Sunday, April 18, 2021

Jesus and the Cross: Was There No Other Option?

 

Healing for a broken world

Do you think it is possible to over-celebrate the resurrection of Jesus? I do not mean to give it greater importance than it warrants. Jesus’ resurrection is of supreme importance, after all. But I wonder whether, in celebrating Jesus’ resurrection, we somehow disconnect what the resurrection means from what Jesus’ death means. Jesus was unjustly killed, after all, receiving neither fair trial nor accurate charges of wrongdoing. So he died on a Roman cross and on Sunday he was raised from death.

That is of course what the Scriptures say. But we must be careful not to see Jesus before Resurrection Sunday as someone who was simply railroaded and stood trial in a kangaroo court, for whom crucifixion was just a tragic end of an otherwise exemplary life, and which God corrected after three days.

For Jesus died on purpose, not by accident, by his own intention, not by circumstance. In Mark chapter 8, Jesus taught his disciples that he “must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” Matthew records Jesus saying that he came “to give his life as a ransom for many” (20.28). All the Gospels recount similar expressions by Jesus.

Without Jesus’ death, of course, there could be no resurrection at all. But Jesus’ death on Friday was not an accident that was simply reversed on Sunday, nor was it merely a way station of desolation en route to a Sunday of glory. Jesus’ death was as central to salvation as the resurrection. Indeed, the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection is inextricably bound with the meaning of his death.

So when we celebrate Easter and what it means, we should think about why Jesus had to die to deliver us from our sins and reconcile us to God. Which is to say, why did God not choose a different, non-lethal manner of redeeming sinful humanity?

In the religious and world view of the ancient Jews, including the apostles, there was a reasonably straightforward answer: sins are remitted through sacrifice and the shedding of blood. The New Testament’s book of Hebrews goes directly to that point in verse 9.22: “… without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”

The apostles believed this but went one step further. If remission of sins required the sacrifice of life, then no sacrifice could top that of the actual self-sacrifice of God in the flesh, a perfect sacrifice for which there could never be any improvement. This is developed in more detail in Hebrews 10, which can be summed up that the death of Jesus was eternally effective by itself and took place “once for all” and for all time. So Christians do not practice any kind of blood sacrifice for the remission of our sins. That was taken care of two thousand years ago and nothing we can do can improve it.

The Roman Catholic and Protestant churches don’t go much further than that since the Western church very early adopted a mostly-legal view of sin. That is, sin is a transgression of God’s law and God adjudges us not guilty because Jesus suffered the punishment that we deserve. This is the doctrine of atonement, which simply states that someone must bear the punishment for human ways of sin and death, someone has to clear the debt. Jesus’ death on the cross is what does it.

But this is an incomplete understanding of sin. In the Eastern Church, centered in Constantinople, salvation is developed more as healing of our sin-sick souls than pardon for wrongdoing, although there is still that, too. Speaking Greek, not Latin, the Eastern churches knew all along that the Greek word for Savior, soter, means "healing." And this insight forms their understanding of salvation significantly. Here is an example:

Luke 5:17-20

17 One day, while he was teaching … 18 … some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; 19 but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus.

20 When he saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.”

Jesus was well known as a healer by then, and presumably this man’s friends went to such great lengths to get this guy in front of Jesus, so Jesus would heal him in his body.


...Apparently, Jesus did not see it that way. Jesus didn’t see the friends' help as determination for the man but as faithfulness in himself. So instead of saying, “Stand up and walk,” he said, “Your sins are forgiven,” a declaration not apparently connected to why that man was there. In fact, he didn’t tell the man to stand up and walk until some others there challenged him right away that only God, not Jesus, could forgive sins. ‘Which is easier for me,’ Jesus answered, ‘forgiving sins or making this man walk? I’ll show you.’ So he told the man to stand up and walk, and he did.

We call Jesus the Great Physician, and so he is, but Jesus has a better understanding of what needs healing than we do. On our prayer lists are persons who are ill or injured, in therapy or full-time care, and we pray for them. We should pray for them. But which of us asks the congregation to pray for one’s sin-sick souls, stricken by habits of sin, addictions to ungodly pastimes, failing marriages, short tempers, over-crowded calendars or misuse of the time and resources God has given us?

The sickness of the human soul is deep and fatal. Sin is a terminal illness for which we have no cure. Only God does, and the cure was the death of Jesus Christ.

As an historical event, the death of Jesus was not unusual. In a long line of lethal violence stretching from Cain and Abel to Auschwitz, Hiroshima, New York and Syria, Jesus’s personal fate was simply one of untold millions for which evil triumphed and goodness was buried.

Jesus was not the first person to give his life on the behalf of others. In fact, no one of Good Friday thought Jesus died on anyone’s behalf. Since the apostles’ day, though, Christian people have held that Jesus lived and died to offer himself as a ransom for all, as atonement for our sins, as a blood offering and sacrifice by which we may be made right before God. How can this be?

The wages of sin is death, wrote Paul, and nothing but death, buddy, and if we think we can cure ourselves from this 100-percent fatal illness then there is no truth in us. But even if we accept the scriptural claim that there are none of us who do good, no not one, and that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, then what made it necessary that God become man and die on a cross to redeem us from our state?

The Church has held for two thousand years that God could save by any means God chooses, for God is sovereign in power and decision. And this Christ on the cross is the way we know God did choose.

And yet the question, “Why?” is not easily dismissed. It has no answer, really, except love. For we know that God became human because of love, and that God’s ultimate self-sacrifice was the fulfillment of love. It was from love that the Son of God was born, so that through God’s grace through our faith in him, we shall enjoy eternal life with God. For God did not send his Son into the world to reject us but bring us to himself forever (John 3:16-17).

