A Cup of Crisp at Christmas

A Christian romance novella that will put a smile on your face, a thought in your mind, and a glow in your heart. Chapter 1 here for free. Available now on Amazon.

Chapter 1 – Friday Morning

Nicole Miller tossed and turned in the early morning, struggling with a dream that dwelt in the recesses of her heart.

A little girl in a faded calico dress sat alone on the front steps of her suburban house playing with dolls. She dressed the girl doll in a red skirt and frilly blue blouse. Then the boy doll came to the girl, took her in his arms, and they danced across the welcome mat. A young man stepped out of the house; bottle in hand. “Daddy, will you play with me?” The man turned and went back into the house.

A beautiful young woman in a tailored Navy business suit sat alone at an outdoor table in a coffee shop in the lobby of a building which housed her penthouse condominium. Her leather briefcase contained hours of work, her cell phone had hundreds of unaddressed messages, and her calendar left little time to breathe. A young man drove up in an old green pickup truck. “Nicole, would you like to talk?” The woman picked up her bag and went back into the building.  

The alarm buzzer jolted Nicole from sleep at 5 AM.

“Damn! I forgot to change the alarm to radio” she muttered, eyes riveted shut and left-hand groping for the snooze button. She hit snooze, but by then was too awake to enjoy five more minutes under her thick, white, down comforter. A single bedroom window cracked open admitted a frosty mid-December breeze.

Nicole rolled out of bed and stumbled in the darkness to her closet. She slipped out of her short, lavender, silk nightgown and donned royal blue shorts, a tight pink t-shirt, and white running shoes. “That is the third time I have had that dream this week…I hope he is not there,” Nicole whispered to herself as she brushed her long, thick, brown hair, put it into a ponytail, and rinsed her mouth. She checked her phone, stepped into the hall outside her condo, locked the deadbolt, and walked to the elevator. Lost in her thoughts, Nicole forgot to put in her ear buds.

The elevator was empty for most of Nicole’s 23-floor ride down to the first-floor gym, but as the doors opened on floor four, Mike’s smiling face appeared.

“Good morning, Nicole” Mike Morgan exclaimed with bright eyes and a cheerful voice. She gazed for a moment at his sandy brown hair, ruddy complexion, green USMC t-shirt and black shorts, which covered his athletic body. Nicole looked away.  After several seconds she stuttered, “Good morning, Mike, did you finish the bid analysis?”

“Starting work off early, eh” he answered. “I finished most of it, but I am waiting for the two vendor finalists, General Electric and Philips, to submit their final offers. Once I have that information, I will make a purchasing recommendation to Miguel.”

Recovering herself for the moment, Nicole replied, “Well, you two had better hurry, because I need to make a decision fast. We are way overspent on outside CT scans this year.”

Nicole looked down and away, well aware that Mike was still admiring her fair skin and fit feminine form. Mike’s gaze lingered long, and then he shook his head as if to shake off a forbidden thought. She put in her ear buds and turned on Journey’s Open Arms, her favorite song. The elevator doors opened on the second floor and an older couple walked in. Nicole stepped to the side, putting the grandmotherly-looking woman between her and Mike. Finally, on the ground floor, she hurried to the gym.

“See you at work…have a good day” Mike called, but there was no answer. Nicole grabbed a towel in the locker room and headed for the treadmill.

He makes me so mad, Nicole complained to herself, starting at a fast run. The first day Radhiya brought him into my office as her new emergency department administrator, I knew he would be trouble. I never would have hired him, he’s just so full of himself. Mike is so privileged he can’t even see it, though I could never say it.

Nicole turned up the speed, remembering their first encounter.

He looked at me with those deep green eyes, letting his gaze linger on my face until I couldn’t breathe. His smile sparkled. Thank god Radhiya noticed and took him away.

She turned up the speed again and pounded the belt with her feet. Her eyes squinted and face tensed as her inner dialogue went on.

Mike is everything that I detest. He comes from West Virginia, a loser state if ever there was one. He drives a gas guzzling, old, green F150 pickup truck. He was a Marine, a war-monger if ever I saw one, and he even goes to church. My sorority friends at Evergreen State would mock him, everyone like him, and everything he stands for. Dr. Svedlos warned us about people like that. 

Minutes passed. Panting painfully and dripping with sweat, she turned down the speed.

Nicole remembered Stan, the CEO (Chief Executive Officer), when she was the administrator for the department of surgery, who asked her to plan the new employee retreat three years ago. Her face softened.

When Stan asked for volunteers for the planning committee, Mike was the first. He had only been with Hillview Regional for four months. He never missed a meeting, never complained, and never ridiculed anyone else’ ideas – and we heard some doozies. The venue that Mike suggested was inspired, a large log cabin on a hilltop nestled in pines, firs, spruces, oaks regaining their leaves, and wildflowers starting to bloom. A creek tumbled over a waterfall just 100 yards away and the water flowed into a crystal lake.

Nicole grew wistful, and her run almost became a walk.

The day that Mike and I first looked at the cabin was glorious. We left at 7 AM for the three-hour drive and talked all the way up and all the way down. He treated me like a princess; better than any man has ever done before. Mike drove, opened my door, and paid for our coffee. He bought me a white chocolate truffle. How did he know that I love white chocolate? We stopped at a gorgeous river overlook with the sun still low in the morning sky. Mike listened to my favorite playlist, and told me that I was beautiful. I talked too much, but I couldn’t stop, and he hung on every word. I wanted… I needed him to know me. It was magic.

Alarmed at her thoughts, Nicole tried to change the subject, but she failed.  

When we finally arrived at the cabin, we wandered around like kids at a camp. Mike climbed a tree to get pictures from a different angle. Silly me. I wore a white skirt, pink blouse, and heels. He had to help me through the grass and mud. Even though I am an independent, self-made woman, I wasn’t angry. Mike’s kindness, his protection, made me feel more like a woman.

A bald, elderly man with a paunch stepped on the treadmill next to her. He began a slow walk.

When we walked on the old wooden dock on the lake, my heel caught a knot hole. I almost fell in, but he grabbed my waist and pulled me back against his powerful body. We both laughed. It was so embarrassing. Since that day, we have been together a thousand times at work – meetings, classes, and events. Mike has always respected me as a leader. We are a terrific business team.

An elderly woman pushing her walker came up to the man next to Nicole. She wore a small cross on a chain. His face lit up when he saw her. She smiled, he stopped, and he grasped her hand. Their wedding rings touched.

Even more, I have never felt so alive as when I was with him…and I never felt so alone as when I was without him.  

Mortified by that self-revelation, Nicole pushed it out of her mind. Her countenance darkened, and she turned up the speed again. Sweat poured from her chest and face.

But Mike was married. He kept talking about his wife, Kellie, and their four children. They were everything to him. I have never seen a man so devoted to his family, except for my own daddy, later in his life. Maybe Mike was trying to protect himself from me…and maybe he was trying to protect me from himself.

Six months after Mike joined Hillview, four months after their drive, and only two months after the employee retreat, Kellie was killed by a drunk driver. Mike had been crushed. Stan offered him 12 weeks of family medical leave, but Mike only took four – work numbed his pain. Mike’s cousin moved in to help with the kids until he could find a nanny. Nicole recalled the sadness on his face; for the first few months, life fled his body. Mike dragged along, with a gray in his countenance that matched the gray in his soul. He was weak, dry, and could barely manage a smile. It took months for Mike to become Mike again.

Even more, Nicole felt shame for her own indifference about the Kellie’s death. Her anger returned. The hurt from her childhood and the mental scripts from her college and more recent years came back. Her face flushed.

Kellie didn’t do much. She only stayed home raising their children, probably baking cookies. Like Hilary Rosen said of Ann Romney, Kellie didn’t work a day in her life. Mike behaved badly even with me, Nicole thought. All that driving, opening doors, and paying for coffee and snacks. Mike probably thought that I couldn’t to do it myself. He is such a jerk…the white chocolate truffle was awfully good, though.

