Category Archives: Scripture

Go!

I preached on Jonah 1 a few weeks ago at the River Church.  Here’s a link to the video

Some lessons from the passage that I ended with:

  • God isn’t on our side.
    God invites us to be on his side.
    And sometimes his side isn’t the side we expect.

    God’s side is the way of life.

  • God cares what we do, and God responds.
  • God has a plan, a mission, and we’re part of it.
    But he doesn’t always give us all the details.
  • Calling isn’t always what we want – but it is good
  • Ignoring God isn’t a private affair, it affects those around us

Here’s my Jonah 1 presentation notes

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Integrity in an age of Confusion

One thing we learn from the Bible, maybe a key lesson throughout the text, is that we shouldn’t expect God’s story to take shape the way or the timing we want, but it is ultimately leading in a better direction.

Not just in an eternal (heavenly) sense. The more we walk in God’s story the more we experience the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5)

There are two elements of this patience:

  1. Be patient for God’s justice against the wicked: judgment
  2. Be patient in waiting for God’s provision: intercession

Being patient like a farmer is patient, doing the work, waiting for the work to take shape in light of God’s grace and sustenance.

Hear more on this in my sermon on James 5:1-7

Here’s the complete teaching notes.

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Teachers and Tongues

Love can mean many things. In Christianity, it’s meaning is oriented by the revelation of God that is expressed in the person and mission of Jesus, a mission that continues to be empowered by the Spirit. And yet…

It’s clear that this message of love hasn’t always been the primary expression of the church, becoming a rhetorical decoration for other goals. Some of these have been noble, such as teaching important concepts, some less noble, such as establishing power for its own sake and to personally enrich the leaders.

This isn’t new. We find such trends even in the era of the New Testament, leading the charismatic leaders of the earliest era to write letters.  James wrote one such letter to the churches and in it he emphasizes that Love involves integrity and responsibility, not also for teaching, especially for teachers. And I argue that as we’re all empowered by the Spirit in some way, we’re all teachers in some way, living out lives and sharing our hopes with those around us, many who will never listen to a church sermon let alone take a class on Christian theology and practice.

This responsible love involves living true to the story of God in our lives.  It also involves helping others be true to God’s story in their lives.

I preached more on this at the River Church, but it wasn’t recorded.

Don’t fret!

Here’s my complete teaching notes.

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A Faith that Practices: Advice for the Good Life

The message in Scripture isn’t just about some isolated religious issues as expressed by an ancient people. It was expressed by an ancient people, but more than a limited cultic set of temple acts, it’s really an expression of how the world is, how life is supposed to be, who we are supposed to be in light of that. It’s a narrative that took place in the past, and takes place even now. Indeed, this story of God is an orientation. We are invited into a way of life that can be expressed in any setting, at any time, as it is about living in light of the way this particular world is supposed to function. It involves our faith, and our faith involves our whole self, our emotions, and our five senses. In the book of James, he highlights the spiritual through emphasizing the sensory, using these together to point to how we can find hope and peace in the midst of a complicated world.

I preached more on this in my sermon on James 1:19-27.

Here’s the complete teaching notes on James 1:19-27.

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Peace be with you

Peace is a difficult topic. Not because it’s hard to describe, but because it’s hard to realize, and in light of the news, it’s hard to believe.

Yet, peace, shalom as it is called in Hebrew, is a Promise from God, and this promise continues in the New Testament.

We begin to see as God sees, love as God loves, hope with God’s hope, and that transforms how we live in this world in all sorts of ways.
Peace is part of the Spirit’s freedom for us.

Rather than conflict, we have peace. Rather than chaos, we have peace. Rather than frustration or anxiety or domination we have peace. This is not the peace of the world, but a deeper peace, a lasting peace, a thorough peace. It is not just the ceasing of violence and war, it is more, it is an entering into a rhythm with the Creator of all that is, and living in light of this rhythm.

This is truly, thoroughly, good news. This is the Gospel, in which we see not just a message about heaven but a message about all of reality, a re-integration into life with God that transforms our experience of this world.

It is this peace Jesus promises to us. Do we want to live in this peace?

Hear more on the hope of Shalom in my sermon preached at The River Church

And here’s my complete teaching notes.

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Talk to the Rock

A while back, I wanted to learn what the Bible said about the various types of spiritual expressions we commonly call gifts. And, I didn’t want to use the usual lists of various gifts that Paul talks about. Rather, I wanted to see how gifts were expressed in the Bible. What does it mean to be a prophet? Well, I looked at the prophets. What does it mean to be someone who has discernment? Well, I looked at the men and women who were commended for seeing truth even when there were shadows and mists. What does it mean to be a leader? I looked at the leaders in the Bible.

This latter study was more than a little bit disconcerting. There are a lot of leaders in the Bible, be it kings or priests or judges or generals.

