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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Response to Fisher Humphreys' Article "Christian theology and modern science"

           Dr. Fisher Humphreys has waded[1] into the recently troubled waters of the intersection of science and faith. At least two articles[2] reflecting on science’s relationship to the Christian community have recently appeared on, although Humphreys’ article could be more reflective of a conversation that has been going on for some time in broader American culture since the more public New Atheism in recent years.
            While I applaud Dr. Humphreys’ efforts to communicate the current tensions between “faith and science,” I fear that his argument does little to aid in the understanding of the debate.
His misunderstanding of the conversation going on in our culture is best demonstrated in the sub-title of the article: “Since Christian theology contributed so much to the birth of modern science, conflict between them cannot be inevitable.” Unfortunately, this title is just as confusing as the article it summarizes. How can one deduce from the historical supposition that Christian theology contributed to the development of modern science that the two concepts cannot be in conflict? Certainly Humphreys does not believe that the children do not disagree with their parents!
The main point that Dr. Humphreys wishes to make is that “It seems probable that multiple factors contributed to the rise of modern science, including economic and technological ones. Another important factor was the religion of Europe, namely, Christianity.” By taking a historical “angle” to the relationship between faith and science, Humphreys wishes to answer the question unnamed “historians” who wonder why modern science was developed in 17th century Europe rather than in India or China.
There is too much here to deal with thoroughly, but I want to raise two absolutely critical things that Dr. Humphreys neglects. First, we cannot truncate the history of modern science to 17th-century Europe. It is possible to survey world history and observe certain accelerations in the development and application of scientific knowledge, but such a survey misses the fact that the 17th century was preceded by 400 years of crucial history in science. In short, the great advances of Europe in the 17th century would have been impossible without the spread of Islam through northern Africa and into Spain and eastern Europe by which the “lost” knowledge of mathematics, science, and engineering returned to the Christian West. Because of the long, sad saga of the restriction of knowledge by both Christian and Muslim rulers we have come to see certain eras of scientific discovery as stand-alone accidents of history. But understand: there is no Newton, no Leibnitz, no Einstein, and no Priestly without non-Christian cultures, thinkers, and rulers.
Secondly, the premise that “faith” and “science” are two categories opposed to one another is a false dichotomy. Humphreys surveys two texts on the subject that offer helpful insights into how Christian culture has influenced modern science. However, Dr. Humphreys dives in too deeply when he tries to summarize 1000 years of mathematics and science into deductive and inductive reasoning. This is precisely the issue at hand for Dr. Humphreys and others who either try to reconcile “science” and “faith” or allow the two to “operate in separate spheres.” Christian theology cannot allow such a bifurcation – God is the god of what is known and knowable. God is the god of all truth. As science progressed and progresses even now, the simplistic separation of the two categories persists as a haven for those who do not understand either Christian theology or the scientific process. They are not opposing categories for the faithful believer: ours is the God who is knowable and makes the universe knowable. Ours is the God who lords over the discoveries of the 17th century and those of today.
We must, as thoughtful believers, hold such a high regard for the Creator that discoveries of the Creation lead us to worship, question, and ultimately to believe. That takes maturity, and it takes equally as much mental and spiritual effort as is put into the next big discovery.

[2] see and

Monday, April 22, 2013

Rest Amidst the Fear

Rest Amidst the Fear
Delivered at Madison Chapel, Madison, MS
The Fourth Sunday of Easter

The essential nature of terrorism is that it breaks through the psychological protections of which we are accustomed through the distance of war. Our people are used to sending their sons away to battle in far away lands, not of enduring catastrophe in our own neighborhoods. Consider this – a citizen of certain cities in Iraq or Pakistan would consider neighborhood bombings differently than we do after such atrocities as Boston. It is the frequency and proximity that makes the horror that much more horrible.
            Scott Van Pelt, an ESPN radio host with a daily show, commented on Tuesday that nowhere is safe. He said, “If someone has the intent to harm you, they are going to harm you.” His point is about that essential facet of terrorism – there are not enough police, soldiers, metal detectors, or cameras to prevent evil. Further, there are not strong enough bills or laws to prevent evil acts from being committed. Van Pelt is exactly right – once someone decides to do evil to a person or community, there is little that can be done.
            Evil, as we all have felt, is real. I would not venture into the realm of the little red fellow with the tail and the pitchfork, but I believe that evil has a very real and very powerful presence in this life. This week, more than other times in recent memory, I have been weighed-down with the events of horror we’ve heard of. How do we, the believers, deal with that reality in the face of our salvation in Christ Jesus?

