Archives For Scripture

gospel-of-mark-slider

So this past June I had the privilege of going to Israel and Jordan for a couple of weeks to see where Jesus lived and walked on this earth. In Israel, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a Bible story, (actually you shouldn’t throw rocks because they could also be a Bible story).

For two weeks I got to travel around and see Israel, from Dan to Beersheba. I went to the places that Jesus would’ve seen and talked about, and got to see the landscape and visuals Jesus pulled from to teach about the Kingdom of God.

And since I couldn’t take everyone along with me, I took along some Google Glasses (a device that records everything a person is looking at).

Gospel of Mark Introduction from Highland Church on Vimeo.

Let me tell you, this was a labor of love, because wearing Google Glasses is like the 21st century version of traveling with a fanny pack. Every picture I have of me over there looks like I’m trying to be an honorary member of the Borg (see below picture), but looking over these videos I’m excited that I’m going to get to share with you some of the things that I saw, and in some sense take you along.

Looking like a nerd wearing Google Glasses on a camel in Jordan

Looking like a nerd wearing Google Glasses on a camel in Jordan

I can’t wait to show you the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane, or the Via Dolorosa, the path Jesus was said to have walked on his way to the Cross. I want you to see the mountains that really do surround Jerusalem, and let you experience what it’s like take a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee.

There’s something powerful about realizing that these places really do exist, and that these are more than just “Bible stories.”

Because unlike other world religions of it’s day, the Jewish/Christian faith is actually something grounded in history, it’s the history of a people who believe God has acted in the world, and is acting in this world.

Mark was the first to write down the story of the loved, hated, revered, despised and often misunderstood first century rabbi: Jesus of Nazareth. Mark wrote his Gospel in an attempt to answer the one question that Jesus himself asks throughout the book, “Who do you think I am?”

In a world where everyone seems to think they know who Jesus was and what His movement is about, but strangely seem to have lives similar to people who have no intention of following him, maybe it’s time to look again at the man who turned the world upside down.

In a world where everyone seems to be a Christians the Gospel of Mark calls us to more than a polite religion. The Gospel of Mark calls us to re-imagine what being a follower of Jesus means, to re-look at the story of Jesus.

Because In the words of another Mark (Twain)  “You cannot depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”

Join us this Fall at Highland as we look at the life of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark…on location.

Our service times for assembly are:

8:30 A.M. A Capella Worship

11:00 A.M. Instrumental Worship

If you’d like directions, or more information about getting involved at Highland, or are planning on coming as a first time guest, click here, or email us at emailus@highlandchurch.org

On April 21, 2014

Seeing Noah

Russell Crowe in Noah

Last week, the Abilene Reporter News asked me and another area pastor (and one of my good friends) Cliff Stewart to review the movie Noah. But since I wrote this blog a few weeks ago, I’ve had quite a few conversations and several emails asking what I thought about it.

And since I’ve written publicly about why I think Christians should give the movie Noah a fair shake, I thought it would be appropriate to share just what I thought about it now that I’ve seen it. Here’s an expanded version of what I wrote for the ARN:

When they asked Cliff and I to tell us what we thought about the movie Noah we figured that meant we had better go see it first. I’m in the season of life with 3 young kids where the DVD release is when the movie comes out for my wife and me.

But we made a date. We saw the movie. We liked it.

So we’re no Siskel and Ebert, but here’s our best shot at telling what we liked about it and why…

It’s tough being a Bible character.

Sometimes I think we forget that. We romanticize people in the lion den’s or rainbow colored coats and lose the ability to hear the story the way it was first heard by the people who were originally telling it.

I’ll never forget watching Noah in this movie sit in the Ark hearing the people outside. When we read that story in a coffee shop during our quiet time, or in a sermon safely in some church building we forget just how disturbing some of the Bible stories really are.

