Easter: An End to Death

One of the certainties of life in this universe is that at some point, you will die.

Even if medical science figures out a way to prolong human life so that you do not die, the earth will still die at some point in the future.  Either it will get swallowed up inside the sun in a few billion years when the sun becomes a red giant, or it will get hit by a comet and get jarred from its orbit and go flying out into deep space where it is WAY too cold for life of any variety to survive.

And even if we are able by that point to master the intricacies of interstellar travel and find another planet somewhere else in the universe that is capable of supporting human life, even there death will catch up with us.  Because eventually the universe will fly apart and cool off to a point where there is no molecular motion and it is nothing more than a vast cloud of particles just sitting there in the depths of space.

In the end, death is the final word throughout all of this universe.

Well, it was.

Until one man came to earth and died.

But this was no ordinary man.  This was Jesus Christ, the Son of God, fully man and fully God.  Because he was God, death could not hold him.  Three days later, he was up and walking around again.

And because of this, all who are identified with Christ will rise to newness of life.  Death is no longer the final word in our universe.

Good Friday: The Death of Power

All things are in His hands.  He can do whatever He wants….[but] what He most wants to do cannot be achieved by force.  Helpless baby in the manger, battered man dying on the cross–here is the opposite of the way of force.  Here is the way of love that suffers all the wrong, all that power bent against God can do against Him.  He suffers it all, and He is not overcome.  His victory is the victory of suffering love, not the victory of power.  And what He achieves thereby, by His cross, no use of force could achieve, and no use of force can destroy.

…Within His kingdom no coercive power can hold sway.  It suffers violence, but it does not live by violence.

Dr. Norman Nagel

Calvinism is the new black in evangelicalism.  Thanks to John Piper, Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll, and others, Calvinism has enjoyed a marked resurgence in the last decade.

The material principle of Calvinism is the sovereignty of God.  God is all-powerful, He does whatever He wants whenever He wants to, and you can do nothing about it except say “Yes” and “Amen”.

It is very entertaining, in a dark and perverse way, to watch all the leading Calvinist talking heads come flying out of the woodwork in the wake of some immense human tragedy such as the tsunami in Japan or the bridge collapse in downtown Minneapolis a couple of years back, and issue statements to the effect of “God did this.  God is completely and totally responsible for this.  Praise be to God.”

Of course the Calvinists have an awkward point here.  Because of original sin, God would be perfectly just in causing ALL of humanity to die immediately and go to hell forever.  Anything different from this in any respect is a supreme and uncalled-for act of mercy on God’s part.  So if God chooses to save some and damn others, to spare some while bringing untold amounts of suffering into the lives of others, no one who dares to accuse Him of being unjust has a leg to stand on.

But what if this is wrong?  What if God shows His power, not by overpowering all who dare to speak against Him, but by placing Himself out there, letting the world do its worst to Him, and not being overcome?

What if God came to our world, not to take over, but to die?

James and John didn’t get this.  That is why they wanted to be on Jesus’s right and left when He came into His kingdom.

The other apostles didn’t get this.  That is why they rebuked James and John so harshly when they made their request to Jesus.

The throngs who cheered “Hosanna!” (which means “Save”) upon Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem earlier this week didn’t get this.  More than likely, they were not thinking “Save us from our sins.”  They were thinking “Save us from Rome!!!!!”

Judas didn’t get this.  When it became apparent that Jesus was not going to start the revolution that he was hoping to see, he went and had Him betrayed.

God refuses to respond to men’s attempts to use power and force with stronger power and force.  Instead, He shows His power by taking the very worst that the world can bring against Him and not being overcome.

When men seek to overthrow His kingdom with violence, God does not respond with equal and greater violence.  Instead, He dies.

God can do whatever He wants.  But what He wants most cannot be achieved by force.  So God does not choose the way of force.  Instead, He dies.

All-Skate: Corporate Execs on Private Jets?

Many of America’s largest companies do not permit their highest-ranking executives to fly commercial, even when they are traveling for non-business-related reasons.  This practice is becoming increasingly common nowadays, especially at companies such as Coca-Cola, Home Depot, Walt Disney, ExxonMobil, and Ford.

The companies that impose this requirement cite concern for the personal safety of their executives.  For some companies, this is a valid concern, as they do business in parts of the world where threats to the safety of their executives are very real.  They also argue that this enhances the productivity of their executives by removing distractions from their travel experience.

But many are opposed to this practice.  Many people see it as a costly and needless expense, and many companies who engage in this practice suffer in the public eye.  A prime example was back in 2008 when auto industry execs flew to Washington in their private jets to ask for government bailout money.

