Jesus and the Trojan Horse

The following article goes hand-in-hand with the sermon The Resurrection Gives a Reason given by Jordan Danser on 4/4/2021. If you enjoy the article and want to hear more about reasons to believe Jesus rose from the grave, or if you want to hear more about how powerful this fact is in our lives, please give this sermon a listen.

We are all very familiar with the story of the Trojan horse in which a group of Greek soldiers pretended to be offering a gift as a sign of their defeat to the people of Troy, but were actually tricking them. The trick was that the giant horse, was full of soldiers who used the “gift” as an opportunity to make their way inside the walls of Troy so that they could attack when their enemies least expected it. The Trojans thought that what they had gotten was a sign of defeat from their enemies. However, what they thought was proof of their victory, turned out to be a step in the process of their eventual demise.

When it comes to Jesus entering death through the unjust, brutal, and humiliating trial and execution, there are several entities that were like the Trojans receiving the horse full of soldiers. The Pharisees and other Jewish leaders, the Roman authorities, and the cosmic powers of evil were alike in that they appeared to have gained victory at Jesus’ death, when in fact they had merely taken the gift that led to their defeat.

The Jewish leaders thought that in the death of Jesus, they had— at the very least— gotten rid of the one that threatened their authority over the people, their traditions they idolized, and their conviction about what the Messiah was supposed to be. Perhaps more, they thought they had put a stop to any other person who might think to be that kind of threat to them again. They were certain their power had been secured.

The Roman authorities thought that in the death of Jesus they had appeased a crowd that might turn into an insurrection. They thought that by removing Jesus from the picture, the chaos and strife aroused by the Jewish leaders would come to an end, and thereby their rule and authority would be maintained without overthrow from the people beneath them or the rulers above them.

These two entities were sure that the death of Jesus, like the Trojan horse, was a sign of their victory. A sign that their authority would persist. The third entity in consideration is no different, but all the more significant in nature. Looking at Hebrews 2, and especially to the writings of Paul (e.g Colossians 2, Ephesians 3 and 6, Romans 8, and 1Corinthians 15), a grand and glorious picture emerges from the Scriptures concerning these cosmic powers of evil (i.e sin, death, the devil, and principalities and powers in heavenly places) and the death of Jesus. To understand the significance, we need to meditate on these Scriptures and take the whole narrative from the Old Testament into consideration.

Here’s the short version.

In the story of the Garden of Eden, humans, those in the flesh, were doomed to die because of their sin: because they gave in to the pressures of the evil one in the Garden instead of trusting their Creator. After this sad incident, the humans were promised by God their children would wrestle and fight with the children of the evil one, and this is seen in the dramatic imagery given to Cain in the very next story. God tells Cain that sin desires to have him. It is like a predator seeking to have Cain, his prey, but instead, Cain should rule over the sin. Does he? No. What is the consequences of sin having its way with Cain? Death. Death for Abel, and eventual death for Cain. Over-and-over again this same story gets played out. An evil beast arises to swallow up humans, its prey, and succeeds in doing so. An evil arises with the desire to assert its authority by creating division, chaos, ruin, and death in the world. Death is the ultimate goal of this evil, and it uses the weapon of temptation, ruin, and iniquity to reach its desired goal. However, back in the garden, the promise was given that there would one day be a human that would feel the pains of the evil one but would also have the victory.

The glorious picture emerges.

Through Jesus dying, it looks like sin and death have gained the victory. Through the death of the incarnate God, it looks like sin has become so strong in its hold over those in the flesh that not even God in the flesh can avoid becoming its prey. Through the crucifixion of the sinless Messiah, sin appears to still have the victory, the proof being Jesus’ dead body laying in a tomb. Through the unjustly tortured and crucified body of Jesus, the one who withstood the devil in the wilderness, appears to have at last been defeated by the devil. However, the awful result of Jesus’ trial and execution is not a sign of evil’s victory, but a Trojan horse. Jesus has gone into the belly of the beast, fully trusting in the Father and the Spirit that He would not be left there, but that he would instead be resurrected (to never die again), dealing a death blow to the one that had ruled over others with death.

The cosmic powers of evil were sure of their victory, but it was truly a sign of their eventual demise. Jesus went into death as a Trojan horse so that through the resurrection he could render powerless the one wielding the power of death to reign terror over others in the flesh. The ultimate oppressor was defeated, and that changes everything. The resurrection of Jesus is proof that God is dealing with and has dealt with evil. The entire story of human history is changed through the death and resurrection of Jesus because that one constant in history, death, is proven to be under new management, and this new management offers life. The new management offers new life that starts right now and is fully manifested in the resurrection of Jesus and in the end for all who give him their allegiance. If you wish to escape the chaos and terror and death that appears inescapable, Jesus offers the way out— turn to him. If you desire to experience true freedom and true life, the suffering and conquering Messiah is the way out— he is your only hope. There is no other way to escape the jaws of sin and death but through Jesus, the one who willingly endured the jaws of sin and death, so that all who are willing can experience salvation from the beast.

Division and Reconciliation, a Success Story

The book of Joshua is packed full of war and the distribution of land, the latter of which is honestly pretty boring to read about. Despite the distribution of the land being rather tiring though, the last piece of land given out provides a story that is rich and deep, providing a lens through which we can look at a success story about division and reconciliation. In Joshua 22, we are provided with a story that gives a concrete way to explore the realities of division, separation, fear, regret, rebuke, and love. We’re going to start with a look at the history, and if you already know what’s going on, feel free to skip to the next section called Division.

