Friday, September 16, 2011

Our Thoughts and His: A Comparison

Justice Is A Love Story

Do you ever wonder why the Holy Spirit came to Jerusalem first of all? Or to ask the same question in a different way: Why would Jesus turn the disciples walking sadly on the road to Emmaus back to Jerusalem? Why would he then command the disciples to remain in Jerusalem? (Luke 24:33, Acts 1:4) The answer is...a love story. It is perhaps not surprising that in our times, as in the Roman Empire, when we do not value the relationship between a man and a woman, in these times, as in Jesus’ day, when there is moral toxicity all around us and in us, in these times when marriage is held in less and less esteem, the Bible has something to say against the culture of Rome and against our culture. The Bible has as its heart a love story between a man and a woman.

Jesus is the suffering servant, the Messiah of Isaiah 52-55. He appears to his disciples with the marks of the cross in his body. Though exalted by God, he is despised and rejected by men, “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;” he who dies and is raised and “justifies many.” (53:3&11) But as the ad men on TV say, “Wait! There’s more!” The most immediate beneficiary of God’s action in Jesus, the place, or shall we say, the person with whom this justice (Romans 3:22 KJV) begins is...drumroll please, Jerusalem! “Sing O barren one who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud you who have not been in travail! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her that is married. Enlarge the place of your tent and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; hold not back, lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes...for your children are coming home....for a brief moment I forsook you but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing wrath for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you” (Isaiah 54). This is why the gift of the Holy Spirit comes to Jerusalem, this is why Peter preaches the good news to the city that had killed Christ. Because the Lord loves his city. He loves her like crazy! He loves her and her awful mess. (Isaiah 40: 2 Heb.) He will give his only begotten son on a cross to save her and all of us from all our awful messes. He pours out his blessings upon “Lady Jerusalem” because though she and all the world meant it all for evil, rejecting Jesus, calling for his blood, rejecting their Lord, God meant it all for good. (Genesis 50:20, Psalm 51:4 Heb.)
We have all kinds of ideas about words like “justice, “faith,” “love,” “hope.” We call many things faith that are not. We call many things justice that are anything but. We have all kinds of ideas and thoughts. Man’s imagination is evil from youth. But God’s imagination is different, “as high as the heavens are above the earth,” so high are God’s thoughts in comparison to our own. (Isaiah 55:9) Look at Isaiah 52, 53, 54, and 55 where God talks about faith, love, justice, the good news. Nothing is as we thought, thank God! To God, justice is a man loving a woman, God loving and saving Lady Zion. (53: & 54) To God, faith is his faithfulness, that is, his establishment or “enfaithment” of Jesus. (55:3) To God, hope is the future that God gives us through the suffering servant, beginning in Zion. (53:11&12a ) To God, the good news is the man of sorrows, “the arm of the Lord revealed.” Reader, this is how I interpret the Bible and what I share with you. Search the scriptures yourself to see what you see. But in the end what’s most important is how God himself interprets scripture. He is our teacher and can be relied upon to lead us into all truth. Because when it comes down to it, we don’t want our thoughts, our ideas, we want to have his perspective on things and see things like he does. There is simply no future in anything else. His perspective is the only perspective. We were created in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:10) As Peter said, “Lord to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Statement Against 10-A

