• The Entrance Leads to the Whole

    So, know anyone with some really bad theology? Like you hear them talk and all you can hear are the lies, errors and misrepresentations they are spouting and it makes you want to scream? OK, maybe you don’t actually care about theology that much. It’s probably better if you don’t when you get right down to it.

    But, we all know people who are intensely passionate about their opinions. And hey – if just putting your theology into the category of “opinion” offends you, well, passion’s not a bad thing. But that’s not really here nor there. My point was that some people have terrible theology. Like Westboro Baptist. And . . . well, we won’t get into the rest. Let’s just say there’s no end of churches believing really wacky things.

    Of course, it doesn’t all lead to crazy land. Some people have theology that you just think is wrong. Like Jehovah’s witnesses. I had a pair who stopped coming after I told them that living forever on Earth would never, ever be desirable to me. Because until I can reside with the God of the universe, I will not be content. There’s more to the world than our little planet and our people. They were appalled that I would reject the gift of eternal life. I was going to go into the role of the mosquito in the ecosystem to illustrate that their perfect Earth couldn’t exist, but they left before I had the chance. But again, not my point.

    What I really want to talk about is why we need to stop worrying so much about how wrong everyone else is. We’ve been doing that for a while now and I’m not sure what we think we’re going to gain by keeping it up. We disagree. About almost everything. Maybe we need to get over it and start building on a different foundation. Continue reading

  • Becoming People of the Story

    Christian theology, while it’s often thought of as an argument over who’s right and who is wrong, can actually be understood as the stories we use to explain the reality of God, the reality of human existence and how to live in right relationship with God, neighbor and self. Using the bible and varying doses of church tradition and reality, we’ve written thousands of different stories, each purporting to be THE Christian story. Except the idea that any of us has found THE Christian story is preposterous.

    Jesus said there was one narrow path to him and we’d know we’d found it by its fruit. And I can say with confidence that not a damn one of the stories Christians have told produced fruit worthy of my God. None of them is good enough. Some are clearly better than others, but all of them are wrong.

    At best, the different theologies are like placeholders, explaining the best we’ve been able to figure out thus far. At worst, they are ideological prisons keeping people enslaved to a story utterly inferior to the real one. But none of the stories deserve our allegiance. Only Christ does.

    In Islam, Christians are called “People of the Book”. Jews also call themselves “People of the Book”. I think we need to become “People of the Story”. Continue reading

  • On Poverty and Doing All Things

    Today Ben Irwin gives us a closer look at two frequently quoted bible verses:

    “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13, New Revised Standard Version)

    . . . For some, “I can do all things” means scoring touchdowns and clearing the bases. But that’s not exactly what Paul had in mind. Paul was sharing that he’d learned to be content no matter what his circumstances – rich or poor, hungry or well fed, in prison or out. What Paul was saying is not so much “I can achieve anything,” but “I can endure anything” – which, in his case, included prison.

    “You will always have the poor among you . . .” (Matthew 26:11, New Living Translation)

    It may not be one of the most popular Bible verses, but this is one of the more frequently misunderstood. As a kid growing up in church, I sometimes heard this text used put down other people’s efforts to fight poverty. There’s always going to be poor people. Jesus said as much. So why fight it? Except the context of this verse suggests a rather different picture. Jesus was quoting Deuteronomy 15, which commanded Israel to cancel everyone’s debts every seven years. “There need be no poor people among you,” the writer insisted, “if only you fully obey.” . . . Jesus alludes to Deuteronomy 15 when he explains why it was okay for a woman to anoint him with expensive perfume shortly before his death, rather than sell the perfume and give the money to the poor. Mark’s gospel offers an extended version of Jesus’ line: “The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want.” Maybe we’d be better off focusing on the latter part of Jesus’ statement.

    This comes from an article titled Five Bible Verses You Need to Stop Misusing.

  • Driving Out Demons

    I don’t think I’ve mentioned recently how awesome (pastor, teacher, author) John Ortberg is. Or that I got to hear him teach fairly often during my brief stint at Willow Creek Community Church outside of Chicago. He was my favorite and I learned so much from him. Unfortunately, I have since forgotten the joke he used to tell about Norwegian girls and chest hair. But it was really funny. If I ever meet him, I’ll ask about it so I can share it with you, k?

