By In Theology, Wisdom

Face to Facebook

I sit here in my office and poke around on a keyboard that is not even physically connected to my laptop and characters appear on a screen. I have a phone in my pocket through which I talk to someone around the world, send a text message, and to which I can ask questions and give commands. Usually, when all things are working as they should, the phone responds. At times it will even talk back to me asking me clarifying questions or telling me it doesn’t quite understand me.

I still marvel at this technology. As a child, I watched television shows such as Star Trek and dreamed of a time when those communicators would be real. Not only did they become real. The flip phone that they resemble is already technologically passé. One generation’s science fiction dream world is the next generation’s relative necessity.

These technological dreams and advances are an aspect of our being created in the image of a creative God. As such, they are not only good; they are also necessary. We are created to take dominion over the world, making it fruitful in every way. When God created Adam and told him to tend and guard the Garden, Adam had to figure out new and creative ways to plow the ground and, eventually, fight the thorns and thistles. He and his descendants created new and more effective and efficient ways to accomplish their tasks, making the world an ever-increasingly fruitful place.

Throughout history, man has continued to create new technologies for these purposes. From farm implements to the vast array of computer technologies, we have made our lives and the world flourish. But there is something interesting about the technologies that we create. As Sherry Turkle observes in her book Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology And Less From Others, “We make our technologies, and they, in turn, make and shape us.”a Our technology begins to drive and shape the culture.

This is not inherently bad. It is simply the statement of a fact. One generation invents the automobile. The culture of the next generation is driven (pardon the pun) by the automobile. Schedules, work, play, markets, and other cultural matters assume the use of the automobile. What was a luxury to the culture of one generation becomes the necessity of the culture in the next? Electricity, phones, and computers are now the staples of the culture. We have developed our technologies, and our technologies, in turn, have shaped the way we live our lives.

As a pastor, I have been especially intrigued by the world of “relational” or “social” technology; that is, technologies designed to keep us connected in some form of communication. How are these relational tools affecting our relationships? How do these technologies affect the expectations that people have when they come to be a part of a local church? Is there a dark side of these technologies that the gospel must address? As Christians, we are called to engage the culture. What kind of culture are we engaging? How much of that culture has affected (infected!) the church? How does the church counter those cultural trends?

It is becoming painfully evident that our social technology is being used in such a way to make us more lonely. We are connected more than ever by telephones and social media, yet we are more and more isolated from one another. This is not the conclusion of some Bible-thumping Luddite. Non-Christians are recognizing it. Ironically, I suppose, you can find articles online such as Is Facebook Making Us Lonely? , The Loneliness Epidemic: We’re More Connected Than Ever – But Are We Feeling More Alone? , and The Age Of Loneliness Is Killing Us. Here is a video that explains how our connectivity is isolating us. That video is based on a TED Talk delivered by Sherry Turkle summarizing her full-length treatment of the subject in her book Alone Together. None of these is an explicitly Christian evaluation of the situation, but they are all recognizing that our social technology is developing a culture that, while connected, is becoming disconnected from full human interaction.

This technology gives each of us the sense of control that we haven’t had in the past. We always have a measure of control to be sure, but today’s technologies give a perception that we are more in control than ever before. Looking at a sliver of the metanarrative of our culture, we can see huge cultural shifts and, consequently, how we have gained more and more control of our lives and interactions with others.

There was a time in our country when, by and large, to have a job, one had to go to a place of work, was forced to work with others he didn’t know and submit to “the man.” A man was “forced” to learn to interact with others in an amicable way and, generally, wanted to keep his job for forty years and retire with a gold watch. Though we still go to places of business, internet technology has changed our situations tremendously. Now we can be employed by a huge corporation and rarely go into “the office.” We connect online, control our schedules, and control our interactions with people.

