Review of ‘Ministry in the Digital Age’ by David T. Bourgeois

Ministry-in-Digital-Age-cover David T. Bourgeois, Ministry in the Digital Age: Strategies and Best Practices for a Post-Website World (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2013). $15.00, 144 pages.

The purpose of Ministry in the Digital Age is “to provide churches and ministries with the guidance they need to successfully embrace and use digital technologies as means to fulfill their mission” (8). The book identifies three elements of a “digital ministry framework”: technology, people, and process (chapter 4). Too often, churches and ministries make decisions about what digital platforms to use before they take into account who will use them or how their digital ministry will be developed, implemented, and sustained. Chapters 5 and 6 outline a 13-step process for addressing precisely those issues. Because it is short and practical, Ministry in the Digital Age will help your church or ministry quickly begin to match digital means to spiritual ends.

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Review of ‘Christianophobia’ by Rupert Shortt

9780802869852 Rupert Shortt, Christianophobia: A Faith Under Attack (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012). $26.00, 328 pages.

Christianophobia is the story of “a faith under attack,” in the lapidary words of the book’s subtitle. Around the world, but especially in Muslim-majority countries, Christians are persecuted for their faith by agents of the state, by lawless mobs, and sometimes by the former in collusion with the latter.

Some of the persecution may be blowback for the post-9/11 American invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, but not all of it. As Rupert Shortt writes: “Looking beyond Iraq and Afghanistan, and on a time frame stretching well back before 11 September 2001, we can see innumerable Christian communities on the defensive against rampant forms of intolerance, both religious and secular. The problem has worsened dramatically since the turn of the millennium: about 200 million Christians are now under threat, more than any other faith group” (ix).

Rather than detailing the problem of Christianophobia with abstract statistics, Shortt sketches it with concrete anecdotes drawn from 19 countries. He devotes a chapter each to persecution of Christians in Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Nigeria, Indonesia, India, Burma, China, Vietnam and North Korea, and Israel. A final chapter quickly examines Cuba, Venezuela, Belarus, Sri Lanka, Laos, and Sudan.

The sources of Christianophobia are numerous. The sources can be religious, such as in some Muslim-majority countries, which have a tradition of both jihad and dhimmitude. (This point should be carefully qualified and not overstated, however, since some Muslim-majority countries tolerate religious minorities.) The sources can be ethno-religious, where one’s nationality or caste is tied to a particular religion. In India and Burma, for example, radicalized Hinduism and Buddhism, respectively, drive a nationalistic reaction against Christianity, which is seen as a Western interloper. (Something similar is at work in Belarus, a nominally Orthodox Christian country that makes life difficult for non-Orthodox forms of Christianity.) The sources can also be political, such as in China, Vietnam, and North Korea, where Christian churches are seen as a threat to Communist party control of the state. China sanctions churches in the Protestant Three Self Patriotic Movement (which has Catholic and Islamic counterparts), but not house churches, while North Korea bans all overt religious activity.

Whatever the sources of Christianophobia, the expression of it “seems to pass through three phases”: disinformation, discrimination, and persecution. Here, Shortt quotes Johann Candelin of the World Evangelical Fellowship: “Disinformation begins more often than not in the media. Through printed articles, radio, television, and other means, Christians are robbed of their good reputation and their right to answer accusations made against them.” That is followed by discrimination, which “relegates Christians to a second-class citizenship with poorer legal, social, political, and economic standing than the majority in the country.” Finally, there is persecution “from the state, the police or military, extreme organisations, mobs, paramilitary groups, or representatives of other religions” (174-175).

Christianophobia is an excellent survey of the problem of persecution of Christians worldwide. It provides helpful historical background material alongside individual anecdotes. Its treatment of Muslim-majority countries is nuanced, noting that while theology plays a role in Christian persecution, it does not play the only role. Indeed, Shortt holds out hope that Muslim-majority countries will evolve toward greater religious freedom for religious minorities, just as Christian-majority countries have done.

