Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Earth Vision Follow Up

I want to follow up on the post about God’s vision for the earth, in which I asserted that, while God has a full and vital vision for the future of the earth, most Christians’ vision of the future is focused almost solely on heaven, and as a result we have missed much of what Jesus and Scripture are really talking about.

This has been part of the discussion that I have been having with my Wednesday night Bible study crew (an open study in which there is always room for more participants). So I decided to do a little research. The question I was seeking an answer for was this: how much did Jesus and the New Testament writers talk about heaven, specifically our concept of heaven as the place of eternal reward after a person dies. Using my Bible software I did a search on the word “heaven” to see how often it occurs in the New Testament, and looked up each occurrence to see to what it referred. Here’s what I found:

The word “heaven” occurs 248 times in the New Testament. 32 of those instances, however, are Matthew’s substitution of “Kingdom of Heaven” for the other gospel writer’s “Kingdom of God”. The vast majority of times—206—the word refers either to the sky or to the place where God dwells. Actually, that’s the same thing, for all the ancients believed that the gods or God lived up in the sky. But in none of these instances does the word refer to the place of reward in the afterlife for good people or Christians. There are only 10 instances where the word could be construed as referring to any kind of reward for faithfulness, or an abode after death. When the word search is expanded to include the plural “heavens,” you find a lot more references to the sky, and only one that talks about an eternal body after death, 1 Corinthians 5:1-2. So the concept is not foreign to the New Testament, but neither is it prominent, certainly not in the degree to which modern Christians give it.

In contrast, there are 99 instances of the phrase “Kingdom of God” (and its cognate “Kingdom of Heaven”) in the New Testament, all but 13 of them coming from Jesus. Yet, when I speak to different groups of Christians and ask them, “What one thing did Jesus talk about more than anything else,” I have yet to have anyone answer, “Kingdom of God.” I get “salvation” (he speaks of it only thirteen times), “forgiveness” (sixteen), or “eternal life” (twenty-one). But not once, not once has anyone ever said, “Kingdom of God,” not even after they have run out of every other answer. I have had to give them the answer every single time.

What’s up? Why have we missed this? Well, I think part of it is that we are so obsessed with heaven that every time we read “Kingdom of God,” we automatically think “heaven.” But read the gospels, and it is clear that the Kingdom of God does not refer to a non-physical place of eternal reward where the spirits of saved people float around for all of eternity with God and the angels. No, it is a very physical place, a very earthly place, where peace and justice and mercy and love are the order of the day. The contrasts Jesus makes are not between earth in this life and heaven in the next, but between the kingdoms of this age and the Kingdom of God in the new age. And the biblical vision is not of heaven as a place that we go to but rather of earth as a place that heaven comes to so that God’s will is done “on earth as it is in heaven.” So that the justice that characterizes heaven now characterizes earth as well. And the love that characterizes heaven characterizes earth as well. And the presence of God which characterizes heaven will characterize the earth as well. Who said that you have to die and go to heaven to be in the presence of God? The good news that was proclaimed when Jesus was born was that his name would be “Immanuel” which means “God is with us”!

It seems to me that we need to get this straight, and that if we are going to call ourselves followers of Jesus that we ought to talk about things in the same proportion that Jesus talked about them. Which means that we need to talk about the Kingdom of God a whole lot more.

In Acts 1, after Jesus had ascended into the sky on a cloud, two men in white robes said to his disciples, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand there staring up into heaven?”

Maybe we need a couple of angels to ask us the same thing.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Guitar Back (Finally) From Spray Booth

I took the guitar to Mike's Auto Body in Thurmont to get the finish sprayed on the body. That was at the end of March. Mike, for whom I built #002 back in 2008, thought that his paint guy would be able to get to it that first weekend, but ten days later and he still hadn't been able to do it. They got swamped with work. So he asked his restoration guy to do it.
The finish is an acrylic urethane, very tough and durable--and expensive, but Mike swears by it. It's good stuff, no doubt. Nonetheless, Mike and his guys are used to spraying on metal, so they were alarmed when the first two coats resulted in a lot of little pin-dot depressions--fisheye, they're called. But this apparently is natural when spraying wood, as it is absorbent, even after being sealed. So the normal procedure is to spray 3 coats, let dry overnight, then sand level (which removes a lot of what was applied) and repeat. It usually takes three such sessions to achieve a good, level build that is ready for buffing, and this was no different.