The older man started walking again while his wife picked up a dumb bell and starting slow bicep curls.

I was furious with Stan for promoting Mike to deputy CFO last year. But then Stan died from a heart attack over the summer.

She turned up her music.

Fortunately, since I became acting CEO, I hardly see Mike. Until he rented a room in this building, my building, last summer.

Tiring of this mental debate, Nicole forced herself to focus on the music, and then let her thoughts drift. Kansas’ Dust in the Wind began from her playlist, and she pondered the words.  

Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind

I close my eyes
Only for a moment, then the moment’s gone
All my dreams
Pass before my eyes, a curiosity
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind

It’s the same old song
We’re just a drop of water, in an endless sea
All we do
Just crumbles to the ground, though we refuse to see
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind

After another 20 minutes of running, Nicole slowed to a walk and stepped off the treadmill. She dried the sweat off her toned body, thinking of the elderly couple. After so many decades, they were still so in love.

Nicole heard the rain pounding on the pavement outside the door as she left the gym, delighted that Mike had gone outside to run this morning. She walked quickly towards the elevator, hoping to get on and get the doors closed before he came back.

Suddenly, Mike appeared outside the double doors of the tower, taking cover under the blue awning. Reflexively, Nicole hid, darting behind a Christmas tree in the lobby. She watched him through the green branches, white lights, gold garland, and red ornaments. Mike seemed to be talking with the crimson-uniformed doorman, and they both laughed. He walked in. Mike showed no sign of seeing her behind the tree as he dripped step by step towards the elevator. The elevator doors were closing as he turned and looked straight at the tree.

Nicole stepped back and knocked a red glass ball off the tree. It shattered into a thousand shards. She looked up to find the doorman frowning at her.

“Sorry, just admiring the…decorations” Nicole stumbled. Realizing how silly she had been, the high-powered CEO rebuked herself. The housekeeper came with a broom and dustpan.

After a hot shower, Nicole put on a white blouse, navy blue jacket and skirt, and navy heels. She walked into her dining room and sat down at her glass-topped table for a cinnamon bagel with strawberry cream cheese. She made herself a cup of Honey Crisp apple tea with a dash of lemon and a touch of cinnamon. Growing up, her mother made this tea for her almost every morning.

Nicole checked her schedule. Tonight at 8 PM is the Hillview Hospital Holiday party at Ricardo’s. Tomorrow morning at 9 AM I am hosting a Saturday breakfast for the president of the university and his senior leadership team. I’ve got to double check the menu – breads, fruits, and other healthy fare – with our event planner. The university is looking for a new employee health care contract. I’m sure that we can get it.

At noon Radhiya and I are getting our hair and nails done, she said to herself. We have to look great for Joanna’s campaign fund raiser Saturday night for the state senate. The primaries are in June, but Joanna has those sewn up. The general election will be tight, and we need to win this seat. Her opponent is a religious fanatic. Why don’t these stupid conservatives get it? History is not moving in their direction. The world is passing them by.

Nicole finished thinking about politics.  Her parents never really talked about it – they were too busy making a living and raising her and her brother. And then there was her dad’s alcohol; too much alcohol. Way too much. Nicole joined the Democrats in high school, looking to pad her resume for college. She immersed herself in politics in college. Nicole had been a local leader in the left wing of the Democratic party for almost 20 years. There were victories, but Nicole still questioned herself:

I wonder how much all this money and political activity actually make a difference. During the last presidential election, I spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to elect the right woman, finally. And a jerk still won.

Moving on, Nicole concluded, Sunday, I’ll sleep all day.

After letting her mind relax for a few minutes, Nicole perused the internet news on her phone. The local headline read “Riverside General Hospital fires its Chief Operations Officer.”

It will be a good day, thought Nicole to herself.

***

“Good morning” Mike whispered to Mike Jr, “I love you.”

His sleepy fourth grader pulled the covers over his head. “Go away.”

“This is the last day of school before Christmas vacation, but you can’t be late.”

Mike Jr. rolled a little more, pushed the covers down, and sat up.

“Dad, is my first basketball game tomorrow?”

“Yep, it is.”

“Thanks for coaching, dad.”

“I wouldn’t miss it, Mike, I love you.”

He looked over at Matt, sleeping soundly, and decided not to awaken him. The doting dad left his boys’ room and crept across the hall into Kerri and Kristen’s room.

“Good morning, pumpkin.”

“Good morning, daddy.”

“Time to get up for school. The first grade Christmas party is this afternoon.”

“OK. Do we have the Nutcracker today?”

“No sweetheart, it’s tomorrow night.”

“I am so excited. I am going to dance like a princess.”

“You certainly will. And I will be so proud of you that my buttons will pop off my shirt.”

Kerri was impressed. “Wow, daddy, really?”

“Really” Mike replied. “Now get dressed for school.”

“What should I wear? Will you pick out my clothes?”

“How about the Calico dress?”

“Great!”

Mike looked across the room at his sleeping daughter, Matt’s twin. No point in waking Kristen up, he thought to himself. Mike heard a knock on the front door of his apartment, climbed over piles of toys in the hall, walked through the living room, and opened it.

“Susan, thanks again for coming.”

“Mike, I’ve come to your house almost every morning for nearly three years to take care of your home and your children. Why do you keep thanking me?”

“Because I’m still grateful for you.”

“But you pay me.”

“That doesn’t mean that I can’t be grateful for you. Look at this place – it is a mess. But by the time I come home from work tonight, it will be beautiful.” Mike concluded, “I couldn’t do all this work by myself.”

Changing the subject, Susan asked “Are we still going to the church at noon tomorrow to cook Christmas dinner for the hungry?”

“Yes, absolutely. We do it every year.”

“And you want the children to come this year?”

“Yes, it will be a good experience. But I’ll need you there to look after them” Mike requested.

Susan inspected Mike’s dark brown tweed sport coat, tan slacks, white shirt, and a red tie with bright green Christmas trees.

“You need a woman,” Susan chided Mike, “that combination is atrocious.” “Agreed,” Mike replied with a grin, but I’m late. I was distracted by a woman who ran into the Christmas tree in the lobby.”

“OK.” Susan smiled. “Nicole again?” Mike’s face flushed. Susan went to the kitchen to make breakfast for the children.

Mike grabbed his briefcase, closed the condo door behind him, and left for work.

The Christian Community in Society

“Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever” opined the famous French general and emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. American society today seems to have taken him at his word. We are told to dream big, take chances, and make our mark on the world. To be remembered in posterity, “write something worth reading or do something worth writing about” wrote Benjamin Franklin. We are even told to misbehave, “Well behaved women seldom make history (Laurel Thatcher Urich).” It is as if 100,000 of us were standing in a stadium screaming to be heard, and spending our lives trying to be distinctive enough to feel important.

Sometimes the Christian community looks little different. In his book You Are Special, Max Lucado writes of a village of little wooden people called wemmicks who spend their days putting stars or dots on each other, stars for doing something that they like and dots for doing something that they don’t. The best had special awards (a sequel, Best of All) and perhaps even monuments to be widely known and remembered. These fictional children’s stories describe an all too common trap into which even followers of Jesus fall.

In the time of Paul, the Christian community was a small part of a large and powerful pagan Roman society. Some Christians were prominent, but to be a Christian sometimes meant to be persecuted – a big downside to seeking the limelight. Paul himself did not seek personal glory. The miraculous powers that he sometimes wielded were not his own, and he could not even use them to heal himself (2 Corinthians 12:7-9). He traveled from community to community preaching Christ resurrected in the synagogues and later in the churches. He taught in prominent places such as the Areopagus (Acts 17:16-34) in Athens, but anyone with something to say could enter the discussion. Paul never wrote about how he wished to be remembered, and it is not clear that he expected to find his name in history.

