Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Lord Sabaoth: An Addendum to a Sermon

One of the marks of a good sermon is its ability to generate discussion. One of the marks of a mature campus is its ability to accommodate diverse opinions and respect variant perspectives. In that light, I would like to put an addendum on yesterday's chapel sermon given by my colleague whose personal friendship and respect I have felt deeply and received warmly. The topic at hand (handed to him), was the title of God, "Lord Sabaoth." In a masterful flurry of linguistic statistics, he pointed out just how common was this title (285x) as well is its overt military imagery: Lord of the "armies." The subtext of his sermon was that the image of Yahweh as a violent military general is at home in the pages of Scripture. This much is true but it bears substantive clarification. I would like make four points of increasing importance (if you are uninterested in linguistics, skip the first point):

First, the NIV's translation of "Lord Almighty," was criticized for obfuscating the overt military imagery. But it is not just the NIV that alters the literal translation, so too does the Septuagint (LXX). Of the 285 uses of the term in the MT (Hebrew OT), the LXX (Greek OT) retains the transliterated title only 63 times (56 of those are in Isaiah). So how did these ancient scholars understand the term? 187x it was rendered "Almighty" (pantakratōr) and 17x it was "Lord of Powers" (dunameōn), both of which could fairly be rendered by the English term "Almighty". The NIV and the LXX abandon the military imagery for good reason. The denotation of Sabaoth is, in fact, "warriors." But the connotation is "power." Furthermore, the power of Yahweh, is seldom attached to earthly military action. I could find only three passages in which Sabaoth could be used as a justification for violent military action: Once in connection with Saul (1 Sam 15:2) and twice in connection with David (1 Sam 17:45 and 1 Chr 11:9; cf. Psa 24:10). Though one could add some eschatological references to Yahweh mustering troops to battle (Isa 13:4, 13; 14:2223, 2427; 17:3; 19:4, 17; 22:5; cf. Rev 19:1719). Nevertheless, far and away, the dominant implication of "Yahweh Sabaoth" was his zealous protection of the poor, oppressed remnant (e.g. 2 Kgs 19:31; Isa 1:926; 2:12; 3:13, 21:10; 28:5; 31:45; 37:32; etc.). Isaiah 3:15 is a classic example: "'What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?' declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty." One might say, "Well, there you have it! God is going to crush Israel's Enemies!" Not so fast. The bulk of these passages threaten the wrath of "Yahweh Sabaoth" against Israel herself! She is primarily the one who elicits God's anger by her mistreatment of the poor among her (Isa 5:2425; 9:13, 19; 10:2333; Jer 2:19; 6:6, 9; 7:3, 21; 9:7, 15, 17, etc.).

A second important observation about "Lord Sabaoth" is where and when it is found. Only 24 of its 285 uses are prior to Isaiah. Then the title explodes: Isaiah (60x, c. 700 b.c.e.), Jeremiah (76x, c. 586 b.c.e.), Haggai (12x in 6 chapters, c. 520 b.c.e.), Zechariah (46x in 14 chapters, c. 520 b.c.e.), and Malachi (24x in 4 chapters, c. 450 b.c.e.). Hence, the title increases in frequency as Israel's military might dwindles into oblivion. It is almost never used when Israel had a standing army. One suspects, therefore, that the title served as a mechanism for eschatological hope rather than justification for military action.

