Category Archives: Scripture

Oops…

Would you believe I just deleted an entire post that I wrote this morning? True story.

I just wrote a pretty intricate post about how much of a problem superficial attitudes and priorities are in our culture. Then I re-read it. Then I deleted it.

I didn’t delete it because I was wrong. I didn’t delete it because it wasn’t good quality. I deleted it because my attitude stunk. I was being judgmental and harsh. I was pointing at all the “other people” shallower than I am and calling them out.

That’s just wrong.

Not just wrong in the sense that it’s mean, but wrong in the sense that it’s inaccurate.

Let’s deal with both of those, shall we?

It’s wrong because it’s mean. Yeah, mean like mean-spirited. It’s accusatory, belittling, and nowhere close to believing the best of people like we’re called to by the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians. I’m convinced (and super convicted) that if what we have to say is from God it will be marked by the Fruit of the Spirit. You know, love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If what is being said is spirit filled, then it will be full of these things. Judgment, condemnation, pride, bigotry, and everything else that goes with them will not be present.

If what is being said is not full of the Fruit of the Spirit then it is not from God. Even if I’m saying it and even if I’m right.

Inaccuracy was my other problem, right?

See, it’s easy to call out other people because their problem is obvious to me. It’s harder to diagnose myself and be honest about my shortcomings. Ironically, that was my point! I was making a call for a deeper inner-life and more self examination. I need that as much as everyone else I was frustrated with, I just need it in different areas…most of the time.

Why is it my natural response to conviction to point to everyone else who has the same problem? And then call them worse than me?

I want desperately to be filled with the Spirit. I want people to know this because I ooze the things on that list above. I want that to be the case because I’m seeking God and he’s dwelling in me and overflowing out of me into everyone around me. That’s what I want.

I don’t want to be right. I don’t want to be convicting. I don’t want to be important.

I want to be like Christ.


The Good “__________”

I think we lose a lot of the weight of Jesus’ teachings by being so far removed from the social and political climate he was speaking into. In that spirit, I offer this take on a familiar story.

Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”

He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”

He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence — and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”

“Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”

Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”

Jesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a pastor was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a man who worked for a Christian ministry showed up; he also avoided the injured man.

“A Muslim traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey; led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill — I’ll pay you on my way back.”

“What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?”

“The one who treated him kindly; “the religion scholar responded.

Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”

Just a thought. Seemed appropriate.


“My Lord…”

“…our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…”

“…ask Jesus into your life…”

“…give your life to Christ…”

All of these phrases are common in the Church today. Yet somehow, I think we don’t really think about them very often. Let me explain.

Let’s start with the first one. In our western, church-y culture, we have a tendency to separate the Lordship and Salvation of Jesus. Most of us are very okay with the idea of Jesus as savior, but we don’t like Jesus as lord. A savior without lordship is easy. It doesn’t require much, it doesn’t greatly affect our life, and allows us to feel a lot better about ourselves.

Jesus as lord…now that’s different. Lordship implies authority. Authority implies obedience. Obedience implies submission. Submission sucks in most of our minds. Yet, inspection of the scriptures (specifically the writings of Paul) reveal an incredible influence on the idea of Jesus being Lord of our lives. Paul even said that declaring the lordship of Christ IS salvation.

Which brings us to the last two phrases. I strongly dislike the first one. I love the second. Here’s why. The first one makes Christianity into something we can do while keeping the rest of our life intact. Christianity, in a true sense, will change your entire life. That’s the effect of lordship in our life, or it should be.

We need to be very careful how we talk about and share the idea of salvation. It’s not about pie in the sky, it’s very practical and immediate. It’s not about asking God into what we already do, it’s about the fact that God invited us out of what we already do and into what He’s doing.

Just some thoughts. Peace.


Focus, People!

I just finished re-reading a book by Peter Hoover titled, “The Secret of the Strength”. I read it before when I was about 17 years old and was (mostly) a Mennonite. I remembered it being fantastic, and wasn’t disappointing when re-reading it.

I’m not going to do a book review, that’s been done before. I’m not going to summarize the book. Go read it if you want to know what it’s about. No, I just want to point out a perspective that was reinforced by my re-reading of the book.

For a long time, I’ve told people that I’m theologically very anabaptist, to which the normal response is, “What’s that?” I used to try to answer that question by saying, “Well, Anabaptists take God’s word very seriously, usually literally, and apply it to every aspect of their life.”

