Thursday, May 26, 2011

Hitler's church or Christ's church?

From Bonhoeffer (Eric Metaxas):

One sometimes hears that Hitler was a Christian. He was certainly not, but neither was he openly anti-Christian, as most of his top lieutenants were. What helped him aggrandize power, he approved of, and what prevented it, he did not. He was utterly pragmatic. In public he often made comments that made him sound pro-church or pro-Christian, but there can be no question that he said these things cynically, for political gain. In private, he possessed an unblemished record of statements against Christianity and Christians.

Especially early in his career, Hitler wished to appear as a typical German, so he praised the churches as bastions of morality and traditional values. But he also felt that, in time, the churches would adapt to the National Socialist way of thinking. They would eventually be made into vessels for Nazi ideology, so it little served his purposes to destroy them. It would be easier to change what already existed and benefit from whatever cultural cachet they possessed. (pp. 165-6, italics emphasis mine)

Even in the cold light of historical hindsight it's difficult to believe the degree to which Adolf Hitler achieved his aim of making the churches just another instrument of the Third Reich. How is it that the vast majority of Germans, in the heart of "Christian Europe", were taken in by Hitler? And how is it that a German theologian and pastor, not yet out of his twenties, was one of the few to see Hitler and National Socialism, very early on, for what they really were? It's so apt that Bonhoeffer identified with Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, whose message of impending disaster fell on deaf ears. Once the rest of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's professing Christian brethren and fellow Germans caught on it was too late. Hitler was shrewd. In private he ridiculed the doctrines of Christianity as "insanity" and "meekness and flabbiness" -- but in public he cleverly used the language and symbolism of Lutheranism, while at the same time continuing as a member of the Roman Catholic church in order to bolster his standing in Bavaria. Yet, he wouldn't have succeeded if the church in Germany had been healthy.

Elsewhere in this gripping work of history by Metaxas there are clues to why the German church was impotent in the face of the advancing darkness. The German church was deathly ill before Hitler came on the scene. Its complicity in the militarism that brought on a senseless world war was scandalous, and permanently damaged its witness among the younger generations. The church had long been fused with the state and German nationalism confused with the gospel. Christianity in Germany had only the appearance of godliness, and none of its power. Bonhoeffer saw this too, again, in a way that makes him stand out as a lonely prophet among his peers.

Metaxas writes:

He knew something was deeply wrong with the church as it then existed, and not just with the Reich church and the German Christians [a group who thought Nazi ideology could coexist with Christianity], but with the best of the church, with the Confessing Church, and with the current form of Christianity in Germany in general. He felt that what was especially missing from the life of Christians in Germany was the day-to-day reality of dying to self, of following Christ with every ounce of one's being in every moment, in every part of one's life. This dedication and fire existed among pietist groups like the Herrnhüter, but he thought that they bordered on being "works" oriented and overly "religious" in the Barthian sense. They had pushed away from the "world" too much, had pushed away the very best of culture and education in a way that he didn't feel was right. Christ must be brought into every square inch of the world and the culture, but one's faith must be shining and bright and pure and robust. . . . Bonhoeffer advocated a Christianity that seemed too worldly for traditional Lutheran conservatives and too pietistic for theological liberals. (pp. 247-8)

He felt that Lutheran Christianity had slid away from Luther's intentions, just as Luther felt that the Roman Catholic Church had moved away from St. Peter's and, more important, from Christ's. Bonhoeffer was interested in a Holy Spirit-led course adjustment that hardly signaled something new. (p. 263)

Bonhoeffer's idea of a worldly pietism grounded in the rich theological heritage of Protestantism would be taken for a test drive at the illegal Confessing Church seminary at Finkenwalde. Short lived though it was, there Bonhoeffer trained a cadre of young pastors who helped keep burning a flickering flame of vital Christianity during the dark days of the Third Reich. In addition, out of this experience came two great books -- Discipleship and Life Together. The latter, in my opinion, the best book ever written about Christian community. Many of the pastors trained under Brother Bonhoeffer's tutelage would die as witnesses to the true gospel and the true church in Nazi concentration camps.