But why did this love require a death?

I knew a man at Vanderbilt who had lost his eight-year-old son to cancer. The father said that when his son was first diagnosed, he knelt by his son's bed and prayed to God to heal his son. The cancer worsened until it was clear the boy’s illness would not be reversed. The father said that when this fear gripped him, he started offering himself in prayer to God, kneeling by his sleeping boy and begging God with tears and anguish that if cancer there must be, to take the cancer from his child and put it inside himself.

But who can God pray to? When faced with the sickness unto death of humankind, we turn to God, but who does God turn to? For he is God, there is no other and there is no one whom God can turn to but himself. To me, that’s what God concluded: “No one can handle this but me. Human sin ends in death and only I can die for all humanity. I must be born of woman and take all the sin of the world to my death, even death on a cross. I, God, will take their illness into myself and bear it away. If death there must be – and there must be death because sin is fatal – then I will suffer the death so that they may be healed and may live.”

We tend to think of sin judicially and see it dealt with in a kind of theological court, where we are found not guilty based on the pleading of Christ. But I think it is helpful also to see sin as a deep illness in the human being that we cannot cure ourselves. In the mind of God, healing this illness must be of ultimate value, the very perfection of creation. So out of love for his children, God became born a man and took upon himself all the spiritual deficiencies of humanity. Jesus, “in whom dwelt the Godhead bodily,” who was without sin or spiritual sickness, took upon himself all the sin of humankind, the deep illness of the human soul. And so we are made well. The prophet Isaiah put it this way:
 

By his stripes we are healed
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed (Isa 53:4-5).

The apostle Paul wrote in Second Corinthians,

... God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting human sins against them. ... God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:19, 21).

The book of Hebrews offers this insight:

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death ... (Heb 2:14).

Easter’s glory should make us confront ourselves, examine our souls and reconsider how we live and why. For even though Jesus’s death was ordinary in nature, it was extraordinary in character, for in his death we find our life. Old Testament scholar Gene Tucker, pondering Isaiah’s prophecy, wrote,
 

There are times when we must simply surrender because we can find no way forward without God’s grace and truth. There are times when we must surrender because the ways we have chosen to go bear only God’s judgment, and we know that. But there are also times when we must surrender because God has laid hold of us so dramatically that we can scarcely do else. When this happens, the speech we get is directly from God. It comes upon us and shows us a truth we never before could have entertained. And then our tongue is free for confession and release; our sins do not overwhelm us because we can see them clearly and report them freely, because they have been clearly and freely taken away from us and laid upon another.

The tragedy of the human condition is that this salvation cost God the life of his Son, but the deep mystery of the divine nature is that in Christ's death, God sacrificed himself, for the Son and the Father are the one and the same. By the wounds that we inflicted upon him, we are made whole. By his stripes we are healed, thanks be to God!

Friday, April 16, 2021

Marxists making money, as usual

Anyone who has studied the history of Marxist movements (and derivatives) across the world comes to understand what the very basic, indeed foundational principle of Marxism and related ideologies are.

Their only real objective is to make their leadership - the "Revolutionary Vanguard," in proper Marxist terms - fabulously wealthy with rights, privileges, and opportunities that they deliberately deny to the proletariat.
Folks, that's it. That is the very fundamental purpose of Marxism and all related ideologies, including all the so-called "social-justice" militancies active in America today.
And this is nowhere better illustrated (for now) than by the latest report of Black Lives Matter's self-described Marxist leader, Patrisse Khan-Cullors.

Understand this: BLM's leadership shows evidence of no other active agenda except to continue this scam. All the rhetoric and demonstrations are deceitful, deliberately so. This, and only this, is what BLM is actually intent on doing, because its leadership has no other plan or purpose.
And what was the reason she gave? Her many words can be fully accurately summarized in only four words: "Because I deserve it."
If you want to be awakened, rather than deceitfully "woke," just read this.

Glenn Reynolds reminds us: In a famous Soviet joke, then-General Secretary of the Communist Party Leonid Brezhnev shows his mother his luxury apartment, his limousine, his fancy country house and his helicopter only to have her object: ‘But Leonid, what if the communists find out?'

Related, from 2019: "Donald Trump is a symptom of a new kind of class warfare raging at home and abroad." What’s happening in America is an echo of what’s happening in democracies around the world, and it’s not happening because of Trump.


Marxist scholars in the West simply adapted their revolutionary theory to the social and racial unrest of the 1960s. Abandoning Marx’s economic dialectic of capitalists and workers, they substituted race for class and sought to create a revolutionary coalition of the dispossessed based on racial and ethnic categories.
California public schools are embarking on a new experiment: education as social justice. Earlier this year, the state Department of Education approved an ethnic studies model curriculum, and individual school districts have begun to implement programs that advocate “decolonizing” the United States and “liberating” students from capitalism, patriarchy, and settler colonialism. ...

I have obtained documents from one such program, the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Ethnic Studies Initiative, that paint a disturbing picture of the ethnic studies curriculum and the activists leading the charge. According to the documents and to sources within the district, the Office of Education held a series of teacher-training sessions on how to deploy ethnic studies in the classroom. The leaders, including district staff, an advisor for the state Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, and a professor from San Jose State University, encouraged teachers to inject left-wing politics into the classroom and to hide controversial materials from parents.


Wednesday, April 14, 2021

We become what we focus on

The severest punishment God ever lays upon us is to let us have what we want.

"Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he."
Proverbs 29.18, King James Version

Jason Gould is a Vanderbilt University student who, though liberal and progressive, fell afoul of the "woke" Gestapo (yes I use that word intentionally) that operates on almost every campus today. He was savaged by the campus newspaper and other attacks while the university administration found other things to occupy its attention, like watching the grass grow. One university staffer even took part. This despite the fact that he was running for student government office, for which Vanderbilt's rules specifically forbid personal attacks upon any candidate. Oh, he was (a) white and (b) Jewish, so he was automatically guilty of everything. He relates
The other candidates’ supporters tore down our posters and ripped my head off pictures. Fake social media posts circulated that my fraternity had parties with Confederate flags and chanted that the South would rise again. One message said, “White men are the absolute worst!” and “He should get dragged for it!” Then came the anti-Semitism: “Hitler got something right!”
 
This was a victimhood arms race. I was cast as a white, male evil-doer who must be shamed and punished for all the white man’s sins. I was unfit to hold office. My economic inclusion work didn’t mean a thing. I was paraded out for a social media stoning, and the social justice mob would stop at nothing.
 
Everything I had worked for was destroyed, and so was my reputation. I felt unsafe to walk on campus. The other candidates were elected unopposed. They made "misogynoir" their campaign slogan. I had no choice but to drop out of the election race for my physical safety and mental health and leave Nashville for someplace safe.
 
Vanderbilt’s campaign rules prohibit negative campaigning and ban any remark or attack about a candidate’s personal character. These rules require collegiality and civility, but Vanderbilt stood by while this angry mob weaponized social justice, targeted me, threatened me, and ran me out of town.
 
I’ve begun to believe that for some of my attackers, social justice is a cover for people who get pleasure from inflicting harm on others — straight-up bullying made a hundred times worse on social media. When did woke culture become so toxic? Some are cowards who hide behind an avatar. I am through being trampled on, but I shouldn’t have to fight back. When the social justice mob came for me, my university did nothing.

[Italics added] 

"When did woke culture become so toxic?" Well, it began toxic and went downhill from there. Gould is right, though - show me a "woke" warrior and I will show you someone who will someday be quite gleeful about flogging class enemies into the gulag. Consider this tweet:


We are a very short way from the Stalinist modus operandi
  1. Show me the man or woman, and I will tell you their crimes. 
  2. You may not be guilty of anything at all, but you are a member of a class - that is, a racial or religious group - that is guilty of everything. 
So what does all that have to do with Proverbs 29.18? Here it is again: "Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he" -- King James Version. 

The KJV text, though well known, poorly communicates what the verse is trying to say. The KJV was done in the very early 1600s and for today, it just is not a good translation.

"Vision" refers to spiritual sight, more properly, spiritual insight. The verse, properly understood in its context and intention, is actually one of the most important warnings and assurances in the entire Bible.

Try this: When the people lose sight of God’s will, they go astray, but they prosper when they keep God’s law.

"The people" in the verse does not refer just to a worshiping congregation, but in the context of its time, a national people, the people of ancient Israel. The verse is talking about national consequences of ignoring God and the benefits of cleaving to God's commandments.

Bible Gateway has a long list of different translations and renderings. The ERV's translation is probably the best: "If a nation is not guided by God, the people will lose self-control, but the nation that obeys God’s law will be happy."

One Hebrew word study I read said that the real thrust of the verse is that when the nation loses sight of godliness, it descends into anarchy. We become what we focus on. When we lose sight of God and God's will for our lives, we become ungodly. That never ends well, either for individuals, churches or nations.

Here is a key point: God commandments were revealed to humanity. We did not make them up. We are so far removed from their revelation that we think that morality, as we understand it, is the natural way that people live together. In fact, the societies around the ancient Jews and early Christians were brutal.
 
The Romans considered mercy, charity and forgiveness to be vices, not virtues. Roman parents beat their children for the showing weakness of mercy. Human morality absent divine commandment is base and as Proverbs says, descends finally into anarchy. We will either rule our passions or be ruled by them. As St Paul put it, "God cannot be disregarded." Note well: he did not write God "should not be" or "must not be," but cannot be disregarded. It is not possible. He continued, "You will harvest what you plant."

Morally, our capacities are weighted toward the negative side of the scale. People intend greater good than they achieve. Treaties, alliances, aid organizations, political parties, civic groups, even churches – all begun for good reasons to accomplish good things, and all fall short of what their founders intended.

Hence the necessity of God giving the moral law. My friend and former co-author Rabbi Daniel Jackson wrote, "There are obvious logical elements of the Law of Sinai that might be deduced logically (or rationally). Yet, much of the Scriptures is based on directives and rules that we would not have known if the Scriptures did not tell us so."

God's Law frees us from the baser demons of our being so that we may discover the better angels of our nature. Every choice to depart from God's Law chips away at our integrity as persons belonging to Jesus. Integrity matters!

During his time as a rancher, Theodore Roosevelt and one of his cowpunchers lassoed a maverick steer, lit a fire, and put a branding iron in it to heat. The part of the range they were on was actually owned by Gregor Lang, one of Roosevelt's neighbors. According to the cattleman's rule, the steer therefore belonged to Lang. Roosevelt saw his employee, the cowboy, raise the glowing branding iron toward the steer, but it was Roosevelt's brand. "Wait, it should be Lang's brand," he said.

"That's all right, boss," said the cowboy. "Lang will never know."

"Drop that iron," Roosevelt demanded, "go back to the ranch, get your things and get out." Roosevelt later explained, "A man who will steal for me will steal from me."

Integrity, says Webster's, is "adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty." And that takes the willingness and ability to cleave to a standard, whether you call it the law or a code or something else. Choices matter, and the choices we make are not isolated from one another.

The issue is more acute for young people than for me or those older than me. It sounds trite to say but it's nonetheless true that we grew up in a different time than you. The advice to "do your own thing" was unknown to us and we would never have even thought of agreeing that something may be right for you and wrong for me, or vice-versa, depending on our own inclinations, points of view and what we simply want to believe.

