"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

Friday, January 29, 2016

C.S. Lewis on the Importance of Tao in Politics

There are two polar extremes when it comes to Christian values in the American world of politics. First, there are those people who insist that the only nation which will prosper is the nation "whose God is the Lord" and has leaders that represent the Judeo-Christian values of the Bible. Then there other people who are anti-anything that has to do with Judeo-Christian values or those candidates who support them. 

During the political season, Facebook blows up with people opining whether or not this candidate--or that candidate--truly represents the historic "Christian values" of America. Some candidates seemingly void of Christian faith in their personal lives suddenly begin courting and catering to Christians, claiming that they will represent them in the political world. Then, like clockwork, the anti-everything Christian crowd skewers those candidates by pointing out that "real Christians" would never own casinos, sell liquor, declare bankruptcy, etc... Suddenly, everyone seems to be an expert on all things Christian. 

America needs a modern C.S. Lewis to remind Christians living in America about the true nature of our politics:
A sick society must think much about politics, as a sick man must think much about his digestion; to ignore the subject may be fatal cowardice for one as for the other. But if either comes to regard it as the natural food of the mind—if either forgets that we think of such things only in order to be able to think of something else—then what was undertaken for the sake of health has become itself a new and deadly disease. — C.S. Lewis
Lewis believed that like digestion, politics is not everything, nor is it nothing. It's important, but it's not life itself. Politics is a practice that is necessary to protect and promote the temporary life God has provided for us on earth. The important principle for Lewis was that Christians ought remember politics has its limits. Lewis believed that the best Christian political thought and action was accomplished not by pastors wanting a "Christian America" but by Christian businessmen in business and Christian doctors in medicine, and Christian citizens in society, practicing the craft of politics by applying the Golden Rule to the ugliness of politics.
“The practical problem of Christian politics is not that of drawing up schemes for a Christian society, but that of living as innocently as we can with unbelieving fellow-subjects under unbelieving rulers who will never be perfectly wise and good and who will sometimes be very wicked and very foolish." - [C.S. Lewis, "The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment," in God in the Dock, 292]. 
Lewis believed that the best way for Christians in any nation to view politics and politicians was through the lens of natural law, what Lewis called the Tao (pronounced Dow). Lewis believed that the Tao (Chinese for "The Way") was a set of "natural laws" impressed on the heart of every human being. The Tao leads people to treat others with respect and dignity, to protect and provide for the defenseless, to resist oppression, and to pursue justice. The manner in which this is done may vary, but the moral principle, or Tao, abides within all men and all religions.

I am reading The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis, and in the appendix of this classic work, there is a thorough description of Lewis' Tao.  In politics, Lewis argued that you ought to listen to the words and carefully observe the behaviors of those candidates running for office, for in the end, those who live their lives by natural law will be the only effective leaders in a sick society that is anti-everything Christian.
Unfortunately, we live in a day when young people only know Tao as a nightclub in Las Vegas and have never considered it as the laxative for the clogged and polluted politics of our day. And even worse, we live in a time  when pastors don't even know Tao is a nightclub, nor do they know that in the sick society in which we live, it's more important to practice Tao in the race for office than it is to say you are a Christian. 

Don't take my word for it; listen to Lewis.  

Sunday, January 24, 2016

I Have Set My Face to Love Like Flint

Six months before crucifixion, Jesus "determined to go to Jerusalem" (Luke 9:51 NAS) to die. In the original Greek, the word determined is literally "set His face" to go to Jerusalem. I imagine Dr. Luke is intentionally referencing a Messianic prophecy from Isaiah 50:7 - "Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame."

When Jesus went to the cross to die for us, He demonstrated real love. "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). If you wish to know real love, you must look at Jesus' love for us, for "in this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (I John 4:10).

When I think of Christ's love for me, I consider it to be:

1. Intentional - "I have set My face like flint" to die for Wade Burleson.
2. Unconditional - "I have set My face like flint" to deliver Wade Burleson.
3. Sacrificial - "I have set My face like flint" to draw Wade Burleson.

I am convinced about two faults with the modern church. First, we spend so much time talking about our love for God, that we lose the proper perspective of real love. Love, as it is to be, is seen in Christ's love for us, not our love for God. Second, we lack love for one another because we've never been captivated and enthralled with an understanding of His love for us.

Intentional love comes from within the One loving. Christ's love is like an artesian spring; it is not pulled out of Him because of my loveliness, but flows from within Him because He is love.