Finkenwalde Seminary was closed down by the Gestapo in 1937. Hitler and Himmler thought they had defeated the Confessing Church dissidents who refused to confess anyone but Jesus as their Führer. But the example of Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church continues to inspire 21st century disciples to exclusive allegiance to Christ and his kingdom. On the other hand, the capitulation of the German church is a warning what can happen when counterfeit gospels push aside the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Quotes from Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson, 2010)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A local's lament for his lost city

From The Joplin Globe. . .

By R. Duane Graham
Special to The Globe


Sunday evening, before the onset of the cruel aftershocks that pummeled our devastated city with remorseless storms and rescue-impeding rains, my youngest son and I undertook a journey to a destination he — a high school student and baseball player—seemed desperate to see.
He wanted to go to his school.
He had heard it had been destroyed and he wanted to see for himself, see if his home away from home — the school and the ballpark — were still there.
Just an hour after the historic tornado hit, we began our walk to Joplin High School. We stepped over thick, once-pulsating power lines; we listened to a natural gas main hiss an awful hiss as it filled the air with that unmistakable odor and imminent danger; we stepped on and over shards of civilization — the wood, glass, and other fabric that make up a life-home; we passed by pummeled, twisted sheet metal no longer confined to driveways or cowering in garages, but like wildly wounded or dead tin soldiers on some strange and dreadful battlefield, they testified to the power of a fearsome and formidable opponent, in this case a monstrous whirlwind of nature.
In short, we walked through the rubble — how terrible it seems to call it that — and we watched the landscape, once so familiar, disorient us with its new unfamiliarity, the product of an appalling but natural disregard for our pattern-seeking and sense-making needs as human beings.
And that smell.
The stale smell that no CNN report can convey, no matter how detailed or how crowded with images. That wet-wood, musty, gassy smell that democratizes the neighborhoods, the poor and the middle-class and beyond, as it wafts through the scene.
And the sounds.
The unrelenting sirens, of all kinds, with their Doppler effects and with their piercing seriousness. But the most amazing sound of all was the quasi-silence, the eerie effect of the shocked and shaken as they made their way to loved ones, or to be loved.
And then we turned the corner and there it was. Our Hiroshima.
The school, and the surrounding landscape, was now a victim of nature’s Enola Gay, which dropped a Fujita-5 tornado in the middle of our city, and in the heart of the familiar, and in the education commons, the place where rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black and white, came together to learn, to socialize — and to play high school baseball.
From the elevated soccer field that overlooks the ballpark, the inspired geometry of the diamond was still discernible, even though the place had been leveled and the ground was littered with pieces of the neighborhood. A four-wheel drive pickup made its way across the outfield to get to the street beyond, the fence no longer an obstacle, no longer a fence.
To the west, the houses were gone. The houses whose windows and roofs had been the targets of years of foul balls, duds bounding off the bats of too-hopeful Major League aspirants. Those familiar houses were gone. All of them, and all behind them, and behind them.
And to the south, all gone. And to the east.
And the boy, becoming by necessity that moment more manly, spotted a figure below, standing near the field, behind what used to be the visitor’s dugout.
“Coach Harryman!” he shouted.
And the stunned coach, whose attachment to the field and school is measured not just by years but by a career, turned around and greeted us, making his way up the hill to where we stood, his tearful wife soon by his side. We shared our disbelief, exchanging inquiries about loved ones, standard practice around here these days.
Then it was time to get back home, before streetlight-less darkness made getting back home even more dangerous, and getting back home now even more necessary, after the sights we had seen.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Where are the rural missionaries?

I love what God is doing in the cities, and I love the city. I can easily see myself happily living in New York or Chicago or San Francisco -- or even London. That's not going to happen though since our family of four couldn't remotely afford to live in any of those places (we can barely afford to live in West Palm Beach). The missiologists tell us that to fulfill the Great Commission the church needs to be moving en masse into the global metropolises, planting churches and putting down roots. To reach the people you have to go where they are, and we are increasingly an urbanized planet. I get that. And I agree with the missional focus on the cities. I love the ministry of Tim Keller and others! But God doesn't want/need all of us to be missionaries to the city.