The problem is that to be a man or woman in 2021 is to believe in nothing. Or more accurately, to believe in nothing in particular. The spirit of this age gleefully embraces that nothing underlies fundamental reality, making, in the words of David Hart, "a fertile void in which all things are [claimed] possible, from which arises no impediment" to our desires and therefore we may decide for ourselves what is right or wrong and what we choose.


Which is to say that modern America as a whole no longer believes that there are objective criteria by which to judge our choices because being able to choose in the first place is the highest good there is. Therefore, all judgment, whether divine or human, infringes on choosing – and being able to choose according to one's own standards exercises "an almost mystical supremacy over all other concerns."

This is a purely modern idea. In centuries past, even before Jesus was born, true human freedom was understood as liberation "from whatever constrains us from living a life of rational virtue" and that led to our intellectual and spiritual flourishing. Freedom was the ability to overcome "our willful surrender to momentary impulses, [including] our own foolish or wicked choices."
"In this view of things [said Hart], we are free when we achieve that end toward which our inmost nature is oriented ... and whatever separates us from that end -- even if it comes from our own wills -- is a form of bondage. We are free not merely because we can choose, but only when we have chosen well."
For to choose poorly is to enslave ourselves to the impermanent, the irrational and eventually the destructive. Simply choosing, unconnected from divine guidance and godly standards, is to choose ultimately to reject freedom and to be enslaved to what Paul called the body of death and finally to choose to perish rather than attain everlasting life.

God's law enables human beings to be freed from the shackles of spiritual and mental bondage that prevent us from being saved in this life and the next. Paul's advice of Romans 12 holds true: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."

Even Jesus understood that a life of choosing rightly is not easy. "Enter through the narrow gate," he said, "for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it."

What to do and how? Paul tells us that in Philippians 4:8: “… Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

It's not easy to live rightly to remain free. It is bondage to death and sin that is easy. But we can break those chains if we keep focused on God. Then we will be free indeed.

Friday, April 9, 2021

The pitfalls of piety, the dangers of mercy


I have sometimes thought that Jesus' resurrection and Ascension was made evident to Mary and the other disciples in their ordinary lives in part to demonstrate that there is no real dividing line between the Kingdom here and now and the the Kingdom there and then. Think of the Kingdom of God as a house. The death of our present bodies is simply a door leading from one living room of the Kingdom to another. But they are rooms in the same house. 

After all, Jesus could have been raised from death and he could have returned to the Father with no witnesses to either event. The Holy Spirit could still have come and if Gabriel had appeared before the disciples and announced Jesus raised and ascended I think they would have believed. 

But instead, Jesus died and was raised in "this room" of the eternal House of God. He lived, and lived again, in this time and this place - and the same Jesus who did that then ascended bodily to the "other room" of the House of God. There is a distinction between the two rooms, but it is a weak distinction. What they have in common is far stronger. 

That said, I think that Dallas Willard overstates his point. I know one danger is to be so heavenly minded we will be of no earthly good. But I disagree that the Gospels are "less" about eternal salvation than right living now. I do not think that Jesus made that distinction. It is one, single Kingdom and he preached to live it in starting now. But he never said that "getting to Heaven" was less important than right living now. In fact, I think that such a statement would have struck Jesus as nonsensical. 

I would have us bear in mind what C.S. Lewis said in "The Problem of Pain," 

We are very shy nowadays of even mentioning Heaven. We are afraid of the jeer about "pie in the sky," and of being told that we are trying to "escape from the duty of making a happy world here and now into dreams of a happy world elsewhere." But either there is "pie in the sky" or there is not. If there is not, then Christianity is false, for this doctrine is woven into its whole fabric. If there is, then this truth, like any other, must be faced, whether it is useful at political meetings or not.

And from "Mere Christianity:"

Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither. It seems a strange rule, but something like it can be seen at work in other matters. Health is a great blessing, but the moment you make health one of your main, direct objects you start becoming a crank and imagining there is something wrong with you. You are only likely to get health provided you want other things more—food, games, work, fun, open air. In the same way, we shall never save civilisation along as civilisation is our main object. We must learn to want something else even more. 

It may be argued - and in fact, my colleague Joey Reed does so argue - that Lewis also overstated his case. As Joey wrote, 

The Kingdom of Heaven is rich enough to extend from the past to the present to the future. Those who relegate it to one or the other have chosen chocolate or vanilla or strawberry when the box clearly says "Neapolitan".


It's all one box of ice cream. In Joey's and my Wesleyan tradition, we avoid over-concentrating on which room of the house we are in by staying on balance in Christian discipleship. I did not originate this diagram, but is captures what healthy discipleship is:
Discipleship is not either-or one side or one level, but not the other. It is both-and. If we overemphasize piety, we risk morphing into "I got mine" Christians, whom Jesus quite specifically said in Matthew 25 he would eject from his presence. If we overemphasize works of mercy, we risk developing a messiah complex of our own, thinking that the Kingdom can be realized here and now in its entirety and that society can be perfected by ourselves - especially by politics apart from God-Christ-Church. And good luck facing Jesus with that. 

John Wesley said that we are obligated to move on to Christian perfection in this life. He never thought he had done so, although in his journals he named a handful of persons he thought had. He cautioned that perfection in this life is not perfection's end state, but just the best we can do in this life. He defined it as reaching a point at which one does not consciously sin. 

I rarely argue with Wesley, but I think he missed it there. I believe German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer proved it in the great dilemma he faced in opposing Hitler. His dilemma was not whether to oppose him at all, that was a no-brainer. The dilemma was by what means, namely whether to actively be part of a plot to remove Hitler from power, even killing him to do it. 