Joshua 22: the story

Back in Numbers 32, the Israelite tribes of Gad, Reuben, and the half tribe of Manasseh struck a deal with Moses and God. They would enter the Canaan land that God was giving Israel and help Israel take it over, but after that, they would return to the other side of the Jordan river and dwell in this other land that seemed good for livestock. When we reach Joshua 22, they have completed their end of the bargain, and we get the story of these two and a half tribes going to live in the land they were promised. No big deal, right?

Apparently, these two and half tribes were concerned. Immediately, they built an altar near the Jordan river, and the other tribes of Israel got really upset. They had seen what happens when Israelites build altars to other gods. They had seen what happens when Israelites worship carved images. It was not good for anyone. Knowing this, the other ten and a half tribes send over a priest and a chief from ten tribes to see what’s going on and confront them about what has happened. Here are the highlights of what went down:

  • The ten and half tribes asked the other two and half tribes what they have done
  • They remind the two and half tribes what happens when they worship on altars they shouldn’t
  • They offer some of their land to the two and half tribes for if the other side of the Jordan just offered too many temptations to commit idolatry
  • The two and half tribes explain themselves, describing a fear that one day in the future, the ten and half tribes would see the Jordan river as a separation given by God. A fear that they would consider the two and half tribes cut off from the inheritance of God
  • The two and half tribes say that if they have done something wrong then to let them perish
  • The two and half tribes explain that the altar is a symbol of their belonging, and is not something they intend to worship at
  • The ten and half tribes accept this explanation, see its virtue, and see how God is active among them because of it

Division

Looking at the story, one of the things that really leaps off the page is the fear that is created among the two and a half tribes by the river creating the division. This story really gives me pause and makes me think about the insecurities I may feel because of what I think separates me from others. It makes me think about the insecurities other might feel because of how they are different than the people they are usually around. It makes me think about the Church and all the dividing lines that exist and the fear, stress, insecurities, and doubts that likely arise because of these dividing lines. How do we deal with these fears if we have them?

In the story, the two and half tribes dealt with these fears by creating a structure that was going to be a perpetual reminder of what they had in common with the other ten and half tribes. This obviously created some tension with the other ten and a half tribes, but there was already some tension, the ten and a half just didn’t know it yet. So, what wisdom can we potentially pull from this?

  • If you see something somehow creating a fracture in your relationship with your church family or the Church more globally, seek out a way to perpetually remind others of the commonality you have. If you’re not sure of a commonality to use, Jesus would be an excellent place to start!
  • If you feel the tension between you and someone else, or between you and a group, be bold! Do something to help alleviate that tension, and if it just draws attention to the tension then you have an opportunity to address it with your church family.
  • Don’t do nothing. Do something to build a bridge and get over it to the people you are disconnected from. God seeks unity in His church, seek to play a part in His plan.

Reconciliation

As cool as the story from the two and half tribes is, what happens with the other ten and half might actually be cooler. Why? Let’s try to see what happened more clearly.

  • They saw their family in God doing something they perceived to be wrong and didn’t let it slide. They went to do something about it.
  • They didn’t just go over and point their fingers at them. They asked what they had done.
  • They didn’t just accuse them. They reminded them and warned them in conjunction with an offering of their own land! They were willing to sacrifice something of their own to help their family out.
  • They heard the two and half tribes out and gave God the glory.

When I read what the ten and a half tribes did, I only have one reaction each time: what an amazing show of love. If you love someone, you don’t just let them keep going down a path you think will ruin them and the people who love them. If you love someone, you don’t just ignore something that appears to be a problem. You confront it. But you don’t just confront it, you ask questions, you offer help, you go to them willing to sacrifice something of yourself to assist them. Reconciliation and forgiveness and correction aren’t just about someone being right and another person being wrong and therefore the wrong party needs to fess up and pay up. Reconciliation and correction require humility, love, and a willingness to sacrifice even if you have done nothing wrong. What’s more, reconciliation will end with glory being given to God.

One last takeaway from this for now. Notice the immediate response of the two and half tribes when they are confronted by the ten and a half tribes. In verse 22, they say (my words here) God knows! If we’re wrong, then we’re wrong. He will judge. They were open to the possibility of being wrong and they recognized that God was the ultimate authority on the matter. How many times do we get wrongfully accused, and we get so caught up in defending ourselves that we completely skip over recognizing that God knows the situation better than we do ourselves? How many times do we get so up in arms to defend ourselves and just completely leave God out of the picture and instead make it all about ourselves or the other party involved? In this success story, God was integral. The rebuke was one given out of a respect for God. The rebuke was accepted with a God-first mentality. The explanation for the act in question was received, and God was given the credit. If we want correction and reconciliation to be a success in our own lives, in our own families, in our own local churches, and in the Church global, we have to place God in the center of it all. We have to let God do what He’s been trying to do all along, reconciling all peoples to Himself through King Jesus.

Intellectualism: A Reflection

One of the important things to know about the Bible is that it appears to constantly be battling against extremes. You can find passages that speak about extremes of not forgiving and judging on one page and then on another page find it talking about extremes of not calling evil out as evil. You can turn and find one place where it is vocally talking about the need to not depend upon good deeds, but to have faith, and then turn to another place that talks about the need to not have an inactive faith that doesn’t do good deeds. It appears that the Bible in intimately aware of the human tendency—to drift from one extreme to another instead of always finding the right balance in life. One of the extremes addressed concerns knowledge.