Statement Against 10-A, by Amy Kosari

A vote against 10-A is a vote for justice. The other day I was reading the theologian Mark Achtemeier’s address to the Covenant Network and the accompanying article. He said that he had once “succumbed to the temptation of ecclesiastical tunnel vision.” “I read authors I agreed with, I talked with those I agreed with, I hung out with those I agreed with.” That is a good warning to all of us and heeding it I would like to try to get to the crux of the argument of the other side: For five hundred years Protestants have preached that we are justified by faith in Christ, “the justice of God by faith in Jesus for all believers.” All believers, Paul wrote, not some. America sought to do justice to her slaves and later to women. Now it is proposed that we do justice to women who love women and men who want men--And why not? Are not there women and men who are faithful to their partners, even “till death do us part”? And do not they wish to occupy our pulpits to proclaim their faith in Christ? Surely it is meet and right that we extend to them the right hand of fellowship after so long a time when we blocked them from proclaiming this faith?
But what if justification by faith in Christ is a wrong translation? What if justification by faith is in fact when a man marries a woman? Again I ask, what if justification by faith in Christ is a wrong translation? What if, as some scholars now say, we are justified by the faith of Jesus? I think there is an even better translation. We are justified by the "establishment" of Jesus. After all, what is justice? Justice is when (to quote Isaiah 53:11 and 55:3) “the just one, my slave, shall justify many, by “the pities of David, the established ones”. Let me break that down. Justification is when the righteous slave of Isaiah 53 makes many, a numberless many, right when they were in the wrong. And how is it that the slave, the man of sorrows, Jesus, how is it that he justifies many? Isaiah 55 tells us, it is by the mercy of God, when God the Father establishes, is faithful to, the suffering servant. And here’s the final piece of the puzzle. What is the immediate effect of justification? Answer: A woman is made happy (Isaiah 54), a once despairing woman is married. And who is this woman? Zion and her assembly, “our feet are standing within thy gates.” Justification by faith, justice itself is when a man marries a woman. A colleague of mine once said, “Amy, marriage, love between a man and a woman, romance, the Song of Songs these are merely side issues.” On the contrary, it turns that romance is the good news, romance is justification, the romance between Jesus and his assembly is justification. Vote against 10-A and vote for justice.
I know what I am saying is quite new. Give me a call, talk to me. Let’s heed Mark Achtemeier’s warning and not isolate ourselves but talk with those with whom we do not agree.

Friday, April 29, 2011

For Those Who Are Weary of Our Denominational Troubles

Elijah the prophet, he ran away
He just didn't have the heart,
Anymore to stay.

"I'm all alone!" to God he cried,
And in the desert, he would have died
But in his mercy God woke him up
And gave him a meal from heaven on which to sup

And brought him to the mountain,
The truth to show: seven thousand in Israel
Never to Baal did go.

Not by power and not by might
The still, small voice wins the fight.

Be encouraged in that fight today,
For God goes ahead and gives us words to say.

Dear prophet Elijah shows us well
Not to run and hide but stay and tell

The grace of God in the face of wrong
Of Man and of Woman, Jesus, his Bride, Love's True Song--

To sing... for to him, Our Savior, we will always belong.

Not by power and not by might
The Holy Spirit will give us sight
A vision to tell to those in need
For Jesus Messiah, he is Lord indeed!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Writing in The Earth: The Woman Caught in Adultery

There is a secret to the story in John 8 of the woman caught in adultery. You might remember how it goes: Jesus is teaching in the temple and the scribes and Pharisees bring a woman who has been caught in the act of adultery and make her stand before them all. Then they ask Jesus, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. What do you say?” They do this to test Jesus, that they might be able to bring some charge against him. In response, Jesus does a strange thing. He bends down and writes on the ground. What is Jesus doing? Had the scribes and the Pharisees been less intent on their evil they might have known from the beginning. In Jeremiah 17: 13 we read “O Lord, the hope of Israel, all that forsake thee shall be ashamed, and they that depart from me shall be written in the earth, because they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living waters. Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved: for you are my praise.” We can now understand what Jesus is doing. When he bends down and writes in the earth he is saying in effect, “Haven’t you scribes and Pharisees departed from the Lord?” “Aren’t your hearts dry like the dust of the earth because you have forsaken the fountain of living waters?” But the religious leaders go on questioning Jesus, they don’t notice what he is doing. Jesus then straightens up and puts it to them plainly, “Let him who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And again, Jesus bends down and writes in the earth. This, at last, breaks through the blindness of the men; they begin to “get” what Jesus is doing and saying and one by one starting with the elders they leave, until no one remains but Jesus and the woman. Jesus straightens up and says to her, “Woman, where are they, has no one condemned you? And she says, “No one, Lord.” Jesus replies, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on no longer sin.” Jesus could have thrown stones at the woman. He was without sin after all. But God sent his only begotten son into the world, not to condemn it but to save it, as John 3 tells us. I consider Isaiah 53-55 a summation of the good news and it tells us that “all we like sheep have gone astray” but the Father sends the Son to die on a cross, and “by his wounds we are healed.” To us, Jesus looks like a criminal on the cross, hated by God (vs. 4) but in fact, God makes Jesus into a holy offering for sin there, but the word of the cross is so that we, like the woman may go free, sinning no more. Golgotha is not condemnation but salvation. It is the Lord healing us and “we shall be healed.” Jesus Jehovah dies, hung on a tree and the gospel is preached and one by one people who were once dry as dust begin to drink from the fountain of living water and in turn, they themselves become fountains of living water, welling up to eternal life.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What A Surprise!

