Desiring to Know the Real Reason

English: Saint paul arrested

English: Saint paul arrested (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love this simple statement Luke includes when he recounts the trial of Paul in Acts 22.  Paul had been preaching the gospel, sharing his story of encountering Jesus, and it caused a stir.  People were upset.  They couldn’t handle what he was talking about.  And their reaction was to hand Paul over to the authorities.

 

The Romans did what they were trained to do – get the truth out of Paul any way that they could.  Their interrogation methods included flogging.  Nothing like a few lashings to get to the truth.  But before they made it that far down the particular path, Paul explains that what they are about to do us unlawful, for although Paul is a Jew, he was also a Roman citizen by birth, and thus he had some legal protection from being bound and interrogated without cause.
What strikes me about this story though is not Paul’s social and political savvy, or even his practice of what some have labeled “riot evangelism.” (Not arguing against this either.  The demonstration and proclamation of the Gospel should cause a stir!).
No, what I find fascinating is that the Roman tribune came to back to Paul, “desiring to know the real reason why he was being accused by the Jews.” (v. 30).
Do our lives and our words have that kind of effect?
 
Not just the effect of causing a stir or a controversy.
Not just the kind that instigates a riot.
Not just the kind that shakes the comfortable and complacent out of their apathy.

But the kind that draws others closer, “desiring to know the real reason.”  

 
The real reason for the hope that we profess.
The real reason for our experience of God.
The real reason why some would struggle to the point of wanting to condemn, ostracize and even punish  us for what we believe, what we proclaim and what we demonstrate with out lives.
That’s the kind of impact I want to have.  To see men and women and children be so moved with desire to want to know the real reason why I believe the gospel.  This is why I’m excited to see more interest being taken up in the realm of “gospel neighboring” and if you haven’t yet stumbled upon Andy Stager’s  blog and podcast on this subject, you really should go check it out here.
It’s when we live with such radical hospitality, in close proximity to others in our communities, that the distinctiveness of our lives shaped by the Gospel will begin to have the effect of disrupting the perceptions and preconceived notions of Christianity and Christians themselves, and that space for desiring to know the real reason is created – in relationship.
Can you imagine what would happen if our words and lives had this as their aim and intention?
Can you see your family members, neighbors, and coworkers being so drawn to ask you that kind of question – “Tell me the real reason why……
….so-and-so seems out to get you?
….you’re not holding that grudge against that guy who threw you under the bus?
….you’re not falling apart when your husband lost his job?
….you’re neither a fundamentalist, prude, nor are you a anything-goes kind of person?
….you love your kids and yet your world doesn’t simply orbit around them and their schedules?
….you’re life has changed so dramatically?
….you go to that church?
….you are a Christian?
Can you imagine the folks in your particular sphere of influence asking you these kinds of questions? That’s the kind of person I want to be, and the kind of people God wants us to be as we seek to live a distinctively Christian life in the world He has placed us.
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Are there any Non-Biblical witnesses to the events claiming to be historical found within the Bible? Recommended Resources

The Gutenberg Bible displayed by the United St...

The Gutenberg Bible displayed by the United States Library of Congress, demonstrating printed pages as a storage medium. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have the joy and honor of leading a weekly bible study with a great group of men.  Often there are other questions that don’t quite fit into the scope of our topic/passage for the day.  I received such a question today:

“Are there any other non-Biblical sources that help support the historical claims found in the Bible?”

Below is my response with several links to websites and books dealing with this question! Enjoy!

======

Hey guys,

Here are some resources I either use, or found and might use in the future, dealing with your question: “Are there any other non-Biblical sources that help support the historical claims found in the Bible?”
Click on the links and check them out for yourself.  And tell me what you think of these if you end up getting your hands on them and start reading through them!
Always a pleasure guys!
Chris Gensheer

