Consolidate October 6, 2008Posted by Erik in Uncategorized.
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I simply haven’t had the time to post to this blog in the past year or so.
We’ve made the decision to consolidate the blogs down to just the one main blog –
Please update your links and head on over!
Let’s Change Lives for a Change February 5, 2008Posted by Erik in Uncategorized.
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Preaching is what happens when I faithfully explain the text of Scripture and the text of life, when the world of the Bible and the world of the listeners collide in Christ. So my task is to find those things that will help me see Christ in the world and see my world in the Bible.
– John Ortberg
This past Sunday, Nichole led our worship gathering, and it was something special. She is not a “rock star” – her heart beats for healing and encouragement, so her music is often mellow and reflective. But there is no doubt that she was in tune with what the Spirit wanted to say to us.
My favorite song was “Porcelain Heart”, a song Nic learned when we were going through some troubled time. She really pours herself into the song, and the richness of her voice blends with the tenderness of her heart and supernatural things happen. One of the amazing lines is:
You know; you pray
This can’t be the way
You cry; You say
Some thing’s gotta change
And mend this porcelain heart
Please mend this porcelain heart of mine
Creator, mend this heart
During the service, I shared my heart on the matter of relevance to our world. We, the church, often use words without thinking about their meaning. Relevant is one of those words. To most church leaders, relevant means “cool” or “trendy.” It is one of the catchwords of the contemporary movement. But what does it really mean?
The real definition of relevant is this – effectively and clearly speaking truth into a culture. Relevance is NOT being cool or using the latest techniques. It is being effective and clear. It is NOT measured by quantitative results but by clarity of speech and ministry.
The church is called to be salt and light to the world – but salt without flavor is just white dirt, and light has to be turned on something in order for it to accomplish anything. The church needs to speak truth into the lives of people around us. We have to be relevant to our culture.
So, now to the topic of preaching. We often confuse the idea of preaching with motivational speaking, theological lecture and/or some form of twisted religious entertainment. We talk about “good preaching” and the definition is often bizarre.
John Piper, who has spent a great deal of time studying the work of Jonathan Edwards had this to say about what “good preaching” is.
- Preaching Stirs Up Holy Affections – Good preaching aims at stirring up holy affections. These include a hatred towards sin and a delight in God, as well as a growing desire for holiness, tenderness and compassion.
- Preaching Enlightens The Mind – Sound preaching enlightens the mind and burns the heart. According to Edwards a preacher must shine and burn. There must be heat in the heart and light in the mind. Affections that do not arise from an enlightened mind are not holy affections but instead are simply emotional responses. (We would do well to head this insightful thought in light of the trends of emotional manipulation in our day).
- Preaching is Saturated With Scripture – Edwards held the firm conviction that good preaching is saturated with Scripture. Every sermon must steadily, constantly and frequently quote the Word of God. This truth will ensure that we stay on track as faithful ministers of the Word.
- Preaching Employs Analogies and Images – Abstract truth must be fleshed out. Edwards argued that vivid images touch the heart more than anything else. Piper informs us that Edwards strained at making heaven look irresistibly beautiful and the torments of hell look intolerably horrible.
- Preaching Uses Threats and Warnings – In our day of politically correct language and blind tolerance, Edwards argues for threat and warning since it restrains one from sin and excites one to spiritual exercise. (A true preacher today may not necessarily be a popular preacher.)
- Preaching Pleads for a Response – Sound preaching seeks a response. Edwards, like Spurgeon after him, pointed out: “Sinners… should be earnestly invited to come and accept the Savior, and yield their hearts unto him, with all the winning, encouraging arguments for them… that the Gospel affords.”
- Preaching Probes the Workings of the Heart – Piper points out that powerful preaching is like surgery. “Under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, it locates, lances, and removes the infection of sin.” He shows that Edwards probed his own heart and therefore knew the heart of others. Sorting out the wheat from the chaff in his own church gave Edwards great insightfulness into the heart of man.
- Preaching Yields to the Holy Spirit – Since all preaching is totally dependent on the work of the Holy Spirit, prayer is an essential for good preaching.
- Preaching is From a Tender and Broken Heart – Good preaching flows from a spirit of brokenness and tenderness. Edwards pointed out that the eye of blessing is upon the meek and trembling (Is. 66:2).
- Preaching is Intense- The reality of heaven and hell ignites renewal and infuses the pulpit with power. The preacher is conscious of his responsibility as he declares eternal truths.
(Summarized by Steve Cornell)
These guidelines are applicable, especially in light of being relevant in our ministry. Relevance is not necessarily the same as popularity. Sometimes the most relevant thing we can do is be counter-culture, to stand for something that is not popular, is not politically correct, is not “appropriate.”
Many preachers wonder why they are ineffective in their ministry. They follow all the right formulas and guidelines; they execute the task flawlessly; but people do not respond, lives are not changed. The reason is simple – they are no longer relevance. The entire function of the preacher is to be relevant – to be the bridge between God’s truth and man’s life.
In their book 7 Practices of Effective Ministry, Andy Stanley and the North Point leadership team make it clear that in any ministry you have to “clarify the win.” What is the win in preaching? It is changed lives. People should be learning how to love Jesus, hate sin and trust the Bible. The truth of God’s Word should be spoken in a clear, effective way and understood in the same fashion. All the technique and technology mean nothing if people’s lives are not being changed.
One last thing – preaching is NOT entertainment. It is not about PLEASING people’s expectations of what a sermon is or feeling satisfied that you “have it down.” Preaching is about changing lives; worship is about changing lives.
Recently, I had an epiphany. Everything about the Christian mission is about Jesus (profound, I know). In specific, it is about encountering Jesus. When a believer encounters Jesus, it is called worship. When an unbeliever encounters Jesus, it is called evangelism. So preaching, singing, teaching – all of these things are hinged on the idea of conveying the living JESUS of the Bible to people in their temporal culture and language.
Some Thoughts on Baptism and Circumcision November 13, 2007Posted by Erik in History and the Bible.
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Why This Study?
Many denominations of Christianity equate the practice of baptism with that of circumcision, often putting the two in the same role. Although most who make this equation hold to a covenant theology system, not all do.
So the question that we must answer is not whether these people are right or wrong, but what was the understanding of baptism in the early church.