I don’t say this anymore. Mostly because it’s not really true, but also because every Christian I’ve ever met believes that they do the same thing. So how is it that the Anabaptists have taken this perspective and come up with such different convictions?

Here’s how I now explain Anabaptist theology.

Anabaptists put the central focus on Christ and what He said. With that as the foundation, they interpret the rest of scripture through what that understanding.

This thought has confused a lot of people, but then a couple months ago I was explaining it to a good Baptist, and she totally got it. She actually explained it to the rest of the group by saying that the Baptists did the same thing with the teachings of Paul. If there is any confusion or misunderstanding in her church, they go back to what they call the basics, the teachings of Paul, and interpret the confusion in light of that understanding. This is exactly what I’m talking about.

Please understand that I’m not implying that the Bible is contradictory. I’m saying that our finite minds can not be certain of the interpretation of each verse and we have to build our foundation for understanding somewhere. Anabaptists do this with the teachings of Christ.

This is how we come up with things like pacifism and community. We don’t read the gospels in light of the epistles, we do the opposite. We start with the fact that Christians are not allowed to retaliate in any way, then we read Romans 13 and see that Christians can’t be in government. We start with the idea that giving away what we have is intrinsic to the gospel, then we read about unity and community in Acts and the Epistles and assume that they’re the same topic.

I’m not saying that we get it all right. To be honest, I’m wrestling with the way we defend and define community right now. I’m not even really sure I should say “we” when talking about Anabaptists, because I know I don’t agree with nearly everything Anabaptists teach.

What I am saying is that I really like the perspective of seeing Christ as the pinnacle and climax of the Bible and interpreting the rest of scripture through what He said to us. Isn’t He the point?


Show Me What You Mean

I don’t think I believe in worship services anymore.

Yeah, I know, I’m doing that thing where I start with an inflamitory statement and then back up and make it reasonable. It’s okay, I’ll explain and it’ll make sense. I promise – maybe.

Mostly, I’m convinced that we present worship with the wrong definition and that a correct definition wouldn’t fit inside what we currently see as a “normal” worship service. Let me explain.

Growing up in the Church, I understood that worship was when we focused on God. Specifically, worship was when we sang or spoke adoration to His name. This made sense to me. It still does, honestly. This is why pastors would say that we worshiped God in song, then we would worship Him with tithes and offerings, and then we would worship Him through the study of His word. All of this is very good, but still lacks something.

This lack has grown in my consciousness the last few years through my involvement in more modern churches and services. In most of these settings, the worshiping through “churchy” actions isn’t normally mentioned at all. Generally, the only part of the service called worship is the singing. Don’t get me wrong, I love worship songs. I love worshiping through voice, music, and even dance, but this is an incredibly incomplete picture of worship.

Check this out. When we see the word “worship” in the Bible it means to, “Lay down before”, or, “Kiss the ring of”, or, “Give gifts to” depending on which word in which passage we’re dealing with. In each case the motivation for the action is to show reverence or give honor. Worship, by definition, is an action – an action meant to show honor and reverence. Words alone can not be an action. We would call that “lip service”. I’d argue that even actions such as raising your hands and falling to your knees fall into the same category as words. They’re purely symbolic actions that don’t truly accomplish anything. This doesn’t make them bad, but neither does it make them worship.

I’ve heard it said that worship is “putting God in His place.” I like this thought. It’s definitely on the right track. The problem is that words, songs, and hand motions can not truly accomplish this. We have to put our money where our mouth is.

Just as an earthly lord would not be pleased with a vassal who kissed his ring and swore fealty at ceremonies but never showed up to defend his lord’s lands, I don’t believe our heavenly Lord is worshiped by words that aren’t backed up by a life lived toward his priorities. There is so much more worship in the choice not to be angry at our fellow man than in a tear filled rendition of “He Loves Us”.

This is the crux of it. The sacrifice that God desires is our life. His priorities and causes are not the ones that are natural to us. Every time we choose His way over our own, we are worshiping. Be it behind our desk at work, in our car dealing with moronic drivers, at home interacting with our spouse and children, or at a corporate meeting of the Church, every decision to put Him first instead of ourselves is worship in the truest sense.

We should worship God in song – absolutely. Every day if possible. We have to understand though, that is only the symbol that represents worship. Without a life that backs it up, it ceases to be worship at all. I don’t want to tell students that worship is singing or emotion. I want them to see me worship daily as I make my Lord’s priorities my own.

