Gethsemane

My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death; remain here and keep watch.

Jesus told the disciples before He went to pray in the garden. What questions must have went through their minds? What could grieve their Master so? They had seen Him do impossible things. Tame the sea, give sight to the blind and strength to the lame. What weight could bear down so great a man as this?

My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.

Jesus prayed to His Father in heaven. What thoughts was He thinking as He stretched His arms towards the stars? What cup did the Son of God dread to drink?

My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.

Jesus prayed a second time, crying out to His dearest friend, His Abba, His Dad. To the One who had been with Him from His infancy through His manhood. What monstrous shadow did the Son of Man see stretched out before His path?

My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me.

Jesus cried a third and final time, seeing the disciples asleep and unable to keep watch for Him, even after admonishment. He was alone. What answer did He look for? He had foretold His own death for weeks, going so far as to rebuke Simon Peter for suggesting anything contrary. Yet He pleaded to God, to take this cup. This boiling cauldron of wrath for the sin of humanity stored up from when Adam and Eve first rebelled. From when the blood of Abel cried out from the ground as a foreshadowing of the great murders committed throughout history. How great and terrible and awesome that cup must have been to Jesus at that moment! More than the whips, more than the laceration of flesh and the crown of thorns, more than the nails driven into His hands and feet, more than the spear piercing His side. More than the terrible pain to be undergone by His body, it was this cup of wrath that our Savior looked upon with dread. Woe to whom that cup is poured upon! Woe to whom must look into the eyes of the Almighty God and see there the retribution for evil deeds sweeping down upon Him with righteous fury!

Yet not as I will, but as You will.

Woe to this blameless Man. Jesus sweat drops of blood in the face of this cup preparing to boil over and spill out with all the fury of a volcanic eruption. What soul has felt more agony than the most righteous of men preparing to suffer the most severe of punishments?

Yet not as I will, but as You will.

Any other man would have fled. Great giants of our time revered by history would have left Gethsemane in hysterics. Who can fathom the depths of God? Who can grasp the infinite finality of Divine Judgment? Who can gaze into the depths of eternity and maintain their sanity and composure? The greatest philosophical, scientific and theological minds of our age are nothing but flies caught in the web of divine wisdom. Aristotle? Plato? Hawking? Luther? Dante? Hugo? Gandhi? Stott? Einstein? Newton? Dawkins? Lewis? Voltaire? Who can step up to the lectern and thunder with a voice like His? Who can say that they look on all who are proud and make them low? Who walks, and the very stones cry out in adoration? Who speaks, and stars tremble?

Yet not as I will, but as You will.

Only this Man. With His fate accepted, Jesus rose and walked from the garden arousing the disciples. He knew they would forsake Him, but He was ready. He was prepared to face death for them, and not only them, but even His betrayers, His accusers. He was prepared to die for the pharisees and the sadducees, for the tax collectors and prostitutes, for the Roman soldiers who mocked and tortured Him, for the proud and the humble, for the blessed and the cursed, for the rich and the poor. He left Gethsemane, that garden transformed into a battleground, and he died – for me and for you.

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One Solitary Life

Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.

He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself…

While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While He was dying His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth – His coat. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.

Nineteen long centuries have come and gone, and today He is a centerpiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress.

I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life.

Adapted from a sermon series by Dr. James Allan Francis in “The Real Jesus and Other Sermons” 1926

I Am a Feminist (because of my wife)

Growing up  as a Caucasian male in a small town surrounded by farmland, I was only barely exposed to feminism by the time I got to college. Like many other men, I didn’t see or understand the need for it. However I learned much more at a small liberal arts college where sexism (and other social justice issues) were debated frequently inside and outside the classroom. To be perfectly honest, even then I was not totally convinced. I simply didn’t see it in my personal experience, and the presentation of feminism was often forceful, which made it difficult for me to engage. This is no excuse, but it was my experience. This post is not meant for those who are already “feminists”, although it may be helpful (hopefully). It is meant for those who are on the other side of the issue, or are perhaps lukewarm and not sure what to think. I am by no means a social justice warrior, and my definition of feminism may be different than what it is usually defined as, but I hope that you will hear me out.