Turns out the story of Noah is darker than most of us who grew up in religious settings remember. It’s a story of a God who takes evil very seriously. In a time when we replace words like “sin” with softer words like “mistakes” it’s important to remember that God thinks what we do in His good world has consequences.

I didn’t expect to like Noah as much as I did. I thought it was visually stunning and it did the one thing that I needed. It made the familiar story strange to me again. I’ve grown up hearing this story, I’ve read/preached/and heard this story a thousand times, and last night I felt like I was hearing it for the first time again.

I didn’t expect I would find the movie Noah as wonderful as I did.. I use that word intentionally. This movie was full of something that our world seems to be sorely lacking…Wonder. There were several scenes that were just breathtaking. Like the way Creation was pictured or how the animals seemed to be almost magically drawn to the Ark.

What I loved about this movie was that it portrayed the world as enchanted…and anything seemed possible.

It would be easy to argue about the interpretation that the director took, and I could find plenty to critique, but It’s an imaginative retelling of the story of Noah, sure a lot of it very imaginative, but the story of Noah is definitely in there.

The Failure of the Flood

But…God feels distant in Noah, He comes in dreams and not very often. It would be easy to walk out of this movie and complain that God doesn’t have a starring role, but that misses the point of the original story of Noah.

The point of the flood in Noah is that it doesn’t work. God purges the world of evil…only to find Noah a few days later drunk, naked and passed out. As if the ark washed up on the Jersey Shore.

The point of the Noah story in Genesis is that this kind of force doesn’t work. That’s why a few chapters later God calls Abraham, creates a people and tells them He wants them to be a blessing to the world.

That’s how God is going to deal with evil now.

If you’ve ever watched the news, and wondered where God is, why he doesn’t act. If you’ve ever wondered where God was in the Holocaust or when tragedies happen like the school stabbing last week, or the systemic poverty you see around you. Noah is a movie for you.

If you’ve ever wished we could just vote the right legislation in to force everyone to act right, if you’ve ever wished we could get rid of the bad people and purge the world of evil…Noah’s story is a story for you. Because ultimately God’s way of dealing with evil here doesn’t work.

Turns out evil is even in the people on the boat, and they bring it into the new world with them.

So God’s not going to flood the world again. But he’s still just as concerned about evil, and still wanting to do something about it. Turns out God is very present these days. He just might be wearing your shoes and trying to bless people through you.Russell Crowe as Noah in Darren Aranofsky's biblical epic

I’m glad I went to see Noah, it reminded me of how seriously God takes His creation and just how God plans to deal with evil these days. Through His people.

Stained Glass Theaters

It’s important to remember that historically the Church around the world has embraced this kind of cultural translation. Stained Glass windows were the original movies, and throughout Christian history, Noah has always been a story that our artists have been drawn to. Whether it’s Noah being portrayed as a Cucumber in Veggietales, or Eugene Peterson translation of the story into the Message, when we translate a story into a different format there is something that happens. You don’t have to agree with it, but if you are a Christian I think you’d be well served to see the movie.

I think that the first people who heard this story would have had more questions than answers. I think this movie does that well. If you’d like to talk to someone drop by a church somewhere, or meet up with a friend, and start a conversation.

You may not think the movie was as Biblical as it should have been, or you may not even care, but we hope you appreciate that we, at least went to see it a Biblical way…two by two.

I just wish Brother Cliff wouldn’t have hogged all the popcorn.

*The section Failure of the Flood did not appear in the newspaper for brevity’s sake

Screen-shot-2011-01-25-at-7.52.40-AM

One of the more interesting things about the Bible is what happens when God reveals Himself to people. They are always terrified, they say things like “Go away…or I will die.” And then they say something  peculiar like”Who am I?” When God reveals Himself to people, the people always become acutely aware of how broken they are.

They become in a word…modest.

When we talk about modesty, immediately what probably comes to our minds is cleavage or short skirts…I notice we rarely apply it to shirtless, or provocatively dressed men. As a person who struggles with self-delusion, I’ve made the personal commitment to never wear tight clothes or short shorts, you know, just to keep others from stumbling.

