Thursday, September 24, 2020

Why ‘Exodus-and-Passover’?

        Let me say upfront I am not Jewish. I did some research into Passover, and even participated in a traditional Seder meal (wine and all), but I don’t have first hand knowledge. So if any of you are Jewish and feel I need corrected concerning Passover, correct away. I welcome all comments. 

Having said that, let me say this. It seems to me Passover is a remembrance (or celebration); Exodus is the event being remembered (or celebrated). Without the Exodus, Passover looses some significance, (and without resurrection the cross loses-and I don’t say this lightly-all it’s significance as well). While the Seder meal is filled with symbolism and meaning, it is the Exodus event that most concerns us here and to which we now turn. 

Exodus begins the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abram to be a blessing to all nations. Israel leaves Egypt an extended family, more or less, and in the desert God ‘whips them into shape’, so to speak. Israel becomes a nation. A disciplined nation (nation of disciples?), instructed by the very Oracles of God. God’s words for God’s people. By living according to The Law Israel is guaranteed God’s blessing. Israel will bear God’s image and reflect God’s nature-the original vocation given at the dawn of creation. They will be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth with God’s presence (more about this later). 

God’s chosen people, living as God intended all along, being an example-reflecting God’s nature-to the rest of the world; doesn’t get any better than this. God promises God’s new Nation-God’s special, chosen people-blessings beyond belief for their obedience (remember the promise to Abram?). This is the true purpose and promise of the Law, at this point in time-nothing here about going to heaven when one dies. Only bringing God’s presence to earth while one is alive. (Here is an interesting thought exercise-can God ever be separated from God’s Law? Are they one and the same, or no?)

God was indeed present with God’s new people. Actually, visibly present as the pillar of cloud by day and light by night (lots of symbolism to think about with that). Israel will overcome darkness and ruin by bringing God’s presence with them and God will lead the way. No longer slaves to an oppressive master, Israel is now free to serve their-and our-living, loving creator. Free to bring-indeed, to be-a blessing to the world. Their Exodus will be our Exodus. Their liberation will be our liberation. Their example will be for us to imitate. Except it didn’t quite work out that way. Israel, despite God’s best efforts, kept going back to Egypt. 

Exodus and Passover

 The call of Moses and the Exodus story, like Abram’s story, are very well known; I won’t go into details here, either. We are more concerned with what Passover brought about-the Exodus. Passover is one of three major festivals which required pilgrimage to Jerusalem (they are still major agricultural festivals and are still celebrated today). The other two are Weeks (Pentecost) and Booths (Tabernacles). Passover and Pentecost have been fulfilled in Christ. Interesting to note-the Tabernacle was the first place where God came to meet with God’s people after they left Egypt. Will the fulfillment of Tabernacles mean the permanent dwelling of God on earth? Remember this. It will be important later. 

Passover itself will become the celebration-and remembrance-of Israel’s liberation from slavery, the event by which Israel becomes a nation, God’s chosen people. It is hard-impossible, perhaps-to overstate how crucial to Israel’s identity ‘God’s chosen people’ is (again, keep this in mind; we will come back to it when we get to Romans). Israel was not just wandering around in the desert. They were being formed in the desert; formed into the people who would fulfill God’s vocational command to be made in God’s image and reflect God’s nature. This was how the promise to Abram would be fulfilled as well:

“I'll make you famous;

you'll be a blessing.

...All the families of the Earth

will be blessed through you."

Israel will accomplish this by bearing God’s image and demonstrating God’s likeness, by being the place where God comes to dwell with God’s people, which was God’s plan from the beginning. Freed from slavery to become God’s chosen people Israel would show the world the benefits of worshipping the one true living God. Freed from slavery to become what we were created to be all along. Freed from, to become....remember this too. This is important-crucial, in fact-to understanding the cross and resurrection. 

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Abram and the Restoration

I titled this section ‘Redemption’ but ‘Restoration’ is probably closer to the truth. With Abram, God’s plan to restore humanity (and all of creation, for that matter-we’ll get to that) begins in earnest. Or maybe in obviousness. Here is the text:

Genesis 12:1-4

GOD told Abram: "Leave your country, your family, and your father's home for a land that I will show you.