The one false note in this book is the chapter on Israel. Israel is not perfect, of course, but to include it in a book on Christianophobia is perverse, especially since Freedom House rates Israel as a religiously “free” country. (The inclusion of Venezuela, another “free” country, is also questionable, though it does not receive a chapter-length survey.) Indeed, it seems that Shortt’s real interest in Israel is theological. Of the 16 pages in his chapter on Israel, 5 are given over to a Christian theology of the land. Islam does not come in for a similar Christian theological critique. Whatever the merits or demerits of Shortt’s theological interpretation of Israel, this book is not the right venue to state them.

This reservation aside, Christianophobia is a valuable contribution to the literature on the global problem of Christian persecution. And timely. On Tuesday, May 21, 2013, Iranian security forces arrested Pastor Robert Asserian during a morning prayer service at Central Assembly of God in Tehran. He joins Pastor Farhad Sabokrooh, Sabokrooh’s wife Shahnaz Jayzan, and two church members of their Ahvaz Assemblies of God, Naser Zaman-Dezfuli and Davoud Alijani in jail. They had been arrested originally in December 2011, convicted of “converting to Christianity and propagating against the Islamic regime through evangelism,” sentenced to one year in jail each, and released early. They were rearrested to serve out the remaining time on the original conviction. Also, Pastor Saeed Abedini is serving a term of eight years in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison for his leadership in Iran’s house-church movement. These six Christians put names and faces on the irrational fear and deep hatred—the Christiano-phobia—faced by millions of their brothers and sisters in faith around the globe.

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Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address

On this Memorial Day, which began as a commemoration of the Civil War, I am posting the most profound meditation on that war ever written, in hope that we always remember its lessons about war, partisanship, and the divine will.


At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

The Resurrection (Mark 16.1–8)

If you are reading the New International Version of Mark 16.1–8, you will find a note after verse 8 that says, “The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9–20.” A note in the NIV Study Bible further explains: “Serious doubt exists as to whether these verses belong to the Gospel of Mark. They are absent from important early manuscripts and display certain peculiarities of vocabulary, style and theological content that are unlike the rest of Mark. His Gospel probably ended at 16:8, or its original ending has been lost.”

I mention this all this for two reasons: (1) to educate and (2) to reassure. Unlike today, when we have desktop printers and Xerox machines, in the ancient world, all books were copied out by hand. An ancient author’s original writing is usually referred to as the autograph (Greek for “self written.”) Copies of the autograph are referred to as manuscripts (Latin for “hand written”). The process of reproducing an author’s work by hand sometimes led to copy errors, such as misspelled words and misplaced sentences. Because we have so many manuscripts of the books of the New Testament, however, we can reliably reconstruct the autographs of the biblical writers. Indeed, the New Testament is by far the best-attested, most reliable document to emerge from the ancient world. That is, in and of itself, reassuring.

Also reassuring is the fact that no biblical doctrine depends on any textual variant, a phrase that describes the differences between the manuscripts. This is especially true of the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Recently, I engaged in an informal online debate with a skeptic of the resurrection. He argued that Mark’s Gospel is the earliest and most reliable source of information about Christ. Because Mark 16.9–20 is not part of the autograph, however, he further argued that Mark’s Gospel knows nothing of Christ’s resurrection. Instead, he concluded, later New Testament writers ginned up the doctrine of the resurrection in order to advance some socio-political agenda.

Unfortunately, this skeptical argument is absolutely wrong. Even a cursory survey of Mark’s Gospel reveals three separate instances in which Christ prophesies his death in Jerusalem and resurrection three days later (Mark 8.31, 9.31, 10.34). All of these verses are part of Mark’s autograph. Even more devastating for the skeptical argument is Mark 16.6–7, which is also part of the autograph: “‘Don’t be alarmed,’ [the young man] said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

What is odd about Mark’s ending, in other words, is not that it knows nothing of Christ’s resurrection. No, what is odd is the women’s reaction: “trembling and bewildered” and “afraid.” But then again, how would you react in the presence of a Power which even death could not conquer?

Forsaken (Mark 15.21–47)

Mark 15.21–47 narrates the death and burial of Jesus Christ. It is a sparse, unsentimental narrative. The only theological comments are ironic. A sign placed on top of Jesus’ cross proclaimed, “The King of the Jews.” When Christ died, a Roman centurion exclaimed, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” A crucified king. A murdered deity. What little explicit theology Mark includes in his narrative undoes most of the theology we have learned.

