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Wrestling with heaven and hell (last weekend’s #sermon #podcast)

I keep on getting busy and forgetting to post my sermon podcasts. Last weekend, for our Wrestling sermon series, we wrestled with heaven and hell. To provide a different framework than the usual one in which the question is concerned, I looked at two passages from Isaiah. Isaiah 2 starts off by talking about God’s vision for a beautiful peaceful world (vv. 1-4) and then talks about the entrenched idolatry and injustice that will need to be destroyed for God’s peace to be established (vv. 5-19). This was actually the topic of one of my first major blog posts if you’d rather read than listen. The second passage I looked at was Isaiah 6 which captures what it’s like for a human to stand in the overwhelming presence of God. I have a typed manuscript of a sermon on this that I preached in the Dominican Republic two years ago. These two components, God’s promise of a peaceful kingdom and the ability to face God with integrity, are the foundation for how I understand what heaven and hell are. Here is the audio. Sign up for the podcast if you’d like to auto-download it into your phone.

Gatekeepers or groundskeepers of God’s house?

Hope you’ve been having a wonderful Advent. I’ve gotten backed up in sharing my sermon podcasts. This one is from two weeks ago. We were looking at Isaiah 2 where it talks about all the nations coming to God’s temple to bend their swords into plowshares. If we’re turning our swords into plowshares, that means renouncing our self-appointed title as gatekeepers of God’s house and becoming groundskeepers instead. If you’d like to receive my sermon podcast automatically each week in your phone, find out more here. Here’s the sermon audio:

Biblical Zion requires a one-state solution

The UN General Assembly today passed a resolution to grant Palestine “observer-state status,” which Palestinian Authority premier Mahmoud Abbas declared the “last chance to save the two-state solution.” I’m actually opposed to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. I don’t think it can be supported Biblically, because the Biblical prophecy about Zion in Isaiah 2:2-4 says that it’s the mountain of the Lord’s temple to which “all the nations will stream” in order to receive God’s judgment and teaching so that no one will “train for war anymore.” There is no mention of national borders, checkpoints, 40 foot high walls, or barbed wire fences in Isaiah or Micah or any of the other prophecies about Zion in the Hebrew Bible, because the Biblical Zion is not an apartheid state in which non-Jews are disenfranchised and under military occupation. Christians who support the Bible shouldn’t be advocating a two-state solution; we should be advocating a one-state solution in which Arabs from Gaza and the West Bank have full citizenship rights as well as Palestinian refugees around the world, who should all have birthright citizenship no differently than Jews around the world currently enjoy. Continue Reading

Can Israel love its enemies in Gaza and keep its people safe?

I realize I’ve had blogorrhea lately about the Gaza crisis. This is probably my last piece on it, taking a more theological angle considering Jesus’ command to love your enemies as a pragmatic foreign policy strategy and also proposing that we understand Satan to be the Great Terrorist who makes us all terrorists to varying degrees according to our influences, privilege, desperation, and access to tools of violence. I’m cautiously hopeful because the Israel/Gaza ceasefire scheduled for 2 pm EST today includes two provisions that I suggest in this piece. That’s why I decided to go ahead and post it. Please pray for peace. Continue Reading

Six things I can say about Gaza

It’s hard to articulate a legitimate Christian response to the tragedy in Gaza right now. My inclination is to take the side of the underdog and go against all of my fellow evangelicals whose commitment to Israel’s absolute infallibility helps make Israel unaccountable for the $3 billion of our tax dollars that they get each year. But there’s no way to justify the rockets that the Gazans are firing at Israel from a moral or even a strategic perspective. And I can understand that if people are firing rockets at your citizens, your government has an obligation to act to prevent that from happening (though I guess Hamas would say the same thing). Of course, it isn’t that simple. I wanted to share some considerations for thinking about this issue as a Christian not to be an apologist for either side but to challenge some of the misconceptions that I hear Christians voicing around me. Continue Reading

A Yom Kippur dream for Israel/Palestine

It’s quite presumptuous for a Christian to write about an Israeli political issue in the context of a Jewish holiday, but I do so as someone who has been blessed immeasurably by Jewish thinkers and public figures like Abraham Heschel, Martin Buber, Elie Wiezel, Hannah Arendt, Judith Butler, Jacques Derrida, and many others. I love Torah. I love the Tehillim. If I didn’t struggle enough to read my Christian Daily Office and pray my Jesus Prayers every day, I would strive to embrace the mitzvot of Orthodox Judaism because I know they would draw me into deeper intimacy with my Creator. But I’m grieving this Yom Kippur for the people of Palestine, especially in Gaza. I’ve heard the spin about how the activists are romanticizing the poverty of Gaza. I’ve seen the pictures of the skyscrapers and beachfront resorts. I know Israeli soldiers aren’t monsters even if a few of them have done monstrous things, and that I have no right to put myself in their shoes. I just want for Jews and Palestinians both to have a homeland where there is peace and justice. And I want to tell you what I would do if I had clout and could gather a contingent of American Jews, Christians, and Muslims with clout to visit the Holy Land. Continue Reading

Why couldn’t Obama say “Palestine”?

I’m really not trying to be a hater. This isn’t part of a subversive strategy to delegitimize Obama as a president. But there was a word he specifically avoided saying last night, and it made my heart hurt. When Obama said we must balance our support for Israel’s security with our support for peace, he couldn’t bring himself to say the word “Palestine.” I guess it’s because if he had actually said, “Palestine,” then the number of Americans who believe Obama is a Muslim would have gone up by ten percentage points. Maybe he had to clear his speech with AIPAC before he said it. Why couldn’t he at least acknowledge the name of the other group of people in the territory controlled by the Israeli government who have the right to security and peace also? Continue Reading

The Name that Shakes the Earth

Sermon preached 1/14/2012 at Burke UMC LifeSign
Text: Isaiah 6:1-8

Do you have a place that’s sacred to you? My sacred place is a lake outside of Charlottesville called Sugar Hollow. I went there every weekend when I was in college at UVA. It’s surrounded on three sides by mountains. There’s a black sand beach on which I’ve taken many naps. Whenever I go back to my favorite lake, I get a feeling in my heart as I drive up the steep hill next to the dam before the lake opens out in front of me. It always makes my jaw drop when I see the lake again, because it’s the most beautiful place in my world. Continue Reading

One State for Israel and Palestine

Nothing is more agonizing and emblematic of the nihilistic helplessness of modern diplomacy than the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I can totally understand Mahmoud Abbas going to the United Nations to petition for statehood. It’s obviously going to get vetoed by the US, but I’m perplexed that anyone could criticize him for trying something different than a process which has gone nowhere for as long as I’ve been alive.
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Learning to Love God’s Judgment

[This is a repost of an article I wrote for Ministry Matters on the two sides of God's judgment and the way that Christ's atonement converts us into loving God's judgment.]

Many have misinterpreted this year’s battle between Rob Bell and the neo-Reformed bloggers who have dogged him for the claims that Bell makes in his book Love Wins. It’s actually not a debate about whether or not hell exists; there’s a deeper question whose answer shapes how we understand the nature of hell and what we are saved from by the cross: Why does God judge us? Continue Reading