A Pastor’s Question

“Are you willing to trust God in anything He sends into your life whether you understandannunciation it or not?” That was the question posed by our Pastor this morning. It was posed in the context of what’s known as the Annunciation; where the arch angel, Gabriel, appears to Mary and says:

“Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”

—Luke 1:28

Mary is “very perplexed” (NASB v.29) or even “troubled” (NKJV) by this sudden visitation from the arch angel. Gabriel goes on to encourage her to “not be afraid” then drops the bombshell statement on her:

“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest.”

—Luke 1:31-32

Though you likely know the account of this record, May was currently a virgin. It was impossible for her to conceive except then Gabriel states that God the Holy Spirit, will cover her and she will conceive and bring forth what Matthew refers to as Emmanuel (God with us, Matthew 1:23) and what John the Baptist declared as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29, see last week’s post for more on the Lamb of God). In other words, May is going to bring forth God incarnate.

Astoundingly, Mary’s response is:

“Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”

—Luke 1:38

mary_josephShe was young; most theologians and biblical historians place her from 14 to 16 years old. And she may have lived a simple life, but she was not ignorant of her culture or ignorant of what she was saying “yes” to. She knew that saying “yes” in her culture would mean significant ridicule up to and including community banishment. Here she was, an unmarried teenage girl and pregnant. Yes, she was betrothed to be married, but she was not married yet, so her fiancée could easily tell her to take a hike; in fact, it is likely that that is what was expected of him—to send her away in shame. And on top of it all she was proclaiming she was still a virgin and carrying the Son of God.

Simply stated, she demonstrated great courage. But not only that; she also demonstrated equally great humility and trust. She trusted God even if she didn’t fully understand His logic or His approach.

This brings us back to the Pastor’s question. Do I have the same trust? Or courage? Or humility?

This question really hit me upside the head today for this reason: pain. I was not intending to blog about this, but I got to thinking about another blogger’s question from earlier in the week. It’s from A Fractured Faith Blog and the post was Why Do You Blog? I blog because I desire to be an encouragement to others and to help make Jesus real for people. So now back to pain.

I evidently haven’t properly healed from this summer’s hernia surgery. My left side has significant muscle and nerve pain. I am now also experiencing pretty serious lower back pain as well. The back pain can at times be so intense that I lose my balance and well up in tears. Just rolling over in bed at night causes intense pain shooting through my back like a thousand hot needles burrowing into me. I pray for healing, but the pain remains relentless. I’ve tried alternative methods of treatments only to have increasing pain by the day. I will go and see my medical doctor later this week. I fear seeing her because I fear what she may find. Actually, she probably won’t find anything but will instead recommend yet another MRI (if so, it’ll be my ninth). I like to fancy myself in robust and indestructible health. I’d like to be able to workout as insanely as I used to. Maybe someday I will; or maybe the insane workouts of my past have contributed to my painful present.

But the question from my Pastor, inspired by a 14-year-old girl from over 2,000 years ago, rings loudly in my brain. Do I still trust God even though I desperately want the pain to go away? And even though I really don’t understand why I must endure this will I still pursue after the Lord?

Honestly, the overall answer is yes, I will still trust God and pursue after Him. But I admit it’s a lot harder to when my eyesight is blurred by pain and I have to be careful with every single move I make, whether making dinner or simply sitting down.

But I also know that, unlike Mary, I’m not alone because many others around me suffer from chronic pain as well. No one has gone through, or will ever go through, what Mary bravely and humbly went through. Perhaps, then, this is where my humility gets a little bit of a test in that I am challenged and humbled by a 14-year-old girl. And, frankly, I’ve never really found inspiration in Mary—that is, until today. Oh sure, like so many I admire her and am definitely grateful for her decision; but this is the first time I’ve found her to be an inspiration to keep-on keepin’ on. Who, except God, knew that it would take me over 50 years to be inspired by one of the greatest persons that ever walked the earth. Yes, we still call Mary blessed (see Luke 1:28, 42 & 45)!

