Rachel Held Evans on Campus Crusade Changing Its Name

Rebranding happens all the time in corporate America.  Walmart, Radio Shack, and Belk are only a few of the stores that have designed all new logos for themselves in recent years in an attempt to make themselves appear more relevant to today’s consumers.  My feeling about this is that the fact you felt it necessary to rebrand yourself indicates that you are not very successful; the most successful companies just don’t change their logos.  When’s the last time McDonalds changed its logo?  Or Chick-Fil-A?  Or Home Depot?  Or Lowe’s?

What is even worse than this is when a Christian organization goes through a rebranding effort and then tries to convince us all that God led them to do it.  That is exactly what happened recently when Campus Crusade changed its name to “Cru” and came up with a whole new logo to boot.  Read what Rachel Held Evans has to say about this.

Those of you who were involved in Campus Crusade in the past or now, I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Christmas

Here is how our story from the past few weeks ends:  The Jews returned from exile in Babylon after seventy years.  The Persians overran the Babylonians and the Persian king, Cyrus, allowed the Jewish people to return to their homeland.  After much struggle, they rebuilt the temple and the wall surrounding Jerusalem.

When the new temple was built, there was a dedication ceremony.  The book of Ezra recounts this; this was an extremely spartan affair compared to the dedication of Solomon’s temple.  There was much weeping during this ceremony.  I believe this was for two reasons:  First, the Jews knew from having read their history that the dedication of Solomon’s temple was a lavish and impressive affair, and this was nothing compared to that.  Second, and more importantly, the people realized that they had been unfaithful to God and that their unfaithfulness had led to exile in Babylon.  But they had been restored to their land.  They had been given another chance that they never thought they would get.  They were determined to get it right this time.  It was out of this that the Pharisees were born.

Fast-forward a few hundred years.  Israel is still in its own land, but it is nothing like what it was under David and Solomon.  It has not had even a whiff of independence since the Babylonian invasion.  It has been a vassal state to all the reigning superpowers of the day, first the Persians, then the Greeks, then the Romans–and an extremely undesirable one at that.  The Romans viewed Israel as the “stinking armpit” of their empire.  The voice of a prophet has not been heard in Israel for hundreds of years.  People who were concerned about such things believed that God had forgotten them.  But most people were not concerned; they just went on about the daily business of their lives and did not give the apparent absence of God from their land and their lives a second thought.

And then, one night some shepherds were out in a field and crazy things started happening.  A whole bunch of angels appeared in the sky and told them to go check out what was happening in a stable near Bethlehem.  They went, and found that a baby had been born.

This was no ordinary baby.  This was the one upon whom all the promises of the prophets converged.  This was Jesus Christ.

Advent Week 4: Babylon

Exile is not just a physical or geographic thing.  Exile is a state of the soul.  It is what happens when you forget your story and who you are.  And the Israelites had forgotten their story.

Solomon’s reign, climaxed by the opening of the temple in Jerusalem, was without a doubt Israel’s finest hour.  But as we saw last week, there were cracks in the foundations.  In the centuries that followed, the whole thing would be reduced to a mountain of sand and gravel and twisted steel.

There was ample evidence, even in the height of Israel’s glory, that Israel had forgotten its story.  Israel had forgotten that they were a nation of slaves that had been delivered from Egypt by God for the express purpose of reflecting the image of God to all the world and bringing the deliverance they had experienced to all the peoples of the world.  In many ways, they became the very thing that God had delivered them from.

What did God do about this?  He sent the prophets.  A goodly portion of the Old Testament is devoted to the writings of prophets who came to Israel in the years and centuries that followed, reminding Israel of their story and identity and calling them back to that.  But they did not listen.  And ultimately the exile of the Israelite soul became actual, physical exile.

It started right after Solomon’s death.  His son Rehoboam was a rash young man who promised to be much more the brutal tyrant than Solomon ever was.  The ten northern tribes of Israel couldn’t take any more of this, so they appointed their own king and broke away.  Less than forty years after the opening of the temple, the kingdom of Israel was divided in two.

From there it only went downhill.  The northern kingdom, which retained the name Israel, slid into idolatry and corruption and within two centuries the Assyrians came and wiped them completely and totally off the map.  The ten tribes that made up that kingdom were never seen or heard from again.

The southern kingdom, also known as Judah, fared only slightly better.  They had a few good leaders mixed in with the bad, and they hung on for a couple of centuries longer.

As noted earlier, the people of Israel and Judah did not listen to the prophets.  Their leaders persecuted them.  God was patient; He just kept on sending prophets.  But the people refused to listen.  They had forgotten their story.  They could no longer hear the cry of the oppressed, which was once their own cry.

Finally, the Babylonians invaded.  Virtually all of Judah was destroyed and its inhabitants were hauled off to Babylon.  There they were servants–slaves–in a foreign land.  Just like Egypt.  All over again.