I'll make you a great nation

and bless you.

I'll make you famous;

you'll be a blessing.

I'll bless those who bless you;

those who curse you I'll curse.

All the families of the Earth

will be blessed through you."

So Abram left just as GOD said, and Lot left with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. (The Message)

Abram, by making a new beginning, will be a blessing-no, not a blessing, the blessing, to all the families of the earth. By accepting God’s call, Abram enables us to recover our vocation to bear God’s image and reflect God’s nature. That’s the blessing, made possible because one man believed God. What our first parents rejected (or surrendered) through unbelief, Abram recovers through belief. 

You know the story so I won’t go into too much detail. God promises Abram’s barren wife a son (an unconditional, unilateral promise, by the way) through whom Abram will have more descendants than the stars in the sky. This son-Isaac-has twins, Esau and Jacob. Jacob has twelve sons who will become the twelve tribes of Israel. Joseph, one of Jacob’s sons, ends up a slave in Egypt, goes to jail for something he did not do and eventually becomes the second most powerful man in the country. Only Pharaoh will have more power, more authority. Because of a famine throughout the land Joseph’s father and brothers arrive. Pharaoh declares “...a reunion! Egypt welcomes them. Settle your father and brothers on the choicest land—yes, give them Goshen” (Genesis 47:5-6; The Message). And so “Israel settled down in Egypt in the region of Goshen. They acquired property and flourished. They became a large company of people.” (Genesis 47:27; The Message). For nearly five hundred years Jacob’s family grows. And grows. And grows some more. 

Eventually “A new king came to power in Egypt who didn't know Joseph. He spoke to his people in alarm, "There are way too many of these Israelites for us to handle. We've got to do something: Let's devise a plan to contain them, lest if there's a war they should join our enemies, or just walk off and leave us." (Exodus 1:8-10; The Message). Which leads us directly to Passover, and the Exodus. 

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Gods First Idea

           Before we leave the garden let me call your attention to a few things. First, God comes calling. Second, when God doesn’t see the couple God asks ‘where are you?’. Third, the couple responds “we are naked, afraid, hiding”. Let’s take them one at a time. 

            First, God comes walking about in the cool evening breeze. God enjoys God’s creation and invites creation to enjoy God as well. Second, God calls. God respects the couples fear (and shame), drawing them out rather than barging in. Third, ‘becoming like God’ turns out not to be like God at all. 

            God’s response may seem a little surprising-God covers their shame with animal skins. This was God’s free gift. Some sacrifice must have been involved-where else would the skins have come from-nevertheless this was a compassionate, merciful act. However, lest humankind live forever in this broken state, God banishes them from the garden (but not from God’s presence). Humanity will eventually return to the dust from which we were created. This too is an act of compassion and mercy. We will die so that we may be reborn-the perishable becoming imperishable, mortality putting on immortality (1 Corinthians 15:51-53). The whole event points ahead to the cross. 

            Which brings me to my final garden thought. Hidden in the garden story is the idea that God’s purpose all along-God’s ‘first idea’-was Jesus’ incarnation. Jesus’ coming was not a response, it was the plan from the beginning. Remember this-we will come back to it later when we consider Paul and the cross. For now, let me finish with this quote from Fr. Richard Rohr: “In other words, God’s “first idea” and priority was to make the Godself both visible and shareable.” (Richard Rohr; The Universal Christ). Next up-Abram.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

The rebellion ends. Redemption begins.

 We know the story well. The couple figures they will be better off deciding for themselves what is good and what is evil-who needs God for that? “ When the Woman saw that the tree looked like good eating and realized what she would get out of it—she'd know everything!—she took and ate the fruit and then gave some to her husband, and he ate.

7 Immediately the two of them did "see what's really going on"—saw themselves naked!” Genesis 3:6-7 (The Message). And so to Satan’s real question-can God be trusted-we have the first human response, a resounding ‘no!’. 