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Raindrops and Angus Dei

Rain dropsLooking out the window this morning I saw lingering drops of rain drooping off of tree limbs in my backyard. I was praying at the time and was suddenly moved by such a common sight. I thought how fleeting such a sight is. Granted, the rain is likely to return in the afternoon, but for the time being, the sun was coming out and the drop would soon fall to the dirt below or evaporate into thin air.

Such a short life-span, yet it was beautiful as the slanting morning sun sparkled through its prism-like features, glinting and winking its way through the crisp morning air. And in a way, it would finish its short life by either helping to nourish the earth or the atmosphere. So, it had beauty and practicality.

But was it pure coincidence that at that moment I saw this drop? Or was it some sort of God-ordained natural metaphor? Typically, I don’t have my morning prayer time in that room, our living room with the gas fireplace and the large picture window. I typically have it in the den where there are books, lower light levels and a tiny window that peaks upon the roofline of our neighbor’s house.

Fast forward and I’m at church and one of the worship songs we sing in Angus Dei. The phrase Angus Dei is taken from John the Baptist’s bold and startling declaration about Jesus:

“Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
—John 1:29

Angus Dei is Latin for The Lamb of God. Jesus is referred to as the Lamb many times. In Revelation 5:12 heavenly beings are singing:

“Worthy is the Lamb who is slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!”

Revelation 12:10-11 speaks to the “accuser of our brethren” being overcome “by the blood of the Lamb.” And there are many other deeply rich and theologically significant references to Jesus being the Lamb of God .

But for me on this morning, it reminded me that, as the drop of rain, my life is also short:

All flesh is a grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away. But the word of the Lord endures forever.”
1 Peter 1:24-25 (quoting from Isaiah 40:6-8)

And yet the word of the Lord states that I have eternal life through faith in Christ (see John 3:16, 10:28 & 17:2-3; Romans 10:9-10; 1 John 2:25). This means that my earthly life is short compared to my eternal life. The question is what am I doing with my time here? Does my life nourish others as the little raindrop brought nourishment to earth and sky?

Perhaps the metaphor is a gentle reminder that my life is more than just grinding through every day. It’s more than traffic jams, nice dinners, prayer and work. My life is to be a light to others; hopefully drawing them closer to the Lamb of God, the Lamb of God that takes away sin and offers us eternal life. It’s an opportunity to reflect on the eternal things of life. Yes, living in the present is important, but it’s a real art to learn how to live in the present while still retaining an eternal perspective. The present is not the end-all, be-all of existence; it’s really just the starting point, the warm-up band before the Big Act. And the Big Act is to be forever with Jesus where there is no more pain, suffering, tears or death (see Revelation 21:1-4). It’s living life as God truly intended it to be: whole, healed and forever with Him.

How has God spoken to you in brief moments of life? How has He inspired you to ponder the eternal nature of life through the natural elements around you? If so inclined, feel free to share some of your thoughts; it’s always valuable to hear how God works in other people’s lives.

Oops and Grace

I was late to an early morning meeting yesterday. It was our Elder meeting; and I’m the chair. Talk about a recipe for how not to be a good leader! And it was all just so silly.

The meeting started at 7 am and my alarm went off at 5:30, the same time as my work week mornings. I had plenty time to pray, to read, to “coffee,” and hop in the jalopy and head across town. All was going as planned and I was on pace to be early. But as I was nearing the main artery leading over to the east side of the river, I realized I forgot mySatchel wallet. Not only that, I forgot my bag which included my wallet, cell phone and iPad that had my Bible app and the agenda for the meeting! I did, however, remember my coffee.

Crap! I had no choice but to turn around and fetch my satchel. Now, not only was I not going to be early, but I was definitely going to be late; like ten minutes late.

Grumbling before leaving my driveway for the second time, I texted our pastor letting him know of my oops. I was so angry with myself and frustrated. I don’t want to be the reason for the delay, especially since everyone else is sacrificing time on an early Saturday morning.

