Sunday, April 15, 2007

Which robber are you?

With the recent passing of Easter there's been something on my mind. I've always been very curious about the concept of Christ being crucified with two criminals. In some small (very human) ways the whole majesty of the cross really seemed to warrant a more individual approach by Jesus. Perhaps, it would have driven home a more MVP like picture of what happened on Golgotha. The singular cross idea has only been compounded by the artistic efforts that have represented the crucifixion over the last two millenia. Virtually every painting or sculpture or statue is of Jesus alone on the top of that hill. While I am fully in agreement that he, and he alone, is the paramount and most glorious reason for the cross, I am confounded as to why the two criminals always get the bum-rap.

Here's the reason: I think the picture of Christ and two criminals on either side is a microcosm of the gospel, and more specifically Christianity as a whole. Think about it for a moment. If you take the four Gospels together and read through each of the accounts of the Crucifixion I think you get a very unique perspective on the entire event. In particular, focus on the representations of the criminals. Matthew and Mark say almost the same thing:

And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way. (Matt 27:44)
Those who were crucified with him also reviled him. (Mark 15:32)

Both are scant mentions, and both are rather negative. Along the same lines, but with no tone whatsoever, John simply mentions the criminals in passing (There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. John 19:18) . On the other hand Luke relates a conversation between the criminals and Jesus. He breathes into them a certain amount of reality that doesn't exist in any of the other Gospels.

32Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34And Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."[b] And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!" 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" 38There was also an inscription over him,[c] "This is the King of the Jews." 39One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him,[d] saying, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" 40But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." 42And he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." 43And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

Now I am not suspicious of any contradictions that may appear upon reading each of these accounts separately. I am convinced that the Bible isn't meant to be read in minute sections; especially when there are multiple records of the same event. Each one contributes a new piece to the entire story. And here's one small, very human, moment of the cross that I think requires a great deal more respect than it gets.

First, we acknowledge that Christ was not crucified alone. Two criminals were put to death with him. This was clearly to fulfill scripture, Isaiah 53:12 - "He was counted with the lawless ones". The small, but poignant prophecy, indicates God's intentions were quite clear that Jesus would not die alone.

Second, two gospels (Matthew and Mark) only mention that the criminals "reviled" Christ. I think this is important because they represent us, as sinners. The tenet of total depravity is a sure indication that we would not have chosen Christ, nor would we have defended him at the cross. Even his own disciples ran when he was arrested. Indeed our reaction to the cross would have been the exact same: hating the man who said he had come to save us. Mocking him from below, questioning his Godhead, while escalating their pride. Likely most of them thought they had fixed an insidious problem. Gladly the story doesn't end there....

One of the criminals, perhaps even within several breaths of mocking Christ, rebukes his fellow robber. Here is a man, confronted with imminent death, probably in excruciating pain, who is suddenly considering his immortal soul. He knows he is only a short time from meeting his God. Obviously up until this point things have not gone as planned. He's clearly lived a rather poor life, being forced to commit crimes, and ultimately ending up on the execution block. Likely not how he intended things to turn out. But even there, with death screaming at the door, he acknowledges his God. Defending Christ with a remarkable realization: this Jesus, had done nothing wrong, but still suffered the sentence of condemned criminals. This was not done, this was something different.

Finally, in a honest act of affection and trust, he turns to Christ and says: Remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus, in turn, remarks that this criminal will indeed meet with him in paradise. Isn't that just the picture of Christ, saving even at the very end of his earthly life.

A couple of quick things:
1. God will save anyone at anytime. Never expect someone to be outside the realm of God's saving grace.
2. The criminals represent the human condition. We are all in sin, and God has elected some to salvation. You'll note quite quickly that the other criminal after being rebuked receives no further mention. While it is not definitively known, it is clear he was not saved. Some may call this unfair, I would say in light of what Christ was doing on the cross, it would be more aptly called justice.
3. A moral and upright life is no indication of where you'll end up for eternity. Here a criminal who was suffering the death penalty (we can assume he did something really bad) was saved with hours of death. My God could do it within seconds of death if he so desired, and his call was placed upon that persons heart.

