Stay Awake and Be Prepared!

secondI don’t think I’ve seen a sadder moment in recent memory than when I witnessed three solemn faces–those of my wife and two children–last Monday morning as they headed back to school.

My wife (a teacher in Dekalb County) and children cherished the days off during the big snow storm last week.  Returning was a necessary part of work and education for all three, but they would have rather participated in just one more snowball fight.

The storm was fun for this family, but it was not all fun and games for so many other fellow Atlantans who had to endure hours in cars and the cold, only to have their elected officials make excuses as to why the city was not better prepared to handle the elements, traffic, and response.

When my wife went to work that Tuesday morning, we wondered why city officials and superintendents insisted on seeing the first snowflake fall before having to cancel school.  It didn’t make sense to us, and I hope that our officials learned the lesson: be prepared!

The Reverend Quincy Barnwell, pastor of Grace Christian Church (his church meets in Trinity’s building at 8 AM on Sunday mornings), reminded his congregation last weekend that we Christians are called to be prepared too.

Except, in our case, we are to be prepared for Jesus’ Second Coming.  This is a command from the Lord.

In Matthew 24 Jesus foretold his return to reclaim the earth as God’s own and judge all creation accordingly.

Jesus said two important things about that occasion.  First, no one but God knows the “day and hour” of Jesus’ return (v. 37).

Second, Jesus’ return will be like the coming of a thief in the night.  We are called not to slumber or be distracted, but to be alert, awake, and prepared (vv. 38-50).

When Jesus returns, then, we Christians will not have the privilege of saying that we were not prepared.  We cannot wait for the first snowflake to fall in order to hear God’s call, repent of our sins, and live a life of holiness with God.

What is interesting is that Jesus tells us that being prepared for his return means more than merely being in a certain state of mind.  He also asks us to stay awake regarding the needs of others.

Jesus’ warnings in Matthew 24 leads into Jesus’ ethical commands to feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit the sick and the captive, and welcome the stranger in Matthew 25:31-46.

The way we stay alert is to remain in a sort of constant motion to fulfill these needs.

It is easy to fall asleep in our obligations to our neighbors.  We are distracted by the many things that surround us, beautiful things like cars and computers and fancy wardrobes and ostentatious homes (for me, its books…I get distracted by reading too many books!).

These distractions start to pull us away from the Lord, and we end up working day in and day out in order to afford more things that only distract us further.

No wonder Jesus likens his return to being like a thief in the night.  When Jesus comes, he will steal away all those things we’ve lusted after only to leave us naked and vulnerable.

Only then, when he shows us for who we really are, will Jesus ask: What have you done with your life apart from hoarding, collecting, and consuming things?

As a Baptist, I know this question comes awful close to the idea that we might be “saved” by our works as much as by our faith, but that’s not the case.

In Scripture, faith is a catalyst for works.  Works is the evidence that Christ has made a difference in our life, a difference that others can see and experience for themselves.  Jesus continues to call us even today to “stay awake!” in both our faith and our works.

“Jesus Card” is a Christian’s ace in the deck

ace

By guest contributor, Matt Cook

Back in February, I read about an unfortunate situation that occurred in Arizona. A pastor of a large congregation visited a local Applebees one night after church. With a large crowd in attendance, the store automatically charged an 18% gratuity as most restaurants do. When the pastor saw the gratuity, however, he wrote on the receipt, “I only give God 10%, why should I give you 18?”

The waitress, humored by the response, posted a picture of the receipt on the internet. It went viral. Soon after, members of that community began to figure out exactly who had written that note on the receipt. Embarrassed, the pastor called Applebees and demanded for the waitress to be fired.

This story horrifies me deeply, but it does not surprise me. I have seen this sort of thing happen time after time. This pastor pulled what I often refer to as the “Jesus Card.”  You can’t argue with the Jesus Card; it trumps everything.

Here’s how it works: Whenever you need a good excuse for something, all you have to do is bring God or Jesus into the equation. If you want to buy a dress that you can’t afford, just say that God will provide. If you don’t like someone, all you need to do is claim that you’d rather spend more time with God than with them.

I knew a girl in college that broke up with a guy using the Jesus card. She told him that she needed to concentrate on God more. I guess God didn’t matter too much when she started dating another guy two weeks later.

This is the kind of reasoning that the pastor took when paying a gratuity at Applebees. If you don’t want to pay a gratuity, all you have to do is say that God deserves this tithe more.

The Jesus Card can be quite a convenient way of getting ourselves out of a jam, but the problem is that it’s not biblical. The problem with the Jesus Card is that it uses God for one’s own personal gain.

