The Silent Resurrection

easter celebration white house_0.mediumOnce again it is that time of the year when all the world is a buzz concerning Easter. It is a word that mean different things to different people. For some, it may simply be about bunnies, eggs, and a spectacular meal with family and friends. For others it is described as “the most important festival in the Christian calendar” (BBC). The latter view is held by Christians who accept this time of the year as a celebration period marking the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Its association with the resurrection seems to make it an untouchable topic. To engage in analytical conversations concerning Easter with Christians is to, in a sense, disrupt the rapture-like mood of the season. In fact, this is true of anyone who celebrates something during this time. It seems that the intellect is placed to the side when celebration comes. This author dares to venture in anyway.

There has been many commentaries and discussions on the usage of the word “Easter.” Connections to paganism has been made, especially to Eastre, a saxon goddess associated with spring, and the Zidonian goddess Ashtoreth (1 Kings 11:5; 11:33; 2 Kings 23:13). Candida Moss,   Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Notre Dame, not only argues that similarity in pronunciation of words from one language to another and “dying and rising gods” in a variety of religions is insufficient to say that there was borrowing, but that the argument about borrowing shouldn’t be the focus of Christianity (CNN).

The origin of the word is not an issue to me. However, I understand and accept why it can be an issue for others. There is a case to be made for not using words that have historic associations with things that do not represent, or are at odds with, Christianity. This argument is often brushed aside as an ultra-conservative concern. This concern merits considerable attention on the part of those involved in how matters of faith are communicated. Ignoring this concern builds a foundation which will quickly allow usage of words that are more recent and troubling.

The meaning and usage of some words do change over time. The current season is a great example of how true this is. I’ve never heard any celebrant of Easter make a claim of praising a futility goddess. To say they are doing so sub-consciously, in my humble opinion, is also not a credible argument. Oftentimes, in order to prove a point, an argument will be advanced and supported by cliché like statements with no credible analysis to support the claims made. These and tactics such as intentional misrepresentations serve no purpose and should never be use in discussions of such magnitude in Christian circles.

If Easter is the celebration of the bodily resurrection of Christ by those who believe that there was such a thing then why is there not much talk on the resurrection? Sure many will flock to the churches during holy week–Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday–to hear meditations and sermons concerning what took place before and as a result of the crucifixion, but  why is it so quiet outside? Why hasn’t this bold belief concerning the coming to life of a crucified and buried savior not cause believers to spread the message like wildfire?

It seems that the Easter celebration period is not a time for evangelization. Rather, it is a time of reflection for those who are already believers. In other words the way Easter is currently celebrated is deprived of missionary expectations. Christians spend the time thinking and talking about the resurrection with each other. The outside world knows of the celebration but it’s not because Christians are going out to tell them. (This is not to say that there are no Christians talking about the resurrection. If this was the case the rocks would have cried out.) They know it because the media speaks on it. Thus, the resurrection, an event that caused the grieving disciples of Jesus to be strengthen and press on with the mission given, doesn’t seem to be motivational enough to get cultural Christianity–Christians that simply uphold ecclesiastical traditions–up off the couch and out of the pews to explain the story to the outside world.

Perhaps one of the hindrances to this missionary approach is lack of knowledge concerning the resurrection. How can Christians be expected to tell of a story they don’t know much about? This is an opinion and has no tangible support. But, I suspect that if churches were to assign a 100 word essay to their members to describe what happened before and after the crucifixion, they would be surprised. Assuming to know because we have heard it from the lips of another before is not proof that we know. The only way to know if what was heard was accurate is to investigate it from the primary source.

The lack of a major missional buzz from believers is proof that most are not reading and thinking of the resurrection. It is impossible to believe that all of that is being done and it only produce a few passionate souls. Christianity is prayerfully reading and thinking about the resurrection and only a handful feel moved to speak to the world? I think not. What’s likely is that most of us are not praying and reading, and as a result, no fire burns to share what is learned.