Paul did, however, have an expectation for how Christians would live in society as individuals and as a group.

  1. Christians would live a quiet life, mind their own business, and work with their own hands (1 Thessalonians 4:11).
  2. The believing community would require work from their members, and those who were able to work but refused to do so would not be supported by the community (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
  3. Males and females would treat each other well, as would people of different ages (1 Timothy 5:1-3).
  4. Families would consist of multiple generations caring for each other in every way they could (1 Timothy 5:8).
  5. Younger men and women would marry, have children, and raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:1-4).
  6. Everyone would contribute what efforts they could to the group. Even older and infirm widows would serve the community (1 Timothy 5:10). There was no period of life in which a person did not work.
  7. Families would take care of their aged and infirm members first, only receiving help from the community when needed (1 Timothy 5:16).
  8. The community of Christians would honor their Christian leaders. This includes paying them a fair wage (1 Corinthians 9:9-14).      
  9. Believers would pray for their leaders and government, and that they live quiet and peaceful lives in the greater society (1 Timothy 2:1-3). We are not to speak evil of others (Titus 3:1-2).
  10. Men and women would have different roles in the church (1 Timothy 2:8-15). Different age groups would also have differing, but equally important, roles and tasks (Titus 2:1-7).
  11. Christian leaders and their wives would be subject to high standards of conduct and appearance (1 Timothy 3:1-13).
  12. Every follower of Jesus would be godly, contented, and not greedy (1 Timothy 6:6-10).
  13. As individuals and as a community, Christians would constantly live in such a way as to avoid just accusation from those outside the community (Titus 2:8). The Apostle Peter agrees with Paul in that we glory God in our lives so that outsiders may be saved (1 Peter 2:12-15).

Paul says far more about the Christian community, and about the structure and government of the local church, in his letters. He says little about how people outside the church should behave or should live in their communities. The Apostle’s instructions to Christian men and women in different contexts (families and churches) do not necessarily apply to those outside the family of believers. Also, Paul says nothing about the structure of government outside the church. Paul was not a political activist.

Much of Paul’s vision for the early church is anathema to non-believers, and even some believers, today. Some of it, such people argue, was specific to that place and does not apply in the 21st century. These arguments are beyond the scope of this article. They are also beside the point.

Conclusion

Napoleon believed that glory was fleeting, but obscurity was forever. He lived his life, killing hundreds of thousands of people and destroying nations to gain earthly, mortal glory. The Emperor of France spent his years doing what logically followed his beliefs. If we believe as Napoleon as a society and as a church, we will live like Napoleon.

Paul knew that while mortal glory is fleeting, immortal glory lasts forever. He lived his life not to be in some history book, but to be raised from death with Christ (Philippians 3:8-10). Paul killed no one and destroyed nothing. After coming to know Christ, he gave each moment of his earthly sojourn so that everyone might know Him.  If we believe like Paul as a society, and especially as a church, we will live like Paul.

Communion on the Moon

The first food and drink ever consumed on the moon was bread and wine in a Christian communion

No matter the opposition, the testimony of the Lord will not be denied. Astronaut Buzz Aldrin was with Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins on Apollo 11 on 20 July 1969. He was the second human to walk on the surface of the moon. The following recounts the personal communion he took on the moon:

Forty-nine years ago (July 20, 1969), two human beings changed history by walking on the surface of the moon.

But what happened before Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong exited the Lunar Module is perhaps even more amazing, if only because so few people know about it. I’m talking about the fact that Buzz Aldrin took communion on the surface of the moon. Some months after his return, he wrote about it in Guideposts magazine.

The background to the story is that Aldrin was an elder at his Presbyterian Church in Texas during this period in his life; and, knowing that he would soon be doing something unprecedented in human history, he felt that he should mark the occasion somehow. He asked his minister to help him and so the minister consecrated a communion wafer and a small vial of communion wine. Buzz Aldrin took them with him out of the Earth’s orbit and onto the surface of the moon. He and Armstrong had only been on the lunar surface for a few minutes when Aldrin made the following public statement:

“This is the LM (Lunar Module) pilot. I’d like to take this opportunity to ask every person listening in, whoever and wherever they may be, to pause for a moment and contemplate the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his or her own way.” He then ended radio communication, and there, on the silent surface of the moon, 250,000 miles from home, he read a verse from the Gospel of John, and he took communion.

Here is his account of what happened:

“In the radio blackout, I opened the little plastic packages which contained the bread and the wine. I poured the wine into the chalice our church had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine slowly curled and gracefully came up the side of the cup. Then I read the scripture: ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Whosoever abides in me will bring forth much fruit … Apart from me you can do nothing.’

“I had intended to read my communion passage back to Earth, but at the last minute they had requested that I not do this. NASA was already embroiled in a legal battle with Madelyn Murray O’Hare, the celebrated opponent of religion, over the Apollo 8 crew’s reading from Genesis while orbiting the moon at Christmas. I agreed reluctantly.”

“I ate the tiny toast and swallowed the wine. I gave thanks for the intelligence and spirit that had brought two young pilots to the Sea of Tranquility. It was interesting for me to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon and the very first food eaten there were the communion elements.”[1]

“And, of course, it’s interesting to think that some of the first words spoken on the moon were the words of Jesus Christ, who made the Earth and the moon – and who, in the immortal words of Dante, is Himself the “Love that moves the Sun and other stars.”

Such a message would be unwelcome in many places in America and the West today, not to mention Asia and the Muslim world. This is not new – the message of God has always met fierce, even desperate resistance. The people of God have always suffered. Nonetheless, “if the people keep silent, the stones will cry out (Luke 19:37-40).” As it says it Psalms 2 (KJV),

2 Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?

2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying,

3 Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.

4 He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.

5 Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure.

6 Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.

7 I will declare the decree: the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.

8 Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.

9 Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.

10 Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth.

11 Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.

12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.


[1] https://www.guideposts.org/better-living/life-advice/finding-life-purpose/guideposts-classics-buzz-aldrin-on-communion-in-space, accessed 3 May 2019

Adventures in Athens – A Bodily Resurrection

The resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter morning was physical, not just spiritual. Likewise, Christians do not live eternally as disembodied spirits, we will have perfect physical bodies.

During our recent trip to Athens, Anna and I wanted to see some of the key Greek places mentioned in the Bible. Philippi and Thessalonica were too far to travel during our stay, at least a six hour drive each way, but Corinth was close, just over one hour by auto.  About 12 miles west of Athens on the road to Corinth, however, lies another important Greek religious site, Eleusius and the site of one of the most renowned mystery cults.

The Eleusinian Mystery Cult

According to legend, the Greek god of the dead, Hades, kidnapped Persephone (AKA Kore), the daughter of the Greek goddess of the harvest, Demeter. Hades took Persephone into the underworld, and her distraught mother searched throughout the earth but failed to find her lost child. Eventually, Zeus forced Hades to give up Persephone, but because the goddess had eaten three pomegranate seeds in the underworld, she had to return there for three months each year. The three months that Persephone was absent was winter, when the earth was barren and little grew. When Persephone returned to the surface, the seasons were spring, summer, and fall; times of rebirth, growth, and harvest. Demeter ended up in the realm of a local king, Keleos, who built a temple to her. That temple became the site for the Eleusinian mystery cult that was popular throughout the Greek and early Roman periods.

Cult initiates walked the 12-mile pilgrimage from Athens to the Eleusinian temple.  Once they arrived, they began a multi-part rite, including initiation, dedication, and revelation. The rites were strictly secret so most of the specific people, acts and items are lost to history. However, opium was widely used, the story of Demeter and Persephone was recounted, and sacred objects were displayed.[1] Since Demeter was the goddess of agriculture, the harvest, and fertility, it is likely that sex played an important part in the festivities.