We too often use the Bible and Jesus Christ as tools to gain wealth or achieve a higher status in life. We use Jesus to avoid awkward confrontation or conversations that make us uncomfortable. Through it all, by using the Jesus Card, we stop asking what we can do for God and start asking what God can do for us.

We begin speaking for God in ways that benefit us. I find it fascinating that since God rarely speaks to anyone audibly these days, He takes the time out of His day to be specific on how we should run our relationships.

No doubt there might be some legitimate Christian reasons for ending a relationship. Being dragged down into a sinful spiral might be one of them, but why not just say that? Why not just explain exactly what is going on?

In the case of the pastor, why not just say that you don’t want to give that tip? Why bring God into the equation at all? For that matter, would not God want you to give the tip and, in turn, give God an 18% tithe instead of the usual 10%?

After all, I seem to remember a verse about how giving to the least of these is like giving to Jesus. I guess you could debate on whether a waitress is “the least of these,” but considering how little servers make, she sure falls into that category to me.

If we really wanted to do what God wants, then why aren’t we giving all our money to the poor and just keeping what we need to live off? Why aren’t we volunteering at homeless shelters and finding ways to show everyone love? Why aren’t we reading our Bibles more instead of blaming others for our lack of spiritual depth?

It seems to me that throwing down the Jesus Card is always more convenient for us than it is helpful to Christ.  Jesus directs our life, but he is much more valuable than an ace in the deck.

Matt Cook is candidate for the Master of Divinity degree at McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University, Atlanta.  Matt is minister of youth at Milstead Baptist Church, Conyers.  

Common English Bible makes critical change to Christ the King, “Son of Man” title

The new Bible translation, the “Common English Bible,” published by a variety of mainline Protestant denominations, is said to rival the New Revised Standard Version in accuracy and usage.  As readers get deeper into the translation, however, some find a few nuances puzzling or regrettable.

One such nuance is the CEB’s translation of the traditional “son of man” title (which Jesus ascribes to himself throughout the gospels) to “the Human One.”

According to the CEB official website, the reason for this decision is that translators sought to evoke the meaning behind the Greek “idiom” rather than to translate the Greek literally.  The Greek phrase, “oius tou anthropos,” is literally son of a human, and the translators followed suit.

By translating the phrase to “the Human One,” the CEB translators feel that readers can get to the heart of the Greek language, which is both gender neutral (anthropos means “human” moreso than “man”) and theologically accurate from the point of view of the Old Testament (the Aramaic or Hebrew phrase, which Jesus would have used since he was Jewish, simply means “son of the humans”; see Daniel 7:13 NRSV).

The CEB board, in short, feels that “Human One” rightly communicates a Greek idiom.  This is no different than when Bible scholars translate the Greek phrase, “sons of the weddinghall” to “wedding guests” (Matthew 9:5).

With Christ the King Sunday coming up this weekend, we may do well to resurrect (no pun intended) the meaning behind the “Son of Man” title from Jesus’ own point of view.  I think that the CEB missed the mark in its reasoning for translating this phrase to “the Human One.”

Unlike the reasoning behind the CEB board’s decision, Jesus was not merely referring to himself from the perspective of Daniel 7:13.  He was not expressing a principle about his humanity; rather, Jesus used the specific title, “Son of Man” to declare that he was the one–God’s very son, in fact–whom Israel was anticipating as the coming Messiah.

The title “Son of Man” was actually in wide usage during Jesus’ lifetime.  It appeared, for instance, in the book of Enoch, a book that many Jews believed foretold of the coming Messiah as a “Son of Man who gathers God’s people and eats with them” (my summarized translation).  Also, “Son of Man” was the title given to many messiahs that claimed to know what God was up to.

When Jesus referred to himself as “Son of Man,” he invoked a specific vocation that was both messianic and political.  Jesus was not merely a human one, he was the “Son of Man” who came to inaugurate God’s Kingdom, to embody God’s reign on earth “as it is in heaven.”

“The time is fulfilled,” Jesus declared, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is near” (Mark 1:15).   The time of the true Son of Man had arrived.

Christ the King Sunday is a day that affirms Jesus’ ascension and his ongoing lordship.  Jesus is alive and well and, more importantly, reigns over all nations.  He is the King of Kings, and Jesus’ very Kingdom continues to break into our world “like a mustard seed that grows into a large tree.”

The text for Christ the King Sunday comes from Matthew 25: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his throne of his glory” (v. 31).  The “Son of Man” title declares two important components of what God is doing in and through Jesus: God gives Jesus authority and makes Jesus judge over all nations.

Jesus does not get this privilege because he is the human one; he participates in this unfolding mission precisely because he is the “Son of Man” that Israel anticipated from the earliest history.  Christ is the Son of Man and therefore king.