Spitting in the Wind: Reflections on Jeremiah’s Prophetic Future

jeremiah

The context in which Jeremiah existed is extremely bleak.

The rise of the Babylonian Empire in the 7th century spelled disaster for Judah, the Southern Kingdom of Israel in which Jeremiah was active. Contrary to much of Deuteronomistic history that would have us imagine a more grandiose picture of the Southern Kingdom, it appears by the vast majority of accounts, both biblical and extrabiblical, that Judah was never all that powerful of a political entity. Often, Judah is characterized as having been a vassal-type subsidiary state in relation to the Northern Kingdom. However, Judah was able to outlast the Northern Kingdom, which was sacked by the Assyrians c. 722 BCE, by almost a century and a half!

One of the most notable things about Jeremiah is certainly his calling. Initially, YHWH’s call to Jeremiah is inspiring and encouraging! God tells Jeremiah,

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you/ and before you were born, I consecrated you/ I appointed you a prophet to the nations.

I mean, that’s really nice, right?

Then Jeremiah responds fearfully, claiming his youthfulness as a handicap. Reminiscent of Moses, Jeremiah is also insecure of his speaking abilities. However, God affirms him again by saying,

Now I have put my words in your mouth.

Don’t you wish your mouth could be full of God’s words? Well, be careful what you wish for.

Now, Jeremiah preached in the last days of the Southern Kingdom. The first decade of the 6th century saw Babylonian siege on Jerusalem, destruction of the temple and deportations of many of the educated, important Judeans to Babylon. It was a time of horrific tragedy yet vast significance.

Jeremiah’s message, like the fate of his nation, was one of tragedy. God called Jeremiah to reveal the sins of Judah in light of Josiah’s revival. However, as if this wasn’t bad enough, God promised Jeremiah that no one would listen to him. God even commanded Jeremiah to stop praying for the people he was preaching to!

Jeremiah’s call was to spit in the wind.

His ministry was never affirmed by other people, he never won a convert, the other prophets that were popular during this period severely disliked him and he couldn’t even pray for his own people.

And yet…

Toward the end of the book of Jeremiah, a really strange thing happens. While Jeremiah is in prison (I told you, bleak), God instructs him to purchase a plot of land in Judah. Now, fiscally speaking this is downright terrible investment advice; Judah is about to be overtaken by Babylonians. In fact, John Holbert has a wonderful blog here on this land deal. But God does not tell Jeremiah to buy the land to show off his Dave Ramsey skills…

At a time when thinking about the future at all, let alone a bright one, seemed ridiculous. As Judeans have resorted to cannibalism because of hunger and the war-cries of Babylonians can be heard from in the city, Jeremiah buys a plot of land. WHY?

As a promise.

A promise of restoration. A promise of a future.

Though God’s people would have to walk through the fires of their own destruction, in a prophetic act, Jeremiah’s little plot of land is a testament to God’s holistic future in which the people of God would once again take up residence in a land of their own.

 

 

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When Christianity Wounds: On the So-Called Scriptural Treatment of Minorities

A professor recently prompted me to read a few pieces of literature that delineate a Christian, specifically Baptist, defense of slavery in the American Antebellum (pre-civil war) period. And yes, I did say a Christian defense of slavery.

The one I wish to discuss here on the blog is Exposition of the Views of the Baptists Relative to the Coloured Population in the United States. This was actually a letter written in 1822 from Dr. Richard Furman, president of the first national Baptist convention, the Triennial Convention, to the Governor of South Carolina. You can read this here if you wish.

A brief though fair inventory of his arguments are as follows:

  • slavery is scriptural.
    • 1 Timothy 6.1-2 “Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful to them on the ground that they are members of the church; rather they must serve them all the more, since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved.” (Also see Exodus 21, Leviticus 25.44-46, Philemon, Ephesians 6.5)
    •  Furman states that since slavery is in fact sanctioned in the Bible, it cannot be sinful. Basically, if slavery could be considered a moral evil, the B-I-B-L-E would tell us so but instead implores slaves to obey their masters and behave well under their rule. He also said that abolitionists perverted the word of God and should examine themselves carefully.
  • slavery is in America’s best interests.
    • Cotton was everything and plantations needed slaves to remain operational. The economy of the South was absolutely dependent on the institution of slavery. The author does note that he would be happy to see the slaves be emancipated one day, but surely since their bondage is a necessity of American success it could not be God’s will to abolish slavery just yet.
    • There had been several insurrections, or revolts, by both slaves and freed African-Americans that stemmed from the Blacks’ desire for equality and justice. In particularly, was the Denmark Vesey Revolt that occurred the same year Furman wrote this exposition. Furman’s argument then is that the hope of emancipation stirs up the Black population to revolt against the law and their slave-owners, which would suck.
  • slavery is in the slaves’ best interests.
    • This is one of Furman’s more despicable arguments, posing that white men actually saved them from the poverty, anarchy and constant war that they would have faced in Africa. But more importantly, the slaves would never have been introduced to the Christian faith if they had not been purchased by whites. He argues that in light of these things, slaves in America experience a tolerably happy life. Plus, if they decided to revolt nationwide, they would be crushed because they were generally ignorant of battle tactics and weaponry.
  • slavery is the natural order of things.
    • A popular anti-slavery argument from scripture at the time was the Golden Rule, which is actually a very poignant argument. However, Furman rebutted to this by positing that a father does not have to  obey the orders given him by his son, for this would disrupt the natural order, such it is with slave to slave-owner relationship.

Now there are some more tolerable ideas that Furman postulated in his letter, like drafting a law that protects the slave from any tyrannical acts taken by his owner. Unfortunately, there are some ideas he lays out in the letter that are even more disappointing than anything I’ve noted here. I also want to point out that these are essentially mild versions of the way Christians in general felt about slavery all through the south, it wasn’t just baptists but almost everyone. Remember it was the puritans that brought the slaves over in the early 1600s. All this to say, this line of reason was the ammunition the south used to argue Emancipation until 1865.

Why am I writing all of this and posting it on a blog for people to read? I mean it is depressing and honestly, downright disgusting.

Here’s why:

We can get the bible to say anything we damn well please.

And the scarier reality of it is that since before the Church even officially decided what would comprise the New Testament, certain individuals/groups have manipulated the bible in a way that takes power, even humanity at times, away from other certain individuals/groups.

Sidenote: I mean, it is 2015 and there are a myriad of churches that won’t allow women to serve in leadership over men, claiming that it is unbiblical for a female to lead, pastor or even be a deacon. This is absolutely absurd.

Suffice it to say that from Rome to the Crusades to the KKK, groups of so-called “Christians” (little-Christs) have wielded the scriptures as a sword, pun intended, drawing suffering and even blood from weaker groups.

So, let’s stop. ok? ok.

The bible absolutely deals with slavery and submission of women as they are cultural and historical realities that exist during the time scripture was written. However, arguably the most pervasive theme of scripture is the liberation of those under oppression AND there were women who were preachers, deacons and even pastors in the bible.

In his Letter From A Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. expressed that his deepest disappointment was in the “moderate whites.” He was obviously grateful for the whites who took action in the Civil Rights Movement and disagreed vehemently with those who oppressed blacks but the dismay he felt deepest in his bones was reserved for those who believed in the Civil Rights Movement and had the ability to do something, but chose not to: the white moderates.

It is my hope that Dr. King’s words haunt us to the grave. Let us never be people who choose to let injustice happen.

Let us not only refuse to mishandle scripture at the expense of minorities but rather let us always be found guilty of fighting for the rights of the oppressed, powerless and mute.

Thanks to the work of thousands of brave souls, we now clearly perceive slavery to be the horrifying injustice that it is. In the Church, we are also finally seeing the rights of leadership and equality being restored to women.

I challenge you to ask yourself these questions:

Have I aided in the oppression of minority groups because of the way I read scripture?

What groups are we currently oppressing?

What will you do about it?

Theology? pt. II: Impetus for Creation

“…God created…”

These two words are found in the very first sentence of the Christian scriptures.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…”

This is perhaps the most fundamental and prerequisite belief for a Christian to hold.

Though the “how” is most definitely up for debate among scholars and non-scholars alike, Christians trust that the God of the Bible is indeed the Creator of the universe. This is one of the most unique and identifying beliefs that Christianity inherited from Judaism.

Now, there are a ton of questions that naturally arise when discussing the biblical creation event…

Such as,

  • Why does the account in Genesis chapter 1 differ from the account in Genesis 2?
  • Literally, seven days?
  • What about Evolution?
  • Is Genesis 1 simply a poem?

