Posts Tagged ‘Jesus’

8.15.13

What is your Red Sea?

 

 

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Just about the clearest, most concise explanation of Baptism I’ve ever heard:

 

http://auburnavenue.wordpress.com/2013/05/31/the-grace-of-god-in-baptism/

 

 

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Salvation For All

It is often a very difficult thing for people far removed from a certain century to accurately understand the feelings and culture of that time. So it is, to those in the 21st century, a difficult task to place themselves in the atmosphere of the 18th century. However, ancestors often provide their posterity with windows into their lives through writings, letters, and official documents. Phillis Wheatley is just one of many individuals who found ways to pass on their beliefs and societal times through the composing of poems. One poem that particularly deals with the mindset of the middle 1700’s is “On Being Brought From Africa To America.”

Phillis Wheatley was brought to America on July 11, 1761 when she was only seven or eight years old. She was bought by Susanna Wheatley, the wife of a Boston merchant. Being frail, Phillis was more of a companion to Susanna than a household servant. She learned English, Latin and the Bible from the Wheatley daughter. She became a Christian and was baptized. Although Africans were not considered able to write poetry, she finally published her first compilation of poems in 1773, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. This was published in London, and upon her return to America she was set free. Phillis married John Peters in 1778 but was eventually deserted by him and died in 1784 in a Boston boarding house (Milne 222).

Among Phillis’ first published poems was “On Being Brought From Africa to America.” The poem can be divide into two distinct sections, 4 lines each. The first section talks about her journey from Africa to America and her personal salvation. The second half of the poem speaks about the salvation of her race as a whole.

In the very first line of the poem, “’Twas mercy brought me from my pagan land” (Wheatley 1), Wheatley wants to make it clear that it was mercy, not just a slave ship that brought her to America and exposed her to Christianity. Her “benighted” soul was brought into understanding, in contrast to the intellectual ignorance, or darkness, that had dominated the first years of her life. Although it was under lamentable circumstances that she came to America, as a result of her life with the Wheatleys Phillis became a Christian. In a letter to Arbour Tanner, a fellow slave, she express these sentiments: “’…let us rejoice in and adore the wonders of God’s infinite Love in bringing us from a land semblant of darkness itself, and where the divine light of revelation (being obscur’d) is as darkness. Here the knowledge of the true God and eternal life are made manifest; but there, profound ignorance overshadows the land’” (O’Neale 146). While Phillis was by no means rejoicing in her position as a slave, she was fully aware of the fact that it was slavery that saved her soul. The first half of the poem is her testimony and she is thankful that the Savior has redeemed her from her sins.

After remarking on her own personal salvation, Phillis uses the last 4 lines of the poem to address a rather controversial issue at that time. Were Africans worthy of salvation? To many Christians today, that is an absolutely absurd question. However, it was the general belief in those times – albeit a deplorable one – that people of black color were associated with Satan. This is what Phillis alludes to when she says “Some view our sable race with scornful eye. ‘Their color is a diabolic dye’” (Wheatley 5-6). It is believed that this view was drawn from the Old Testament where Cain’s descendants were ostracized and marked by God with a stain. This was coupled with the curse that was placed on Ham, that his children would be under perpetual servitude, and thus was born the misconception that Africans where the offspring of Cain and Ham and therefore exempt from God’s grace and subject to enslavement. This explains why so many people supported slavery. They judged salvation by the state of one’s skin, not by the state of their soul. In taking the Old Testament to its most literal sense, however, they missed the whole message of the New Testament: that salvation was for the Gentiles as well as the Jews. A passage in the Bible that proves the fallacy of the New World Christians’ belief is in Acts 8. This is the story of the Ethiopian eunuch who was the first Gentile convert and who took the gospel to Africa. The eunuch is the first example of the fact that whatever may have been the fate of Cain and Ham’s offspring, under the new law salvation is for all people. Phillis no doubt knew of this story and in the last two lines of the poem she reminds her readers that no matter what their physical appearance may be, all “May be refin’d and join th’ angelic train” (Wheatley 8).

