Thursday, July 08, 2010

Sunday, April 05, 2009

should christians pray in joshua's name? : eight words to be reclaimed

i  spend quite of bit of time studying and meditating in the bible. i believe that the ancient scriptures are the story of God's mission. God is on a mission to restore friendship (the biblical term is "reconcile") with people and to restore all of the earth's environment, systems, cultures, and creatures to their intended purpose. the scriptures point to the One who created everything and show what true relationship with this One looks like.

the christian scriptures were originally written in ancient languages that few Americans can read. that's where the beauty of translation comes in and today we have many, many translations of the scriptures in English. recently, i've noted that there are many key words in the english translations have not be translated well for contemporary americans. here is my list of words that may need to be reclaimed for a fresh contextualization of the good news in 21st century america:

when people called out across a market place to the one we call jesus, they might have said, "hey, joshua!" jesus' name in hebrew was yeshua and the best english translation of this name is joshua. so might we need to start praying in joshua's name? Iasous was the greek translation of his name and our word, "jesus," is a translation of the translation. thankfully, a name is not just the sounds we make with our vocal chords but is more the concept we have in our mind. (and i don't think i'm ready to change on this one....yet.).

christ is not jesus' last name, it's a title. it means "messiah" or "anointed one."  it refers the one the ancient jewish prophets foretold was coming to restore the kingdom of Israel, bring total peace on earth and restore humanity to right relationship with God. often in the new testament, jesus was refered to "yeshua the messiah of nazareth." (this was important because there many other men with the name yeshua living at the same time.) xristos is the greek translation of messiah. christ is a translation of a translation.

even though what i just said about vocal chords is true, it strikes me as very relationally inappropriate that english translations use "LORD" for the name that God revealed of himself in the old testament. that name was YHWH, or Yahweh (traditionally jevohah.) jewish tradition forbade people from using God's covenant/relational name out of fear that people might misuse this name and break a command. but not many of us would like it if we introduced our name to people and they consistently used a title or another name altogether! ("hi, my name is luke." "oh, hello, sir." "no please, just call me luke, that's what those close to me call me." "oh, sure thing, sir.")

this one is truly perplexing and frustrating and has been one of my most recent studies. the word that jesus and the early christians used for the continuing group of disciples (or apprentices - see below) of jesus was ecclesia in the greek. this is simply assembly or gathering in the english. it had nothing to do with a building, a program and a staff, but those are the images that come to mind today. ecclesias more resembled the structure of a loose network-like organization centered around ideals and values than a tightly regulated, heirarchical institution.

any kind of -ism scares most people, even though we all hold dearly to many isms. evangel means "good news." the word we translated evangelism carries a connotation of witnessing to something and of communicating a message the news sender wished to communicate. i like to use the english term, "good-newsing" instead to avoid all the unfortunate meanings it has today.

today, most people see "preaching" as the communication/teaching of the bible that happens from the person up front to the people sitting in the church.  but the strange thing is that the world translated "preach" just means "proclaim" and it is almost always used of the communication of the message of jesus to those who haven't yet heard the news. 

jesus, in his final instructions, tells his disciples to go and make more disciples (who would in turn make more disciples.) this word, disciple, is fairly ungrounded in our vocabulary as 21st century americans. a closer translation might be something like "apprentice." the word "student" might work except for the fact that western culture only knows one type of student - one who sits in a classroom, absorbs information and recites it on a test. a disciple/apprentice/student is one who is mentored by a master teacher in the lifestyle and work of the teacher for the sake of carrying on the ways of the master teacher.

i think that most people think of an apostle as either 1) a crazy-haired person on religious TV or 2) one of jesus' first followers who were super-holy, beyond-human guys who are now forever remembered by religious paintings and artifacts. jesus seemed to have coined a term when he called a special group of his apprentices "apostles." he had many more apprentices than twelve, but he spent more time with this group of twelve. apostle just means "sent-one," and the problem is that the weird english word, apostle, conjures little picture of sending. i don't know what a good translation would be.

would you add more?

i believe we need a translation of the scriptures in the enlish that is translated by missionary translators.  the good new translation comes closest perhaps, but it doesn't go far enough.  i dream of a time when jesus's apprentices today spend more time helping each other actually DO the things jesus said and taught and less time figuring out what the authors meant to get across.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

lent and holistic jesus-following

today is ash wednesday. many from various christian traditions see the forty days before easter as a time for reflection on and preparation for easter. fasting is a common practice during lent.