But when the Bible talks about modesty, much of the time it’s not talking about the same things we talk about. For example, go back and read Paul’s letter to Timothy, or Peter’s letter to the church of his day.

Most of the time, when they are talking about modesty (in a world very much like ours) they are talking about economic modesty. The word they have for the women of their day is not to feel the need to showcase how much you have…in other words, because of God, you shouldn’t dress to show how well off you are.

But modesty also has another meaning in Bible, and by this meaning, Christians today are rarely modest.

Which is not a new thing.

I Know You Are, But What Am I

In the 17th century, the Quakers and the Puritans were locked in a pretty intense debate. One of the most famous Puritan preachers, a guy named Richard Baxter, wrote a pamphlet where he called those Quakers “ drunkards, swearers, whore mongers, and sensual wretches…miserable creatures .” And then, just in case they didn’t get how serious their theological error was, he said they were no better than “Papists.”

Richard Baxter

Richard Baxter aka “Child of the Devil”

So a Quaker preacher, James Naylor, responded to these harsh accusations and names…with more accusations and names. Naylor called Baxter “a Serpent,” a “Liar,” a “Child of the Devil,” a “Cursed Hypocrite,” and a “Dumb Dog .”

Naylor actually said he was responding because he had been compelled by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, which may be true. But he most certainly wasn’t responding with the Spirit of Jesus Christ. 

The problem with these arguments is that they do the opposite of what they are hoping to accomplish. When we demonize the other, we rarely have healthy conversations about the issue of disagreement. We divide up the world into right and wrong, and lose the ability to learn and grow from each other.

Last year, on NPR, I heard about a city where the Pro-Life leaders and the Pro-Choice leaders had started secretly meeting for lunch once a week. They had to keep it a secret because the war had already been clearly defined by talking points and hostile speech, but these women still wanted to learn where the other was coming from.

Have you ever noticed how we talk about war? Pascifists argue against all war, Just war people argue that there are some wars that are justifiable. But both sides are starting with the assumption that violence has to be held in check by some moral-limits. They don’t believe most wars are justified. 

But they rarely talk about what those limits are, because they can’t talk about much past what defines them in their opposition.

It seems like every day there is another conflict that has broken out between another faction of people. Politics, Corporations, Churches, Atheist Groups.

Language as Dress

Growing up, modesty was something that the Christians around me talked about a lot. It was always assumed that even though it wasn’t in the ten commandments that girls should dress modestly, it was at least a footnote.

We understood that it was important to not dress in a way that dehumanized yourself.

I think it’s time we learned to speak that way too.

Think about the way the Bible refers to dress, it often isn’t talking about specific clothing instructions, it’s speaking more with a putting on of a certain kind of character.

Like in 1st Peter:

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self,the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

The early Christians cared a lot living a quiet, gentle lives, even while having passionate convictions.

I wish we talked about that when we talk about modesty.

Modesty basically means to not over-estimate ourselves, it is the virtue of knowing and embracing our limitations. We don’t know everything, we don’t know for certain what’s best for the world, and no human should find themselves so certain that they can dehumanize another because they disagree with them.

I like the way Richard Mouw talks about this:

Our efforts at public righteousness must be modest ones. Now this is a dangerous point to emphasize . The call to modesty can easily be interpreted as giving Christians permission to be unconcerned about the issues of public life . “Poverty is always with us, so why worry about injustices?” “You’re never really going to do away with prejudice and conflict—at least not until Jesus returns! No compromise is acceptable. Those who adopt our variety of Christianity are possessors of the truth, and everyone else is caught up in error!” We may hear statements like these when we start encouraging modesty . But the risk is necessary, especially in the light of the immodesty that has often characterized Christian forays into the public arena.

I know that modesty can sound quaint and the ways that we’ve talked about it have been sexist. Still, as  parents of three children, Leslie and I are going to talk about modesty with them….and it is going to involve more than clothes.

