Archive for April 2010

Incident at 77th Street

April 18, 2010

Atlantic Avenue Tunnel, Brooklyn, NYC

 

While this poem describes a real event, the thoughts and intents of the heart relayed  cannot possibly be that of  the unfortunate woman described with great poetic license here, and are of the human condition alone–or perhaps only the writer’s own.

In that moment, before the
train hit–with her mute face
pressed to the tunnel wall;
was she knowing then the fraudulence
of that blind and foolish leap
from the subway platform to the darkness below,
that ridiculous faith in her strength?  Did she find

in the end, there was really no warm hand to hold
in its digital skin, in that piece of plastic retrieved
from those unforgiving tracks?
It bore only deceiving marks on a screen,
some reminders of important things?
Shamed, did she send back to that pandemonium
in the station, one last bleak look: Oh, save me?

In the relentless stare of a headlight,
in the horn’s three moans of warning,
in the horror of that engine’s thunder,
with the blast of air beginning,
was there now a recognition
that she had always longed for a lie,
had always reached for the wrong thing?

Now at her journey’s end,
did she call for someone to just leap down
and help her bear the weight of oppressive sound
with some warmth of common grace?
Now, was there just this chaos of shared terror?
Now no one to cover over her,
Now–was there really no Savior?

Or, in that last moment, before the impact,
did she turn, like another repentant thief
into His presence, in her aloneness?
So that our dread became a mere shadow
that pressed a kind of darkness upon her
and passed over her in silence, leaving
her breathless–but at last,  truly alive?

 

The Cross: A Spectacle of Evil and the Triumph of Love

April 8, 2010

I have been meditating on the Cross, and particularly the question of suffering. Why the torture? Then I remembered this very profound meditation on the Cross, written by a dear brother I knew only as “BB”. I edited it slightly for greater emphasis to the question he answers very well.

Why was Jesus tortured so? Didn’t the law simply demand ‘death’ as the wages of sin? Why such a torture and why such pain? Why permit such suffering? We know that God’s wrath is poured out against sin so why wasn’t the lamb tortured?

When we go back in Scripture we see God calling for a lamb to be slain and its blood put on the door of the house where believers lived. Then when He instituted the sanctuary services, at the very center was a little lamb slain. This slain lamb was at the very center of Israel’s worship and reconciliation with God through forgiveness of sins. But we NEVER find the lamb tortured. It was killed as quickly and as painlessly as possible.

So, if the lamb in the OT symbolized the Lamb of God, Jesus, why wasn’t Jesus killed quickly and as painlessly as possible? Why wasn’t Jesus simply slashed with a knife? Wouldn’t that have sufficed to pay for sins? Why did the Father allow such brutality?

We can only understand the reason for the torture when we step back from the cross and realize more was going on at the cross and a death for sins. As important and as crucial as that is for you and me and all who want to be forgiven and live forever, there was something else going on at the cross.

Colossians 2:15 “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them at the cross.”

We find in this verse the mention of a ‘public spectacle’ of the principalities and powers. What was it that God exposed about evil? What else was going on at the cross that was important to God? What is this public spectacle Paul writes about?

(As well as making atonement for sins at the Cross) …God was also making a demonstration, first of the true nature and character of evil and also of the true nature and character of His great great love for His creatures, angels and mankind.

Now once we see the cross as a ‘public spectacle’ and ‘demonstration of the true nature and character of both evil and love we can understand why Jesus was tortured as He was.

A DEMONSTRATION OF THE TRUE NATURE OF EVIL

Jesus clearly foretold to His disciples that He would as a Good Shepherd lay down His life for the sheep. He said it five times in John 10. Then on His way to Jerusalem He kept telling them that the Son of Man would put Himself into the hands of evil men. This happened in Gethsemane, but not after Jesus had prepared Himself for His trials and tortures by praying until He was strengthened from above.

As soon as they took Him they bound Him. All night long they hit Him and spit on Him. Then they whipped Him with a whip full of bone and metal ripping the flesh. They pressed thorns into his head and then nailed Him on wood to hang in agony until He died.