For the time being, we have set aside the topic of modes of baptism. The arguments of whether immersion is normative or not can be considered at a later time. For now, let us content ourselves with looking first into the idea of circumcision and then into baptism and see if the two are indeed two symbols that serve the same purpose or if they are meant to be interpreted separately.
The Origins of Circumcision
Before looking to baptism, we must look to the much older practice of circumcision. Although it first appears in the story of Abraham (Genesis 17), the practice is known to predate the time of the patriarchs by a significant amount of time. As long as there has been human civilization, there have been people willing to mutilate the body.
The oldest known reference to circumcision comes from an Egyptian inscription dating from 2300 BCE. There is actually a graphic depiction from Egypt [shown to the right] that dates about a hundred years earlier.
Clearly, circumcision was practiced long before Abraham received it as a covenant sign between him and his God. It was practiced by pagans – but why? Was it a sign of identification, and if so, why was the foreskin chosen since that particular piece of the anatomy is not normally exposed. Even the Egyptians kept their kilts on most of the time.
The Biblical account records that sign is “between me [YHWH] and you [Abraham]” (Genesis 17:11), so perhaps it was meant as an unseen, private reminder of loyalty to YHWH. But this may be projecting modern individualism on ancient religious practices. The indication of the rest of the passage seems to be that the sign is for other people, not just for Abraham. There also seems to have been a way to check it.
One possible theory that has not been put forward yet is that perhaps circumcision was a way of ensuring that children were born to men of the proper heritage. Since marriage requires a sexual relationship, a woman could verify if a man was truly of her people or not. In the biblical context, the Canaanites were not to be permitted into the assembly of the people, so they could not be allowed to marry Israelite women. Perhaps circumcision served as an identifier in these rather intimate circumstances.
Or perhaps it had significance apart from this corporate identity. Another theory is that in having the foreskin removed, the male prepared himself to have his penis “re-covered” by his wife’s vagina. In this way, it was a sign of physical maturity and may have been originally performed at puberty.
Who Practiced it?
The biblical record seems to indicate that circumcision was not practiced by the Canaanites who inhabited present day Palestine. (Genesis 34) The Philistines, late arrivals to the region, also seem to have not practiced circumcision. (Judges 14:3)
Archaeology has uncovered evidence of circumcision in Egypt, as cited above, but also in a number of the Semitic cultures of the Levant. The shasu, a semi-nomadic people who were probably absorbed into Israel, practiced circumcision. They are depicted on 13th-12th century inscription which was uncovered in Megiddo [pictured to the left].
William H. C. Propp, the professor of ancient history and Judaica at the University of California, San Diego, has concluded that in ancient cultures like Israel, circumcision was a rite of passage for boys becoming men. He extends his thesis to propose that it was shifted to a near-birth practice somewhere in the 8th century BCE, as Israel was detribalizing and settling into its national identities in the divided kingdom.
Interestingly (and in line with Propp’s theory), the Israelites do not seem to have practiced the ritual of infant circumcision until later in their history. It seems to have been a communal thing, done at certain times with large groups of men. The appearance is that the men of Israel were circumcised on the first Passover, which was in Egypt and then again, right before the first Passover in Canaan, at Gilgal (Joshua 5:2-10)
The MANDATE OF TORAH
Now, having considered things from a historical point-of-view, we can go to Torah and see the Biblical proposition of circumcision. According to Torah, circumcision was given to Abraham as a sign of the covenant between his god (YHWH) and himself. It is part of the third covenant between YHWH and Abraham and accompanies the changing of his name from Abram.
In the following verses of Genesis 17, YHWH lays out the significance of the circumcision:
This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” [Genesis 17:10-14, ESV]
Clearly, there is a difference between what appears here in the text and what was the practice in Israel – both when they were in Egypt and when they were in the wilderness. Although, by the time of Samson and the subsequent chiefdom of Saul, circumcision seems to have become much more prevalent.
What is interesting is that circumcision is the only demand that YHWH places on Abraham and his descendants. Nothing else is expected of them in order for God to keep this covenant. This is significant because circumcision was not a sign of the covenant. According to Torah, it is THE sign of the covenant.
After Abraham obeys YHWH and circumcised those in his house and his son Isaac, the practice of circumcision appears only a few other times in Torah.
- Simeon and Levi have the men of Shechem circumcised and while they are recovering, Simeon and Levi massacre them (Genesis 34)
- Zipporah circumcises her son because Moses did not do it (Exodus 4:24-26).
The next time we see circumcision is in the Passover instructions concerning foreigners (Exodus 12:44-50). This instruction is quite inclusive, noting that both the native and the foreigner must be circumcised in order to receive the Passover. Again, it is interesting that there is no mention of the age for circumcision.
It is not until mid-way through the Levitical law that we encounter infant circumcision, and the command is inserted in a passage dealing with female cleanliness. (Leviticus 12:1-8) It is not as broad as the Abrahamic passage or the Passover instructions. It almost seems out of place. In fact, the entire chapter seems out of place since it is sandwiched between dietary laws and laws concerning skin infections.
Interestingly, physical circumcision does not appear in the Deuteronomy, which was probably prepared as a re-presentation of Torah during the reign of Josiah (mid-7th century BCE). It is considered a given, and it circumcision is used as a figure of speech in comparing Israel to the nations around them.
In fact, according to Ezekiel, circumcision seems to have fallen out of practice in the regions around Israel during the 7th century BCE. Ezekiel names the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Elamites, and Edomites as uncircumcised, (Ezekiel 32) so clearly there had been some kind of cultural shift away from the practice during the Israelite kingdom. The usage in Deuteronomy is more in line with Ezekiel than it is with the rest of Torah.
Circumcision in the Rest of the Hebrew Scriptures
By the time of the return from exile (briefly after Ezekiel’s ministry), circumcision would have truly become the sign that we see in the Torah. This has lent to some interpretations that infant circumcision was instituted at a later date, as late as the Hellenic period or possibly even the Second Temple Period.
But it is clear in the history books, particularly those leading up to David’s reign, that circumcision was a symbol of identification with YHWH and Israel. Joshua, Judges and 1 Samuel all have prominent references to Israel as the circumcised and everyone else as uncircumcised.