Part Three: Redemption


            Normally I would begin redemption with God’s call of Abram, but lately I’m thinking redemption actually begins with God’s response to the garden episode. Remember God’s warning: “GOD commanded the Man, "You can eat from any tree in the garden, except from the Tree-of-Knowledge-of-Good-and-Evil. Don't eat from it. The moment you eat from that tree, you're dead." Genesis 2:16-17 (The Message). Satan was correct in saying they would not die; at least not physically. Not right away. Here’s what happens. 

God curses the serpent. God curses the ground because of the man. God tells the woman she will have her babies in pain. For the woman, this is not a curse (easy for me to say, being a man), this is a promise of life. Generation after generation of life. The man understands and names his wife ‘the mother of all the living’ The “in our image reflecting our nature” part will be problematic but God has a plan for that as well. He tells the serpent “I'm declaring war between you and the Woman,

between your offspring and hers.

He'll wound your head,

you'll wound his heel." Genesis 3:15 (The Message).


Humanity may lose faith in their creator, but God does not lose faith in  God’s creation. 


Saturday, August 29, 2020

The Rebellion Begins

           Things so far are going well. God creates a perfect environment within an already perfect environment-a special place, if you will-and places God’s beloved creation in it. They have total free reign with one stipulation: God alone gets to decide what is good and what is evil (which sort of implies evil may already exist, but we don’t like to talk about that). Now the stage is set for the final event-or first event, depending on your point of view (or both-I told you there were ambiguities) that sets our story in motion. By the way, at this point, if you believe in an all-knowing God, you have to wonder what God had in mind here. Paul certainly did. 

The story is structured in a way that implies the couple had a choice. Two specific trees are mentioned -the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This second tree is the one off limits. It is also the one Satan zeroes in on. He is subtly deceptive-“Do I understand that God told you not to eat from any tree in the garden?". He disputes, accuses-“You won't die. God knows that the moment you eat from that tree, you'll see what's really going on. You'll be just like God, knowing everything, ranging all the way from good to evil." (Genesis 3:1;5; italics mine). From our vantage point the choice is clear: life with God on God’s terms or life without God on our terms. It’s a choice we all face, all day, every day, in countless decisions we make. I bet you never looked at life that way. 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

The World According to Me Pt.1

The undying support one current president enjoys from the evangelical community is difficult to understand at best. This series of blogs are me response. My intention is not to tell anyone what to think but, rather, to show another way to see.

“The Books of Moses are made up mostly of stories and signposts. The stories show us God working with and speaking to men and women in a rich variety of circumstances. God is presented to us not in ideas and arguments but in events and actions that involve each of us personally. The signposts provide immediate and practical directions to guide us into behavior that is appropriate to our humanity and honoring to God-Eugene Peterson; The Message


              I do not believe the Bible is a book of facts. That is, it is not a history textbook, although it contains historical events. It is not a scientific textbook either. Science and mathematics, being the operating principles and systems God put in place at creation, are important and discoverable. But you won’t find them in the Bible. I’m not even sure the Bible is a book of absolutes. It contains many ambiguities and apparent contradictions. At the risk of sounding like a post-modernist let me say life also consists of many ambiguities and contradictions. So what is the Bible? It is a book of life, and truth.  

For example, consider this. In Genesis we read God created the earth and everything in it in seven days. Fact interprets this to mean a literal seven days and is responsible for all manor of old earth/young earth debates. Truth, however, says everything that exists, exists because God created it; how long God took to do it is irrelevant (we’ll come back to this in a bit). Do you see the difference? Or this: In John’s Gospel Jesus says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Flip that around and you have “The way I am (or ‘is me’); the truth I am (‘is me’); the life I am (‘or is me’); which allows for a subtle but significant difference in interpretation. Can you see it? Facts are neat, organizable. Truth, like life, is messy.

The Bible is also literature, and ancient literature at that, and communicates its truth in several ways; historical narrative, poetry, letters (or epistles), apocrypha-entire disciplines have grown up around the critical study of the Bible as literature. Those studies are important and provide valuable insight, but there are times when a more basic approach is beneficial. The Bible as a love story, for example. A love story replete with a jilted but faithful creator/husband (God), an unfaithful creation/spouse (us) and a shameless (also created) antagonist (Satan) intent on deconstructing and destroying everything God does. And so the stage is set. 