This was brought home to me at a dinner with a young couple who were both urban professionals. We talked about their work. The lady to whom I spoke worked from her home and only chose to go to the coffee shop to work when she felt as if she needed to be around people. She was in control of her interactions. In the previous generation, unless you were a farmer, you weren’t able to isolate yourself to this degree. Now technology has allowed us to interact only as much as we feel comfortable doing so. (more…)

  1. Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology And Less From Others (New York: Basic Books, 2011)  263.  (back)

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By In Politics

We Worship By Faith, Not By Fun

As you approach the outer court of the Tabernacle with an animal in tow, your journey has been filled with thoughts of what is about to happen. This little animal, an animal of which you may have grown fond, is about to be slaughtered in your place. There may even be some thoughts of turning back.

The priest meets you in the outer court somewhere around the bronze altar; this big, hollow box with four horns on the top in which a fire is constantly burning. You lay your hands on the head of the animal, ordaining it to stand in your place to be offered up. The knife is then taken in hand and the throat of the animal is cut. The blood that gushes from its throat, being pumped out by a heart taking its last beats, is caught in a basin so that it can be splashed on the sides of the altar. The smells of death fill your nostrils. The priest finishes filleting the animal, cutting it up into pieces, washing the parts, and then placing it in this bronze altar in a particular order.

Though after a while in a culture that practices this day-in and day-out you become somewhat accustomed to this, it is not really what you would consider fun. In fact, this is something of a chore. It is difficult at many levels. You can think of many other things that you would rather be doing with your time. So, why do you do it?

You do it because God commanded you to do it. You walk by faith, not by fun. You are created by God to be a worshiper, and this is what worshipers do.

In this New Covenant age in which none of these animal offerings is required of us, there are still things about worship that aren’t fun … and aren’t designed to be. We cheapen the worship of God when we try to make everything fun so that people will be comfortable and want to come back. While we do not have the obligation to bring animals to sacrifice, worship is still the presentation of ourselves as living sacrifices (Rom 12.1-2). There are parts of our worship, consequently, that won’t be pleasant. All discipline for the present seems painful rather than joyful (Heb 12.11). Worship is a place where our lives are being disciplined to deny the sinful desires of our mortal bodies, fight against the sin all around us, and be shaped more in the likeness of God. Quite frankly, it isn’t always fun.

I suppose this is one reason why there are people who will spend their food or utility money on a concert or a sporting event, go and sit for hours (sometimes in inclement weather), and then tell you that they had a great time. However, an hour to an hour-and-a-half in worship is “too long,” “burdensome,” and, worst of all, “boring.” It’s just not fun. If it were fun, I would move heaven and earth to get there. I love to have fun.

There is nothing wrong with having fun. God, you might be surprised to learn, wants us to have fun. There is a time and place for it. God wants you to delight in his good gifts. Spend money on things your enjoy. Take trips. Go to those concerts. Hunt. Fish. Go to ball games. Watch movies. Have fun.

But as with any good gift of God, fun can become an idol. When fun becomes my god, I only do the things that are pleasant and avoid the unpleasant and inconvenient. Being confronted with sin in my life when I enter into worship, kneeling in humility and confessing my sin goes against the Law of Fun. Spending time with the people of God getting beyond the superficialities of life may also be a violation of the Law of Fun. Let’s always keep it light so as not to enrage Fun. (more…)

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By In Politics

Calendar And Community

There was a time when time was not. God began to speak. The heavens and earth came into existence. The rhythms of life within the eternal Trinity began being imaged in the rhythms of the creation. Day one. Day two. Day three. Day four. Day five. Day six. Day seven. A steady, twenty-four-hour rhythm turns into the rhythm of the week. The rhythm of weeks turns into the rhythms of months. The rhythms of months turn into rhythms of seasons. The rhythms of seasons turn into the rhythms of years. What started as a slow steady beat has turned into a symphony of layered rhythms; some consistent, some syncopated, but all moving the creation relentlessly forward.