One particular story of note is the occasion of David’s engagement to Saul’s daughter Michal. Saul demands a bride price of one hundred Philistine foreskins. David responds by killing two hundred Philistines and circumcising them post-mortem. The act creates the state of war which will ultimately catapult David into power, but for our purposes here, it illustrates how circumcision was viewed in David’s time since this record would have been put down by David’s scribes. (1 Samuel 18:25-30)
As already noted, Deuteronomy, Jeremiah and Ezekiel mention circumcision. They are all from the Late Monarchy, during and after the reign of Josiah, the last king to revive the Passover observance. The book of Isaiah also makes mention of circumcision, and it was written during the revivals of king Hezekiah. We have indications that circumcision seems to have been in vogue during these revivals when Passover and the other feasts were observed.
The final parting shot from YHWH comes from the lips of Habakkuk:
You will have your fill of shame instead of glory. Drink, yourself, and show your uncircumcision! The cup in the Lord’s right hand will come around to you, and utter shame will come upon your glory! [Habakkuk 2:16, ESV]
This phrase “show your uncircumcision” seems to have been a common idiom of the time, meaning basically that you get so drunk you spin and expose what is under your kilt. It may have been such a common practice not to be circumcised in Habakkuk’s day that it had become a joke.
The Early Christian View of Circumcision
Since Christianity emerged from the Judaism of the Second Temple Period, the church’s interpretation of circumcision has tremendous bearing on our discussion. Understanding how they viewed it first as Jews and then as Christians illuminates their understanding of circumcision in relationship to baptism.
Jesus’ circumcision on the eighth day after his birth (in keeping with Leviticus 12) is recorded in Luke’s gospel. (Like 1:59, 2:21). Other than that however, circumcision is largely absent from Jesus’ teachings. In fact, this only mention is a cursory one to illustrate that good works may be done on the Sabbath (John 7:21-24).
Stephen mentions “the covenant of circumcision” in relating the history of Israel and the story of Jesus, but his mention says nothing that Genesis 17 did not say. It is a statement of near-irony as he speaks to the supposed successors of Moses about Moses’ God and calls them uncircumcised. (Acts 7:8, 51)
Not surprisingly, the next time we see circumcision is in contrast to the goyim, the Gentile believers. In fact, every other occurrence of circumcision in the book of Acts is contrasting believing Jews (circumcision) with believing Gentiles. (The frustrations of this distinction would later boil over in Paul’s play on the Greek word for circumcision, περιτομή, in creating the word translated as concision in the KJV, κατατομή. (Philippians 3:2-3))
Paul’s View of Circumcision
In fact, it is in Paul’s writings that we get the best glimpse of the Christian usage of circumcision. He uses either circumcision or uncircumcision fifty times in his epistles, mostly in Romans and Galatians.
Ironically, his most telling statement about circumcision does not appear in either of those letters but in his first letter to the troubled Corinthians:
Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. [1 Corinthians 7:18-19, ESV]
Paul makes it very clear to the Corinthians that outward signs are of little significance to inward righteousness. His statement is an extension on Jesus’ teachings of the things inside a man defiling him. (Mark 7:15)
In Romans, Paul views circumcision in the same way. He, being a Jew, had been circumcised as an infant and yet he sees that it does nothing for him. In fact, he maintains that a man’s unrighteousness makes his circumcision into uncircumcision and since circumcision only has value if you keep the Torah and we all violate Torah, then circumcision is really uncircumcision. (Romans 2:25-3:1)
He follows this then by a statement that God justifies all men, regardless of circumcision. This reflects his belief that salvation has no “sign” barriers and that God has chosen the weak things of this world to confound the strong (see 1 Corinthians). He even uses Abraham as an illustration of righteousness that was found in uncircumcision although he notes that circumcision was the seal (Gk. σφραγίς, literally “physical stamp”) of God’s imputation but then immediately makes it clear that righteousness comes through faith and predates circumcsion. (Romans 4)
Why does Paul go to such lengths to prove circumcision is invalid? He holds to a belief that salvation is bigger than Israel, bigger than signs and symbols. Paul’s belief in redemption extends back to Adam and to all creation, and he does not want it limited by exclusive language or rites. This is really the thrust of the entire epistle, and it opens doors to tremendous freedom.
In Galatians, Paul deals with circumcision in much the same way. He uses Titus’ uncircumcision to show how the Jewish believers had been looking beyond such outward signs, and then flips it to show that anyone who would compel a Gentile to be circumcised is preaching salvation by Torah and not by Jesus.
It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. [Galatians 6:12-15, ESV]
In Paul’s letters to the Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians and Titus, he speaks of a slightly different circumcision. He does not use it to contrast Jew with Gentile (except where he notes there is no difference between the two in Colossians 3:11). Instead, he speaks of a circumcision of the heart, of a circumcision not of the hands.
The only place that Paul compares circumcision to baptism is in Colossians 2:
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,
- and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.
- In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands,
- by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,
- having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. [Colossians 2:6-15, ESV]
What did Paul mean when he talked about the circumcision of Christ? Paul makes a distinction between this circumcision and baptism. And to understand what he means, I think we need to look back to Deuteronomy – a book that Paul was very familiar with. In Deuteronomy, Moses calls Israel to a circumcision of the heart
Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. [Deuteronomy 10:16, ESV]
The commandment is clear. A circumcision of the heart (which, by the way cannot be performed by the hands) is a commitment to love the LORD, as the shema called Israel to do and they failed to do. It is not physical circumcision, but it is distinct from baptism. It is what we would call conversion (as distinguished from regeneration, which is God’s work along). It is our commitment to clear the crap out of the way so our hearts are open to what God has for us.
Circumcision existed long before it was given to Abraham as a sign. It was not practiced as widely as we would be led to believe, nor was it even necessarily practiced on infants until the Late Monarchy or the Exile – possibly as late as the early Talmudic Period. Even among adults, it seems to have experienced times of popularity, particularly around revivalist observances of Passover. It was probably originally a coming of age ritual and it was shifted to shortly after birth for a number of possible reasons.
The early Christians generally used the word circumcision for the Jews, as opposed to the Gentiles. Paul treated circumcision as an illustration of conversion, of removing the things that make us stubborn against God.
Baptism in Christian Practice
John the Baptizer practiced baptism as such a prominent element of his message that he was named for it. What is the origin of the practice?
Was baptism unique to the church and its direct forerunner or did it co-exist with circumcision? Was it a replacement for circumcision in the minds of the early church?
Baptism in the Judaism of the Second Temple
Historically, the Jews practiced rites of cleansing using the mikvah or immersive bath. Although not specifically commanded by Torah, most Jewish sects of the Second Temple Period used the mikvah.