First, I think the primary obstacle to my non-engagement with feminism was that I did not see a need. In my mind, women had the right to vote already, and I had not seen discrimination or unequal treatment at work first or even second hand. However, as I listened to and read about experiences, it became difficult to deny that there are major problems with the way women are treated (Case in point: Uber). I encourage you to read the linked post, but if you don’t have the time it documents the strange and baffling way that a female engineer was treated at Uber and the insanity of a workplace culture that allowed frequent and repeat offenses of sexual harassment. You might protest and say that you can’t make a judgment about the prevalence of discrimination with just one example, however I would point you to the “me too” campaign and the recent revelations and accusations about Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilley, Bill Cosby and many, many others. It is clear that sexual harassment and discrimination is sadly the norm for many women. To say otherwise is to discredit the word of literally hundreds of thousands. If you are still not convinced, then ask a female friend whom you trust, you may be surprised by what you hear.

While the evidence for discrimination is strong, I think for many the message of feminism is perceived as “women are better than men.” This is certainly the feeling I had when I came into contact with more intense presentations of it. The reality is that women have been oppressed throughout history, given second rate roles in society, bought and sold even still through modern day slavery. In America women only gained the right to vote in the last century. Yet they are not second rate citizens. Women are just as capable of rational, intelligent and astonishing contributions to society as men are. Is one gender better than the other? No, but they are different, and it is sometimes necessary to shine the spotlight on a historically oppressed group in order to elevate and create change.

Ultimately for me, the deciding factor that sunk this home was and is the relationship with my wife. I know this may sound a bit cheesy, but she is truly the smartest person I know. Holding a double major in classical languages and neuroscience, she inspires and challenges me to continue learning past college. When it comes down to the heart of the issue, I believe that my wife is truly capable and able to do anything that she sets her mind to, and I am willing to support her. I would be outraged to learn if she was harassed or treated unfairly because she is a woman. We are a team, and it is wholly selfish of me to deny her the respect that I would never deny myself.

If you are a Christian, you may have heard the oft-quoted passage from Ephesians 5 about man being the head of the wife. An entire book could be written about the interpretation of that passage and its outline of how a Christian marriage should work when both parties play their part in love. Here however, I would like to emphasize that the author writes instructions to each member separately. For men, this means that we should be primarily concerned with what the Apostle Paul says about how we should treat our wives. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). Do you want to know what Christ did for his people (the church)? He died for them. He died for them while they were still in sin and hating Him. That is how we are to love our wives, and I would argue that you can work backwards from this picture and apply it as a framework for how to treat all women. Valuing them? Being respectful and taking extra effort to treat them properly? That sounds like feminism to me.

 

Jesus Is not Your Political Savior

As the country reacts to the events in Charlottesville and we struggle with the realization that our country is more divided than ever, it is becoming clear that the government is not the answer to our problems. As a Christian I have personally gone through various stages in my attitude towards government. When I was in high school and throughout the first few years of college, I felt called towards government. I had a strong belief that public policy was a realm where a massive change for good could be made, and I had a singular focus on it. While it is true that policy affects a large amount of lives, I have come to see that it is not the greatest good and is limited in what it can address.

Throughout this election cycle and the Trump presidency I have noticed something in the church and in many believers that I believe needs to be addressed. Please do not take my words as insult, I myself have noticed these things in myself, so I ask that you read and listen. What I would like to address is the idea that Scripture can be used as an authority on how our country should legislate and how it is often viewed as the authority on the “correct” political structure. I believe this is particularly salient to America given the history of Christianity here.

The Bible = The Constitution?

While the evidence for God’s hand in the establishment of America is strong, I do not believe this justifies viewing Scripture as the hammer that forged the Constitution. In order to demonstrate this, let us take two opposing economic and government structures and see how Scripture relates to them: Capitalism/Democracy and Communism.

First up on the side of capitalism is Galatians 6:3-5: For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load.” At first glance, it is clear that this verse advocates for a government and economic structure that is merit based. Each citizen must bear their own load and not expect handouts from the government, right? Indeed, Paul goes on to state that “for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” More evidence can be found in the many proverbs that condemn laziness “Laziness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle man will suffer” (19:15). Should our society not be based around such truth? Before we answer it is important to examine Scripture through the lens of an opposing view.

