Saturday, January 14, 2012

New Blog for Women

One of the unwritten codes of blogging is that you help new bloggers get started. James McGrath did that for me when I first started and it gave me a considerable leap in the stats. Since then I have tried to do the same for others.

A new blog, at least to me, is Morven's Blog: A Safe Place to Talk About the Hard Stuff. Morven is a woman's counselor here in Ashland and is married to my Old Testament colleague David Baker. But as I think you will see from her blog, she cannot be simply identified as "David Baker's wife." Morven Baker has a significant ministry to the hurting women in our area and she is helping these woman to talk about the hard stuff.

If you are a pastor, counselor or someone who is hurting, you may find Morven's blog a source of information and hope. So why not stop by and leave her a comment welcoming her to the world of blogging.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Jesus vs Religion?

There has been a video going around the last week of a young man explaining why he is into Jesus but not religion. Here it is.

At first glance this video has much to commend. I think it brings up some important distinctions between what Christianity is often portrayed to be, but is not. But I am also uncomfortable with his "anti-religion" rant. I was going to critique his thoughts on religion, but then Zack Hunt over at the American Jesus posted a longish post responding to the video. He has seven points. I have provided the titles and a snippet of each point. You can read his full post here.

1. We don’t know what our target is.
Religion is not the evil Bethke or so many others portray it to be. Simply defined religion is “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ador or faith.” See? Not that scary. In fact, religion can be very good. 

 2. When we separate Jesus from the religious community then we are left with a Jesus out of context whom we are free to shape and mold in any way we see fit. 
In other words, the “Jesus and me” gospel this video and so many of us proclaim is a path that has only one destination: idolatry. Not the kind of idolatry that has us bowing down to golden calves, but the kind that has Jesus looking and acting suspiciously like ourselves. 

3. Jesus didn’t have a problem with religion, he had a problem with legalism.
Jesus’ issue wasn’t with the Jewish faith, i.e. religion, which he himself was a part of. He took issue with those who would use God’s commandments to exploit and oppress others. This is a profoundly important distinction.

4. If you’re looking for the person that hated organized religion, by which you really mean “the institutional church”,  then you’re looking for a guy named Martin Luther, not Jesus of Nazareth.
It is Luther, not Jesus, who raises such a fuss about the institution of religion and rightfully so. The church during his day was profoundly corrupt at the highest levels and was in deep need of reform. Note, however, that even Luther was interested in “reform” (thus the term “Reformation”), not “abolishment”. 

5. Jesus never preached that we are saved by faith alone.
If there is anything that is at the heart of the modern Protestant Evangelical gospel it’s the belief in “sola fide”; the idea that we are saved by “faith alone.” Once again, your champion for this cause is Martin Luther, not Jesus.  

 6. The premise of this video and the gospel it proclaims is simply disingenuous.
 If you go to, participate in, and support a local church, whether it’s a huge mega-church, an “average” sized rural church, or a small house church that meets in somebody’s living room then you support organized religion. And that’s ok.

7. When we create a dichotomy between Jesus and religion we simaltaneously create an unnecessary and dangerous antagonism towards the church and the people that participate in it.
Bethke says “If religion is so great, why has it started so many wars? Why does it build huge churches, but fails to feed the poor?” I’ll give the guy a pass for the first half of this statement. I assume he’s a product of our American educational system and if so, it explains his understanding of history or lack thereof.As for the second accusation that church fails to feed the poor. I don’t know how to label this charge anything but absolute ignorance. Even the biggest mega-churches that get so often get ridiculed for any number of reasons, almost always have ongoing outreach ministries. There are very few outreach organizations in this country or any other that are not faith-based or at least affiliated with a religious organization.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Jesus and Tattoos.

The Vancouver Sun has an article on the popularity of tattoos among young Evangelicals. I don't have a tattoo for two reasons. First, I don't like pain. Second, if I ever had a tattoo it would be of a ship. But I fear that as I get older the ship would appear to be sinking.

Another reason I probably don't have a tattoo is because when I was growing up the church considered tattoos to be a sin, the kind of identifying marks that were not for the follower of Christ. The tattoo was taboo.

But for many younger (and not so young) Christians, the taboo of the tattoo has faded. And people are permanently painting their body with everything from crosses to Bible verses. And I have seen some people with some permanent mistakes. I once saw a tattoo written in Hebrew on the back of a young girl's neck. Two things struck me about the tattoo. First, that must have hurt! Second, it didn't make any sense. I then learned that whoever had drawn the tattoo had misspelled the Hebrew words which meant she no longer was marked by her favorite Bible verse but a bunch of gibberish.