            It takes a certain level of faithful maturity to admit this: bad things happen in this universe. Contrary to what “theologians” like John Piper, Pat Robertson, and Fred Luter may say, there are events in this universe that, on their own, have no moral value in themselves. When a tornado rips across unpopulated Kansas destroying nothing of value, no one calls it evil. Put that tornado in a densely populated area like Hattiesburg, and suddenly God is judging that city. We must be mature enough to distinguish between judgment and tragedy. The former is an act of God against a people, a nation, or an object; the latter is a situation in which morally neutral factors combined to affect human life in a way that usually leads to death.
            We are talking about evil here. We could say that evil is “any act or event that is contrary to the good and holy purposes of God. Moral evil refers to acts of creatures that are contrary to God’s holy character and law. Natural evils include harmful or destructive events in nature that occur throughout the course of history and that negatively affect creaturely life.”[1] When we talk about evil we must be careful not to misrepresent the Gospel. No longer should Christians respond to the horrors of terror or accidental tragedy that “God has a plan.” To do so implies that the horrors we endure serve the “greater good” of some inscrutable divine plan. Further, such language masks our culture’s fundamental desire to “move on” in the face of horror; we pledge to rebuild and bounce back as soon as possible, regardless of our need to grieve, mourn, or heal. Lumping every evil event into a Divine scheme too high for man to understand is a copout; it’s the Christian equivalent to “walk it off” when a youngster is injured at play.
            The mature Christian must hold in herself the volatile compound made of one part hope, one part grief, and one part faith. In the face of evil in this world, whether the intentional, orchestrated acts of those who would do damage to the legs and feet of those who run or the accidental, natural, and unavoidable events that break people apart, the believer cannot, must not, succumb to the easier way of God’s inscrutable plan. No, such a position does nothing to ease the pain or grief of the ones afflicted, nor does it testify to the God who suffers for and on account of God’s chosen people. In fact, such a position tends toward a Christian fatalism – when the bombs go off or the hurricane hits it is the fate of those afflicted to suffer under the horrible gaze of an unknowable God.
            What I would encourage the mature believer to live into is our calling to hold grief and hope simultaneously in our hearts, neither discounting either nor ignoring one in favor of the other.

            Such a point is masterfully illustrated in the “when bad things happen to good people” story from Acts 9. Here is Tabitha, a good, Godly woman who is beloved by her church and her community. She has died, an unfortunate and tragic event in the little community of Joppa as testified by the presence of so many widows who eulogize their dear sister by showing Peter the garments Tabitha made. She had died and the people were sad. We can understand that. When Peter shows up and raises her from the dead, we can’t understand that. Why this woman? Why this moment? Why not raise every person who died in Joppa from that point on? Just what were all these people in Joppa believing in as a result of Tabitha’s resurrection?
            They were living witnesses to the reality of Christ’s victory over death made real in their lives. They were witnesses to death and tragedy and to the hope of life made so real in their sight.

            We are called to do no less that this. We are called to testify to the reality of evil and death in this world AND the reality of Christ’s defeat of that evil and death. We are to bear in ourselves the marks of CRUCIFIXION, that is, we are to bear witness to the fact that God has no eliminated evil or suffering from our world but has rather shown us that overcoming that evil might just mean death. The grief of the Cross and the Hope of the resurrection are the essential elements of the Christian faith.
            If we discount suffering in favor of our hope of resurrection we cheapen the cross and render the Church impotent to speak to the tragedies of our world, whether intentional or accidental. If we discount our hope of resurrection in favor of sounding more relevant to the social and humanitarian needs of the world we lose our Christian testimony of a God who has indeed defeated death on our account. We must find a way to live in that tension between the grief of this week and the hope that God is has not abandoned us. We must have a vision of the Kingdom: we must, in our grief, be transported for a moment to that place where the hot sun does not beat upon our necks, where there is no more hungering or thirsting, and where every tear is wiped from our eyes. A vision of a time when there is no more mourning, or crying, or pain. Then, though, we must come back to the now: we must, in our hope, be transported to the limbless and to the shocked, to the scorching fires and smoldering communities to stand as a witness to that Kingdom.