Website/blog: 
http://michaeljkruger.com/ – this guys is a NT Textual Critical Scholar and I value his perspective on all questions pertaining to “canon” (what books should be considered Scripture) and how it was formed (compiled, agreed upon) and various historical resurfacing of apologetic questions.  Good go-to site for specific questions.
http://str.typepad.com/weblog/2011/02/extra-canonical-sources.html – overall, a great apologetic website.  This link in particular will take you to a good answer to your question to me earlier today!
Books:
Backgrounds of Early Christianity by Everett Ferguson – this is my #1 go-to source for general, broad-stroke background information about things referenced in the Bible.  Great as an encyclopedia for helping to reconstruct what the original audience of the books in the Bible/NT might have thought or realized.
The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel – I read this early on in my Christian walk.  Great resource for apologetics in general, but more along the lines of the historical validity of Christ, not just the philosophical justification for belief. Great book.
Understanding Scripture ed. by Wayne Grudem, C. John Collins, and Thomas Schreiner.  I used this book in preparation for my Ordination exams and found it very useful and helpful.  It is an edited volume of multiple contributors, tackling various aspects of the Canon/Bible.  Great to actually read through, while also a good reference work.
Can I Trust the Bible? by Darell Bock – I used this in preparation for my Ordination exams and found it (and the R.C. Sproul book below) very helpful.  Disseminates a lot of information in compact form.  I liked it.
Canon Revistited by Michael Kruger – a more recent, very popular book.  He has a way of explaining really complex things simply on his blog, and while I haven’t read this particular work, I would expect that same trend to continue here.
The Evidence for Jesus by R.T. France – a book I have not read, but saw the Stand to Reason blog reference it as a good source.  Also, it seems to deal with your principle question of, “Are there any other non-Biblical sources that help support the historical claims found in the Bible?”  May be worth checking out.
Jesus Outside the New Testament by Robert E. Van Voorst – another book I have not read, but saw the Stand to Reason blog reference it as a good source.  Also, it seems to deal with your principle question of, “Are there any other non-Biblical sources that help support the historical claims found in the Bible?”  May be worth checking out.

Ground of Belief in Supernatural is Understanding Not Dismissing the Natural

Annunciation of Birth of Christ

Annunciation of Birth of Christ

Some excellent thoughts from C.S. Lewis on the place of faith, miracles and nature, related to Joseph and the Virgin Birth of Christ.  Love this highlight:

“When St. Joseph finally accepted the view that his fiancée’s pregnancy was due not to unchastity but to a miracle, he accepted the miracle as something contrary to the known order of nature… as evidence of supernatural power… Nothing can seem extraordinary until you have discovered what is ordinary. Belief in miracles, far from depending on an ignorance of the laws of nature, is only possible in so far as those laws are known…” – C.S. Lewis, Miracles

Full Article: Joseph Believed in the Miracle of the Virgin Birth – Reflections December 2012
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Piss Christ, Revisited

Piss Christ

Piss Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My friend Daniel Siedell has written another excellent article over at Patheos discussing the intersection of faith, grace and life through art (see below). It is well worth your time to read what might be the best perspective I’ve heard on Serrano’s Piss Christ.  And his thoughts on what it means to be a Cultural Theologian are even better.

I remember my first exposure into both topics – Piss Christ and being a Cultural Theologian – came from my dad.  He is an artist, and I have benefited greatly from growing up in a home where art was celebrated and questions were asked that forced us to think, not just regurgitate or rearrange preconceived prejudices.  When I fist came to know Christ, I remember one such question my dad asked: “What would you do if you saw a picture of Jesus in a toilet [or jar or urine] as a work of art?”

My answer then was somewhat astute for someone my age and maturity in Christ.  I answered, “Well, Jesus was crucified in a trash heap which was the equivalent of a toilet back in his day.  Whether the artist meant it or not, I think it’s an excellent picture of the beauty and grace of God in the midst of the crap of life.”

My response has not changed to this day, and thanks to Daniel, I know now that I was on to something back then.

Enjoy!

Piss Christ, Revisited.

Addendum: To learn more about how to see and perceive art with eyes of faith, and not through culture-war jargon, I highly recommend Daniel Siedell’s book God in the Gallery (Kindle edition here)  Also, for something philosophically similar but addressing cinema and movies, I would encourage Brian Godawa’s Hollywood Worldviews (Kindle edition here).

Shooting at the Family Research Council: Hate from the left | Washington Times Communities

It is interesting to note what items get media play and attention, and what do not. If the “sides” had been reversed, but the story ended up the same (heroic security guard, taking a bullet and saving lives), would we have seen/heard about this more in the news?

