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Archive for March, 2011


Today I was working on Romans 3:21-26.  It is a fascinating text with all kinds of “glorious grammar.”  If I remember correctly, we did translate this in seminary, but that was some time ago.  So I was in awe of what Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, put down there.  Lots of parallelism, and many of my questions about key genitives were answered in the text.  But there are some difficult phrases. There is alot on the line, so to speak, as this passage is central to many a theological controversy.

The specifics are not important at the moment.  What is I want to focus on is my response to these difficult questions about the meaning of the text while I weigh legitimate options.  I took a walk to pray about it.  And there I wrestled with both humility and confidence.

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Things tend to go in cycles, and modesty is back in the news after a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed piece on the subject.  I have addressed both nakedness and modesty in the past.  But this piece, and a recent commercial for a sitcom have had me pondering the subject again (I’ll spare you visuals).

The author of the piece does not address modesty from a Christian viewpoint.  Yet she can see there is something seriously wrong.  We struggle with our kids wanting to act like adults when they are not adults yet.  But we are complicit in this (she mentions buying said clothes for instance).  We have also given them a warped view of what it means to be an adult!

I have not seen the show Perfect Couples.  But they run the commercial ad nausium on On Demand (it failed, the show is getting the ax).  It is an effective commercial from a purely pragmatic point of view.  The woman catches her husband or boyfriend staring at another woman’s cleavage.  “They’re just breasts.  They don’t have any power over you.  Look at them.”  She directs his head so he’s looking at them.  The camera cuts to the other woman’s very low cut blouse and cleavage.  “You don’t own me” he mumbles.

“Just breasts.”  Our culture really doesn’t know what is going on.  The issue is not clothes or style or cultural differences.  We have to go deeper into the conversation, to a place most people don’t want to go.  This is because there is no such thing as “just breasts.”

First, we have to think in terms of creation (you could explain some of this via evolution, but I won’t).  God made humanity male and female.  They had obvious physical differences (and less obvious emotional ones).  Those differences were not merely functional, though they had functional reasons.  They were also meant to be attractive to the opposite sex.  You don’t need a C (much less a D or E) cup to produce milk.  Big breasts are not essential to nursing babies.  God made women with bigger breasts than men to be attractive to men.  The wider hips and rounder bottom are also attractive to men.  He made Adam and Eve attractive to one another (yes, she didn’t laugh at his penis).  They took delight in one another.

5 Your breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies.  Song of Songs 4

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Over 50 years ago, the death of U.S. missionaries in Ecuador shocked the nation.  Life Magazine covered the story, providing pictures of the massacre.  For many people, the story ended there.  For the families of the martyred missionaries, it did not.  Some of their families ended up returning to the tribe that had slain them.  Then grace happened.  Much of the tribe, known by anthropologists as one of most brutal cultures, laid down their life of revenge at the end of the spear.

Steve Saint’s father Nate was one of the men killed that day.  His aunt Rachel was the first to re-establish contact with the Waodani Indians.  Soon Nick’s wife joined her in living among the tribe.  Young Steve Saint grew up among the very people who murdered his father.  His aunt would remain there until her death, leaving only for vacations.  Upon her death, Steve traveled back to Ecuador for her funeral.  They asked him to stay.  The movie End of the Spear chronicles the story to that point as Steve finally comes to understand what had happened all those years ago.

The Grandfathers is the final installment (so far anyway) of the story.  It is primarily about his son Jesse, and the time he spent there as a teenager.  Unlike End of the Spear, it is more of a documentary (though not quite) than a movie.  I screened it with some friends, one of whom is a pilot and who volunteers with United Indian Mission.  We were all left wanting more.

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The question of responding to injustice is a difficult one.  Injustice should anger us, and drive us to correct it if possible.  We are made in the image of a just God after all.  But sometimes Lady Justice is not only blind, but also deaf to our pleas.

On the Run

This is the set up for The Next Three Days (a remake of a French film) starring Russell Crowe.  In the interviews for the release of the movie, Crowe says he viewed this as more of a love story than an action film.  He plays John Brennan, an English professor.  The movie opens with him driving a car down the street with blood splattered on his face.  You can hear a man dying in the background.  You are confused.  “The Past Three Years” comes up on the screen, you are now going to find out how he found himself in this situation and how unlikely it was in the first place.

The first 15 minutes or so are confusing.  He and his wife have dinner with his brother and his wife.  It doesn’t go well.  Something is bothering Lara Brennan.  She apparently had an argument with her boss, and is now arguing about it with her sister-in-law.  The next morning the family is in their little ritual when she realizes there is blood on her coat.  As she’s trying to wash it off, the police show up to arrest her for the murder of her boss.  We don’t see the trial, only his visit to her in jail after another failed appeal.  Lots of things have been cut out.

After she attempts suicide, he realizes he must get her out of there.  Since he can’t do it legally, he will resort to doing it illegally.  This is what happens when we don’t believe in a just God or the Savior who suffered unjustly.  We are unable to suffer injustice as He did.  We deceive ourselves into thinking that the second wrong will make the first right.  But it really just complicates things, as John Brennan is about to learn.