Damaris Zehner, a resident of rural western Indiana, has written a beautiful eloquent plea for Christians to move into languishing communities like her's. Not for a month, or a year, but for a lifetime. Here's an excerpt from her piece A New Missions Field:

Mission work is not just church planting. Yes, rural people need a good church, but nowadays even good churches are filled with retirees; younger people, if they work at all, work an hour away, late shifts and early shifts, and become disconnected from their community. Many young people don’t work; it’s cheaper to live on food stamps out here than in the cities, and frankly, people can do pretty much anything they want in their old trailers in the woods – meth labs are competing with farming in most Midwestern rural areas. So yes, if you want grittiness and drama on your mission field, you can find it here: drug problems, broken families, teen pregnancies, hopeless lives – there is work for missionaries in these little towns and scope for active churches to get involved.

I know that running a doctor’s office or grocery store in rural America isn’t typically considered missions by many Christians. But if caring for people’s daily needs is a means of mission work in Burkina Faso, why not here? Many of the needs are the same, and rural Americans, like Burkinabes, will respond to people who are humbly serving as the face and hands of Christ.

Zehner goes on to describe how running a local grocery store (something her town no longer has) could be an outpost of "genuine Christian presence" in areas where hope and gospel witness are in short supply. God loves the cities, but he loves the small towns too. Perhaps some of us need to be moving back to the country. Not as an escape, but as a mission.

Read the whole thing!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

What'll we do on Sunday without the NFL?

I was waiting for a story like this -- Ray Lewis thinks crime will increase with no NFL season. With Ray's checkered past one would be excused for thinking the future Hall of Fame linebacker had himself in mind. I mean, do you want Ray Lewis wandering around your town on Sunday with nothing to do? But no, Lewis was making a prediction about society as a whole, and sad to say, I think he could be right. Here's the quote:

"Do this research if we don't have a season -- watch how much evil, which we call crime, watch how much crime picks up, if you take away our game."

"There's too many people that live through us, people live through us," he said. "Yeah, walk in the streets, the way I walk the streets, and I'm not talking about the people you see all the time."

Can't argue with that. Millions of Americans do indeed live their lives through the men of the National Football League (intoned in my best Harry Kalas voice). But I'm not here to criticize or defend that. Instead, Ray Lewis's comments raised another question in my mind. What other things might increase if there isn't a 2011 NFL season?

The Sabbath is a contentious issue among Christians, particularly among those in the Reformed corner of the Christian world. Those who trace their lineage back to the Dutch Reformed tradition often believe -- based on Hebrews 4:1-11 and other texts -- that the Sabbath was done away with in Christ. Those of us who trace our lineage back to the Scots Presbyterians and English Puritan tradition tend to be more on the side of those who say that serious observance of the Sabbath -- or Lord's Day -- is still required of us. Since the last time I checked the 4th commandment is still in the Bible; I'd say keeping the Sabbath holy is a command that still needs to be reckoned with. I think the Westminster Confession of Faith gets it about right, though how it's interpreted will differ.

This Sabbath is to be kept holy unto the Lord when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of His worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy. (WCF 21.8)

At the very least it's incumbent on us to view the Lord's Day differently than the other six days of the week (and I'll be the first to admit I have a long way to go here). Do most American believers treat Sunday differently? I would say no. I'll go out on a limb and guess that the Sunday schedule of many Christians is shaped more by NFL football than any of the things listed above i.e., holy rest from worldly employments and recreations, public and private exercises of worship, duties of necessity and mercy. So I'm actually rooting for the NFL lockout to continue. Imagine all the good that can be done when there isn't football to watch on Sunday afternoon, Sunday evening, and even Sunday morning if you count the endless pre-game shows. Yes, crime may increase, but so might the items on this off-the-top-of-my-head list.

