For Christians grace is God’s gift of pardon. According to William Barclay the Greek word for grace was originally a military term. When an emperor came to the throne or celebrated a birthday, he would give his troops a donatirim (donation), which was a free gift that they had not earned; it was given out of the goodness of the emperor’s heart. This idea was picked up by the Christian scripture writers when they wrote about the grace of God. Grace is something that is unearned and undeserved – unmerited pardon.read more
Eschatology is the study of last things, the final events in history, the ultimate destiny of humanity, the end of the world. Major issues in eschatology include the rapture, the second coming of Jesus, the tribulation, Millennialism, and the last judgment.
Most of the Christian books I have read do not seriously concern themselves with eschatology, but the Left Behind series of books made it a popular topic. All twelve novels in the series made the New York Times bestselling fiction list – note: the fiction list. Prior to the Left Behind novels of the 1990s, Hal Lindsey’s 1970s bestselling books, including The Late Great Planet Earth, were also bestsellers.
One of the most reliable facts concerning Jesus is that he was crucified during the reign and by the action of the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, who served by appointment of the Caesar from 26-36 CE. The Roman senator and historian Tacitus referred to Jesus’ execution by Pilate in his Annals, which was written circa 116 CE. Beyond that, however, there is not much historical evidence.read more
The church sign can be easily read by anyone driving by: “You can’t be a devoted follower of Jesus unless you are part of a local church.” Does the church that posts this sign not trust the people with Jesus’s message? What is the meaning of “incarnation” if not “embodiment” by individual persons of the spirit of the Christ? Is the “Body of Christ” for members only?
The Apostle Paul created the metaphor of the “Body of Christ” as the community of followers. In 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, he explains the meaning of the ritually-shared meal: “The cup of God’s gracious benefits that we consecrate means that we are involved in the blood of the Anointed, doesn’t it? The bread that we break means that we are involved in the body of the Anointed, doesn’t it? That there is one loaf means that we who are many constitute one body, because we all partake of the one loaf.” In Romans 12:5 he says, “Just as each of us has one body with many parts that do not all have the same function, so although there are many of us, we are the Anointed’s body, interrelated with one another.”read more
In contemporary speech the word spiritual is more associated with personal or private experience, while the word religious is usually connected to communal, institutional, and organizational religious life. Those who identify themselves as spiritual but not religious reject traditional organized religion as the sole or the most valuable means of advancing one’s spiritual growth.read more
But what our guide told us next has stayed in my memory for the almost twenty years since my visit. With a shrug of his shoulders he explained, “Well, we need a site. An important event—we need to have a site. Do we know exactly where it happened? No. But we must have a site so that we can remember.”read more
Most people assume that the Bible is filled with stories of supernatural happenings and miraculous interventions. The accounts of miracles in the Bible are generally limited to three cycles of stories: the Moses-Joshua cycle in the Torah, the Elijah-Elisha stories that are recorded between I Kings 17 and II Kings 13, and the Jesus-Disciples of Jesus stories that are found in the four gospels. There is an occasional supernatural tale in other parts of the Bible, but these are the only areas where they are concentrated. Our concentration is primarily on the miracles that are attributed to Jesus in the gospels.
The reported supernatural deeds performed by Jesus during his ministry can be categorized into four groups: cures, exorcisms, raising the dead, and nature control. Interestingly, each type of miracle that is attributed to Jesus in the gospels also occurred in the Moses-Joshua and Elijah-Elisha stories.
In Matthew’s midrash of Isaiah’s prophecy, Jesus tours all over Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, curing all kinds of diseases, and proclaiming that God’s kingdom has come. The verses in Chapter 4 selected by the creators of the Revised Common Lectionary for the third Sunday after the Epiphany are the preface to Matthew 5:1 through 7:29, the great Sermon on the Mount. Jesus walks by the Sea of Galilee, and invites his disciples to leave their nets and become “fishers for people,” traditionally interpreted to mean saving souls from hell. But John Dominic Crossan, points out that Jesus could have brought his message anywhere in Roman occupied Judea. Why Galilee? Why Capernaum?read more
The prophet Isaiah commands the heavens and the earth to sing for joy, to break forth into song. But what if we don’t want to sing? What if we can’t sing? Built on Isaiah 49:13-16, this short, meditative, worship film explores both the challenges and the comforts of faith leaving the viewer with this promise: you are mine!read more
On the First Sunday of the Advent season this year – for those Christian faith communities that observe a liturgical calendar — the traditional four weeks of waiting on the tiptoe of expectation only lasted until 1:37 PM that afternoon for our family; when my own daughter gave birth to her first-born child.read more
We have developed a liturgy for use on Christmas Eve, drawing upon the inclusive and scriptural images/metaphors of light and wisdom.read more
We have a vision of the world not yet realised
All: Where they will beat their swords into ploughshares
“Voting is irrational.” This jarring statement comes from Paul Woodruff, professor of philosophy at the University of Texas in Austin, in his wise book, REVERENCE: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue. Paul came to USC a few months ago, hosted by my office, to give a series of talks. He’s a person who emanates the virtue that he teaches, speaking with a calm, reflective demeanor. Woodruff posits that unless we understand voting as a ritual, we’ll miss the point of it, and continue to see a decline in voter participation.read more
The Swedes and the Hawaiians have something in common besides enjoying fish. They both have a deep understanding of the idea of “enough.”read more
The journey of the magi, and their adoration on bended knee before a newborn peasant who presumably comes to subordinate the Herod’s of this world is a quaint and fanciful tale. But this year, the real exchange of gifts in the City of Angels was a modern day epiphany that suggest we might indeed still find for ourselves new, authentic life in such an otherwise arcane myth. Now the question is whether the meaning and message of Epiphany season will truly shed new light in the bleak midwinter of our discontent.read more
Why would a Jewish American doctor risk serving the medical needs of Palestinian children in the occupied territories of the West Bank?read more
“….seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1: 17) Here’s how I translate this biblical urging into the way I will vote in November: 1. The passage of the Affordable Health Care …read more
Wandering in the desert cleanses my soul of hubris. It puts me in my puny place in the cosmos. It’s bigger than I am, bigger than we are. A hike in the desert is a walk on the “via negativa”. Its vistas sweep away all that obscures the divine, so that God, though always near, seems nearer.read more