To murder someone even as evil as Hitler, Bonhoeffer thought, was to sin. But to be passive against someone as evil as Hitler was also sinful. Which was the greater sin, or did that question even make sense? This problem illustrates the potential conflict between piety and mercy. 

Finally, Bonhoeffer concluded that he would be judged for following either course. He chose to be judged for trying to end Hitler's terror reign early rather than wait for it passively. Bonhoeffer was arrested in 1943 and was finally imprisoned at Flossenb├╝rg concentration camp, Germany. There he was hanged just two weeks before American soldiers liberated the camp. 

Bonhoeffer's decision is the reverse of Wesley's description of Christian perfection. Bonhoeffer came to realize that this life presents us with irreconcilable problems. There was no "unconscious" sin for Bonhoeffer to commit. There was only a deliberate, conscious decision to sin either by passivity or by action. 

He recalled Martin Luther's admonition, “Sin boldly. But believe even more boldly in Christ, and rejoice.”  Bonhoeffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship,
This gospel seeks us and justifies us exactly as sinners. Admit your sin boldly; do not try to flee from it, but ‘believe much more boldly.'
In this he realized that no course of action was judgment-free. He was going to sin either passively, by doing nothing, or "boldly," by becoming an active co-conspirator to kill Hitler. All he could do was admit his sin at least as boldly fully and trust in God all the more. 

The pitfall of American Christianity is that it is easy. The pious among us are almost never tested in our piety and the merciful among us are over-tested in our mercy. Christ's grace is cheap when we feel no cost to ourselves to live it out. The over-pious put themselves outside the fray and the over-merciful let themselves be consumed by it. Either position increases human suffering both in this life and the next.  

We must not be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good. But we must never be so earthly good that we omit ourselves and others from the eternal kingdom. 

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Why there is no such thing as a corporate tax

 

First, corporations do not pay any corporate tax — individuals do. That is because companies pass on their costs. Some of the tax is paid by consumers, who pay higher prices. Company employees pay some of the tax through lower wages. And investors’ retirement accounts pay some of the tax through lower returns. ...
 
In a 2020 study by Scott R. Baker of Northwestern University, Stephen Teng Sun of City University of Hong Kong, and Constantine Yannelis of the University of Chicago estimate that 31 percent of the cost of an increase in corporate taxes is borne by consumers, 38 percent by workers, and 31 percent by shareholders, or about a third each. Other studies have found different ratios. A 2020 Tax Policy Center study, a joint effort between the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution, estimates an 80–20 split between investors and labor. The Tax Foundation’s Stephen J. Entin estimated in 2017 that labor pays 70 percent or more of the corporate tax. Differences aside, these studies share a common conclusion: Ultimately, corporations themselves pay no corporate tax.

And you know what? There is no way to make them. I do not mean the government should not make them pay it, or must not make them pay it. I mean that the government cannot make them pay it for one simple reason: corporations have no money of their own. Every dollar they pay in corporate taxes has to come from somewhere. Unlike the government, corporations cannot print their own money. 

This is not where Amazon gets its money:


This is:


When the administration says it will raise corporate tax rates, what it really means is that it will raise your personal tax rate through indirect means. Make no mistake, this is not a tax on Amazon or Kroger or Tesla or Apple. It is a tax on 

  • all of us who shop there or anywhere else, paid through higher prices, 
  • everyone who works for any company subject to the tax, paid by lower wages and salaries,
  • any retiree whose retirement funds include those companies from lower returns (which means every retiree with a 401(k) or any other private pension fund),
  • every American regardless of age or income because the effect will also lead to higher inflation because higher consumer prices will not be matched by higher supply of consumer goods.
But we voted for it last November, so all is well, right? After all, "Democracy is the idea that the common folk know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard" - H.L. Mencken.

The White Supremacists who run the MLB



Now we know that the MLB All-Star game, having been canceled in Atlanta, will be played in Denver.
 
I will skip over the fact that Colorado's voting laws are more suppressive of minority voting than the new Ga. law that was the putative cause of the MLB game being yanked from Georgia.
 
To be blunt (and yes, I am serious about this): moving this game is white supremacy in action.
 
Slightly more than half of Atlanta's residents are black. Less than 10 percent of Denver's residents are black. Denver is one of the whitest major cities in the United States.
 
Who will suffer the estimated $100 million loss of revenue in Atlanta? Even Stacy Abrams and the Atlanta Braves organization were clear on that when they urged the MLB not to move the game: thousands of black Atlantans who staff, operate, supply, and retail the game venue itself and all the city's related business operations.

And who will be the new beneficiaries of that largesse? White Denver people, that's who.

So, tell me this: anyone who thinks the move to Denver was not racially motivated needs to explain just what the MLB would have done differently if it had been racially motivated. Anything?

For the record, I do not think it was so motivated. But that is quite irrelevant according to the tenets of Critical Race Theory. Intention does not matter - CRT holds that whites are not even aware of their own intentions regarding race.

The fact is that MLB effectively decided to take enormous revenue away from People of Color in Atlanta and give it to white people in Denver - who are already privileged to begin with simply because they are white.

Welcome to the world of White Woke.

Update: Gerard Baker in the WSJ:
The men who run Major League Baseball, Delta Air Lines, Coca-Cola and other giants have been quick to mouth the required antiphony of the modern liturgy. After long careers in which they seemed happy to let their talents propel them to unimaginable wealth, they’ve now discovered that the society that elevated them was founded in evil.
 
But instead of doing the honorable thing, and stepping down in favor of some less-privileged underling, they demonstrate a commitment to the faith by denouncing others. Here you have the essence of the new faith and morals of the woke classes, the truly privileged people in our society: I’m not to blame, you understand; it’s all those other white folk.