So, in conclusion, think often on the death of Christ and what it means to you as a Christian. Then question the type of criminal you are: are you the one who believes or the one who is silent and vanishes into history. And when you think on the crucifixion remember the criminals and remember what they mean to the entire story. They certainly do not contribute anything to the saving power of the cross, but they do represent our sinful condition and subsequently God's grace and justice, and for that they deserve our acknowledgement.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

What the People Don't Know is Killing Them

I must admit that when I first heard about the Ted Haggard situation I felt more uninformed than shocked. Here was a man whom I had never heard of until this news story made headlines. His saga had captivated (I think it's an apt word) the media with its bizarre concoction of male prostitutes, drugs and lies. Frankly, all he really seems to be missing was the rock n' roll.

With that in mind I felt as though I knew very little about this man, his past, his church and the organization he is so involved in. It all seemed a little overwhelming, particularly when buzzwords like "Christian" and "homosexual" are thrown together like meaningless jumbles of Latin characters.

On the flip side, I think what kept me from being surprised was the fact that this type of problem is nothing new. Mr. Haggard's condition has nothing to do with the fact that he is a high-profile evangelical leader or that he has kept the company of male prostitutes. Rather it has everything to do with another, less popular buzzword "SIN". And therein lies the crux of the matter. As critical as it may sound, Mr. Haggard and I (and you, Smartypants) have something in common. Yeah, I am talking about sin. I would challange you, if you already haven't done so, to read the posting by Tim Challies on this matter. He put into words a few of the very thoughts that were in my head, and a great many that were not. Not wanting to duplicate an already excellent interpretation of how God's grace relates to this matter, I'll simply point you in the right direction. Check Tim's post out here.

Here is where I'll take a different road, though. After purusing the this morning I noticed that an advertisement of sorts for a Q&A session with a Lorna Dueck, a Christian journalist who was responding to reader questions on the Haggard issue. Now here again, I don't know anything about Ms. Dueck, although I think I can safely say (after reading a number of her responses) that her and I would be in some disagreement on a number of Christian issues. That being said, I am not about to criticize her efforts in The Globe, as she is not the issue.

What I really want to touch on are some of the reader posts sent to Ms. Dueck. Frankly, I think she got the short end of the stick. All differences aside, there were very few posts with honest, logical tones and a lot more accusing Christianity as being problem. I guess that's how we like to do things though, we love to point the finger and jump on bandwagons without much thought or insight.

Here are a couple of excerpts that I thought particularly motivating.

One gentleman wrote:

"Needs a Saviour for what?

To save themselves from being lying hypocrites? To save themselves from treating the gay community in an intolerant, prejudiced manner? To save themselves from being cold-hearted, narrow-minded people who refuse to accept that every person deserves to experience and express love with another person, regardless of whether it's within a heterosexual or homosexual relationship?

Religious beliefs in this case are not part of the solution, they are part of the problem."

My question is, when are people going to stop treating the Christian community with a similar degree of intolerance and prejudice. In my opinion it's not Christianity, but the public perception of what they believe Christianity to be, that is the real issue here. People like this guy are really just spouting off neurotic rhetoric for the sake of sounding tolerant, when in reality they are espousing the same characteristics of intolerance that they so despise in others. More specifically though, I think that he entirely misses the point. I'd be willing to state that the real issue (the issue that the poster was to be responding to in the first place) isn't that Ted Haggard slept with a man, but that Ted Haggard is a sinner who falls short of the glory of God. If Mr. Haggard had only lied about stealing a chocolate bar, the sin principle in his flesh is the same, and the affront to God is consistent.

This next one made me laugh. This dude is living in Crazy-town. If sin doesn't equal news, then tell me what does.
""Sin" is not a subject for a national newspaper, nor should a televangelist be given a blog."