Martin Luther distinguished the “theology of glory” from the “theology of the cross.” The former emphasizes God’s greatness, power, and invincibility. The latter draws attention to God’s smallness, weakness, and vulnerability — characteristics on full display in the crucifixion of God’s beloved Son, especially the vulnerability.

The word vulnerable literally means “able to be wounded.” Christ’s wounds were physical, of course, but his cry of dereliction indicates the wounding went much farther down. “My God, my God,” he cries out to the Father, “why have you forsaken me?” On the cross, Christ felt utterly alone, abandoned by his friends and forsaken by God.

And yet, even with this cry of dereliction, Christ displays his faith in God. As a Jew, Jesus learned his prayers from the Psalter, the hymnbook of Israel. “My God, my God” is the first line of Psalm 22, a lament. It accurately prophesies Christ’s predicament:

Do not be far from me,

for trouble is near

and there is no one to help.


Many bulls surround me;

strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.


Roaring lions tearing their prey

open their mouths wide against me.


I am poured out like water,

and all my bones are out of joint.

My heart has turned to wax;

it has melted away within me.


My strength is dried up like a potsherd,

and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;

you lay me in the dust of death.


Dogs have surrounded me;

a band of evil men has encircled me,

they have pierced my hands and my feet.


I can count all my bones;

people stare and gloat over me.


They divide my garments among them

and cast lots for my clothing.

But the psalm does not end with despair, but with praise.


For God has not despised or disdained

the suffering of the afflicted one;

he has not hidden his face from him

but has listened to his cry for help….


The poor will eat and be satisfied;

they who seek the LORD will praise him—

may your hearts live forever!


All the ends of the earth

will remember and turn to the LORD,

and all the families of the nations

will bow down before him,


for dominion belongs to the LORD

and he rules over the nations….


They will proclaim his righteousness

to a people yet unborn—

for he has done it.

In his suffering, Christ’s teaches us how to suffer too. With honesty pain, and with God-drenched hope. Christ’s death is unique, of course, in that we are saved by it. But following him also means imitating his pattern of suffering, not to mention experiencing his resurrection in our own lives.

Review of ‘Welcoming But Not Affirming’ by Stanley J. Grenz

9780664257767_p0_v1_s260x420 Stanley J. Grenz, Welcoming But Not Affirming: An Evangelical Response to Homosexuality (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998). $30.00, 224 pages.

Together with North American society, North American churches are wrestling with the moral meaning of homosexuality. At the outset of Welcoming But Not Affirming, Stanley J. Grenz frames the ethical question this way: “Should the church continue to condemn homosexual behavior, or has the time come for it to affirm gays and lesbians in its midst?” (p. 2). As the title of the book states, Grenz’s answer is that the church should welcome homosexual persons without affirming their behavior.

Though written fifteen years ago, Grenz’s study is still valuable as a survey of the contours of the church’s debate about homosexuality. Though there have been additions to the relevant literature—notably Robert A. J. Gagnon’s The Bible and Homosexual Practice and William Stacy Johnson’s A Time to Embrace: Same-Sex Relationships in Religion, Law, and Politics—the arguments on both sides are basically the same as they were when Grenz’s study was first published.

Grenz argues that Christians should answer “questions of faith and practice” through “a conversation involving three ‘voices’”: “the biblical message, the heritage of reflection found within the historical life of the church, and the contemporary culture in which God has called us to live and minister” (p. 11). Given that the first two voices have offered uniformly negative evaluations of homosexual, Grenz narrows the focus of his book’s research question: “has our contemporary cultural situation given us such important new insight into the reality of homosexuality that our traditional reading of scripture is woefully inadequate and therefore in dire need of revision?” (pp. 11, 12).

To answer that question, Grenz divides his work into six chapters.