Sunday, April 4, 2021

Easter Zero: Mary Magdalene and Peter on Easter Morning

Easter Zero: Mary Magdalene and Peter on Easter Morning

The Gospel of John, chapter 20:

1Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”


 MARY:

My name is Mary Magdalene. I am a devoted follower of Jesus of Nazareth, later called the Christ. I knew Jesus very well. I owed my life to him - he cast out seven demons from me, serious disorders that would have killed had Jesus not intervened. When he healed me I decided to serve him for the rest of my life.

After Jesus healed me I became deeply aware and remorseful of my sins, which were many. Jesus told me that my sins were forgiven. It was outright blasphemy for Jesus to say that because only God can forgive sins. I started to protest, but then my entire mind and body was transfused with a sensation of holiness I had never known before, and all at once I knew my sins really were forgiven.

Looking back at Jesus' ministry I can see that his conflict with both the Jewish and Roman high authorities was almost inevitable. By the time Jesus went to Jerusalem, he could gather large crowds with no difficulty. After Jesus raised Lazarus from his tomb after Lazarus had been dead for four days, you can bet that large crowds were routine.

Everyone knew that the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate, was deeply suspicious of large crowds of Jews. He had already sent his cavalry riding through crowds with swords swinging. The high priest and most of the Jewish high council became alarmed that Pilate would conclude that Jesus was a budding insurrectionist and the crowds would become Jesus' mobs. If Pilate then acted like, well, Pilate, his troops would kill thousands of Jews.

Because Jesus was so popular with the people, the council tried to figure out how to silence him without causing a riot. So they arranged for him to be sent to Pilate under accusation as a political insurrectionist, so that Pilate would have him executed. However, Pilate simply sentenced Jesus to receive forty lashes. Then the Council stirred up their own followers, gathered outside, to threaten to report to Caesar that Pilate was disloyal to him. So Pilate sent Jesus to Golgotha to be crucified.

I was beneath the cross when Jesus died. Several of us women disciples were there, including Jesus' mother. I have never known greater despair. Imagine how his mother felt. After Joseph of Arimathea got custody of Jesus' body and laid it in his own tomb, we women had to wait until sundown Saturday to prepare the ointments for Jesus' body and so we went to the tomb very early Sunday morning to finish the burial rites.

We wondered along the way how we would remove the very heavy stone sealing the tomb. So we were very surprised to discover the stone was gone. When we went inside the tomb Jesus' body was not there. I ran to see Peter, whom I found with the disciple named John, whom Jesus loved.

I told them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

 

The Gospel of John:

3So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. 8Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9(They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)

PETER:

I am Peter. I had a well-deserved reputation of being one who usually didn't look before he leaped. On the night when Jesus was arrested by the Temple police in Gethsemane, I had a sword. I drew it and cut off an ear of a fellow named Malchus, a servant of the high priest. This was rather foolish – we disciples had only two swords among us, certainly not enough to make a stand against the Temple’s troops.

Jesus told me to put my sword away and said that if he chose, he could summon thousands of angels to protect him. Then he let the Temple troops lead him away while the rest of us ran away. After a while I screwed up the courage to follow. I knew that they were taking Jesus to the High Priest's house for arraignment. That was routine, but I didn't know he would face a mock court there right away.

There were a lot of people outside. I did not dare risk being identified as one of Jesus' disciples. I was not afraid of being arrested myself. If that had been true, I would not have gone to the high priest's house in the first place. Only John was with me because he had the other sword. We hoped that we would have a chance to grab Jesus from his captors and make a run for it.

That was why it was crucial for us not to be recognized and why I denied three times that I even knew who Jesus was when someone said that I was one of Jesus' followers. My Galilean accent had given me away.

Jesus had told me early that very evening that I would deny him three times before a rooster crowed near dawn, and right after I denied him the third time a rooster did crow. It was like being hit with a hammer. I wept bitterly because I had failed to rescue my Lord, but mainly because I suddenly realized what a worldly man I was. Jesus was Messiah and knew it, but he was a suffering Savior, not a conquering one. He never called for an army, he never tried to raise any troops. The idea that he wanted to overthrow the Romans by force was idiotic. But all night I had been acting as if I was a foot soldier in a worldly “Jesus army.” I had failed to rescue Jesus and I had failed to live and act according to his standards rather than my own.



So when Mary told me that Jesus' body was missing, John and I stared at one another a moment and then we ran to the tomb. John was faster and got there first, but he stopped at the entrance. I bounded right by him into the tomb and then John followed. Jesus' grave wrappings were lying there just as if they had collapsed when his body was taken, which was very odd. The cloth covering his head was lying where his head had lain. Why would someone disrobe his body before stealing it? It made no sense.

Mary had said that Jesus' body was gone and so it was. We had to believe her. Frankly, it did not occur to us that Jesus was raised because we didn't understand the Scriptures about that yet. Later we did, but not that morning.

 

The Gospel of John:

10Then the disciples went back to their homes, 11but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15“Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

 Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

16Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

17Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

 

MARY:

After Peter and John saw that the tomb was empty, just as I had told them, they went home. But I couldn't take it anymore. I just broke down and cried. I peered into the tomb again, tears falling down my cheeks.

And there were two figures seated on the stone platform where Jesus' body had lain, each sitting on one end. They were dressed in pure white. I just stared because I could not figure out how they could have got inside without Peter, John or I seeing them. We had been standing either inside the tomb or right at its entrance. It was only later that I realized they had to have been angels.

They asked why I was crying and who I was looking for. Well, obviously, I was looking for Jesus. Why else would I be looking inside his tomb? But a direct question deserves a direct answer. So I said, “They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him.” They said nothing more.