Unconditional love thinks nothing of the weakness of the one being loved, or expects reciprocating love, for the One loving recognizes that real love is an action of worth, never an attitude of want.

Sacrificial love is the kind of love that endures pain, burrows through suffering, endures all things for the ones being loved. Christ's love for me is intentional, unconditional and sacrificial.

No Greater Love

How should we like it were the stars to burn
With a passion for us, we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

If I think this only brings pain,
I’ve yet to learn love’s true gain.
For when I give without any pull,
It’s a sign my heart is already full.

This is the reason I bow my knee
And ask to know God’s love for me.
If your affection ever turns cold,
My love for you will never grow old.

W.H. Auden and W.W. Burleson (2014)

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Power of "Sticking Up" for Someone

Ball's Island (South Pacific) - Photo Credit John White
National Public Radio science writer Robert Krulwich writes one of the more interesting articles I've read in a long time. Entitled Six-Legged Giant Finds Secret Hideaway, Hides For 80 Years, the story is a modern parable on the power of perseverance in "sticking up" for someone (or something) that is in trouble. Rather than summarize, I am reposting the article here:

 No, this isn't a make-believe place. It's real.

They call it "Ball's Pyramid." It's what's left of an old volcano that emerged from the sea about 7 million years ago. A British naval officer named Ball was the first European to see it in 1788. It sits off Australia, in the South Pacific. It is extremely narrow, 1,844 feet high, and it sits alone.

What's more, for years this place had a secret. At 225 feet above sea level, hanging on the rock surface, there is a small, spindly little bush, and under that bush, a few years ago, two climbers, working in the dark, found something totally improbable hiding in the soil below. How it got there, we still don't know.

Here's the story: About 13 miles from this spindle of rock, there's a bigger island, called Lord Howe Island.

On Lord Howe, there used to be an insect, famous for being big. It's a stick insect, a critter that masquerades as a piece of wood, and the Lord Howe Island version was so large — as big as a human hand — that the Europeans labeled it a "tree lobster" because of its size and hard, lobsterlike exoskeleton. It was 12 centimeters long and the heaviest flightless stick insect in the world. Local fishermen used to put them on fishing hooks and use them as bait.

Rod Morris/ www.rodmorris.co.nz
Then one day in 1918, a supply ship, the S.S. Makambo from Britain, ran aground at Lord Howe Island and had to be evacuated. One passenger drowned. The rest were put ashore. It took nine days to repair the Makambo, and during that time, some black rats managed to get from the ship to the island, where they instantly discovered a delicious new rat food: giant stick insects. Two years later, the rats were everywhere and the tree lobsters were gone.
Totally gone. After 1920, there wasn't a single sighting. By 1960, the Lord Howe stick insect, Dryococelus australis, was presumed extinct.

There was a rumor, though.

Some climbers scaling Ball's Pyramid in the 1960s said they'd seen a few stick insect corpses lying on the rocks that looked "recently dead." But the species is nocturnal, and nobody wanted to scale the spire hunting for bugs in the dark.

Climbing the Pyramid

Fast forward to 2001, when two Australian scientists, David Priddel and Nicholas Carlile, with two assistants, decided to take a closer look. From the water, they'd seen a few patches of vegetation that just might support walking sticks. So, they boated over. ("Swimming would have been much easier," Carlile said, "but there are too many sharks.") They crawled up the vertical rock face to about 500 feet, where they found a few crickets, nothing special. But on their way down, on a precarious, unstable rock surface, they saw a single melaleuca bush peeping out of a crack and, underneath, what looked like fresh droppings of some large insect.

Where, they wondered, did that poop come from?

The only thing to do was to go back up after dark, with flashlights and cameras, to see if the pooper would be out taking a nighttime walk. Nick Carlile and a local ranger, Dean Hiscox, agreed to make the climb. And with flashlights, they scaled the wall till they reached the plant, and there, spread out on the bushy surface, were two enormous, shiny, black-looking bodies. And below those two, slithering into the muck, were more, and more ... 24 in all. All gathered near this one plant.

Map of Lord Howe Island
Credit: Stephanie d'Otreppe / NPR

They were alive and, to Nick Carlile's eye, enormous. Looking at them, he said, "It felt like stepping back into the Jurassic age, when insects ruled the world."