Michael, our tour guide, played a video in the van about Eleusinian mystery cult. The video commentator explained that since Persephone “died” but then “returned to life”, initiates into the Eleusinian mystery cult expected that their bodies would die but that their spirits would “return to life”, or even live on forever. Michael, a Greek Christian from the charismatic tradition, noted how similar this was to Christianity. I paused:

“Michael, this is not similar to Christianity at all. Many faiths, including Islam and Hinduism, teach that our bodies die and our spirits live on. Christianity teaches that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, His spirit as well as His body. Only followers of Jesus expect a bodily resurrection from the dead.”

Michael looked a little startled, but under the guidance of the Spirit realized the truth he had just heard. Later, while I was lingering over the Eleusinian ruins, he told Anna, “Your dad is right, and I had never really thought of that before.”

A Bodily Resurrection

The ancient Hebrew scriptures contain little about an afterlife. The departed simply “go down to Sheol” – the grave (Genesis 37:35). Longevity on earth is a great gift (Exodus 20:12), and a man’s name and influence will live on through his children (Genesis 12:1-3). The post-exilic prophet Daniel (c. 605-535 BC) provides the first clear mention of individual, bodily life after death (Daniel 12:2-3, 13). As a pastoral people who greatly valued the body, a disembodied afterlife would have been anathema. By the time of Christ, physical resurrection from the dead was a key part of Jewish, especially Pharisaical teaching (Acts 23:8). Jesus Himself confirmed the reality of bodily resurrection (Mark 12:18-27).

Before Homer (751-651 BC), Greek mythology saw the afterlife as a miserable, gray, disembodied existence. In the Iliad, the Greek hero Achilles saw a vision of Patroclus, his friend recently killed by the Trojan hero Hector. Afterwards he said, “Ah then, it is true that something of us does survive…but with no intellect at all, only the ghost and semblance of a man.” In Homer’s second great work, the Odyssey, when Achilles himself was dead, the hero said to Odysseus, “Put me on earth again, and I would rather be a serf in the house of some landless man, with little enough for himself to live on, than king of all these dead men that have done with life.”  Achilles obviously wanted a body after death, as did the Jews before and after the Iliad.

Socrates and Plato distinguished between matter and immaterial, physical and spiritual, and diminished the role of the material, physical world. By the time of Paul, Athenians were happy to talk about god, gods, and the afterlife, but scoffed at the idea of bodily resurrection (Acts 17:22-34). It seemed so foolish – after a person died their body remained in the ground (or urn, or sea, or wherever it was disposed). The living could exhume bodies from hundreds of years before, seeming to prove that the dead do not rise again…ever.

Yet the Bible goes to great lengths to show that the Resurrected Christ had a human body. He talked (John 20:13-17), walked (Luke 24:13-31), could be touched (John 20:23-29), and even ate (Luke 24:41-43). The Apostles recognized His voice, His appearance, and even His touch. Jesus’ glorified body could do things no current human body could do. He moved through locked doors (John 20:19), defied gravity (Acts 1:9), and could vanish instantly (Luke 24:31).[1] Nonetheless, it was a physical body.After rising from the dead, Jesus was no ghost. He was a complete man – glorified body and perfect spirit.

Paul explicitly taught that Jesus Christ was physically resurrected from the dead (1 Corinthians 15), and that His followers will also be physically resurrected. They will have new bodies, arising from the seed of the old one – the perishable raised imperishable. The best Biblical evidence suggests that at death, our spirits proceed immediately to the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8), followed shortly by our glorified bodies (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Jesus Christ is the first fruit of bodily resurrection, even as the early grain was the first fruit of the Hebrew harvest (1 Corinthians 15:20). Christians are the harvest of resurrection to come.

Few of us imagine how life might be without a body. If we had no material component, how could we interact with the world around us, which is also material. How could we eat or drink – or play or work. Without physical eyes, how could we see? Without physical ears, how could we hear? How can one spirit touch another in any meaningful way? If human bodies and the material world were not important, why did God make them? When He said that the material world was “good”, did that somehow change after the Fall? Questions like this should make us question our Greek-style assumption that our bodies decay and we live on forever as spirits alone.

Conclusion

Too many Christian books, and too many Christian preachers, do not teach clearly that our resurrection in Christ will be a bodily, physical one, as well as a spiritual one. No other major world religion makes that claim, and then backs it up with historical data. If Christ is not risen, we are of all men most to be pitied. But Christ is risen, in body and in spirit. He is risen indeed!

 

[1] Some say that these miraculous acts could not have been done in the physical body and these passages therefore prove that Jesus was only resurrected as a spirit. Others argue for naturalistic explanations for these phenomenon (i.e. the disciples opened the locked door and Jesus walked in). I would suggest that the best option is to take the Bible at face value. Considering what we know of physics, it is theoretically possible through rare for one solid object to pass through another, to defy gravity, and to vanish. Let’s not assume that we know more than we actually do, Biblically or scientifically.

[1] Martin Booth, Opium: a History, u.s. ed. (New York: St. Martin, 1998), 17

 

 

A Land Called Married

Isaiah describes the “marriage” between God and His people. Christians can learn much for our marriages as well.

My youngest daughter was fighting a virus that sapped her strength and made her miserable. Good movies brighten her mood, and soon we were enjoying the six-hour British Broadcasting Company (BBC) version of Pride and Prejudice. Based on a classic novel by Jane Austen (1775-1817), Pride and Prejudice mixes romance, social commentary, and morality, detailing the twists and turns of courtship and marriage among the daughters of the aristocratic Bennett family in early 19th century England. The movie poignantly reveals how vastly different society’s view of marriage was two hundred years ago.

In Isaiah 62, the Lord encourages His people, promising them future goodness and glory after their defeat and exile.  God uses the metaphor of Israel as His bride, telling His readers that their land would no longer be called “Desolate” but be called “Married” (v4). Most people in my experience would not juxtapose these two words, partly because “desolate” refers to a place “in bleak and dismal emptiness” and “married” refers to a relationship between two people. Isaiah 62 is not about human marriage per se, but neither is it about the physical land of Israel. Rather, it is about the restored relationship between God and His people. As such, it becomes a model of how human marriage under God can be, and should be.

To restate, Isaiah (740-685 BC) is talking about God’s “marriage” to His people, the Jews and those foreigners who served Jehovah. The prophet is not talking about the Edomites, Moabites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, or anyone else who did not belong to Him. Therefore, lessons that we learn from this passage apply to Christians, those who claim the name and live the life of Jesus Christ. Empowered by the Spirit, the Creator’s goodness is showered on His people. Parts of this essay may apply to others, but Isaiah’s words, and my words, are for God’s people.

This work will ask one question: What does it mean to live in right relationship with God and family? Poetically put, what does it mean to “Live in a land called Married?”

To be married is to have a new identity (Isaiah 62:2)

God promised to give His people a new name…a new identity. Israel did not choose it, but God chose it. It was not secret; a source of shame, but open; a source of pride. The people of God would glory in their new name, shouting it from the mountaintops so that all the world would know that they belonged to the Lord. Nations and kings who had hated Israel would now see her glory as the bride of the Almighty. Over the years in their relationship, God’s people become more like Him.

When a man and woman marry, the two unite and become one flesh (Mark 10:7-8). They no longer exist as they did before, as separate individuals, but now exist as one. Both identities change, and to symbolize the change and communicate it to the world, man and wife take the same name. Usually, but not always, the bride takes the name of her groom. The wider world acknowledges the new identity and refers to the couple by their married name. Over the years, husband and wife grew more like each other in personality, in tastes, in speech, in action, in habits, and even in thoughts.

Living in “A Land called Married” produces a new identity.