Leaders of all kinds abound in the stories. The trouble is that the percentage of leaders leading the people to God is pretty small. Most of the leaders in the Bible did not serve God. The other trouble is that their negative example does not mean they were bad leaders.

For instance, we have someone like King Omri of Israel. First Kings 16:25 has this to say about him: “Omri did evil in the eyes of the LORD and sinned more than all those before him.” On the other hand, archaeologists and others who study the history say that as a leader, he was pretty good! He orchestrated a lot of building projects and otherwise secured enough wealth and support to pass the kingdom on to his son, Ahab.

How about an example from the New Testament? Paul had to confront Peter when he learned that Peter stopped eating with Gentiles (Galatians 2:11ff). Peter influenced Barnabas and others, and had to be corrected, because they, as Paul puts it, “were not following the truth of the Good News” (Gal. 2:14). The practice of Peter was not reflecting the call of God in or for the church.

With this in mind, I now turn to the topic of worship. It’s not uncommon for me to be singing along during a service and realize I’ve just sung something I didn’t, or shouldn’t, believe. This isn’t limited to singing, either. For the most part, many of the approaches, use of space, wording, and other aspects of our gathering together are more like Peter’s faults than Paul’s goal. They might be engaging, or they might be traditional, or they might be functional, or whatever reason under the sun, but they are not when examined more closely, “following the truth of the Good News.”

Now more formally, this “truth of the Good News” could be gathered together under the theme of theology. That’s what I think theology is and should be about, at least. It is the reflection on the actions of God and his declarations that point to a more cohesive expression of God’s work and being. It can be expressed using four syllable words or it can be expressed in a dance, or in a liturgy, story, or song. But, in being expressed in some ways it is saying that it is reflecting the God who is. Theology, then, should be a pretty important issue in discussions of worship.

God does not, we learn from Scripture, like to be misrepresented in word or deed.

This is probably most clearly expressed in the story of Moses. In Numbers 20 we read a very disturbing story. The people were complaining, again, about having no water (the nerve of them!). They rebelled, Moses prayed at the Tabernacle, and God told him what to do.

Moses gathered the people, stood before them, shouted at them for their rebellious ways, and then hit the rock twice. Water gushed out.

But God was not happy. “Because you did not trust me enough to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel,” he said to Moses, “you will not lead them into the land I am giving them.”

Moses, you see, was supposed to command the rock to bring forth water. He wasn’t supposed to hit it. God was not just interested in the result. His holiness is about the method, the act, the approach, the whole context. God’s revelation is holistic and he calls those who would lead his people to reflect this holiness in ways that match how he has chosen to reveal himself.

We can’t just hit the rock and say that’s God’s work, even if water comes out. Because the method is as much part of the message as the result. He’s telling a different story in the midst of this world and that means leading people to live in particular ways, ways that might not immediately make sense. But it makes a difference in the long run. Just as the method of the cross makes a difference not only in salvation but also in how we respond to the systems of this world.

We have to listen to God, reflect on his ways, and then we have to talk to the rock.

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Looking at the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 for my writing project. A very Old Testament sort of narrative. Tell a lie, die. The Holy Spirit doesn’t mess around. We always hear people saying they want more of the Holy Spirit. I’m not sure they’ve factored in all the Biblical stories…

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the liberative path of the cross

A little taste of what I’m writing these days:

The cross is a definitive call to reject the patterns of identity formation offered by the various systems in an environment. This is rightly understood as a way of death, rejecting the systems entails a rejection by the systems who seek to preserve and replicate their fundamental place in a society. The resurrection is the promise that rejecting such patterns will result in an even fuller life. Liberation of the oppressor comes through the way of the cross but promises a new story in light of the resurrection. Which brings us back to Moltmann’s admonition not to dwell on what people lose but what people gain. We let go patterns and systems of death and dissolution because we do not need their promises of identity or security. We are freed from such anonymizing demands. Radical trust in God leads to radical realignment with the systems, embedded in them with a cohesive narrative of the Spirit’s transformative power.

I’m about 25 pages into a look at various Scripture passages to see how they develop a theme of liberation of the oppressor. I’m arguing there’s a cohesive narrative and theme throughout Scripture on this, one that primarily is about letting go other forms of definition and finding our idenity in God, which brings freedom because by being free in God we become truly free to be who we are made to be in community with others who are free to who God has made them to be.   I hear a lot of critiques about theology texts, that they don’t engage Scripture.  I find engaging Scripture to be a key element to what I’m trying to do.

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After growing up reading the Bible, it’s always a great pleasure to come across some tidbit or insight that I never noticed before that fundamentally changes how I read a passage.  For a book project, among a number of other passages, I’m going over the story of the rich young man as found in Matthew 19.