They were Dryococelus australis. A search the next morning, and two years later, concluded these are the only ones on Ball's Pyramid, the last ones. They live there, and, as best we know, nowhere else.

Photo Credit/Patrick Honan
How they got there is a mystery. Maybe they hitchhiked on birds, or traveled with fishermen, and how they survived for so long on just a single patch of plants, nobody knows either. The important thing, the scientists thought, was to get a few of these insects protected and into a breeding program.

That wasn't so easy. The Australian government didn't know if the animals on Ball's Pyramid could or should be moved. There were meetings, studies, two years passed, and finally officials agreed to allow four animals to be retrieved. Just four.

When the team went back to collect them, it turned out there had been a rock slide on the mountain, and at first they feared that the whole population had been wiped out. But when they got back up to the site, on Valentine's Day 2003, the animals were still there, sitting on and around their bush.
The plan was to take one pair and give it a man who was very familiar with mainland walking stick insects, a private breeder living in Sydney. He got his pair, but within two weeks, they died.

Adam And Eve And Patrick

That left the other two. They were named "Adam" and "Eve," taken to the Melbourne Zoo and placed with Patrick Honan, of the zoo's invertebrate conservation breeding group. At first, everything went well. Eve began laying little pea-shaped eggs, exactly as hoped. But then she got sick. According to biologist Jane Goodall, writing for Discover Magazine:
"Eve became very, very sick. Patrick ... worked every night for a month desperately trying to cure her. ... Eventually, based on gut instinct, Patrick concocted a mixture that included calcium and nectar and fed it to his patient, drop by drop, as she lay curled up in his hand."
Her recovery was almost instant. Patrick told the Australian Broadcasting Company, "She went from being on her back curled up in my hand, almost as good as dead, to being up and walking around within a couple of hours."

Eve's eggs were harvested, incubated (though it turns out only the first 30 were fertile) and became the foundation of the zoo's new population of walking sticks.

When Jane Goodall visited in 2008, Patrick showed her rows and rows of incubating eggs: 11,376 at that time, with about 700 adults in the captive population. Lord Howe Island walking sticks seem to pair off — an unusual insect behavior — and Goodall says Patrick "showed me photos of how they sleep at night, in pairs, the male with three of his legs protectively over the female beside him."

Now comes the question that bedevils all such conservation rescue stories. Once a rare animal is safe at the zoo, when can we release it back to the wild?

On Lord Howe Island, their former habitat, the great-great-great-grandkids of those original black rats are still out and about, presumably hungry and still a problem. Step one, therefore, would be to mount an intensive (and expensive) rat annihilation program. Residents would, no doubt, be happy to go rat-free, but not every Lord Howe islander wants to make the neighborhood safe for gigantic, hard-shell crawling insects. So the Melbourne Museum is mulling over a public relations campaign to make these insects more ... well, adorable, or noble, or whatever it takes.

They recently made a video, with strumming guitars, featuring a brand new baby emerging from its egg. The newborn is emerald green, squirmy and so long, it just keeps coming and coming from an impossibly small container. Will this soften the hearts of Lord Howe islanders? I dunno. It's so ... so ... big.

But, hey, why don't you look for yourself?

What happens next? The story is simple: A bunch of black rats almost wiped out a bunch of gigantic bugs on a little island far, far away from most of us. A few dedicated scientists, passionate about biological diversity, risked their lives to keep the bugs going. For the bugs to get their homes and their future back doesn't depend on scientists anymore. They've done their job. Now it's up to the folks on Lord Howe Island.

Will ordinary Janes and Joes, going about their days, agree to spend a little extra effort and money to preserve an animal that isn't what most of us would call beautiful? Its main attraction is that it has lived on the planet for a long time, and we have the power to keep it around. I don't know if it will work, but in the end, that's the walking stick's best argument:

I'm still here. Don't let me go.

Courtesy the Australian Museum

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Do You Mock Jesus Christ and His Cross of Shame? An Exposition of Deuteronomy 25:11-12

We live in a time when many would rather ridicule the Bible than read it. Even in America, a country that has every possible advantage for its citizens to know the Scriptures, American people will take to social media to mock the Bible and God Himself. For example, yesterday an anti-Christian cartoon appeared on Facebook (see left) with the comment, "This is the God that Christians worship. Does it sound like a god you want to serve?"

