To be like Jesus, be despised but not despicable.

“Jesus said we would be despised.”

I hear Christians say this all the time. Usually it comes in the context of offering controversial opinions based on the Bible or Christian tradition. And technically they are correct. Jesus did tell the disciples that His followers would be ridiculed, persecuted, and hated for His sake.

But… This isn’t all there is to say about the matter. Too often people use this as an excuse to present biblical teachings in an inappropriate, rude, or even wicked way. (And sometimes they’re not even biblical teachings so much as cheap caricatures of them.) Doing this is unacceptable. Truth can and sometimes must be offensive, but its offense must never be wielded as a club.

Being clear: rudeness is not Christian. Name-calling and slandering are not Christian. Treating people as though they did near bear the image of Christ is not Christian. And Jesus did not tell us to do any of those things. Truth can be very offensive, but this offense can be made worse or better by how, when, why, and where we preach it.

Jesus promised that we would be despised, but He only blessed those who are despised for His sake. When we misbehave, acting arrogantly or abusively in our truth-telling, we will be despised not for Christ’s sake but for our own. In fact, adding rudeness to truth turns the truth into a kind of lie, since it gives off the signal that the God—who is Himself truth—approves of our behavior.

So in the end this really is just a rant against abusing the truth as a club with which to be jerks to other people. We can be despised for our message and for our love and still be like Jesus. But when we are despised for being obnoxious, inflammatory, cruel, or disrespectful, our own Scriptures condemn us. For we are called to be witnesses characterized by love, compassion, gentleness, a good reputation, and blamelessness before the world, in peace as much as it depends on us. To adapt from Jesus:

“What good is it if you speak the truth but harass and disrespect others? Do not even the most rabid SJWs do the same? And if you preach the offense of the cross but add to it your own offense, are you not a stumbling block to your hearers? Therefore be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

P.S. This Babylon Bee article ties in perfectly with my point here.

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Nicene Nerdcast: Can the Lord’s Supper fight white supremacy?

In the wake of recent racially-charged events, I’ve done a little thinking about racial issues in the Church. I’m not hugely experienced with these things, so I’m don’t think I’m qualified to say that much about race.

That said, I have spent some time researching the doctrines of the Church and the sacraments. And these are relevant to racial issues, because in Christ’s Church all peoples and races are formed into “one new man” (Eph. 2:15) and are bound together as one body by the one loaf (1 Cor. 10:16-18).

This is the subject of my very first podcast. My new podcast is called The Nicene Nerdcast, and episode one is about racism and Communion. Listen below and give me your thoughts.

Download this episode

Some say the eclipse means the apocalypse. Does it?

Jesus is nearly here! Or something. Whenever something like an eclipse (solar or lunar) happens, there are people who insist that it is connected to the book of Revelation, or to Jesus’ prophecies about the coming of the Son of Man. Divine judgment is imminent! Next thing you know the Church will be Raptured, and Jesus will split the eastern sky. Might they be right? Is the eclipse a sign that Jesus right around the corner?

No.

There is no particular biblical reason to believe that a random total solar eclipse (which happen in different places really every few years) is connected to the apocalypse. Some of the prophecies do mention the sun going dark, but this has happened thousands of times since Jesus left. The only way to make this eclipse special is to root through all sorts of obscure astronomical minutia to create patterns out of nowhere. It’s just an exercise in fantasy.

But!

That’s really not all there is to be said. While we have no reason to associate this eclipse with Jesus’ return, we do need to remember that creation is by nature always symbolic. The heavens never stop witnessing to God’s glory and work. There is biblical symbolism connected with the sun and with its darkening, and it applies as much today as it did in the days of the prophets.

Biblically, the sun symbolizes two related things. First, it symbolizes God, particularly His face. Here’s how I put it on Facebook the other day:

The sun represents the face of God. It is too glorious for us to behold directly, but it gives light to everything else. It warms the earth and is the source of all life on its surface. It sits in heaven, gazing down upon all people. It shines upon the just and the unjust, blessing both. Yet it also can scorch and burn, and we need some degree of protection and distance lest we be consumed. We can see it, and truly receive its light and heat, but it is removed from us by a great distance and is completely incomparable to us.

Second, the sun symbolizes the highest rulers and authorities, both in the spiritual and the physical realms. The sun represents kings, councils, emperors, and heavenly powers (think angels and demonic gods). This theme shows up all the time in the Psalms and the prophets. This is connected to the sun’s symbolism of God. Since God is the highest authority of all, He is represented by other high authorities. So the same sun which represents God also represents other rulers.