Advocates of communism have no shortage of support in Scripture. Perhaps the most popular is found in Acts 2:44-45: “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.” Clearly this Scripture supports the selling of possessions and redistribution of wealth. Jesus himself appears to support the idea that possessions ought to be forfeit in the Gospels: “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:33). Or more famously “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matt 6:24). Should Christians not scorn wealth and share with their neighbors? What better way to do so than set up an authoritative mechanism to distribute wealth?

As it is now you may be confused. Does Scripture contradict itself? How can it support both Capitalism and Communism? I assert that this is the wrong question to ask. Let us reexamine these verses in context. Starting with Galatians 6:3-5, when Paul stated that each must bear his own load, he is addressing the necessity of using caution when correcting another believer who has gone astray so that you don’t get tempted yourself. He is not talking about the economy. In verse 2 he actually states “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” In fact, the Greek for “burdens” in verse 2 and “load” in verse 5 are different words. “Burdens” refers to a heavy boulder, something that is difficult to carry without help. “Load” refers to something like a backpack that is manageable and not meant for others. Thus we see that Paul’s statement has nothing to do with government when it is in context. Instead, it is about helping people without trying to control their lives. Helping them bear the heaviest burdens of loss and lust but letting them carry the personal burdens of seeking God in daily life and taking responsibility for their actions.

Now let us shift to the verses that seem to support the idea of redistributing wealth. It is important to point out that the verses in Acts refer to the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the beginning of the early church. Nowhere does it state that the believers reformed the society of Rome and advocated for a socialist structure. The focus is on spreading the gospel. In verse 47 it states “And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” The focus is on men being saved and not the change wrought in the Roman political system. The same idea applies to the statements of Jesus. In Luke, the focus is not on earthly political structures but the idea that we should be concerned with heavenly treasure instead of worldly possessions. Sell your possessions and give to charity so you can “Make yourselves money belts which do not wear out” Says Jesus, not ‘Make a political system which redistributes your money’. The same applies to the passage in Matthew. After stating that no man can serve two masters, Jesus goes on to say “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life… Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matt 6:25). Using verses like these to justify a communist or socialist political system misses the point. Jesus’s focus was not on this life and the structures of that govern it but on the next.

A Political Savior?

The idea that the focus of Scripture is on the spiritual and not the physical leads me to my final point. When Jesus came to earth he was not concerned with politics in the slightest. The Pharisees were expecting a political savior to overthrow Rome and restore Jerusalem to the days of the Old Testament. Instead, when Jesus was asked how he felt about taxes and the oppression of the Roman government on the Jewish population, He simply stated: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17). Jesus was interested in adding sincere followers to heaven, not setting up a political heaven on earth. It is also worth observing that after the crucifixion the believers did not take the gospel to the Roman government. As Acts records, they took it to the people, spreading the message of eternal salvation to all who believe.

While it is true that Christianity is a major part of America’s history, and it very well may feel like the culture is slipping further from Scripture, it is important to point out that true followers of Christ have always been in the minority (Matt 7:14). It is also impossible to ignore the atrocities that were permitted in this ‘Christian’ nation for nearly a century. Yes, ‘Christians’ allowed and even supported slavery, using passages from the Bible out of their historical context for justification. In fact, if one examines the history of Christianity it actually thrives in persecution. Experts estimate that the total number of Christians in China has exceeded those in the US, in spite of extreme efforts by Mao Zedong during the cultural revolution to eliminate it. The early church itself was heavily persecuted by Roman authorities, and it did much more than survive.

While government is certainly important, and citizenship is encouraged by Scripture, there is nothing in the Bible that states America is the chosen nation of God. By all means, pray for revival in this country, that more people can experience God’s grace and forgiveness, but understand that change according to Scripture starts with people and not legislation. Not the president, not the white house, not the senate. It starts with you and me being humble and using what resources we have to show sacrificial love to those around us. Loving with actions instead of Facebook posts about laws and policies (James 1:19). Do you want to make a difference? Then volunteer for a non-profit, give blood. Do you want to support life and oppose abortion? Adopt a child.

I am speaking as much to myself as I am to you. Jesus never said that following him would be as easy as casting a vote or holding up a sign. “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). The first step to doing so is accepting the fact that the world is really quite dark, and that people who shine light are few even in America. Be humble. Love God with your mind as well as your heart and strength (Mark 12:30), and understand that the salvation Jesus offers is not political.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have Eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17).