Finally arriving at the meeting, I felt pretty low and a bit defeated. But the reception I got dispelled my brooding gloom. The others treated me cheerfully, welcoming me with warmth and only polite ribbing. There were no scowls or rebukes or terse greetings. I was welcomed and immediately included in the meeting.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is grace in action. Here I had an oops that was countered by grace. Bullinger defines grace as “an inclining toward, courteous or gracious disposition, friendly willingness; on the part of the giver of a favor, kindness, favor; on the part of the receiver, thanks”*. I was being extended kindness rather than rebuke, and I was, of course, thankful for that. I didn’t deserve the grace I received; but even so, grace is what I received.

God also gives grace. His grace has eternal gifts with it. It is purely by the grace of God that we have salvation in Jesus Christ. Scripture says:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
—Ephesians 2:8-9

A couple of verses before this the Apostle Paul speaks eloquently of mercy and grace working in tandem:

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).
—vv. 4-5

We have access to salvation in Christ through faith through no work of our own. We can’t buy it, we can’t earn it, we just express faith in Christ to receive this free gift from God:

If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
—Romans 10:9

That’s it! There are no rituals, no works to accomplish or hoops to jump through, just a simple expression of faith from a sincere heart.

As the Elders showed me grace, so God shows us all grace; but His kindness opens up an eternal destiny to be forevermore with Jesus. So, have you experienced God’s grace yet?

*Ethelbert W. Bullinger, A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975, p. 341.

What’s With all the Swirl?

Lots of swirl going on in the world: the seemingly quickened pace of natural disasters, heightened tensions in the US both inside and outside of our borders, the Revelation 12 sign; and even more personal issues like injuries, surgeries and now a raging cold! What’s it all mean?

All this stuff going on can fuel confusion or even fear. Sometimes it’s hard to see the light

Shellburg sun peaking

Shellburg Falls Trail near Mehama, OR

through all the jumble. But one thing I do know is that I belong to the Lord. Whenever the Lord calls me home, whether individually or in the Rapture, my ultimate destiny is with Jesus forevermore, amen! So, the challenge before me is do I live my life like I belong to Jesus? Am I doing the right things in my life? Do I need to do more stuff or less stuff or different stuff? Honestly, at this moment I just don’t know.

 

But this swirl has gotten me thinking more deeply about how my life reflects the Lord. Am I fully answering the call God has on my life or am I only partially answering the call; like I let it go into voicemail first so I can listen to it on my timing? Do I understand the urgency of the times as I should? Obviously, current events have me asking a lot of questions. These events also raise my awareness of how quickly it can all end.

It reminds of the time when Caleb and I were running a quick errand to a large hardware store. I was planning to be gone only 15 to 20 minutes—only we didn’t come home at all. And it happened so fast.

One moment I’m holding a bag of fertilizer and the next moment I wake up in the back of an ambulance, bloodied and confused. I’ve blogged about this before and eventually everything worked out; but the time lapse between my conscious thoughts was 40 to 45 minutes. Completely “out of blue” I was struck down, most likely from noxious fume inhalation, leaving my then 5½ year-old son yelling for someone to come “help my Daddy!” Thankfully, someone did come and help me, only I don’t remember it so I have no idea who the off-duty nurse was that kept me from swallowing my tongue. May God bless she and her family!

My point for bringing this up? I obviously didn’t plan this sort of departure. I planned to arrive at the store in my car, purchase three items as quickly as possible, then depart the store in my car and head back home to finish my chores before going on a date-night. But circumstances beyond me changed the course of my day, and to a degree, my life. Instantaneously I was out, totally unconscious and completely helpless; you know the song, “boom-boom, out go the lights!”

Who knows, maybe someday a similar event could be how I come into the presence of Jesus. If so, I have no idea when it will happen, therefore, how do I make my life count now before it happens?