So I ran into Mike at Panera at lunch and he told me it was ready, so after work I ran up to Thurmont and got it. Here's what it looks like--and trust me, the pictures don't do it justice.

Removing the masking tape is not a quick job. I have to take an Exacto knife and carefully score the finish around the bridge mask, and also where the neck and fretboard extension meets the body. The former took a good 30 minutes, but the neck is a the neck. Sorry. It's just hard to get the blue tape out of the corners. Literally took me two and a half hours of painstaking work using the Exacto knife and a razor blade.
Finally, it was done.

Next is applying oil finish to the neck, and gluing on the bridge.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Earth Vision

In Genesis 1, God made humans in his image and entrusted them with sovereignty over the rest of creation:

Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them reign over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and reign over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth."

This sovereignty over creation isn’t a despotic rule to do whatever we want with and to the earth, imposing our will on it. Ever try to do that to a garden, forcing the soil to bend to your will? Doesn’t work too well, does it? I like fresh corn, but planting corn in December doesn’t work. The seed will rot in the ground before it has a chance to take root. Planting in September doesn’t work either—the stalk will freeze and die before it has a chance to mature. No, to rule over creation is to do what God does in Genesis 1, which is bring order to the garden to enable it to flourish.

In Genesis 3, the Humans moved away from this plan, seeking to use creation for their own purposes and desires, but that doesn’t mean that God has abandoned his original plan for creation or for those designated to be its sovereign caretakers. Repeatedly, in both Testaments, Scripture refers to humans ruling with God. Psalm 8:1-9; Daniel 7; Revelation 3:21 and 22:3-5; Romans 5:17; 1 Timothy 2:8-13 are just a few of the passages that speak to it. 1 Peter 2:9, echoing Exodus 19:4, calls us a royal priesthood—king/priests, mediating God’s kindly sovereignty over his world. Once again, this isn’t as much ruling over the world as it is ruling on behalf of the world, serving by keeping peaceful order so that the world may flourish.

We hear much about this in our churches or our Bible studies, do we? Undoubtedly it is because, though not many of us have experienced being a king, far too many of us have suffered under human kings, and we don’t want any part of that tyranny. This country threw off the yoke of kingly tyranny, and we don’t trust anyone getting close to it. George Washington suffered many accusations of wanting a monarchy (and some were willing to give it to him). The Constitution was changed after FDR was elected president four straight times, limiting future presidents to two terms. We don’t like rulers, we don’t trust rulers, and we push back against anyone with pretensions of a ruler. So we’re uncomfortable with any vision that includes anyone but God as our ruler. (And we’re not quite sure about that, if we’re really honest.)

But I’m not sure that a large part of the reason is that most Christians don’t have any kind of vision of an earthly future. We have a heavenly vision of the future, but in that vision the earth is destroyed, it’s gone forever, and all that’s left are heaven and hell. Our job is to make sure we go to heaven and then, if it’s convenient, try to get as many others to heaven as possible so that the only ones who are in hell are really bad people like Hitler and the terrorists who flew planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. But our vision doesn’t include the earth, in spite of the many passages of Scripture that speak of the future of the earth.

The fact is that Jesus rarely spoke after the afterlife of heaven, but he repeatedly talked about the future life on the earth. He called it the Kingdom of God, and though people often think he was talking about the place saved people go when they die, he wasn’t. Or, more precisely, he was talking about so much more than that. He taught us to pray that God’s will would be done “on earth as it is in heaven.” He spoke of the coming age, which was an earthly age when God’s sovereignty over the earth would be recognized by all and enjoyed by all. Jesus’ birth was announced with promises of “peace on earth, and good will toward humans.” The book of Revelation ends with a vision of a new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven to earth. The streets of gold described there are not descriptions of heaven but of this new Jerusalem. On earth.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. God had a vision for the earth and for our place in it, and he has never abandoned that vision.

We shouldn’t either.

Monday, April 5, 2010

I'm a Bad Son-in-Law

Mema got mad at me.

She didn't notice the date at the top of the post.

And the faith-healing guitar repairman with no guitar-repairing tools didn't tip her off.

So she's been praying for me all weekend. Praying that I'll be able to repair Clark's guitar. Praying that I won't get discouraged in my luthiery pursuits. Praying for Clark's guitar.

Then Angela told her yesterday.

She's still praying for me, but I think in a completely different way now.

Apparently there are others who have moved me to a different prayer list.