To be married is to have someone else delight in you, and for you to delight in someone else (Isaiah 62:4-5)

God delighted in His people Israel, just as He delights in His children through Jesus Christ. He loves us faithfully, but He also delights in us. God glories when His son takes two steps of spiritual growth, just like a mother glories when her infant daughter takes two steps. He rejoices in our victories, and thrills when we follow Him. Likewise, our Father wants us to delight in Him (Psalm 37:4).

In the same way, husbands and wives delight in each other. The groom thrills at the sight of his beautiful bride, who has labored to be lovely on their wedding day. She rejoices in his successes at work, and he exalts in her victories in the kitchen, or vice versa, or both, as the case may be. Man and wife know each other’s dreams, and support them. Soon the man and the woman delight in their children, and through the years those children learn to delight in their parents. Though there is work and pain in marriage and family, there is also delight.

The delight engendered by a godly marriage is not limited to family members alone. Friends, neighbors, and even strangers can join in the delight of a happy family. My family and I were traveling into Boston one morning in July via the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). It was crowded, so I sat on one side of the train while Nancy and the kids sat on the other. We talked across the aisle, and though it was not a “quiet car”, few other people looked at each other, much less spoke. I struck up a conversation with a woman sitting next to me. She was evasive at first, but we ended up having a very pleasant chat about the arts, something near to her heart. It was delightful. As we rose to leave, this woman told me, “At first I hesitated to talk to you, but when I saw your family, I knew it would be OK.” Nancy’s presence convinced her that I was not a predator, and when she saw that our family rejoiced in each other, she was able to join in our delight.

Living in “A Land called Married” helps to bring delight.

To be married is to be secure, and to help make others secure (Isaiah 62: 6-8)

The first step in security is to not be alone. As the Preacher said, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone (Ecclesiastes 1:9-11)? In the ultimate promise of security, God guaranteed that He would always be with His people (Matthew 28:20).

The second step in security is to be defended from the trials, and through the trials, of life. The Lord protected His beloved people from many of the difficulties that plagued neighboring nations, but He also sustained them during tough times. Israel had been ravished by enemies, from the Assyrians to the Babylonians, but now God promised to make her secure. He promised to put “watchmen on the walls” and “never give His beloved’s grain to her enemies (Isaiah 62:6-8).” In the person of Jesus, the Lord purchased our eternal security at the cost of His own death.

Husband and wife help make each other secure. The very presence of another person meets a fundamental human need. Wisely dividing labor between man and woman ensures that money will flow in, that such money will be cleverly spent, and that necessary tasks will be done within the family. The strengths of each partner balance the weaknesses of the other, and the couple together is far more accomplished, more interesting, more stable, and more Christ-like than either of them could be separately. I provide a decent living for Nancy and our children, and she ensures that our physical needs, from lunches to laundry, are met. She makes our lives colorful, beautiful, warm, and precious. Nancy enchants our home, and life would be gray and cold without her.

The extended family adds security to the couple. In many cultures they arrange marriages between compatible young men and women, which despite modern sensibilities, is not only valid but is sometimes even preferable to “love marriages.” Parents provide guidance, resources, and contacts to help the young couple succeed. Among the Eumbo people in Angola, a man’s paternal grandmother or aunt becomes the instructress to his fiancé, helping with the wedding ceremony and teaching her how to be a good wife.[1] Similar things happen in every other culture.

Marriage between a man and a woman also provides long term security, as they can have children. Aging, decay, disease, and death are inevitable – no one can support himself forever. In Judah (8th century BC) and in England (early 19th century AD), there was no social security, no Medicare or Medicaid, and none of the other things that allow us to live alone and imagine that we are independent. The immediate and the extended family, perhaps along with a few friends, were the only support for people in age and in sickness. Naomi had to rely on Ruth, and ultimately Boaz, to care for her in her later years (Ruth 1-4).

Even with these modern tools of government, security is impossible without the family. There are not enough houses or apartments, home nurses or health aides, educators or drivers, to accommodate all of the chronically sick and aged. One of the biggest problems we faced working among the poor in Memphis TN was broken families, and the inability or unwillingness to help each other. Government is not enough.

Living in “A Land called Married” helps to bring security.

To be married is to gain approval, opportunity, and social status (Isaiah 60, 61, 62)

Isaiah uses the metaphor of God and His bride, Israel, throughout his book. The land is characterized as desolate, empty and without people. As a result, it was atypical and inferior to other nations. In Isaiah 60 and 61, God promises Israel that their “sons and daughters would return from afar” and “their offspring would be blessed.” The Lord talks of foreigners flocking to their lands and of nations serving Israel. Jerusalem would be a “praise in the earth (Isaiah 62:7).” All of these blessings would happen only when the relationship between God and His people was restored. The grace of the Almighty would flow when they lived in a land called “married”.

In every major culture in the world throughout all of history, almost all adults have been married. In fact, most cultures expected or even forced their young people to marry, so vital it was to the survival of the clan, the tribe, the village, or even the nation. The Puritans of New England expected all young people to marry and have children. Only in the past century have mores so changed as to make marriage optional, or even discouraged, as it often is now in the West.

Marriage has historically enhanced social status. In Pride and Prejudice, the silly 15-year-old daughter Lydia elopes with Wickham, a scoundrel. After her father and several other men force Wickham to marry her, the new couple visits the Bennett estate. As they enter the house, Lydia steps in front of her older sister and says, “now that I am a married woman, I go in front and you walk behind me.” In The Music Man, the Widow Paroo sings to her daughter Marian “When a woman’s got a husband and you’ve got none, why should she take advice from you?” For most of history, married woman have ranked higher than single ones in their societies.

Living in “A Land called Married” helps to bring opportunity and social status.

To be married is to have children, thus serving your society over more than just your own generation.

The Creator of the World considers children one of His greatest blessings. Therefore, the ability to create children within marriage is one of His greatest gifts. Children are a blessing that He spreads widely among people, even those who do not claim His name. Most every culture considers them a sign of God’s good favor. In the millennia before safe and reliable birth control, married people had little control over the number of children they had. Couples who feared the Lord generally wanted those they got.

  1. Children provided physical security to the family, clan, tribe, village, town, city, region, and nation.
  2. Children contributed to both supply and demand in the economy.
  3. Children created children who created children for succeeding generations.

To be sure, many children died in childbirth or infancy. Some parents did not want many children, so they killed some of their offspring through abortion or exposure. The aged and infirm often suffered a similar fate.

Several years ago I had a single, male, coworker in his mid-fifties. He had never married or had children, and was a little cantankerous. After a spirited discussion, he said, “but I need to be nice to you, as you have five children, and I need them to pay my social security when I retire.” For all of history, married couples provided the workforce to run the economy and the future families that would sustain the nation long into the future.

Living in “A Land called Married” produces children who sustain their society throughout its history.

Objections

My purpose here has been to examine Isaiah’s teachings in chapters 60-62, determine what it means that the “the land of Israel” (the people) are “married to God”, and extrapolate how Christ-filled marriages look today. Everything written above is a generalization. Many marriages between Christians, and even some Christ-filled marriages and Christ-filled people are exceptions.

  1. Couples often do not acknowledge their new identity

It is not that they do not have a new identity – they have it because God gives it – whether they like it or not. Rather, couples sometimes refuse to live in their new identity. They thus negate a marvelous gift from a marvelous Lord.

  1. Married people, even Christians, do not always delight in each other, and children often do not delight in parents.

If we first delight in God, then we will be able to delight in others. If not, we won’t. It takes time and discipline to delight in others, as we are inherently selfish.

  1. Married people, even Christians, do not always feel secure.

Our ultimate security, and our immediate security, is in our Father in Heaven. Every marriage is tense sometimes. Some, even between professing Christians, are dangerous. On the whole, marriage provides security, as God designed.

