Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bucket List...

In the 2007 movie The Bucket List, two men who appear to be different in practically every way (e.g., a millionaire and a working-class mechanic; a four-time divorcee and a man who has been faithful to one woman - his wife) find common ground by what looms somewhere in everyone's mind - the reality of death.  The characters played by Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman have both been diagnosed with lung cancer and given a short period of time to live.  Facing the inevitability of death, they both have a variety of things they would like to do before they "kick the bucket" (i.e., die) - hence the title of the movie.

Death.  Unless Jesus comes back first it is a common reality we will all face.  In light of death, how should we live?  More appropriately, in light of God's view of death, how should a Christian live?  More to the point, should Christians have a "bucket list"?  Rather than give an answer that can easily be tossed aside or criticized, let us turn our attention to the Bible.

In Luke 19 we read "He entered Jericho and was passing through..." (Lk19:1) - the He is Jesus.  On the surface it seems this chapter records a chance encounter between Zacchaeus and Jesus of Nazareth.  Granted, this chance encounter did forever change the life of Zacchaeus (Lk19:9).  In fact, this chance encounter also immediately impacted the lives of many others (cf. Lk19:8).  Furthermore, based on Luke's emphasis on outcasts and money (and from what we know about how the early Church used everything at her disposal to help others), it is very likely many helped monetarily by Zacchaeus also had their lives forever changed as they experienced the love and grace of God through an individual.  And just think, all of this happened simply by chance as Jesus was merely "passing through" - right?  A chance encounter which ultimately lead to the salvation of - only God knows how many - people...

It is true Jesus impacted people wherever He went.  Yet when we look at the word for "passing through" in the text, this passage suddenly looks different.  The Greek word dierchomai, translated as "passing through" in Luke 19:1, is used 42 times in the Greek New Testament; 30 of those are in Luke-Acts.  This is somewhat interesting.  Yet it gets more interesting when we look at how the word for "passing through" is used - it seems to be a technical term used by Luke.  With few exceptions the word clearly describes a specific purpose for going from one place to another.  Most commonly the specific purpose is to spread the good news of Jesus and/or the Kingdom of God  (e.g., Lk2:15; 9:6; Acts8:40; 11:19; 13:6,14; 15:3,41).

Therefore, on His way to Jerusalem where Jesus knows He will soon suffer and die, He specifically chooses to "pass through" Jericho.  Why?  What seems interesting yet unclear comes into focus when we consider a few other encounters Jesus had with people of wealth in the gospel of Luke.  Early on Jesus encounters Levi who follows Him and throws a party with his wealth because Jesus has changed his life (Lk5:27-39).  Later Jesus tells of a "rich fool" who died facing judgment because of hoarding his money (Lk12:13-21), and of a "rich man" who would not part with his money for the sake of the Kingdom of God - therefore by implication he did not enter into It (Lk18:18-30).  In between these accounts are two parables, both of which focus on money (the "dishonest" steward in Lk16:1-13, and the rich man and Lazarus in Lk16:19-31).

In other words, Luke presents an individual who responds well with his wealth (Levi), followed by a series of people who do not (well, except for the "dishonest" steward - but that is another issue), followed by Z acchaeus - another who responded well to the call of Jesus on his life in spite of his (tremendous) wealth.  After meeting Jesus, Zacchaeus leveraged what he had prostituted himself for all of his life (i.e., he chased money) for the glory of God by providing for those who could not provide for themselves.

So, what does this do to a "bucket list" for those of us who live in the most affluent culture in the history of the world?  Please ponder (and comment); I will share a thought or two tomorrow...

Friday, May 25, 2012

Gospel Avengers?

Earlier this week I finally gave in; my wife and I went to see The Avengers.  OK, that is not entirely true... but we did see The Avengers (something we both wanted to do).

I usually try and relax whenever I see a movie.  In fact, at times I come close to being alarmed with how much of an escape a movie can be for me.  Yet that is another issue (and maybe another post).  Nevertheless, I share that because I do not seek to evaluate every twist and turn, figure things out in advance, etc.  Quite often I like to simply be along for the ride.  Yet early in The Avengers a few things stood out so blatantly that I am compelled to comment on them.  While the quotes will not be verbatim, the concepts are accurate.

Relatively early in the movie the "key" villain, Loki, mentioned he came with an announcement of "good tidings".  In other words he came with an announcement of good news...or a gospel.  A bit later Loki derides humans for how their "pursuit of freedom is enslaving them" and how they were "made to be ruled and to submit".  Who would have ever thought such deep concepts - and truth - would make their way into a superhero movie?

First let us quickly take the "good tidings" comment.  Christianity does not have a corner market on the Greek word euangelion (from which we get "good news" or "gospel" - hence Loki's "good tidings").  It is a term that for Rome could announce Caesar's birthday or a victory in battle; basically things that were "good" for the advancement of Rome (which meant the opposite for many others).  The concept is much the same for the Jewish people.  In other words, the "good news" is good (or bad) based on context; good for some yet bad for others.  This is true in the New Testament too.  All that is encompassed by God's "good news" is indeed bad news for the kingdom of darkness.  Therefore, Loki (as a 'god') does bring good news (a side note, it is interesting how he takes captive some key individuals early in the film - cf. 2Cor4).  It just so happens many would disagree with Loki's assessment that the news he brings is good (hence the movie).  Yet we should not write it off so quickly...

Loki is correct in his assessment that the pursuit of freedom is enslaving people.  There will (perhaps) be another time to address that issue.  Yet for now we will simply acknowledge "freedom" is a slippery word.  It certainly cannot mean the ability to do whatever one desires because that will quickly turn into a lack of freedom for others.  In this case freedom is defined by the one with the bigger stick - which is the way the kingdoms of the world roll.  

Loki is also correct in his assessment that humanity is "made to be ruled and to submit."  Indeed, this is biblical truth.  When humanity seeks to throw off restraint and "be free" they pass from one (benevolent and loving) Ruler to another (malevolent and hateful) ruler.  We are either seeking to continually submit to God's rule (cf. the concept of the Kingdom of God), or we are being deceived by Satan.  Humanity was made to submit to the rule of God.  Unfortunately, far too often we choose our own way because we are deceived and pursuing an illusion of freedom - which only lands us in Satan's web of deceit and chains of addictions.

This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday.  Praise God for the gift of His Spirit which can make our hearts new and continually guide us.  When I look at a list of what flows out of the heart (e.g., Mk7:21-22) it can be depressing.  Fortunately God's grace can bring victory as we cast off the foolish lust for (the illusion of) freedom and submit to the One who brought true "good news" to the world.  May the coming of the Spirit we celebrate this Sunday empower us to be heralds of the best news ever...God is making all things new!  Fortunately, as the crowning point of His creation, that includes you and me.  Mind-boggling...but praise God for it!!!