Peter and John had gone home and I thought I should, too. I turned away and saw a man there who looked like one of the groundskeepers. Maybe he knew why Jesus' body was gone. "If you have taken him," I implored, "tell me where and I will reclaim him."

And then the man spoke to me. "Mary," he said.



My heart melted. It could not be possible! I had helped prepare Jesus for burial! I had handled his battered body and had seen the holes in his hands and feet and the deep gash in his side made by a Roman spear. And yet there Jesus was, standing before me! I could hardly breathe. I could only gasp out, "Teacher!" and reach out to him before I fell from shock.

Jesus pulled back a little. "Don't hold on to me," he said, and then told me to go tell the disciples that he was returning whence he came, to the presence of the one God of us all.

I felt I was about to burst! I ran back to Peter and John.

 

PETER:

Mary came blowing through the doorway out of breath, face flushed, eyes glistening and with a face utterly transformed from infinite sadness to stunned, radiant joyfulness. We didn't move for a moment and then thought that someone must be chasing her. She placed her hand on her throat and exclaimed, "I have seen the Lord!" and then told us what had happened at the tomb after we had left.

Well, we didn't really believe her. We didn't exactly disbelieve her, mind. Mary had always seemed level headed. But her story was just too incredible. Dead men, you see, do not ordinarily rise from the dead. But then, we'd seen Lazarus do it by Jesus' command. So we could not dismiss Mary's tale out of hand even though we knew that women generally were not reliable witnesses. That's why their legal testimony was worth only half of a man's.

On the other hand, she had just before then told us that Jesus' body was missing and it proved true. So we reserved judgment on her claim she had seen Jesus risen from the dead. But it certainly was the main topic of our conversation for the rest of the day. That night all doubt was put to rest. We were all together except for Thomas. Later, Jesus appeared to us and showed his wounds.

We were overjoyed!


Thursday, April 1, 2021

Does God have a plan for your life? Well, not really. A Maundy Thursday Reflection


Well, not so fast. Is this claim actually supported by Scripture?

The Thursday before Easter is called Maundy Thursday by Christians around the world. The word Maundy is derived from the same Latin word as the English word, "mandate." Maundy Thursday reminds of Christ's commandments and our obligation to obey them. 

Immediately after the Day of Pentecost and its empowerment of the church by the Holy Spirit, Peter and the other disciples began preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem. Acts records that "great numbers of both men and women" were converted to faith in Christ by their preaching. As a result, the Jewish high priest and some allies on the Jewish high council had the apostles arrested and locked in prison.
But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors, brought them out, and said, 20 'Go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life.' 21When they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and went on with their teaching" (Acts 5:19-21).
When the council discovered it, they had the Temple police bring Peter and the others to stand before them.
Acts 5:27-32:
27 When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.”
   
29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. 30 The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”
“We must obey God,” the apostles said. I have to tell you, I am not impressed by those words. God commands it! That was what Osama bin Laden declared before 9/11, when he said that it is the duty of every Muslim to kill infidels wherever they are found. Since then al Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram, and other such groups have made grisly work of what they insist is divine duty.
  
Now, it's easy to point fingers at Muslim terrorists. In fact, it's required, but it doesn't get us Christians off the hook. When I was a boy, I worked a couple of summers in the now-gone Woodlawn Market in Nashville. The owner, "Pappy," was the staunchest racist I ever met in person. He was absolutely ironclad in his belief that God's will was that black people be oppressed. He was convinced beyond persuasion otherwise that black skin was the mark of Cain. Cain was the first murderer in the Bible, whom God sent to exile with every hand against him. Racism was to Pappy literally a holy duty.
   
I am guessing that most of us can think of someone who was convinced he or she was obeying God in things we thought were disturbing, even shocking. So I read Peter's retort to the high priest as potentially troubling. "There's what you want and there's what God wants," Peter is saying. "And we obey God, not you."
   
That's real in-your-face stuff, and following verses explain that the officials there were so vexed at Peter's defiance they wanted to kill the apostles.

I am going to take the high priest's side here, at least for a moment. I don't defend his desire to have Peter killed. But the high priest and I have something in common. We're both clergy of well-established religions. When something upsets the apple cart of proper religious order, we get our hackles up and immediately set about trying to bring it under our control.
   
Of course, this makes us no different from business managers or most parents. But what makes the issue especially nettlesome for clergy is that we formally recognize that the Holy Spirit is supposed to be breaking in and upsetting our apple cart. In fact, I often think that one on the main reasons the Holy Spirit came to enliven the church on the Day of Pentecost was to stir things up and keep believers on their toes.
 
Nonetheless, there are some issues for all of us, the church assembled, to consider.
   
One is that if it is unacceptable to excuse sin by saying like Flip Wilson's character Geraldine, "The devil made me do it," then it is equally unacceptable to use a claim of divine mandate as an excuse for doing what one wants to do to begin with. Cathy and I knew a woman in Virginia who told us that she knew it was God's will for her to win the lottery because she would give more than a tithe of the jackpot to the church. True story.
 
"God requires it" has been used to justify everything from simple murder to mass murder to tyranny and oppression. So the claim that one is acting from divine authority deserves to be regarded with deep suspicion at least at first.

On the other hand there is a real chance that someone really might be acting under God's command, and therefore we must leave the possibility open. 

So how to tell?

I think a crucial key is found in what Peter went on to say: “We are witnesses,” he said, to what we testify. Which is to say, God did not reveal Christ to me privately, but publicly, with others, all of whom attest to this truth.

This is important because the unambiguous testimony of the apostles in the New Testament is that Christian faith and practice are not solitary ventures. Everywhere the apostles went they did two things, never separated from one another: they brought people to confess faith in Christ as risen Lord and organized the new believers into churches.