Underneath modesty is the virtue of humility. You don’t have to prove yourself or justify your existence with your looks, or your clothes or your ideas or your words. God has justified you.

So let’s talk like it.

On January 23, 2014

Translation: Holier Than Thou

Leadership with education

One of the more interesting bits about Church history is how many people are killed by the Church and later made into saints. There are lots of people who the church made martyrs one day and heroes the next. But the really fascinating part is why they were killed by the Church. 

The Patron Saint of Translation

When Wiliam Tyndale was 34 years old, he was working on translating the first English translation of the Bible. He was a British preacher, and this probably sounds like exactly the kind of work you’d expect a British preacher to do. But it made him an outlaw.

Up until this time in history, the only Scripture were copies that were made in the original languages, or from St. Jerome’s Latin translation. But now William was working to make the Bible accessible to every man, woman and child, in the language that they spoke.

This sounds like a reasonable life’s goal, but it was going to be the death of him. Because we should never underestimate how revolutionary the idea of translating the Bible, really translating into the common language of the day, actually is.

When the Catholic Church found out about what Tyndale was trying to do, they immediately made him a wanted man. One of his Catholic friends tried to warn him off this foolish mission, and Tyndale said:

“If God will spare for many more years, I will cause the boy that drives the plow to  know more of the Scripture than you do.”

Not a good way to keep you head attached to you body.

Eventually the Church began hunting William vigorously, If the FBI had been around, William Tyndale would have been at the top of the Most Wanted List, If there had been Post Offices back in his day, his picture would have been in every one. When William finally finished his translation, he couldn’t find a printer in all of Britian who would publish it. So eventually he had to take a ship to cross the Chanel, where he found someone to print it…almost.

When the printer found out the implications about what he was about to do, he turned William in, and Tyndale barely got out with his manuscript.  The Church was furious. They posted officers at every port, and police were searching from town to town. If William had cared about staying alive, this should have been the time he took a lesson out of Osama Bin Laden’s playbook.

But he cared more about printing this story than he did for his own life.

And ultimately it got him killed.

After only a few thousand copies were made, William Tyndale was arrested, and publicly beheaded, then his body was set on fire, just to show the world what happens to people who try to make God too accessible.

But…

william tyndale

William Tyndale

Today, William Tyndale is hailed as a saint. Dozens of schools and societies have risen up that bear his name. In the words of William Manchester, “You can’t kill a book, and that includes the Good Book.”

All Too Common

But why would people kill someone for this? Did you know that the very translation that Tyndale made, later was the basis for the King James Version? And in it’s day, the King James Version was just what the world needed. It was the story of God in the language of the people.

Before that, the translation that most people knew was Jerome’s Vulgate. But it was criticized in it’s day for being too common. That’s what Vulgar means, the language of the common folk.

Now here’s where things start getting relevant to our lives.  How many people do you know who insist that the King James Version is the “authorized and true” word of God, who won’t have anything to do with any version that was translated after people stopped being beheaded for not paying their taxes?

Now I respect the impulses here.

There is a certain reverence that we should try to approach God with, and the poetry of a more archaic language can sometimes help that. But tread carefully with this line of thinking, because Christianity is not a static faith.  This is one of the primary gifts the Protestants gave to the Church universal, one the Catholic Church began to catch up with in Vatican II.

In the Jesus story, there is an awareness that God is not too Holy to be involved in the everyday, commonness of human existence. In fact, that’s exactly what God enters into. This is why, over and against, other ways of relating to God, Christianity really is different.

It insists that the Jesus story must be translated into the common human experience.

This is why translations matter so much. Because the Gospel insists that we carry it deeper into the world. Holiness doesn’t dissipate when the story of God touches the vulgar, instead the vulgar is sanctified.

And if this sounds strange, ask yourself if it doesn’t sound a bit like the life of Jesus?