In the beginning God creates something from nothing, bringing order out of chaos. A Wind or Spirit or Breath (one word, three meanings- remember this.) brooding over the formless void. God creates and pronounces it all good. Everything thing that exists, exists because God willed it into existence. That means everything has Gods fingerprints on it, God’s DNA within it. Everything is a revelation of God. Paul puts it this way: 

“But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can't see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being.” 

(Romans 1:19,20)


Now comes the good part. When everything was ready, God spoke: "Let us make human beings in our image, make them

reflecting our nature…

 God created human beings;

he created them godlike,

Reflecting God's nature.

He created them male and female.

God blessed them:

"Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!

Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air,

for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth."

(Genesis 1:26-28). 

            Or, to tell the story another way, “At the time GOD made Earth and Heaven, before any grasses or shrubs had sprouted from the ground—GOD hadn't yet sent rain on Earth, nor was there anyone around to work the ground (the whole Earth was watered by underground springs) — GOD formed Man out of dirt from the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life. The Man came alive—a living soul!” 

Genesis 2:5-7(I warned you there would be apparent contradictions).

We are made in God’s image so that we may reflect God’s nature-the Imago Dei-the image and likeness of God. That would be our vocation. So far so good, right?     

            Here are a couple parts to the story that sometimes get missed. First, God created human beings (us). That means we also have God’s DNA (remember image-and-likeness?). But it also means we belong to God. The Psalmist puts it this way: 

“Know that the LORD is God!

It is he that made us, and not we ourselves;

we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”

Psalm 100:3.

            Second, and this is important, we live because God blew into our nostrils the breath of lifeThere is only one life-one source of life-ever mentioned in the Bible. Every living thing somehow shares its life with God. God’s life connects us all. Remember Jesus’ “I am the life”? This is that (and is affirmed in John’s Gospel, 1:1-18). And so while everything is not God, we can say God is in every thing.

 So, to wrap things up thus far: first, because God is the sole creating agent everything that exists belongs to God. God has exclusive rights of ownership. Second, because God is the sole source of life, every living thing is somehow connected to God. I hope all this doesn’t frighten or offend you because it’s all really great news. 


Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Why read this blog?

“…Of making many books there is no end…all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone.”  Ecclesiastes 12:12-14

            And making many blogs as well, for that matter. So why read this one? Because “I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted…[The LORD] brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” Genesis 13:16; 15:5. These staggering numbers, when combined, are still not enough to contain the fullness of God. They are but a drop in the bucket.

            It is the same with books, blogs, podcasts, and on and on and on. All the various media types combined are still not enough to even begin to explain what can never be explained. The best ones, I think, have one important thing in common-they do not teach what to think, they teach how to think. How to think generally does not come from repeating the same stuff we already know, although, as someone wiser than I once said, one must know the rules well to break them properly. Or intelligently. Or something like that-you get the point.

            Now back to Passover and Israel’s vocation. A good part of Exodus through Numbers describes God’s directives to Israel for living out their vocation and calling; a how-to manual, if you will. Deuteronomy is a recap. Deuteronomy also contains dire warnings about the consequences for Israel if they fail their vocation; if they follow the way of the serpent, who “… said to the woman, “You will not die, for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:4-5.

Funny how so much goes back to the garden. Paul describes it this way: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them…for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise…they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.” Romans 1:19-23.

Precisely the thing God warned against. Even if Israel was unfaithful to their end of the covenant, God remained faithful to His end: everything came to pass just as He predicted. Israel’s failures and the consequences she suffered are well documented in her scriptures, especially in her prophetic scriptures. Keep in mind, however, the prophetic voice is not all doom gloom and judgement. There is restoration as well, along with a vision for a new age.

            At this point we could, along with Paul, ask ‘What happened?’ Israel…”had everything going for [her]—family, glory, covenants, revelation, worship, promises, to say nothing of being the race that produced the Messiah, the Christ, who is God over everything, always.” Romans 9:4-5.