Third, "Lord Sabaoth" is not merely an OT term. It is used in the NT several times. (1) Romans 9:29 recalls Isaiah 1:9 when Yahweh Almighty threatened Israel because of her unfaithfulness. Paul applies the same argument to the pompous Gentiles who believe that their position in Christ is a matter of boasting over Israel. The great Apostle warns against all such boasting because the Lord Sabaoth will reduce to a stump all those branches who are faithless to him. What, pray tell, was this faithlessness? The whole of Isaiah 1 describes it but verse 17 makes the point with special poignancy: "Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow." Being a "Son of God" is not about making war, but making Shalom for the oppressed and the widow. In that sense, Mother Teresa is more Sabaoth-like than William Wallace. Would to God that I could attain her Spiritual testosterone. (2) Similarly, the second NT use of "Lord Sabaoth" is James 5:4–5 when the Lord's half-brother decried the economic injustices of the wealthy who shorted wages of day-laborers: "The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter." (3) The third NT passage, doesn't use the term "Lord Sabaoth" but rather allows his "Angelic Warriors" to speak for the first time in the Bible. What is their message? What ominous words of warfare issue forth from the Heavenly Horde?: "Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests'" (Luke 2:1314). It is right, of course, for Luke to tap into the imagery of the Lord Sabaoth for the birth announcement since Isaiah had used such verbiage to predict his coming more than seven centuries earlier: "Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this" (Isaiah 9:7). Furthermore, the quotation of Jesus during the cleansing of the temple, referenced a "Lord Sabaoth" text from Jeremiah 7:3–11, "This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: 'Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place…. If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers forever and ever…. Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching!' declares the LORD." In summary, the NT use of the Lord Sabaoth imagery, far from presenting Yahweh as a war-lord, emphasizes the Divine demand that God's people prioritize social justice, compassion, and peace.

As a final word, Jesus will return eschatologically to mete out justice to the nations. God's violent retribution will be sure and swift. I have no qualms about God being presented as conquering king, even embodied in Jesus (Rev 19:1114). However, the real battle of Revelation is not in chapter 19 but chapter 12. There, the weapons of choice were a cross and a martyr's testimony (Rev 12:1011). Jesus' war-tactics were not power and violence but self-abnegation and sacrifice. His decisive victory in this galactic battle was, in fact, his death. Lord Sabaoth used his immense power to rescue those this world had crushed. His apocalyptic violence is justified precisely where ours has failedhe eradicates oppression, hunger, and abuse while our attempts have perpetuated these cycles. May it be that Lord Sabaoth brings an end to war as prophesied in Psalm 46:711, "The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come and see the works of the LORD, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire. Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Jesus on Twitter (by Josh Moore)

The following is a blog from my son, Josh Moore from August 13 I wanted to share:

"What if we could follow Jesus on Twitter?" my dad asked me last night. He and my mom surprised me for my birthday yesterday, and came to youth group last night to listen to me teach and lead my students. I was introducing them to the new name and theme of our youth group: theFollowing. The idea is that everyone follows someone, or something. Maybe it's a sports team, fashion trends, movies stars, or our favorite people on Twitter. We are connected with what they are doing, where they are going, their general activity in the world.

So what if we could follow Jesus on Twitter? Wouldn't that be pretty cool? I mean the tag line of Twitter is, "What are you doing?" Wouldn't that be amazing if we could have a direct line into the activity of Jesus? It might make it a little easier to answer that ever evasive question, "What does God want me to do with my life?"

He followed his initial question with a statement: "Because through the Holy Spirit we should be able to."

Christian, did you hear that? Through the Holy Spirit we should be able to keep up with what Jesus is doing in this world. (Maybe that's what Paul meant when he said, "pray without ceasing.") We should constantly be "checking in" through the day to see what he is up to and how we can get involved. We should constantly be signing in to see what Jesus has posted or said. Maybe it's through Scripture; maybe prayer; maybe through spiritual conversations with other believers. Jesus, after all, did promise better, more powerful things when the Holy Spirit came!

Maybe our world we be just a little different if Christians followed Jesus with the same intensity and regularity as teenagers (or adults for that matter) check their twitter or facebook status. Maybe if Christians got as excited about Jesus as their favorite sports team, more people in this world just might be introduced to the Savior we so desperately need. Maybe if Christians knew the words and travel plans of Jesus as well as their favorite band or movie star, then this world would be a better place.

Connect with Jesus today. Check in. And do it often. Do it with intensity and passion. Probe every situation for the activity of Christ. Examine Scriptures, the words of Jesus, with an ever increasing joy and fervor.

To end, I'd like to pass along a prayer I came across my sophomore year in college that has stuck with me to this day. I still have it taped up in my house. Maybe you can do the same:

O Holy Spirit, visit now this soul of mine, and tarry within until eventide. Inspire all my thoughts. Pervade all my imaginations. Suggest all my decisions. Lodge in my will's most inward citadel and order all my doings. Be with me in my silence and in my speech, in my haste and in my leisure, in company and in solitude, in the freshness of the morning and in the weariness of the evening; and give me grace at all times to rejoice in thy mysterious companionship.