We should sing His praises together often. We should worship Him with song services. But we shouldn’t have worship services. We should have worship lives.


Small Beginnings

I know it’s been a little bit quiet here lately, but I feel like I have a good excuse.

Today was the first day of school here. I know, teacher’s aren’t supposed to get all jittery and excited about that, but I always do. I remember reading a few years ago when the Internet Monk was talking about how after more than 15 years teaching he really enjoyed the regular pattern of the school year. I think I can relate to that sentiment. More than that, I love the clean slate and fresh start that is the first day of school.

I love the jitters I always get the night before. (Even the ones that make me set three different alarms to be sure at least one of them will go off.)

I love walking down the halls before any students are there. School halls always feel empty until they’re really full.

I love standing outside my classroom door waiting to greet the first students of the year.

I love the wild-eyed looks on my seventh grader’s faces as they come up to me wondering where to go, what to do, and how not to get in trouble.

I especially love the relief on their faces when I get them where they’re supposed to be and tell them it’ll be alright.

I love the greetings I give and receive with repeat students. Teasing them about height and facial hair growth always gets a smile.

I love that each year we all get to start over. Did I have stupid rules last year? Of course I did, but I get to change that today. Did my students get into bad ruts and habits last year? Yeah, they did, but today is a new school year.

God’s mercies are new every morning. While I can’t be that good (although I do strive) at least my students and I get this fresh start every year.

I love it, and I love that I’m back behind the Teacher’s Desk.


It’s Complicated

I’ve been thinking a lot about complexity recently. I grew up in wonderful little conservative churches being taught great answers to tough questions. I say this not because I still believe they were great answers, but because they made sense, were easy to explain, were easily understood, and were easy to memorize. In the worldview of most people I know, this constitutes a great answer.

However, my worldview refuses to behave itself and get with the program.

Everywhere I look I see incredible complexity, and spiritual matters are no different. If anything, adding a spiritual or theological element to a thought makes it more complicated and harder to wrap my mind around and explain. I never seem to have simple answers anymore. Every question I try to answer is laced with nuance and apparent contradiction. Thinking about and trying to understand God, a task I’ve been told over and over is a simple thing, has become incredibly hard. Not hard like a chore or a construction job, but hard like a puzzle. It’s rewarding, often fun, and well worth the trouble, it’s just  so complex that it’s anything but easy.

I think though, that this is what it should feel like when we try to comprehend an infinite God with a finite mind. We shouldn’t be able to put him in our nice, neat little boxes and label him accordingly. He shouldn’t fit into well laid out categories, and we definitely shouldn’t claim to be able to predict what He will do.

I was reminded of one of these complexities the other day when I heard a pastor quote C.S. Lewis from, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” When the children are first told of Aslan and hear that he is a lion they ask if he’s safe.

“’Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver; ‘Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe, but he is good,. He’s the king, I tell you.’”

It’s a great quote, and it’s true.  Not only does it illustrate the complexity I’ve been talking about, but on it’s own it’s a concept I would like to explore a bit.

Our human understanding of God naturally wants to make Him linear, and His goodness is no exception. We usually feel like good equates not only to safe, but to our cultural definitions of protected and prosperous.

We think that if God is being good to us that means he is prospering us in the way our culture defines prosperous, protecting us in a way that we feel safe, causing our children to turn out the way that we want them to, and guiding our lives to be all that we have ever dreamed they should be.

The truth is so much more complex than that.

Scripture is full of the reality of God’s goodness. It’s there right alongside the descriptions of the destruction of Job’s life, the captivity of the Children of Israel, the persecution of the early Church, and the thorn in Paul’s side. We are given a picture of a God who is good to his people through incredibly un-good things.

None of this fits if we look at God linearly and culturally. If we step outside of our expectations and fleshly desires, it works though. God’s goodness is expressed through His love and His growing us toward Himself. It is not expressed through earthly protection or prosperity because often the very things that draw us to the heart of God are things that make us the least comfortable or safe in this life. Often these are things that will never go away. God often works with lifelong lessons, not a one time course in patience and then we’re good. Remember Paul’s thorn? That’s what I’m talking about here.

More than that, God often works in eternal, infinite ways that we simply can not understand. Think of Job’s children. What was the endgame for them? Or how about the Philistine people? Was God loving and good to them? If we believe that God doesn’t change and what he says in John 3:16 is true the answer has to be “yes”, but how do we explain that? How do we understand it?

No, He’s not safe, and He’s not simple, but He is good.

He’s the king, I tell you.