    Anyhow, today’s exegesis is by John Ortbrg from his book Who Is This Man? It’s on Mark 5 where Jesus casts the legion of demons out of a wild man:

    “One day Jesus drops a bomb. It’s early in his ministry, things are going well, and he has drawn a crowd so large that he must teach from a boat in a lake so all can hear. That evening he says to his disciples, “Let’s go over to the other side.”

    That’s the bomb. The “other side” is something of a technical term. Jesus is not talking just about geography. The other side of the lake was the region of Decapolis, the “ten cities.” This was largely enemy territory. Its inhabitants were pagan people. . .

    The Jews regarded the other side as the place where Satan lived. It was dark, evil, oppressive, and demonic. No one would go to the other side—especially no rabbi. . .

    Decapolis was also a center of Roman power in Jesus’ time. It housed a legion of six thousand Roman soldiers. The symbol of a Roman legion was a boar’s head. Jesus casually suggested one day, “Let’s go over to the other side.”

    What was he doing? Didn’t he know that the kingdom is for our side? It’s almost as if he didn’t know that this is the other side. It’s almost as if he thought it’s his side. It’s almost as if he thought every side belonged to him, or that he belonged to every side. It’s almost as if he thought that all the peoples of the earth were now going to be blessed through him —even the seven nations of Canaan.

    Continue reading

  • Are You Sure You Want To Be a Disciple?

    Today’s exegesis is on Mark 9 and comes from J. R, Daniel Kirk:

    Jesus had to show them. The kingdom of God is not like they think it is. “Being first,” says Jesus, “entails being last, and servant of all.”

    Jesus then takes a child: the low person on the ancient totem pole of social hierarchy. His words are stunning: “Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me isn’t welcoming me but God, who sent me.” . . .

    The story continues.

    John hopes to clarify that the disciples as a group provide the boundary markers, protecting the name of Jesus, and the kingdom it brings.

    “Teacher!” says John. (BTW: in Mark, if you want to find someone who doesn’t know what’s going on, look for the person who calls Jesus “teacher.”) “We saw someone casting out demons in your name, but we forbid him because he doesn’t follow us.”

    To be a disciple is to think that our group circumscribes the sphere where God’s blessings are known. Clearly if you’re not with us, you cannot truly be a follower of Jesus.

    Right?

    Wrong.

    Jesus says, “Don’t stop him! … Whoever isn’t against us is for us.” . . .

    In the wake of these two rebukes, the third story is all the more shocking.

    It’s only 20 verses later. In Mark 10.

    The people are bringing children to Jesus for him to bless them (Mark 10:13-16). The children. The ones about whom Jesus has said, “If you receive one of these, you receive me, which isn’t receiving me, but the One who sent me.”

    The disciples, the ones who were just rebuked for thinking that they form the wall of partition between Jesus and the world, they hindered the children.

    The disciples missed their chance.

    In striving to protect Jesus, they refused to embrace the children.

    They missed Jesus

    .

    The rest of the piece is found here. It’s a response to the World Vision controversy last week. Which if you know nothing about, consider yourself lucky.

  • Exegesis and Why Noah Isn’t a Jewish Hero

    So . . . heard any good exegesis lately? What’s an exegesis, you ask? (Or maybe you don’t ask. Too bad. I’m going to tell you anyways.) Exegesis is simply the practice of explaining a section of text from the bible. So, a lot of sermons include exegesis because they start with the text and then offer an explanation as to their meaning.

    A good exegesis is a thing to make the heart sing. My favorite are the ones that show you something in the text you never noticed or understood before. Typically these explanations draw on what the preacher knows about the history, the cultures involved, the language and nuances which aren’t clear in translation, other Christian’s interpretations, the text’s relationship with other texts. It should also be spiritually astute. And it should always be humble enough to offer a possible way to read the text, not the only possible way. That’s not asking much, now is it?