Christian Imprecatory Prayer

After the first beating the Apostles took in the name of Jesus, they gathered the church together to pray about it. This corporate prayer opened with these ominous words: "Lord consider their threats." The word "Lord" is a heavy word in Greek, despota, from which we get the English word "despot." It highlights the frightening power of Yahweh to wreak vengeance on his enemies. This prayer is thus a page out of Hezekiah's playbook when he laid Sennacherib's letter before the Lord in the Temple and said, "Give ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God" (Isa 37:17/2 Kgs 19:16). They were not merely asking God to hear. They were asking him to attend to the problem. This specific kind of prayer is called "imprecatory." It is when you ask God to put the hurt on your enemy so justice will be served and the righteous vindicated. The verbiage is often brutal (e.g., Psa 58:6–11, 59:5, 13; 109:6–15; 137:8–9; 139:19–22).

This prayer, however, ends with a most surprising twist. Instead of asking God to break teeth, smash enemies, or drop firebombs from heaven, the believers ask God to heal. This contrast is not merely seen in Biblical prayers of imprecation but also in the prayers Josephus records: Ant 1.18.6 §272–73 "make him a terror to his foes"; 4.3.2 §40–50, "make manifest thy judgment in no uncertain manner"; 20.4.2 §89–90, "come to my aid to defend me from my enemies…it is thy power they have had the audacity to challenge." That, in fact, was the very activity that brought them this trouble in the first place but it is the very thing that will bring salvation to their countrymen. So they request the boldness to proclaim the gospel in the face of impending persecution. Their imprecation is not against their enemies but in essence against themselves for the benefit of their enemies. There could hardly be a more striking fulfillment of Jesus' unprecedented injunction, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matt 5:44).

Monday, June 22, 2009

An open letter to the American Church

I write to you with humility due to a keen awareness of how fickle and fallible my past opinions have been. Yet now that I've exceeded the half-way mark of my life expectancy, I can speak with limited experience gleaned through decades of feeble attempts to chase after Jesus. I write to you with hopeful expectation that this generation of 20 somethings is not the church of the future, but the guiding light of today. I write with sadness, shame, assurance and exaltation at the current state of the Bride of Jesus, the single source of salvation in this world.

To you I would say the church is God's Kingdom. The pale rituals of church services, the vituperative debates of theologians, and the scandalous failures of leaders mask the divine glory at our fingertips. Nevertheless, it is still there for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. Those submitted to the patronage of Jesus will understand the quest of the master for global domination, not through power and violence but through weakness and an unmitigated commitment to love and truth. Through the cross of Jesus we not only experience the cleansing of our sin, but the eradication of the "self" which so drives us to degradation, violence, and self-loathing. Through the cross we see the brokenness of the human condition without losing sight of the imago dei embedded in each of His children. I call you to remember that you are not a member of a church but a citizen in a kingdom, the very child of divine royalty. Remember that while your church owns property, the kingdom claims dominion. While the church multiplies rules, the kingdom enforces laws. Yes, we are political in the deepest sense of the word—we create a recognizable community with our own set of laws, citizens, and social structures. Perhaps our ineffectiveness as a church is because we have denied being political all the while playing by the political rules of a secular society.

To you I would say claim your national spiritual heritage. A brief glance at church history will convince you that the Holy Spirit is always on the make but never equilaterally. In other words, he does different things with different people in different places at different times. Our nation has some unique blessings that can only be explained through the gift of the sovereign God. Paramount, perhaps, is our economic abundance, unparalleled in the history of humanity. Subconsciously we feel we have somehow earned this. What a ridiculous notion! This has led us to believe that our wealth is reward for us to enjoy. Rather, our wealth is a responsibility and like all other spiritual gifts it is to be expended for the benefit of the body. If the Christians of our nation take seriously this overabundant gift and stop our godless accumulation we could put a real dent in global poverty and make Jesus famous in the far-flung places of our world. The Jesus I read about in the gospels came to preach good news to the poor. So too today: if the Gospel is not good news to the poor it is not the good news of Jesus Christ.