And I love these questions. I love speculating and dreaming about answers for them.

But at the end of the day, my answer to all of these is “I don’t know.”

And that’s okay, because ultimately, I don’t need to know. These things are peripheral to salvation and completely unrelated to how I live my life day by day. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t search for answers to tough theological questions because I believe just the opposite but I am saying that there are questions we simply won’t ever be able to answer.

God is sovereign over that.

But there is a question that I think we must answer when it comes to Creation.

Why did God create?

I think it imperative to answer this question for two primary reasons:

  1. I believe there is an answer given in scripture that is true to and revealing of God’s character and nature.
  2. There are two dramatically unbiblical and contradictory theories floating around that are extremely popular.

The first theory is that God was in want of companionship, therefore God created humanity to fill that desire.

Now, from a human perspective that seems logical, right? It makes sense.

However, if we take into account the doctrine of the Trinity, this theory gets very heretical, very fast. Genesis 1.26 says this,

“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness;'”

So unless God is schizophrenic, God was not alone in the beginning.

For over 1900 years, Christians have believed that God lives in community and always has, even before God created anything. This is the Doctrine of the Trinity, that God is singular in nature and character but plural in person, that God is made up of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. God is within himself a community. Cornelius Plantinga, a theologian of the highest rank, says this of the Trinity,

“At the center of the universe, self-giving love is the dynamic currency of the Trinitarian life of God. The persons within god exalt each other, commune with each other, and defer to one another. Each person, so to speak, makes room for the other two…. we might almost say that the persons within God show each other divine hospitality.

God is not in need of companionship and if He was surely He could come up with a better companion than humanity. We don’t even make it a full three chapters into scripture without committing treason against God. The second theory is that God created humanity as worshipers because God was insufficient in glory. Before I say anything else, I believe that God’s first priority is God’s glory. I also believe that the primary reason God does anything is for His glory and that our purpose as human beings on this earth is to glorify Him.

However, it is vital for a correct understanding of the nature and character of God that we recognize that God is completely sufficient within Himself. God needs nothing. God needs no one. As Plantinga said, God is adequately exalted inside the community of the Trinity. We were created for God’s glory, but not because God’s glory was lacking anything at all. As if in some way God was ego-deficient.

This might sound crazy, so get ready for it.

I think God created the universe as part of a grand, wonderful gesture of love for God.

Love tends to make us create. Love makes people produce words, songs, art, babies, etc…

We often create in attempt to glorify things we love.  And as we were made in the image of God, I think God is probably highly motivated by love as well.

So, all this to say…God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit were all active in Creation in the different ways that fit their unique strength for the purpose of exalting one another out of love.

Theology? : a series on God, big words and really old people you won’t care about

In college, I was asked to answer the question “what is theology?” My response was ridiculous.

I think it was something along the lines of “thoughts, actions and/or feelings towards God or about the idea of God, religion and/or religious practices.”

Now, I have long believed that everyone is a theologian.

That any average Joe on a street corner with a thought about God is as much a theologian as Stanley Hauerwas or Clark Pinnock.

So, theologians, for me, were people with thoughts about God. Whether those thoughts were developed or not was irrelevant. 

I still think this initial definition of theology is true, though I’ve realized through the course of my life the past few years how incredibly lacking it is. It’s far too ethereal and shallow to accurately represent the rigorous demands and discipline involved in the work of theology.  It does express how widely accessible and inclusive theology can be but fails to show that truly doing the work of a theologian is for an exclusive crowd; a crowd of folks who are willing and able to execute this labor.

Anselm was a man in this crowd.

This respected Church Father defined theology as “faith seeking understanding.” He approached theology as something that sprouts from the faith of a person who is already in pursuit of knowing God. Anselm’s primary objective was not understanding itself, but rather that his preexisting faith would be strengthened by being led to its own understanding. He wrote from the perspective that any correct understanding, or knowing, of God cannot possibly be attained without a preexisting faith in God.

Thomas Aquinas was also a man in that crowd.

He referred to theology as a scientific study of the divine; that in theology, God is the ultimate subject of scientific study through God’s given revelation. Aquinas sought to interrogate the universe in a theological fashion. In his Summa Theologica, Aquinas carries out the work of the theologian through an deliberative argument style approach that is largely done in four parts: he gives the objection, on the contrary (sed contra) statements, answers, and finally his reply to the objection.