The Bible is very clear in many areas: knowing stuff is important. Here are some examples:

                        Being wise as serpents… (Matthew 10:16)

                        A rebuke for an ignorant zeal (Romans 10:2)

                        Knowing God is the most desirable of traits (Philippians 3:3-11)

Most of the time when the Bible speaks of knowledge that is desirable, it is a knowledge of God and His will for humanity. There are times such as Matthew 10:16 referenced above that are about knowing the evil that exits, and there are some places such as Proverbs that speak of the need for knowledge and wisdom in a more general sense. However, even when it comes to knowing something about God and His will, there is a warning that is given:

Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.  If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know… (1 Corinthians 8:1-2)

Here there are two warnings. First, knowledge can make someone arrogant, and second that anyone who considers themselves to know… probably doesn’t know as well as they think they know. Now, if this is what can be said about knowledge pertaining to idolatry (see the context of the passage), something God is incredibly concerned about, what do you think can be said about our knowledge pertaining to other matters in this world?

I’m currently approaching the end of my (hopefully) next to last year in a PhD program for Mathematics. I’m in the middle of a dissertation in a wildly abstract field that requires great logical rigor. I’ve been trained to think; not just to think, to think for long periods of time about the intangible, the difficult to comprehend, and objects that have been discovered (or created, or both, depending on the camp you fall into) by some of the greatest minds in human history. And in some ways, I am humbled because of it. I’ve learned just how dumb I am. I’ve learned just how slow of a thinker I am. I’ve learned how much I struggle to be creative. I’ve learned just how much I depend on others for knowledge and truth. Yet, I am also in a continual battle with arrogance because of it.

I love learning, I love thinking, and I am happy to do what I do. However, I would be foolish to not observe just how arrogant the pursuit of intellectualism can make someone. How arrogant it can make (or perhaps has made) me. And you would be too. I wonder how much my colleagues think about this. I wonder how much my friends with different intellectual interests think about this. I wonder how much the “blue-collar” worker who knows a TON about, say, plumbing, thinks about this.

Arrogance should be a concern to us all as we are all susceptible to it. To beat it, we must remind ourselves of how we achieved the knowledge we do have since most of it is accredited to people who have taken the time to explain things to us or help us grow. To beat it, we must remind ourselves of just how infinite our current ignorance is. To beat it, we must remind ourselves that our knowledge can make us arrogant, but that love is the thing that builds other people and the world up. We must remind ourselves that everyone can know everything, but if we don’t show love to one another, the knowledge will be wasted, useless, and merit no true change in the world.

So, what’s my plan for how to use this knowledge this year? To remind myself the next time I think about just how much I know, that I must love others all the more and seek to build them up. To remind myself that my knowledge is incredibly limited. To remind myself that the greatest and wisest human to ever live—Jesus, the God in flesh—was far more concerned with helping His neighbor and loving His enemy than displaying the amount of knowledge He had. So I should do likewise. I hope you have been built up. I hope I can do better.

The Tethering of Our Faith (To Politics)

For Christians there should be one fundamental thing that unites us all: The Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is this central teaching of the scriptures that should be connecting us all to Jesus and thereby one another. It is the thing that should matter most to all of us: that Jesus is glorified as King of God’s Kingdom because he came to earth to rescue humanity from evil by going to his death and resurrecting after three days. Paul describes in Colossians 1 how Jesus is the pinnacle of all things and that God chose to use Jesus to reconcile the world to Himself. Peter describes in 1 Peter 2 how those who come to Jesus are being built together into a single house that is firmly fixed on our King Jesus. Lastly, Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 2 about how he chose to come to the Corinthians knowing nothing but Jesus Christ and how he was crucified. It is evident as you read through the Scriptures: everything points to Jesus; and so should we.

My concern though is that many of us have allowed something else besides the Gospel to become the thing. It appears that at many times we have allowed sports teams to become the thing, or we have allowed nationalism and patriotism to become the thing, or we have allowed intellectualism to become the thing, or we have allowed whether you vote Blue or Red to become the thing. My concern is that we have allowed ourselves to become so passionate about these systems and powers that exist in the world that we fail to keep focused on what is truly first. Acknowledging that this problem is pervasive and can have many different manifestations besides poltics, in this article, I want to explore how so many of us seem to have tethered our faith to a political party or agenda.

So what does it mean to have your faith tethered to a political party or agenda? Or what does it look like? It’s when you think about what it means for you to be Christian, the political party or agenda is one of the things that comes to mind. It’s when you think about what a Christians should do, supporting said party or political agenda comes to mind. Allegiance to the two things has become inseparable for you when your faith is tethered to a political party or agenda. I’m not talking about how one’s faith causes them to have some ideal like justice should be fair and then allowing that ideal to influence their vote or which policy they promote. I’m talking about how one’s faith becomes so intertwined with a political party or agenda that they are convinced that Christians should only vote for this specific person or party. Truthfully, we should absolutely allow Jesus Christ to influence our ideals and the way we vote (or don’t vote) because Jesus should reign over every decision we make. However, sometimes I think we get away from this, and we allow the party to influence how we vote—convincing ourselves that it was motivated by our faith all along.