Research on the economic performance of companies that require their executives to use private jets is mixed.  Some research shows that these companies underperform the stock market, while other research shows that these companies outperform their competition in some measures.

What are your thoughts, people?  Are private jets for corporate execs a necessary security precaution?  Do they really help to improve companies’ productivity?  Or are they an unnecessary perk?

Palm Sunday: James and John Make a Request

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him.  “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.””What do you want me to do for you?”  he replied.

They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said.  “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

“We can,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant.  These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.  Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you.  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (Mark 10:35-45)

James and John were among the closest of Jesus’s disciples.  Because of this, they felt they should be rewarded by being next to Jesus when he came into his kingdom–one at his right and the other at his left.  In the Matthew account of this story (Matthew 20:20-28), their mother gets into the act.  Of course the other disciples wanted no part of this.

James and John were only doing what any sensible, self-respecting political aide would do:  ask the candidate for a prominent position on the cabinet after the election is won.  “Don’t forget who helped you win this thing.”  Their actions, and the virulent response of the other disciples to them, would make perfect sense if Jesus were a political/military messiah and his kingdom were a political/military affair.

Indeed, much of Jewish culture and tradition had the same expectation of the coming Messiah.  That is why the Pharisees felt so threatened by Jesus–they did not want him taking away their power.

But they didn’t get it.  Nobody got it.  Not the Pharisees, not the rank-and-file first century Jews (a majority of them, at any rate), not the disciples, and certainly not James and John.  They had no idea what Jesus was really up to or what his kingdom would really be all about.  If they did, they certainly didn’t want to believe it, because if it was true then their most cherished expectations of what the coming kingdom was to look like would have to go.

So Jesus made things clear for James and John.  He asked if they could drink the cup that he would drink and be baptized with the baptism that he would undergo.  They answered yes, no doubt hoping that if they went along with this then Jesus would give them what they asked for.  I doubt seriously that they fully knew (in that moment, at least) what they were saying yes to.  Jesus responded by saying that it was not for him to choose who would get to be at his right and left when he came into his kingdom, that those places were reserved for those for whom they were prepared.

We know the end of this story.  James and John did in fact drink of the same cup that Jesus drank of, and undergo the same baptism that he underwent.  But Jesus’s coming into his kingdom proved to be a far different sort of affair than anyone who had expectations of a political/military messiah was expecting.

James and John did not get the places on Jesus’s right and left.  Those places went to two common criminals.  One died cursing Jesus to the very end.  The other heard Jesus say, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Other Perspectives on Lent

Allow me to catch you up on some thoughts that others around the Christian blogosphere have shared.  Easter is almost upon us, and with it the end of our Lenten journey, but there is still plenty of time to consider these thoughts and implement any that strike your fancy.

Margaret Feinberg is giving up prayer.  Not all prayer, mind you.  Just the interminably run-on variety that seems to be prevalent all over evangelicalism.  Specifically, she is going to limit herself to three-word prayers.  You don’t need to be that drastic, but I think we could all stand to focus on making our prayers short and sweet and to the point.

Giving up social media for Lent seems to be quite a fashionable thing among those who observe Lent, and for many people it would not be a bad idea.  But Bruce Reyes Chow of Mission Bay Community Church in San Francisco does not think this is a good idea for everyone.  He notes that many of the criticisms which people level against social networking can also be leveled against the church, and also that social networking can be a very positive thing.  Upshot:  Think it through before you decide to give up social media.

Rev. Steven Charleston, interim rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in Oklahoma City, suggests that we “give up giving up”.  The current political, cultural, and economic climate can easily intimidate us into believing that our best days as a nation are behind us and that we must accept our role as a second-class people going forward.  Charleston challenges us to “stand tall as people of faith and proclaim that we are neither victims nor losers, but free men and women with the wisdom and the will to face any challenge that history sends our way.”

David A. Davis, pastor of Nassau Presbyterian Church in Princeton, New Jersey, suggests that the way in which many people observe Lent is overly individualistic.  Many who observe Lent see it as a time to focus on spiritual disciplines in their own personal lives.  But in Davis’s view, the chief threat we face in this world is when the people of God as a whole lose their way.  Lent ought to be a time for the community as a whole to check its priorities, focus upon claiming our identity as God’s people, and commit to living that out in the world.

The Epistle to Diognetus: A Succinct Description of What Christians Are in the World

Sometime between AD 150 and AD 225 (we don’t know the exact date), a letter was penned which contains one of the most succinct and eloquent descriptions from antiquity of what it means to be a follower of Jesus and what it means to be the Church in the world.  It currently exists in twelve sections; the section of interest is contained in parts 5 and 6.

Read parts 5 and 6 of the Epistle to Diognetus