violent people, sickness, poverty, or other tools and symptoms of evil, but from evil itself. Paul says that Jesus was the “first fruits” (I Cor. 15:20) meaning that all humanity who are restored through faith in Jesus will resurrect as well. Resurrection since Jesus is now the human thing to do. Resurrection is the final Exodus.

Already/Not yet

The resurrection is an event orchestrated by God through his Holy Spirit (Rom. 1:4). This resurrection means that we have a new life in Jesus NOW. Being people of resurrection means that we don't wait until after we die to demonstrate the new life, we are called to a present life as God's people. We are a kingdom of priests, the living temple of the Spirit, we are his ambassadors. This is all possible because of resurrection. Resurrection points to God's victory and that the new creation is in the here and now.

Follow him

All of this becomes quite heavy when we consider what Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). This verse is used in different ways to describe the Christian vocation from everything to a moral calling, “What would Jesus do? Would he drink that or go to that movie?” to a mandate to live impoverished, “Since Jesus said he had no place to lay his head then neither will we”. The context of this statement by Jesus however is within a discussion about what he must do shortly, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22). Jesus is telling his disciples that they are to follow him, and he is going to Golgotha.

Christians are the people of God called for the purpose of continuing the work and movement of Jesus. Baptism is an act of joining into and accepting this vocation, in it we die with Jesus, going with him through the sea and death, and we are raised with him into the new world (see Romans 6). Baptism is a sacrament of recruitment into the community of faith dedicated to the Missio Dei, God's mission to see his creation restored, in the act of baptism we too are brought through the sea and resurrected...exile and exodus.

A final word to hopefully encourage the reader: Paul refers to God as the God of all comfort (2Cor.1). The cycle of suffering and comfort is directly connected to the biblical theme of evil and resurrection. Like Jesus, we will have to resist and suffer through evil. Like Jesus, our path of suffering is the path to resurrection. The sea that has, for most of the Earth's history, swallowed up all in its path has now itself been swallowed 5 and the eschatological outcome of God's plan is that “there is no longer any sea”6.

1. John Howell, Jesus: The New Israel

2. see N.T. Wright's, Evil and the Justice of God

3. Marcus Borg, Jesus: Life and Teachings of a Religious Revolutionary

4. see N.T. Wright's Resurrection of the Son of God

5. I Cor.15:54-57

6. Rev.21:1

Friday, March 8, 2013

Two Devilish Resources

Here are two more resources to go along with our current teaching series on Evil + The Goodness of God.  

OK, so these two recommendations may be a bit different from the norm; but, nonetheless, I think they can help underscore some of the things we are discovering together as we study the reality of evil in the world as described in the Scriptures.

Devil by M. Night Shyamalan:
Devil (also known as The Night Chronicles: Devil), a film based on story written by M. Night Shyamalan.  I'm not going to give the story away, but five strangers get trapped in an elevator of a Philadelphian building and one of them is the devil.  It's just a movie, so, of course, things are a bit over-the-top. You must that in mind.  But I think the movie does a great job revealing the devilish ways of the devil and how evil is defeated - e.g., the movie begins from the devil's perspective entering Philadelphia (everything is upside down) and at the end, after a powerful scene of confession and forgiveness, the devil leaves (and everything from the opening scene is right-side up).

Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis: 
Both shocking, eerie, and amusing, C S Lewis's satire The Screwtape Letters was a bestseller in its day - selling over half a million copies. The book can be a challenge to understand, because everything is morally reversed. So, as you're reading, you have to remind yourself that the 'Enemy' referred to is actually God, and that the way of life advocated by Screwtape is the exact opposite of a good Christian life. 

Screwtape is a senior devil whose job is to increase misery on Earth. He achieves this by carefully targeting humans and then providing them with an array of temptations that can take their minds away from God.  Under Screwtape's charge is his nephew Wormwood, a young devil - still learning the ropes of devilish activities. In the book, their dialogue records their efforts to turn a young man from his newly-adopted Christianity back to 'Our Father Below' (i.e., Satan). Wormwood receives detailed instructions on how to exploit the man's weaknesses and bring him permanently around to sin.

Each chapter deals with a different temptation such as a lack of neighborly love, smugness, lust, etc...

Friday, March 1, 2013

Resources to Help You Experience the Goodness of God in the Midst of Suffering and Evil

As we begin our next teaching series, Evil and the Goodness of God, here are some helpful resources for you to consider reading, listening to, or watching...

Raging with Compassion by John Swinton
Evil and The Justice of God by N.T. Wright
The God I Don't Understand by Christopher Wright (No relation to N.T.!)
"How Could A Good God Allow Suffering" from The Reason for God by Timothy Keller
Spectacular Sins by John Piper

How Could a Good God Allow Suffering? by Timothy Keller

How Can A Good, Powerful God Allow Evil And Suffering? By Darrin Patrick
Evil by N.T. Wright