That’s the question I’m wrestling with; perhaps you are too. It’s not like I’m not living for the Lord, but can I improve? What changes do I need to make? I just don’t know at this point, but I continue to lay the question before the Lord in prayer; in His timing, I will know.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.
—Proverbs 3:5-6

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”
—Jesus, Matthew 7:7

Ride of Blessing and Contributions

I rode my bike yesterday for the first time in three weeks. I’m not recovered enough to go for a hardcore, gonzo, killin’ it ride; but I was on two wheels, feeling the breeze caressing my face and seeing the sights of a sunny Saturday. Large volumes of people were milling through the parks. There was a walk-a-thon promoting a cure for Alzheimer’s, some sort of dog rally and a bunch of others like me going for a pleasant ride, run or stroll.

What a blessing. I don’t typically take being on my bike for granted, but it did get me thinking about how many other things, or even people, I do take for granted. It’s funny, and sort of sad, how a loss of something is the spark toward thankfulness and a deeper awareness of other people’s needs. Some people of course, allow hardship to make them bitter; but still, we all have a choice to either let the hardship better our character or to shrink it.

So, while on my bike and being attentive to my surroundings, my mind also seems to almost float, like it’s been freed from a cage of inactivity. In this freeing feeling a dawning of understanding broke through over the horizon of my soul. The dawning was a realization that I need to be more intentional about cultivating thankfulness. This sort of intentionality will improve my character while helping me be more of a blessing to others. It will also provide power in staving off any root bitterness from taking hold in the soil of my soul (see Hebrews 12:12-17).

1 Thessalonians 5 says:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (vv. 16-17).

It’s easy to be thankful while on my bike riding over a brand new sparkling bridge spanning a

Bike bridge

My bike with the Willamette River in the background.

gurgling creek. But have I have been thankful in the depth of mental or physical pain, or in work frustration or family tension? As I ride with the sun warming my face and with my quads cheering on the beauty of each pedal stroke, I become more mindful of my lack of thankfulness when I’m not experiencing such a blessing. It’s just one more reminder that I’m a work in progress; thankfully, God is patient with me!

 

 Contribution

As most of us, I am deeply aware of the ravages happening in the wake of two raging hurricanes slamming into our brothers and sisters. Please pray for these people and for these tragedies to somehow turn hearts to God and not away from Him. Also, if possible, please consider contributing to one of the many good fund-raising efforts or even volunteering to help if possible for you to do so.

God, please help them!  

Unrest, the Great American Eclipse and Tidbits

It’s hard to post without at least saying a word about the horrors that happened in Virginia last week. That word: evil. It’s that simple, as so many others have already stated. God, please help our nation, please bring Your peace, and, yes, please bring revival to save souls and heal our land.

Eclipse Time

We’re excited about the eclipse tomorrow. We live in Oregon and we’ll basically watch it from our driveway because we’re smack-dab in the middle of its path. Scripture suggests that such events can be harbingers of soon-to-occur events (see Joel 3:14-16; Matthew 24:29-31). Is this such a harbinger? I don’t know; no one knows. But if it is or isn’t, it can still point us to our glorious Creator!

“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork.”

-Psalm 19:1

There’s definitely science involved in the event, but there’s a whole lot more wonder. I’m looking forward to putting my funky glasses on and watching the awe unfold in the heavens. But please, make sure your glasses have the proper verification on them: ISO 12312-2. If they don’t have such designation, don’t risk it.

Tidbits

I took part of the summer off from blogging because of the loss of my youngest nephew. He was born with a serious disability and lived a courageous 31 years. As his oldest brother observed, he never gave up, his body just wore out. Now I trust he’s with the Lord and healed beyond our wildest imaginations! But please pray for healing for my sister and her family.

The last tidbit for this post is the post has been done entirely on my iPad. I didn’t think I’d like this gadget more than my Kindle, but alas, it’s great fun. Just as my bride promised me it would be. I may never use my Kindle again.