I believe that it is only in this powerful tension between the reality of evil and the hope of salvation that the believer can find authentic rest. That’s what we need – rest. We need to find a moment, just a second to catch our breath and find a place of solace among the evil. You see, the lesson of the disciple’s life is the same as that of the Psalmist. Even though we walk the valley of very real death and terror, we hold in our hearts the hope of God’s salvation. We walk onward finding rest in that hope as we journey onward to the world.

[1] Grenz, Stanley J., David Guretzki, Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, “Evil,” 48.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Should A Local Congregation be “All-In” on Technology?

I recently attended a lecture at Northminster Baptist Church in Jackson, MS on trends in the interaction of church and culture presented by Dr. Roger Paynter. Paynter, who is Pastor of FBC Austin, Texas, is also a former Pastor of Northminster.
Paynter’s perspective deserves attention precisely because of these two ministry posts. In Jackson, Paynter led what is probably the most progressive Baptist congregation in the city. In Austin, Paynter leads a Baptist congregation in one of the most progressive cities in the nation. By returning to the South he could offer insights into what is coming in the next years for the church in Mississippi, a state that is notoriously behind the rest of American culture. Because of his ministry experiences in Austin, where Christianity is anything but the dominant voice in the culture, Dr. Paynter is something of a prophet to our Baptist communities in Mississippi.

One of Paynter’s points was that the local congregation can no longer operate in the old paradigm of “attraction ministry.” By that he means that in generations past the church could depend on people coming to worship; now the congregation must find ways to interact with the community outside of itself to grow. Such a dramatic shift reflects changes in American culture at large vis-à-vis Christianity and should motivate changes in the Church’s evangelistic and ministerial strategies. Sadly, such changes are often ignored by the congregation, leading to ministerial and congregational decline.

A point that Paynter emphasized was that the church cannot delay in adopting the technological resources that the broader culture uses. He recommended a robust presence on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram so that the church could interact with the community on its own terms. Since the community will no longer come to the church by default, the church must go to the community.

This is the essence of the missional mindset. The church for too long lived with the luxury of lazy ministry practices. While Christianity was the dominant cultural voice in society there were plenty of pressures to drive people into the congregation since it was the right thing to do. Now, however, we are learning that such practices are no longer sufficient. This is a positive change, I think, since it will force our congregations to embrace a more authentic model of ministry, that is, that the mission of the church cannot be internally focused and must drive believers out into the world.

The emphasis that Paynter placed on locating and ministering to the changing community was correct. However, I wonder about the emphasis he placed on making sure there was a vigorous digital and social medial presence for the church community as a foundational arena of interaction with the outer community.

I’m as digitally connected as can reasonably be expected for a Millennial. I was there in the early days of Facebook (Baylor was one of the first few campuses to host the fledgling network), and I maintain several other social media presences. I’ve also been responsible for several church websites and digital communities.

There is a difference, though, when it comes to the ministry of a church and the digital landscape. What we decide to adopt as outlets for our ministries testifies to our theology, most centrally our theology of worship and our theology of the church. There is something essentially different about watching a worship service on YouTube or streamed live rather than being in that service physically. There is something different about digital social interactions among believers and non-believers compared to face-to-face interactions. I am not saying these are necessarily good and bad or better and worse; I rather want our congregations to be mindful, thoughtful, and intentional about the ways in which they adopt and use social and digital media because it matters how the message is presented and how the community is formed.

What if a church intentionally avoided Twitter and YouTube? Could not a congregation, filled up with people who are connected in every digital way possible, decide that their corporate organization would be something simpler, something more careful with words and images than Twitter or Instagram? Certainly a church could make the decision to engage and transform their community through different media than these.

I find that relying on digital media, especially social media can devolve into a substitute for real relationships between the congregation and the community. By holding the virtual close to our noses we tend to hold the real at arm’s length. This is not the missional emphasis that Paynter made, nor is the solution to the church’s loss of prominence in American culture.