Originally these ritual cleansings were practiced in running water. This was not always possible so over time the Jewish communities developed baptismal pools that became known as mikva’ot.
The ritual immersion became a part of the conversion ceremony sometime before the Talmudic period. We know this because the Talmud articulates that a male proselyte had to complete three witnessed rituals (Keritot 8b):
- Brit Milah – circumcision of the foreskin
- Tevilah – immersion in the mikvah
- Korban – an offering at the Temple in Jerusalem
It is quite likely that these standards were in place during Jesus’ time, although we cannot speak with certainty. Archaeologists have uncovered mikva’ot in the Qumran communities, which seems to indicate it was present in at least some Jewish communities.
John the Baptizer
When the Jewish zealot Yohanan, known as John the Baptizer in English, appeared in the first century, he was not doing something unorthodox or altogether different from what other zealot teachers of his day did. The difference was not his baptism but what he baptized for. John’s message was simple: repent. (Matthew 3:11)
Since the tevilah was considered an act of purification, it was not uncommon for people to use it as a method of conversion from one sect of Judaism to another. Such a change was often referred to as repentance, so it is not surprising that hearing of the effectiveness of John’s baptism , the Pharisees came to be baptized by him. What is surprising is that he rejected them. He meant something different by repentance – not just a physical identification but a spiritual preparation. He was baptizing his believers into an expectation of the coming of Messiah.
This idea is stated quite clearly in Luke’s gospel:
(When all the people heard this [Jesus’ statement of his ministry], and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.) [Luke 7:29-30, ESV]
The people who received John’s baptism received Jesus’ message. Those who did not receive John’s baptism (a symbol of their repentance) did not receive Jesus’ message.
What Did Jesus have to Say about Baptism?
Baptism appears to be absent from Jesus’ personal ministry after John the Baptist’s death. After his own baptism, John the Evangelist remembered that Jesus was baptizing. (John 3:22) Later we do find out that Jesus himself was not baptizing. His disciples were. (John 4:1-2)
But after John the Baptist was killed, there is no mention of the practice until the end of Jesus’ time on earth. Jesus’ followers baptized early on, when his ministry was still more or less an extension of John’s but once Jesus’ ministry took on its full intent, his followers appear not to have baptized.
Not surprising then, Jesus says little about baptism in the gospels.
And yet, after Jesus commissioned them to baptize, his disciples seem to have adopted the practice with almost an abandon. It figures prominently in virtually every message recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. Thousands in Jerusalem received it after Pentecost, and Philip seems to have baptized a number of Samaritans very early on in the church. In fact by the time of Paul, it is pretty much a given in the churches – although he himself seems to have been very selective in whom he baptized personally.
This is a strange paradox, isn’t it? The founder of the religion that reveres baptism never practiced it himself? Why did he appear to encourage the baptism of John’s ministry and then not use it in his own ministry until he commands it after the resurrection?
The First Baptism of Early Believers
Jesus gave baptism to the apostles as part of the act of making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). It was part of the extension of his authority (Gk. εξουσια) to baptize people as His followers.
There is no doubt about what this baptism meant to Simon Peter, who had been a disciple of John and had embraced the way of Jesus since the beginning (albeit haltingly). At Pentecost, he sees that his hearers have been drawn by the Holy Spirit’s work and he calls them to:
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” [Acts 2:38-39, ESV]
Repentance, to Peter, goes hand-in-hand with being baptized. But this baptism is in Jesus’ name for the forgiveness of sins. This is different from John’s baptism because it is a baptism into Jesus. The response is tremendous.
And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. [Acts 2:40-41, ESV]
Some proponents of child baptism use the statement that “the promise is for your and for your children” to justify baptizing children. The problem is that the baptism is also for “all who are far off.” None of us would say you could baptize an adult for them, involuntarily. We cannot determine their choice to be baptized. Logically and grammatically then the promise is to all three, and it is something that all three must accept separately.
The Development of Baptism in the Early Church
This approach to baptism seems to have been the common theme as long as the church was confined to the Jewish people, but once it began to expand beyond the Jewish boundaries baptism became more than just a symbol of repentance.
- The Christian creed became a little more organized, and baptism became associated with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. It became didactic as well as symbolic. (Romans 6:1-4, Colossians 2:12)
- It also became instructive for unity, as the believers were baptized into Christ and Christ was one (perhaps a reflection of the shema?), they too should be one (1 Corinthians 1:13-17, 12:13; Galatians 3:27, Ephesians 4:1-7)
SIDE NOTE #1 – Was the Baptism of John and Jesus the Same?
The difference between John’s baptism and the early church’s is best illustrated in the episodes in Acts which involve the Jewish preacher Apollos. When Apollos preached in Ephesus, he preached the baptism of repentance that John had preached. Perhaps Apollos had been in Jerusalem during John’s ministry and received his baptism, and hearing of John’s death, he had taken the message into Asia Minor. We really do not know. But Apollos was preaching the message of John the Baptist.
After Aquila and Prisca corrected Apollos and told him about Jesus as the Messiah, Apollos became a dynamic leader in the church. But while Apollos was away in Corinth Paul encountered some Jewish believers in Ephesus who had received Apollos’ message and baptism, but had not heard of Jesus. These men then believed in Jesus and were baptized by Paul. This seems to distinguish between John’s baptism – which was one of preparation – and baptism in Jesus’ name – which was done based on belief and confession. (Acts 18:24-19:7)
SIDE NOTE #2 – Hebrews 6:2
Some commentators may notice the presence of the word baptism in the King James Version of the Bible in Hebrews 6:2. The texts seems to treat baptism as a bit of a simple thing, something to be set aside.
In reality, the word here is βαπτσμός and it does not mean “baptism” but rather “washing” as it appears in most modern translations (NASB, ESV). This may still be a reference to baptism, but it seems to be a reference to ritual purification of some kind, distinct from baptism.
Baptism then began as a symbol of repentance. It was a physical representation of cleansing of a previous belief structure (originally a conversion to Judaism) and the acceptance of another. As it was practiced in the church, new symbolism was added to it because it depicted so well so many things.
We can see time and time again that it was entered into voluntarily by a person who may or may not have been circumcised. (Jesus was both circumcised and baptized when he needed either, but that’s a side note.)
Is Baptism the New Circumcision?
The entire purpose for doing this study was to ask the question: is baptism the new circumcision? Are they equal?