More Thoughts: The Bodily Resurrection

Fleming Rutledge states that, “The preaching of the cross is an announcement of a living reality that continues to transform human existence and human destiny more than two thousand years after it originally occurred”[1]. I completely agree because the cross leads to the resurrection.

Sadly, however, it seems that large segments of Christianity do not.

Recently, I heard a startling statistic that over 40% of professing Christians in a prominent European country did not believe the resurrection of Jesus Christ actually happened. How can this be? Are churches actually teaching this to their congregants? If so, I find this highly disturbing and theologically irresponsible.

If the resurrection did not happen, then why did Jesus ask Mary of Magdalene not to cling to Him; after all, you can’t cling to a thought or a spirit, but you can cling to a physical body (cf. John 20:17). Or what about the record of Jesus inviting Thomas the twin to touch the nail prints in His hands and to put his hand into the gash in His side so that seeing and touching he could believe (cf. John 20:27). And finally, what about His expression of “Peace to you” followed by His patient response to the disciples’ fear of Him by saying:

“Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Luke 24:36-39, emphasis mine).

The resurrection did happen and it was a physical resurrection. Jesus was bodily raised from the dead; He even testified to it Himself.

Another thought for consideration is the Holy Spirit’s inspiration in the Apostle Paul regarding salvation found in Romans 10:9:

“That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

The word ‘Him’ is the Greek word αύτόϛ (autos) and it means: him.  We would use this word something like this: “Go ask him.” Most likely, when we say that, we’re pointing to: him. We’re not pointing to an ideal or a thought or a spirit; we’re pointing to a human being, a human being in their totality, their total being. Thus, when Jesus was raised from the dead, it was the totality of Jesus; not an essence of Jesus or some ethereal vapor of Jesus, it was the total Jesus, body and all. So, Paul’s statement takes on salvific significance because he is indicating a faith in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. He’s not saying believe in an idea about resurrection; he is testifying to the totality of Jesus being resurrected. That is, he is testifying to the physical reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So as we approach resurrection Sunday, let’s do so with complete confidence that when we trade traditional expressions of “He is risen,” followed by “He is risen indeed;” we are talking about the totality of Jesus—He is completely raised from the dead in complete victory over death, the satanic realm and even over false teachers of flimsy theology.

The resurrection is also the intersection of history; without the resurrection, there is no salvation; but with the resurrection, lives are not only saved from eternal death, but are being transformed into the likeness of Christ even now (Romans 6:5, Ephesians 4:22-24 and Colossians 2:9).

[1] The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2015, Kindle location 213. I highly recommend this book. It is very readable yet highly profound.

Exploring the Deity of Jesus, Part 2

john-1

As we explored last week in Part 1 of Exploring the Deity of Jesus (actually titled Jesus and the Startling Stat, John 17:5 clearly speaks to the preexistence of Jesus Christ. Preexistence itself is a difficult concept to grasp. Since humans have a finite beginning we grope for some sort of previous knowledge or anchor[1] to hang the concept of preexistence from. The most likely and accessible anchor of previous knowledge is that of deity; only a deity or divine being could preexist. What’s more astounding is thinking of the word “world” in John 17:5 to mean “universe” as Mounts attests in his definition of the Greek word kosmos (see footnote #5 from last week). Jesus existed before the universe, which of course means that He existed before anything else ever did. Thinking deeply about this eventually derails our train of logic. Jesus is not below logic but rather the opposite, He defies logic, He transcends it, we could even say that logic resides in Jesus since all things come from Jesus (cf. John 1:3 and Colossians 1:17).

Such thinking either troubles or excites the mind that previously held Jesus as not being God. It was hugely exciting for me; and it still is, but why?

Still Exciting

As briefly explored above, only one “thing” or “power” could be in existence before anything else, and that is God. Nothing and no one created God; He has always been and always will be.  God is infinite. Lewis states that, “If anything is to exist at all, then the Original Thing must be, not a principle nor a generality, much less an ‘ideal’ or a ‘value,’ but an utterly concrete fact.”[2]

Here is where some struggle while others celebrate accepting God as a “concrete fact.” If we are to accept God as such a fact, then we now have a choice to accept Jesus on the same basis or not. Accepting Jesus on the same basis is to proclaim accepting His deity; or stated another way, accepting that Jesus Christ was indeed God in the flesh as Scripture attests to (cf. Is. 7:14 & Mt. 1:23).