As an Adventist, I’m aware that there has always been major conflicts within our ranks concerning what to do with Easter. Where we have found common ground is not in a festival that incorporates imagery from all sorts of origins, but in reflecting on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, we don’t seem to be different from the rest of Christendom when it comes to sharing during this time. We are plagued with the same issue: a resurrection spoken of only at home and the church.

Is it the resurrection that produces silence? No. It’s our lack of understand of and appreciation for the significance of that resurrection. Somehow we have grown cold and are in dire need of a resurrection ourselves. At this time the best way to go about initiating this is to go back to the most important resurrection: that of Jesus Christ. May we study and experience a personal spiritual resurrection so we can talk about the risen one.

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The Allure of a Foul Mouth: Curse Words and the Church

imgres-3These days it seems like everybody uses curse words. Although those that monitor the usage of these words in the media call for censorship, they allow just the right amount of letters to slip out of the bleep so that the intended audience can have some idea what the word is supposed to be. This type of censorship reflects the attitude of the culture that it’s in. If a large amount of those that live within the culture were bothered by the usage of these words then the censorship committees would be hard-press not to bleep them completely, or better yet, rework the dialogue so that there wouldn’t be a need for bleeping.

The existence of a censoring committee is evidence that a large part of the audience is concerned about words. The committee would not have existed and any attempts to create one would have been strongly protested if a large majority of the audience was fiercely against it. The majority of the audience is not anticensorship and if they are, they are not passionate in their conviction. However, over time it seems that the committee has become more lenient in what it allows. The partial bleeping of certain words and the removal of some from the bleeping list–that is to say they are not curse words, or that they are acceptable curse words–are indications of the progressive leniency of the committee. It is only able to do so because a lenient audience allows it.

In its day to day interactions the audience uses a vast array of curse words. A curse word is used when one wants to degrade another, to express anger when something goes awry, or as an adjective in a sentence. It seems like there is no end to the type of ways curse words can be use. It has gotten to the point that if you don’t curse you stand out as an anomaly. The reason that this is possible is because the underlying drive that pushed not only the explosion of curse word usage, but nudity and the telling of what use to be classified as “private business,” is the self-expression mentality.

The mentality goes beyond simply being yourself. It’s about allowing the world to see who you are without care for what is considered right and wrong, no sense of morality. Everyone reveals things about themselves to some degree. It’s natural. However, this mentality allows for the extreme: the revealing of everything without care for the opinions of anybody else. It allows for rebellion to be glorified and to be viewed as how things ought to be.

What happened over time is that the mentality has also grabbed hold of most of those that it initially was reacting against. So now it’s not really a reaction, its a norm. Part of the norm is the constant use of curse words. It is in this environment that the Christian is found. Lo and behold curse words are heard more than ever on the lips of Jesus’ followers. Is it for the better or the worst? It’s easy to get an answer within the confines of a faith community. But how do young Christians sort their way through this complex environment?

The existence of a faith community entails not only that those within hold to the same beliefs but that those beliefs are reflected in their lifestyles. There are Christians that don’t curse. This does not mean that they’ve never said a curse word. It means that they rarely curse. They hold to the view that using foul language is wrong so they don’t use it. They tend to be more cautious with what they say and therefore choose their words carefully. They are viewed as anomalies for their rejection of the everything goes communication system.

There are Christians that curse. Some of these don’t want to do it and are struggling. Others are not really concern with stopping and feel that it’s completely acceptable if they use some choice words here and there to get their point across. Making the distinction between those that are struggling and those that don’t care is important because Christianity recognizes the inward struggle of the believer between what is right and wrong. Whereas foul language may be an issue for one, it’s not necessarily an issue for another. The one that it is not an issue for shouldn’t feel superior.