The Son of God was always hanging out with the wrong people, saying the wrong kinds of things in ways that everyone could understand. When God came in the flesh, he told stories about the everyday, because everyday matters.

There will always be religious people who grew up in a time and language that they are most adept at connecting to God through, and if we are not careful we can try to baptize how we say something, not just what we say. But the Jesus story invites us to take this message into every part of our mundane world and find words for it there.

There will always be people who push back on this. But beware of anyone who tries to make you holier than Jesus.

The Jesus story translates well, because it is a story of a God who translates.

In this story, Holiness isn’t just clean and stagnant.

In other words…Christianity is Holier than Thou.

On December 10, 2013

ChristmasTime: Christmas Past

 “If a lion roars, who will not be frightened? And if the LORD God has spoken, who will not be a prophet?” -Amos 3:8

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. -Luke 1:29

Christmas Time PictureA few years ago I was having a conversation with my friend Randy Harris about how someone had wronged me. I was waxing eloquent about how righteous I had been, and how villainous I thought this other person was acting.

Then Randy told me something that has stayed with me ever since.

He said, “Have you ever noticed that it’s really not the thing that happened that bothers you? It’s the story you lay on top of it?”

Immediately something in my heart started to soften. I began to realize that for several weeks I had been re-interpreting the recent past with a story that helped me to nurse a wound and keep me the righteous victim.

The way I thought of the past was infecting my present.

Last week I mentioned how right Charles Dickens was. There is a sense that Christmas is about the past, present and future. Christmas time feels magical because time is different here.

This may sounds strange, but I’ll be it’s something most of us have intuitively experienced.

Have you noticed that at Christmas time your sense of nostalgia stands out? Have you noticed how much more profoundly the ache is for deceased loved ones this time of year?

It’s that empty chair or that present you didn’t give…it’s the longing for what used to be.

It’s a longing for Christmas Past’s.

ReVisioning The Past

Last week, I read a book by James Kugel called The God of Old. Kugel is a Harvard professor of Ancient Judaism, and one of the things that he stresses is that this need to lay a story on top of things is something that religious people have always been tempted to do. And it’s not always a good thing.

For example, there is a Jewish document that dates back to a little before the time of Jesus called “The Book of Jubliees.” It’s basically a retelling of the entire book of Genesis, with some running commentary added. (This was a common way for Rabbi’s to teach back in the day called Midrash). What the Book of Jubilee’s did was tell the old stories of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, by trying to fill in some of the plot gaps for questions that people had.

And it gets really interesting when they talk about Abraham.

In the original story of Abraham in Genesis, Abraham is given no special introduction. In fact, it’s kind of non-sequitar. Genesis goes almost directly from the Tower of Babel story to “And God called Abram to leave his home and be a blessing to the world.”

But apparently, Jewish people started asking the question “Why Abraham?”

So the Book of Jubliee’s gave them a story to put on top of the story.

In the book of Jubilee’s, Abraham is no longer just a regular guy. He’s now a pillar of righteousness, he’s bothered by all the idol worship that is going on around him. In this story, the people’s pagan worship disturbs Abraham so much that he starts praying to God for Him to please do something  This new Super-Abraham prays and fasts and then God acts.

In other words, in this story, Abraham initiates.

God doesn’t take the first step, Abraham does.

Here’s how James Kugel says it:

What’s interesting about Genesis account of Abraham is what Abraham does to bring about this encounter with God: absolutely nothing. He does not pray. He does not fast, he indulges in no acts of self-mortification such as those practiced by mystics and seekers in later times…What Abraham was doing or had done was just not important from [Genesis] standpoint. God spoke to Abraham and that was all that mattered.

Now this re-writing of story wasn’t just specific to Abraham. Over time, Moses and other heroes were also given more pious backstories. Because, Kugel says, “It just didn’t seem right to the religious people that God could just choose anyone, anytime and anywhere.”

Christmas Grace

This matters more than you probably think. Because what you think about the past will shape your present, and how you think God is working in it.