But why or how does the tethering of faith to politics happen? I think that it happens because people end up seeing this one party or group or person as the one that has the ability to actually carry out the mission they believe in (a mission believed in as a result of their faith in Jesus Christ as King). However, people become so dedicated to the group to solve the problem that they end up simply supporting the group and forgetting the initial reason(s) why they wanted to support them to begin with. As a result of this, people end up supporting groups to their detriment. They fall prey to the powers and dark forces. They forget that there is another way, that they don’t have to support this party or agenda to be defenders of causes derived from their faith. They forget that there is already a group/movement that can be a force for good to accomplish what they want: the Kingdom of God. And the sad irony is that the forgetting of this fact causes people to tear the Kingdom and hinder its ability to bring Heaven to earth because they blindly believe that they must support the political party or agenda at all costs… because to support this party is to do what Jesus wants…

We so easily get focused on a mission that came from our faith, we get entrenched in the use of the parties and agendas to accomplish that mission, and we end up tethering our faith to the party more than the Kingdom (ultimately defeating the purpose of the mission). The blues ostracize the reds and the reds ostracize the blues—even the ones that are a part of the Kingdom of God. We become more dedicated to our political party than the Gospel: the force that is supposed to unite us all despite all the differences we may have.

So how are we to know if we’ve allowed something political to encroach upon our ability to keep the Gospel the thing? What checks can we do to see if maybe we need to take a sword to our heart to gouge out this disease? I’ve come up with some questions that I think are helpful to ask, although I’m sure there are more.

Do you struggle to understand how a Christian can vote blue, but not struggle if they vote red?

Do you struggle to understand how a Christian can vote red, but not struggle if they vote blue?

Do you struggle to find flaws in your party?

Do you struggle to find flaws in your candidate?

Do you struggle to find flaws in the President or other representatives?

Do you struggle to find positives about the President or other representatives if they are in a specific party?

Do you show more support on social media for a political party or agenda than for the Kingdom?

Do you think that “if Christians would just show up and vote then [insert a candidate] would win”? (because Christians can only vote this way)

If you answered yes to any of those questions, it’s time to take a step back away from the political arena. It’s time to re-center your focus on Jesus so that you can truly serve him and be an actual force for good in this world. It’s time to ensure that the Gospel is truly the thing for you and that Jesus rather than politics is King of your life.

I Pledge Allegiance to the…

Let me start with a simple question for my fellow followers of Christ that live in America. Are you an American Christian or a Christian American?

In Luke 20:19-26, the scribes and the chief priests are trying to trick Jesus into saying something that would indict him as a rebel to the Roman Empire. They do this by sending some spies that ask Jesus if they should pay taxes or not. Upon asking, Jesus asked them a simple question in return, “Whose likeness and inscription does [this coin] have?” Based upon whose likeness and inscription was on the coin (Caesar’s), Jesus says to give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.

denarii

So, just think about that a moment. Jesus is saying that because this coin bears the mark or the image of Caesar on it, they should give those things to Caesar because they are his. And immediately following this instruction Jesus says to give to God the things that are God’s. So, that creates a question: what things are God’s? Well, besides everything since He’s the creator and owner of the Universe, what would Jesus be referring to here? Based upon what made the coin Caesar’s, Jesus seems to be referring to the things that bear the mark and image of God on them. What bears the mark and image of God on them? You. You do. Going all the way back to Genesis we find in the creation story that humans are created “in the image of God”, and so when Jesus says to give Caesar his stuff and God his stuff what Jesus is really saying is “Give to Caesar this money, but give to God your entire life.”

Jesus’ teaching is that they are not chiefly inhabitants of the Roman empire, rather they are primarily inhabitants of a body and soul made in the image of God.

gods-image-wide-1024x576

The Jews would have given to Caesar regretfully, not willingly. They were not the majority group of the Roman empire, they were a tiny group amongst a vast empire that was hard pressed by the emperor, yearning for the day the Kingdom of the Messiah would overthrow said empire. And that’s precisely what just happened in our passage—the Kingdom of the Messiah placed authority over the Roman Empire.

How is paying Caesar overthrowing the Roman Empire? When Jesus says that they should give themselves to God and give the money to Caesar, the implication is that all allegiance that they have belongs to God. Caesar’s authority apart from God’s is meaningless, and their allegiance to Caesar goes so far as their allegiance to God will allow. It’s a subordinate mock. A humble revolution. A meek yet challenging response to Caesar, “Okay, I’ll give you what’s yours, but only because I am God’s.” When Jesus instructed the Jews to give Caesar his stuff and God His stuff, it was a wink-wink-nudge-nudge to all who choose to listen to Jesus. A suggestion to each of us that His Kingdom takes precedence.

I wonder how often we Christians think about our American citizenship that way? It would be far easier to make the mental separation if we weren’t so comfortable and liberated in our country. Yet I must dig deep. I must ask the hard questions. Do I find my liberty first in the Bill of Rights or first in the liberating power of Jesus Christ? Do I give my allegiance to King Jesus first or to the American institution first? Do I submit to the American authorities because I agree with them or because I serve a risen Savior that calls me to obey? Do I support the American system because I like it and it helps me get what I want or because God’s will in some way calls me to support it? When America is ridiculed, do I take personal offense more than when the Kingdom of God is ridiculed? Do I raise up the Kingdom of America as the ideal for all other nations, or do I raise up the Kingdom of God as the Kingdom that all should give allegiance to?

Your-Choice

Am I an American Christian or am I a Christian American? I hope and pray that I am the latter and that I pledge allegiance to the Reign and Authority of Jesus Christ: my Liberator, my Creator, my Savior, my King.

The Day I Realized I was a Racist

I was sitting in my ninth grade Biology class one day, thinking about my mindset and the way I was feeling at that time. It was not too long before this day that my father had to have a chit-chat with me. My older brother and I had gotten into a particularly intense conflict, and my dad had sat me down to talk to me about anger. I remember pretty clearly my dad talking to me about how my anger had become a real problem and challenged me to look into the Bible to see what God has to say about anger and the damage born from it. He reminded me that God was not pleased with uncontrolled anger and challenged me to do some thinking about this, and it was because of that challenge and loving provocation by my father that I was thinking about my mindset in that Biology class. Thankfully, my father had forced me to become introspective about my feelings and my attitude at that time because if it weren’t for that, I probably wouldn’t have noticed that I was a racist.