The Christian can’t allow cultural environment to alter classification on what is right and wrong without significant thought. Whereas on one hand the culture applauds those that mingle Christian views with itself, it is quick to identify certain behaviors as unfitting for those who profess Christianity. One of those behaviors is cursing. If you were to ask non-Christians: do Christians curse? They would say yes. If you were to ask them: should they be cursing? They would probably answer no.

The reason that a Christian should not curse can’t be base on wether or not the culture thinks so. It should be base on the meaning, the impact, and the intent behind the usage of the word. If this concept is difficult to understand it is because there exist a lack of exposure to biblical teachings on speaking. The teachings speak against the anything goes approach. Perhaps this is the reason why they do not receive sufficient attention. This automatically puts Christians at odds with their surroundings. They are then face with conforming to the biblical stance or going the way of all the earth.

How do we help young Christians? We need to teach them what the Bible says about speaking. Adults need to be aware of their speech. There is a dual effect when teaching and living flow together, They shouldn’t only be told about it, but they should see it. Perhaps part of the failure may be that a large amount of Christian adults are now cursing and so those that come after are simply following in their footsteps. Sometimes what’s good for the goose is not good for the gander.

The allure of the foul mouth will keep calling. This contra-Christian, rebellious, mystical way of being will attempt to sink its teeth on any Christian who dare to stare longingly. It’s time to show the better way of communicating. One in which countless neglected words in our languages are use to communicate effectively.

 

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Is the Secret Worth Knowing?:Why Bother with Revelation

The book of Revelation is not something that I hear much about from most of the young Christians that I know. The few that I hear talking about it are more interested in making historical connections. While it is a prophetic book, which does require those connections at some point, I’ve been wondering lately, as Jon Paulien,[1] dean of Religion at Loma Linda University, states: “[Adventists] get so absorbed in history that we fail to follow the story of revelation itself” (emphasis mine). This, he goes on, may cause us to miss things that are important in helping us understand the text itself and how it helps us understand history.[2]

In the spirit of this statement, I’ve begun walking through Revelation again. I came down this road several times before. When I first read Revelation, I was driven by an apologetic spirit; seeking out ways to defend the Adventist position. Over the years as my understanding of biblical interpretation, due to constant reading and some theological classes, deepened, I started to notice things that I didn’t see before.

This time around, I don’t want to bog you down by starting with background information, heavy explanations, or theological terminology (even though a big part of me wants to write this in more scholarly form). The reason: most people are more interested in devotional messages than the process that one goes through in order to develop the material for those devotions (smile). That being said, I begin with reflections on the first three verses which some bibles call, “Introduction and Benediction.”[3] It tells us: where Revelation come from; the beings involved in the process to get it to earth in the first century; and why we should read it.

Origin of Revelation

Where does the content of Revelation come from? The value that we put on Revelation is based on a claim that it makes concerning itself: it originated from God (Rev. 1:1). In fact, all of the versions I’ve read explicitly states, “God gave.”[4] Thus, there is no confusion about the origin of the content that is within this document. However, being the curious person that I am, I went on to ask myself about what does it mean when it says God. This question arose because I notice that a difference is made in the verse between “Jesus Christ” and “God.”

As one who believes in the trinity, I thought that If God gave the Revelation to Jesus Christ then the term God must be referring to God the Father, God the Spirit, or both. I don’t have a definitive answer at this point, but I believe that the answer must include God the Father. This is not to say that the Spirit wasn’t aware of the transfer of the communication, or what may have you. I hope I did not perplex you further concerning this already perplexing book. The point is that God is the source. This is the divine origin of the book.

I thought that it would be necessary to mention the human writer in this origin section. John, a writer with four other literary documents[5] in the Bible, is the human being that was, as the apostle Peter puts it, “moved” by God (2 Pet. 1:21 NKJV). This is an example of Peter’s words in action.

The Journey from God to Earth

John could have started the Revelation by simply stating it was given to him by God, but he didn’t. Instead, he decides to list 4 beings: Jesus, God, an angel, and himself. As stated earlier, it begins with God. Revelation unveils a God who took the initiative of sending something that wasn’t asked, but utterly necessary.