My guess is that you probably don’t care much about St. Thomas or St. Anselm… but as I’ve reflected on their ideas, my answer to the question “what is theology?” has been profoundly reshaped.

Theology is a deeply worshipful process of spiritually pursuing God with one’s mind. I understand now that theology truly requires discipline; it is more systematic and methodological than I once thought. Though it is available to every average Joe on any street corner, it is also paradoxically esoteric.

Theology is an eternal funnel that allows the increasingly proficient, faithful theologian more and more understanding depending on how deeply the theologian is willing and able to seek.

Now as I give my newest answer to the question “what is theology?” I believe I am further down in that funnel than I have ever been. However, I must assert the principle of fallibility by acknowledging that I am still very inadequate in giving a proper answer.

 

I still think theology is thoughts, actions and feelings relating to God and religion BUT more importantly, it is the intentional labor of a believer pursuing God in order to know and serve God well.

I think theology is found everywhere, in everything and it is left up to the theologian to find it, recognize it and cultivate it.

Nothing is un-theological. (I love using double-negatives). 

And that seems to be the work of the true theologian, to make everything into something in which his or her faith can seek understanding.

When Loving Means Hating: I Would Have Chosen Atheism

I love the Church.

I believe She is the hope of the world, made up of people in which God lives and moves. The Church was created, appointed and sent out by Jesus himself, to whom all things belong.

I owe the Church.

As a child owes his mother, I owe Her. She has brought the increasingly sweet news of the gospel to my ear and teaches me about living life under the yoke of Christ.

I am the Church.

Christ claims Her, earned righteousness for Her and redeems Her, blemishes and all.  She consists of all believers and only believers. I cannot claim Christ and not claim the Church.

So I love Her, I owe Her and I am Her.

But.

If my faith was rooted in Her alone, I would have chosen atheism long ago. She is broken. God, She is broken.

History and experience tells me that Her brokenness should not continue to surprise me, but it does. I mean, 400 years after Jesus died, Augustine was already calling the Church a whore. And really, the entire Bible is full of stories about a faithful God pursuing His almost always unfaithful people. Yet I still find Her adultery shocking. Even though I’m aware that the Church has been a messed up place for a really long time, I cannot help but be crushed and outraged as She continues to hurt people, take advantage of people and just acts utterly unlike Jesus.

I hate the Church.

Maybe that’s wrong of me but I find myself dreaming about who the Church could be and what She could do.  I want so badly for Her to be who Christ commanded Her to be and have given my life to work for that. I just hate so much about who She has been and continues to be.

Thank God, our faith is to be in the brave, strong, gracious, unstoppable, perfect Messiah who chose to be slaughtered to set Her free, chose to absorb God’s just wrath toward His Bride so that She might be justified; and did all of this knowing We would be unbelievably and incessantly unfaithful to Him.

This is such good news. Good enough to press on with Her.

A Review of ReJesus: A Wild Messiah For A Missional Church

ReJesus: A Wild Messiah for a Missional Church by authors Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch is an exceptionally challenging and inspiring treatise for thinking Christian church-goers of the 21st century seeking to find Christ in every corner of existence. The book is a prophetically refreshing and innovative call to remember that Jesus is the center, object, creator and receiver of the whole enchilada, everything. The authors lead the reader on an expedition deep into the heart of who Jesus is and then invite us to set up camp with them and lodge there for as long as we might. The authors claim the book to be a work of “missional Christology, if there is such a thing…” and the book finds its basis and impetus largely derived from the ideology of Missio Dei. Frost and Hirsch propose that it is time again to reform and recalibrate the mission of the Church around the person and work of Jesus, hence the title, “ReJesus”. They have perceived the Church, and in my opinion very accurately, as having become very ecclesiocentric in the majority of its pursuits and ideas. They adduce that perhaps the Church has put ecclesiology at the forefront of its concentration and has left Christology and Missiology to be infinitesimal afterthoughts. The modern day prophets claim that now is the time to dispose of much of the polluted proverbial bathwater that we have allowed Christianity to lie in for so long and usher in a clean, pure supply of Adam’s ale straight from the original tap, Jesus of Nazareth. Each chapter of the book begins with the authors identifying ways in which Christianity is or has been radically destructive and misrepresentative of the mission and identity of Jesus. For example, the prologue begins with the case of the Ku Klux Klan tyrannizing the south with bibles in hand, attempting to sanctify every appallingly unjustifiable misdeed by claiming the name of Jesus and shouting the words “lord, lord” with much volume and pride. The authors also reminded the reader of equally disturbing exemplars of what Christianity has drug the name of Christ through; including the oppressive reign of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, the Crusades, Christian fascism, the anthropomorphization of God in various ways and times, etc. The authors then explain how each of these historical faux pas with Jesus’ name slapped on it like a cheap bumper sticker are the consummation of fundamental misinterpretations of who Jesus Christ is. As Brian McLaren would say, there have been many times when Jesus has been merely the mascot of the Church, not the Lord of it. The main sentiment of the work can be summed up with the simple phrase “Jesus is not who I want him to be.”  Like the name Yahweh implies, He is who He is and He is going to be who He is going to be. The authors communicate that the Church has effectively lost its way many times because people tend to see God in the mirror, so to speak. And the only way to get back on track is to return to the founder and emulate Him in reforming, healing and ameliorating the Church he has espoused.