Chapter 1, “Homosexuality in Contemporary Perspective,” notes that the current debate involves a new understanding of homosexuality. “Prior to the modern era homosexuality was understood almost exclusively in connection with certain specific activities. The contemporary outlook, in contrast, looks at homosexuality primarily as a sexual orientation—as a fixed, lifelong pattern—and only secondarily as actual behavior” (p. 13). Grenz surveys developments in psychology, biology, and sociology that have fostered this change of outlook. Following the Encyclopedia of Bioethics, he defines homosexuality as “a predominant, persistent and exclusive psychosexual attraction toward members of the same sex” (p. 32).

Chapter 2, “The Bible and Homosexuality: The Exegetical Debate,” surveys the biblical passages that discuss or prohibit some form of homosexual conduct under four headings: (1) “The Sins of the Cities” (Gen. 19, Jdg. 19); “The Prohibitions in the Holiness Code” (Lev. 18:22, 20:13); (3) Paul’s Critique of Pagan Society” (Rom. 1:26-27); and (4) “The Pauline Rejection of Same-Sex Acts” (1 Cor. 6:9, 1 Tim. 1:10). He also considers whether David and Jonathan were homosexual lovers (an argument sometimes made by revisionist theologians), and what significance the silence of Jesus on the topic of homosexuality might portend. Grenz considers a number of revisionist exegeses of these texts, ultimately concluding—rightly, in my opinion—that “scholars who propose that the church accept committed same-sex relationships have yet to produce a sufficient basis for revising the traditional belief that the biblical writers condemned homosexual conduct, at least as they had come to know it” (p. 62). In other words, the traditional position is well founded, exegetically.

Chapter 3, “Homosexuality and Church Teaching,” surveys church history and demonstrates how novel the revisionist position is from an historical point of view. The revisionist position traces its origins to “the last half of the twentieth century” (p. 63). The traditional position is more deeply rooted. “Christian ethicists from the second century to the twentieth century forge an unbroken chain. Their teaching, which condemned a variety of behaviors, occurring as they did in differing social contexts, nevertheless connects all such actions together… In each era, Christian moralists rejected the same-sex practices of their day. And they consistently found the basis for such condemnation in the several scriptural texts in which the biblical authors appear to pronounce divine judgment on the homosexual behavior with which they were confronted” (p. 80).

Chapter 4, “Homosexuality and Biblical Authority,” considers the question of how “biblical texts ought to function in the construction of a contemporary Christian outlook toward homosexuality” (p. 81). One might think that the answer is straightforward, but as Grenz notes that this is not the case. Some revisionists argue that biblical authors did not know of the reality of sexual orientation, that is, “a lifelong pattern of sexual preference” (p. 83). More radically, others argue that while “the biblical writers condemn homosexuality,” “no one need to take seriously their injunctions” (p. 86). Traditionalists counter that “the Bible does speak to homosexuality as we know it today, and what it says is normative for Christians’ (p. 89). For Grenz, this is true not only when it comes to specific texts, but also when it comes to larger biblical themes, such as “covenant,” “love,” “justice,” and “liberation.”

Chapter 5, “Homosexuality and the Christian Sex Ethic,” develops “a basically teleological approach to the contemporary issue, an approach that draws from considerations of God’s telos—God’s purpose—for human relationships as given in part in the creation narratives” (p. 102). This includes marriage, of course, but also friendship. He argues: “Same-sex intercourse falls short of the Christian ethical ideal, because it is a deficient act in the wrong context” (p. 110). It is a deficient act because it “loses the symbolic dimension of two-becoming-one present in male-female sex” (p. 111). And it is in the wrong context because it “introduces into the friendship bond the language of exclusivity and permanence that properly belongs solely to marriage” (p. 115).