Spacetime, Faith and Science

Whenever the words faith and science come up in the same conversation, it is usually in an argument or debate. Whether it be creationism or evolution, the age of the earth, the origin of man and much more, many feel that faith and science contradict one another. I do not claim to be an expert in either field, but as a Christian who attended a secular, academically rigorous liberal arts school that cherishes critical thinking, I find it rather disappointing that faith and science are so often seen as opposing one another. In my experience, they can actually work together to inform one another.

For those expecting a brilliant explanation and defense of creationism or a refutation of evolution and carbon dating with scientific explanations that they can use to convert their non-believing friends, I’m afraid you will be disappointed. I am not a brilliant scientist, and my motivation for writing is not to argue. Instead I would simply like to suggest that God does not need people to defend Him. That perhaps in being defensive and argumentative whenever a scientific theory that even remotely suggests something that is contrary to our conception of what His Word says, we are actually making Him smaller than He is.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, the renowned (and awesome) astrophysicist gave a speech at my college, and I will never forget what he said about a particular church’s reaction to a scientific discovery. He talked about a church that was against the installation of lightning rods on buildings. They maintained that lightning was how God exercised His wrath and judgement, and that installing them would be contrary to His will. Tyson pointed out that if they believed God’s will could be thwarted by a piece of metal, then their God was too small, and I agree. God is far bigger, and far more than we can ever hope to comprehend.

Proverbs 1:7 states “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction“. It is important to note that the word for “fear” in the original language is more about worshipful submission than it is terror or fright. It is a recognition of God’s infinite fullness in the face of our infinite smallness, and giving Him the respect that He deserves. It is about believing that He doesn’t need our defense. If this is the case, we would do well not to spurn knowledge that comes in the form of thoroughly researched scientific theory, because we could be denying God the fear that He deserves, as well as denying truth about His creation.

One of my favorite scientific fields to read about is theoretical physics and astrophysics (hence Neil deGrasse Tyson), and one of the concepts put forth by physicists is spacetime. Spacetime is essentially the idea that time is not separate from three dimensional space, and that we simply experience the universe by moving along the axis of time. This concept is extremely difficult to wrap one’s head around, but it essentially means that the past, present and future exist simultaneously, and we just experience them like a passenger in a car.

An example that might help is to think about a movie. When we watch a movie we perceive it as a continuous flow of events that happen as time flows, when in fact, a movie is nothing more than a series of pictures projected in quick succession. Each frame exists on the reel of the movie simultaneously, yet we only experience one frame at a time*.

So what does this have to do with science and faith? In Christianity there is a highly contentious doctrine known as predestination, which asserts that God “predestined” those who would believe in His name as well as the events of the world. One of the main passages it is based upon is Ephesians 1:4-5 “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.” I won’t get too in depth here because this blog post would never end, but this verse essentially agrees with the theory of relativity and spacetime and the idea that the past, present and future exist simultaneously.

Many Christians will assert that God created the earth, the universe, and everything in it. In fact the description of God speaking light into the universe in Genesis is conceptually similar to the description of the Big Bang. Yet when it comes to time they will stop short. My question is why? Perhaps it is the same reason that the idea of relativity and spacetime is so hard for us to conceptualize. It just doesn’t come naturally. We are inherently limited by our physical experience, but if there really is a God then it follows that He is not limited. Indeed 2 Peter 3:8 states “…with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day“. The reason I enjoy learning about theoretical physics is because it challenges me to think bigger, to love God with my mind and seek to understand Him in new ways, and it encourages me to see that He is bigger than the boxes I try to keep Him in.

*This is, of course, my armchair physicist explanation of spacetime and relativity, and I invite any real physicists to correct me on this concept. If you want to know more I highly recommend looking up Brian Greene and Neil deGrasse Tyson, who do an amazing job of explaining physics concepts in layman terms. 

 

 

 

In The Night My Hope Lives On

This Christmas season, it was recently pointed out to me that when Jesus was born into the world it was a dark, dark time. Shortly after the birth, King Herod, having heard from the magi that a great ruler was born in Bethlehem, decided to slaughter every child two years and younger in Bethlehem and its vicinity (Matt 2:16-18). He did this out of jealousy and fear that this great ruler would usurp him.