- Attendance in Lord's Day worship

- Bible reading

- Prayer and meditation

- Family devotions

- Visiting the sick

- Sunday afternoon naps

- Inviting a lonely person over for Sunday dinner

- Long walks

- Picking up the phone and calling someone you have a grudge against, or who has a grudge against you

- And last but not least, with no NFL football, maybe the second service (Sunday night) will make a comeback.

Wouldn't that be something?

Go owners go!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Awkward moments at the Cannes Film Festival

I know Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier fancies himself a provocateur, but here he proves he's just a fool.

The virtue of small communities (Chesterton)

It is not fashionable to say much nowadays of the advantages of the small community. We are told that we must go in for large empires and large ideas. There is one advantage, however, in the small state, the city, or the village, which only the wilfully blind can overlook. The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences of men. The reason is obvious. In a large community we can choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us. Thus in all extensive and highly civilized societies groups come into existence founded upon what is called sympathy, and shut out the real world more sharply than the gates of a monastery. There is nothing really narrow about the clan; the thing which is really narrow is the clique. The men of the clan live together because they all wear the same tartan or are all descended from the same sacred cow; but in their souls, by the divine luck of things, there will always be more colours than in any tartan. But the men of the clique live together because they have the same kind of soul, and their narrowness is a narrowness of spiritual coherence and contentment, like that which exists in hell.

Quote from Heretics ("On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family")

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Cold is not a flavor

Piper on worship

John Piper gets to the heart of what's wrong with a lot of worship in a lot of churches. Mine included.

The widespread notion that high moral acts must be free from self-interest is a great enemy of true worship. Worship is the highest moral act a human can perform; so the only basis and motivation for it that many people can conceive is the moral notion of disinterested performance of duty. But when worship is reduced to disinterested duty, it ceases to be worship. For worship is a feast of the glorious perfections of God in Christ.

God is not honored when we celebrate the high days of our relationship out of a mere sense of duty. He is honored when those days are our delight!

Not a few pastors scold their people that the worship services would be more lively if people came to give instead of to get. There is a better diagnosis.

People ought to come starved for God. They ought to come saying, "As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God" (Psalm 42:1). God is profoundly honored when people know that they will die of hunger and thirst unless they have God. And it is my job as a preacher to spread a banquet for them. I must show them from Scripture what they are really starving for—God—and then feed them well until they say, "Ahhh." That is worship.

As with food, there's an approach to worship that we might call the "eat to live" approach. We eat because we're obligated to eat. And there's truth in that. If we don't eat we will die. That's not a joyful approach to food though. But when we sit down to a delicious meal, prepared by a skillful chef, the joyful approach -- and the approach that will make the chef feel good -- is the "live to eat" approach. To see what that looks like check out Babette's Feast and Big Night -- two films that will make you say "Ahhh!" So it is with worship. Do you live to worship? God isn't honored when we merely worship to live. In that case worship becomes a means to an end, not the end in itself.

Quotes from The Dangerous Duty of Delight (Multnomah, 2001) pp. 54, 56

Monday, May 16, 2011

The strange evolution of Harold Camping

Robert Godfrey, president of Westminster Seminary California, has written a series of articles on the history and errors of Harold Camping. Godfrey is well qualified to write on Camping since he once sat under his teaching at the Christian Reformed Church of Alameda, CA. In fact Godfrey gives Camping part of the credit for his own conversion.

Here's the introduction to the 5-part series.

If you were to drive the freeways of southern California, you would see from time to time billboards proclaiming the Judgment Day on May 21, 2011 and declaring that the Bible guarantees it. Presumably these billboards may be seen in many other parts of the country as well. Who is responsible for these signs and what do they really mean theologically?

The signs have been placed by Harold Camping and his followers to warn people that the end is at hand. To understand these signs we must know something of the history as well as the theology of Harold Camping. I am in a somewhat distinctive position to write on this subject since I first met Camping in the late 1950s. I learned a great deal from him then, and so I find what follows a very sad story. I pray for him that the Lord will deliver him from the serious errors into which he has fallen.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

U2 in church

I'd be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I'd be in deep s---. It doesn't excuse my mistakes, but I'm holding out for Grace. I'm holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don't have to depend on my own religiosity.