  1. Some Christians never get married.

The Lord has especially gifted some of His favorites with singleness. Nehemiah and Daniel were probably both court eunuchs, neither marrying nor having children. Nonetheless, they certainly served God mightily. Hildegard of Bingen and thousands of monks and nuns like her have been “married to Christ” and the Lord has blessed them. Isaiah 56 promises that the Lord will give a name “better than sons and daughters” to faithful eunuchs and foreigners (vv 3-5). Our Gracious Father loves all of His children and blesses them in accordance with their faithfulness, but He does not use everyone the same way.

  1. Some Christian couples are unable to have children.

People without children can be a blessing to their world into perpetuity as well. Some of the greatest people of the Bible had no spouse or children. Even in the modern day, childless philanthropists like Milton Hershey have honored thousands of others with their resources.

I freely concede the validity of these objections. Life is complicated, and often heartbreaking. Loving and dedicated people fail in marriage, cannot have children, and struggle in every area of life. Perfection and glory will only come on the other side of the great, dark, river of death. Nonetheless, these exceptions do not invalidate the rule. Isaiah’s words about being “married” to the Lord powerfully apply to Christians today. And for all of our failures, our loving God still works everything for good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

Conclusion

The prophet Isaiah spoke of “A Land called Married” in which the perfect relationship of God and His people would be restored. For human couples who know and love the Lord, “Living in a land called Married” provides a new identity, encourages delight, helps with security, meshes individuals with their greater society, improves their social standing, and supports their nation for generations to come.

[1] Weddings, Dating, and Love Customs of Cultures Worldwide, pp 42-43

 

Whence Identity?

A Christian view on how and where we find and build our identity. 

“To be a Turk is to be a Muslim” our Turkish tour guide announced during our tour of the Seven Churches in Revelation. I asked him why he believed that, and he replied that since Allah made him a Turk, clearly Allah intended for him to be a Muslim. Both his logic and his history were faulty. While the descendants of the Seljuk and Ottoman Turks are overwhelmingly Muslim, the modern descendants of the Khazar Turks are largely Jewish. Present-day Gagauz and Chuvash Turks are predominantly Christian.

“I am a doctor” an indignant young woman told us after we had mistaken her for a nurse. We apologized, but that was not enough – she was angry and let us know. Many modern liberals would consider that a microaggression, evidence of inherent bias or even subconscious hatred (presumably conscious hatred would be plain old aggression). Older folk may just consider it a mistake, borne of the observation that even today, most doctors in America are men and the overwhelming majority of nurses are women. One wonders why this woman was offended by being considered a nurse instead of a doctor, as if the former is somehow inferior to the latter, but that is a topic for another article.

A friend and prominent El Paso businessman went with our church on a trip to work with a local Christian congregation in Zambia. When the African pastor asked him to introduce himself, my friend answered as an American would. He told the pastor about his job and company. The pastor listened politely and then said, “Fine, but tell me about the important things – your family and your church.”

A Persian woman used to live with us. She said that in America, her work matters, but in Iran, her family matters. Here she is a (insert occupation) while there is the daughter of (insert name), granddaughter of (insert name), niece of (insert name). Someday she will be the wife of (insert name) and mother of (insert name). In Persia, relationships trump revenue.

How do we define ourselves?

These examples beg the question of identity – how do people define themselves? The Turk’s identity was as an olive skinned, young, single, heterosexual, male, Turkish Muslim. In my many conversations with him, it was clear that being a tour guide was a passing stage; it was not a large part of his identity. The female physician’s identity was as a white, young, single, female, American physician. Being a doctor was crucial to her self-image. My friend used self-identifiers that were important to Americans but nearly meaningless to Africans. Our Persian sister taught us that in many cultures, whose you are matters more than who you are.

People construct their identity differently over the generations. Biblical obituaries are often simple – “and he did right in the sight of the Lord” or “and he did evil in the sight of the Lord.” Character, not position or earthly accomplishments mattered. Obituaries in American newspapers before 1900 have a similar focus on character. On his death in 1788, Rev Josiah Sterns was noted to be “industrious and faithful” with “great and good character.”[1] Dudley Freese was a “kind husband and father… useful church member… and worthy citizen.”[2] By contrast, a quick review of recent obituaries in the Washington Post reveals lots about work and accomplishments, less about family, and little about character. Admittedly, my comparison in this case was not scientific, but was certainly suggestive.

Wealth, education, and socioeconomic status are other areas of division. Stereotypically, the rich and educated look down on the poor and less educated. This is sometimes true. It is also true that the poor and less educated sometimes look down on the rich and educated, or impute bias when none really exists. Contrary to some opinions, every group is capable of bias, arrogance, apathy, and hatred, regardless of how much power they perceive themselves to have. Morality and immorality are universal.

Identity matters. America today is fractured by identity groups X, Y, and Z fighting each other. Though it may be worse than in the past, such animosity is nothing new. In the 1850s, the “Know Nothing” political party opposed immigrants and Catholics. In the 1960s, Tom Lehrer performed the song National Brotherhood Week, mocking the façade of unity between identity groups in America:

Oh, the white folks hate the black folks, And the black folks hate the white folks. To hate all but the right folks Is an old established rule.

But during national brotherhood week, national brotherhood week, Lena Horne and Sheriff Clarke are dancing cheek to cheek. It’s fun to eulogize The people you despise, As long as you don’t let ’em in your school.

Oh, the poor folks hate the rich folks, And the rich folks hate the poor folks. All of my folks hate all of your folks, It’s American as apple pie.

But during national brotherhood week, national brotherhood week, New Yorkers love the Puerto Ricans ’cause it’s very chic. Step up and shake the hand Of someone you can’t stand. You can tolerate him if you try.

Oh, the Protestants hate the Catholics, And the Catholics hate the Protestants, And the Hindus hate the Muslims, And everybody hates the Jews…

Identity politics and ethnic splintering are not merely an American phenomenon – they are present worldwide. Since the end of the Cold War, many states have splintered – Yugoslavia, Sudan, Iraq, and the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) – into many independent nations and regions. Conflict, not unity in diversity, has often been the result. In a nuclear world, the foreseeable results are frightening.

How should Christians respond?

Like everyone else, we are a mixture of sex, race, education, religion, national origin, skin color, etc. However, our overwhelming identity must be in Christ. Paul is absolutely clear:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

“Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.” (Colossians 3:11)

The Apostle goes even further when he rebukes Peter for putting his ethnic identity above his Christian one (Galatians 2:11-14). Finally, Paul in the Holy Scripture tells us that followers of Jesus don’t even live our own lives. Christ does, and he is not divided.

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Christians are not men or women first. We are not rich or poor first. We are not black, white, or another race first. We are not American or another nationality first. We are not any other category first. We are Christians. Every other point of identity is secondary. Jesus Christ is God, and He will let nothing else take first place in the lives of His people. Identity matters and diversity is a good thing, but only if it acknowledges and contributes to the unity of the Church, the body of Christ.

Tom Lehrer also made the point that religion itself can be a source of hatred. But believers in Jesus have nothing to be proud of, and everything to be grateful for. We did not earn our salvation, as is required in other faiths. God gave it to us. Christians are sinners saved by grace; rescued by an amazing God, through no act or virtue of our own. The character that our ancestors celebrated in the obituaries above is evidence of the good work of God. There is no room for hatred of others in those who love Christ.

Conclusion

Believers in Jesus should be involved in righting the wrongs of society, whether poverty, disease, or injustice. But the unity of the Body and the advancement of the Gospel for the glory of God is always the highest goal. As Jesus said:

“That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:

I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” (John 17:21-23)

If the Church is One, if the Body of Christ is united, God will be exalted, and our world will be blessed.

[1] http://www.ryanwadleigh.com/obits1.html

[2] http://www.ryanwadleigh.com/obits1.html

Our Persian Sister

She moved out just over one year ago. Things had been tense for several weeks, especially since her sister had visited. We didn’t know why, but I could hear the tension in Jane’s (not her real name) voice, and see her almost continually locked door in our basement. We tried to understand why she seemed to grow more distant, but the closer we tried to get, the farther she moved away.