We have presented a large amount of historical and textual evidence, but we must confess that there is a tremendous wealth of biblical interpreters who hold that they are equal. There is an equally large group who hold that they are not.
Any interpretational study is subject to the influences on and the limitations of the researcher. To the best of my ability, I have tried to remain faithful to the text and context of the many passages dealing with circumcision and baptism.
There are certainly some similarities.
- Both are outward, physical signs of covenants.
- Both are rituals with significant meaning.
- Both have an aspect of cleansing to their meaning.
- Both served to distinguish people – Jew vs. Gentile, disciple vs. sinner.
But there are also some differences I have observed in the texts.
While both were pre-existing practices that God claimed, they represented different things.
- Circumcision represented a coming of age and ultimately an identification with Abraham.
- Baptism does neither. Both the baptism of John and the baptism into Jesus are acts of repentance.
Secondly, they were given for different reasons in different capacities. Circumcision is done TO the chosen. Baptism is done BY the chosen.
- Circumcision was a way for adults to mark themselves (and later their children) as part of Israel. It was ultimately involuntary.
- Baptism is the way the church marks those who accept the way of Jesus (as demonstrated by Paul’s baptism of Apollos’ followers). It is always represented as being voluntary, upon repentance.
In conclusion, it seems good to conclude that they are distinct. While Paul does use circumcision in juxtaposition with baptism once (Colossians 2), it seems grammatically distinct. I must conclude, based on the study of the texts that they are not flipsides of the same concept. Circumcision was not Old Testament baptism, and baptism is not New Testament circumcision.
Theology as Art September 24, 2007Posted by Erik in Articles, the relational church, Treatises.
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There is a difference between art and science
Science is primarily interested in empirical facts. Science uses methodology and experimentation to verify a result. It involves controlled environments and known formulas and facts. It has its surprises and its anomalies; but it is, for the most part, boring in my honest opinion.
It is not that science isn’t valid. Far from it. Science yields a wealth of data, and as a tool, it is invaluable. But as a way of life or as a world view, it is boring.
Think about it for a minute. Science leaves little room for creativity or discussion. It is simply the power of the mind and a problem it confronts. It is about obtaining fact, not truth.
This is why evolution fails so miserably as a worldview. It tries to view the universe dispassionately, as a simple machine. It fails to explain the inexplainable, and chalks it up to “one day we will know.”
And science is only as objective as the scientist performing the experiments and compiling the studies. It is limited by his/her/their limitations or biases. And so, it is never truly objective.
Art in Contrast
Now consider art. Art is not bound by laws and formulas. A technically perfect replica of a famous painting or performance of an aria might have all the right pieces in the right places, but it lacks soul, lacks life.
One of my favorite musicians died ten years ago. His name was Rich Mullins, and he was a beautiful artist. He lived in a trailer and taught music to Indian children. Although his CD’s won awards and sold many copies, he would often delay a tour so he could go on a missions trip to Ireland or South America.
Rich believed in his art. It was his way of expressing his devotion to Jesus, his selfless love for others. He would say things that would upset people because of their simple truth. As one interviewer put it: “You have the capability of being quite charming and also extremely offensive.”
This was how Rich wrote his theology, with the strum of his guitar and his slightly shaky vocals. He called out to his Savior in the voice God gave him, with the art God instilled in his soul.
Art is expression. Rather than pretending that it is objective, art embraces the fact that the artist is subjective. His feelings and thoughts and driving values become part of his work. He does not ignore who he is in creating his art; he becomes part of it.
God is an artist, not a scientist
Science is really just observing God’s habits. He liked giving some animals spines and jellyfishes jelly. He liked giving birds good eyesight and apparently liked painting spots and stripes on African animals. He created the stars to operate however the operate (we think fusion, but we can’t get close enough to check); and he had a particular proclivity for dipping his paintbrush in the carbon when it came to making lifeforms.
He preferred green for plants because it made summer look full; but he went with blue for the sky and the ocean, just for contrast. He decided that planets worked best at certain orbits, and he apparently got carried away with the moons when it came to Jupiter (there are 63 we know of).
And when it came to making human beings, he figured my wife and daughter needed good looks more than I did.
My Point Has Something to do with “Happy Trees”
Really all I am trying to say is that sometimes we think science and rationalism are the answers to understanding life, the universe, and everything (subtle Douglas Adams reference). But they’re NOT. We are human beings with experiences and emotions – cold dead facts do not become us, and we have a tendency to twist them anyway.
We are, however, like our Creator, artists. If we accept that we come to the table with subjectivity, biases and baggage, then we can enter into open dialogue.
Today, I heard someone answer a question by saying, “Those are good questions and they deserve a response.” It struck me because in my mind, my answer went this way, “Those are good questions, and they deseve a discussion.” I don’t think we always have to have the answers. We get to enjoy the journey.
Rather than having to be right and have the system down, we can enjoy the dialogue. We, as a community, can enter into exploration together and get to know each other and the truth even better.
I remember Bob Ross. He used to be on PBS a lot, with his white man afro and his insane obsession with landscapes featuring “happy trees.” I think he really genuinely enjoyed helping people paint via TV. It was a real joy to him because he was creating, and he knew that you were creating along with him. It was a communal thing – bizarre I know, but true.
We should rediscover the art of conversation, instead of the science of lecture. I think theology needs to be an art, where we are constantly checking things, trying things and exploring possibilities. Art is not a free-for-all (despite some protests of the untalented hacks who are trying to get you to buy nothingness). It has standards, both aesthetic and technical. But it is also free to explore; and that is its strength.
Taking the Time to Define September 8, 2007Posted by Erik in Definitions.
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I am not sure how the term relational theology has been used in other circles, and we may need to select a new title for this emerging way of thinking on this blog. If relational theology somehow limits God, as one poster noted some time ago then this is certainly not what we mean here.
On this site, relational theology is a structure of belief that is built around the concept that God is primarily a relational being. He does not exist in isolation but rather in constant interaction with other beings – namely us – and his creation – the universe.
- It is theology because it is a study of what we know about God.
- It is relational because in understanding God, we see that we know him only through relationships in which he expresses himself.
In this form of relational theology, everything takes on a natural tension. It is not easy to demarcate statements as Calvinist or Arminian, preterist or futurist. Instead, the truth exists in the tensions. Relationships are continual things, thus theology is not static but vibrant and alive.
The nature of redemption, of anything really, is that of journey – both past and present. We are part of a narrative rather than the climax of the story.