The apostle Paul explained more than once that the body of Christ present in the world today is the aggregation of Christ's present disciples organized as the church. I have found no evidence in the New Testament that people can live Christian lives apart from the church belonging to Jesus Christ.
 
More than thirty years ago my pastor in North Carolina put it this way: "I won't tell you that you can't be a good Christian outside the church. I'll tell you that you can't be any kind of Christian outside the church." That statement struck me as pretty stark at the time. We Americans are stiff-necked individualists. We pretty much think that whatever we want to do we should be able to do on our own, but that's not how the New Testament sees it.

Anyone can be religious outside the church, but Jesus did not minister, teach, suffer, die and rise just to make us religious. Religions are a dime a dozen. Founding another one sure didn't require God's incarnation, or Christ's passion, death and resurrection. We are not called to be merely religious, but to be transformed and made anew in Christ's likeness – to be a new people, a new kind of community. So when we think God has some special demand for us, or someone makes that claim to us, we need to discern whether its context is related to the present body of Christ. Who does the command serve, Christ or self?
 
 And that leads to the second way to assess a claim that “God commands it.” It is the famous lawyers’ question, “Who benefits?” The apostles gained nothing from preaching Christ but severe tests of their character, their faithfulness, perseverance, and fortitude. All were killed but one for insisting that they had to obey God rather than human authority. They might have been killed the day of this passage had not a wise rabbi spoken against it. So, who benefited? By the standards of the world, none of the apostles did. 

The experiences of the apostles and other devoted Christians through the centuries is that God play his cards pretty close to the vest. God’s commands often do not make sense to us and frequently do not appeal to us. God generally leads us only one step at a time. So, I am leery of visionaries with grand plans, all filled in from start to finish, because I don't see in the Bible where God explains that he has a lifelong plan for each person who follows him. He does not lay out a plan to those he calls. God did not give Moses a plan. He gave him a command: "Go tell Pharaoh to let my people go," and that was that.

When the Lord spoke to Paul on the Damascus road, he did not lay out Paul's apostolic mission to him, culminating in being crucified in Rome. Christ simply told him, "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do" (Acts 9:6). 

Even Peter, in today's passage, shows no sense of grand mission. He didn't tell the high priest, "God wants me to be the foremost of all his apostles and become the first bishop of Rome, founder of what will become the worldwide Roman Catholic Church." All he understood that God wanted him to do was preach the Gospel. He started out a street-corner preacher and there is no evidence that on his own account that he thought God wanted him to be anything else. 

God's commands are pretty simple, at least at first. Often they do not make a lot of sense and leave one wanting to ask him, Why? But enlightenment is not the point; we leave that to the eastern mystics. Obeying God is the point. 

Speaking of obedience, there are some basic commandments of Christ that are obligatory of all Christian people and churches wherever found. These commandments are not mysterious; they are clearly stated in the Scriptures: pray, give, love, forgive, help, worship. Bear one another's burdens, esteem others more highly than oneself. Love God, love neighbor. Be baptized. Consider our lives lost to the world and gained in Christ. Use all that we have to the glory of God and the building up of the kingdom of Heaven. These are the foundational commands God give us. 

The story is told of a star college football player whom we will call Eddie. Almost every week the school paper had a photograph of Eddie leaping across the goal line for a touchdown or jumping high into the air catching an impossible pass. Oh, Eddie was good! The cheerleaders loved him. Eddie loved them back.

One day, Eddie went to the coach and said, “Coach I’m not coming to practice anymore.” The coach said, “Eddie, are you quitting?” Eddie replied, “Oh, no, I’m not quitting. I’ll still dress for the games on Saturdays. But you know Mondays? Mondays you make us to do wind sprints. And Tuesdays are grass drills and strength training. Wednesdays are full contact practice. Thursdays are special team drills. I don’t like all that. I’m not going to do any of that anymore. But come game time, Coach, you can count on me. I’ll catch those passes, I’ll make those touchdowns, I’ll get my picture in the paper. And after the game I’ll go out with the prettiest cheerleader. I like all that! But man, I’m not going to suffer through your practices anymore.” 

Now ask yourself whether come Saturday the coach sent Eddie into the game. 

So, another test of discerning whether we are given a
particular command from God is to ponder whether we have been faithful in carrying out God's general commands. If God cannot trust me do the basics, why would he command me to accomplish the special?

Jesus said, "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much" (Luke 16:10).
 
But suppose you work through all those things and conclude that God indeed is giving you a special command or laying upon you a special obligation. What then? Then Peter's courage is a model. Peter had to know the tempers flaring at him and his fellow disciples. Before the council, recognizing the danger, Peter and the disciples stood their ground precisely because they were under God's mandate.
 
The pressures and excuses the world lures us to turn from following Christ are innumerable. They are also hard to resist because to say yes to Christ we must say no to something, or someone, else – for example, Sunday morning league sports (but now I’m meddling). To obey God, we must first disobey ourselves, and it is disobeying ourselves that makes us think obeying God is hard. But remember that Jesus said, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." 

Staying on course is the only faithful option. Only coincidentally will the world at large approve of our faithful service, but that's okay. The world's applause is far more spiritually dangerous than its jeers.
_______

New Testament scholar Robert Wall wrote that Peter’s “heroic retort to the high priest" served “missionary ends.” Peter was a “witness to God’s salvation of Israel. He [was] not the leader of a movement of protest but a movement of God."
 
And that is what we are under God's command to do: proclaim salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord. We should be satisfied with God's direction for each day, not for our sake, but for the sake of those who know him not.

Jesus and the Cross: Was There No Other Option?

  Do you think it is possible to over-celebrate the resurrection of Jesus? I do not mean to give it greater importance than it warrants. Jes...