To you I would say learn of the Holy Spirit. From Abraham to Jesus, it was the age of the Father. From Jesus to the 20th century, it seemed to be the age of the son (at least the historical councils from Chalcedon on give him a lion's share of the attention). Now in the 21st century, it appears to be the age of the Spirit. He is speaking loudly and in more diverse ways than ever. He is not the personal possession of the clergy. He is breaking out everywhere in creative ministries and works of power through ordinary people. If you are not hearing him speak to you today it is not because he is silent (for he never is), it is because you are not listening. It may be that you have too much noise in your life to hear anyone whisper or it may be that you have never trained your spiritual ear to hear his voice. Either way, hearing the Holy Spirit is not merely the birthright of every believer, it is one of the most crucial aspects of discipleship. You will never implement the potential of your created purpose until you learn to be led by the Spirit of God.

Finally, I would suggest that the church must eradicate biblical illiteracy. Our own ignorance is killing us. When Paul described the spiritual armament of the Christian, the only offensive weapon he depicted was the sword of the word of God. This was what Jesus used himself in the onslaught of the Evil one in the desert. If you do not know the Scriptures, you are severely limiting the ability of the Holy Spirit to teach you, train you, prompt you, or convict you. The Bible is not optional for the Christian; it is the heart of God inscribed on parchment where we can get at it. I know of no Christian leader I have any respect for that does not have an admirable grasp of the counsel of God in the Bible. You twenty-somethings all have opinions about how the church should be run and what we who have gone before you have done so terribly wrong. So now back up your smack with wisdom from God's word. Until you have something to say that comes from the mouth of God, perhaps you should keep yours shut. I say this without an ounce of anger or bitterness; rather I say it with sadness. I desperately want to hear what you have to say—I need what you have to say—but I haven't the time, energy, or patience for another uninformed outburst that lacks God's authority.

Well, thank you for your patience at these ramblings that bordered on ranting. I can tell you that if I had one last letter to write with the modicum of wisdom forged through decades, this would be it.

Luke’s List of Nations, Acts 2:9-13

Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!" Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, "What does this mean?" Some, however, made fun of them and said, "They have had too much wine.'" (9–13)

This list is fascinating. Technically, it is not a list of languages but political regions. If you play "dot to dot" with them on a map of the Middle East, you will draw a meandering line that generally flows from North to South and then East to West. It begins with the Parthians in the Far East, and three kingdoms under their control—Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia. In the first century b.c. Parthia captured the Roman military standards, declaring itself Rome's rival in the East. There was hardly another nation that posed more difficulties for Roman domination. Placing Parthia first in this lists, therefore, established a shrill tone for the text. Our list ends with Rome, preceded by nine regions under their control. It would be a neat chiasm were it not for this anomaly: Why does Luke place Judea between Mesopotamia and Cappadocia and not mention Syria, the actual political center of the region?

One would expect a first-century list of this region to include Syria and perhaps even skip Judea since it was under Syrian provenance (Josephus, Wars 2.12.1 §226; Philo, Flacc 29). This state of affairs, of course, galled the Jews. According to the them, the greater part of Syria was promised to them by God: "On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, 'To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates,'" (Gen 15:18; cf. Exod 23:31; Deut 11:24; Josh 1:4). Much of it had been, in fact, controlled under David and Solomon. Hence, it is not surprising that some Messianic expectations predicted the control of Syria according to the ancient promise of God: "In that day people will come to you from Assyria and the cities of Egypt, even from Egypt to the Euphrates and from sea to sea and from mountain to mountain" (Micah 7:12; cf. Zech 9:10; Sir 44:21). Moreover, the Messiah would bring back the dispersed tribes into the original boundaries of the Promised Land:

In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the sea. He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth. (Isa 11:11–12)

The return of the exiles was the single most important Messianic function in the OT (Isa 14:2; 43:57; 49:818; Jer 30:3; 31:825; Exe 11:1621; 28:2426; 37:114; Hosea 1:1011), intertestamental literature (Tobit 13:15; 2 Esd 13:39–47; 1 En. 90:33; Bar 4:36–37; 5:5–9; Philo, Praem. 28.164;), and rabbinic literature (b. Ber 12b; b. Pesa 88a; b. Sanh 110b; Esth. Rab 1:8). Luke's claim here that all these diaspora Jews were dwelling (katoikeō, see ftn 11) in Jerusalem would hardly go unnoticed. The Messianic age had dawned through the coming of the Spirit and the promises of God were reaching their fulfillment. Tertullian (c. 200 a.d.) took it this way:

For upon whom else have the universal nations believed, but upon the Christ who is already come? For whom have the nations believed—Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and they who inhabit Mesopotamia, Armedain, Phrygia, Cappadocia, and they who dwell in Putus and Asia and Pamphylia, tarriers in Egypt, and the inhabitants of the regions of Africa which is beyond Cyrene, Romans and proselytes, an, in Jerusalem, Jews, and all other nations. (Adv. Jud. 7 [ANF])

Taking this list as a Messianic claim would explain three anomalies of this passages: (v. 1) "When the day of Pentecost came" (sumpleroō, lit. 'was fulfilled') indicates a fullness of time, not merely a point on the calendar. (v. 5) These pilgrims are described as "residing" in Jerusalem as an allusion to the return from diaspora. And (v. 9) Judea is listed rather than Syria as one would expect during the reign of the Messiah over Israel. The odd element that would strike Luke's readers is that rather than undoing the diaspora to spread the Kingdom of God, the Messiah used the diaspora as the very element which effected the spread of God's Kingdom. It is not the collection of saints in a geo-political body that expands the Kingdom. It is the subversive leavening influence of believers, seeded in the kingdoms of this world that undermines the dominating powers of Rome and spreads the fame of Yahweh. This list from Luke is anti-Roman political propaganda which advocates kenotic politics at its finest.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Pentecost is not the birthday of the church

It is a common misconception that the church began in Acts 2 when the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. Peter preached the first gospel message and 3,000 responded in faith and were baptized. But if you asked them what they were doing, they would not think they were starting something new. Rather, they believed they were fulfilling their destiny as the people of God by accepting their own Messiah in fidelity to the covenant of Abraham. They moved forward by going back to their ordained roots. They were not the church as opposed to Israel, but the church as the manifestation of God's plan for Israel. Pentecost neither started the church nor ended the nation. Rather, it continued the tradition, writing a new chapter in the eschatological history of God. In other words, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit did not create something new but renewed something old. As a result of this renewed Israel, the message, in the power of the Spirit, went to fourteen nations from across the Roman world. More nations could be mentioned, of course. These were merely representatives. In other words, Acts 2:9–11 is not a roll call but brush strokes to paint a portrait of an Israel that reached out to all tongues and nations and tribes. This too was very old, going back to the foundational promise Yahweh made to Abraham that he would be a blessing to all the nations of the world (Gen 12:3). Doing something new always means looking in the rearview mirror to be reminded of what the Holy Spirit has already been up to.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The interplay of baptism, the Holy Spirit, and salvation

Let's start with the crucial issue: We are saved when we are "sealed" with the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13 says, "And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit" (Cf. 2 Cor 1:22; Eph 4:30). Notice that the Spirit is granted when we believe: "By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive" (John 7:39); "Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?" (Gal 3:2; cf. v. 5; Acts 19:2); "God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth" (2 Thess 2:13). Few would dispute this clear scriptural teaching.

So what about baptism? The Bible links belief with baptism (Mark 16:16; Acts 8:12–13; 18:8; 19:4; Col 2:12). Again, this "belief" is not a theological stance on a point of Christian doctrine; it is obedience to the will of God. Baptism is thus a visible vehicle of faith. For example, in Acts 8:12 "When they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women." The same is said of Simon Magus (Acts 8:13), Crispus (Acts 18:9), and these twelve disciples (Acts 19:4–5). Paul puts it this way: "Having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead" (Col 2:12). The notion that acts of faith (such as baptism) have no place in our conversion, that somehow belief is intellectual assent rather than submissive obedience, is anti-biblical and should be thoroughly rejected. As an act of faith, it was natural for the Apostles to connect baptism to conversion. Peter said, "This water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 3:21). Paul wrote, "We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life (Rom 6:4). John cites Jesus, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit" (John 3:5, see also Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Gal 3:27; Col 2:11–12). Those with a low view of immersion should reconsider their position based on the high position it repeatedly takes in Scripture. This is not our work for God but indeed his work in us through the power of the Holy Spirit (Gal 3:27; Eph 4:5). Yes, the Holy Spirit is connected to baptism!