Food for thought.

Shooting at the Family Research Council: Hate from the left | Washington Times Communities.

iPhone Orphans

I confess that I can struggle with this.  I wonder though how this also applies to Pastors and “books”.  I am all for redeeming the time and making the most of every opportunity, but digital devices and/or reading material of any kind, even if it’s sermon prep, can achieve this same catastrophic end.

iPhone Orphans.

Food for Thought: Innocence, Victimization and Otherness in Our Civil Discourse

The past few weeks have seen a myriad of eruptions among Christians of all stripes in our country.  I have been encouraged by some of the discourse, but disheartened by most (here is an example of an excellent article).  The following quote by Miroslav Volf has helped me wrap my head and my heart around the problems inherent in these kinds of debates – we try to delineate too neatly between the “right” and the “wrong” over these issues, blaming the other for all that is wrong, and exempting ourselves in the process.  Just once, I would like to see the flavor of our rhetoric match the flavor of God’s love, mercy and grace each of us have received in Jesus.

“Solidarity in sin underscores that no salvation can be expected from an approach that rests fundamentally on the moral assignment of blame and innocence.  The question cannot be how to locate ‘innocence’ ether on the intellectual or social map and work our way toward it.  Rather, the question is how to live with integrity and bring healing to a world of inescapable non innocence that often parades as its opposite.  The answer: in the name of the only truly innocent victim and what he stood for, the crucified Messiah of God, we should damask as inescapably sinful the world constructed around exclusive moral polarities – here, on our side, ‘the just’, ‘the pure,’ ‘the innocent,’ ‘the true,’ ‘the good,’ and there, on the other side, ‘the unjust,’ ‘the corrupt,’ ‘the guilty,’ ‘the liars,’ ‘the evil’ – and then seek to transform the world in which justice and injustice, goodness and evil, innocence and guilt, purity and corruption, truth and deception crisscross and intersect, guided by the recognition that the economy of undeserved grace has primacy over the economy of moral deserts. Under the conditions of pervasive non innocence, the work of reconciliation should proceed under the assumption that, though the behavior of a person may be judged as deplorable, even demonic, no one should ever be excluded form the will to embrace, because, at the deepest level, the relationship to others does not rest on their moral performance and therefore cannot be undone by the lack of it….[At] the core of the Christian faith lies the persuasion that the ‘others’ need not be perceived as innocent in order to be loved, but ought to be embraced even when they are perceived as wrongdoers.” – Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and Reconciliation (84-85)

Creed (1) – Why Study Creeds, Theology and Doctrine (Teaching Notes)

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Creed: Understanding the Background & Ramifications of Our Beliefs – a new adult education series at Christ Church Santa Fe, 2012

So, why study creeds?

  • General intellectual interest: history, religion, etc.
  • Shouldn’t – “doctrine divides”
    • Question: would eliminating all creedal statements and confessions really clear up the confusion and division?
  • “No creed but Christ!”

This is what I call the “Deception of intention/sentiment, over substance.” It’s not as important that you believe, as it is what you believe: James 2:19

  • “It is never enough to say that you “believe.” ‘The real question remains: what do you believe about Jesus? Reality has a way of foisting this upon us. When you consider that Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, and a whole host of other religions all acknowledge a belief in Jesus, it should be obvious that affirming a belief in Jesus is simply not enough.” – L. Charles  Jackson, Faith of Our Fathers: A Study of the Nicene Creed (Kindle Locations 41-44). Kindle Edition.

No one is without a creed, theology, or doctrine of some kind.  All of us have some way of explaining who we are, how we got to where we are, and have proposals for how to “fix” things – in us and around us.

Significance:

Origin of Creeds

Scripture:

  • Genesis 12:1-3
    • “Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
  • Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (the Shema)

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

  • Matthew 16:13-20

“…You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (v. 16)

  • Acts 16:25-40

“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ And they [Paul and Silas] said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.”

