Sunday, May 29, 2011

"Once Upon A Time"

Once upon a time, there was a little girl born to a privileged family who always dressed her in ribbons and lace. To all those looking at her, you would have thought she lived like a princess, but what those looking from afar did not know she was actually a slave. Her mother and father had left the kingdom of the Great Emperor, and were captured by the glamour of the Dark Enemy.

You see, the Dark Enemy wanted to own the little girl forever to break the family line of priests to the Great Emperor, so her family, trapped by the glitter of the Dark Enemy’s camp, were given a magic mirror to hold up for the little girl to look into, and show only what the Dark Enemy wanted her to see of herself. The mirror showed an ugly, bent and twisted child, totally unlovable. Her family, wanting to please the Dark Enemy, believed what the mirror showed…So they fell into the trap of the Dark Enemy and told her that the only worth she had was to be silent and serve her family as a slave. She was taught she should always be grateful to them for teaching her what her role was in life, and that she should be thankful that they bothered to take the time to train her to be an excellent, quiet, obedient, and respectful slave…she was so ugly and bent, no-one would ever love her.

One Sunday, at The Club of Good Moral Values, a guest speaker came to speak of something new. He said that there was a wonderful, gentle, loving Son of the Great Emperor who had hope and love to give anyone who wanted it. That anyone could get a dose of it put right in their hearts. So the little girl, who wanted love and hope so desperately, raised her hand to get some.

Nothing seemed to happen at first. But in a few days, when no one came to talk to her, she picked up the book written all about the Great Emperor and his Son and began to read it. This book was filled with stories of people being forgiven, and saved, and helped by the Great Emperor, and how those who hated the Great Emperor tried to kill the Son, but amazingly when all hope was gone, the Great Emperor’s own power restored his Son to life again; So the Son could share that power and love and hope with anyone who would serve the Great Emperor.

“Oh,” the little girl thought, “If only I could be a slave for the Great Emperor, perhaps my life would get easier.” But about that time, when the father of the little girl discovered she was reading the story of the Great Emperor, he began teaching her that the book was only a myth, and you could pick any myth you want, but that was only for weak slaves. Strong, obedient slaves would never fall for myths like that.

As she grew up, she moved away and found another place far from her home in the Dark Enemy’s camp where there were a lot of people who loved the story of the Great Emperor, and showed her care and love…but no-one ever corrected her view in the Enemy’s mirror that out of habit she carried with her where ever she went. She would gaze in it everyday, hoping to see a difference; and there never was. Sadly, she tried to see what the people saw, and just couldn’t part from the vision in the Enemy’s mirror. And even more sadly, her friends did not know she had this mirror with her.

After selling herself to be the slave of other men, (quite like her own father) she fell ill and went to a doctor for medicine. The doctor gave her the bad news that she would have to take this medicine to keep her a happy slave for the rest of her life. In the fellowship of others who loved the story of the Great Emperor, there was confusion, because she left with no word. I think they tried to find her, but they never knew about her magic mirror of the Dark Enemy.

She decided that the story of the Great Emperor was a big lie, and decided to give up reading it, and accepted her fate to serve as a slave of the Dark Enemy and give up trying to serve the Great Emperor. More doctors saw her unhappiness and tried to give her stronger medicine to take away her sadness, but alas, they also did not know of her magic mirror; they never thought to ask.

After being beaten by her last owner, she decided to leave him because she did realize that even slaves did not deserve to be beaten. So the law court told her she could be free of the ownership contract and she could be all by herself. She still looked into the magic mirror, and with great sadness realized no nice men would want what she saw in the mirror; so she would be satisfied to be alone.

One day, she began feeling sorry for not wanting to serve the Great Emperor, but in despair thought she could never go back, because she did not understand that story clearly. But she dug out her book (she never got rid of it) and began again to read the stories of the Great Emperor once again.

As she read, she began to almost hear a voice calling her. She turned more and more pages until she noticed a story that sounded a lot like her. Another slave, one too disobedient and dirty to see the Son of the Great Emperor, but yet this slave struggled through a dinner party with out an invitation in order to try to beg the Great Emperor’s Son for forgiveness and freedom. She brought an expensive gift of perfumed oil, pored it on his feet, while crying and wiping the Son’s feet with her hair the Son forgave her and set her free.

Free? The Great Emperor’s Son set her free? She never thought she could be free, and not a slave. This was new. But how could she get the Son’s attention? She had no more tears to shed, was too tired from her empty life, and didn’t know what to do. So sitting on her sofa, she closed her eyes and quietly spoke these words, “Oh Great Emperor, I’m so sorry, will you forgive me and set me free like the other slave in the book? I believe in your Son, and your story. Please help me.” All was quiet around her; she did not feel any different. So she went to bed, exhausted.

The next day at work, she found herself humming a little and she felt a bit more energy. A co-worker stopped her and asked “You look different today, better…what has changed?” And to her own surprise stated “Well, I decided to serve the Great Emperor again.” The co-worker grabbed her in a bear hug and said, “I have been praying for you to come back to the Great Emperor for a long time, I’m glad you came back!”