After “discovering” this verse, I went back to the Wierwille book to see how he handled it. I was not surprised to find that he did not explore John 17:5 at all. Finding this verse absent in that work was the final exclamation point I needed to verify that I had indeed fallen for a great deception and that it was now time to finally move into accepting and even embracing the deity of Jesus Christ as a concrete fact.  Since then I have put a lot of energy into doing the best I can to properly teach Jesus to any I have opportunity to speak to, this includes to my children, pulpit messages, and coffee shop conversations.

Several other verses also attest to the preexistence of Jesus Christ. The more familiar prologue of the Fourth Gospel is the one most people refer to:

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:1-4a & 14, NKJV).

 McCready states that this lengthy introduction from the Gospel of John insists that,

 Jesus’ origin and nature are incomprehensible if seen solely in terms of this world. Only when we read it in the light of his pre-incarnate deity does Jesus’ story make sense. … Christ’s preexistence requires that it identify the Word with Jesus, which the prologue does.[3]

 The prologue of John is thick with theological significance. Walvoord comments on the first three verses of John 1 thusly, “If Christ is eternal, it also is obvious that He is the uncaused cause, the self-existent One. As the Creator of all things, He Himself must be uncreated.”[4] Johnson states that,

 The prologue in this case gives explicit expression to the constant assumption behind the deeds and words of Jesus: he acts and speaks as the incarnate expression of God’s speech. As word gives body to thought, so does Jesus give visible expression in the world to the invisible power and presence of God.[5]

 So while the human mind may struggle with the somewhat ethereal concept of preexistence, that is, existence before anything else existed; the same human mind can easily grasp the existence of another human being. The human being is “concrete” in that he is tangible, physical, and visceral; thus, Jesus as the Incarnate God now presents to humanity a tangible example of the “invisible power and presence of God.” Jesus not only embodies or personifies God, He is God.

Another interesting fact that McCready points out is how similar John 1:1 is to Genesis 1:1.[6] I had not thought about this connector before, but I find it profound because in John 1, as indicated above, we see Jesus preexistent and we see Him linked to the Word of God by in fact being the Word that became flesh. Here I’m tempted to dive into more quotes and references, but will instead attempt to coalesce this into my own thinking; after all, this started with my own journey of faith upon realizing my own gross theological error regarding the truth of Jesus Christ.

My Own Words

Only one being can be preexistent and that is God. Scripture clearly establishes that Jesus Himself was preexistent. Therefore, Jesus being preexistent makes Him God. He is God from before the beginning of the world, or of the universe, so He is in fact God and preexistent before time. I say this because I have heard many teachings state that God is either above or outside of time or perhaps both. But the concept of time seems to have been instilled more for Man than for anything else. We see time first expressed in Genesis by way of measuring the lights in the sky (cf. Gen. 1:5). I find this relevant because Jesus existed in some pre-incarnate/preexistent form even before time. The finite human brain cannot comprehend what existed before existence, but one thing we know from Scripture is that whatever it was, Jesus was there. In fact, the opening verses of John 1 indicate that all things were made through Him; so not only was He there but He was also apparently the initiator of it.

While it may sound somewhat confusing and a little circular, the point I’m trying to make is that Jesus was, is, and always will be; He is the same yesterday, today, and forever; He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end (cf. Heb. 13: 8 and Rev. 1:11 & 22:13). He is not a god in time, but the God of time and all that came before it and all that will come after it.

In Part 3 next we’ll look a little more closely at the Incarnate Jesus.

 

[1] David P. Ausubel, The Acquisition and Retention of Knowledge: A cognitive view (Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000), pp. 8 & 101.