Thus, God “gave” it to Jesus, who then gave it to an angel. The Godhead gave an angel the opportunity to participate in the transmission of this communication. This adds to the grandness of the Revelation. Heaven embarked on a great mission to bring something to earth. This mission involved all the big names. The angel enters into the world of mankind and gives the prophet the secret that is to be unveiled.

Why Bother with this Book?

This may seem like a mundane question, but it is one that I’ve heard frequently. Before discussing the reasons, as stated in the first three verses, I would like to present an analysis of the contemporary climate. People are more interested in reading the stories in the Bible that they can easily understand. I reckon that the reason for this, that is to say, for those that are serious, is to find commands and principles that will tell them what to do. This is a good objective because the Bible aims at doing just that, providing guidance. The problem is that in the quest to find what to do some people develop a habit of being content with the quickest answer. Anything that challenges the mind to dig deeper receives a screwed face. It never ceases to shock me when I see college students do this.

But let’s get back to the topic. Other than the fact that it is in the Bible, which, I have noticed, is not a motivator for Christians to read something anymore, Revelation states that its’ readers, hearers, and doers will be blessed (Rev. 1:3). If this is not an incentive to invest time into this book then I don’t know what is. Everywhere you hear the pulpiters (preachers) storming about receiving God’s blessings, but nowhere is this book mentioned. If it is, I haven’t heard it. Here is an opportunity to be blessed, and all you have to do is prayerfully read and study.

There is something to note about this blessing that is being promised. The verse says that blessings will come upon “the one who reads,” and “those who it hear it and take it to heart” (NIV). An idea that may come to the mind of someone reading this is that there are two pre-requisites for this blessing. The first is that if you are a reader of Revelation then you will be blessed. The condition is that you simply read it. The second is that a blessing is reserved for those who don’t read it but heard it. The listeners, they reckon, also have to practice the counsels within.

Jacques B. Doukhan, professor of Hebrew and Old Testament Exegesis at Andrews Theological Seminary, comments that this section of the three verses is a reference to the worship service in which Revelation is to be read. He bases this on the fact that the one who is reading it is stated in singular form, and the hearers are in the plural. So does this mean that we only receive the blessings if we gather somewhere and hear someone speak on Revelation? No. Without going into too much of a discussion on meaning of words, Doukhan states that the word that is being used in reference to hearing also requires the understanding of what is being heard.[6] This will require more than just sitting in church and hearing a sermon.

What about Jesus? Any discussion on Revelation must include Jesus. Not only did he participate in the transmission process of the material, but it is also a revelation about himself (1:1). Perhaps the real issue with understanding this is due to the failure of some to show the church how Jesus is revealed. Jesus’ relationship to the rest of the book is pivotal in understanding it since it is a revelation of him.

Another reason that must come in under this section is Revelation’s claim to contain “what must soon take place” (1:1, 3). I’m sure that what will happen tomorrow, or even for the rest of today for that matter, is of great interest to many. Well, God doesn’t give us all the information about what is going to happen soon, but he does give us something. The only reason why we would deny ourselves this information is if we don’t believe that it is really there. Our belief in whether or not this document contain what it says it does will affect whether we read it or not.


[1] Jon Paulien, Ph.D., is a Seventh-day Adventist New Testament scholar. He specializes in Johanine literature (especially the book of John and Revelation).

[2] Jon Paulien, Armageddon at the Door: An Insider’s Guide to the Book of Revelation (Hagerstown, MD: Autumn House Publishing, 2008), pp. 63-64.

[3] Cf. Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible.

[4] Cf. ASV; ESV; KJV; NAB; NASB; NET; NIV; NJB; NKJV; NRS; RSV; and YLT.

[5] The apostle John wrote the Gospel According to John; 1 John; 2 John; and 3 John.