i have something to confess: i grew up in a christian tradition that looked down at people who fasted for lent. lent is all about show, right? it's all about following tradition, right? didn't jesus go off on people who fasted for show and teach that it's all about what we believe in our hearts?

yes to the first, no to the second.

dallas willard makes a rather simple, yet profound, observation in his book, the spirit of the disciplines. he says that maybe jesus' teaching are linked to the the way he lived his life in the body. jesus held up a very high view of life lived in the Kingdom of God. but for jesus, that lived-out-Kingdom-life was supported by spiritual disciplines like fasting and prayer, solitude and silence. 

is it possible that jesus' teaching on turning the other cheek and loving enemies is inseparable from his daily routine of loving people, healing them and showing compassion. is it possible that jesus' crazy teaching on everyday relationships - that we shouldn't lust over anyone, opposite or same sex - is inseparable from his extended times in the wilderness alone and fasting?

in short, is it possible that being and doing are in fact joined together?

i'm come across this recently in a class on poverty by bryant myers. myers worked with world vision for 30 years, "tackling the problems of poverty and injustice," before teaching in seminary. he believes that poverty ultimately is about the poor's marred belief about themselves and marred vocation. the world's poor don't believe that they are worth anything (and the non-poor agree) and the system keeps them from making a difference by a lived-out vocation. bryant believes that identity is what we believe inside and what we do outside. these two are both together, never separated. (this has huge impacts on how we view God too...God is who is says he is AND what he is doing in history.)

i think that i have tried too long to follow jesus' teachings on "internal things" without following his example in "external things" like spiritual disciplines. i'm going to start small in my practice of fasting during lent. maybe someday soon i'll try a harder fast.

in the end, it all comes down to motivation. is fasting a part of our holistic jesus-following? is our point to be like him in all things, centered in what he taught and how he lived, died, resurrected? if so, then i believe that we might be started on a path of actually living out jesus' radical Kingdom teachings in everyday life and making a real difference in the world.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

living with your death date (part two)

it seemed that folks responded (mostly) well to the whole idea of living in light of death. (the responses are on facebook).  a couple years ago, i came across this spiritual discipline in a devotional/prayer book i was using...

"Represent to you imagination that your bed is your grave; that all things are ready for your interment; that you are to have no more to do with this world; and that it will be owing to God’s great mercy if you ever see the light of the sun again or have another day to add to your works or piety. Then commit yourself to sleep as one that is to have no more opportunity of doing good, but is to awake among the spirits that are separate from the body and waiting for the judgment of the last great day.

Such a solemn resignation of yourself into the hands of God every evening, and parting with all the world as if you were never to see it any more- and all this in the silence and darkness of the night- is a practice that will soon have excellence effects upon your spirit. For this time of the night is exceeding proper for such prayers and mediations. The likeness which sleep and darkness have to death will contribute very much to make your thoughts about it the more deep and affecting. So that I hope you will not let a time so proper for such prayers be ever passed over without them." - From A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life by William Law

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

blurring sacred/secular lines - studying prayers

i have a ever-growing desire to bridge the "spiritual world," and "real world," and see jesus' presence in every area of my existence. (i put those word-categories in parenthesis because i've come to doubt their helpfulness.) i've wrestled with what this means when most of my days are about reading a multitude of books, gazing at the glowing screen and listening to many words.

if you're a student and an apprentice of jesus, you probably can relate with me.

if you're a human and trying follow jesus, you might be able to relate does christian spirituality relate with our work day, raising our kids, our days off and "free" time?

as i've lived a student life in grad school, i've found two prayers from past jesus-followers that have helped blur the lines. i don't think that just praying certain words before an activity is the point. but i'm all about anything that helps me on the journey. (i'm slightly pragmatic.)

the first is from thomas aquinas...the great medieval theologian/philosopher. i relate to this guy. his peers called him a "dumb ox." (read "quiet and stubborn." :) i like to pray the themes of this prayer before a time of studying. i get chills thinking what could happen in the world if students of sociology, language, philosophy, natural sciences, psychology, theology, business, economics and political science all saw our Creator as the source of knowledge, and more importantly, wisdom.