Under the doctrine of original sin all people fall short of the glory of God, and it is not the pigmentation of skin that ranks individuals among the elect, but God’s supreme goodness. This was the liberating truth that Phillis Wheatley learned when she was brought to America, and it was this truth that she intended to share with her readers. But not only did she share it with 18th century contemporaries, she also succeeded in passing down her testimony to many future generations.

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As winter 2012 quickly turns into winter 2013, I seem to be constantly reminded of why Christ’s incarnation is so fittingly celebrated at this dreary time of year. For many parts of the world, winter is a time of death in nature. It is a time when things become ugly so that they may bud and grow again in the spring.

The past two Christmas seasons I have seen friends experience death in their families. Death comes to all, and winter is a reminder of this. Yet we celebrate life in the dead of winter, for this very reason: that death is not the end for those who are in Christ Jesus. Death is only a stepping stone into new life. All must die to live. We celebrate Christ’s coming in the winter because he brings life, and in this dismal time of year we need to be able to look at Christ’s birth and know that winter, death, is not the end. We need to know that there is hope, that we will grow and bloom in the spring, and one day there will be eternal spring. There will be no more death and tears and long winter nights.

As the death of winter wraps it’s icy fingers around you and chills you to the bone, remember that Christ was born to save us from our sins, to save us from death unto death. He came down to lead us to death unto life, and knowing this, we can endure a thousand winters with the hope of life in the spring.

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I finally finished The Challenge of Jesus by N. T. Write. While I struggled through the first half of the book, the second half was something I was able to grasp more fully without having to read every other line ten times. These quotes are strictly from the last two chapters, dealing with Christianity in the post-modern world.

 

“Motive, goal, identity – all these have been undermined by the shifting sands of postmodernity.”

 

“[Postmodernity] is…a necessary judgment on the arrogance of modernity, a judgment from within. Our task is to reflect on this moment of despair within our culture, and, reflecting biblically and christianly, to see our way through the moment of despair and out the other side.”

 

Telling yourself to hope is not the same as hoping; but if it’s all you can do, it’s better than nothing.”

 

“They thereby became part of the vanguard for God’s project of restoring the world, in which his image-bearers take his forgiving love and wise ordering – that is, his kingdom – to the whole of creation.”

 

“Somewhere along the road, literally and metaphorically, God’s light and truth had come to lead them, to lead them into his very presence, to the place where hope gives way to joy, and mourning to dancing.”

 

“We have had our noses rubbed in the fact that reality isn’t all it was cracked up to be; what we thought was hard facts turns out to be somebody’s propaganda…We have watched as the postmodern world has torn down the controlling stories by which modernity, including Christian modernity, ordered it’s world. All we are left with is the great postmodern virtual smorgasbord, where you can pick and choose what you want.”

 

Preach the gospel by all means possible, [St. Francis] said; and if it’s really necessary, you could even use words.”

 

“We as Western Christians mostly bought a bit too heavily into modernism, and we are shocked to discover that it’s been dying for a while and is now more or less completely dead. We need to learn how to listen for the hidden stranger on the road, who will explain to us how it was that these things had to happen, and how there is a whole new world out there waiting to be born, for which we are called to be the midwives.”

 

“Christian mission in the postmodern world must be the means of the Church grasping the initiative and enabling our world to turn in the right direction.”

 

“We must get used to living as those who have truly died and risen with Christ, so that our self, having been thoroughly deconstructed, can be put back together, not by the agendas which the world presses upon us, but by God’s spirit.”

 

“Was it not necessary that modernist versions of Christianity should die in order that truth might be freshly glimpsed, not as a set of doctrines or theories but as a person, and as persons indwelt by that person?”

 

“[H]ow long must it be before we learn that our task as Christians is to be in the front row of constructing the post-postmodern world.”

 

“Nietzsche, Freud and Marx were quite right. We had a war to end wars, and we’ve had nothing but more wars ever since. We had a sexual revolution, and now we have AIDS and more family-less people than ever before. We pursued wealth, but we had inexplicable recessions, and ended up with half the world in crippling debt. We can do what we like, but we’ve all forgotten why we liked it. Our dreams have gone sour, and we don’t even know who “we” are any more. And now even the church has let us down, corrupting its spiritual message with talk of cosmic political revolution.”