But this is not the end of the story.  In Babylon, the Israelites had time to reflect.  They came to realize that their condition of exile was a result of their failure to live up to their role as God’s people, and God was punishing them for this.  But there was hope there, because if God was punishing them then at some point their punishment would end.

They also connected their exile in Babylon with the exile of their forefathers in Egypt.  They realized that, just like their forefathers, they needed another exodus.  But this could not be like the exodus from Egypt, or else the cycle of deliverance to failure to exile would continue all over again.  This exodus would have to take place on a much deeper level.  For the Egypt that they lived in was not a physical kingdom–it was an Egypt of the soul.  And every person who has ever walked the face of the earth lives in that Egypt.  We all need an exodus from that Egypt.

During this time in Babylon, the whole tenor of the prophets changed–so much so that the back half of Isaiah, which speaks to Jews after the exile in Babylon, is believed by many scholars to have been written by a “second Isaiah” who lived around that time.  The message of the prophets became a message of hope–that Israel’s time of punishment was at an end and that God would restore them.  The prophets spoke of God delivering His people on a deeper level:  writing His law on people’s hearts instead of on stone tablets, making His temple in the hearts of men, and other such things.  And their promises all converged upon one man, the man who would be God incarnate, whose birth we will celebrate in just a few days.

Patrol Magazine on Tim Tebow

Today, please allow me to direct your attention to a piece by David Sessions over at Patrol Magazine entitled “The Strange, Sad War Over Tim Tebow“.

Tim Tebow is someone that people either love or love to hate.  He wears his Christianity on his sleeve, in a way that wins him a great deal of admiration from a certain subgroup of Christians.  Is this helpful to the cause of Christ?  Or is it just a gratification of Tebow’s need to have his faith out there in public and be known by it (if in fact that is a need for him), or of our need as evangelicals to have heroes in the public arena who are completely and totally in-your-face about the Christian faith?

Read “The Strange, Sad War Over Tim Tebow” by David Sessions

Advent Week 3: Jerusalem

Last week we left Israel with an invitation that represented the totality of the Ten Commandments and all the laws that followed:  God saying to Israel “I liberated you from slavery in Egypt.  Now go and make this happen for others too.”  Did they accept?

For the answer to this question, we must fast-forward a couple of centuries.  Israel has settled in the Promised Land.  After a long and turbulent season, Israel has established itself as a cohesive nation-state with a king.  (This was not without controversy: Israel’s asking for a king was an act of disobedience motivated by a desire to be just like the other nations surrounding them.  Samuel, the reigning prophet at that time, called them out on this and warned them of dire future consequences that would result from having a king.  But Moses had foreseen that Israel would eventually want a king and left detailed instructions on what sort of man this king was supposed to be.  More on this later.)

The first king was a man named Saul.  He was not a very good king; though he had some initial success he left Israel worse off than he found it.  His successor was a man named David who would go on to be the best king Israel ever had.  Under him many of the promises concerning Israel and the Promised Land came to fruition; all of Israel’s enemies were subdued and Israel’s territory was enlarged to almost all of the maximum area promised.

David wanted to build a temple.  But God had other ideas.  Still, David was passionate about the temple.  Though he was not permitted to build it himself, he worked very hard for it and arranged things so that all his son Solomon had to do was give the order and the thing would practically build itself.

So we resume our story during the reign of Solomon.  The temple has just been completed and dedicated in a very large-scale ceremony where impressive prayers were prayed and crazy things happened to show that God was inhabiting the temple.  This is, by all accounts, Israel’s finest hour.

But there are some cracks in the foundations.  In 1 Kings 6:38 and 7:1, we see that Solomon spent seven years building the temple but thirteen years building his own palace.  This should start to raise some concerns.  1 Kings 9:15:  “Here is the account of the forced labor King Solomon conscripted to build the Lord’s temple, his own palace, the supporting terraces, the wall of Jerusalem, and Hazor, Megiddo, and Gezer.”  For “forced labor”, read “slaves”.  Slaves labored to build the temple of the Lord who sets slaves free, who set Israel free when they were in slavery in Egypt.  The former slaves have now become the oppressors.  Alarm bells should be starting to go off now.

At Israel’s finest hour, they have forgotten their story, that they were once slaves in Egypt but God liberated them and they should be seeking to make that liberation happen for others as well.  So the answer is no, Israel did not accept the invitation that God had extended to them.

But wait.  It gets worse.

At the end of 1 Kings 9:15, there are some place names.  These are the names of fortresses–in more contemporary parlance, military bases.  One of these is Megiddo, from which we get Armageddon.  What is Solomon doing here?  He is using his massive resources and wealth to build fortresses to protect his…massive resources and wealth.  What’s wrong with this picture?

But wait.  It gets worse.

1 Kings 10:26:  “Solomon accumulated chariots and horses; he had fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horses, which he kept in the chariot cities and also with him in Jerusalem.”  Pharaoh and his soldiers used horses and chariots to attempt to chase down Israel as they were leaving Egypt.  Now Solomon was getting horses and chariots from Egypt.