Come, Holy Spirit, Divine Creator, 
true source of light and fountain of wisdom! 
Pour forth your brilliance upon my dense intellect, 
dissipate the darkness which covers me, 
that of sin and of ignorance. 
Grant me a penetrating mind to understand, 
a retentive memory, 
method and ease in learning, 
the lucidity to comprehend, 
and abundant grace in expressing myself. 
Guide the beginning of my work, 
direct its progress, 
and bring it to successful completion. 
This I ask through Jesus Christ, 
true God and true man, 
living and reigning with You 
and the Father, forever and ever.


the second is from the coptic prayer book. the coptic christian community in egypt is one of the oldest christian communities in the world. i like to pray with the themes in this prayer at the end of a studying time. it helps me see my studying in a framework of relationships and action.

I thank You, Lord our God, 
that again on this occasion You have opened my eyes to the light of Your wisdom
You have gladdened my heart with the knowledge of truth. 
I entreat You, Lord, help me always to do Your will.
Bless my soul and body, my words and deeds. 
Enable me to grow in grace, virtue and good habits, 
that Your name may be glorified, 
Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and forever. 


a side note- the problem with written prayers is that they become redundant and impersonal. i've found that the problem with extemporaneous prayer is that prayer becomes locked in a person's preconceived themes and the same words. a middle way might be to pray extemporaneously from written prayers and psalms. over the past five years, i've found this a very helpful practice using the psalms and have recently found the same richness and depth from written prayers.

Monday, December 15, 2008

living with your death date (part 1)

i'm a little morbid i suppose. for me, it seems that the only way to really live a focused life in the present is to come to grips with my future death. maybe that's true for you too.

an average child sees 8,000 murders on TV by the time they reach middle school. but the death of real people, and our own in particular, seems surreal. shouldn't technology and medical advances have figured death out by now? unfortunately, the internet pharmacy in our spam folder doesn't stock the meds needed to fix the whole dying problem.

i couldn't help but bike in the mountains here in pasadena. last sunday i had my first real mountain biking "incident." it wasn't that big of a front wheel got stuck and i flipped over the handlebars. i was thankful for my helmet because my head was the first to hit the dirt. i know there are many worse stories, but i realized that i could have just as easily flipped over the edge of a cliff.

moses at the end of his life reflected in a prayer to Yahweh, "teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom" (psalm 90:12.) and the existential teacher in ecclesiastes writes, "it is better to spend your time at funerals than at festivals. for you are going to die, and you should think about it while there is still time" (ecc. 7:1).

of course older people think this way, but can young people? i've often wondered how i could remind myself often about my own death. i finally came up with a simple way in the form of a bunch of little boxes. here it is as a pdf or as a publisher file. or on

Life Months Blank

there are eighty boxes on the page, each with twelve months. at the beginning of each month, i scratch off a month and reflect on my dreams, goals, etc. it was a crazy feeling scratching off more than one-third of my life when i first did this! i was thankful that i follow jesus the messiah when it comes to my life and death because my death is getting closer!

i know this is not the most graphically appealing way, so help me out if you're graphically inclined. :) but try it out and let me know what affect it has on your mindset after a few months.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

lego martians and the environment

i don't know what's happening in my head. my son caleb bought a lego set the other day with his birthday money. the set includes a white "mission to mars" vehicle for humans and a black martian spaceship which is loaded with weapons. a couple years ago, i wouldn't have thought twice about it, but now that's just not the case.

as i looked more closely at the set, i noticed that the human vehicle, as innocent as it looked, was actually a mining vehicle. the picture on the box had the humans mining the surface of mars and the martians flying overhead.

all of the sudden a flash of craziness hit me. why should the humans get to mine the resources of mars and take it back to earth? the martians are just defending their world from human resource theft! :)

i recently read the national intelligence council's "Global Trends 2025." a key insight of that global futurist document is that the scarcity of natural resources such as oil, water and food is going to cause global unrest and even major wars in the near future. another stat i recently saw was that if all the world lived the middle-class american lifestyle, the earth would be a wasteland in just a couple years. 

i wonder if i was thinking a little too much about these kinds of things when i looked at those legos.

am i going off the deep end? maybe i'm spending too much time in the books. what do you think? does humanity have trouble using the earth's resources well? what do you see happening when/if we run out of natural resources?