We see, then, eclipses in the Bible do symbolize divine judgment on a double level. On the divine level, when the sun goes dark, this symbolizes God hiding His face. God turns away, and instead of shining the earth in blessing, He puts the world in darkness. On the lesser level, when the sun goes dark, it symbolizes turmoil among the powers of the world. Rulers and authorities are put in chaos, and in the prophets this often resulted in a king, emperor, or dynasty being overthrown.

So what does this mean? Does an eclipse visible over the United States today prove that America is about to be judged in some way? It may not; biblical symbols are not always directly connected in time and space to what they represent. Natural symbols are often general reminders which do not point to specific events. That said, it’s not hard to imagine that the eclipse does represent a coming judgment on America, simply because we are obviously ripe for catastrophe. There is already loads of political, social, and military turmoil in our country. Trump, trans, racists, radicals, inequality, ISIS, Korea, killings, etc. have filled up the news with more tension than we’ve seen in several years. People on all sides of all issues have been at fault in all sorts of ways. Rare are the poor in spirit, the meek, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers, especially in the places where are most needed.

I’m not saying this proves that the eclipse foretells an impending catastrophic judgment on us. Symbolism is complex, and not all signs point to something nearby.

But let’s just say nothing which could appear in the news over the next year or two would surprise me. America is ready to fall apart, and none of us need to see an eclipse to know that.

Step outside and see the world biblically

A few weeks ago I read James B. Jordan’s book Through New Eyes, and it did indeed leave me with new eyes to see. The book is essentially a primer of biblical worldview. This is not, Jordan explains, the same as Christian worldview in a philosophical sense. Rather, it is about how the Bible portrays the world we live in, all on its own terms. This involved two main categories: symbolism and history.

As Jordan explains, the world is designed to reveal God and His glory. This isn’t a secondary function, or frosting on the cake of creation. It’s what the world is at its heart: a symbol of God. And every part of the world symbolizes God in its own way. Through New Eyes uses the Bible to show demonstrate how certain different parts of creation symbolize God, so that you can go outside and see, instead of just matter, a world on fire with the glory of God.

While Through New Eyes looks at lots of different symbolism, I just want to highlight here some of the stuff that stuck out to me the most and has had the largest impact on my own vision. So here are a few natural symbols in biblical perspective:

Sky
The sky is called “heaven/the heavens” in Scripture, and it’s not a coincidence that this word is also used for the realm of God and the angels. The two are not the same place, but the sky is the image of heaven. It is above us no matter where we are, symbolizing that God and His host are watching over everything. Being higher also symbolizes God’s authority. The sun symbolizes the face of God, which shines on the righteous and the unrighteous, giving light, heat, and glory to the world, yet also scorching and burning. The sun, the moon, and the stars together also symbolize the rulers and authorities in the world, both earthly and heavenly. The clouds also represent the weight and glory of God, along with His double-edged comings of blessing and judgment.
Trees
Trees represent people, as can be seen throughout the Bible, such as in Psalm 1. Trees and men both come from the earth, and both grow up toward the sky which represents heaven. Those which are healthy and well-watered flourish, creating shade and fruit as a blessing, just as the Christian is given new life when baptized by the Spirit, which leads him to a life of love and fruit which blesses others. Unhealthy trees represent the wicked, who are dry and lifeless and good for nothing but to be cut down and thrown into the fire. People tend to surround homes, apartments, schools, and other such places with trees, and these trees represent the intended flourishing of the people who populate those places. Trees also represent a ladder to heaven, reaching from the earth to the sky, something which men are meant to become by the Spirit.
Animals
All animals are designed to represent God in various ways. They variously represent strength, power, beauty, sight, or other things which God has in abundance. Most interestingly, the animals which were unclean represented death. This is because the curse of human death was bound up with the cursing of the ground and its dust.
Rocks and stones
The Bible calls God a “rock.” He is strong and hard and massive, and this has two edges. On the one hand, rocks represent the safety God gives to His people. In the cleft of a rock a man can find shelter and shade. On the other hand, rocks represent the danger God poses to unbelievers. Whoever falls upon the rock will be broken, and if the rock comes falling down, whoever is beneath it will be crushed. The rock of the kingdom of God grows into a mountain, which elevates God and His people, Christ and His Church, above the whole world. It will stand and never be shaken. Smaller stones, like rubies and diamonds and the like, represent by their inner glint God’s fire of purity and holiness, and His Holy Spirit. By their brilliance they represent the glory of God, the shining and luminescent aspect which beautifies Him and His world.

So go out, look at the world, and see God. He is behind it all, and it all is meant to be a picture of Him.