What struck me about the article was this open description.
The large Celtic cross tattooed on the small of Amy Bonde’s back testifies to how she sees Jesus Christ as her “lover.” 
The Hebrew letters encircling the young Vancouver woman’s ornate cross are from the spiritually erotic Bible chapter, The Song of Solomon. They read “I am my beloved’s, and he is mine.”
The sentiment captures Bonde’s desire to be in an intimate relationship with Jesus. The lanky 23-year-old, who wears bluejeans and black platform shoes, is one of a growing subculture of evangelical Christians who are flouting their religion’s straight-laced past and adorning their bodies with permanent religious tattoos.

My initial reaction is that this poor individual has some rather shallow theology forever stamped on her body. It seems to me that people's unhelpful theology will now be with them for a very long time.

What do you make of this? Is tattooing an expression of one's love for God or is it a cultural fad? 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

History According to the History Channel

It is not secret that I hold the History Channel in low esteem. I would trust Wikipedia before something said on the History Channel.

Demonstrating that History Channel has a narrow view of what is "history" are the below statistics. Not sure if there are accurate, but they do seem to represent the kind of shows they produce.

HT: Scot McKnight.

Is that bread kosher?

Growing up outside of New York City I was quite familiar with reading that my orange juice or some other food product was "kosher for pesach." I also remember seeing other products with a circled "u" followed by “parve.” The circled U is a trademark of the Orthodox Union, which is one of the biggest certifying agencies for the Jewish community. Parve means it's "neutral"----neither milk nor meat. And that is how my Jewish friends knew that they were able to eat or drink something since it had been declared kosher.

But this is not a new system. A in a recent press release by the Israel Antiquities Authority reveals that a bread stamp with a menorah was discovered in Acco. Here is a bit of what the report has to say.

The tiny stamp was used to identify baked products and it probably belonged to a bakery that supplied kosher bread to the Jews of Akko in the Byzantine period. A ceramic stamp from the Byzantine period (6th century CE) was discovered in excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is currently conducting at Horbat Uza east of Akko, prior to the construction of the Akko-Karmiel railroad track by the Israel National Roads Company. This find belongs to a group of stamps referred to as “bread stamps” because they were usually used to stamp baked goods. The stamp is engraved with a seven-branched menorah atop a narrow base, and the top of the branches forms a horizontal line. A number of Greek letters are engraved around a circle and dot on the end of the handle. Dr. Leah Di Segni, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem suggested this is probably the name Launtius. This name was common among Jews of the period and also appears on another Jewish bread stamp of unknown provenance. According to Dr. Syon and Gilad Jaffe, “This is probably the name of the baker from Horbat Uza.” Horbat Uza is a small rural settlement where clues were previously found that allude to it being a Jewish settlement: a clay coffin, a Shabbat lamp and jars with menorah patterns painted on them were discovered there.

You can read the whole report here. As well as download more photos.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Things I think about: The Tebow Miracle Take 2

Yesterday I posted about Tebow’s 316 yard miracle, as some are calling it. I suggested, among other things, that God had nothing to do with this and did not make/help Tebow throw 316 yards so that attention would be drawn to John 3:16. I was, not unexpectedly, trounced upon on both on this blog and Facebook. No problem, I know that I was touching an American Holy Grail.

But as I stated more than once, my problem is not with Tebow. Indeed, my understanding is that even he is careful not to suggest that God is playing football with him. Here is a quote from one commentator that suggests this.

Again today, Tebow did next to nothing until the waning moments, and then, down 10-0 with two minutes left, he throws a touchdown pass, and the Broncos tie it at the gun on a 59-yard field goal. And then win it in overtime on a 51 yarder. The combination of Denver’s continuing late heroics, and today, the Bears otherwise unexplainable errors, is enough to have some at least suspect divine intervention. Except that Tebow, whose sincere faith cannot be questioned, and should be respected, also has the good sense, and good grace, to make it clear he does not believe God takes a hand in the outcome of games. 
I am glad that Tebow has yet to claim Jesus is playing football and I hope he steadfastly refuses to do so. He seems to have a healthy recognition that his creator has endowed him with some amazing gifts, but does not slip into suggesting that he has a special divine blessing to win.

My beef, if I can call it that, is with the Christian fans who are suggesting that God is getting in the middle of an American football game in order to win glory and praise while at the same time promoting the gospel message. I just don’t think God gets involved with sporting events that way. And I have serious theological problems with calling a football game a miracle. When I hear Christians claiming divine intervention in a football game a number of things go through my head.

I think about a prayer request I heard in chapel yesterday. A missionary family in Syria requests prayer because there are roaming gangs in their neighborhood killing men and raping woman.  I hope they get a miracle from God before they become the next victims.

I wonder about my friend in India and his ministry. His pastors have been the subject of numerous brutal attacks for their faith.  I hope there is a miracle for them before the next attack.

I think about the 16,000 or more people killed in last year’s tsunami in Japan. I wish that God would have miraculously stopped that wall of water even if only to bring glory to himself.