The verses being mocked (Deuteronomy 25:11-12) in the cartoon and the comment above are from the Law of Moses. The New American Standard English Version of the Bible seems to me to come the closest to the actual Hebrew.
“If two men, a man and his countryman, are struggling together, and the wife of one comes near to deliver her husband from the hand of the one who is striking him, and puts out her hand and seizes his genitals, then you shall cut off her hand; you shall not show pity."
These two verses are often chosen by atheists, agnostics, and scoffers as the denouement for their written treatises that mock Christianity and our God. In subsequent Facebook comments I read that discussed the cartoon, there were two groups of commentators: (1). Those anti-Christian in their beliefs who seemed smug in denigrating the Bible and those who believe it, and (2). Christians who had no idea how to explain Deuteronomy 25:11-12.

This short post is compassionate warning to the former group (non-believers in Christ) and an encouraging explanation to the latter group (believers in Christ).

Types in Scripture

The first five books of the Bible are called The Law of Moses and they are filled with types. Types are symbols of something else, like a "typewriter" is a symbol machine that strikes a piece of paper to represent something else (e.g. "the thoughts of the typist"). Typology in the Old Testament is simply a "picture language" in which the important thoughts of God are presented in symbols. A type is like the shadow of a person; when you see a shadow, you know that the shadow only represents the reality of a person. So too, when Israel brought their lambs for sacrifices before God, they were prefiguring (like a shadow) and representing the true Lamb of God (Jesus Christ) who takes away the sin of the world.

The woman who  grabs the "shameful parts" of the man who is wrestling with her husband serves as a type. In this Law passage (Deuteronomy 25:11-12), a very specific situation is described:
There's a fight (between 'brothers' or 'countrymen'), with a perpetrator (the wife of one of the brothers), involved in an action (seizing the opponent's "shameful parts"), with a resulting punishment (cutting off her hand) and a closing exhortation ("show no mercy.").
There are probably only a few pastors who would risk teaching from this Law text on a Sunday morning. There could be a number of interesting titles to choose from ... but I digress. The problem is people will read Deuteronomy 25:11-12 and only get tickled or troubled. There is an incredible gospel truth from this text that comes through the type that the two men, the actions of the woman, and the pronounced judgment all represent.

The Type Explained

In the recorded history of Israel, there is not one occasion where a Jewish woman loses her hand for violating this Law.  Think about it! Why would anyone Jewish woman "grab" the crotch of a kinsman fighting her husband? If you were defending your husband, you'd go for the head of his opponent, or the neck, or incapacitate in a much more efficient manner. Nevertheless, this Law is in the Pentateuch. I believe so many get lost in an attempt to explain the literal application of the Law (e.g. talionis lex) that that they miss the spiritual application.

When Jesus walked with the two men on the road to Emmaus, He began "with the Law and all the Prophets and explained to them what was said in the Scriptures concerning Himself"  (Luke 24:27). Deuteronomy 25:11-12 are two verses that describe Jesus Christ and and what our reaction to His "shameful" death should and should not be.

(1). The two men in Deuteronomy 25:11-12 remind us of the first wrestling match in the Bible.

In the science of Bible interpretation (e.g. hermeneutics), there is the Law of First Mention which states, "the first mention of a subject in Scripture establishes an unchangeable pattern, with that subject remaining unchanged in God's mind throughout Scripture."

The first time "two men" wrestle in Scripture is when Jacob wrestlers with God (e.g. Jesus Christ). The story is found in Genesis 32:22-32. John Gill says of Jacob's wrestling match:
"No doubt, the Son of God in an human form is wrestling with Jacob. Christ frequently appeared in Old Covenant days as a token and pledge of His future incarnation. This "wrestling" was real and physical on the part of both" 
During the wrestling match, things don't go well for Jacob. The Son of God strikes Jacob in the "socket (Hebrew: kaph) of Jacob's thigh." The Hebrew word "kaph" is used throughout the Old Testament for either the sole of a foot or the palm of a hand or the socket of the thigh. It conveys the idea of "strength" or "swiftness." People with strong sockets, swift soles, and strong grips are people of strength and independence. But a person who loses their kaph, loses their self-sufficiency. So during Jacob's wrestling match, he lost his self-sufficiency (that's always the first thing Christ does when He saves person), and only after he loses his "kaph" does Jacob plead for blessing from Christ - and receives it! This reminds me of Paul's words in II Corinthians 12:10:
And Christ has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in your weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong."
(2). The woman of Deuteronomy 25:11-12 has her "kaph" removed without mercy.