- Bono

Our pastor has been preaching a sermon series using the music of those Irish lads known as U2 to help illuminate the truth of God's word. Sunday before last he juxtaposed Psalm 123 with the U2 song "When I Look at the World" and last Sunday he used "When Love Comes to Town" -- the song U2 did with B.B. King on Rattle and Hum -- as commentary on Jesus's teaching on love in John 15. This might seem like a desperate ploy to make our very traditional congregation appear hip, except that Pastor Randy really is a huge U2 fan and gets their appeal as unique pop culture messengers of hope. While I can't see into U2 frontman Bono's heart it's pretty clear that he gets the Christian gospel better than some Christians who wouldn't be caught dead wearing leather or wrap-around sunglasses. For evidence see his Grace over Karma interview.

Sunday I was struck anew by his evocative lyrics. They reminded me of the disruptive nature of Jesus' love and grace. Listen. . .

I was a sailor, I was lost at sea
I was under the waves
Before love rescued me
I was a fighter, I could turn on a thread
Now I stand accused of the things I've said

When love comes to town I'm gonna jump that train
When love comes to town I'm gonna catch that flame
Maybe I was wrong to ever let you down
But I did what I did before love came to town

I was there when they crucified my Lord
I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword
I threw the dice when they pierced his side
But I've seen love conquer the great divide

Love has been cheapened and sentimentalized to the point where we can hardly recognize it. When Jesus came to town he came with love that turned everything upside down. He said he came bringing a sword to divide sons from fathers and sisters from brothers. He said that anyone that didn't love him more than their own father or mother wasn't worthy to be his disciple. He said: "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit."

The lyrics of "When Love Comes to Town" effectively picture the hopelessness of our predicament until Christ's love apprehended us. Jesus is the Hound of Heaven who pursues us. He's the father who welcomes home the prodigal and invites the Pharisee to join the party. In C.S. Lewis's memorable turn of phrase he is the "Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape." (Surprised by Joy) Contrary to the popular altar call disclaimer -- Jesus isn't a gentleman. He doesn't politely knock on the door, he kicks it in, with the fervor of B.B. King's guitar solo.

I ran into a juke joint when I heard a guitar scream
The notes were turning blue, I was dazing in a dream
As the music played I saw my life turn around
That was the day before love came to town

Still on the subject of U2 I came across this fascinating article: Mega-Church Services: Like Going to a U2 Concert? Readers of this blog probably know that I've criticized the mega-church seeker-sensitive model, and I think it's a wave that's already crested. Nevertheless the success of the Willow Creek-type churches, and of U2, in reaching large numbers of people and remaining culturally relevant (a loaded term I know) might have something to say to all churches regardless of size or worship style.

"Organizations, to stay in a healthy place, have to have a balance of self-control and flexibility," Workman believes. "Sometimes you have to act more controlled because you're in danger of losing your core values; sometimes you get so stuck that there's no new life. You need to balance the teeter-totter.

"I think churches have to figure out how to do that. Too many churches are too stuck in maintaining control. They lose their cultural relevance. It's been fun to see U2 preserve core values and reinvent themselves."

It is interesting to hear this perspective on U2 from Workman, especially after taking part in many fan conversations about whether U2 has allowed itself to become too corporate, or whether something integral to the band/fan relationship has been strained (which is a "core values" question). Keep in mind, though, that much depends on one's point of view, and Workman has the perspective of working behind the scenes in church but has not been in on the conversations carried out on U2 fan message boards.

Workman's reflections end with an acknowledgement that ages and stages in life affect how one can reach the masses, even as he talks about the importance of churches engaging with the culture (what U2 has termed their "relevance," and the reason they still strive for the hit single). "[Christians] have to think like missionaries ... Good missionaries go as deep into the culture as they can without compromising their values. Too many churches have relinquished their cultural awareness. The culture, for the messenger, is a tool. And it has to be wielded wisely. People know when you are truly hip; at some point you have to be smart enough to know 'This is beyond me!' There's nothing worse than a 50-year-old guy talking about his 'posse.'"