Today the times are no less turbulent: wars rage, tensions are high, and for many hope is a luxury or non-existent. This song by Andrew Peterson is a great reminder for me that Christmas, as happy and commercialized as it has become in America, began as a small pale light of hope that took the form of a humble baby born in a manger.

I have copied the lyrics here for you to read, and you can listen to it by clicking here.

“I am weary with the pain of Jacob’s wrestling
In the darkness with the fear, in the darkness with the fear
But he met the morning wounded with a blessing
So in the night my hope lives on

And when Elisha woke surrounded by the forces
Of the enemies of God, the enemies of God
He saw the hills aflame with angels on their horses
So in the night, my hope lives on

Oh, in the night, oh, in the night
Oh, in the night my hope lives on

I see the slave that toils beneath the yoke unyielding
And I can hear the captive groan, hear the captive groan
For some hand to stay the whip his foe is wielding
Still in the night my hope lives on

I see the armies of the enemy approaching
And the people driven, trembling, to the shore
But a doorway through the waters now is opening
So in the night my hope lives on

Oh, in the night, oh, in the night
Oh, in the night my hope lives on

Like the son who thought he’d gone beyond forgiveness
Too ashamed to lift his head but if he could lift his head
He would see his father running from a distance

In the night my hope lives on

And I can see the crowd of men retreating
As He stands between the woman and their stones
And if mercy in His holy heart is beating
Then in the night my hope lives on

Well, I remember how they scorned the son of Mary
He was gentle as a lamb, gentle as a lamb
He was beaten, He was crucified and buried
And in the night my hope was gone

But the rulers of this earth could not control Him
No, they did not take His life, He laid it down
And all the chains of death could never hope to hold Him
So in the night my hope lives on

And I can see the Son of Man descending
And the sword He swings is brighter than the dawn
And the gates of hell will never stand against Him
So in the night my hope lives on

Oh, in the night, oh, in the night
Oh, in the night my hope lives on
Oh, in the night, oh, in the night
Oh, in the night my hope lives on”

– Andrew Peterson

Forward Always

For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Galatians 5:13

Sometimes I wonder what Jesus would say about this election if he were an American citizen. Would He simply offer the same reply He gave the Pharisees when they asked about taxes? “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God” Mark 12:17. Or would He go on a tirade about the corruption of the politically “holy” pundits that fill the news and Facebook feeds? Both are likely, but based on what He said in scripture, I believe it would be something wholly unexpected.

Jesus was not terribly concerned with the government or with political power. He turned the accepted philosophy of leadership on its head, saying, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” Mark 10:42-45.

First and foremost, Jesus was concerned with His mission: the salvation of humanity. So where does that leave us? In an election as crazy as this one, which can drive one to turn and pray for guidance more often than previous cycles, what does God think about all this?

America has a very distinct history of being a predominantly “Christian” nation. Many, including myself, have looked nostalgically at our history wishing that we could “go back” and “reclaim our past”. While it may be a noble sentiment, I believe it is misguided and even dangerous to pursue a vision of revival that includes “going back to the way things were.”

It is not that the idea of America as a Christian nation is incorrect, it is true that the majority of our citizens have identified as “Christian” throughout history. Yet it is important to remember that serious and horrifying atrocities have been committed by those who claim to be “Christian”, even in America. “Christianity” was used by Americans to justify the enslavement, torture, rape, and oppression of millions. And as disheartening as it is, people still exist today who cling to the ideals of slavery. Also today a “Christian” church has used verses out of context to justify the abuse and hatred of homosexuals and veterans.

They would do well to remember one of the less popular sayings of Jesus: Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” Matt 7:18-23.

God’s vision for America may be different than the politically “Christian” vision. Countries are made of people, and it is important to acknowledge that the great melting pot has been and is and will always be changing throughout history. Those of us who are still praying for true revival in America should heed the words of Paul: “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead” Philippians 3:12-13. That is, instead of dwelling on the past and creating a falsely idyllic illusion to reclaim, we must look forward to what a nation filled with forgiven, God-loving, grace-led sinners can become.