The women uses her "hand" to grab "the shameful parts" of the man wrestling her husband (v. 11), and as a consequence of her action, she is to have her "hand" cut off. Unfortunately, in the English translation of these two verses, the word "hand" translates two Hebrew words. The word translated as "hand" in verse 11 is not the same word translated "hand" in verse 12:
  • Verse 11: Hand = יָדָ֔הּ (yad)
  • Verse 12: Hand = כַּפָּ֑הּ (kaph)
The best translation of "hand" in verse 12 is probably "palm." Of course, to get rid of the "strength of the grip" (e.g. palm), one must cut off the hand. This woman has her "kaph" removed. In essence, just like Jacob in the original wrestling match with Christ, this woman wrestles with Christ with her physical hand (yad), and like Jacob, she has her "kaph" (strength) taken.

However, unlike Jacob in the original wrestling match, this woman in Deuteronomy 25 "finds no mercy." Instead of pleading for and receiving "blessing" from the One with power to take her kaph, this woman mocks the man's "shame," and she finds herself without any recourse. She loses her kaph permanently. Why the severe, irreversible punishment for this woman in Deuteronomy 25:11-12?

(3). The woman of Deuteronomy 25:11-12 mocks the Man's "shame." 

Just as the lambs of the Old Testament represented the Lamb of God in the New Testament, the "kinsman" wrestling with the woman's husband represents her"Kinsman Redeemer."  What the woman "grabs" with her hand is the Man's "shame" - the literal Hebrew word is "shame" - translated "secret parts" in the KJV, "genitals" in the NAS, and "private parts" in the NIV. This woman mocks the man's shame.

When Jesus Christ died on the cross bearing our sins, He died naked. When Jesus Christ died on the cross bearing our sins, He died "wrestling" with us over our sin. When Jesus Christ died bearing our sins, He died enduring the open shame of a public crucifixion.  Notice what the Scripture says about Christ's death:
"Let's fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. Who, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2). 
For  the joy of saving us through His death, Jesus withstood the shame of the cross. "He could have called ten thousand angels" says the old song, but Christ endured the cross for the "joy" of saving us from our righteous judgment. Christ's bearing the punishment due sinners through His substitutionary death is a truth "mocked and scorned" by many. It's foolish, it's tasteless, it's "moronic" to those who "grab hold of Christ's shame" and mock it to the world. Just as the woman in Deuteronomy 25 grabbed the "shameful parts" of the kinsman wrestling with her husband, many take hold of Christ's shame and mock it.

Mock the shame of Christ at your own peril. There is coming a day when your "strength" (kaph) will be cut off with no mercy.

(4). Jesus Christ refers to Deuteronomy 25:11-12 and issues a warning.

There are only two places in the entire Bible (both Old Testament and New Testament) where a "cutting off of a hand" is referenced; Deuteronomy 25:11-12 and Matthew 5:30. In the latter text, I believe Jesus Christ makes a specific reference to the Deuteronomy passage. Listen to Jesus' words:
"If your hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell."
In other words, it would be better for you to deal with anything in your life that leads you to mock and scorn the cross - the very shame of Christ - than to have your entire body be cast into hell, bearing God's righteous judgment for your mockery of Christ and His cross.

I don't know if the person who posted the cartoon above on Facebook and then mocked the God of the Bible and the cross of Christ will read this post.... but if he or she does, I hope my compassionate warning is heard.

You vulgarly grab at the shame of Christ and mock Him. The day of your being cut off without mercy is nearing. Plead with Him, as did Jacob, for His mercy and His blessing before it is too late.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Learn to Wait on the King of Kings Above All Else

William Legge (1731-1801), the Earl of Dartmouth, and the Christian benefactor for whom Dartmouth College (Hanover, New Hampshire) is named, was once invited to go hunting with King George II of Great Britain. The king and some noblemen planned an early morning hunt, but they found themselves waiting on Lord Dartmouth to join them. Upon Lord Dartmouth arriving, one of the party rebuked him for his tardiness. Lord Dartmouth responded:
"I have learned to wait upon the King of kings before I wait on my earthly sovereign."

The phrase "wait upon" was common in the days of serfdom and slavery. It means to "be attendant to" or "to be a servant of." It was the custom of Lord Dartmouth to receive his marching orders every morning from God through prayer and meditation. His time with God meant more to Lord Dartmouth than his time with King George II.

His is a practice worth our imitation.