[2] C. S. Lewis, Miracles (New York, NY: Macmillian, 1960), p. 87.

[3] Douglas McCready, He Came Down From Heaven: The preexistence of Christ and the Christian faith (Dower’s Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2005), p. 140.

[4]John F. Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord (Chicago, IL: The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1969), p. 28.

[5] Luke Timothy Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament, 3rd ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010), Kindle loc. 8014.

[6] McCready, p. 141.

 

 

 

The Atonement in Epic Haiku

Recently I had an assignment in my last theology class that was to be a creative project depicting the atonement. Well, I’m not a painter or sculptor, but I do like to write. So I chose to do what I am referring to as an Epic Haiku.

A Little Haiku History

Originally, what we know as haiku today were once known as hokku. These hokku were 17 syllables long in three lines with the following syllable-per line structure: 5-7-5. The hokku was part of a longer work known as a renga, with the hokku serving “as the most significant part of the renga[1] because it established the setting and season for the remaining work. Then the remaining work progressed through a series of what was in the Heian period (794-1185) known as haiku. The haiku of this era was 31-syllables with the per-line syllable structure of 5-7-5-7-7.

Through the centuries, luminaries such as Matsuo Busho (1644-94), Taniguchi Buson (1715-83) and Kobayashi Issa (1762-1826) morphed the literary art form of renga into what is now commonly referred to as haiku but their poems had the hokku structure. In other words, they were producing short poems in what we know in Western culture as the modern day haiku format. However, it was Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) that actually first described haiku as an “independent three-line poem”[2]; the form that was originally referred to as hokku.

All of this to say that I have been writing our current understanding of haiku for years. I appreciate the art form because a properly constructed haiku can pack quit a punch in only seventeen syllables. One of the aspects I enjoy so much about haiku is the third line is usually a bit of a twist from the two preceding lines. For example, Shuoshi Mizuhara’s Solitude:

Closing gate

alone with the stones

on this beautiful night[3]

While the Japanese syllables do not align with our syllables, the point is the reader is thinking this is going to be sad because a gate is closing and the person is alone with stones. Instead, it ends with a person enjoying the solitude of the moment. In my treatment that follows, I tried to capture that third-line sense with an image that sets up the next stanza or leaves the reader concerned for what is coming next. I have also toyed with formatting in an attempt to direct the eye to either sweeping across the page or to plummeting down into the next stanza.

 

“Epic Haiku”

Another reason I like haiku is that, even though they look short and quick to compose, they can actually take a lot of time in working to capture just the right words in the correct syllable structure that properly captures the artist’s intent. But once complete, a well-constructed haiku can be easily memorized for later recall; not unlike memorizing Scripture.

All of this to say that I have taken a typically short Japanese art form and expanded it into a much longer one. My work is several haiku put together; hence, it is an epic haiku. Also, most haiku are about seasons, human emotions or something from an Eastern religion mind-set. I have taken the haiku, expanded it into an epic format, and turned its application to Jesus and His atonement. My prayer and hope is it brings joy and thankfulness to the reader, but I also hope and pray it brings a smile my Father’s face and honor to Jesus Christ.

[1] Tom Lowenstein, Haiku inspirations: Poems and meditations on nature and beauty. London: Duncan Baird Publishers, 2006, p. 8.

[2] Ibid., p. 9.

[3] Quoted from Patricia Donegan, Haiku mind: 108 poems to cultivate awareness & open your heart. Boston: Shambhala, 2010, p. 151.

Atonement

The Journey of the Atonement in Epic Haiku

 

In the beginning

all was well in the Garden.

Walking, talking and tilling.

 

The trees were nice there,

especially Knowledge tree!

We could look – not eat.

 

Temptation and lies

enticing to disobey.

“Come quick, let us…….hide!”

 

Our hearts darkening,

serpent slithers silently.

Emptiness inside.

 

Coolness of evening,

Footsteps on the Garden path,

“Come now, where are you?”

 

 Talking, blame, banished;

  It all ended suddenly.