Class had just begun or was just about to begin, and I was realizing that I was extremely frustrated. I was mad and bitter at someone, and I was just noticing it. In my school at Oxford, AL, during that time, ninth graders were separated into their own building— the Freshmen Academy is what it was called. The only people we interacted with were other ninth graders except for at extra-curriculars, so I know I was angry with some other guy in my grade. I also remember it happened in the stair-well during the class exchange. However, I don’t remember what and I don’t remember who. What I do remember is that it was a he, and that he was black.

When I realized that I was angry at this person, something struck me about the events that had taken place. His being black had played a role in my anger towards him. I realized that whatever it was, I would not have been so impatient if the person were white. I realized that I was quick to consider this individual less intelligent, less peaceful, less capable of good, and ultimately less worthy of my patience, and it was because he was black. It’s as if whatever he had done or said ignited my unknown bias, prejudice, and stereotyping causing me to be less patient than I would have been with a white person. I didn’t respond to this individual with words of hate or anger. I didn’t respond with any action whatsoever. Yet, I knew in that moment sitting in Biology class that I had a problem, and that problem was racism.

 

I wish I could say that it was on that day that the racism in my heart and in my thoughts was destroyed. That I never said another racist thing, that I never had less patience for a black person than a white person, that I never thought ill of someone that was black more vehemently and more quickly than I did a white person. However, it was probably a few years down the road before I really started to do something about it, and even when I began to work on it, it was even a few years after that before I was less prone to such things.

 

Unfortunately, when I had gotten better at not being racist, I thought I had made it.

 

It was still several years after that (almost to the present day in 2020) that I realized there was still work to do. It took gaining a better understanding of Jesus, His teachings, and His Apostles’ teachings before I began to realize that it wasn’t just good enough to NOT be sinful in that way or to NOT think in that sinful way, but I had to choose TO think and act in a way pointing in the complete opposite direction of the sin—towards Jesus. I had done well to become not racist in many ways, but I had failed to become anti-racist in hardly any form. I had overcome many racist mindsets and attitudes, but I still struggle(d) with denying my privilege, ignoring their plight, and ignoring the painful results of actions coming from good/benign intent. I had failed to exchange my sinful partiality for actions and thoughts that would actually benefit them such as asking the hard questions like why the statistics are true and how I could be more intentional concerning my engagement with them. I want(ed) to do better.

 

The Bible teaches us in Proverbs 29:7 that the righteous will consider the cause of the poor. Because of this passage and many more like it concerning the poor, the needy, the oppressed, and the broken, I am more and more realizing (and I hope to help those who choose to read this also realize) that I am acting contrary to the nature of God when I choose to ignore the plight of other humans. I am sinning, not just against that person, but against our God when I care not to hear or do something about the cries of the oppressed. We can’t react violently and take vengeance into our hands, but we can do something. We can recognize the generosity we have been shown by God through His creation and through Jesus, and in our gratitude and faith, we can choose to be generous to our neighbor. We can actively look for opportunities to serve those who the system has failed to take care of. We can purpose within ourselves to find methods and means to show hurting people the love of God, not just by giving them Jesus (which is of utmost importance), but by giving LIKE Jesus. We can recognize the privilege we have to know Jesus, we can recognize the blessings we enjoy because of Jesus, and we can make our mission His mission.

 

Luke 4:18-19  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

 

Jesus: Master and Liberator

There are some choices that people never get to make but are made for them in one way or another. Like how you had no choice in the decision to be conceived and born. Your vote didn’t matter, it just happened. Or how we don’t get to decide who our biological parents are, and this decision (or rather lack thereof), has lasting impressions on us due to genetic fortune or misfortune! Most interesting of choices we do not get to make is one found in the Bible, and that choice is whether or not you will be a slave.

In Romans 6:16, Paul declares that everyone falls under the category of being a slave. You are either a slave of sin and death or a slave of obedience and righteousness. This seems pretty crude, and Paul acknowledges that saying he’s using this analogy because we are weak. So basically because we wouldn’t get it otherwise! Even though being called a slave isn’t very fun, Paul delivers good news in this discussion of slavery.

One of the masters provides life.

Unsurprisingly, this good doesn’t really sound all that great initially. I mean, we really hate being called slaves and the idea of slavery. I think Paul is aware of this trouble. In 1Corinthains 7:22 Paul is telling slaves not to worry about being slaves if they are in Christ because they are free in Christ. However, he says that the people who are not slaves and are free are Christ’s slaves. So he obviously understands the tension concerning being a slave, but not only does this not address the tension, it also is confusing because some it says some people are free in Christ and some people are slaves in Christ. Let’s see if Jesus can clear this up for us.

Confused

Jesus said in Luke 4:18 that His mission was to come to preach the Gospel for the purpose of setting free the captives and the oppressed. Moreover, Jesus came as a source of truth and to deliver truth, and He says in John 8:32 that the truth shall set you free. However, Jesus also said in John 12:26 that it is the one that serves Him that will be honored by God, and Jesus also said in Luke 9:23-24 that to have the life Jesus offers means giving up your life to Him and denying yourself. So, did Jesus come to free us to enslave us?

Both!

I think the answer to this paradoxical situation is most easily seen when we come back to the crude analogy from Romans 6 with these other passages in mind. What we see in Romans 6 is that every person who is in Christ Jesus is simultaneously enslaved and set free. We are enslaved to a loving, gentle, and compassionate Lord named Jesus who wants to offer us life, peace, comfort, and… freedom.