Please, get a Twitter account for your church. Set up a YouTube channel. Post pictures of fantastic church events on Facebook. But in all of this remember – a congregation is about being the presence of Christ in its community, a community of pavement and grass and smiles and tears and honesty and love and hate. It’s awfully hard to live into that calling in 140 characters or less.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Rest, Rest

This week has been awful. Firstly, I’m never a big fan of tax day; I usually have to write a painful check to the IRS because I can’t seem to get my withholdings straight even though I’m a mathematician. Secondly, the Boston Marathon bombing[1] brought back all-too-familiar emotions of helplessness, anger, and sorrow from tragedies in the past. I felt depressed because of the evil that seemed so dark and deep at that time. Thirdly, the explosion[2] in West, Texas deepened my sadness; I lived in a small community not far from West for seven years and know some of the volunteer firefighters who responded to that disaster, putting their own lives in danger. These things, these dramatic events, served to compound the usual stresses of life to a point that I thought I might burst for all the sorrow.

It is too much to bear. Poisoned envelopes[3] sent to politicians by Elvis impersonators, the wanton abuse of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting as political props[4], the fear and patriotism mixed in every emotional singing[5] of the Star Spangled Banner… It seems that there is nowhere to simply sit and rest for a moment.

Not resting is exactly our response to these events. After Boston, scores of runners pledged to hit the pavement in honor of those fallen and injured at the Marathon. After West, thousands of volunteers are lending assistance and aid to that wonderful community. After Newtown, legislation upon legislation has been written and debated. Even after these bills fail, the victims pledge to maintain their energies and press onward.

Please understand: I am certainly in favor of running for a cause or lending aid to devastated communities. I am certainly a fan of writing and passing sensible legislation that helps communities avoid such disasters in the future. But there is something about the moments of disaster themselves that makes me want to sit and rest for just a moment.

I think of my friend Brian Robert, a volunteer firefighter in central Texas who responded to the disaster in West. I can imagine him, roused from rare moment of rest after teaching chemistry and physics all day, to respond to a growing catastrophe. I can imagine him, with no hesitation, running toward the sounds of horror and fear and fire. I can imagine him with sweat and blood and soot on his face as I’ve seen him times before. Brian would have stayed and helped as long as he could, and afterward would have collapsed for a rest as brief as possible before waking and finding other heroic ways to help.

I know from the years I watched Brian and others like him work that these men and women do not take time to rest their bodies, much like the rest of us take time to rest our souls.

We need to take a moment to rest our souls, but this is painful work. It is somehow less painful to lace up our shoes and run miles and miles to honor the wounded; or somehow more soothing to respond to shootings with political fervor and social action. These are good things, but I fear that they allow us, when embraced too quickly after tragedy, to mask the spiritual trauma that we’ve endured.  The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Tommy Deal, in the wake of violent storms in the Midwest, reminded[6] his Facebook community that “…are not first responders, as much as our adrenaline pumps and wants us to.” In our haste to help we could miss an opportunity to heal.

Before we text our donations, before we organize marathons to symbolize our support, before we hastily write legislation that overreaches, hear the words of Scripture, words or rest and peace: “…He leads me to green pastures and quiet waters; He restores my soul…even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil.”[7]

The Christian understanding of rest and peace are at the heart of our hope and the motivation for all of our good works. We live in a world that is caught between the reality of God’s redeeming activity through Jesus Christ and the awful reality of evil in our presence. When the latter becomes too close, too real, and too painful, let us not be too hasty to “move on;” let us be mature enough to find a moment of peace and rest that the promises of God’s redemption can restore our own souls.

Remember, friends, that it is the promise of God that evil will be real, that pain and disaster will be real until the day of the Lord. Without getting too emotional, try to read the words that will be read all over the world this Sunday:

“For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."[8]

Every tear. Every one. Even those that mark the soot on the face of my hero and friend. Rest. Rest.

[7] Psalm 23.
[8] Revelation 7:15-17.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Paradigm Shift

Paradigm Shift
Delivered at Madison Chapel, Madison, MS
The Second Sunday of Easter