In order to conduct this symphony, God put the sun, moon, and stars in the firmament-heaven. They separated the day from the night and were for signs and festival times. The heavenly lights were God’s authoritative clock to tell the world the time (Gen 1.14-19).

The world knowing the time wasn’t merely a point of information. These times would govern the rhythms of the entire creation. Creation was to stay in rhythm with God’s clock. Man himself as a part of creation was subject to these rhythms.

Time is not something standing outside of man by which he measures the rhythms of creation. Time is a part of man, controlling waking and sleeping, eating patterns, hormone production, brain wave activity, and cell regeneration. We are creatures of time.

Being part of creation, time is an aspect of creation over which man as the image of God is to take dominion. In the old creation (the creation before Christ came), man in his childhood was given a schedule to keep. The sun, moon, and stars determined the calendar. When God separated Israel from the nations, he gave his young son a strict calendar to follow; daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, and weeks of years. Israel would look to the sun, moon, and stars to learn what they were to be doing.

However, when man matured he would not need a strict schedule set for him by his Father. The rhythms that he learned in childhood would inform the rhythms of his life, but he would have to create new rhythms in wisdom. In his childhood man learned (or should have learned) that time itself was to serve man in bringing the creation to God’s fullest purpose. God set up rhythms to bring man as individual and community into his presence. The calendar was one way in which God created community. As people shared rhythms of life, it drew them together. When the Sabbath was a regular, weekly convocation, the lives of the people were planned around it. When feasts were on the calendar, the lives of individuals and the community would have to adjust. Whatever the occasion, when the life of a group of people submitted to the same rhythms, it drew them together into community.

Things have changed. The Sun of Righteousness has risen (Mal 4.2). He is the Ruler in the firmament-heaven and, therefore, the one who controls the calendar. But there is more. He has seated us with him in these heavenly places (Eph 1.20-22; 2.6) where we shine as stars (Phil 2.15). We, the heirs of Abraham, are now the stars in the firmament-heaven. We are all grown up in Christ. Our Father now let’s us determine the calendar. Having learned from our childhood, we know that we need rhythms. We can’t float along being pulled this way and that by those who would love to determine the direction of our lives by controlling our calendars. We understand that whatever sets the rhythms of our lives is moving us inevitably to be a certain type of people. So, we must take dominion of the calendar in our personal lives and as the church. We are to learn from the Scriptures what type of people we are to become and adjust our calendars to fit those rhythms that will move us there. (more…)

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By In Politics

Pentecost, Old and New

As Christians, we understand the celebration of Pentecost as the time in which Jesus poured out his Spirit on the church. This, of course, is correct, but Pentecost was one of the three major Feasts on the Jewish calendar that was celebrated since the time of the giving of the Law. Pentecost itself was the Feast that corresponded with the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. Exodus 19.1 tells us that the children of Israel arrived at Sinai on the “third new moon after the people had gone out of Egypt” (i.e., the Passover). It was “on that day” that they came to Sinai and began preparations to receive the Law. Considering that Pentecost was fifty days after the Sabbath during the Feast of Unleavened Bread when the firstfruits sheaf was offered (got all that?), the chronology lining up the giving of the Law with Pentecost seems more than plausible. The Feast of Pentecost was, among other things, a commemoration of the giving of the Law at Sinai.

The correlations between the giving of the Law and the giving of the Spirit are quite informative in a number of ways. The giving of the Law and all of the imagery from the record of Scripture should be teased out in all of its glorious detail. However, it is the contrast between the two that is also a concern for the church.

In a shocking move in Romans 6 and 7, Paul speaks of the Law and sin as doing many of the same things. Sin reigns (Rom 6.14). The Law reigns (Rom 7.1). We died to sin (Rom 6.2). We died to the Law (Rom 7.4). We are free from sin (Rom 6.7, 18, 22). We are free from the Law (Rom 7.6). Reading Paul one might think that the Law and the Sin were practically the same thing! Paul is aware of what he is saying and anticipates the question in Romans 7.7: “What shall we say then? Is the Law sin?” In the sentences that follow he makes certain that those who hear this letter don’t equate the Law with sin. Sin uses the Law for nefarious purposes, but “the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good” (Rom 7.12).