We’re familiar with the story. The guy has done everything right, above and beyond, faithful in his zeal and disciplined in his actions. He asks Jesus what it will take to find eternal life. Fulfill the commandments, Jesus says. I’ve done that, he responds. There’s only one more thing, Jesus adds, sell everything and give it to the poor.

Now, in reading this and hearing about it my whole life, the story is that the guy couldn’t do it, left Jesus behind. He loved his riches more than anything else.  Harder for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom, Jesus says.

Only the thing is, the Bible never says the guy didn’t do it, that he didn’t sell everything. It only says he walked away sad about it.

Which means, really, the story is open-ended.  Maybe he goes off to revel more in his wealth and miss eternal life. Maybe he sells everything and finds his way deeper in God.  Either way there is loss and there is gain.  Either way there’s something to be sad about. Which does he do?

We aren’t told. We’re just told that it’s impossible without God. Why do it otherwise? Why give up what we think we need?  Why let go our sense of identity and value?  Only if there is something better, a way of life now that leads to a fullness of life in eternity. Not a pie in sky for later but a sharing of the pie we’ve been given in the present.

Scripture tells us the guy walked away sad, not what he did about his wealth. We read into it, adding our own conclusion and making it part of Scripture.

I think we do that a lot.

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Obedience is better than Sacrifice

Spoke on the atonement this morning. Flew up to Nampa, Idaho to join in with the Wesleyan Theological Society. Good time. Good people.

I’ve never really been all that interested in doctrines of the atonement. I was raised in a Christian family and so never had a dramatic conversion. And the other popular interest in atonement theories almost always are about drawing divisions in Christianity, using the cross as a bludgeon to attack people who don’t measure up to a perceived, generally parochial, orthodoxy. The conference theme was on atonement so I started thinking about it last Summer, and once that started, I got very interested in where my studies were taking me. So, over the last 2.5 weeks I wrote a 25 page paper as a beginning exploration of what I think is a somewhat novel approach. Well, novel in theology, it’s entirely throughout Scripture. That’s my argument and evidence at least. Got it down to 10.5 pages to present this morning. Seemed to go well.

Anyhow, here’s my intro:

Over the last half-century, there has been a shift in how we think about God’s eternal nature and work in this world. This relational turn in theology emphasizes a social model of the Trinity and with this a sociality of God’s kingdom rather than a political or hierarchical model. This is not, to be sure, a new conception.

The terminology of perichoresis—God’s eternal dance—has, for instance, been a key model especially in the Christian East for many centuries, dating back to the early church. In what follows, I will propose a model of the atonement that derives from this emphasis on God’s relationality. This is a preliminary exploration for what is a much larger project certainly in need of further refining and development. For the moment, I will propose themes and lay the groundwork for this approach that can be honed in future works.

A theology of the atonement involves two extremely important underlying questions. The first asks what is sin? Is it a violation of God’s honor as Lord? Is it corruption that leads to death? The tendency to establish a scapegoat? The devil’s capture of us in enslavement?

These questions point to the second key question. What is God’s primary pattern of interaction with this world? In the late twentieth century there was a shift of understanding of the human condition away from a strict legal construction and towards understanding sin as more of a disoriented identity that results in relational violations.

Such a view on the human situation is key in the theology of many contemporary theologians such as Wolfhart Pannenberg and Jürgen Moltmann. They both assert that attempts to establish our identity in a person, cause, activity, or goal other than God results in dis-integration—with God and with others—as nothing other than God can sustain identities into eternity. Such dis-integration requires re-integration.

However, models of the atonement have not derived, for the most part, from the starting point that Pannenberg and Moltmann, and others, suggest. This gap highlights the need for a new model, one that better incorporates contemporary understanding of the Trinity and anthropology.

This may also become a model that can include other models within its scope as it suggests the underlying priority, expressed through different themes, of God’s work throughout the Biblical narrative.

My initial conception is this: The relational trust between God and humanity that allowed for relational intimacy was broken through sin. God’s initiating movements then created contexts of obedience or disobedience as particular people chose where they would put their trust.

The expressions of obedience were insufficient both as a sustaining and as a fulfilling expression. The judgment of God expresses a relational displeasure, a response to betrayal and falsehood in attempts to instantiate ourselves through alternative means.

The cross becomes the ultimate expression of obedience and thus trust, denying false forms of identity and embracing the fullness of God’s promise. This act of obedience becomes the avenue of trust for humanity and the avenue of trust for God, who trusts those who trust the Son.

Such trust is first an ontological restoration as it orients a person within God’s field of force, his perichoretic substantiation that we call justification. This then re-initiates those who trust in the cross into a new transformative path of obedience, a new birth that re-constitutes the human identity and leads it to a path of identity reformation, which we call sanctification.

I’m not posting the whole thing because I’m considering what I want to do with it. It’s at least a book project, maybe my summer project now, but I may work on submitting the initial version as an article.

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