What does this mean for someone like Bono, now that he's about to turn 51? "Bono has to be either close enough to the language [of the culture] to use it with authenticity -- or he has to create new language."

U2's been doing this for years, and that's what churches have been doing for many more years before them. "That's the church -- creating new language for a timeless message."

Next month, God willing and Bono doesn't hurt his back again, my wife and I will experience a U2 live show for the first time. I know it will be awesome. Come the following Sunday, though, I won't be interested in attending a worship service that approximates that experience -- except in this respect. A message of hope, delivered with integrity and authenticity, in a way that connects with a diverse audience? You bet! In that way I hope my church is like a U2 concert every Sunday.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Why not Parents' Day?

Jennifer Graham hits a home run with this essay on Mother's Day written from the perspective of a divorced mom. She poignantly describes the effects of divorce and exposes some of the falsities of our society's views on raising kids. I love the way she describes how a modern two-parent family works.

Why do so many men give cards to their wives, who are not their mothers, on Mother’s Day? It is the marketplace’s acknowledgment of a truth: that Mother’s Day is not possible without Father, even if he, at some distant point in the future, is glaringly absent when the family gathers at the Doubletree for the Mother’s Day buffet.

It is interesting — and revealing — that we have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, but no widely celebrated Parents’ Day. Society undervalues the pair. Their children, however, do not. To young children, it is the combination of the two that matters most, far more than two individuals.

A mother and a father working together, raising children under one roof, make up a third, distinct creature, which I liken to the pushmi-pullyu of Dr. Doolittle lore. Hugh Lofting’s pushmi-pullyu is a beast with a head on each end, and so it is always awake. When one end is weary, the other is alert; it is a model of what a mom and a dad, together, should be. But divorce kills the parental pushmi-pullyu, and the more bitter the circumstances, the more dead the vital beast.

To children, for whom their parents’ divorce is an agonizing mystery, resurrection is always desired, if only so that Dad would be around this Sunday to do the dishes and carry the tray. In a republic run by children, divorce would again be illegal.

So true! Don't get me wrong. I'm all for honoring mothers. Since becoming a parent myself I have so much more appreciation for my mother. I just have less and less tolerance for these Hallmark holidays. How about we take Graham's suggestion and save us all some money by combining mother and father's day into Parents' Day?

OK, me and my 2-year-old are off to shop for Mother's Day!

Friday, May 6, 2011

One of the most mind-blowing paragraphs I've ever read

Jonathan Edwards:

It is no solid objection against God aiming at an infinitely perfect union of the creature with himself, that the particular time will never come when it can be said, the union is now infinitely perfect. God aims at satisfying justice in the eternal damnation of sinners; which will be satisfied by their damnation, considered no otherwise than with regard to its eternal duration. But yet there never will come that particular moment, when it can be said, that now justice is satisfied. But if this does not satisfy our modern freethinkers who do not like the talk about satisfying justice with an infinite punishment; I suppose it will not be denied by any, that God, in glorifying the saints in heaven with eternal felicity, aims to satisfy his infinite grace or benevolence, by the bestowment of a good infinitely valuable, because eternal: and yet there never will come the moment, when it can be said, that now this infinitely valuable good has been actually bestowed.

Quote from The End for Which God Created the World (1765)

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A strange Glenn Miller-based religious ceremony

Barcelona (dir. Whit Stillman, 1994)

The majestic Christ of Hebrews

I've been boning up on the New Testament book of Hebrews in preparation for teaching through it in our adult Sunday school class. Hebrews presents some problems, among them that we don't know for certain a) who wrote it b) to whom specifically it was written c) precisely when it was written. For several centuries Hebrews inclusion in the canon was touch and go. It wasn't until the fourth century that its place in the New Testament was secure. Augustine was a great champion of the epistle. Interestingly enough, authorship of Hebrews was a minor sticking point during the Reformation, with Luther and Calvin disputing the church's insistence on Pauline authorship. That Paul was the author was reaffirmed by Rome at the Council of Trent.