    I’m not sure that the wider public really appreciates what it takes to teach (or explain or exegete) scripture well. But even a two bit preacher with no education and terrible theology has devoted more time to studying scripture than the average person has ever devoted to any idea in their life. Obviously, this is no barrier to preaching some really stupid, dull and idiotic stuff from the pulpit. But we’re all merely human. We’ll have to trust that God can get it all sorted out eventually.

    One of the things I’m going to start doing is passing along clips of really good exegesis that I come across. Because I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you’ll like them as much as I do. Because we’re geeky like that. No, actually because they’re really good. And if you have to be geeky to see that, so be it.

    Anyhow, I’ll just start with the insight of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on the role, character of and errors of Noah in the bible (it’s not your typical exegesis, I suppose. But close enough):

    the principal distinction between Noah on one hand and Moses and Abraham on the other is that Noah accepts God’s judgement. . .

    Noah is not a hero in Jewish lore. Continue reading

  • Job’s Wife

    Well, it happened again. OK, it actually happens nearly every time someone decides to write about the book of Job. Inevitably they take a swipe at Job’s wife for telling Job to “curse God and die”. She’s unfaithful. She’s unhelpful. She’s a tool of the devil, tempting Job to blaspheme. Bad, bad Job’s wife.

    Actually, not bad, bad Job’s wife. Bad, bad us. Seriously. All those dead children? She had carried, birthed and fed them with her body. Job’s lost wealth? That was her wealth as well. Job’s position in the community was her position as well.

    How in the world do we look at a woman who has lost all of her children, her household, her security and standing and condemn her for telling her sick, oozing husband that it would probably be best if he just cursed God and died? What kind of monsters are we?

    I know she’s just a character in a very old story. But still. Can we all agree not to take potshots at Job’s wife anymore?

    BTW, a couple of years ago, I took another look at the book of Job and came to some surprising conclusions about it. If you have any interest in the subject, you can find the series here. Don’t worry, I skipped over the boring parts. ;)

  • Your Goodness Isn’t Filthy Rags

    If there’s one word which describes my experience of 2014 so far, it’s “inadequate”. I have felt utterly inadequate to the challenges of my life. Whatever good I can and have done has been wholly inadequate. In fact, this feeling has been so strong that I have frequently found myself battling a sense that anything I do or try to do is pointless.

    And into this jolly state of affairs, a few little church mice come whispering in my ear, “it’s all filthy rags. Whatever you do is no more than filthy rags.” Which just makes it all seem even more pointless. If everything I do is as worthless as a pile of dirty rags, then life is hopeless. Maybe I’ll have better luck in the afterlife.

    Except that’s just not true. Which is why this post from Derek Leman is an important corrective to the all too common notion that God regards all our efforts and good works as filth:

    Isaiah 64:6 is not a divine dismissal of the rightness of loving deeds; it is a prayer of complaint by the people about how they feel overlooked by God. . . In the voice of complaint, the believers are saying, “Where are you, God? It’s like our words and actions of love and faithfulness for you are filthy rags!”

    It turns out that this idea that our deeds are worthless, disgusting even, does not come from God. Instead, it’s the perspective of people who are worn out and tired from waiting and suffering who fear that God has rejected them. This passage isn’t a condemnation of our good works and efforts, but a very human cry many of us can relate to.

    More:

    Is this what God actually thinks of their deeds?

    Not at all. Cease to do evil; learn to do good. That is God’s counsel from Isaiah 1:16. The righteous will not labor in vain. They will be blessed by the Lord. Their prayers will be so powerful, God will answer them before they speak them (Isa 65:23-24). God does not despise the good deeds of his people. He teaches us to do them. It is good to pray, to visit the sick, to provide justice for the widow and orphan. These things God does not despise. They are not filthy rags, according to the Bible.

    And at the center of human beings is not corruption, but purity and holiness. It is the image of God. It is who we truly are. The corruption is not at the center, but is a veil of darkness refusing to let out who we really are. We are not evil beings pretending to be good, but good people fallen from our true selves finding in God and Messiah the path back to our pre-ordained glory as his sons and daughters.

    What we need to hear when life is hard isn’t the human perspective which says that what we do is pointless or worse than nothing. What we need to hear is God’s perspective which views us as beloved image bearers whose goodness is precious to him.