Set free

That freedom that Jesus is offering (at the cost of being His servant) is a freedom from sin and death. A freedom from impurity and lawlessness. Furthermore, from the Gospels we see that the freedom Jesus offers is a freedom from the cares of this life that can chew us up and spit us out. It is a freedom that stems from our knowledge that the One we have chosen to serve will care for us. Ultimately, Jesus is offering is to liberate us from the very things that drag us down, ruin lives, and destroy homes. He is liberating us from fear, anxiety, self-centered behaviors, injustice, and a lack of purpose in life. We must only choose to serve Him instead of ourselves.

 

The thing about this freedom/servant duality that comes with Jesus that makes it even more perplexing (yet all the more compelling), is that Jesus isn’t asking us to do anything He hasn’t done Himself. In Matthew 20:28, Jesus says that He didn’t come to be served, but to serve. So when Jesus was walking about on this planet, Jesus did so as a servant. He was not just a servant to those people, but we know that he came as a servant to all of mankind because He says He came to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. Not only did Jesus come to this earth and choose to serve mankind, but even while we serve Him today, He continues to serve us. The book of Hebrews spends chapters 4-10 discussing how Jesus Christ is the High Priest for us today. Without getting into the details, that is essentially teaching us that Jesus is serving us each day as an intercessor: serving us so that we can continually and everlastingly reap the benefits of the work He did while serving mankind on earth. So not only is Jesus asking us to serve Him and simultaneously offering us freedom, He has chosen to make Himself our servant in the process as well.

Jesus as servant king

This paradoxical situation fits in quite well with many different dualities that are presented in Jesus.

The creator who became the created.

The innocent criminal.

The vessel of God’s blessing by taking on a curse.

The restorer of life by going through death.

All of these dualities mentioned and more speak to the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and how all things and all people can find meaning and purpose in Him. And the duality we’ve seen in this post does well.

Jesus: our Master that Liberates and Serves us.

Jesus is the Lord calling all people out of servitude into a new kind of servitude. He is calling us from a service to destruction to a service of life. He is calling us to a servitude to a merciful and just King who made Himself a servant to all of mankind so that we could enjoy peace, comfort, freedom from destructive behavior, and freedom from death. We may not get to choose whether or not we are a slave, but we can choose who we are a slave to.

Choose your master. Choose wisely.

Your-Choice

Being Christian During the Political Season

set-priorities

Go on Facebook or Twitter and spend more than 10 minutes and you’ll find political posts. Some of them are solid satire that are good for laughs. Some of them are serious and honest objections to political stances. However, the vast majority of political posts are found in the comment section of political posts. There you often find a battle raging with 2 to 10 people giving there two cents on a given issue, or you find 2 to 10 people boosting each other’s egos because of the brilliance of their political ideologies. These battle zone comment threads can go on and on, gaining in rage or arrogance and never coming close to an agreement. With a picture so bleak, what is a Christian to do in the political arena? Never engage? Never dispute? Always give an answer? To consider such questions, I would like to address three different Biblical principles to keep in mind during the political season.

 

1. Jesus Has Already Won

1Corinthians 15:57 teaches us that the greatest victory to be won (the victory over sin and death) was won through Jesus Christ. It is through Jesus that we can all be blessed by the Father, and it is because of Jesus that the whole world can be blessed. What relevance does that have with politics? Everything! How?

Every action we ever make should be done in light of the victory that was won through Jesus, and Jesus is the only sufficient answer to every problem we face.

Political discussions and debates are nothing more than band-aids on bullet wounds. Sure, various political policies might be helpful, but it is only Jesus that can offer sufficient solutions to life’s real problems. Moreover, we can debate and argue for months about who the best President to bless this country is, but the more wrapped up in that debate we become, the less we choose to point people to the One that has already provided immense blessings to the country—to the whole world.

The truth is that we can get so bogged down in arguments about best policies or the best political candidate that we forget to remind people who the real King is, who the real Liberator is, and who the world’s Only Hope really is. His name is Jesus, and we need to be more diligent in pointing people to Him than to our political ideology. Consider this question: what good would it do for the person we are talking to if we convince them of good economic theory, but fail to convince them of Jesus? Shouldn’t we at least attempt the latter before the former?

 

 

2. Political Topics are Doubtful Things

Romans 14:1 teaches Christians to be wary of debates over doubtful things or matters of opinion. Maybe it’s just me, but if there’s one thing that definitely seems doubtful and opinionated, it’s which sinful politician Jesus wants me to be voting for. I realize not all people are all that bad, but in my short lifetime, voting has been about choosing the lesser of two (or maybe more) evils. No politician has it all right, no politician is Jesus, and no politician is representing Jesus completely. So, if there’s one thing I can conclude from this, arguing over politics is arguing over doubtful things.

argument-cartoon-yelling

Paul is warning the Romans and by extension us about the dangers of such arguments, and from this we can conclude:

Political arguments can weaken the faith of already weak in faith brothers and sisters in Christ.

We need to pay attention to this possibility and choose our language carefully. Saying things like, “Well any real Christian will vote for…” (both major parties say this) could seriously wound those who are weak in faith and give them serious doubts. Just arguing about certain issues can weaken the faith of some Christians. We need to be aware of this dilemma and be wise in our choice of political debate.

