The Age of Sacrifice

Modern Islamic animal sacrifice. Photo by Wikipedia user Ramzy Muliawan

Modern Islamic animal sacrifice. Photo by Wikipedia user Ramzy Muliawan

This is the fifth in a series of  articles on the topic of reconciliation. You will find links to the other articles at the bottom of this page.

What does it feel like to sacrifice the thing you love the most?  Mercifully, many of us can only imagine.  We have not yet been asked to bear such a burden.  For others, the moment has already come.  Whether it is a loved one, a fortune, or life itself, all of us may ultimately be forced to surrender that which we hold most dear.

When we speak of sacrifices and altars, we often think of the Old Testament and life under the Law.  They made sacrifices for sin.  They burned things on altars.  The blood flowed across the stone floor. The smell of charred flesh filled the very air. So the endless parade of death carried on year after year, for such was the ugliness of that era. Such is the ugliness of sin.

Then came the annual Day of Atonement – “Yom Kippur”, the holiest date in the Jewish calendar. As outlined in Leviticus 16, the high priest would first make an offering for his own sin. Then and only then would he enter into the Holy of Holies, the Most Holy Place, where he would enter the very presence of God. Here the high priest would make another offering on behalf of the entire nation – a sacrifice for forgiveness of sin. This was necessary in order to satisfy the wrath of a holy God, and to make atonement between God and man. Continue reading

The Cross of Hate

Michaelangelo's famed Pietà in St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City. (Author photograph)

Michaelangelo’s famed Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City. (Author photograph)

This is the fourth in a series of essays on the topic of reconciliation. You will find links to the others articles at the bottom of this page.

In the cross of Christ, the love of God is most apparent. For what more can a person give for another beyond their very life, or what more could they suffer than the ultimate agony of death on a cross? Yes, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) A thousand hymns proclaim to us the love of God, and rightly so, for He loves us beyond measure.

See, from his head, his hands, his feet

Sorrow and love flow mingled down.

Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,

Or thorns compose so rich a crown?[1]

Isaac Watts, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”, verse 3

Yet, we must not be satisfied with this explanation alone, for the cross was not only an act of love. The cross is equally a symbol of God’s hate. We do not always see hate in Christ’s actions that day, His words offering forgiveness to His enemies and His last breaths dedicated to helping others. That the world hated Christ is not difficult to accept, but what of the hate of Christ Himself? Have we made ourselves blind to this? Continue reading

A Scriptural Imperative

A 15th century Bible in the possession of the former Malmesbury Abbey in England. Photo by Adrian Pingstone

A 15th century Bible in the possession of the former Malmesbury Abbey in England. Photo by Adrian Pingstone

This if the third in a series of essays on the topic of reconciliation. You will find links to the other articles at the bottom of this page.

Do you know which book is the most cheerful in scripture? It’s Revelation. Yes, Revelation: the book that talks about oceans of blood, terrifying beasts, firestorms, demonic torture, and the complete destruction of the world as we know it. This book full of the stuff of nightmares is meant to cheer us up.

If you don’t believe me, try flipping past the trumpet judgments, bowl judgments, the bit about Armageddon, the final destiny of the devil, and the eternal condemnation of most of mankind. You should be at chapter 21 now. This is where things start looking up. Continue reading

Discord

Wikipedia photo from HiveHarbingerCOM

Wikipedia photo from HiveHarbingerCOM

This is the second in a series of essays on the topic of reconciliation. You will find links to the other essays at the bottom of this page.

Discord is the great problem of this world, and like all problems, it demands a solution. Being a lover of words, it seems most appropriate that I should draw your attention to the roots of that word, “discord”. It is composed of two elements. The first is the prefix, “dis-” coming to us from Latin. It means “apart” or “asunder”. The second is “-cord”, which comes from “cors” – heart. Therefore, discord means drawing hearts apart and ripping them asunder.

The word “cord” tends to suggest something different to English speakers: a strong thread, cable, tie, rope, or other device used to hold things together. We use it to tie a Christmas tree to the top of our car, to keep bungee jumpers from falling to a painful death, and to make ridiculously large screens hover in midair above a football field. But there is another kind of cord that I would like us to consider. Continue reading

Wars and Rumors of Wars

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Protesters and police clash during the Egyptian revolution of 2011. Photo uploaded by Flickr user oxfamnovib.

This is the first in a series of essays on the topic of reconciliation. You will find links to the other essays at the bottom of this page.

From the ends of the earth comes a primal cry, a desperate yearning for reconciliation. We have all felt it at one time or another, even if we remain ignorant as to its cause. Within our souls, we long for the discord of this world to be cast aside in favor of harmony. We sense that things are not as they should be.

Yet, that is all the further that many of us will tread, for we cannot agree on the cause of our predicament, let alone arrive at a solution. We see war, strife, and dissension tearing apart our nations, our friendships, our marriages – indeed, our very existence. But if peace on earth is the desire of all, why do we perpetually fail to achieve it?

Just take a look at the news and see where we stand. Bombings in the Middle East, or perhaps today some other part of the world. Another celebrity couple headed for divorce. Politicians behaving like schoolyard brats. Human beings enslaved and trafficked across continents. Neighborhoods torn apart by escalating violence. Girls shot just for attending school. Racism that still pervades every nation on this earth – the flavor different, yet the result the same. Corporate executives looking to save themselves while their employees suffer.