To my knowledge, no one has rethought God and the Bible from this perspective. Most people bring relational aspects into established systematic theologies. We are attempting to produce something wholly different and unique, but prayerfully close to what was originally intended.
We Emerge September 4, 2007Posted by Erik in Treatises.
It is easy to live in the shell of thinking that we have formed over our lives (both long and short) and convince ourselves that we have arrived, that we have it all down. We convince ourselves that we know all there is to know in order to make decisions.
One pastor friend of mine was asked what beliefs he had changed since graduating from college some thirty-five years ago now, and he replied with pride, “Absolutely none!” He answered that way because he believes he learned the truth and he will hold to that truth with stubborn rigidity and unfailing loyalty. I admire his devotion, but I have to wonder about whether this is really the way we should be thinking.
Theology and doctrine are after all human pursuits. They are developed by human beings based on the Bible. They are not the Bible. And human pursuits such as interpretation and translation are just that – human. They are not divine, although they are keyed to the task of seeking divine truth.
The ancient rabbis knew that no man or group of men could ever get everything right. They believed that there was always room for improvement. One particular rabbi, Hillel, taught that every rabbi must consider his yoke. (Yoke was their word for a way of understanding Torah.) He encouraged everyone he taught to rethink everything for themselves and understand Torah in their own way.
If a student came to Hillel and offered an explanation or commentary of Torah that made things overly complicated or added rules or just plain did not make sense, Hillel would respond, “You have destroyed Torah.”
When a rabbinical student would come to him and explain something from Torah in a way that made it clearer or rang truer, Hillel would say, “You have fulfilled Torah.”
Jesus once said to his disciples: “Do not think that I have come to destroy Torah or the Nevi’im (prophets). I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17) Jesus came to simplify Torah, to reinterpret the Jewish law in a simple more direct way – namely, the way he lived his life. The best way to live a righteous life is to live like Jesus did – selflessly loving everyone and calling them to love God and each other.
You see, that’s why we never arrive. We never have it down. We never get it perfect. We have to always be questioning and seeking a better, clearer way to think about God. Doctrine and Christian living are not destinations, they are journeys and we will always be on the journey.
We do not arrive; we emerge. We are constantly emerging from patterns of thinking, from ways of living, often from stuff we do not even know is influencing us. We are really sometimes oblivious to parts of things, and we have to be willing to open ourselves up and rethink the way we are thinking.
We emerge. All our lives, we emerge. We fail when we think that we have everything under control. It is only when we accept that this thing we are doing – anything we are doing – is bigger than us and we are just part of something even bigger than that. We are just emerging.
Restoration September 2, 2007Posted by Erik in Treatises.
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In the beginning, God created the heavens AND the earth… [Genesis 1:1]
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth… [Revelation 21:1]
There is something involved about the heavens and the earth. They often occur together; and it is no mistake that John ends the Revelation by drawing on the primitive language of Genesis in presenting the new ideal. They are intricately connected.
It is in vogue in modern Christianity to make a distinction between “this life” and “the next.” All kinds of colorful language is used to distinguish between heaven and earth. But in the original creation poem, they are classed as one creation. They are one world. And to the first man, walking in the garden in the east of Eden, he must have felt this way. He and God shared a unique bond – there was a communion between them, a sharing. Although he did not have the terminology for it, his spirit was united with God’s spirit and he was at one with all of God’s creation.
Talking about God’s Kingdom, Jesus said that in order to see it you have to be “born of water and spirit.” (John 3:5) There is a physical and spiritual side to every human being. We were created for a world comprised of both – but sin tore us away from the spiritual. This is why the spiritual feels so unnatural to us. Our humanity has been conditioned by generations of living according to the flesh.
When we look at ourselves as totally physical beings, it should not surprise us that we see only animals. From a physical point of view, our bodies function as those of animals. We eat we sleep; we reproduce; we defend ourselves; we attack others. We function. Without the spiritual aspect, we are just animals.
In fact, we are worse than animals because we have the capacity for a whole life – a unique existence that fuses the spiritual and physical. An animal is fully physical. They are complete as is. We are not. We are left incomplete and broken.
Twisted and Turning
When sin entered the equation, it twisted the creation away from God. Under its subtle but constant pressure, our race warped and bent out of form and into distortion. With every successive generation we become more broken, more altered from our original form.
Often the Bible uses the term repent for seeking God’s righteousness. It literally means “to turn.” If you think of sin in terms of twisting creation away from God, then repentance is seeking our original form – our original position. It is not becoming something we are not, but rather becoming something we were intended to be.
God is seeking to restore the connection we shared with him, but sin has twisted us. We cannot connect as we are without damaging ourselves. The process of being reformed to God’s image – our original form – is painful and often requires time and pain. Sometimes it requires bending beyond what is actually required so we will naturally fall into the proper form.
Why should it surprise us that this process of restoration is difficult? Realigning something as complex as a human being is not like rewiring an electrical outlet. There are millions upon millions of interconnected beliefs, emotions, thoughts, processes involved. God is at work; we are at work; but even in the best case scenarios, it is often trial and error on our part.
God has in mind the redemption and restoration of his entire creation, not just individuals. Ultimately, this thing of salvation is not just about “souls” but about reuniting heaven and earth as it was meant to be. It is not about properly understanding biblical prophecy or appropriately exegeting Greek and Hebrew pronouns. It is about the restoration of man and his dominion as part of the kingdom of God.
We get to be a part of that reconciliation and redemption – not as crusaders and warriors but as teachers and caregivers. As God twists us back into connection with him and he becomes more real to us, we become more human and we call others to this walk. We walk in Jesus’ light and call others into the light.
The Irreligious Faithful August 15, 2007Posted by Erik in Articles, the relational church, Treatises.
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Religion often gets in the way of Jesus.
That’s a pretty outrageous statement – so you might want to go back and read it if you just shook your head and moved on.
Religion often gets in the way of Jesus.
What do I mean by that statement?
Religion is any set of rules you have to follow or liturgy you have to follow in order to satisfy some kind of expectations that put you on good terms with God. I don’t think religion is wrong; in fact, for some people it is necessary to develop certain spiritual disciplines in order to sust..ain their relationship with God.
But sometimes the motions of walking can get in the way of the destination.
The religious side of your spiritual journey can sometimes warp your image of Jesus. In essence, sometimes Christianity obscures Christ. We sometimes view Jesus as a theological construct or some kind of redemptive God and miss the greater, more amazing person.