That evening the woman was curious if she looked different, so she went to the magic mirror and strangely there was a crack in it. But to her own eyes, she still appeared as a twisted, ugly slave…yet not as clear as before; her image was blurred. As this mirror was a family heirloom, she figured she would have to keep it, crack and all. So the woman put the cracked mirror in the corner of her room, and ignored it.

But one day while reading the stories of the Great Emperor, she could hear a voice calling her! The voice said “Child, do you trust me?” She answered “Yes, I think so.” Then the voice said, “Will you break the mirror?” “Oh,” she said, “I cannot do that, my family will be angry with me.” The voice again said “Child, do you trust me?” “I’m trying to,” she cried, “but I need help!” “Will you do what I ask?” the voice said. “Yes, if you take my hand, I’m afraid,” she moaned. “Here child; here is my hand.” And then suddenly, the Son of the Great Emperor was standing in front of her. Startled, she began to draw back, afraid; but looking into his eyes, she could see love, and hope, and kindness; all those things she had always wanted. And with determination, she reached out and put her hand in his. With that, there was the sound of an explosion and shattering glass; she reflexively closed her eyes, and clung to the Son’s hand. Then, with her eyes tightly shut, she felt a sensation as if cool water was being pored over her head…a refreshing, clean feeling. She felt different, new and light. With a new strength, she opened her eyes to see the Son smiling at her. “Child,” he said, “I am giving you a new job, I am giving you the task of taking my story to the other slaves of the Dark Enemy, so they can be set free.” “But sir,” She said, “I am so bent and ugly, no-one will listen to me; they won’t believe me.” Then the Son said “Child, you have been trapped in a lie your whole life, and I have destroyed the Enemy’s magic mirror, the spell is broken forever.”

Turning to the table where her book of the story of the Great Emperor, he smoothly opened it to the middle of the book. Suddenly the book had an opening that the Son reached his hand into, and as he pulled out his hand, out came an elaborately framed gold mirror. Holding the mirror, he said, “Child, this is the Mirror of Truth, it only shows how things and people really are; I want you to look at what I see, and what you truly look like.” Curiously, she looked at the image in the mirror. Her eyes flew open wide, startled; for what she saw was glowing, beautiful woman. Her hair was clean and bouncy, her eyes bright, her mouth curved in a delighted smile; all in all, she looked like a sweet and kind, loving person anyone would enjoy befriending. “Oh my!” she said, “Surely that is not me?” “Yes, child,” the Son said, “This is what you look like in truth.” He continued “This is how you look after the spell is broken; all will see you as I planned for you before you were captured by the spell of the Enemy.”

“Oh Sir, I must go back to my family and tell them the good news!” she exclaimed. The Son of the Emperor looked sadly at her and said “Child, this will hurt, but you only can tell them of the hope of my freedom, and then you must leave them all and never go back.” “But why?” she said, “let me try to help them, please?” The Son of the Great Emperor quietly explained, “Child, you want to do this, and I will give you the words, but they are blinded, and only will want to enslave you again, they will not be happy to see you.” “But Sir, can’t you help them like you helped me?” she sobbed. “I want them to be happy and free with me, to rejoice in true freedom, that you gave me; please Sir, please help them hear me.” She fell to her knees, and begged, “Oh, let me try, Sir, I don’t want to go through the rest of my life with no family; I don’t want to be alone!” She was weeping, head down, tears falling in her lap.

The Son of the Great Emperor knelt down in front of her and tenderly cradled her chin in his hands and lifted up her face for her to look into her eyes. “Child, all you can do is speak to them the words I give you to tell them, then you will have to leave and follow me.” As he gently wiped the tears from her face he finished speaking, “I promise you this, I will always be with you, watching over you, you will never be alone. In the days ahead, if you trust me, I will give you a new family, filled with my love and hope, who will care for you if you let them.” “One day,” he continued, “the words you speak to your family may take root and grow, but that is not for you to know; I need you to trust me, and follow me to help those who want the help now.” He stood up and held out his hand to her, she placed her hand in his and he lifted her to her feet.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"Futility or Hope?" The Groaning of Creation.

I was chatting with a friend on the phone, discussing Romans…specifically Romans chapter 8; so my next words were, “Hold it, let’s see what Jimmy Dunn has to say.” So I looked up the passage in question from his “World Biblical Commentary” on Romans on my bookshelf (which, by-the-way I highly recommend!) Any way, I read the passage, and it of course raised more discussion…but we had to end the conversation.

Off the phone, I continued reading the section I had just started and came upon this quote I’d like to share.