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A few years ago I came across The Great Work of the Gospel: How We Experience God’s Grace by John Ensor.  It intrigued me.  John works in establishing pregnancy centers worldwide.  He lives in Boston as well.  So for years I’ve been meaning to buy and read this book.  Something always seemed to be more important at the time.  Until recently.  I picked up a copy about 2 months ago and decided to read it since I was beginning a series on the atonement for Lent.

I’m sorry I waited, but the book was timely in light of the whole Rob Bell thing.  The Christian should treat grace like a scientist treats gravity: not merely accepting its reality, but want to understand its totality.  As recipients of grace, we explore grace that our hearts might be more captured by it and more grateful for it.  To adapt an old saying, unexamined grace isn’t worth having.  This is because to understand grace is to understand Christianity.  How can you be a Christian without wanting to understand it?

“The grace of God that forgives us changes us. … The grace of God wounds our pride but then increases our confidence.  When God forgives, he exposes the most shameful things only to then cleanse them all from our conscience.”

Let’s stop for a moment.  Some personal context to lay my cards on the table.  I grew up Catholic.  I have a Ph.D. in guilt: true and false.  I am a recovering Pharisee who couldn’t keep his own high standards, much less God’s.  There are MANY things I don’t want you to know about me.  There are things only a privileged (and I use that term loosely) know about me.

But I have no interest in cheap grace, or cheap forgiveness.  I’m not trying to ignore God’s standards.  Neither is Ensor following the fashion of the day.  He structures the book on the topic of the Great Work.  When we own up to our guilt, we desire forgiveness and grace.  But if we never own up to guilt, then grace seems pretty much irrelevant.  In all of the chapters, Ensor examines a variety of biblical texts and addresses numerous misconceptions.  In the chapter on desiring grace, for instance, he tackles self-esteem and the reality of the conscience.

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I’ll freely admit it; I’m a little behind the times.  In this instance I’m only about 18 months behind the times.  The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World by Stephen Mansfield came out in 2009.  I picked it up with a gift card for my birthday in late 2010.  I’ve slowly been reading it in my spare time.  Finally, I am done.

In some ways it has the feel of a conversation at a pub over a pint or 2 of Guinness.  The conversation will shift periodically to seemingly unconnected things.  This book covers plenty of ground.  As a result, it is not as in-depth as some people might like.  The point is more the big picture than the details.  There were sections I really liked, and sections I found frustrating.

He starts before Guinness.  Since this is about God and beer, he develops the history of beer and how it was viewed “back in the day.”  Just today I heard a brief selection of a sermon by a local pastor who indicated that having a beer was worldly and should not be something Christians do for evangelism (I agree on that last part, it should be done for the glory of God!).  In a world without much clean water, beer was a safe beverage.  The monks and nuns often brewed beer.  Since beer has a lower alcohol content than wine and particularly hard liquor, it was viewed as a blessing by the church.  Faith did not reject beer, only drunkenness.  This is one of the better chapters in the book.  But the people who most need to read it, probably never will.

“John Wesley drank wine, was something of an ale-expert, and often made sure that his Methodist preachers were paid in one of the vital currencies of the day- rum.”

The second chapter focuses on Arthur Guinness and the birth of Guinness.  He was a methodical man who slowly perfected his art brewing beer for Reverend Price (as did his father).  But he also took calculated risks.  When he was ready, he started his independent brewery.  They had one brew- a stout.  To this day it remains a very good stout.  I’ve had better stouts, but it is consistently good.  It was also good for the people of Ireland and England.  The gin craze had hit and drunkenness was a growing problem.

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I don’t think anything could prepare us for what happened in Japan.  It is a perfect storm of disaster that would make Irwin Allen proud.  I thought we’d seen the worst disasters possible, but we apparently hadn’t.  One of the most powerful earthquakes on record, a tsunami and the possibility of Chernobyl.

I’m reading a book about prayer that talks about helplessness.  This picture, sadly, captures that reality more powerfully than any I have ever seen.

We need to pray for the people of Japan.  Money does not fix something like this.  That doesn’t mean we should not provide resources for emergency relief.  But rebuilding the soul of Japan will take far longer than rebuilding the nation.  And rebuilding the nation may take close to a generation (ask New Orleans).

To put this in perspective, this was a nation that somehow recovered from WWII to become one of the most productive economies in the world.  They enjoyed one of the highest standards of living in the world.  But they have been brought to their knees, this time by the groaning of creation triggered by the sin of Adam.

It reveals just how close we are to the edge.  Life can change in a New York minute.  And when it does, there is not simple fix.  We all live by grace, common grace, whether we realize it or not.  We live by the sheer mercy of God.  Let us throw ourselves into the hands of a merciful and compassionate God, even as we intercede at the throne of grace for the people of Japan.  We pray to One who was torn asunder, but conquered death.  He can give hope to those on the brink of death.  He can give hope to Japan.

 

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