  • Romans 10:9-10

“…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

  • 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (Lord’s Supper); Matthew 28:18-20 (baptismal formula)
  • Hebrews 13:15-16

History

  • “Faith, like all strong conviction, has a desire to utter itself before others—’Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh; ‘I believe, therefore I confess’ (Credo, ergo confiteor). There is also an express duty, when we are received into the membership of the Christian Church, and on every proper occasion, to profess the faith within us, to make ourselves known as followers of Christ, and to lead others to him by the influence of our testimony…This is the origin of Christian symbols or creeds. They never precede faith, but presuppose it. They emanate from the inner life of the Church, independently of external occasion. There would have been creeds even if there had been no doctrinal controversies. In a certain sense it may be said that the Christian Church has never been without a creed (Ecclesia, sine symbolis nulla). The baptismal formula and the words of institution of the Lord’s Supper are creeds; these and the confession of Peter antedate even the birth of the Christian Church on the day of Pentecost. The Church is, indeed, not founded on symbols, but on Christ; not on any words of man, but on the word of God; yet it is founded on Christ as confessed by men, and a creed is man’s answer to Christ’s question, man’s acceptance and interpretation of God’s word.” –
    Philip Schaff (2009-06-10). Creeds of Christendom Volume 1: The History of the Creeds – Enhanced Version (Kindle Locations 516-527). Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Kindle Edition
  • The question: “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)
  • “Jesus pushed Peter to this very point when He insisted that Peter answer the question, “Yes, but who do you say that I am?” [cf. Matthew 16:13ff; Mark 8] Sooner or later, in this world or in the next, we will be responsible for how we answer this question.” – L. Charles  Jackson, Faith of Our Fathers: A Study of the Nicene Creed (Kindle Locations 89-91)

So, why study the creeds of the Christian faith?

Because living and believing are inseparable parts of our existence.  In order to live out the truth of the gospel in our lives, we must believe the truth with our minds and cherish it in our hearts, because ultimately the “truth” of the creeds does not rest on or in themselves alone, but on the One they all point to – the God of the Bible, as revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

  • “It is in the New Testament that confession in the sense of acknowledging allegiance to the faith becomes prominent.  Confessing God’s name (Heb. 13:15) or the ‘name of the Lord’ (2 Tim. 2:19) is the mark of a believer.  And, since God has revealed himself and his truth decisively in Jesus Christ, confessing Christ becomes the hallmark of genuine Christianity. Jesus taught that ‘Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven’ (Matt. 10:32; Luke 12:8; cf. Rev. 3:5)…Reflected here is the secular Greek use of the word to denote solemn and binding public testimony in a court of law.  Confession of Christ, then, is no private matter, but a public declaration of allegiance.  Such claims can, however, be spurious, and are revealed by a lifestyle incompatible with a genuine relationship to Christ (Titus 1:16)…Confessing Christ, then, requires both a matching Christian lifestyle and a matching Christian theology.” – Douglas Moo, “Confess, confession” in Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible (111)

[Chris Gensheer is Pastoral Assistant at Christ Church Santa Fe, NM.  He leads and teaches regularly at the Adult Education Class Sundays at 9:30am. To listen to the audio from this class, click: http://www.christchurchsantafe.org/#/worship/christian-education]

So, what do you tell your kids about Santa?

I recently received this question, and have yet to respond to the person’s email (please forgive me Jamie!).  But it is a great question, and one that I think is worth sharing with a broader audience.

Below I will share a quote from Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church Seattle and the link to an article he wrote on the subject, as I have found it to be the most helpful and satisfying response to the question at hand.

But before I do, here is my initial two cents to contribute:

Santa Clause is an amalgamation of a lot of stories concerning a real, historic person.  Over time, these stories have made it difficult to separate the truth of who he was, what he did, and why he did it, from the false accounts, reasons and motivations.  Because of this, I am more prone to give grace on the subject rather than demonize the caricature or squash the spirit of finding joy in such a person.

So, like Driscoll, I hope and aim to redeem Santa for my kids.  This means that I do not tell my kids that “Santa doesn’t exist,” or “Santa is the enemy” or that “Santa is just a marketers’ scheme to get parents to spend money on toys they can’t afford to please their children who will forget about them in a week.”  I do tell them that Santa Clause is really a way for us to dress up, remember and celebrate a man who was so captivated by God’s love for him, that he couldn’t help but share it with others by loving them in return.  This looked like giving others gifts as a way of showing that love.

