Exploring the interplay between ortho-doxy (right belief) and ortho-praxy (right action)...

...and encouraging a life where these intertwined thoughts and deeds simply happen... by default.

27 November 2006

fighting over the god of abraham? (11-28-06)

U2 rocked Mt. Albert Stadium this past Friday.

In addition to providing exhilarating entertainment and much more, Bono - to the surprise of none - beat his drum of anti-poverty and world peace. Noble indeed. At one point, Bono donned a white bandana with the word 'Coexist' in black letters. The Crescent moon of Islam, the Jewish Star of David, and the Christian Cross in place of the 'C', 'X' and 'T'.

The idea is obvious and wonderful: These three world religions ought to be able to exist together without murdering each other. From the horrific Crusades involving all three, to the Nazi extermination of Jews (and others) in the name of Christ, to the more recent acts of terrorism by Muslim fundamentalists, the world has seen more than enough violence in the name of religion. To advocate peace is undeniably a good and desperately needed cause.

During this part of the concert, Bono pointed out that Jews, Christians and Muslims all claim Abraham as a father-figure and are happy to call themselves 'Sons of Abraham'. One phrase he used to drive this home was "Jesus. Jew. Mohammed. It's true."

The reaction from some of the Christian community has been quite interesting. Some see Bono as equating the three faiths, and others defend him as merely trying to advocate peace and using their common ground with Abraham to do so. At any rate, the following question has resurfaced in many conversations: Do Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

I'd like to answer the question with another: Do Christians, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses worship the same Jesus? Whether we like it or not, the answer to these questions is both Yes and No.

On one hand, we can point to the basic, general things the faiths have in common. Jews, Christians and Muslims all share the same principles of monotheism (all 3 believe in One God), election (all 3 believe that God chooses a people to be His own) and eschatology (all 3 believe in a future hope of eternal life with God).

On the other hand, we can point to the many more ways in which they are different. The number of different beliefs is too many to list here, so I'll just focus on the one that is not only the biggest, but the most important - Jesus.

Jews believe Jesus was a good prophet and teacher, but far from Messiah, and anything but Lord of the Universe. Muslims believe that Jesus was 'a messiah' that will return to earth again, but don't see him as 'the Messiah' and certainly not as God incarnate.

The Christian faith centers on Jesus. He is the One Lord; of the One people of God; who have the One glorious hope of resurrection.

One of the great things about serving Jesus is that he doesn't ever ask us to kill in the name of religion. Though there are differences between Judaism, Islam and Christianity which will always separate us spiritually, we should have no problem coexisting with them physically.

I'll close by quoting the end of a discussion Jesus had with the Pharisees of his time.

"Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad." Then the Jews said to Him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?" Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM." - John 8:56-58


20 November 2006

jesus means this much (11-21-06)

What does Jesus 'mean' to you?

Most responses would not be too likely to stray too far from the very familiar bible verse, John 3:16. We don't often recognise Jesus as being much more than someone who died for 'me.' To be absolutely certain, Jesus most assuredly did die for 'me', but I think it it vital that we push through this individualism and realise that He is also so much more than that! Not only is He Lord of my heart, He is also Lord of the entire universe.

The Gospel-writers wanted to direct their audience to the true Jesus. The Jesus that the Holy Spirit had been (and still was) opening and renewing their minds to see more clearly. Not just a one-sided, prop-up Jesus, to give the intellectual nod to, and/or give a nice, warm and fuzzy hug. Instead they wanted them to see a full-fledged, exasperating Jesus, to worship, adore and serve - indeed, to die for.

This, I think, is why the Gospel-writers didn't simply provide us with a handful of happy texts telling us only that God loves us (or a list of texts about how to discover the secret Jesus, as in the later-written Gnostic text, the Gospel of Thomas). Instead, they wrote Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Instead of giving a list of things to believe about Jesus, or whatever, they wrote stories - indeed, true stories. These stories - in very different, yet complimentary ways - have much more to say about Jesus than simply that he died for 'me.'

Instead, the Gospel-writers drew upon the rich story of their people (Israel), and presented Jesus as the centre, the theme, the end, the solution, the climax - even the very point! - of this story. In other words, for the Gospel-writers, all who Jesus was/is and all that He accomplished had eclipsed and surpassed the meaning of the entire story of Israel!