While the Law is holy, it is not adequate to bring about freedom from the dominion of sin and death. What the Law did was not only to reinforce the death in the world created by sin but sanction it as a divine arrangement. The Law exacerbated the death in the world by reinforcing and expanding the division set up by circumcision. This death was the division that the Law reinforced between Israel and the Gentiles. Humanity would continue to be ripped in half. Humanity would continue to live on in death … and it was God’s Law that sanctioned this dominion of sin over mankind. This is at least an aspect of how the Law intensifies sin.

As long as the Law of God is in place, death rules. The Law anticipates life–resurrection from the dead–but the Law cannot give life. The Law, by its nature, can’t reunite the nations into one body because the Law is given to maintain the division.

But it was all a part of the divine scheme of grace. Where the sin abounded, grace did much more abound. God is using death as the means to deal with sin and ultimately bring resurrection. God takes the strongest weapons of the enemy and uses them for his own purposes. The Law that divinely codified death became the place sin would be dealt with so that resurrection and life for the world could come.

This is the contrast between old Pentecost and new Pentecost. Old Pentecost, while glorious, was a ministry of death (2Cor 3.6-7). New Pentecost is more glorious because it is a ministry of life. The Spirit poured out by the resurrected and ascended Christ unites the nations into one glorious body. He has made one body out of the two by abolishing the divisions created by the Law (Eph 2.14-15). While we may all be from different nations, speaking different languages, we are one people of God in Christ Jesus.

The glories of the new Pentecost are proclaimed to the world when the church maintains the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4.2). The principalities and powers of the world are notified of the wisdom of God in this new world order through the church living out this unity (Eph 3.9-10). Pentecost is not merely another tick on the clock of the liturgical calendar. Pentecost is a calling, a calling to strive for the bond of peace in the family of Christ.

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By In Politics

How Israel Got A New Husband

There are many ways to approach the telling of the story of Scripture. Various themes can be traced out from beginning to end that help you understand God and his relationship with his people. One theme that is prominent from the beginning to the end of Scripture is the theme of marriage. The Scriptures begin in a Garden with the Father providing his son a bride. The last chapters of Scripture end in a Garden-City with the bride of the Son coming down out of heaven. Everything in between contributes to the development of this relationship. The whole story of Scripture can be told from the perspective that God’s purpose was to create a bride for his Son whom his Son would glorify through the gift of the Spirit.

This process of glorification for the bride takes a long and difficult road. The bride is not always faithful. Her betrothed must go to great trouble to deliver his bride in order to make her beautiful. One such place we see this is when the bride is in Egypt. God sent her down there to protect her and provide for her under Joseph. But eventually the bride started adopting the old ways of the Egyptians in whoring after her “husbands,” and YHWH gave them over to their oppression under Pharaoh. However, he delivered them. He brought them through the Sea and then to Sinai. At Sinai Israel became YHWH’s wife (cf. Jer 31.32; Ezek 16). YHWH entered a covenant with Israel. Their marriage was “under Law.”

Imagine the consternation of the Jews when Paul comes along and says, “You are no longer under Law.” This is tantamount to saying, “You Jews are no longer married to YHWH.” How can this be? Can YHWH forsake his covenant? Did he walk out on the marriage? If he did, how can he be trusted to be faithful? If he didn’t, then the gospel Paul is preaching is blasphemy.

There is an explanation. Marriage covenants are binding as long as the husband lives. But if the husband dies, then the wife is no longer bound “by the law of the husband” (Rom 7.2-3). The marriage died “through the body of Christ.” That is, when Christ died, the husband died. Yes, that means that Christ Jesus is YHWH who was married to Israel at Sinai. He died so that the bride could be released from this marriage that kept her “under Law.” This “under Law” stage of life wasn’t the complete glorification of the bride. It wasn’t good for the bride to remain in this position. In order to move on to greater glorification, her marriage bound by the Law of Moses had to die. The husband willingly gave his life so that the bride, and therefore the marriage, could move to another state of glory.