Our Lectionary passages today offer a grab bag of images. We see from the Acts passage a courtroom drama like that of Law and Order – Peter and the Apostles versus Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. Then there is the image of Jesus appearing suddenly amongst the frightened disciples and subsequently confronting Thomas. We see the exiled John of Patmos beginning his transcendent vision of the Coming of the Lamb by greeting the scattered believers in the name of the Alpha and Omega – an introduction that summons, at least in my mind, anxieties about the images and meanings of the book called Revelation.
            What a hodge-podge of imagery! In the weeks leading to Easter we had predictable narratives of Jesus’ ministry and words. We scratched our heads with the disciples as they tried to discern just what type of Messiah Jesus was; we waved branches at his Triumphal yet ill-fated Entry into Jerusalem; we cringed at his broken body hanging on the cross; we rejoiced when we heard the news yet again that Jesus had been raised from the tomb, no longer among the dead but dwelling with the living.
            Now, though, it seems that the whole of the Scriptures has been opened to us. Now the Gospel seems to find fertile soil in every book of Scripture – from joyous exaltations in the Psalms to the inspiring defense of the preaching of the Gospel before the powers and principalities of the world.
            The plan of the lectionary tells the same story as the gospel itself: after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ everything has changed, even our readings. I’d like to call that a “paradigm shift,” one that we live into each year and must meet with fresh understanding.
            The phrase “paradigm shift” comes to us from the world of science, specifically from the mind of physicist and philosopher Thomas Kuhn. He defines the term as a “change in the basic assumptions, or paradigms, within [a] ruling theory of science.”[1] A scientific revolution occurs, according to Kuhn, when scientists encounter anomalies that cannot be explained by the universally accepted paradigm within which scientific progress has thereto been made. It is a shift in the worldview of the members of a specific scientific community that alters everything that comes after that shift. An example of this type of intellectual revolution would be the Copernican revolution when the idea that the earth was flat and the center of the universe was thoroughly debunked.
            These transitions are anything but comfortable. Even in the face of profoundly compelling evidence those who are entrenched in the former way of thinking can violently resist the truth. After all, Galileo died under suspicion of heresy, Jon Hus was burned at the stake, and Charles Darwin is often listed with Judas and Hitler in terms of global evil. Yet the truth, once understood by those who discover it, is compelling enough that they will endure careers and public lives of torment in the name of that which they know.
            It is this tension of transition that is at the heart of our passages today, and, I believe, at the heart of every believer in Jesus Christ. Paul testifies that he, even he, struggles with the life lived in the middle of his former ways and the ways of life he is called to embrace in Christ Jesus.[2] The very nature of the antagonism between the Pharisees and Jesus in the Gospels bears witness to the struggle for a new understanding of God and God’s Kingdom to be born. So profound is the new reality of God’s redemptive activity that Jesus likens it to being born again – everything old passes away and something entirely new comes to take its place.[3]
How strongly do we interpret “new” and “born again?” It seems that we are more inclined to build our understanding of God in Jesus Christ upon those things that we have known before, to integrate salvation into the categories of life that we are most familiar with. But doesn’t “all things” mean “ALL THINGS?”
When we find the disciples huddled together “for fear of the Jews” in their enclave they are defeated and lost. They were living under the assumption that Jesus was dead, their movement was defeated, and now they would surely die in shame. They had “left everything” to follow their master, a master now gone from them. It was no small thing that the Master was in absentia; in the ancient world, to be a disciple meant to physically follow a teacher around. Without the physical presence of Jesus to teach, preach, and heal, the disciples had no identity. They had no reason to be together, to break bread, to preach the Good News. Their understanding of Jesus’ identity and mission, limited as that understanding proved to be, led them to be lost and adrift – exiled from their synagogue for following an executed blasphemer, cut off from the families they had left behind, and certainly afraid for their lives at the hands of people like Saul.
When Jesus appears to the disciples, something profound happens. His post-resurrection body bore the evidence of his crucifixion, surely, yet we certainly cannot say that his resurrected form was entirely “human.” He passes through locked doors, can appear and disappear at will, and can “open” the minds of others to the meaning of the Scriptures. He was something new, something different. He had become something reborn; he is even called the “firstborn of the dead,” evidence that he has a new kind of life about which we can only speculate.
His appearances to the disciples, and eventually to Thomas, are important transitional encounters in the changing of the “old” into the “new.” He is the first Master to have defeated death so that he could continue to be with his disciples. He is the first one to straddle the chasm between the things that were and the things that are to be. He is, after all, the Alpha and the Omega, the one who stands at the beginning and at the end. He is the one who can help the disciples see that there is a new way of being a follower, a way that doesn’t require the presence of a Master.