This horrible torture was a demonstration, a public spectacle of Satan his evil nature.
He first entered Judas to betray Him.
He was in those who tried him.
He was in those who beat Him and whipped Him.
He was in those who mocked him and pressed thorns into His head.
He was in those who nailed him to a tree and in those who stood by mocking Him.

In all of this the true nature of evil was clearly demonstrated and put on display as a public spectacle. Jesus was without sin and was absolutely innocent. The devil had nothing on Christ and this torture completely unwarranted.

Satan of course was putting the human nature of Christ under tremendous pressure to use His divine powers to heal His own pain and deliver Himself from the torture. Jesus was under tremendous temptation to call for 12 legions of angels to save Him. This is why he was tortured so.

THE DEMONSTRATION OF THE TRUE NATURE OF LOVE

The cross was more than a demonstration of the true nature and character of evil and Satan. It was also a demonstration of God’s love that proved without a doubt that He can be absolutely trusted.

John wrote: “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.” 1 John 3:1

What is the MANNER of love the Father has bestowed upon us? This “manner of love” was a sacrificial love! What is the greatest kind or manner of love anyone can show? Isn’t it sacrificial love? What greater love could anyone show than a sacrifice that involves death? And how much greater is that love when it involved such torture and suffering?

Here is the way Paul put it:

“For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:7,8

Our God and Father demonstrated for all time that He loves His creatures so much that He was willing to sacrifice His form AND allow Himself to be despised and rejected and led as a Lamb to the slaughter and torture.

“So His visage was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men… I gave My back to those who struck Me, and My cheeks to those who plucked out the beard; I did not hide My face from shame and spitting.” – Isa. 52:14; 50:6.

“Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief.” -Isaiah 53:10

How did it please God to allow His Son to be brutalized and killed the way He was? It can only be because God wanted to demonstrate the true nature and character of evil and at the same time demonstrate His great great love that can be absolutely trusted.

Beholding this sacrificial love of our Father and His Son we are astonished and amazed. We sing with the angels who know this ‘manner of love’ better than us since they know His glory. With them we sing, “Glory to God in the highest.”

9 And they sang a new song, saying:

“ You are worthy to take the scroll,
And to open its seals;
For You were slain,
And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
10 And have made us kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth.”

11 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice:

“ Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
To receive power and riches and wisdom,
And strength and honor and glory and blessing!”

13 And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying:

“ Blessing and honor and glory and power
Be to Him who sits on the throne,
And to the Lamb, forever and ever!”

14 Then the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever.” -Revelation 5

So let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise and worship with thanksgiving. As long as we have breath, let us praise the Lord!

And let us allow this God full of sacrificial love, willing to do anything it takes for the creatures He loves, to live in us. Let us offer up our bodies as ‘living sacrifices’ that He might live in us which is “our reasonable service”. Let us continue to demonstrate to sinners how much He loves them and how much He can be trusted. Let us walk in the Spirit and the Light so the dark, violent, hateful nature of sin and evil can be exposed and again made a public spectacle as we love not our lives unto the death to the glory of God.

May we desire to know nothing but “Christ and Him crucified”.

“God forbid we glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” -Galatians 6:14

Two of A Kind: The Christ of the “Passion”, and the Parent of the Pearls

April 2, 2010

Cover of "The Passion of the Christ (Defi...

Ah, Good Friday. The torture porn will be trotted out for our edification, again. We’ll hear detailed doctor’s accounts, with minute-by-minute descriptions of Jesus’ physical sufferings. Lots of re-runs of “The Passion of the Christ,” which, in sickeningly graphic display, recounts every whiplash of the forty He received. I detest that movie. I have dubbed it ‘The Gospel According to Mel the Sadomasochist” and I wish I had never seen it. The Scriptures veil the crucifixion from our fallen nature’s  interest in lurid detail.  Some, like Mark 15:24, treat it the way Mel does the Resurrection, with barely a passing glance to it: “And having crucified him, they were dividing his garments, casting a lot upon them, what each may take.” That is Young’s Literal translation, and a more literally translated passage would read, “the having-crucified-him-ones, divided…”

The Spirit, inspiring the story, always shielded the god-forsaken Son from our too prurient interest.

