Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Where To Worship

Preaching through John has been one of my favorite experiences since I started teaching the Bible. The understated subtleties are genius. It’s a book that begs us to read it over and over again. It’s so simple that a child can benefit but it’s structure and subplots are so intricate that scholars are still trying to wrap their minds around all that is here. 

One of the little insights that struck me this past week is the way that Jesus rearranged the religious life of Israel. At our church, we are in the middle of the passage where Jesus tenderly yet firmly speaks to the serial fornicator, the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. As Jesus begins to prod at her personal life, she quickly changes the subject to something more distant, to a theological debate. She was a Samaritan. Samaria was the capital of the Northern Kingdom (after the split under Rehoboam). They had been conquered in 722BC and many of the people deported. When that happens, immigrants from all over come to inhabit that area. They would eventually marry those Israelites who had been spared producing the “Samaritan” people. The full blooded Jews had a proud lineage and rejected these “half breeds.” The racial tension was intense between these groups. On top of that, the Samaritans had declared their own holy place to worship, Mt. Gerizim, while the “true” Jews to the South claimed Jerusalem (incidentally, they had the right place). 

After Jesus starts reading her mail, Mrs. Lady at the Well bails out of the personal stuff and wants to know about worship. A tactic we’ve all used at some point in conversation — when you don’t really want to talk about personal things. Jesus uses the opportunity to teach that worship isn’t about a place, because God is Spirit and you must worship in spirit and truth. Now that’s interesting. From Jacob’s well, Mt. Gerizim would be in sight. Why is this so significant? 

Just before this, Jesus had rearranged worship in Jerusalem as he cleared out the temple. In the process, he declares the days of the temple are numbered. He is the true temple where worship will take place. Now he goes to Samaria and does away with their holy place too.  The mission of Jesus runs contrary to the religious system of the day. Jesus was not validating one place over another for worship. He simply states they are both becoming obsolete. The place where man meets God is THE true temple, the person of Jesus Christ. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Hope for Eeyore

A Bad Trajectory
If you are a Christian, you are undoubtedly disappointed by some of the developments of the past years. We are a generation that now calls good evil and evil good. It wasn't all that long ago that you could turn on the TV during prime time and watch with relative peace of mind. Andy Griffith has been replaced with mostly garbage. In recent days, our society rejoices in our progress. What progress have we made? We can now openly embrace and rejoice in sexual sins like homosexuality and promiscuity. So that's progress, huh? Our trajectory is not good.

I'm a firm believer in the Bible. Romans 1 helps give some explanation to what's going on. God is revealing his wrath (1.18) and he's doing so by giving sinners what they want, their sin (1.24, 26, 28). The sin is the judgment and the judgment is the sin. Welcome to 2013.

Moral Decay (Sin) Isn't New
I do want to point something else out though. As Christians we can get eeyorish in our outlook. We have to remember that we aren't the first society to watch our morals decay before our eyes. Read through Kings. Adultery, fornication, murder, lying, stealing, even mass murder and infanticide are part of Israel's story. The government that Paul instructed the Romans to submit to would the very government that would kill him. I do not like the fact that it is getting harder for preachers to preach the Word without fear of consequence, but our government isn't hanging people for preaching Christ, at least not yet that I know about. Peter would also die for his faith and he also instructs believers to submit to the government - a corrupt government (1 Pet 2). Many in the Middle Ages were convinced that they had the anti-Christ in their generation. It is widely taught that the Roman Empire crumbled fundamentally because of a loss of morality. Are we on a good course? No. Do I like it? No. But are we hopeless? Far from it.

Hope is Always in View for a Christian
I believe places like Romans 1 and 2 Peter 3 teach that generally the world is going to get continue to rebel. Jesus is going to come back and judge, in a similar way to how God has acted before, like in the flood. Our ultimate hope is that Jesus will restore all things.

Until then, we are stewards and responsible to do what we can to provide light to a dark world. I believe Christians can be a preserving influence and we can even see positive course corrections. In recent history, there are times when the general movement has been positive. A few examples of culture moving the right direction: slavery, civil rights, women's rights, and in large part in Eurpoe, anti-Semitism. We aren't perfect on any of these, but we have seen positive progress.

These among other reasons gives me lots of hope in this life. I'm excited that despite the horrors and deep evil of the Kermit Gosnell case, the public has largely reacted with appropriate horror when presented with the facts. This is an opportunity to perhaps regain some ground.

At the end of the day, "fixing society" isn't our job anyways. Our job is to adorn the gospel with holy lives and to point to THE Answer, Jesus Christ. The dark backdrop that seems to be getting darker all the time only provides a greater contrast for the diamond of the gospel.

Hold your head up Christian. Jesus came to give life. You have been born again to a living hope. You are his ambassadors and guess what: the good guys win!