[6] Jacques B. Doukhan, Secrets of Revelation: The Apocalypse Through Hebrew Eyes (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2002), pp.12-13.

Applying Before Analyzing: A Common Problem

It goes without saying that Bible study is a necessity for Christians. It is not only use to initiate one into the worldview of the faith, but also to deepen one’s ability to evolve that worldview through the continuity of study. This does not require that one neglect the command to “occupy till I come” (Luke 19:13) in order to enclose his/herself in  ivory towers with those who, because of their biblical knowledge, are recognized as elites. There is no call to a monkish lifestyle in which an anti-modernity stance — involving the demonization of modern technology, clothing, etc. — is taken in order to perfect one’s knowledge of the Bible.

Now, in case some may be confused, which usually happens despite disclaimers, taking a step back from the hustle and bustle of modern life is profitable. Shutting down our technological devices in order to experience the sound of silence will do more good then one may suspect. The allure of “flossing” — used in the street to mean showing off what you got — drives us to expenditures that will only result in economic slavery to creditors and further resemblance to the Luciferian spirit of pride. So the far-right of Adventist conservatism does have a right to be concerned and to feel the need to withdraw at times.

Let’s get back to the topic. Since most will never go to a seminary and be instructed by seasoned theologians on the art of biblical exegesis, it behooves us to pay particular attention to recommendations that arrive in hopes of correcting common problems. Any proposal to provide a full exposition of the problems here is preposterous. However, one can reflect on a particular problem that is common in that it is one that many make, and that it is recurring to those that make it.

It is applying before analyzing. That is to say that often time Bible students contemporize a passage or a verse without analyzing the original situation. There are many reasons why this is done and one can’t assume to know them all. It may be that some are going through trying times and, in their haste to comfort their soul with inspirational words, read certain meanings into the text that may or may not be there. Of course there are some texts who’s meanings are pretty clear and thus most people who are within those situations usually go to those texts and therefore may not be in grave interpretive danger. However, this manner of dealing with the text is, in less trying times, used as the normative way of interpreting.

There are many who can further their interpretive ability but refuses to do so. This may be due to laziness or simply an attitude of indifference. There are many who are contempt with the way they have always done things and therefore calls to modifications will fall on deaf ears. As much as information is available, it is rarely used. Instead it is glanced at and quickly pushed to the side for the next, resulting in a lack of contemplation — which may be the real root of the problem. The problems that all these have caused so far is unfathomable.

How should these problems be address? That is easier answered then applied. There is always to be found in the pews of the church a coalition of the willing who will answer the call of handling scripture better. No one is perfect in this task, however, one should possess the urge to improve, if it is indeed believed to be the word of God. It is better to take time and be right then to rush and be wrong. The coalition of the willing should be taken by those who are knowledgeable in the art of interpretation. It is not difficult, however continuous application of it deepens one’s understanding of scripture.

In these teaching sessions, which should be done in warm and friendly environments, there should be explanations and examples given concerning how one should interpret and what have been the results of misinterpretation. Emphasis should be place on the need to allow the passages, as is, to flow through the mind of the readers until they become well acquainted with them. the objective is to be thoroughly familiar with the original passage. The next step would be to determine what is the Christo-centric principle that is to be found within that passage. Then, if one chooses to apply this passage to a contemporary situation, they can reflect on the original context and be able to determine if the principle is applicable and how it is applicable.

A Sermon on the Canaanite Woman

It is always a wonderful and blessed experience to go to the house of the Lord on the Sabbath (Saturday). Yesterday, I heard a sermon by a good friend of mines on the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15. It was an encouraging sermon, outlining the importance of persevering in our requests to God, and having faith that He is able and will do it despite what is confronting us. It’s a message that was necessary for a people going through hard economic times and other challenges that the community at large may not be aware of. In this first segment of my Sermon Talks series, I present to you my reflections on the story of this woman.