This kind of rubbernecking which insists upon prying into the Scripture’s silence concerning  the physical sufferings of the Son of Man, is troubling to me about Good Friday.  And “The Passion of the Christ”, like no other retelling of Christ’s final hours, fixates on those gory details. I was sickened, watching that grotesquerie masquerading as the gospel.  I listened to the Christian pundits who declared it good, who lauded ‘The Passion’s’ potential to evangelize, but I cowered in my seat and hid my eyes and felt completely angry and ripped off when the messy, bloody thing finally rolled its credits.

As ripped off as I felt when I recognized there were grace-filled, Biblical methods of child discipline that would not result in angry, rebellious teenagers, or little children who obey on the surface but burn inwardly with bitterness. The kind of proper Biblical parenting, as Pastor Matthew Raley notes, that  “starts with recognizing that the child’s soul and conscience are able to relate to God directly, apart from our control (Luke 1.39-45; Matthew 18.1-4; Mark 10.13-16). Further, a wise parent does not frame behavioral issues in terms of giving a satisfactory performance, but in terms of the new life Christ gives (Colossians 3.1-17)”. Apprehending the Resurrection is everything in the Christian life, including parental choices about discipline.

And just as the Resurrection gets barely a mention in Mel’s gruesome saga, as it focus’ our interest only on the stripes of the lash, as if they were all that accomplished atonement for us, so too the weirdness of Michael Pearls fixation on the Rod as an atoning tool: “Properly applied, with instruction, it will absolve the child of guilt, cleanse his soul, and give him a fresh start through a confidence that all indebtedness is paid.”

And just as the Pearl’s methods of operant conditioning of children  is incomprehensibly barbaric to those outside the church, so too, “The Passion of the Christ”, was brutish gibberish to unbelievers. One critic gave it a rave review as a serious Zombie film. It was not just that it was in Aramaic. It communicated no coherent Gospel message and the Resurrection was given minuscule shrift. Jesus rises, as Slate magazine reviewer David Edelstein observes, rather menacingly, and

his expression is hard, and, as he moves toward the entrance to his tomb, the camera lingers on a round hole in his hand that goes all the way through. Gibson’s Jesus reminded me of the Terminator—he could be the Christianator—heading out into the world to spread the bloody news. Next stop: the Crusades.”

Mel’s Christianator Jesus is a victim no more, and rises to dominate the world. He springs from the same false theology as the macho figure of Pearl’s parent, who wears the plastic plumbing line around his neck as a kind of Psych-Ops in the war to subdue the child; and has the same take-no-prisoners strategy: Until the child submits. This is a man writing here, with man language. No sissy attachment stuff. That’s stuff promoted by lesbians and “demonic damsels.” Here’s Michael Pearl’s  manly handling of a standoff with your child:

“…then use whatever force is necessary to bring him to bay. If you have to sit on him to spank him then do not hesitate. And hold him there until he is surrendered. Prove that you are bigger, tougher, more patiently enduring and are unmoved by his wailing. Defeat him totally. Accept no conditions for surrender. No compromise. You are to rule over him as a benevolent sovereign. Your word is final.”

So we have the Pearls Parent here, rising up in holy indignation, to complete his dominion: No more being tyrannized by a whiny child, and an unsubmissive wife. ‘We are going to get this household under control here! Then we’ll subdue the world for Jesus.”

Get on board, son, or you’re a wuss for sure.

But just as physical punishment seldom wins a heart, but merely focuses on outward behavior, so too the fixation on the physical sufferings of Christ is ineffective therapy for what sickens my soul. I have never been moved to change my behavior by looking at all His blood spilled for me, because it was not the physical suffering that did the atoning work. It was the Blood alone that finished the work. It was that terrible moment when the Father had to turn His face away, that God-forsaken part of the Cross that pained Jesus the most. This  should capture all our interest as well.