Which brings us to the Christmas story.Christmas scene

One of the most overlooked details about Christmas is the passive nature of everyone involved. Zechariah and Elizabeth aren’t actively trying to get pregnant, Mary certainly isn’t…and Joseph has to be talked into the whole thing!

The first Christmas wasn’t filled with pious people praying fervently for God to act, as much as it was filled with people who were absolutely shocked that He was acting. Christmas is a divine initiative…

Christmas was a surprise to everyone.

In my experience with religious people, we tend to think so much like those ancient Jews, re-reading those ancient stories. We like to take the mess out of the “heroes of Christmas.” We make Mary so heroic and Joseph full of virtue….and rightfully so. But we must never forget those parts of their story, like Abraham, only begin to come out….after God has acted in surprising ways through surprising people.

In the Bible, no prophet ever seeks God out first, God always initiates. In the words of the prophet Amos: “If a lion roars, who will not be frightened, and if the LORD God has spoken, who will not be a prophet?”

The Christmas story, is one of many stories, that make us reconsider how strange and good God is. He just starts talking to people who are not considered sane by the right authorities. He initiates this whole thing.

And if he did that then, maybe He will do it now.

We never know how or when, but anything is possible and it could just be around the corner.

And whatever it is, and whoever it’s through,,,it’s always grace.

On October 22, 2013

Ephesians: A Gospel Mystery

This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. –Ephesians 3:6

ephesians

I was reading this morning in the book of Ephesians, and something stood out to me that I’ve never noticed before.

Paul was a single man, and Paul really, really appreciates marriage. And our churches need to notice constantly both of these things.

For the longest time we’ve mis-read Paul. We’ve thought that Paul was trying to get all the churches that he planted to think that the Jewish law was a bad thing. We got this idea from Martin Luther, that the Law was a burden that was given to break the Israelites into realizing that they can’t keep all of those rules.

But that’s not true at all.

Remember that God gave the Israelites the Torah after He gave them Himself. They had just come out of centuries of slavery in Egypt, and they don’t know how to live. You don’t want to just drop off a bunch of slaves into a foreign country and let them figure out how to live on their own. That’s how we got Australia.

See Paul is a good Jewish Rabbi who knows that the law was a gift from God, so why does Paul talk so much about Jewish regulations in his letters? Because Paul is trying to create communities that transcend Jewish and Gentile labels.

He’s trying to create church.

See back in the day, one of the main indicators of a ruler’s power was His ability to create unity in diverse places. This was one of the ways that Caesar “proved” he was Lord. By being able to bring peace, or the Pax Ramona (Peace of Rome) to the world. But the way Rome brought peace was not by forcing unity at the end of a sword.

And Paul is trying to create unity at the foot of the cross.

A Unity Movement

This is what Paul’s ultimate ministry is about. Creating communities of people who have different backgrounds, genders, races, and perspectives but who all can come together to worship the God of Jesus.

And it’s interesting that Paul uses the word “Mystery” to describe this.

Go back and look at Ephesians 1:9, and then go read Paul unpack this idea in Ephesians 2:11-17. The whole goal is to reconcile very different people groups in the name of Jesus for the glory of God. And the way Paul has to do this, is by stripping these different clichés of their ways they used to separate and justify themselves.

See back in that day, people used to try to one-up each other. So people would come to church thinking that there was the “enlightened” and the “primitive-minded” or the “rich” and the “lazy” or the “poor” and the “greedy” or the “religious” and the “Spirit-Filled” or the “intelligent, thoughtful person” and the “charismatic” The single, the single again, and the married…the Jew and the Gentile.

I know it’s hard to imagine, but that was the kind of church Paul was addressing.

That’s the mystery. That somehow people could get over defining themselves over and against another group, and how they were better than someone else, and just define themselves as people who were united and loved by God.

So over and over again in Ephesians, Paul refers to this as a Mystery.

And then He gets to marriage.