Jesus did not come to start a religion.
Most people think Jesus started this thing called “Christianity.” As a point of fact, Jesus was not a Christian. His followers were not even called Christians until many years later, and the term Christian appears only three times in the Bible – of which only one (1 Peter 4:16) might be considered a positive reference, and even that one seems to have negative connotations.
Jesus’ followers referred to themselves as being in “The Way.” (Acts 9:2, 19:9) They never spoke of a religion or rituals, only of a person – Jesus of Nazareth. Let me present a novel way of viewing Jesus that I believe formed their faith and lives.
The Way of Jesus
First of all, Jesus’ followers looked to him for an example of selfless life. It must have gone against his training as a rabbi to sit with tax collectors, peasant fishermen, whores, diseased outcasts, and “sinners.” Everything in his human nature must have been repulsed by the filth that surrounded him every day.
And yet, Jesus gave himself to these people. He did not just descend to them from on high. He lived among them – he became one of them.
He chose for his followers a group of Galileans. The Galileans were not Jews. They were ethnically mixed, basically one level above Samaritans in the Jewish way of thinking. They had been forced to convert to Judaism by Herod Magnus before Jesus was born, but they were not integrated into the Jewish world.
One of his followers was a zealot, another was a tax collector. At least four were fishermen. They had emotional problems; some of them had pride issues. One of them was a traitor just waiting for an opportunity. They were insignificants; they were unclean.
They were, to Jesus, the perfect men for the job.
The man who would take this rabble and love them into the Kingdom and then hand them its keys was some kind of amazing. He was more than just a rabbi. He was a man who allowed love to define him. And in doing so, he reflected God more perfectly than any other person they could even think of.
Second, they saw in Jesus’ death the death of their sins. His death had tremendous significance because it marked the end of the reign of sin in their lives. Of course, sin had never owned them; but they labored under its burdens and consequences and pain.
This is important because we were not created to feel guilt or pain or hatred. Our human natures were designed to experience the joy of fellowship with God and each other. We do not have the capacity to endure the weight of sin. That is why Jesus’ death became so important to the early church. It was why Paul says that being “immersed into Jesus Christ” means that we are “immersed into his death.” (Romans 6:3) New life only comes because death comes.
These ancient believers knew that Jesus had come for death and life, but death first. We cannot marry religion to new life. It is because of religion (TORAH) that we know death (Romans 7:5). The new life is a fresh, vibrant walk in the spirit of Torah, and not in its letter (2 Corinthians 3:6). It is freedom because we pass from death into life.
Third, Jesus’ resurrection meant that he was living. Jesus is moving, active and alive. His metaphors of living (flowing) water and abundant (bubbling) life were applicable because he did not just die. He also lived.
The ancient followers of The Way often greeted each other with the statement: “Jesus is risen.” To which they would reply, “He is risen indeed!” Jesus was not just a resurrected God; he was the living Jesus, who was walking among them and relating directly to them. And remember that this was before the New Testament had been committed to ink on parchment.
With the presence of the resurrected, living Jesus came access to the fulness of God’s creation (Psalm 24:1). Thus, the apostles were free to access truth where it was – whether in the creation (Romans 1), the writings of Cretan poets (Titus 1:12), Greek religion (Acts 17), Jesus myths (Jude 9, 14) or the Roman Domitian games (from which the imagery of Revelation 5 is borrowed). All things are God’s and as redeemed followers of the living Jesus, all things were also theirs.
Rather than being bound by religion, they were freed from it – whether Jewish or Roman or even (today) Christian. Their focus was Jesus first.
So, what of the church?
So, why does the Bible still provide for this thing called church? I believe that the church was instituted as gatherings of people who were striving to live like Jesus. As people sought out the living Jesus, they were drawn together by Jesus’ Spirit into these ekklesiA – these special communities of Jesus followers. The purpose of the gatherings is laid out all over Acts and the epistles, but the purpose was primarily to invest in each other and others.
These followers of Jesus, these pilgrims on The Way, came together for the same reason that Red Sox fans come together – because they were fans, Jesus fans. They came together to praise him and to worship God and to share in the rich faith heritage of the Tanach, even as they were composing the story of their own faith journeys that became our New Testament.
Far from being a place of religion, the church is supposed to be a gathering of followers – of the Jesus people – that allows them opportunities to use the things God has given them, to share the fellowship (koinonia or “commonality) of others on the same journey.
Of Course, That’s Too Simple
The religious people of our era (which I hesitate to call Pharisees out of kindness, but that’s what they really are) see the church as some kind of monolithic keeper of the “truth” about Jesus, but are often so divorced from his teachings that they would scarcely welcome him into their gatherings, never mind accept him into their membership. I venture to say that Jesus would rather not spend time with them anyway.
He would much rather be in the places where the people who needed him were. He would be in the gutters and slums; he would be elbows deep in the mess that is reality rather than living in the ideals of the religious who separate their spiritual lives from their real lives and in the process codify hypocrisy.
These people would say that loosing people from the code, from the rules, from the isolating influence of such restricting structures would open people up to heresy and false teaching and worldliness. Of course, they are right.
But is the power of the Holy Spirit so weak that it can be stopped by the efforts of man, or even of Satan?
Did Jesus intend for his followers to isolate themselves, to withdraw emotionally from the world they live in? Jesus prayed exactly the opposite of that (John 17:15).
The Faithful in the Most Unlikely Places
I believe the people who are truly faithful to Jesus’ teachings are those who define their faith by actions, not by religious terminology or doctrinal correctness. They may even be “irreligious.” Although they attend church, they find their church to be inadequate to meet their spiritual longings, so they act outside of the church to do the things they believe Jesus would do.
(This is not to say that some of the religious are not faithful to Jesus. There are faithful just about everywhere – including most, if not all, denominations of Christianity.)
Now, imagine churches where the faithful are able to act in the church because the church is the gathering of the truly active, faithful followers of Jesus rather than a theologically defined social club? Such churches would be truly amazing – and yet thoroughly irreligious.
They would be beautiful.
They would be Jesus people.
Faith in a Minor Key July 23, 2007Posted by Erik in Uncategorized.