And it did. The husband didn’t forsake his bride. The one who died is also the one who is risen again so that Israel might be married to the resurrected Christ Jesus, sharing in his glory. That old marriage was always bound to end in death. Death is all that the old marriage could ultimately produce (Rom 7.5). That was its aim. It was a ministry of death (2Cor 3.7). It was a necessary death, but it was death nevertheless.

God’s intention for marriage was fruitful life. This could only be realized through death and resurrection into a new condition of marriage. Israel is now free to marry the resurrected Christ so that they might bear this fruit unto God. The marriage that Christ has now with his people is the marriage that God the Father intended for his Son all along.

This marriage is a mission, a mission to bear holy fruit. This holy fruit is produced by the Holy Spirit given to us and is evident in our relationships with one another as love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Where these are evident, the marriage is being fruitful.

But our holy fruit is not limited to what we might think of as attitudes toward one another (though the fruit of the Spirit is not limited to attitudes either). The fruit of our bodies whether through reproduction or labor is also included in this holy fruit. Our marriages are under the lordship of Jesus. Whatever comes from our marriages, including children, belong to Jesus. Our children are holy fruit (cf. e.g., 1Cor 7.14). The product of our labor throughout the week is holy fruit. All of it is for the continued glorification of the marriage of Jesus and the church; it is fruit that is produced that will be handed over to the Father so that he might enjoy it in communion with us (cf. 1Cor 15.20-28).

We have been called to cultivate this holy fruit. This is the purpose and promise of our relationship with Christ Jesus. Being united to the resurrected, never-to-die-again Christ, we labor with the confidence that our labor will be fruitful. It is not in vain (1Cor 15.58).

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By In Theology

The Tree(s) of Life

When we come to the end of the Bible, there are some things that are intriguingly similar to the beginning. In the beginning, God created the man and placed him in a garden that he had planted in the land of Eden, telling him to be fruitful and multiply. This garden had a river that ran through it and split into four different rivers outside of the garden. In the midst of the garden were two trees: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Man was invited to come to the Tree of Life but forbidden to partake of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In the midst of the garden, at this Tree of Life, God would communicate his life to man. Man would enjoy communion with God there at this Tree, being nourished in every way to be what his Father had created him to be.

When man sinned, God exiled him from the garden in order to keep him from eating of the Tree of Life (Gen 3.22-23). From that time forward man was forbidden to partake of the Tree. God provided means of communion, communicating his life to man through various means, but full access to the Tree of Life was not a reality.

The scene at the end of Revelation is one that describes this city in which the Tree of Life is not only present but accessible. Some things have changed drastically. The walled garden has become a walled city; a culture full of life. The rugged beauty of a pristine creation has become a developed, glorified creation under the dominion of the last Adam. Man has been fruitful and multiplied, and the garden has grown up into a city. Nevertheless, the New Jerusalem is the old garden, complete with the Tree of Life. Christ’s work has granted us access to the Tree of Life. All those who have their robes washed, who enter the gates of the garden-city, are granted access to the Tree of Life (Rev 22.14). Because Christ has passed through the flaming sword of the cherubim, he has made the way open to the Tree of Life. Because we pass through that same death being united with Christ in baptism, we now have access to the Tree of Life. We enjoy full and close communion with God in the church, the garden of God.

We are given this access, not only for personal privilege but so that we might become what we eat. In Christ Jesus, we are made trees of life planted by the river that runs through the midst of the garden-city (cf. Ps 1). The fruit of the Spirit that we bear is to be nourishment for those around us. The leaves that we produce are to be for the healing of the nations. We come to the Tree of Life, receiving life from God so that through us life might be enjoyed by others.

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