Jane was a young Christian Persian woman who I had met on a mission trip to Central Asia in 2011.  She had come to New York City in September 2013, lived in rooms rented from families, and ate out. She linked up with the Persian community and enjoyed the night life of the Big Apple. Perhaps to save money, Jane moved to Virginia to live with us in December 2014.

Sometimes Jane felt homesick. One Sunday afternoon she and I attended a Persian church together. I was taking a class in Islam at the time, so I asked her a lot of questions. Our family attended a Nowruz exhibit at the Smithsonian, and we all enjoyed the Persian dinners that she occasionally made.

Jane took pains to be fashionable. She used things to make her eyes look larger and to plump her lips, which puzzled our adolescent sons. She wore lots of makeup, tight clothes, and short dresses. She bleached her naturally dark hair. Jane ate very little, at least at home, and did not exercise. Jane had no car, and our since house was about three miles from the Metro station, she got rides or took a taxi to the Metro when she wanted to go out.

We never charged Jane rent, or even assigned her chores. We forbade male guests in her room, and asked her to eat with us when she was home at dinnertime. We required her to attend church and expected her to join evening prayers with the family. I told her frequently that as a medical worker and polyglot, she would be a fantastic interpreter on future missions trips that I hoped to do in Central Asia.

The final break happened in early December. I was speaking at a college life group affiliated with our church. My two oldest children were going, and I invited Jane. She agreed to come. The topic involved missions and evangelism, and I asked Jane if she thought that she would always be more emotionally tied to the country of her birth, or to America, her adopted land. The question provoked an angry response, and no apology helped. At the life group, Jane and my children were in the other room when I started the lesson. No one, not even our host, invited them in. My children sat in another room and listened, but Jane went into the yard and talked to friends on her phone. She was livid at the slight.

The next morning I flew to Southern Seminary for classes, and in the afternoon Jane exploded at my wife and children. That night she found an apartment with three Indian girls, and within a week she was gone. My wife Nancy and I loaded her remaining possessions into our van, drove to her new apartment, and moved her in. For this young Persian woman that I had treated like my own daughter for almost a year, I could only muster a tense handshake goodbye.

We saw Jane at church occasionally, but over time she appeared less and less. Nancy brought her mail and a Christmas present to the services but it was weeks before she picked them up. Jane soon moved to a different place with different roommates, and didn’t let us know her address. We heard that she got her work visa and found a job at a convenience store. Later she found employment as an assistant in a dental office, a field in which she is pursuing a career.

It is hard to know what happened. Jane once told me that it is harder to be a Christian in America than in Central Asia. Authorities in that part of the world persecute Christians, but American culture tempts them away from God. Jane wanted the life of a young, single, Persian-American woman, while we offered the life of a family led by middle aged, married, white American parents.

Occasionally someone in my family texts Jane and gets a brief update. Nancy and I feel sad whenever we think of her. We have moved to a different state, and there is a good chance that we will never see her again. Our family prays for Jane regularly. We still care for her, and take comfort in the knowledge that she is, and always was, in the hands of God. Why am I posting this? In the hopes that our experience will resonant with others who may have endured a similar situation.

Judaism

A group of Orthodox Jews walked by while I was waiting for my children to get off a roller coaster at Knott’s Berry Farm in 2013. The men wore beards and yarmulkes and the women wore modest skirts and head coverings. Dozens of children flitted around, excited and energetic despite the heat of the day. One man sat wearily down just a few feet away on the short rock wall where I was perched. After waiting several minutes, we began talking. A few minutes later we were discussing the Old Testament (Tanakh). It was a good opportunity to learn about him, and to put in a good word for Yeshua.

A friend from work was a psychologist raised Jewish but no longer observant. His wife, both daughters, and his son were Catholic Christians. We spoke dozens of times for many hours, and I told him honestly that I prayed for his salvation. He had not yet followed Christ when I last saw him, but he remains in my prayers, and in the prayers of his family.

The Jewish people have always been small in number relative to the overall population of the world, but they have had an outsized impact. Albert Einstein, Karl Marx, and Lenin are three famous Jews in the past 200 years, but there have been many more. There are an estimated 14 million Jews in the world today, the vast majority in Israel and in the United States.

Christians and Jews have had a checkered history. They have lived together in harmony, have lived with acrimony, and have butchered each other. Since Constantine, Followers of Christ have generally been more numerous and had more power, and have oppressed and murdered multitudes of children of Abraham. Muslims and Jews today fight and die over Palestine, and secularists from Josef Stalin to Adolf Hitler have massacred untold numbers.

By helping readers of the MD Harris Institute to learn more about Judaism, I hope to improve relations and collaboration between Christians and Jews. The articles below are informal reviews on some well-known works on Judaism.

book-review-a-history-of-zionism

book-review-a-people-divided

book-review-a-short-history-of-the-jewish-people

book-review-essential-judaism-a-complete-guide-to-beliefs-customs-a-docx

book-review-messianic-judaism 

book-review-the-essential-kabbalah

 

 

 

 

 

Christianity and the Arts

How and why Christians should engage in the arts at church, at home, and in all areas of life. 

**Source Images for the The Church, the Arts, and Shaping the World for Christ.**

On 31 October 2017 the Protes***tant world will celebrate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 theses on the door of the All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther was concerned about some of the then-current practices of the Roman Catholic Church and posted 95 objections to these practices to generate conversation. He had wanted to keep the discourse within the Church and so wrote them in Latin so as to be unreadable to the masses. However, within two weeks the theses had spread all over Germany and within two months, all over Europe. In January 1518, Luther’s friends had translated the 95 theses into Germany, printed them and distributed them. Thus the Protestant Reformation was born.

Other major events were happening in Europe around the same time. The ancient Roman Empire had finally fallen when Constantinople was lost to the Turks (1453), Johannes Gutenberg made the first practical movable type printing press (c 1440), explorers were discovering the New World (1492), and the intellectual ferment of the Renaissance had begun.  Naturalism, the worldview that considers only natural elements and believes that all phenomena are covered by the laws of science, leaving no room from the supernatural or the spiritual, developed into the “Enlightenment”. The arts had long been considered the pathway to ultimate reality, but this began to change.

Protestantism, therefore, grew into maturity at about the same time that science overtook the arts as a source for truth. Protestant theology focuses on reason, Protestant churches have plain architecture and plain interiors, and Protestant religious practice avoids the emotional. Protestant evangelistic efforts focus on convincing people of the truth of the Bible and the person of Christ. Understanding that faith comes by hearing the message of God (Romans 10:17), John Calvin felt that the ear was the supreme sensory organ. Perhaps that is partly why Protestantism’s primary claim to sublimity in the arts is its music.

Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy began 1000 years earlier. Their theologies do not neglect reason but focus on authority. Cathedrals and Orthodox churches are breathtaking to behold and both liturgies overflow with ritual and history. Augustine (AD 354-430), the most famous early Christian theologian, felt that sight could be a great source of temptation and advocated Christian imagery to replace secular. This may have been a major factor in Catholic and Orthodox visual artistry.

Islam and Hinduism also emphasize beauty, ritual, the emotional and the transcendent.

Protestant and Catholic teachings distrust dance and minimize its use. Islam permits dancing, but not of the “languid, effeminate type”[1], and Hindus incorporate dance into worship. The ancient Hebrew religion and modern Judaism have a long tradition of dance (Exodus 15:20, 2 Samuel 6:14).

The World Wars, the possibility of nuclear holocaust, the inequities and insoluble problems of life have proven the inability of reason alone to solve the vexing problems of mankind. Many have rejected religion, even civic religion, and face a life with no transcendent meaning. Intuitively understanding that naturalistic philosophy is self-contradictory and emotionally unwilling to accept personal oblivion and a meaningless universe, people are searching for more. In response, new religious movements based on paganism, Eastern spirituality, technology, and even mainstream religions have proliferated.