At my churches we read chapter by chapter through the Bible and some months ago a seemingly small detail was brought to my attention. When God commands the sons of Israel to rest on the sabbath day (Saturday) and also to give their children, servants, and livestock a rest, there’s a glaring omission. No mention of the wives!
“But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day: because the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”
Why is this? Think of what a wife is to man. Whereas your son or daughter may be said to belong to you, a woman throughout the Bible is emphatically not the property of her husband. A wife is simply not “his” to rest or not rest. A woman hears God’s command to her husband, and as we will see, it is hers to obey, study and interpret but it is not the husband’s lookout to cause her to do any of the above! This goes back to the very beginning. Eve was created to be a “help” to her husband. The word for “help” in Hebrew is “ezer.” The only other person in the Bible who is said to be a help to man is God himself. A woman, single or married, is like an angel sent from God for the help of mankind.
But the Bible does not put women up on an ivory pedestal either. The temptation to burden women by idealizing them is tempered when we remember how Eve was deceived by the serpent. In addition, man seems to have “pride of place.” The bare fact is that Adam was created before Eve. Judah may have been favored by God but Reuben is always the first born. Throughout the Bible we see God giving weight to birth order. The first born is set apart to God (Exodus 34:19, Numbers 18:15). The fact that Adam was created first also helps to explain another issue that is prominent throughout the Bible. Again and again, we see God addressing men. Not exclusively but repeatedly. We see it in the ten commandments and throughout the Old Testament. We see it in the New Testament where Jesus, Paul, Peter, James and John speak to the “brethren,” in their sermons and letters. For many hundreds of years students of the Bible have surmised that when the Bible uses the term “brothers” it refers to both brothers and sisters. Today some people use the word “mankind” to refer to both men and women. But the Bible is doing something much more interesting. When the Bible says “brothers,” it means exactly that, because it is memorializing the one on one relationship that God had with Adam in the very beginning. Peter addresses the crowds in Acts 3 as “men of Israel” because he is remembering how the ten commandments were given to the men of Israel. In turn, the ten commandments are given to the men of Israel because the Bible is remembering the very beginning, how God commanded Adam in the garden with the singular “you,” “you shall not eat...”. Now what is interesting here is that by the time Eve is created she is more than aware of God’s command and she has taken it to herself to obey, study and interpret both for herself and Adam! We hear her telling the serpent, “we may eat freely of the fruit of the trees of the garden but of the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘you (plural) shall not eat it, neither touch it lest you (plural) die.’” Notice Eve’s thinking here. First she interprets the command to be spoken by God to both her and Adam and second that the fruit of the tree should not only not be eaten but not touched. In the same way, when the crowds at Jerusalem hear Peter speaking to the “men of Israel” women are clearly not addressed but at the same time he is very much addressing them in the sense of the sermon being for women to hear, obey and research perhaps even more than the men! Let’s ask one more question to illustrate: How a woman can be a help to man? As Proverbs 31 tells us a good wife, “considers a field, and buys it,” a good wife is “trusted by her husband,” and a good wife “reaches out her hands to the poor,” but first and foremost, women, whether they are single or married, can be a help to mankind by being what they seem to have been created to be, students of the Bible and theologians.