I wonder where the miracles are for all the children that are abducted and killed each year.

I wonder about the poor who, by no fault of their own, have lost jobs, homes and family and yet no miracle is there for them. I wonder what they think of God intervening in a football game and not their own situations.

I could go on and on.

Of course the first question I am asked is: “But couldn’t God . . . “ And the answer to such an open question is, of course, yes. But the more important question. The one that disturbs my soul is the other question. “Why didn’t God.” 

It’s not that I am not open to miracles. I just am not ready to quickly declare something a miracle simply because a Christian is involved and some vague, possible allusion to a Bible verse. I see the disasters of life all around us and I wonder why God would choose to show up at a football game on Sunday and not other places in the world.

Some people would suggest to me that my narrow view of world events and miracles means that my God is not big enough to be interested in both human tragedy and football. I would suggest the opposite is true. Perhaps your God is too small. He is able to make a football fly 316 yards, but not stop a wall of water. 

These are the kinds of things I think about when I hear people call some things a miracle.And I wonder about the lack of other miracles. I just wonder. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Jesus Doesn't Play Football: Tim Tebow's 316 Yards

I am not a football fan. In fact, I am not a fan of any sports. I am not against sports, I am just not interested. I do attend a Superbowl party now and then. However, I don't really watch the game. I eat the snacks and watch the commercials. At one time I was interested in the halftime shows, but  the performances by the Who and the Black eyed Peas put me off that habit for a while.

But inspite of my lack of interest in football it has been almost impossible to miss the Tim Tebow phenomenon. I became aware of him and his prowess as a comeback quarterback in December. In response I posted on Facebook "What is a Tebow?" It was funny how many people were almost insulted that I did not know about him.

As I have since come to learn, besides being a fairly decent quarterback he is also a very public Christian. His habit of one knee prayers (now known worldwide as "Tebowing") and painting John 3:16 on his eye black has left little doubt where he stands. He is a very public Christian. And I don't condemn him for that. I have not heard of him saying or doing anything stupid thus far that would detract from the witness for Christ that he seeks to represent.

No, my problem is not with Tebow but some of his Christian fans. There have been numerous things that have been said including that Jesus is somehow helping Tebow to win football games. I am not sure if Jesus is a football fan or not, but I am pretty sure he is not playing the game.

Until today I found no reason to blog on Tebow. This blog tries to avoid politics, sports and other mindless distractions. But the news about yesterday's game finally pushed my hand. Apparently, Tebow threw 316 yards in yesterday's game. Unfortunately, his fans are now seeing some type of sign from God. Here is a piece from the Washington Post.

The Denver Broncos’ playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night was unlikely enough, but Tim Tebow’s passing yardage — the Christian quarterback threw 316 yards — sent commentators over the edge. The Associated Press reported that he also averaged 31.6 yards per completion. The religious connotations to John 3:16, a famous Bible verse, were too much for many to chalk up to chance.

Wow, that surely is an amazing coincidence! But I am pretty sure it has nothing to do with God. You see, God has nothing to do with John 3:16 being John 3:16. When the author of the gospel wrote those famous words he did not include the reference 3:16 since there were no chapter and verse numbers. In fact, Bibles have existed longer without chapter and verse numbers than with them. The first English Bible to include chapters and verses was the Geneva Bible which wasn't published until 1560. Prior to that time no one had a clue what 3:16 meant and if you had asked people in church to open their Bibles to that page they would have looked at you blankly. Imagine the looks people would have received if they painted 3:16 on their face or held up signs with it at sporting events.

The fact is the verses of the Bible are not inspired. And while I do suppose it is a cool coincidence that Tebow threw 316 yards, I am pretty sure it has nothing to do with Jesus. It has more to do with his discipline and skill as a player and the other players that are catching his passes. So I wish Mr. Tebow the best and hope that he can live up to his very public witness. But I also wish that his fans would think a bit more. I am not really sure God is pleased with the level of interest and energy that is put into suggesting that Jesus plays or is interested in football. I suspect that he is busy with vastly more important stuff like starving children and other disasters in the world. I also suspect that he wishes his followers were more interested in them as well.

Here is an update to my thoughts on the topic.

Jesus Have I Loved, But Paul?

As I mentioned last week, Baker Academic is hosting a blog tour for J.R. Daniel Kirk's Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul? (Baker Academic, 2012).  I am grateful to Baker Academic for providing me with an advance copy. Over the course of the next two weeks (January 9th to January 20th) different bloggers will be reviewing and interacting with the content of Kirk's book. I will be reviewing chapter 7 Liberty and Justice for All? on January 17th.

Kicking us off today is an Introduction from J.R. Daniel Kirk himself and Nijay Gupta will be reviewing chapter one.

Also, be sure to stop by the blog tour hub and don't forget to enter a chance to win five books from Baker Academic.