   Flaming swords, closed gate.

 

Heel to head doom,

humanity wandering.

Redeemer coming.

 

Years and years and years.

Temporary sacrifice;

still distant from God.

 

Justice demanded,

necessary sacrifice.

The once and for all.

 

The Word became flesh;

Son of Man sent from Heaven—

dwelling among us.

 

Sinless, righteous power.

Fully God and Fully man

the deliverer.

 

Healing, releasing,

even nature obeys Him.

But…then scorned and scourged.

 

Crucified for sin,

replacing mankind on the cross;

paying debt in full.

 

Breathing His last breath—

then darkness upon the earth.

Had sin, Satan—won?

 

Third day, morning light.

Stone rolled away, men in white,

“Not here, He’s risen!”

 

Then appearing, “Peace.”

The redeeming Messiah.

Savior of the world!

 

Standing in our place,

completely paying the price—

bridging the chasm.

 

Born from above,

God and man reunited—

And…it is finished!

Killing Shalom

 

I believe sin is the willful disregard for the things of God. It includes the intentional denial of God’s existence, the intentional disobedience to the commandments of God, pride, and placing anything above God (such as self, money, family, fame, status, etc.) As we explored last week, sin actually originated in Heaven. What’s more, we are all sinners but Jesus is our antidote to sin:

For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation [atonement, payment] by His blood, through faith. (Romans 3:22-25, NKJV).

But how else can we define sin?  Plantinga states that, “in short, sin is culpable shalom-breaking”[1]. Additionally he states that “sin is blamable vandalism” against God’s design of shalom and is thereby “an affront to their architect and builder”[2]. These quotes help me begin to ponder a wider definition of sin, but they are incomplete without Plantinga’s definition of shalom which “means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight—a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts naturally employed”[3] (emphasis in the original). Sin, as Plantinga presents it, is a willful or intentional thought or act that somehow disrupts someone’s or something’s flourishing. This is somewhat of a flimsy summary without a concrete, though somewhat minor, example.

Trash_pic

This is a simple illustration of something we have all seen, and quite possibly have done: litter. If I litter, something like throwing trash onto a beautiful landscape, I’ve now willfully disturbed nature by introducing a man-made artifact into the natural beauty. I have littered; I have juxtaposed God’s creative beauty with my personal refuse. I have opened the door to an animal or bird mistakenly eating a littered item and possibly getting sick or dying because of it. I have also marred the aesthetic beauty of the area, thus diminishing another person’s joy of what could have otherwise been a peaceful spot of solitude and praise toward God.

I have disrupted the shalom of an otherwise pristine beauty. This blemish now retards the flourishing of both the natural realm and the relationship to other humans because they now to have to endure this blemish. This other person may be the one to fix the blemish in an attempt to restore the area to its near natural state. How do they do this? By picking up the ugly trash I left behind. Once they pick it up, they have to properly dispose of it. This person is now not only enduring the blemish, but is now having their time impacted due to fixing someone else’s vandalism.

I realize this example does not rise to the same level as adultery or murder, but it is a subtle and important, though not readily recognizable, example of shalom disturbance. It illustrates the tarnished interior of the functional aspect of the image of God discussed last week. It is the insidious nature of sin working in simple areas of our lives where we willfully disturb shalom. As this willfulness grows, it expands into greater expressions of shalom-disturbing acts. So take this simple example of littering into other areas where we begin willfully harming humanity.  If littering is shalom disturbance, thus sin; then how much more of a “shalom disturbance” are the easier to recognize sins such as lying, rape and murder?

But lest we lose hope, this flawed aspect of our image of God can begin to be rehabilitated through Jesus Christ:

“Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29.)

Christ died for our sins. (1 Corinthians 15:3.)

“Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38.)

[1] Cornelius Plantinga, Jr Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., Not the Way it’s Supposed to Be: A breviary of sin (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), p. 13.

[2] Ibid., p. 16.

[3] Ibid., p. 10.