 

“If you build on the foundation in the present time with gold, silver and precious stones, your work will last. In the Lord your labor is not in vain…You are following Jesus and shaping our world, in the power of the Spirit; and when the final consummation comes the work that you have done, whether in Bible study or biochemistry, whether in preaching or in pure mathematics, whether in digging ditches or in composing symphonies, will stand, will last.”

 

“There is only one foundation, and whenever you are doing any building you must go back and check on the foundation to know what sort of building it already is, and how you might best proceed.”

 

“Everything that we read [in the Gospel] tells us something about the foundation upon which we are called to build.”

 

“[B]earing God’s image is not just a fact, it is a vocation. It means being called to reflect into the world the creative and redemptive love of God…What we are faced with in our culture is the post-Christian version of the doctrine of original sin; all human endeavor is radically flawed, and the journalists who take delight in pointing this out are simply telling, over and over again, the story of Genesis 3 as applied to today’s leaders, politicians, royalty and rock stars. And our task, as image-bearing, God-loving, Christ-shaped, spirit-filled Christians, following Christ and shaping out world, is to announce redemption to the world that has discovered its fallenness; to announce healing to the world that has discovered its brokenness; to proclaim love and trust to the world that knows only exploitation, fear and suspicion.”

 

“[T]he proper way to expound the parables today is to ask: what should we be doing in God’s world that would call forth the puzzled or even angry questions to which parables like these would be the right answer?”

 

“There is a real danger here, that Christians who have not actually done the hard work, or thought through the issues, will hide there incompetence behind a cheap dismissal of their academic or professional superiors as dehumanizing non-Christians. That might of course be a true assessment, but it might also be the mere sour grapes of disappointed ambition.”

 

“Because following [Jesus] involves taking up the cross, we should expect, as the New Testament tells us repeatedly, that to build on his foundation will be to find the cross etched into the pattern of our life and work over and over again.”

 

“The way of Christian witness is neither the way of quietest withdrawal, nor the way of Herodian compromise nor the way of angry militant zeal. It is the way of being in Christ, in the Spirit, at the place where the world is in pain, so that the healing love of God may be brought to bear at that point.”

 

“I live in a world which has done its best, sine the Enlightenment, to separate the Church from the academy. I believe passionately that this is deeply dehumanizing in both directions.”

 

“…my calling is not necessarily to solve the great dualities of our post-Enlightenment, and now postmodern, world, but to live in prayer at the places where the world is in pain, in the assurance that through this means, at a level far deeper than the articulate solving of the problem, my discipline may find new fruitfulness, and my church, perhaps, new directions.”

 

“The darkest times have again and again been the most productive at every level.”

 

“As C. S. Lewis said in a famous lecture, next to the sacrament itself your Christian neighbor is the holiest object ever presented to your sight; because in him or her the living Christ is truly present.”

 

“…we are cracked vessels full of glory, wounded healers. God forgive us that we have imagined true humanness, after the Enlightenment model, to mean being successful, having it all together, knowing all the answers, never making mistakes, striding through the world as though we owned it.”

 

“Those who are engaged in academic work are in the ‘knowing’ business, and must allow the gospel to challenge and remake their very notions of knowing. All Christians, whatever their vocation, are called to knowledge of God, of themselves, of one another, of the world.”

 

“It isn’t simply that the gospel of Jesus offers us a religious option which can outdo other religious options, can fill more effectively the slot labelled ‘religion’ on the cultural and social smorgasbord. The gospel of Jesus points us, and indeed urges us, to be at the leading edge of the whole culture, articulating in story and music and art and philosophy and education and poetry and politics and theology and even, heaven help us, biblical studies, a worldview which will mount the historically rooted Christian challenge to both modernity and postmodernity, leading the way into the post-postmodern world with joy and humour and gentleness and good judgment and true wisdom. I believe we face the question: If not now, then when? And if we are grasped by this vision, we may also hear the question: If not us, then who? And if the gospel of Jesus is not the key to this task, then what is? ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you…’. Receive the Holy Spirit, forgive and retain sins.”

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