And we love to focus on the part of Ephesians 5 that talks about power and submission. We’ve even created camps about who takes what position and how wrong “they” are and how right “we” are.

But that goes against the very spirit of the marriages that Paul is talking about, because it goes against the mystery of the Gospel.

Mega-Mysterion

In Ephesians 5, Paul actually calls marriage a profound mystery. In the Greek, he says this is a Mega-Mysterion. It’s something that is hard to explain, even harder to live, but easy to understand when you see it. the-sacrament-of-marriage

Because when a Christian marriage is on, when he’s giving himself fully to her, and she’s giving herself fully to him…they aren’t trying to define themselves as better than the other, or justify their own behavior, they are trying to, in spite all of their differences, reconcile together for the sake of the Gospel.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen this time and time again. I’ve preached so many funerals where the husband or wife was saying goodbye to their spouse, and the whole church was moved. I’ve seen what can only be described as a tangible change in the atmosphere when the church gathers to mourn a spouse losing another spouse, and celebrate their faithfulness to one another. There is a holiness that is hard to put into words. It’s is a mystery.

Because there is something so powerful about a marriage that has gone the distance. But it’s more than some kind of Nicolas Sparks romance, according to Paul it is a glimpse of the Gospel.

In a marriage, we are forced to reconcile what previously had been separated.

And this is why I believe marriages in the American church matter for the single person, and the divorced person. Because marriages are a way God reminds his people of the kind of community He is creating. And in this community, you aren’t better than someone else because you aren’t divorced, and you aren’t better than someone else because you happened to get married. You are all being reconciled to the same God, and so we each have to make room for one another.

This is why Paul ends his letter to the Ephesians by saying this:

Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains.

What Paul is doing in his chains, he thinks Christian couples are doing in their marriages.

Paul, a single man, appreciates marriage as a symbol of the way to unify everyone. 

Divorced people, single people, married people, rich people, poor people, tall people and smart people. Now all people can come together because of the Gospel.

That’s the mystery

On December 18, 2012

Names #6: Changing Names

CT PreachingThis is the last post in this short series about names in the book of Genesis. I know that whole idea might sound strange, but it’s something I’ve been rolling around in my mind for a while, because I’m convinced that our names matter more than we think they do. I think our language to describe the world and ourselves matter a lot to God.

That why Genesis talks a lot about names. Because a name is a story, and if we don’t name well, we might not tell the story we are wanting to tell.

For example…

Did you ever wonder why God changes people’s names? Does this strike anybody else as bizarre? And it happens all the time in the Bible, especially in Genesis. Like when God comes to Abram and Sarai, these people who’ve had their names for 70 years, and he’s like “Let’s add an H” in there.

Or what about Jacob? God comes to this guy who is one of the worst heroes in ancient literature (He’s kind of a jerk, he’s selfish and he’s always trying to get ahead) and God tells him that he’s going to change his name to Israel.

To which I would say, can’t we go with something that sounds more normal like…Gary or Robert?

But I’ll come back to this.

Continue Reading...
On December 11, 2012

Names #5: The Towers We Build

In the 18th century, there was a Spanish philosopher named Miguel de Unamuno who came up with one of the best questions to illustrate the human condition. This was the question: If you had to choose between creating amazing works of art that would last forever and would make the world a better place, but you would remain anonymous; or you could become a famous, world renown artist and painter but your works would be totally forgotten. Which would you choose?

Insignificant fame or Anonymous blessing?

So this is a series on a small theme in the book of Genesis. Namely, that Genesis cares a lot about names. Apparently the Bible cares a lot about the language we use to describe the world and each other.

Last week I talked about how after the fall in Genesis, Adam and Eve try to find their own names, independent of God. But what happens when that stops just being a problem for a couple of people and starts to be the way the whole world operates?

Just eight chapters later, Genesis tells us about how the how the whole world was speaking the same language. And they all got together because they wanted to build a tower. Which actually sounds like a pretty good idea. I mean we build towers all the time. But Genesis is telling us something here. They are trying to exceed the limitations of being human. They are trying to be gods.