There are few people who would openly admit to preferring strife over peace, but when we disagree as to both the cause and remedy of that strife, what hope is there that we can bring it to an end? The truth is that we want peace on our own terms, at a time of our choosing, in a way that best suits our own ends. Continue reading

What I Didn’t Expect to See in “The Force Awakens”

Theatrical poster for "Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens"

Theatrical poster for “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens”

WARNING: The following contains some major spoilers about the newest Star Wars installment. Read on at your own risk.

3:00 a.m. A moment ago, I was in the land of sleep, but now that bliss is denied me. My muscles are tensed. My mind is churning so hard it’s likely to produce butter. Each effort to relax seems to be in vain.

This isn’t like me. Undisturbed sleep is one area in which I typically excel. I once slept through a fire alarm, after all. So I’m going to attribute this nocturnal interruption to the excitement of the previous evening, when I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

True, I probably shouldn’t have had that Cherry Coke. I try to avoid drinking caffeine in the evening, and these days I avoid soda in general. (Something about all those added sugars being bad for my health, so I figure that abstaining means I can skip that five mile run.) But it’s not every day that I see the opening of a new Star Wars film, and this one promised to be a cut above the rest, so I decided to indulge. Live and learn.

Then again, caffeine has not historically given me fits, so maybe there’s something else to explain this unpleasant wakefulness. Could it be that I’m still a bit in shock from what I just saw on the screen? Continue reading

The Worst Christmas Ever

"The Mystic Nativity" by Sandro Botticelli, circa 1500-01

“The Mystic Nativity” by Sandro Botticelli, circa 1500-01

Henry was having a terrible Christmas – possibly the worst Christmas ever.

One might almost say he was experiencing hell on earth, and not just because he was in the midst of producing a translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy, famous for its fanciful depictions of hell in all its ghoulish glory. He didn’t need Dante to tell him the meaning of suffering and despair. He was all too familiar with both.

Two years earlier, his beloved wife, Frances, accidentally set her dress on fire. He heard her cries from a nearby room and ran to her aid, throwing himself on top of her in an attempt to extinguish the flames. He sustained serious burns in the process, but none so bad as his wife’s. She died the following morning. Henry’s grief was absolute. He stated that he was “inwardly bleeding to death” and resorted to taking drugs in an attempt to dull the pain.

But that was only the beginning of Henry’s troubles. Indeed, his wife’s fate served as an apt metaphor for the world around him, which was in its own way going up in flames. Continue reading

I Love Mark Driscoll

Pastor and author Mark Driscoll speaks at the opening of a new location of Mars Hill Church in the Seattle area in 2011. Flickr photo by Mars Hill Church Seattle

Pastor and author Mark Driscoll speaks at the opening of a new location of Mars Hill Church in the Seattle area in 2011. Flickr photo by Mars Hill Church Seattle

“There is nothing new under the sun.”

These famous words from the book of Ecclesiastes (1:9b) are so universally relevant that they tend to pop into my head whenever I find human behavior once again failing to provide any real element of surprise, despite the apparent contextual differences. Over the last couple days, I have been thinking about them once again.

It all started when I made a visit to that website that everyone seems to use even though no one appears to like it: Facebook. I was scrolling through my “news feed”, which in actuality is a concoction of approximately 20% advertisements, 20% baby and/or pet pictures, 20% people posting quotes or verses that they want their friends to read, 20% people saying “X number of years ago today…” someone got married or was born, and 20% people complaining about something. (No judgment here – I’m pretty sure I’ve done all of those things on Facebook.)

In due course, a headline jumped out at me from a website I had “liked” once upon a time, saying something along the lines of “Acts 29 Network Kicks out Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church”. Continue reading

Religious Freedom in the Era of Gay Marriage

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Culture Clash

Religious freedom in the United States is in peril, or so I have been led to believe. Over the past few weeks, we have seen three flash points in the so-called “culture wars”, events that have caused conservative Christians and/or just plain conservatives to once again sound the alarm about the growing persecution they face in this country.

First, there was the short-lived controversy surrounding the non-profit international aid group World Vision, a favorite charity of many evangelical Christians (and others), who in turn for paying about a dollar a day receive a picture of a child in an impoverished country and the feeling that they are making a positive difference in the world. (I should stress that I am not anti-World Vision and have been participating in their child sponsorship program for about a decade.)

Within a day of World Vision announcing that, due to the beliefs of several Christian denominations with which they work, they were not going to discriminate against Christians working for their organization who were married to same-sex partners, the evangelical Christian world was in a frenzy, with some people cancelling their donations to the organization. Continue reading

The Deluge: Was Noah’s Flood the Real Deal?

"The Deluge" by Francis Darby, first exhibited in 1840.

“The Deluge” by Francis Darby, first exhibited in 1840.

As the new film Noah is now playing at a cinema near you, and the church I am now attending was divinely predestined to come upon this story in their study of Genesis on exactly the same weekend (I’ve been told it was a mere coincidence), the Flood has been on my mind a bit more than usual of late. When it comes to epic stories, they don’t come much bigger than Noah’s. It is surely one of the tales that inspired the term “biblical proportions”.

Back in 2011, when a tsunami devastated parts of Japan and led to the Fukushima nuclear crisis, I was struck by how, even with all of our modern technology and efforts to bend Mother Nature to our will, we can still be brought to our knees by the most basic substance on our planet. I sat down and wrote the following essay, which I now find to be relevant given the discussions about Noah’s Flood, or as it is often called, the Deluge. Included is an admittedly amateur level analysis of the fossil record and the implications of ancient flood narratives. Continue reading