Sorry. (Hee-hee)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Guitar Disaster

I don't know what happened.

I've been keeping Clark's guitar in a spare case to protect it from damage. That's where it was last night, and it was downstairs, not in the garage, where it still gets chilly during the night.

So everything should have been all right.

I had a little time this morning so I thought I would go lightly sand off the little dust nubs that invariably are there after an application of any finish material. I want things really smooth in preparation for tomorrow afternoon's trip to the spray booth.

But when I went downstairs, something was terribly wrong. It was as if the guitar had just exploded in the case. The lid was wide open and the "guitar" was just laying there in pieces:

The only thing I can guess is that the change in weather and humidity affected it; maybe I should have put a humidifier in the case like everybody recommends. But I've never used one before and never had a problem.

I'm just so sick, I think I'll just go back to bed. But there's a guy I know who is a faith-healer, but not just any faith-healer, he's a faith-healer who also "repairs" guitars. I put that in quotes because I really think he just lays hands on them, maybe with a little anointing oil, and they just gets fixed. I've asked him about it and he always avoids answering me directly. But, I mean, I've been to his workshop and there are no guitar repair tools anywhere! Hmmm.

So maybe I can get him to come over and we can do a little service for the guitar.

Otherwise, I'll just have to start over.

Man. I sure hope tomorrow is a better day.

King Without a Sword

When I was young I was taught that Jesus did not come to establish an earthly kingdom, rather that he came to set up a heavenly kingdom and to populate it with as many people as possible. I was taught wrong.

Nothing against my childhood Sunday School teachers, they were only teaching what they had been taught, and what was being taught in their Sunday School literature. But this idea that Jesus wasn’t interested in an earthly kingdom has to ignore or explain away a whole lot of Scripture.

Take, for instance, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Here’s how Mark records it in 11:7-10:

Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!"

It was explained to me that the Israelites wanted a king and a kingdom, but that Jesus would have nothing of it, but in Matthew 21:4-5, that gospel writer adds:

This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, "Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey."

This prophecy from Zechariah clearly expects an earthly king and an earthly kingdom, and Matthew states that Jesus fulfilled it. Well, yes, I was taught, Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies, but just not in the way that the people expected. He came to set up a kingdom, just not the kind of kingdom everyone wanted. Now, that part is true, just not in the way that it was meant. Once again what was meant was that Jesus came to set up a heavenly kingdom, while the people wanted an earthly kingdom, but that’s not the distinction I believe Jesus made.

The people expected the new kingdom to be established and maintained the way all kingdoms are established and maintained—at the tip of a sword, with war and all the violence and civilian casualties that come along with it. Jesus’ kingdom would be different. It would come not through violence but through sacrifice, not with a sword but with a cross. That was the difference.

But Jesus came to establish a kingdom, and the people recognized it. He entered as a king, and he knew full well what he was doing. He came to confront the earthly powers who did not rule with justice but actually oppressed the people with their unjust practices—the power structures of Temple, king (Herod), and, yes, even Caesar. And these power structures recognized what he was doing. It’s not for nothing that Jesus was tried and executed for treason. When Pilate said that he felt Jesus was innocent, he didn’t mean that he found false the claim that Jesus saw himself as king, just that he found Jesus to be no threat to Rome. Well, in terms of which Pilate understood what constituted a threat to Rome, that was true. A king without an army and with no desire to raise an army didn’t seem like a threat to Rome.

But he was. And by the end of the century the Romans would begin killing the followers of Jesus because they posed a threat; not a threat of violent revolution, but a threat nonetheless. They refused to call Caesar Lord and instead claimed that Jesus, and Jesus alone, was Lord. The Romans saw this as a serious enough threat that they were willing to kill because of it, and the Christians saw it as a serious enough claim that they were willing to die for it, just as Jesus said they needed to be prepared to do.

So there is a sense in which everybody was correct in their understanding of what was happening that day when Jesus entered Jerusalem. They people recognized Jesus as their king, and they were willing to follow him. The Temple leaders recognized that the people were willing to follow Jesus wherever he led them, and that that constituted a threat to them and their power structures. And when they put it that way to Pilate, that Jesus was a popular leader who was going to turn things upside down in Israel if he wasn’t put down, he played along.

The people were right that Jesus was a king, and the power structures were right that he was a threat. They just underestimated how big a threat a king without a sword was.

And they didn’t understand that by crucifying him, they were sealing their fates.