Chapter 6, “Homosexuality and the Church,” asks whether there is a “place” for homosexual persons in the church, looking at four topics: (1) church membership, (2) same-sex unions, (3) ordination, and (4) the church’s public stance. He writes: “participation in the faith community involves a give-and-take. Discipleship demands that each member understand that he or she is accountable to the community in all dimensions of life, including the sexual” (pp. 133, 134). While the church welcomes all people, it cannot affirm all behaviors. This is the decisive matter in terms of membership, unions, and ordination. Grenz suggests that “Christians might well support extending [social and economic benefits] to participants in a variety of living arrangements, so long as the latter are reserved for marriage” (p. 152). In other words, civil unions, yes; same-sex marriage, no. This was a daring position for traditionalists to take in the late 1990s. One possible outcome of this year’s Supreme Court decision in Windsor v. Perry may be to invalidate that distinction by means of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

It is difficult in a summary of this book to convey the gentleness of tone and nuance of argument that characterizes it. Grenz is a fair-minded reader, generous critic, and resolute proponent of his position. This does not mean that he is uncritical of traditionalists at some points or that he cannot learn at other points from revisionists. But it does mean that, after patient scholarship and without a hectoring tone, Grenz concludes there is insufficient reason to overturn the church’s traditional position on homosexual conduct. I agree with that conclusion.

I cannot help but wonder, however, whether contemporary society is in the mood for arguments such as Grenz’s. The liberationist trend in our society is impatient with restrictions on personal freedom, incredulous toward the arguments that support them—no matter what the tone or level of nuance, and intolerant of anyone who is insufficiently “tolerant” of their choices. Welcoming, but not affirming? How rude!

Grenz died in 2005. One wonders what kind of book he would have written today.

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Four Failures (Mark 14.32–72)

Mark 14.32–72 narrates four events in the horrific hours leading up to Christ’s crucifixion: his agonizing prayer in Gethsemane, his arrest, his trial before the Sanhedrin, and Peter’s denial of him. Taken together, these four events reveal an interesting dynamic between Jesus and us. Let’s take a closer look.

First, Christ’s agonizing prayer in Gethsemane: To the disciples, he said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch.” As Christians we confess that Jesus is God incarnate, the deity in the flesh. But we also confess—and Jesus’ statement confirms—his total humanity. Facing certain, imminent, painful death, Jesus expressed the authentic and understandable emotion of sorrow. He shared this with his fellow humans, but he also shared it with God. “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” By asking God to “take this cup from me,” Jesus prayed that he would not die. And yet, knowing that the Father had plans for him, Jesus surrendered his will to a Higher Will. Unfortunately, in this agonizing moment in the garden, Jesus was utterly alone, for his disciples had fallen asleep.

Second, Christ’s arrest. Judas betrayed the Lord with reverential words (“Rabbi”) and with a kiss of greeting. When his disciples, finally awake, realized what was happening, they drew their swords for a fight, and one of them cut of the ear of the high priest’s servant. But Jesus wanted none of their violence, either the mob’s or his disciples’. So he submitted to arrest, but his disciples fled for fear of their own lives.

Third, Christ’s trial before the Sanhedrin. It was rigged. False witnesses presented perjured and contradictory testimony about Jesus’ “revolutionary” program. Then the high priest asked, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus’ two word reply—“I am”—sealed his fate, and the Sanhedrin accused him of blasphemy. Had they not seen the miracles and the exorcisms? Had they not heard his authoritative teaching? Of course they had, but they did not want to repent, and so they “condemned him as worthy of death.”

Finally, Peter’s denial of Christ. After fleeing from Gethsemane, Peter made his way back into the city and planted himself in the courtyard outside the high priest’s house. People recognized him. Fearing for his life, Peter denied that he knew Jesus three times, just as Christ had prophesied he would.

What we see in these four events are four failures: a failure of spiritual power, for the disciples could not pray; a failure of moral discipleship, for the disciples took up arms to defend Jesus, in contradiction to what he had taught them; a failure of intellect, for the Sanhedrin refused to believe what they had seen with their own eyes; and a failure of nerve, for at the moment of crisis, Peter’s courage was nowhere to be found.

Are we praying? Are we conforming our lives to Christ’s teaching? Do we understand who Jesus is and what he has done for us? And are we taking a stand as his followers in a world that is often hostile to him? Mark 14.32–72 is not a story about others’ failings. It is—if we imitate them—a story about our own.

Poured Out for Many (Mark 14.12–31)

Food is biblical.

Consider how often the Bible uses food to mark a spiritually significant event. Passover commemorates God leading the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt (Exodus 12.1–20). The Lord’s Supper remembers Christ’s death on our behalf (1 Corinthians 11.23–26). We look forward to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb when Christ returns and raises us to eternal life (Revelation 19.6–9).