But we cannot understand this.  It is too high, too wonderful for us, this grandeur of relationship. We turn our face away, and busy ourselves with what we can understand– we pass that basket of spikes around, and say to ourselves, ‘We did this to Him’. It has a manageability about it, and that is a comfort to us. A soul gets barely an inkling that the Son of Man was never a powerless victim, but fully in control of every event: ” I lay My life down and take it up again”, and that it cost Him everything to do it. That He sweat great drops of blood to even contemplate it. We cannot even imagine the scope of such a bond of love, that it would provoke such a response from the Son at the mere thought of severance from it.

It is the cry “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani” as the weight of the worlds sin fell on Him, that moves me the most, and motivates heart change. I want to know this love, not just in my head, but its activation in my heart, to know this love which provoked the deprived Son of Man’s anguished cry, to know it for myself. And only having this love can change my dark heart from within.

And can even our littlest children really apprehend this love, and the resurrection life of Christ themselves, and rely on this Gospel truth for obedience, as we do? They can, they do.  Lou Priolo, whose book “The Heart of Anger” was pivotal in enabling me to change my punitive paradigms, tells a beautiful story of his two year old daughter Sophia, who was beginning a temper tantrum.  Instead of a spanking she was scooped up and sent to the “Think Room.”

“Only a couple of minutes later, our little daughter who has always been very verbal for her age, came to my wife and said, “Mommy, I feel better now, I prayed to Jesus.” Kim was quite pleasantly surprised, she had not thought to ask her to pray, but Sophia had taken the initiative to do so. Kim asked her what she had prayed to Jesus about. Sophia replied, “I ask Jesus to help me lie down and not be selfish.” Children are sometimes capable of understanding and doing more than we give them credit for.”

Is it because we do not see them as creatures made in the image of God, just as we are, that we give them no credit? And we engage with our little children the way we train our dogs? If an elder of a church was accused of beating a brother with a rod when he transgressed, he would be immediately disqualified — so why do we tolerate such inhumane treatment of very young children in our midst?

I think it is because we unthinkingly embrace the ancient traditions of men, inculcated over centuries of profoundly un-Christian teachings about the atoning value of physical suffering for the healing of the soul. In particular the Church of Rome’s unfortunate blessing upon the purgative of the Rod.  View this troubling mindset in all its misery, in these Passion of the Christ excerpts from a Youtube video.  Contrast it with Fernando Ortega’s simple rendering of the hymn arranged by Bach for his “St. Matthew’s Passion.” I am  genuinely moved when I hear the lyrics,  but when I watch the movie I become distracted by its gore from my purpose, like a rubbernecker spying a  wreck on the highway.  And this is one of the more tasteful edits of Mels bloodfest.

Let us determine this Good Friday, to have no more of suffering little children with the Pearls toxic teachings. Let us not stumble them any more. Let them come to Him.  Only the Son of Man need suffer for sins. Contrary to Pearl’s teachings, that say

“The rod in the hands of a righteous authority will supply the child’s soul with that moment of judgment that he feels he so deserves. Properly applied, with instruction, it will absolve the child of guilt, cleanse his soul, and give him a fresh start through a confidence that all indebtedness is paid.”

That is  heresy, Mr. Pearl.  The work of Atonement was completed when He cried out “Tetelestai!” at last.

O sacred Head, now wounded,
with grief and shame weighed down,
now scornfully surrounded
with thorns, thine only crown:
how pale thou art with anguish,
with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish
which once was bright as morn!

What thou, my Lord, has suffered
was all for sinners’ gain;
mine, mine was the transgression,
but thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior!
‘Tis I deserve thy place;
look on me with thy favor,
vouchsafe to me thy grace.

What language shall I borrow
to thank thee, dearest friend,
for this thy dying sorrow,
thy pity without end?
O make me thine forever;
and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
outlive my love for thee.