Obviously, the Holy Spirit is involved with the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Mt 3:11; Acts 1:5; 2:1-4; 10:44-46; 11:16). But the Spirit is also clearly connected with water baptism (Eph 4:5; 1 Cor. 12:13; Titus 3:5; John 3:5). This is natural enough since both the OT (Psa 46:4-5; Isa 32:15; 44:3; 55:1; 58:11; Eze 39:29; Joel 2:28) and NT (John 3:5-6; 7:38–39) describe the Holy Spirit in terms of working through or like water. Even more specifically, several "New Birth" texts mention both the water and Spirit as effective forces in the conversion process (John 3:3-7; 1 Cor 6:11; Titus 3:3-7). But is this "water" merely a metaphor, or does it signify immersion? There is no question that the Holy Spirit is connected to immersion in Acts 2:38-39; 19:1-6 and 1 Cor 12:13. It seems fair, therefore, to interpret the other "water" passages as baptism. The bottom line is that the Holy Spirit is clearly connected with water baptism in the process of conversion.

So, belief, baptism and the Holy Spirit are all central to Christian conversion. The Holy Spirit, the true mark of a Christian (Rom 8:9; 2 Cor 1:22; Eph 1:13) is promised both through belief (John 7:38-39) and immersion (Acts 2:38-39). Baptism is not a work by which we earn the presence of the Holy Spirit. Rather it is an expression of our faith which causes us to open our lives to the Spirit's indwelling.

But what if a person is not immersed? Oddly, the NT never considers that options. Immersion was a normative conversion experience of early Christians. So we are asking a question the Bible is not designed to answer. That will require a bit of speculation. Be that as it may, let me offer my own firm conviction that conversion is about a relationship with the Father brokered by the Holy Spirit. It is not about rules or works, merit or legalism. The bottom line is that God wants a relationship with us and will do what it takes to make that happen. Perhaps a metaphor will help. Can a baby enter this world without passing through its mother's birth canal? Sure, we call it Caesarian Section. While it is not optimal, it is definitely possible. Medical doctors mastered this technique because of their commitment to life. Is God less interested in bringing life into the kingdom? It seems to me that the Holy Spirit is expert in the unexpected and abnormal. After all, most of our lives don't follow any kind of normal, predictable tract. So for those billions of believers who have had faith in the Lord Jesus, and confessed him as Lord, the Holy Spirit has sealed them. The plan was to do this commensurate with immersion, but this "norm" hardly restricts the Holy Spirit's work outside to fulfill the Father's passion to bring us under his loving rule and adopt us into his family.

Why is this long entry on the John 3:30 blog? There are two justifications. First, I get this question a lot so it probably deserves a thorough answer. On the one hand, some have difficulty with baptism playing any role in our salvation and I find that to be a mistake. On the other hand, some want to make baptism an entry requirement (kind of a secret handshake before admittance into the lodge), to which I am equally opposed. It seems to me that both positions have a mechanical view of salvation rather than a relational view. Salvation is neither a "zap" from God through our faith, nor is it a meritorious reward for jumping through the right hoops. Salvation is a relationship of submission to Jesus. If he increases and we decrease there is no problem in following him in Christian baptism where we die to self and live for him. Nor is there a problem admitting our own need for the Holy Spirit to do something extraordinary, unexpected, and beyond our abilities to predict, adjudicate, or control. To those on both sides of this issue I would humbly confess my own absolute failure at controlling my own life, let alone God's rescue of my soul.