After that last exerpt you probably thought the hilarious tolerance-train was ending. Well how about this next superstar.
"I used to be an evangelical but was turned off by the anti-intellectualism of the movement...
I hope that his very public admission will allow Christian fundamentalists to grapple with homosexuality in a way that will produce a more nuanced understanding of it for them. Do you think Ted Haggard's story will force evangelicals to conclude that a homosexual orientation might be a permanent human attribute rather than a disease that needs God's healing?"

Question: is this poster grappling with something they'd like to tell the class about? I can't decide whether he's calling himself an intellectual or a doctor. Either way, I didn't think that it was a title that could be self-bestowed.

Since when was it incumbent of Christians to look at their Holy Bibles and remove all the passages that deal with issues in a manner we don't approve of. If we are really living like the Scriptures are true then we should be informing our minds from the Word of God rather than concluding from our human experience how it would be best to handle things. Certainly Mr. Haggard's public display will cause Christian circles to examine the issue of homosexuality, but I would hope that it would be in the context of the sin itself, rather than in gaining "nuanced understandings". No where are we called to get "in tune" with sin before we deal with it. That's not Christianity, that's stupid.

Clearly, there are many further posts, most of which don't get much more informed than the ones above. What I find most humourous is that the whole article was supposed to be a Q&A and ended up being something more of a FP&B (finger-point and backpeddle).

The thing we need to remember most is that we all are sinners regardless of the sins we have comitted. Ted Haggard was a sinner when he was born and unfortunately, his sins have become national fodder. I was a sinner when I was born, and by the grace of God, my sins are not public knowledge. In one sense though that's only half the argument. As Christians we are to be constantly vigilant against sin. As John Owen would say, "be killing sin, or it will be killing you." Them be words to live by.

Live like it's true.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Paradise Lost...

I suspect that the following subject will find it's conclusion in multiple parts, but for now I will have to content myself with writing an opening foray.

It may be relatively obvious from the time of this post, but as a "nighthawk", I can afford myself the luxury of accomplishing much more in a day than the average person. To that end, I began watching the video series Hell's Bells 2 this evening. Personally, I don't think I will begin that again at 1:30 in the morning. The oppressiveness of some of the content and the conviction it produces is simply too much before bedtime...I can't say though that I was not dutifully warned.
That aside, I came to a fundamental realization; one that has been brewing within for many days now. We live in a fallen society. Not only that, we live in a fallen society that revels in its faults and enjoys its ever increasing distance from moral high ground. The clear finger pointing is toward sin. Big shock. I should think though that on a more structural level there is some far deeper, far more sinister evolution occurring in our world. As Christians we need to be cogniscant of the fact that there is a force in this world that opposes God and the light of the church.

As I watched the video I became increasingly incensed with my past willingness to listen to some of the artists dealt with in the first two sections. Admittedly, I like my music loud. And please remember I am not in the business of audiology or musicology or other made up sounding disciplines, but rather I am a listener. I am the kind of sinner, who like so many others, often felt in my younger days (and probably even more recently than that) that I was impervious to the influence of music. It doesn't effect's just music.


Anyone, who can honestly say with a clear mind that the sense-charged impact of music has no bearing on their thoughts and actions is either an idiot or an idiot. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to realize that our bodies are tuned in one very specific direction. Emotionally and physically we are reactionary beings. We see a problem and we fix it. We experience the death of a close family member and we become emotionally involved. We hear music and it moves us. God created human beings to function this way for what I would deem a very clear reason: we are vessels of His mercy for His glory. If you said there is a more decisive reactionary impulse in this world, than a Spirit directed reaction to the mercy of God, I would call you a liar. We are what we eat, so how on earth can we not be what we listen to. It doesn't make biological sense. If you weren't supposed to hear and understand what you were listening to God would have put your ears around your knees to keep them far from your brain.

This is a clear line in the sand friends. On more than one occasion during the first two sections of Hell's Bells they showed real footage of music fans causing all sorts of carnage at Woodstock 99 and other rock concerts. If I remember correctly there are very few riots at the ballet and even fewer at the symphony. There is a certain intelligence that precedes any sort of action and a complete lack of self-control that precedes others.