 Did God’s word fail? Was exile and captivity punishment or consequence? Was the whole thing preordained from the beginning? Did God base redemption on His intimate knowledge of human nature and plan accordingly? Why do it this way? Why do it at all? Stay tuned as we follow the redemption plan and see how it all unfolds. And buckle up. Things may get a little bumpy.


Sunday, July 19, 2020

A Brief Personal Interlude

    What does it mean to be saved? We considered this question early on in our Bible study. Let me say from the beginning, as many others have also said, salvation is more than ‘going to heaven when you die’. It is more than having a ‘come-to-Jesus-moment’ so we can get our sins forgiven and secure a good exit plan. The Kingdom of God is not some future event which will occur after the rapture-the existence of which is itself questionable. Being saved is not about separating ourselves from the ‘world’ and it certainly is not about adopting a strict moral code and forcing it on everyone else. Being ‘saved’ is a right here, right now event involving the kind of total shift in thinking many people are simply not prepared to make. I realize an awful lot of people do not want to hear this but that does not make it any less true.

            Salvation is relationship, re-establishing the broken connection between us and God. It is about turning away from whatever it is we are following and turning towards Jesus, about actually following Him. After all, Christianity was first referred to as ‘The Way’-it is the Way of Christ. It is about knowing-and being known-as opposed to ‘knowing about’. And here is perhaps the most revolutionary-not to mention controversial-statement you may ever hear-we do not worship the Bible. We worship the God of the Bible.

            This is not something I cooked up on my own. I certainly do not mean to disparage, denigrate, or demean the Bible. It does, after all, contain the very oracles of God, so please stay with me here. The idea of salvation as relationship has been taught by modern writers and teachers across the theological spectrum from N. T. Wright, Oswald Chambers, and Richard Foster to Richard Rohr, Marcus Borg and John Domenic Crossan, not to mention John, Paul, and Jesus Himself. I cannot overstate how important this is.

            I know this to be true from personal experience. Now, before you jump all over the experience thing, keep in mind the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (and Wesley knew a little bit about holiness)-scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. My experience is this-the traditional way of salvation did not work for me. I managed to accumulate a whole lot of knowledge about Jesus while barely knowing Him at all. What this produced-simultaneously-was a great deal of hubris and a whole lot of bad, addictive behavior I could not break free from. The result was pride in what I knew, on the one hand, and tremendous guilt over what I was doing and could not stop, on the other. All this was accompanied by the twin feelings that the way I was doing and being taught Christianity was not quite right (and that the Church as I knew it was loosing its way) and something was about to happen (think “Something’s Coming” from West Side Story).

            My change of mind did not occur overnight. I think what happened was all the above writers combined with some good stuff I learned in college and began to gang up on me. Once I saw the truth of here-and-now relationship in one place I saw it all over the place. Things I struggled with for years suddenly began to make sense. So, let me share a few things I now know to be true because they will become important later.

            First, salvation is relationship. Our connection to God is already built in, it just needs established (or maybe re-established). This is the real meaning of ‘image and likeness’ and it applies to everyone. We turn away from (fill in the blank) and turn towards God who rushes to meet us. Which leads me to…

            Second, whatever we have done, no matter how bad, has already been forgiven:

“as far as the east is from the west,
so far he removes our transgressions from us.” Psalms 103:12

“I, I am he
who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,
and I will not remember your sins.” Isaiah 43:25 (Italics mine)

            Third, God never gives up on us. Never. Ever. I know this to be a fact. God is and always has been on our side.

“But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 (Italics mine)

“What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?" Romans 8:31


“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:18-21

            Think deeply about these verses. They are foundational to everything we will be talking about and they are right here right now facts. God has done it. It is for everyone. And in fact, today is a great day to start a new relationship.




    Passover, along with the Feast of Weeks and the Festival of Booths, is one of three ‘Pilgrimage Festivals’ celebrated by ancient Israel (and modern Israel as well, although they no longer require pilgrimage). Passover is an early spring festival. Pentecost (Weeks) is an early summer festival celebrating the early harvest-first fruits. Booths (or Tabernacles) is a late summer festival celebrating the final harvest. All three required making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and presenting the appropriate sacrifices. Passover has been fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Pentecost was fulfilled by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost-the first fruits of the New Passover (Acts:2-ff). Booths has yet to be fulfilled.