If you have a problem and you hear of someone who can solve it, would you go to him? Well, I don’t know about you, but I would. Apparently, the Canaanite woman, who had a daughter suffering from demon possession, heard about such a man. Whoever told her about Jesus must have done it in such a way that she, a Canaanite, whom the Jews despise, was convinced that she had to seek this man and that He was able to bring deliverance (Matt. 15:21). Her decision should remind us of something we don’t recall too often, and that is Jesus’ ability to bring deliverance.

Demonic possession is considered a thing of the past by many, even Christians. We have dismissed the supernatural aspect of things and concluded that it is limited to ancient times. The truth is, just because we don’t see people yelling and screaming doesn’t mean that they are not possess. When Satan entered Judas at the last supper, there was nothing strange about him or else the others would have noticed. The disciples thought that Jesus was sending Judas out to buy things for the coming feast (John 13:21-30). Demon possession may show physical manifestations or it may not, but it is real.

In her opening cry to Jesus there are some phrases she uses that are worthy of note. She asked for “mercy,” and she called him “Lord, Son of David” (Matt. 15:22 NIV). Her appeal for mercy is an indication of her belief that Jesus the Jew is able to have compassion for a Canaanite woman. Her mention of his Davidic lineage is an acknowledgment of Him as the Messiah, a point that Matthew brings up over and over again in his gospel. However, these phrases didn’t generate a response from Jesus.

Many of us would have given up at this point. I know I would have. I have no patience for sitting around and waiting for things to happen, I consider it to be a waste of time. But can you imagine how ashamed she must have felt when she received no response? How many times have you prayed, hoping for a favorable answer, but instead you heard the silence of God or been unable to tell what He is doing? It didn’t stop there for the Canaanite, it got worst. The disciples were getting annoyed with all the pleading and gave Jesus their opinion of what He should do (Matt. 15:23). Her problem didn’t concern them, they were only interested in getting rid of her.

Twice Jesus responded as the disciples would have responded. He told her that His mission was limited to the Jews, which is a dismissive statement since she wasn’t Jewish (Matt. 15:24). She was being disqualified because of something that she had nothing to do with, where she was born. But she didn’t quit, she worshiped. Remark that this worship takes place after a statement of unworthiness, not after deliverance. Have you ever been told or felt that you were unqualified?

Jesus’ next response is the one that would have done the most damage. He said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs,” inferring that she was a dog. Had enough? That didn’t get her to leave. Instead she came back with one of the most wittiest replies, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (Matt. 15:27 NIV). This is a true analysis. The Canaanite woman had persisted in her request and Jesus, who was so overwhelmed by this woman’s faith in Him, granted her request. That very hour her daughter was healed (Matt. 15:28). This miracle is not limited to the first century, we can have this powerful experience with Jesus in our lives today if we would only press on.

The disciples’ advise to Jesus, and His responses to the woman, have led me to the conclusion that Jesus spoke as He did to teach the disciples a lesson about compassion, faith, and the inclusiveness of deliverance. Not only did He use a Canaanite to give them a lesson on what real faith looks like, but He helped her faith increase by the challenge that it faced. From that experience she gained even greater confidence in the power of God. Sometimes God uses the experience of those that we think are not worthy to teach us important lessons.

The lesson on faith and compassion is crucial because in the following narrative they are evident in Jesus’ statement to the disciples concerning a hungry multitude (Matt. 15:29-39). The statement seems to have been a test to see what they would say. The disciples are not the only ones that need to learn these lessons, we need to learn them too. We should be a church that encourage each other in persevering in our request. When we read a story, it’s easier to place someone else in the role of the villain than ourselves.

Was the church motivated after the sermon? Certainly. I, for one, am going to answer the call to persevere in my request and have faith that God’s hands will move and deliver. There is something real in Christianity and His name is Jesus, He is able.


Notes

Sermon Talks is a series of my reflections on sermons heard over the weekend that are not preached by me.

The picture above: Christ and the Canaanite Woman – c.1784 Germain-Jean Drouais