Historically, Protestant Christians have abandoned the arts to our peril. Early reformers rightly objected to ostentation and waste, using the money of the poor to provide magnificent edifices for the rich. But they went too far. Even as God created the natural world and the science that describes it, He created the spiritual world and the arts that reflect it. The Charismatic movement has recognized the need for emotion and ritual in every Christian’s walk with God, and they are the fastest growing Christian group in the world.

Below are some articles describing the impact of the arts on practical matters in the world. I wrote them for seminary, but hope they will be of interest to other readers as well.

[1] Reliance of the Traveler, 40.4

 

**Articles and a presentation on Christianity and the Arts**

 

 

A Christian Intellectual

FAITH AND SCHOLARSHIP: WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A CHRISTIAN INTELLECTUAL?
Years ago my wife and I were buying Christmas gifts for our children and we ran across some information cards that proclaimed in bold letters “It’s OK to be smart.” I was a little surprised that anyone would think that it is not OK to be smart. Having that announcement on a stack of cards is a little like printing “It’s OK to be healthy” on a bag of apples; who would dispute it?

Nonetheless, the marketers for those cards put it there. Over the years I have noticed the same message again and again. It is on products, in the media, and even on the playground. Hearkening back to my childhood, I remember the “nerd” and the “pencil necked geek”. The “jock” would get the girls and the “brain” would get the scorn. This is not a new phenomenon.

Why? Is it because the “scholarly” are arrogant? Is it because the “non-scholarly” are envious? Is it a primarily an American thing, with the idea that any differences between people are elitist and somehow undemocratic? Is it primarily a Christian thing, because as the common saying goes, “the ground is level at the foot of the cross”, so the ground must be level in every other endeavor as well? Is it a combination of all of the above? I do not propose to definitively answer these questions in this paper, but I do intend to explore the relation between the Christian faith and scholarship; specifically “What does it mean to be a Christian intellectual”. This includes what a Christian intellectual is, what he knows, what he feels and what he does.

What is a Christian Intellectual?

Our first task, of course, is to define our terms. For our purposes, having a Christian faith means having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and having a basic understanding and practice of the teachings of the Bible. In the seminary context, being an intellectual means spending significant time and effort considering some of the deeper questions of life, such as God, origins and meaning, and communicating those thoughts to others, typically in writing and teaching.

Having defined the terms Christian and intellectual, our working definition of “Christian intellectual” is a faithful follower of Jesus Christ who spends large amounts of time in reading, writing and thinking deeply about God and some of the foundational questions of life. This is irrespective of that individual’s particular job or other sources of income. One can be an intellectual without having a job in a university or even making any money at all, as many PhDs already know.

What does a Christian Intellectual Know?

Fundamentally, a Christian intellectual is committed to the truth that God comes before all things and that ontology comes before epistemology. Since Christianity encompasses all of life and provides guidance on the person of God and the deepest questions of existence, and since this information is contained in two primary sources, Creation (general revelation) and the Bible (special revelation), the Christian intellectual must know the Bible and have a general knowledge about the world at large. He is an expert in the Bible, having a broad and deep understanding of each part, how it fits into the whole, and how people are to live as a result. The Christian intellectual also reads widely in science, economics, history, politics, and other fields to bring a broad knowledge to his work. He also knows that truth is not only composed of facts but also of beauty and goodness, Hume and Kant notwithstanding.

While it is important to understand doctrine, the basics of the Christian faith, more vital still is to act on what you know, to live the life of faith in Christ. Ellen Charry in her book By the Renewing of Your Minds makes the point beautifully, that “a central theological task is to assist people to come to God.” Building the image of Christ in believers, not merely giving them knowledge, is the task of the Bible.

Since the Enlightenment Western civilization has been enthralled with the Cartesian man, the rational creature who holds natural sciences as the king of knowledge and human reason as the key to unlock every door of truth. While the Christian intellectual knows that natural sciences declare much about their Creator and that reason is a powerful gift to reveal Him, he also understands that reason is corrupted by sin just as every other part of the human being. Reason cannot be trusted to lead man; it must be directed through faith by the God who can be trusted.

What does a Christian Intellectual Feel?

Thinking is not the only important human activity, because God made humans to feel. Even as our Lord cries (John 11:35), becomes angry (Psalm 7:11), and laughs (Psalm 2:4), humans do the same, whether they want to or not. The Christian intellectual, however, learns to feel as God feels. He becomes sad at the death of others, even if they are wicked (cf. Ezekiel 18:32), mourns with those who mourn, and rejoices with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15). The Christian intellectual tries to avoid unrighteous anger (James 1:19-20).

While Christians sometimes try to control their emotions in an attempt to pretend that everything in their lives is OK, and intellectuals tend to fear emotions, the Christian intellectual neither hides (in the long term) nor fears this important part of the makeup of man. Abraham, Moses, David and Paul are all examples of God-followers who were not afraid of feeling.

What does a Christian Intellectual Do?

James KA Smith notes in his book Desiring the Kingdom that man is not primarily a thinker or even a believer but is primarily a lover. To him, “to be human is to love, and it is what we love that defines who we are.” The Bible states that love is central to the character of God (1 John 4:8). Since love is fundamental, the Christian intellectual does what she loves. As a Christian, love for God is the central feature of her life, and her thoughts, words and actions will align with His. She will love all of Creation and love the Scriptures, as He does.

The Christian intellectual will think of the great things. He will meditate on the Scripture, ruminate on the Great Philosophers, and cogitate on the natural sciences. He will consider how to use what he has learned to help those around him. The words of a Christian intellectual will be sweeter than honey (cf. Psalm 19:10). He will use his body as well as his mind to meet the needs of those around him. Jesus, the ultimate intellectual, was also the ultimate helper of mankind. He pondered the highest thoughts, and then went to the lowest places to bless those in need.

Specifically the Christian intellectual will help her family, her neighbors, her church, and others. She will impact everyone that the Lord has placed into her path for His glory. She will gather young people around her and disciple them to be like Jesus, thus providing Christian teaching for the next generation.

The Christian intellectual will speak but also write. He knows that his work can never equal his presence, but as a mortal he must put pen to paper to reach people outside of his circle. He researches carefully, always pushing deeper to get to the true meaning of a text or artifact. He writes with skill, discipline and joy. The Christian intellectual enters the conversations that are ongoing during his lifetime and moves them towards Christ.

The Christian intellectual is imaginative, appreciating Einstein’s feeling that “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” She will be creative, synthesizing old information and old experiences into something new and beautiful.

Finally, the Christian intellectual will be a person of joy. Knowing that all truth is God’s truth, she will crave knowledge and especially wisdom. Whether she learns about trees or Timothy, caves or Colossians, she is discovering her Creator. The Christian intellectual will look at the subject matter, enjoy it deeply, and then see God in every moment.

Conclusion

People in modern Western culture may need to be convinced that it is OK to be smart, but the Christian intellectual is already convinced. Defined as “a faithful follower of Jesus Christ who spends large amounts of time in reading, writing and thinking deeply about God and some of the foundational questions of life”, a Christian intellectual does everything possible to make himself and those around like Jesus. He will know deep and important things. He will feel with a human passion and godly restraint. He will do good works with everything in his power, as directed by his Creator. He will make disciples, because success without successors is failure. Ultimately, the Christian intellectual will know and live for Jesus, the author and finisher of his faith.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Charry, Ellen T. By the Renewing of Your Minds: The Pastoral Function of Christian Doctrine. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Good Reads. “Quotes.” Albert Einstein, Quotes, Quotable Quote. Last modified January 28, 2015. Accessed January 28, 2015. http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/556030-imagination-is-more-important-than-knowledge-for-knowledge-is-limited.

Sire, James W. Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Smith, James K A. Cultural Liturgies. Vol. 1, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009.