 

3. Grace and Truth

The last Biblical principle I want to address is the delicate balance of grace and truth. John 1:14 says that Jesus was full of grace and truth, and we need to seek to have that in our lives as well. Jesus taught that sometimes the truth would be like a sword that divides families (Matthew 10:34-39), and Paul references becoming one’s enemy because he told them the truth (Galatians 4:16). So, there are times when saying the truth is going to make someone despise you and separate themselves from you.

However, we need to be diligent that it is the truth that creates division, and not our lack of grace: bad tone, bad behavior, bad attitude, poor word choice, etc.

Jeff Stahler

Jeff Stahler

 

In 2Corinthians 6:3-10 Paul talks about how, for the sake of having a blameless ministry they seek to not offend. Clearly Paul was bold in his writings and was bold in the truth, but he also went to great efforts (in all situations) to be pure, knowledgeable, longsuffering, kind, and loving. Paul understood the importance of delivering the truth without offending (when possible). Likewise, we need to be especially careful that when we say what we think is true, and people are offended by us, that we don’t arrogantly assume that it was the truth that offended them as opposed to our presentation of it. We need to be honest with ourselves and with our methods so that we can ensure that people are drawn to Christ or repulsed by Him, but never us.

Lastly, when we are discussing politics,

one of the worst things we could do is make our political perspective of such great importance that we argue for it more than the Gospel, or by defending it cause someone to not trust us with answers concerning Jesus.

And when we make blanket statements about a particular party like “Democrats are idiots”, or “Republicans don’t care about the poor”, we run the risk of ostracizing the individual that belongs to that party and we make our job of evangelizing nearly impossible. When we get so fixated on what we think to be true politically that we don’t carefully weigh our words in a political discussion, we make our job of effectively reaching souls immensely difficult— a hinderance we should all be avoiding.

 

asking the right questions

 

As you may have noticed, I didn’t answer all the questions I started out with. I’m not trying to. However, I am trying to get each of you (and most definitely myself) to think deeply about your interaction on social media concerning politics. Ask yourself some important questions: Will I damage this person’s faith by having this conversation? If I say this, will onlookers be offended by me or the truth? Am I making politics more important than allegiance to Christ? Who am I serving by having this conversation, myself, my political party, or Jesus?

 

Work, work, work..?

WorkBlog2

This world has gotten pretty crazy pretty fast. People are getting sick. People are going without work. People are afraid of losing work. People are afraid of the stability of economy at all levels! And as typically happens for me when things are going wrong, I have begun to reflect on the sorts of questions people might be asking themselves concerning jobs and finances.

What am I going to do for a job?

Will I like the job I have?

How much money will my job make me?

How many hours will I have to work?

What’s my budget going to look like with this job?

However, with the instability I see around me, another question has entered my mind:

Why do we work?

I’m not really sure if I’ve ever thought about this for more than 10 minutes, after all, work is just so fundamental to our society, the why to work has never really been something I’ve thought about. However, some answers to this question came to mind pretty quickly.

To pay the bills, duh!

To take care of my family.

To ‘treat yo self!’

WorkBlog1

I think these answers are certainly worth considering as good answers, but as I continued to contemplate on this, some wisdom from the Scriptures came to mind that I think is worth considering.

1. To Care for God’s Creation

Turning to the first page of the Bible, we find a story concerning God’s creation of the earth and humans. In this story we can find many purposes and plans that God had in his creation, and when God created humans, in Genesis 1:26-28 it says:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

When God created humans, he created them to “have dominion… over all the earth,” desiring for us to be fruitful managers over the animals that He created. More than that, God apparently wanted humans to care for the plant life He had given them, as it says in Genesis 2:15:

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

Apparently, while we may often despise work and having to labor for something, it is ultimately the very thing we were created to do. We were intended to be productive creatures that put forth effort on this earth to carefully manage the rest of God’s creation. This careful management was to extend from the plant life we take for granted to the coffee beans we take extra care to produce efficiently and effectively. This diligence was to extend from the animals we really can’t stand to the domesticated animals we care for with great passion. We were created with a purpose in mind, and how is this purpose fulfilled?  Work. And that is an answer as to why we work. We work to carefully and fruitfully manage God’s creation.

2. To Care for Others

WorkBlog3

It should be no surprise that if God created humans with the purpose of carefully managing the rest of His creation through work that He also would want humans to work for the purpose of taking care of other humans. Let’s consider two passages of Scripture here:

1 Timothy 5:8— But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Ephesians 4:28— Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.

The first passage really doesn’t tell us anything too surprising—you need to work to care for your family. The one surprising piece might be the aggressive language involved (if you don’t work to provide for your family, you have denied the faith!) The second passage though is one that I find to be extremely compelling and convicting.

Sometimes we gripe and complain about work. We hate that have to wake up to work, or we hate that we have to stay awake to work. We hate the wages we get. We are annoyed at our coworkers. We can’t stand our boss. Yet, amidst the complaints we may have about our jobs is a reason to be glad:

through our work we have the opportunity help those who are in need.

Better yet, we are supposed to work with the intention of not serving self but serving those who are in need! I find this to be a radically different way to think about working than the mindset that produces all the complaints about work.

Our job is itself an expression of how we love our neighbor as ourselves.

After all, it is through our jobs that we acquire the means to care, not simply for our own family, but all who are in need. I think that most of my life I was aware of the purpose of working to care for my family, but that additional purpose of caring for those in need was really lost to me. (At the same time though, it just seems so obvious!)

WorkBlog4

So, my encouragement to each of you as you think about your (potential) jobs and the financial (in)stability around us is simple: contemplate on the reason you are going to go to work. In a world where everyone is out to serve themselves, and in a world where people don’t think about the needs of people who are not their relatives, let us choose to work with the intentions God has in mind for us. Let’s choose to work for the purpose of carefully and wisely managing God’s creation. Let’s choose to work to meet the needs of our neighbors who are without jobs, without support, or without hope of financial security. Let’s choose to serve.