Now I am certainly not saying that rock muscians are stupid. Far from fact I think they are often far smarter than we give them credit for. Think about it. If you recently purchased a CD was it because you knew you could play it at home with your own guitar, or is it because you lack the necessary skills to produce and write and create said music so you are letting someone else do all the work. are not a rock star. You buy music because someone else put it together. Which means you are already doing what they told you to do without actually saying bought into the hype or the beat or the cover art or the gyrating floozies.

But hold on a moment. Are you saying that I buy music because the artist subconcisouly told me to? Hmm...let's check back in to this whole concept of something sinister motivating our world. Surely music is not evil some will say. Fortunately, just like many other things of this world, I can honestly say no, music is not evil. In fact it has been put to very good use throughout the history of the church. The crux of this matter, however, is not that artists who make music are doing wrong, but that they are sinners just like we were. The varying degrees of corruption to which they apply their sin is intense and often mindboggling. Which can only lead one to realize that something else motivates and captivates these individuals as they write and perform.

This where everything can get a little dicey, but I am going to step out on a limb here. If God's inspired words have come to us as the Holy Scriptures, is there any rational reason that the work of Satan cannot transcend our world as well? I would say that we live in world and culture that continuously showcases the ease at which Satan can permeate and blur the lines between right and wrong. We live on a battlefield Christians. We live in world that is an ideological battlefield for the hearts and minds of a people. This is no Cold War, this is a holy war.

As Christians it is our great comfort that Christ rose that third day and defeated the enemy, who is the Devil. But it is important to note that although the defeat was complete, it was not a total annihilation (at least not yet, and even Satan knows his time is short). Even now, Christ saves sinners as he saved you and I. Not because of what we didn't listen to, but because our hearts were changed and pointed toward him. That doesn't mean that sin has disappeared and temptations have ceased. By all accounts of my own life, even this last day, Satan still taunts and tempts. He still hopes to win, even though his vanity cannot let him see the desperate hopelessness of his cause, he will convince you that you have nothing better to live for and that the only way out is through the reckless abandonment of your soul.

There is no apology for sin. Just as there is no apology for the Devil who wields it in many guises. In that final day, I am assured that the Lord will not be overly concerned with the choices of music you made, instead why you listened to the inklings of a wicked heart to make those choices. God directs all things, but the choices you make are still the choices you made. Unfair? I doubt very much that any person of worthy mettle could ever deny their own hand in the choices they've made. The morale of course is be responsible for your heart and be concious of what you do, because what you put in to life, is what you are going to get out.

Be on guard, Christians, for the battle will come to you, but do not fear the end, for therein lies the most glorious part.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Holding up the cross

Now I am not a compulsive blogger, but when I am so inclined I really try to make it count. Hence this post regarding a song that has encouraged and inspired me this past week. The song is by a guy named Jeremy Camp (never heard of him, don't be surprised, but he's good) called "This Man". The song calls us to look at the cross and recognize our own insufficiency to deal with our sins. For me however it caused me to examine the cross from a new perspective. It may seem a little trite or even cliche, but the following words from the chorus caught me:

"Would you take the place of this man,
Would you take the nails from his hands"

Would I? Naturally a mature Christian response is NO! Not only do I have no business even considering the good I could have done with the cross, an affirmative response mocks the fundamentals of Christianity. Would I? Who could even propose such a bold question... I think it's important to point out at this juncture that the question is indeed rhetorical and should be treated as such. With that being said there's a very important piece of the illustration that deserves a second look.

Here goes.