The real reason they wanted to build a tower was because they wanted to “make a name for themselves.” (The actual Hebrew here is Donald Trump).

Now think about this for a second. They aren’t actually concerned about the project they are building. Their real goal is to be important. Their real goal isn’t the tower, but to justify their existence.

And God doesn’t like that goal at all.

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On December 4, 2012

Names #4: Curses and Poetry

So this is a short series about names in Genesis, and more specifically about why the Bible seems to make such a big deal about names and the language we use. It’s why names matter more than we think they do.

The other day I was talking with another preacher friend of mine, who is a minster in another state, and we were talking about church work and about the different ways that church volunteers serve. And ultimately the conversation turned to how bad preachers are at getting people to volunteer. Not that we can’t get people to volunteer, that part is easy, but that preachers aren’t that good at getting people to volunteer in ways that help the volunteers just as much as the people they are serving.

The temptation of preachers, or bosses, or anyone who cares about a certain project is to use people.

I’m going to let you in on a dirty little church leadership secret. If you have pride…I can get you do almost anything. But it will almost never turn out well.

Let me explain:

One of the more interesting things about the book of Genesis is how it starts. If you’re familiar with the Bible at all, then you probably know that Genesis chapter 1 is the story of God creating the world. But what you might not know is that Genesis 1 is written as a poem. It’s got a rhythm, it’s got beat and a cadence.

Genesis 1 is about God doing the work of creation, but he does it with a song.

He makes the universe like he’s writing a poem.

And then the crescendo, the climax of this song is when he makes Adam and Eve. God passes on to them things that he doesn’t give the other parts of his creation, he asks them to name and create with him. In other words, he let’s them sing along.

Now if you are familiar with this story, you know that this doesn’t last long. Adam and Eve are placed in the Garden of Eden and they are given permission to do anything they want, the only prohibition God gives them is that they can’t eat from one tree. They can do anything, and remember they’re naked at this point, it’s like God is making it easy on them to think about other stuff. But they do the one thing we probably all would do, they disobey, they fail to trust God.

And this is the story that we’ve been living out ever since.

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On November 27, 2012

Names #3: People of a Name

Have you ever noticed how ugly names can be? I’m not talking about bad names like Hubert or Lance, but more about the ugly ways that we use them. Names can unite people, but they can also divide us. So I belong to group of Christians who traditionally didn’t want to be named anything, we started off as non-denominational (non-named) Christians. The only problem with that is that we named it “Churches of Christ” and then pretended like it wasn’t a name at all.

Which is the theological equivalent of saying something like “Oh that’s my friend Steve, he doesn’t have a name.”

But “Churches of Christ” has been moving along as a non-denominational denomination for well over a hundred years. And we really like our name. If you ever doubt that, just go up to one of us and ask us to change the church sign.

But having a name isn’t a bad thing. Everything depends on what you do with it.

I have a friend who’s a few years older than me, and until a couple of years ago he and his wife led what most of us would consider a pretty normal American life. But that was before they met Heather. Heather was a teenage girl who had come from a very broken home, she had been coming to the church they attended for the past few months, and they started to get to know her…then she started staying with them…then she wanted to be their daughter.

Now my friends hadn’t planned on adopting, but they loved Heather, and so they gave her a ton of options other than full adoption. They told her she could keep staying with them until she went to college, they would be willing to become her legal guardians, and if she really wanted they would legally adopt her, but she could keep her last name, and she could still make a lot of her own decisions and remain relatively independent.

But, my friends made clear to her, if you want us to fully adopt you and give you our name, then it’s going to be an entirely different situation. We are going to expect a lot more of you than we would just some resident. If we give you our name we are going to ask you to live a certain way. So no more abusing alcohol or drugs or dating boys we don’t approve of. Because if we give you our name it comes at a price.

And Heather said yes.

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