How Math Increased My Faith

I once had someone tell me that the more I learned about math, the less I would believe in God. I’d like to share with you just how wrong that individual was, and why.

Learning math gave me a closer look at logic (in its purest form) than most any field allows. One of the things that learning math led me to see is that our knowledge is founded upon axioms. Axioms are essentially claims that are accepted as true without deduction or proof. (e.g one axiom in Euclidean Geometry—the one you learn in High School— is that parallel lines don’t intersect. This has not proof, it is just accepted as true.) This tells us that all our knowledge is founded upon accepted – not proven— claims. As you may expect, this is a point of contention for many (e.g wanting a justification for claims, but not having a justification for the foundation of all claims). However, through the study of Mathematics I have concluded that it ought not to be a point of contention when viewed in a proper light.

Some, in their attempt to settle the contention, have decided that there is a need to change the definition of “truth”. Since axioms are essentially claims that work and have not been shown to be wrong, some have decided that “truth” should be redefined to “that which works”. There are countless counter examples for this claim that lead us to say, “Well that was true then, but it isn’t true now.” This claim as preposterous as it is silly since it leaves us hopeless of meaningful progress in our search for knowledge.

Another set of people tried to settle the problem of axioms by redefining what it means to “know” something. For years the standard for one to “know” something was that it was a “justified true belief”. This definition combined with the issue of axioms caused many to change the concept of knowledge to something that is only in the negative, claiming that we cannot actually know that which is true, we can only show that something is false. This escapes the problems they found (e.g having a system of knowledge based upon justification that can’t be justified), but only uncovered a contradiction in the system. The contradiction is that once someone proves a claim false, the negation of the claim is simultaneously proven true. Thus, we can prove things true. The answer to this is to accept that we can prove both true and false, since they’re equivalent. (Much of this was done and said regarding science and only being able to prove good theories false. I have no qualms with this.)

These attempts to twist intuitive understandings of knowledge and truth are, in my opinion, unnecessary. In my math studies, I have come to conclude that we can go back to our intuitive understanding of truth and knowledge, we must only do two things extra: not be afraid of belief, and be humble.

Before I defend myself, I’d like to explain what I mean by being afraid of belief. Many people are afraid of saying that they have beliefs. They seem to be afraid to admit that belief plays any role in any valid system of knowledge. This, however, is unfounded beyond their cultural perception of how belief seems to work. In other words, beliefs can have negative ramifications in the pursuit of knowledge, and they have shown that in our culture. For that reason (or perhaps others), they are afraid to admit belief. This however, is not reasonable, for belief is not inherently fallacious. Rather, prideful belief is fallacious.

So when I propose that we stick to a more traditional understanding of truth and knowledge with the addition of humility, what I am proposing is accepting that axioms are beliefs, and we must be humble enough to admit that fact. There is nothing invalid or illogical about stating a belief. What is illogical, is holding to a belief when evidence or proof has shown said belief to be wrong. That is clinging to belief in a prideful way, not being humble enough to admit fault or have an open mind.

This solution to the contention of axioms is the most organic in my opinion. It feels intuitive, it feels familiar, and it really makes sense with no contradictions awaiting. For instance, I could say that I know B because it logically deduces from A. And then to say I know A axiomatically (i.e to say I believe A to be true because I have been given no reason to think otherwise) has no flaw unless I am unwilling to admit that I really just believe A- I don’t know it in any provable sense. Thus, I believe we can create a rational system for obtaining knowledge in an intuitive and open-minded way, if we only accept belief as okay and humility as necessary. To provide an example of the logical deduction from A to B with A just being belief, consider the following situation: My axiom A will be that if two statements contradict, they both cannot be true. My deduction B is that “2 is even” and “2 is not even” are two statements in which both cannot be true. I know B is true because it deduces from A; however, I don’t really have any proof for A. I believe A to be a true law of logic because it works and I’ve been given no reason to think otherwise. Therefore, my knowledge of B being true is completely dependent upon my belief that A is true. This is an easy example of how this rational system works, as it helps us see that even the most basic truths are dependent upon a logical law that is not proven, just accepted because it hasn’t failed us yet. Moreover, this rational system that I developed through the rationale and exposure to logic brought about by Mathematics is precisely what increased my faith.

When I realized that everything I think is true—EVERYTHING— is nothing more than a deduction from belief, I realized that faith is essential for any system of knowledge. Realizing this caused me to not be afraid of saying and admitting that I believed in God or that I believed the Bible. After all, I could honestly do nothing more than say “I believe…” about any given topic! This acceptance of belief as necessary opened the door to two things: a more open-minded search for knowledge and a deeper search for reasons why my belief in God was not unfounded. That is, I began to use other beliefs that most accept as true to deduce or infer that the Bible is indeed reliable and true. This process was a complex one and not at all the focus of this writing, but without Mathematics, the scrutiny and rationale required in that process would have been much more difficult. Furthermore, without Mathematics, I would still be afraid to admit belief. Thus, Mathematics played an essential role in developing not only a new framework for growing in knowledge, but in developing a greater understanding of how knowledge is founded upon faith in some object or statement.

The big so-what I want all to get is that beliefs are not inherently illogical, and Mathematics showed me that. If one will simply allow beliefs and remain humble about the said acceptance of beliefs, one can explore different areas of knowledge and grow in extraordinary ways.