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“Some of Christianity’s most prominent voices play major keys…Others claim that if you come to church, you will find everything to your liking, from the cookies and coffee to the pop music and practical, uplifting messages. Rather than speak in these major keys, this book introduces you to a minor key…” (One Step Closer, Christian Scharen, p 11)
Some Music Theory
Western music is fascinating. We have a set pattern of twelve tonal values which every instrument we play is anchored to. These tones can be arranged in a number of different scales of eight notes, separated by either half-steps or full-steps. Then we give names to each of these scales.
Most of our music is written in major scales. These are scales that resolve. The progressions through these scales produce full, finished sounds. They are comforting.
Then there are the minors. We have several minor scales, and they do not resolve. They feel unfinished; they feel incomplete. They beg the question – what comes next?
There are actually more minor scales and intervals than there are major ones, but in our modern world the majors became more desirable. They gave the illusion that the composed pieces of music had a definite beginning and ending, and they had easily distinguished steps in between.
A Faith Composition
In the modern world, faith took on a major key. The faithful wanted a set of beliefs that contained answers. We wanted to know that things resolved, that there were bounds that defined everything – the universe, faith, even (if we’re honest) God.
The Bible became a source for evidences and proofs, a static codex of facts from which we could derive steps, patterns, systems and principles. It was essentially the backdrop for faith rather than the embodiment of faith itself. It contained stories that illustrated how to live; it taught truths that you had to adopt in order to have a “victorious” life.
Faith in a minor key
Now, it seems we are returning to the minor modes again. Our simplistic, reduced ways of thinking in the modern world did not answer the questions of life. In fact, it seemed to produce more questions and complicate things. We are discovering that faith cannot be reduced to steps and alliterations.
Instead, we are letting things hang, unresolved. The minor notes are ringing over their major cousins, and the journey is extending beyond our patterns and systems.
There are a few advantages of a minor key. For one thing, it is much more flexible than a major key. Majors have definite structures, and violating them requires…well, it requires moving into a minor. As a result, there is little variation in a major key. But a minor key can wander just about anywhere.
This is the kind of spiritual journey that this new faith is. It wanders; faith becomes a journey, an adventure without predictability. We do not know where it is going to end, or where tomorrow will bring us. The minor key is more real, more tangible. It feels more like life than the major mode did.
But for those of us raised in the major mode, the shift into the minor is difficult even though we are drawn by it. We know that this unresolved kind of faith will leave us wondering; it will turn things on their heads. It will destabilize so much of what we have been sitting on because minors keep moving.
We aren’t locked down and mortared into place with modern thinking. We aren’t bound by the strictures of the major mode. Instead, we are free radicals moving in clouds of probabilities. The minor mode is freeing; and that freedom is frightening.
Can God REALLY work in the minor mode? If we abandon the institutions of the major scales, won’t we fall into heresy?
I sure hope so…
I have climbed highest mountain
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you
I have run
I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
Coming Up for Air and Quoting Ozzy July 20, 2007Posted by Erik in Articles.
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Sometimes we dive too deep. At the surface, we think we are invincible – that we can hold our breath indefinitely and reach the bottom. So we take the breath and steel ourselves and go under and we swim. We kick and we stroke; and we deal with the pressure in our ears. We silence the voice in the back of our heads that tells us we need to turn back. And when our lungs start to ache, we just push harder until we get to the bottom.
And once we’re there, we turn around and realize just how deep we are. We realize that we expended more than half of the air and getting back is going to be a struggle against our own bodies and minds.
So, we push off from the bottom and keep our focus on the surface – rippling just out of reach. The oxygen gone, our heads begin to throb and our chests feel like they are going to burst. We push through the pain; we will our limbs to move while our vision begins to go black.
And then we break the surface; we open our mouths, expel the stale, used air and inhale fresh life. We feel it enter the bloodstream; we can almost sense it passing through our heads, clearing out the fog.
When You Are Still Under
There are seasons in our lives when we can see the surface but the pain and struggle of getting there overwhelms us and we feel like giving in. We are fighting forces and choices that will not release us, and the distance to freedom becomes magnified in our minds until it is insurmountable.
This has very much been the way my life has been lately. In fact, Ozzy put it pretty succinctly in “Crazy Train”:
Crazy, but thats how it goes
Millions of people living as foes
Maybe its not to late
To learn how to love
And forget how to hateMental wounds not healing
Lifes a bitter shame
Im going off the rails on a crazy train
I’ve listened to preachers
I’ve listened to fools
I’ve watched all the dropouts
Who make their own rules
One person conditioned to rule and control
The media sells it and you have the role
Mental wounds still screaming
Driving me insane
I’m going off the rails on a crazy train…
I know. It’s like a sin to quote Ozzy [I may be excommunicated – wait, TOO LATE!], but he got the idea down pretty well I think. Lately, my world has just been topsy-turvy. I have been questioning everything; rethinking so much of my life and wondering if there’s any sanity left in the world. Everything has just been running at a million miles per hour but I feel like I’ve gone nowhere. Somewhere, somehow – I got derailed. Maybe, we have gotten derailed.
And to get back to the thought of being under the water, I feel exhausted. What’s the point of fighting anymore? Fighting WITH; fighting FOR – what’s the difference, really? It might be easier to just stop swimming and let the water claim us; might be better to stop spinning our wheels if we’re off the rails.
The struggle isn’t all there is; and that’s the thing we have to remember. It is what I lost sight of. I was fighting to fight, not fighting to get to the surface. After awhile, being opposed to EVERYTHING made me feel that my entire purpose in life was to simply fight whatever the institution said or did. The battle became about the water instead of the air.
Of course there are times when we feel exhausted; times when there’s nothing left in us. But that’s when we need to realize that the only way we change the world is by pressing forward. The only way we get to the surface is by moving. We’re not meant to be in the water, so of course the struggle is hard. But it is life or death. You cannot just give up.
Keeping It Simple
Let’s think about what is really important. Faith, hope and love – those are the staples of our existence. They are what makes us human. They are the little pieces of the divine that God has allowed us to experience. They are the only thing we have to contrast this earthly struggle with. When we face hatred, depression, pain and struggles – what else is there to combat them?
Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. Let love be your highest goal! (Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:13-14:1, NLT)
We are wired to know God’s faith, hope and love. They are the touchpoints where God infuses us with meaning and purpose. When we come in contact with them, we experience God; and in experiencing his presence, we experience his power. (Which incidentally is why Paul put this list before explaining how the Spirit’s gifts work in 1 Corinthians 14.) When we experience his power, we not only survive but we break the surface and are reborn in the freshness of our first breaths.