Monday, October 27, 2008

To All You Wounded Warriors

At a recent mens retreat I had the privilege of being sharpened by a number of fellas who had true brokenness in their lives: Unfaithful wives, sexual addictions, violence in the home, anger management issues, failing parents, failed ministries. One old friend emailed me just to say thanks for the time we got to share together after years of lost contact. My final sentence to him was this: "From one wounded warrior to another: stand in the grace we have come to cling to, no longer out of theological commitment, but raw necessity." Look, I'm not OK and neither are you. We serve our king, not because we have earned the right, not because we have lived right, not because it is right, but because we have expended all our other resources and run out of options. As Peter said, "To whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life." Lord, all we can offer you is broken lives and wounded hearts, inflamed with the passion of one indiscriminately loved.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Why Republicans Hate Wal-Mart

Ok, so it's not Republicans who hate Wal-Mart, it is Evangelical Republicans but since these are synonymous terms I've simply conflated them. [Now that Bible-believing Democrats are irritated that I've excluded them from the 'camp' and Republicans are irritated that I've potentially opened the door to Democrats through a back-handed cynical comment we can all proceed a bit miffed yet paradoxically fully engaged.] Republicans hate Wal-Mart because of its 'liberal' stance of being pro-gay, as if the labor laws (or general human decency) could allow anything else [the same goes for the godless execs at Disney, McDonalds, Starbucks and a host of other worldly, pagan organizations]. In fact, any organization that supports Gay-rights, abortion, evolution, Obama, or anything that smacks of removing prayer, Bibles, Palin, or the American flag from public schools deserves not only our ire, but a good smack-down through a boycott by the 'moral majority' on the right. In fact, these petitions, boycotts, and public excoriation float freely through our churches right alongside other ethical mandates of moral living, corporate worship, global evangelism, and loving our enemies (no wait; scratch that last one…it interferes with our agenda).

Why is it that a Republican platform has been conflated with Christian principles? Well, partially because they overlap substantially. But most of the overlap deals with personal morality: Sexual ethics, faith in the creator God, love of the unborn. Yet much of the corporate Christian morality has been co-opted by the 'left'—Feeding the hungry, public health care, social justice of minorities. We need to take more serious stock of our stances. In Jesus' inaugural speech in Nazareth (Luke 4) he claimed God's anointing on his ministry to preach good news to the poor. Hence, one could conclude that any Christian message that is not good news to the poor is not the good news of Jesus Christ. If you want to hate Wal-Mart, hate them for this: they continue to seduce our society, including Evangelicals of all stripes, into a rampant materialism that is so grossly at odds with compassion, generosity, and global welfare, that it can only be contrary the core message of Jesus Christ. Wal-Mart, Disney, Starbucks, McDonalds, etc. promote a consumerism, individualism, gluttonous self-absorption that has destroyed the faith for far more people than homosexuality, abortion, evolution, communism, Victoria Secrets (just seeing if you're still paying attention) ever dreamed of. If you must be a hater, at least hate for the right reasons.

Truth be told, Democrats hate Wal-Mart too, but for different reasons; mostly their parasitical and imperialistic economic exploitation. So apparently both Democrats AND Republicans hate Wal-Mart, which explains why, as each lives so consistently with their own agenda, we have seen a decimating decline in Wal-Mart stock.

P.S. At least the Green Party is pleased with go-green bags.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Pacifism is NOT Passivism

Pacifism is not passivism—it is not sitting idly by while evil gains ground in this world. Pacifism is not being nice—it is an all out assault on systemic oppression and ill-conceived notions human responsibility to police other states and adjudicate others interests (especially when it is to our own economic advantage). Pacifism is not a spineless resignation—it is a deliberate methodology which calls attention to the injustices of this world. Pacifism is not quiet or nice—it is deliberately aggressive ideologically while refusing any right to retaliation; it deliberately provokes response (often violent) to force the "enemy" to put all his cards on the table for the watching world to witness. Pacifism is not an absence of anger—it is furious at the injustice of this world. If you are guilty of accusing pacifists of being angry, as if this is a contradiction in terms, then I personally apologize for not articulating our position more clearly. If you expected us to renounce imprecatory prayer, assertive articulation, deliberate instigation, stubborn implacability, and belligerent conviction, we have failed to communicate clearly enough what an actual pacifist is. For this we offer our sincere apology. Be deceived no longer.

So what is pacifism? It is the uncompromising realization that we as humans are incapable of bringing about justice through violent retaliation. Hence, we relinquish all such acts to God in his sovereign and eschatological plan of judgment, justice, and mercy. Indeed, God have mercy on us.