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Beggars: Another Thing About Chairs-Part One

Upon noticing that I have not blogged in over ten months, I have decided to charge myself with blogging at least once a month. So, this begins my attempt at blogging once a month, even if it means coercing myself to do so. Which I am totally doing right now.

As they say, “if you want to write more, then write more.”

Thus, here is my first blog of 2011.

In scripture, there is often somewhat of a dichotomy drawn between the poor and the rich. Even semioccasional readers of the bible will probably tell you that the poor are portrayed as the oppressed and broken with God pulling for them, while the rich are painted as merciless and greedy with God as an enemy. Obviously, we know that not every rich person is an evil, idol-worshiping, slave-owning, wife-beating douche. And it is equally as clear that not every poor person is a spirit-filled prophet of the Lord. Even in scripture you have filthy rich men after God’s own heart, and poor men that work for Hell. Nonetheless, the canonical writers do seem to be negatively biased against the rich.

Here is a good point to stop and acknowledge that no, I cannot communicate in any way without giving moderately long and marginally unnecessary prefaces/intros. My apologies. My desire in this blog is to examine both the rich and the poor through a spiritually and ecclesiologically simple lens.

So here is what I have to say.

In the book of James, the author commands not to give up a good seat in the assembly to the rich man. Now, I may need you to take somewhat of a leap with me on this next part because the author clearly made this statement with different intentions in mind than those I now have for this blog entry.

I believe that rich and poor are two different and equally destructive labels, realities and even worldviews that are dangerously easy traps to fall into. They are states of being that include seeing oneself, or being seen by others, as rich and/or poor. These labels take on much more than just socioeconomic status. I’ll explain…

In the Church, as well as many common and consistent social situations, people are typically quickly labelled as either “poor” or “rich”. These labels are often attributed to a person because of relatively higher or lower monetary wealth, talent, intellect, popularity, importance, pulchritude, etc. Now, for the Christ follower, there is rarely anything valuable to be found in labels. My foremost hope here is to convince you of this if you are skeptical. So. First, I will explore the dangers of being perceived by others as the rich man, and then the dangers of seeing one’s self as the rich man, specifically how it relates to those in the Church.

Stay tuned.

Lawn Chairs: A Reason to Blog

Conversations are perpetually emerging on the front porches of our lives. Some of which have been going on for millenia, and others that are just beginning.

Many of these dialogues include thousands of people and are surrounded by all sorts of noise and banter. But many still are very exclusive, intimate and require much more care and tenderness.

Some could be considered yelling matches, in which we must fight to be heard. However, in others sometimes we are the only one talking. And in these we have to focus more on the sweetness of our voice rather than just raw volume.

As humans, we find ourselves in the midst of all types of conversations about a myriad of topics.

And as humans, we naturally have ideas, opinions or at least something we think is worth saying.

The hard part is usually finding a way to join in on the discussion. Some of us are just not in positions to be heard. For those of us who really wish for the opportunity to speak and be included in the conversation, we must always be looking for a seat near the action.

This is my attempt at finding a seat. 

This is me pulling up a lawn chair to the dialogue that is occuring on my front porch.  

These are my ideas, my opinions, and just some things I think may be worth saying.