This is what Dr. James D.G. Dunn has to say on Romans 8:20 by way of Ecclesiastes, and as most of his writing, is revelatory. He writes of the out-of-sortness of the created order [cf. Romans 8:17-30]:

By “futility” Paul probably has in mind the same sense of futility of life which found expression in Jewish thought most clearly in Ecclesiastes—that weariness and despair of spirit which cannot see beyond the stultifying repetitiveness of life, the endless cycle of decay and corruption, the worthlessness of a lifelong effort which may be swept away overnight by a storm or be parched to nothingness in a drought, the complete insignificance of the individual in the tides of time and the currents of human affairs—all indeed that, had man but realized it, was going to make it impossible for him to be “as god,” made it inevitable that he would become subservient to useless idols and mere things. Yet for Paul, of course, that is not, could not be the last word. The same character of creation-bound existence which causes some to despair, seen from another angel becomes a ground for hope. Looked at in terms of man’s vaunted independence from God the future for the world is bleak. But seen in terms of the creator’s purpose, the present state of affairs is not all there is to look forward to; the goal of the created order will be determined by God, not by the puny mind of man. As the suffering of believers becomes a ground of hope because it is experienced as the formation of character and renewal of the inner man…so the out-of-jointness for creation itself is testimony that is was not always intended to be thus. From the beginning the primal-time subjection to futility had the final-time fulfillment of God’s original purpose for man and his habitation in view. Even in its futility creation is still God’s.[into the explanation of v 21] The end God has in view for his creation is eschatological liberation, liberation for the slavery of corruption. (p.488)

James D.G. Dunn (1988) Word Biblical Commentary Volume 38a: Romans 1-8. Dallas, TX: Word Books, Publisher.

Friday, May 13, 2011

"The Heresy of Orthodoxy"

The Heresy of Orthodoxy: How Contemporary Culture’s Fascination with Diversity has Reshaped Our Understanding of Early Christianity. Andreas J Kostenberger and Michael J. Kruger (2010) Wheaton, IL: Crossway

The desire for diversity is taking on new meaning throughout Christianity; and trying to unearth what the early churches really believed takes top billing. With new books published on the popular level by Bart Ehrman again telling an avid readership that the Bible is full of errors, and cannot be trusted, and we only have an “orthodox” Christian church because of a ruling Roman church redacting what we read…( I meant to do that!)

As Bible believing Christians, are we again to be left stuttering without answers? Do we have to concede to consumerism, to be driven in our beliefs by majority vote? Kostenberger and Kruger write:

“…Like in the days of the judges, everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes, but unlike in the days of the judges, this is not meant as an indictment but celebrated as the ultimate expression of truly enlightened humanity. All is fluid, doctrine is dead, and diversity reigns. Not only in restaurants and shopping malls, but even in churches and houses of worship, what people are looking for is a variety of options, and if they don’t like what they see, they take their business—or worship—elsewhere. Consumers control which products are made, children are catered to by parents, students determine what is taught in our schools and universities, and no one should tell anyone else what to do—or at least not acknowledge that they do. We live in an age that prides itself on its independence, rejection of authority, and embrace of pluralism. Truth is dead, long live diversity! (p 15-16)

And with that start, Andreas Kostenberger and Michael Kruger proceed to refute the skeptical stance first put forward by Walter Bauer and rehashed by Bart Ehrman of this idea of diversity in believes within the early “churches” of fledgling Christianity. This idea that 1. first were the heretical-diverse beliefs and 2. later the orthodoxy was imposed on all believers.

This intense read covers all the bases, from when the early heresies got their start, what the meaning of cannon is, copies and circulation of scrolls and codices, and tampering…all covered in a great scholarly book…and this is a must-read for apologists/evangelists, pastors and teachers, to be able to answer the questions that inevitably will come up with “young” Christians who read Ehrman first…not to mention the host of ‘new Atheists’ who enjoy Christian “bashing.”

At only 235 pages, you can read this one in one sitting, and for those of us who write a lot of paper, this is a huge resource to keep on your book shelf.

OK, now that you are done reading this…order your own copy…right now!

Friday, May 6, 2011

"The Quiet Hero"

In this secular age, the emphasis today within the body of Christ is to teach Christian Apologetics. With young men and women attending secular colleges, those from Christian backgrounds may be heading to colleges were they will face many challenges to their faith; and in some cases their belief is not up to the task. There is a scramble to reach these young adults and equip them to face these secular attacks against the truth claims of Christianity. This is a worthy cause, and one I am personally involved in.

But I would like to feature a story of the “other” young adults who come from secular families, become Christians and stay strong in their faith. The young men and women who defy their families wish for them to attend secular, popular colleges, and instead attend Christian colleges.

Who supports them?

There is a young woman I recently met, who shared a part of her story to me…and I would like to write a small part of it here.

This student transferred from a secular college to attend a Christian college. During her studies there, she was a member of the woman’s basket ball team…where she and I compaired stories on what you can learn about leaning into God’s strength when working (in my case) and playing (in her case) “injured”…where your strength ends and God’s begins…a lesson many other Christians could learn from.

She told me of working to pay for college herself...her classes completely paid for…on her own.

She is graduating tomorrow…a day that all college students look forward to; to see the pride in their families faces...that their families would be in the audience to cheer as their graduating son or daughter's name is called and they take that walk across the stage to accept their diploma…except for this young woman.

Her parent will not attend. They claim she is in a “cult”…a religious “nut.” She is an out-cast in her family.

Who will cheer for her?

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him who has endured such hostility by sinners against himself so that you may not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3

Do not lose heart.