Sunday, April 19, 2015

Our Position in Christ: Raised Up (Ephesians 2:1-10)

Why do we treat a canvas that is painted differently than a blank canvas? Why do we put our kids’ pictures or stories up on the refrigerator? Why do we keep a letter from the one we love for years? Because something added value. Something made these things more than just the sum of their parts. There was canvas or paper and something to make marks.Yet a painting can sell for millions of dollars, and we keep the letters and drawing for years. Something added value - in this case, it was the personal touch of the one who took ordinary things and created something of great value.

I wonder how many of us feel like we are just the canvas. That we are worthless, useless, unworthy of love, incapable of offering anything of value to the world? And how many of us long to believe that we are that letter or picture in whom someone takes delight instead of that discarded, crumbled up paper that’s only fit for the trash? In Ephesians 2, Paul gives the ultimate added value by showing what Christ does in us and for us. First, he explains what kind of material God has to work with.
As for you, don’t you remember how you used to just exist? Corpses, dead in life, buried by transgressions, wandering the course of this perverse world. You were the offspring of the prince of the power of air—oh, how he owned you, just as he still controls those living in disobedience. I’m not talking about the outsiders alone; we were all guilty of falling headlong for the persuasive passions of this world. We all have had our fill of indulging the flesh and mind, obeying impulses to follow perverse thoughts motivated by dark powers. As a result, our natural inclinations led us to be children of wrath, just like the rest of humankind. (Ephesians 2:1-3)
 I don’t know about you, but that’s not how I like to think of myself. However, that’s the raw materials. That’s us before Christ. We’re not just plain canvas; we are stained and soiled. We’re not just paper – we are torn and soggy. Paul doesn’t pull any punches. We were corpses, dead in life. We were the zombies in a much more serious sense of the word than most horror movies show. Those are just biological problems. Ours is deeply spiritual.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Reality of Jesus and the Hope of the Resurrection

The following satirical letter to NYU has been floating around the internet for a while:
IN ORDER FOR THE ADMISSIONS STAFF OF OUR COLLEGE TO GET TO KNOW YOU BETTER, WE ASK THAT YOU ANSWER THE FOLLOWING QUESTION  ARE THERE ANY SIGNIFICANT EXPERIENCES YOU HAVE HAD, OR ACCOMPLISHMENTS YOU HAVE REALIZED, THAT HAVE HELPED TO DEFINE YOU AS A PERSON? 
I am a dynamic figure, often seen scaling walls and crushing ice. I have been known to remodel train stations on my lunch breaks, making them more efficient in the areas of heat retention. I write award-winning operas, I manage time efficiently. Occasionally, I tread water for three days in a row. I woo women with my god like trombone playing, I can pilot bicycles up severe inclines with unflagging speed, and I cook Thirty-Minute Brownies in twenty minutes. I am as expert in stucco, a veteran in love, and an outlaw in Peru. 
Using only a hoe and a large glass of water, I once single-handedly defended a small village in the Amazon Basin from a horde of ferocious army ants. I play bluegrass cello, I was scouted by the Mets, I am the subject of numerous documentaries. When I’m bored, I build large suspension bridges in my yard. On Wednesdays, after school, I repair electrical appliances free of charge. 
I am an abstract artist, a concrete analyst, and a ruthless bookie. Critics worldwide swoon over my original line of corduroy evening wear. I don’t perspire. I am a private citizen, yet I receive fan mail. I have been caller number nine and have won the weekend passes. I bat 400. My deft floral arrangements have earned me fame in international botany circles. Children trust me. 
I can hurl tennis rackets at small moving objects with deadly accuracy.  I know the exact location of every food item in the supermarket. I have performed several covert operations with the CIA. I sleep once a week; when I do sleep, I sleep in a chair. While on vacation in Canada, I successfully negotiated with a group of terrorists who had seized a small bakery. The laws of physics do not apply to me. 
I balance, I weave, I dodge, I frolic, and my bills are all paid. On weekends, to let off steam, I participate in full-contact origami. Years ago I discovered the meaning of life but forgot to write it down.  I breed prizewinning clams. I have won bullfights in San Juan, cliff-diving competitions in Sri Lanka, and spelling bees at the Kremlin. I have played Hamlet, I have performed open-heart surgery, and I have spoken with Elvis. But I have not yet gone to college.
He’s a fantastic guy, but he is not real.  He sounds good, but neither I nor anyone else I know of will be restructuring their way of life to follow him, or introducing others to him, or starting a Church of The Living NYU Student, or wearing a bracelet (WWNYUSD). It doesn’t matter how great he sounds, he is not real (and neither was the letter). 

If Jesus was not real – if he was not who he said he was – then Christianity has nothing to offer that you can’t find in another worldview, a self-help shelf or a bottle. But if Jesus was who he claimed to be, then He has a significance that no one else does.[i] The historicity of  Jesus Christ matters. [ii]