The key for us is that Jesus imparts the Holy Spirit to his disciples. So quickly we jump from the appearance of Jesus to his conversation with “doubting” Thomas that we forget this profound hinge of the narrative. It is in this brief two verses that sit in the middle of the passage that something new and profound happens. Jesus breathes on the disciples the Holy Spirit and commissions them to act in accordance with the Spirit’s work, that is, to forgive the sins of the world. It is this activity in concert with the leading of the Spirit that enables the disciples to still exist as disciples. It is in this pre-Pentecost endowment of the Spirit of God that we find the power of the Gospel message.
After the encounter with Thomas we read that John wraps up his profound Gospel, saying that these things were written that we may believe. Jesus has just announced that a paradigm shift has occurred: Thomas has seen the risen Master and has believed in him, but blessed are those who believe without seeing. The clear invitation to the reader is to believe even though we have never seen the risen Lord. What could make such a profound shift in the Master/Disciple relationship that John would conclude his gospel with such an invitation? Follow the thought – Jesus defeats death, appears to the disciples, breathes on them the Holy Spirit, pronounces blessings on anyone who believes without seeing. The only way we, the reader, could believe without seeing is by the leading of the Holy Spirit. The only way for us to claim Jesus as Master, as Lord, as God is if the Holy Spirit stirs within us, confirming the truth of Jesus’ identity.
But this is not the way we do things. We need evidence. We need proof. We, like Thomas, can’t help but ask for a sign that Jesus is who he says he is. I don’t care about how Thomas is treated by preachers around the world today; this lesson is about the Holy Spirit. The presence of God’s Spirit in the lives of believers is that motivating, convicting, leading force that enables our rebirth into the new humanity exemplified by Jesus. The resurrection testified that a new paradigm was in effect, that the old ways of thinking and working were passé, that God was doing something new, something beyond our tradition and even beyond our hopes.
Gone was the need for ritual sacrifice to please God. Gone was the need for a high priest to mediate the will of God to the people. Now everything was new; the world was beginning to be reborn through the coming of the Spirit.
But this paradigm shift, just like all the rest, brought discomfort. The disciples, emboldened by the Spirit, disregard the orders of their religious superiors and testify again and again about the new Life they have experienced in Jesus. They are not preaching a new way of being Jewish – they are not building upon prior knowledge or developing new interpretations of Torah. They are preaching that God has done something so new and different that it transcends everything that has come before, demanding a new worldview and new life.
The new life that was demonstrated to the disciples in the resurrected Jesus was a hint, a foretaste of what the renewed Creation would be like when God’s Kingdom is made fully real. It was that moment, that revelation that changed the disciples’ cowardice into courage. As soon as the Holy Spirit is breathed on the believers their behavior changes from hiding in a locked room to being willing to be punished for preaching in Jesus’ name.
It is the presence of the Holy Spirit that must be the deciding and motivating factor in our ministry and mission. Without the leading of that Spirit, this project we’re working on, this congregation we’re growing, this Waystation we’re establishing, all of it is merely academic. Only through the presence of God’s Holy Spirit can this or any other church actually lead transformative change in the embrace and forgiveness of the world.
It is that self-same Spirit that invigorates our lives and leads us to confess with boldness that something is different now. Something has changed about the world and we’re caught up in the middle of it. It is the Spirit that enables and leads us to pronounce that our lives are evidence of a paradigm shift in humanity. All evidence may speak to the contrary, that is, evidence based upon and supported by our traditions, our old expectations, our former way of thinking. But in this new creation, this “new” that has replaced the “old,” we ourselves must testify that nothing, not even death, is the same.
It is this Spirit that leads the apostles to testify to their own elders, their own leaders, their own people that nothing can ever be the same again. Against the objections and threats of their own communities, against the best advise of the lawyers and scribes, and against the pleas even of their own families, the believers can do nothing else. They have been caught up in the newness, the resurrected reality of Jesus promised humanity – they can’t help but testify to the new Birth.
I’m reminded in this Acts passage of another courtroom scene. When Martin Luther was called before the collected princes and religious leaders of his era in Germany, he, too, was threatened to stop teaching or else. Yet he, caught up in a vision of the New Birth and the life promised by Jesus in his resurrected form, uttered those powerful words that I hope one day I have the courage to say: “here I stand; I can do no other.” May our lives be so transformed by the reality of the new Birth in the Spirit that we ourselves cannot go back to the old ways, the “before” ways, the ways where death still wins the day. May we be so bold, so convinced, so changed. Here we are – we can do nothing else. Amen.


[2] Cf. Romans 7.
[3] Cf. John 3.