In each of these cases—and in many more throughout Scripture—the salvation God provides is celebrated with food, and not skimpy hors d’oeuvres either, but a full feast. Why is that the case? It seems to me that there are at least two reasons: sacrifice and hospitality.

Passover is the role model here in Mark 14.12–31. During Passover, the Israelites sacrificed a lamb and spread a portion of its blood over their doorposts so that the Angel of Death would “pass over” their houses when he executed judgment against their Egyptian slave owners. The Lord’s Supper, which was part of a Passover meal, portrays Jesus as the Passover Lamb whose death takes away the sins of the world. And the Marriage Supper of the Lamb—notice that allusion to Passover—is the eternal celebration of what God has done for us through Christ. In each case, the theme of sacrifice is present.

But so too is the theme of hospitality. Have you ever noticed that you usually reserve meals for family and friends? Although on occasion we must eat with our enemies, we do so as rarely as possible. Why? Because food is something to be savored, and the company we keep something to be enjoyed. It’s hard to savor your food or enjoy your company when you know that the person on the other side of the table has it in for you.

Significantly, I think, Jesus ate the Last Supper with his closest friends, the disciples. And yet, Judas would betray him to the governing authorities. Peter would deny him three times. In fact, says Jesus, “You will all fall away,” indicating that all the disciples would run and hide when Jesus was arrested and crucified. (Although John—alone of the disciples—returned to witness the crucifixion.) Jesus ate this meal with his friends, but they turned out to be his enemies, eleven of them temporarily, one of them permanently.

How tragic that Christ’s last meal with his friends would turn out to be a meal with the very people who would desert him when he needed them most! And yet, how necessary for their salvation, and ours! Of the cup, Jesus said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” Salvation comes not to those who are already safe, but to those who are in danger. Christ dies not for the righteous, who don’t need his righteousness, but for sinners, who do.

Christ invites us to share the Marriage Supper of the Lamb with him in eternity. To do so, however, we must stop denying and start admitting that we need a Savior. Only then do we become one of the many for whom Christ poured out his life.

A Beautiful Thing for Me (Mark 14.1–11)

Have you ever seen the bumper sticker, “Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty”? It makes me sick. It’s full of the 1960s hippie sentimentality that I love to loathe. Unfortunately for my 1980s preppie cynicism, it’s biblical.

Mark 14.1–11 describes a beautiful kindness that a woman performed for Jesus. While Jesus was dining at the home of Simon the Leper, “a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.” Now I don’t know about you, but the woman’s act seems pretty random and senseless, not to mention extravagantly wasteful.

Evidently, there were a few Georges in the room who complained along exactly those lines. “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” There’s a cold and seemingly irresistible logic to their argument, of course. Given the choice between burning a paycheck and signing it over to a worthy charity, I think most of us would choose to do the latter. After all, if we’re not going to enjoy the money, at least some unfortunate person should.



Here’s how Jesus hotly responded to the woman’s critics: “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

On several occasions, Jesus prophesied that he was going to Jerusalem to die (Mark 8.31–32, 9.31–32, and 10.32–34). Peter rebuked him for his prediction (8.32). The rest of the disciples simply didn’t understand it (9.32). This woman—and this woman alone—understood it and prepared for it. Knowing that Jesus would not be with her forever, she took the best that she had and gave it to him as a gift. It cost her a lot—a whole year’s wages. But I think this woman had learned what the Rich Young Ruler had not: Only when we give away all we have can our arms be open to receive all that Jesus has (Mark 10.29–31).

So, in the end, while kind and beautiful, this woman’s act turns out to be anything but random and senseless. It is, rather, an intentional, sensible act of worship directed at our entirely deserving Savior. According to Marva Dawn, worship is a royal waste of time. According to the cold, irresistible logic of economics it probably is, but not according to warm desirable logic of gratitude. Nothing is too good for Jesus. Not our valuables, nor our wages, and definitely not our lives. Since we can offer nothing less, let us offer Christ ourselves.

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