At Christmas time, we celebrate the greatest gift ever given out of love, the birth of the God-man, Jesus Christ, God’s Son. And we too celebrate just like St. Nicholas by giving gifts to others.  Its ok to dress up and pretend (we do it all the time), but we are not visiting the real Santa when we go get pictures at the mall, nor do we think if we leave some cookies and a Coke, Santa will be refreshed as he goes from house to house delivering toys.

There is one area where I am likely to drop the hammer of error when it comes to Santa.  That is the damnable lie that there is a list and if you’ve been good you will be rewarded, and if you are naughty, you won’t get anything.  This is not how gifts work.  Gifts are all of grace, or they are not gifts at all.  This is the greatest lie surrounding Santa, and I believe it needs to be corrected and confronted at every turn.  God did not give His greatest gift to the world because the world was more good than it was bad.  He gave it (His Son, the greatest gift) because He so loved the world! (John 3:16).  Anything else that reeks of receiving a gift because I’ve earned it is merit, not grace, and it has nothing to do with Santa, God or the reality of Christ’s birth during this holiday season.

Here is an exerpt from Driscoll’s article:

So, as the parents of five children, Grace and I have taken the third position to redeem Santa. We tell our kids that he was a real person who did live a long time ago. We also explain how people dress up as Santa and pretend to be him for fun, kind of like how young children like to dress up as pirates, princesses, superheroes, and a host of other people, real and imaginary. We explain how, in addition to the actual story of Santa, a lot of other stories have been added (e.g., flying reindeer, living in the North Pole, delivering presents to every child in one night) so that Santa is a combination of true and make-believe stories….We do not, however, demonize Santa. Dressing up, having fun, and using the imagination God gave can be an act of holy worship and is something that, frankly, a lot of adults need to learn from children.

Link to “What we tell our kids about Santa” by Mark Driscoll

http://onfaith.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/panelists/mark_driscoll/2010/12/what_we_tell_our_kids_about_santa.html

Can God do something about evil? He better!

John Stewart's take on Jerry Sandusky and Our Warped Sense of Morality

Can God do something about all the wicked, evil and depraved ways we hurt one another?  He sure can.

In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that He better do something about it.  Because if it is left up to us, I fear we will keep turning a blind eye to the injustices happening around us, or worse yet, we’ll let ourselves get upset over the wrong things.

Take the recent Jerry Sandusky/Penn State sexual scandal in recent history.  One of the best critiques of the whole thing came from a guy who makes his living as a comedian. Using satire and irony, John Stewart exposes both the need for accountability (responsibility) within organizations and even “sacred” institutions (like the sex scandals plaguing religious institutions and Penn State Football program), as well as the dangerously deceptive lie of an entitlement mindset.

 Link: http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/thu-november-10-2011/penn-state-riots

This is one of his more serious sketches, but he is spot on about identifying the colossal experience of Penn State rioters missing the point in weaping more over Joe Paterno being fired (entitlement) then the welfare and pursuit of justice and accountability for those young boys who were molested under his watch and with his awareness of the situation.

This is a good step.  We need to take responsibility for our actions, and that includes stepping into the messy, scary and sometimes dangerous situations we find ourselves.  Like when we are passing by a door and notice a grown man abusing a little boy.

But time and time again, we prove our utter inability to rise to the occassion.  Our nobility loses out to our lust – for sex, for comfort, for security, for approval – and things just keep going the way they’ve always gone before.

What we most desperately need is not a “Lets do better next time.”  What we need is a Savior who comes into “our can’t” and promises that “He will!”  That’s the great promise of Genesis 3:15:

The LORD God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
cursed are you above all livestock
and above all beasts of the field;
on your belly you shall go,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”
– Genesis 3:14-15 (ESV)

And its also the great and awaited fulfilment He promises at His second coming:

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away…And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”        -Revelation 21:3-5 (ESV)

As great as John Stewart’s commentary is, I think its rather this video that gives me great hope for the future:

A Dream of Heaven from the Jesus Story Book Bible