Have you ever wondered why you weren't on the cross paying for your own sins. You certainly deserve it as a sinner; there's no reason God couldn't have put all of us on crosses for what we've done to grieve him. There is no question that God would have been just in doing so. Therein lies the answer though. God is just. We could spend days speaking on the just-ness of God and his perfect righteousness, but the point here is that God's perfect justice knows no limits. In today's vernacular "no limits" inspires thoughts of extreme sports or untethered climbs up Everest. Let me push that further by saying that with God "no limits" actually means without boundary. God CHOSE to come to earth and deal with sin in a manner no human death could accomplish. He crossed the boundary of human-God without ever losing his holiness. Furthermore, God doesn't want you to die for your sins, he already did that for you. Here again God crosses the boundary of death without ever losing his omniscience, and in doing so defeats the power of Satan and sin, which is simply death. The sarcastic in me wants to press that and note that death is simply a created mechanism to get you out of this earth to glory or to fire. It's laughable to think that God couldn't pass through his own creation. More importantly God doesn't need you to die for your sins. Once again, his very god-head is such that he doesn't need that.

Now for the glorious part. Would you have taken [Christ's] place? No. Could you have even if you really wanted to. No. Why? Because you would be coming between God and his perfect will to save you from your sin through his own blood for his own glory (and he probably wouldn't have let you anyway). Those nails were just metal and that cross was just wood, but the burden they bore was the very reason we live and should be the very reason we glory in our God.

God took your place on the cross. God took my nails in his hand. And God did it in the full knowledge that his justice would prevail (and already had) over sin and that death could not hold him.

Who is like our God?

Friday, April 28, 2006

The prayer cloths of prosperity

I just returned from a 5-day software conference in Orlando. It was sunny and 32 the whole time, which means that all of you are jealous. Fortunately for me I was able to sit inside virtually the whole time sipping on real-fruit smoothies while listening to giant nerds from New York blather on about product updates and code improvements. To the point though, I didn't write this entry to brag, rather to mention some very disturbing things that I witnessed on American TV.

On Sunday evening (after Sportscentre) I was flipping around the channels and I came across one of those evangelist shows. You know what I am talking about. A well-dressed guy sitting in a southwest themed room with giant cacti in every corner, open bible before him, praying fervently. Now I was intrigued because these things are never what they appear...and I was not disappointed. Within seconds of the prayer finishing this fine gentleman had several donation numbers splashed up across the bottom of the screen and was advocating that you call in with a donation and he would set up a prayer cloth for you, which he would then pray over at the end of the show. Moments pass and he's being inundated with donations of varying amounts (I can't say whether they are legitimate or not, but that's beside the point). He then saunters over to his "Middle East" set which has stone-like walls sitting in front of a desert backdrop, with an alter in the middle. He begins laying out the prayer cloths on the alter and then starts praying. He prays for Sue, $25; Richard $1000; Gary $400 and on and on. He thanks them for their assistance and offers nothing more in prayer. The whole spectacle was disheartening to watch, but it doesn't end there. The very next show was another guy who was offering "prosperity cloths" because "God wants you to be happy". Such shows simply reminded me of other, more notable, television wahoos like Robert "Look at my giant window church" Schuler, Creflo Dollar, Joel Osteen, Chuck Swindell. These guys may not be as overt, but don't be fooled, they are on TV because it's TV not because it saves people.

Seeing all of this really made me grateful for our church and the truths that consistently manifest themselves during our times together. The "culture of Christianity" is a frightening thing, particularly when it makes itself onto television and people presumably look for answers in very wrong places. I have no doubt that there are people all across the world that seek answers from false teachers. I have no doubt that prayer cloths have some sway because then people don't have to pray themselves; it gets taken care of. Prosperity cloths are an easy way to make people feel like they've done their piece in approaching God now he's going to show them the money. Hmmm, where have I seen this before...oh right...buying indulgences anyone?

The whole experience left me feeling a little dirty. But it also reinforced the necessity of the Gospel and for the simple truth the good news extends to all who believe. There are false prophets everywhere making money off of false teaching. I think what is most frightening is that such unsavoury types have made it onto mainstream media to salve the conscious of unsuspecting watchers. It's false teaching direct to your home and it's a direct affront to the faith.

Pray that we may be faithful watchers.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Gospel according to Judas

Anyone catch this article in the Globe and Mail, "Judas acted at Jesus's request, manuscript says". Ooooo, I can tell you right now this is going to be fun.