For example, everything that the Temple had ever meant or stood for, was trumped by Jesus. The author of Matthew records Jesus declaring that He was 'greater than the temple.' (12:6) John's Gospel tells it more explicitly, "Jesus... said to them, 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up...' ...but He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this..." (2:19-22)

The New Testament way of speaking about this 'trumping of meaning' is called 'fulfilling.' This is one area in which I think we may need to re-evaluate our thinking. I think the writers of the New Testament saw Jesus as 'ful-filling' the meaning of not just a few 'proof' verses here and there, but the Old Testament as a whole! I think He means that much!

Take Isaiah's Suffering Servant imagery in chapter 53, for example. We often reduce the entire passage down to a few verses, but the image of the Suffering Servant is not just in a few verses in this chapter. It is a broader, much larger image (beginning in ch. 42), thought by many to represent the entire nation of Israel itself, or a specific leader at the time. With our limited perspective, we may not know what each and every verse meant at the time, but I suspect the writer knew. I've heard people say that Jesus must have been un-attractive based on the verse that says, 'there is no beauty that we should desire Him'. I don't think that's the point. I think the point is this: The Gospel writers saw Jesus as 'trumping' the meaning of the Suffering Servant. Every single scrap of meaning that the Servant imagery had, is even more fully realised in Jesus. He is the personification of Suffering, and the personification of Service. Indeed, the word became flesh!

What I'm suggesting is that Jesus doesn't merely 'fulfill' a verse here and there, but rather He embodies the entire story of Israel. Every holy place (temple, Jerusalem, etc.), every role (prophet, priest, king), every event (passover, sabbath, etc.) and every other symbol (covenant, manna, law) finds its substance in Him! He is the Tabernacle, the Sacrfice, the High Priest, the Passover, the Sabbath, the Law, the Covenant, the King, the Prophet, the Warrior, the Slave, the Lamb, the Messiah, the True Israelite, the Son of Man, and so on... (The writer of Hebrews moves from symbol to symbol in similar fashion, yet in meticulous detail.)

May we see Jesus for all that He is. May we see Him as so much more (and no less!) than our personal, individual Jesus. May we see Him as some-One to live and die for.


17 November 2006

eating from the wrong tree (11-17-06)

Though many Christians would like to try - and sometimes do try, I don't think we will ever be able to solve all the world's morality problems. I'm thinking we might as well get used to it.

But in spite of this, we just love to try and 'battle' against the world's morality. Now, I'm not advocating moral relativism - where right and wrong are determined by what you had for breakfast. I most certainly believe in true good and true evil. What I am suggesting, however, is that rather than it being our job to sort this out, we are to trust God to do so. When we try to sort out the good/evil thing, we are trying to so something that only God can do.

This mistake is actually at the heart of the Garden of Eden story. Adam and Eve were given absolute freedom in the garden to eat from any tree they liked, and were forbidden to eat from just one tree. Genesis 2:16-17, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die." Good and evil were held secure by God - no assistance or meddling needed.

Well, tending the garden and eating from any of the other trees just wasn't enough. They apparently wanted to help God with good and evil as well. The key verse is Genesis 3:6, "So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and was a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of it's fruit and ate." The results of this are in Gen. 3:22, "...the Lord God said, 'Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil...' "

All talk of apples and snakes aside, let's see what the story is getting at - she ate from the tree that she thought would make her wise! All of the other trees in the garden were 'good for food' and 'pleasing to the eye' (Gen. 2:9), but this tree had more. This isn't simply about eating an apple when you were meant to stick to oranges and figs! Neither is it talking about Eve simply wanting more wisdom to make better life choices. This is much more serious. This is the inversion of the creator/creation relationship! This is about Adam and Eve trying to take God's place!

I wonder if we eat from the same 'tree' today. Do we try to tackle morality (good/evil) in our own hands? Who are we to do that!? Please don't hear me saying that morality doesn't matter. It matters so much that it takes God to sort it out! Yes, the 'garden' needs tending (Gen. 2:15), but let's not fool ourselves into thinking that God needs our help sorting out good/evil. The more we focus on sorting out the world's morality problems, the more we show we don't trust God to do it.

May we eat freely from all of the life God has given us.