More recent scholarship has mostly sided with those who don't think Paul wrote the letter. There are just too many differences with everything else we know Paul wrote. My favorite contender as the author of Hebrews is Apollos -- described in Acts 18 as "an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures." Certainly, the author of Hebrews had an unusually good grasp of the Old Testament. As interesting as it can be to debate these points, the bottom line is that this letter was inspired by God and he intended it to be part of the Bible. I can't imagine it not being a part of the New Testament.

One reason we can be confident in the Holy Spirit-inspiration of Hebrews is that the person and work of Jesus Christ shines forth in glorious splendor from its pages. The author foregrounds Christological themes that are in the background, or missing entirely, from the other epistles. I'm going to urge the class to read and study it with two questions in mind: "What has God said to us?" and "What has Christ done for us?" These questions are addressed in spectacular fashion in the prologue.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

According to commentator Raymond Brown (Christ Above All: The Message of Hebrews) there are at least eight things to be learned about Jesus from those four verses. I'll let you try to extract them. Here's a brief quote from Brown's expository-centric commentary that I really like.

The letter to the Hebrews begins by asserting the greatest single fact of the Christian revelation: God has spoken to man through his word in the Bible and through his Son, Jesus. In Christ God has closed the greatest communication gap of all time, that which exists between a holy God and sinful mankind. (p. 27)

I'll probably be posting more thoughts on Hebrews as we go along in the study. Grab a Bible and commentary and dig in. I guarantee your view of Jesus will be bigger after reading Hebrews.

Monday, May 2, 2011

So how should we feel? (some disjointed thoughts the morning after)

We hardly ever watch television at our house, especially on a Sunday evening, but last night my wife happened to click on Fox News. They were showing highlights of the royal wedding. I wasn't paying close attention until Geraldo Rivera broke in to say that the President was going to make a statement to the nation at 10:30. That's strange, I thought. I switched over to CNN and heard that it was regarding national security, but it wasn't about Libya. At that point, before the news started leaking out via social media and news outlets, I told Shannon my guess was that we had captured or killed Osama bin Laden. Was I right or was I right?

So how should we feel about last night's stunning and welcome news? In particular, how should Christians respond? Proverbs 24:17-18 warns: "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the LORD see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him." Yet there are other proverbs that establish as a truism that a violent end awaits wicked and violent men, and Proverbs 21:15 says, "When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers." I can't imagine any Christian not agreeing that justice was done in this case. We also see instances in Scripture of people rejoicing when enemies are defeated or brought to justice. Switching to the younger testament Paul's teaching in Romans 13 is worth quoting at length.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (verses 1 - 4)

I don't think it's a stretch to say that those splendidly trained Navy Seals were instruments of God's wrath on a wrongdoer named Osama bin Laden. I'm guessing he and the other residents of that compound felt some kind of wrath coming down on them as the helicopters descended. Terror too, I hope. In an operation, by the way, eerily similar to the Mogadishu operation chronicled in Black Hawk Down. Thankfully this one turned out much better.

I don't begrudge the celebrations in the streets or the headlines like the ones I posted below. If anyone has a right to be overly jubilant about bin Laden's demise it's the New Yorker's who lived through 9/11. I hope those who lost so much feel a sense of satisfaction today. Nevertheless, as Christians there's reason to temper our jubilation, for Scripture also reminds us that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23, 33:11). We also know that killing this one evil man doesn't guarantee our security, it might even stir up more hatred. As long as sin remains in the world there will be other mad men who seek to kill thousands in the name of demonic ideologies. We still wait for the complete justice and shalom that will come when the Lord returns.

One last thought. Hopefully everyone can set aside their political differences for a day (or two) and be proud of President Obama, his national security team, and the nameless men and women who planned and executed this audacious operation. This was a win for the United States of America. A big win. That's worth celebrating.

New York tabloids say it best