First of all, I have always been suspicious of National Geographic. I mean seriously, what kind of organization has such an oxymoron for a name. Broken down I find the whole concept of "national geographic" to be silly. National is an derivitive of "nation", which usually represents a bordered country, but which can also be a people group (ie: the nation of Islam). See, double-entendre already and that's only one word; which one is it guys, make up your minds. Secondly, what does geographic really mean? As I understand it, "geographic" is a related term to geography which is the science of the earth. When I noticed that a bunch of wahoos at a magazine that hasn't changed it's cover design in about 300 years, and is audacious enough to have name which roughly translates into "People Group Earth Science", is coming forward with the next big thing in religion, I just had to take a bite.

To the issue at hand. The document that was discovered is from about 300 AD (according to carbon-dating), written in a Coptic script as a copy of an earlier Greek manuscript. The gist of the document is that Judas betrayed Jesus at Jesus' request. I can't tell you the myriad of problems I noticed off the bat, but for the doozie wait till I get to the climax of this "tale".

Here are a couple of things that I noted:
1. Is it really betrayal if Jesus told Judas to do it? What's the point of an all-powerful God who needs the help of Judas to get the redemptive work of salvation completed? The whole concept of this article indicates that Jesus was having trouble getting salvation done so he needed an inside man.
2. The first guy they talk to about it is Rev. Don Senior, the president of the Catholic Theological Union. What does this high ranking theological scholar do? He seems very excited about the prospect of this "fascinating" document. Does he know what theological means?
3. Another thing I noticed was the liberal use of the term "scholars". These geniuses somehow know that Jesus was looking to Judas to help rid him of his spiritual self. Are these the guys who discovered the 1,700 year old document in a sand dune or are they the fine individuals like the above gentlemen who are far too fascinated to really take a stand. I think they are likely bored old guys who want to make something of themselves before they die.
4. The key passage (we're told) is when Jesus says to Judas (in private conversation):
“you will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothed me.” Okay, didn't Jesus make quite the point of teaching his disciples that the first will be last and the last will be first (see Mark 9:33-36). It doesn't even sound like any other recorded words by Jesus, elevating one above others (for an illustration of what happens when humans do it check your closest encyclopedia under 'Roman Catholic Church"), and requesting help from a guy who takes his own life in a field. Yeah, I can see how that's key...key to nothing. It's not even a complete thought! Who writes this ancient garbage?

I think that these are the kind of articles that remind me how much I appreciate the Gospel. The simplicity of grace and mercy, salvation and forgiveness are treasures that cannot be shaken by such revisionism. As Christians let us be very careful that we do not underestimate the power the devil to undermine doctrine with ancient manuscripts that none of us were there to see written, but are readily believed because some crazy guy found them in a sand dune.

God works for his own glory, as Romans aptly teaches. I don't think Judas was necessary, but God chose to use him for his own purposes. I just don't think God would be God if he had to ask him first.

Thursday, March 30, 2006


You know how the "coolest" words always have bad connotations. Sure, that may be a gross over-statement, but then I couldn't get anything to make sense for what I am about to present.

My mother always gets me a "Forgotten English" calendar for Christmas every year. Basically, it is a desk calendar with one bizarre, antiquated English word for every day. Some are garbage and it is quite obvious why they were forgotten, but some are pure genius and the simple fact they have been neglected is a cataclysmic oversight by English-speaking people.

For example, I present to you the Hall of Fame of words from this year's calendar.

Park the biscuit - To sit down
Jank-hole - The privy (toilet) -- I mean come on this one is awesome.
Square dinkham - Okay.... seriously it means O.K.
Nullifidian - One of no faith; a sceptic in matters of religion

Those are a smattering of some of the awesome words that we have not used in the English language for some time. I'd like to initate a movement that starts using these words again. So from now on, when I would like to use your facilities I will say:

"Oi there, I'd like to park my bisuit in the jank-hole, square dinkham?"

Frankly it sounds far dirtier than the "Hey, I'd like to use the bathroom, okay?" would imply.

There's nothing like a crusade to re-add words to an already overloaded language. Goooooo English....striving for 1,000,000 words by 2020.