1 Kings 10:29:  “They imported a chariot from Egypt for six hundred shekels of silver, and a horse for a hundred and fifty.  They also exported them to all the kings of the Hittites and of the Arameans.”  So Solomon was an arms dealer.  Who knew?

Does this look like maintaining justice and righteousness, and hearing the cry of the oppressed?  One would be very hard pressed to say so.

But wait.  It gets worse.

1 Kings 11:3-4:  “He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray.  As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been.”  This is worse than any of the systemic failures mentioned above.  This is a failure of the heart.  Solomon broke covenant with God–the very first commandment.

In Deuteronomy 17:16-17, Moses gives detailed instructions about what sort of person the king of Israel is to be.  Solomon is the complete antithesis of this.  “The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them…”  Solomon imported horses and chariots from Egypt and had so many of them that he had to build special cities just for them.  Fail.  “He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray.”  Solomon took many wives, and his heart was led astray.  Fail.  “He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.”  Solomon made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones (1 Kings 10:27), and every year he made 666 talents of gold (1 Kings 10:14).  Fail.

Notice that the writer of 1 Kings says 666 talents of gold.  Numbers in the Bible usually mean more than what they actually mean.  Anytime you see the number 666 in the Bible, it is a distinctly Jewish way of saying that something is very very very wrong here.

Israel is in its finest hour under King Solomon, yet we see that the story has taken a very tragic turn.  Israel has forgotten who they were, who God intended them to be.  And God is in a very awkward place.  What do you do when the people whom you appointed to be your image in the world look nothing like you?  When they become the very embodiment of all the things that you are against?  When they go back the very way that they were not supposed to go, to the very place that you rescued them from?

There’s a word for this:  exile.  More on this next time.

Advent Week 2: Sinai

Today we continue our journey:  The Israelites were living under Egyptian oppression.  They cried out to God, and God heard.  More than that, God did something about it.  He sent a deliverer.

Moses was born, and through a bizarre series of circumstances wound up being raised in the palace of Egypt as one of Pharaoh’s children, then found himself on the run for murder.  God met him in the desert, then commissioned him to go to Pharaoh and intercede for the Israelites.  Reluctantly, Moses went.

Pharaoh eventually came around to seeing things Moses’ way, but it took some convincing.  Read the early chapters of Exodus to see how this went.

Ultimately God brought Israel out of Egypt.  But this was not the end of the story; it was only the beginning.

God brought the Israelites to Sinai, and it was here that He spoke.

What happened at Sinai was unprecedented.  Never since Eden had God addressed a group of people at once.  He had spoken to individuals (Abraham, Noah).  Angels had spoken on behalf of God to multiple people.

But it was never anything like this.

This was God breaking the silence between Himself and humanity that had existed since Eden.  This was humanity disconnected from God , and God beginning the process of reconnection.

No other religion has anything like this as part of the story of its beginning.  No other major religion has been birthed out of God addressing a whole group of people all at once.  Further, it happened out in the wilderness.  Not in or near a city, or in a nation.  Not on any land that one people group could claim as its own.  Rather, it happened on land that belonged to no one and everyone.  Thus, what happened here was for all people.

The plan was that Israel would be the hands and face and feet of God to a world that didn’t have a clue what He was about.  They would be a new kind of nation.  They would be the anti-Egypt.

So God gave them what we know as the Ten Commandments, to teach them a new way of being human.  Up to this point, Israel had known nothing but slavery.  Slavery dehumanizes.  God needed to teach Israel how to be human, how to live in authentic human community.

Thus the Ten Commandments.  These did not come about as a condition for Israel to be in relationship with God.  These did not come about at all until God had gone out of His way to bring Israel out of Egypt and establish a relationship with them.

The first commandment:  Have no other gods.  The Israelites’ humanity is tied to remembering their liberation from slavery, which was a gift from God.  If they forget God, then they forget their story.  They forget what it is like to be in slavery, and they eventually wind up back in slavery.

Commandment 2:  No images of God.  Why?  God is people.  The people of Israel ARE the image of God that shows the world what God is like.  No other images are necessary.

Commandment 3:  Don’t misuse the name of God.  Carry it properly.  Do the things God would do.  Be concerned about the things God would be concerned about.  Act on behalf of the poor and oppressed.  That is how God would act.  It is how God did act on behalf of Israel.

Commandment 4:  Take a day off.  You’re not slaves anymore.  You’re worth more than how many bricks you make.  Your worth comes from God, not from how many bricks you make.

The rest of the commandments, and all of the laws that follow, are all about how to be human.  How to live in this new kind of human community.

God’s words to Israel at Sinai could be summed up as follows:  “I brought you up out of Egypt.  Now go and make this happen for others.”

This was an invitation.  Would Israel accept?  For the answer, we must go to Jerusalem.