            Passover is a festival of redemption and release, marking the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham:

GOD told Abram: "Leave your country, your family, and your father's home for a land that I will show you.
I'll make you a great nation
and bless you.
I'll make you famous;
you'll be a blessing.
I'll bless those who bless you;
those who curse you I'll curse.
All the families of the Earth
will be blessed through you
." Genesis 12:1-3 (italics mine).

            Passover is also the conclusion of an epic (if one-sided) battle between God and Pharaoh. Every plague signified the defeat of one of Egypt’s many gods, culminating in Pharaoh himself (and his army) being crushed in the Red Sea. Israel went down to Egypt an extended family and came out a company of freed slaves, ready for God to mold into the nation which would become God’s special treasure, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation (Exodus 19:5-6). This is how Israel would be called to live out her vocation to bear the image and demonstrate the likeness of God who called her. This is how all the families of the earth would be blessed through Abraham. During her desert formation the Tabernacle in the wilderness would become a significant part of Israel’s life and call and we will come back to it, but for now we will simply say it is the place where God first comes to meet his people-the place where heaven and earth come together.

            This then will be-more or less-our key to understanding Passover in light of the cross, where ‘Jesus died for our sins, according to the scriptures’. The Israelites were freed from slavery to Egypt so that they could become God’s chosen nation, called to bring God’s presence to earth and to live-corporately and individually-as God intended life to be lived. In this way they would become the means by which all the families of the earth would be blessed. That was the plan, or so it seems. It didn’t quite work out that way.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

What's It All About?

    Beginning with Lent this year (2020), our Thursday evening and Sunday morning Bible studies took up the question-What did Paul mean when he wrote ‘that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures…’(1 Corinthians 15:3). It is a two-part question. Part one: what does ‘died for our sins’ actually mean? Part two: what scriptures? We began our inquiry during lent because Jesus died during Passover; my assumption was if Jesus’ death was merely atonement for sin He would have died on the Day of Atonement, but He did not. He died during Passover, so something more must be involved (an assumption which turned out to be only partially correct). Thursday evening would examine the historical significance of Passover; Sunday morning we would see how Jesus reinterpreted Passover. Then the pandemic hit, the church closed and both Bible studies became a Thursday evening Zoom meeting, which is still meeting.

            I used material primarily from N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began; (2016); New York, New York; HarperCollins. Other contributors include Richard Rohr and Oswald Chambers. I am grateful to N. T. Wright not only for introducing new ideas but also for reinforcing and defining ideas that have been floating around my head for a long time but refused to take shape (the ideas, not my head). Wright opened the floodgates, so thank you Tom.

            My overall approach to the Bible is, it is not a scientific textbook (although all science comes from God), nor is it a history textbook (although it contains many historically verifiable facts). It is not even a theological textbook (although much theology-good and bad-begins there). It is not a book of absolute fact; it is a book that communicates truth (there is a difference). The Bible tells one story, using a variety of literary forms-for example, historical narrative, poetry, letters, apocalypse. The story begins with God’s creative activity culminating in His crowning achievement-humankind (us). Humankind promptly rejects their creator; the rest of the story describes God’s unrelenting, often surprising efforts to bring us back to Himself, restoring us to our original vocation and calling: “…that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19, italics mine).

            We begin with Genesis, the Book of Beginnings. Here we learn several foundational truths. First, God created everything that exists, therefore everything that exists belongs to God, not us (“…for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.” Leviticus 25:23; italics mine). Including humanity, by the way; yes, God has a claim on all our lives. This is all reiterated in the prologue to John’s Gospel, where Jesus is named as sole creator (or creating agent). No other creator is ever named. This is important.

Second, humanity lives because God lives: “the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being." (Genesis 2:7-8; italics mine). In Hebrew, one word-ruwach-can mean wind, breath, mind, or spirit. The wind from God blew God’s breath, spirit, and mind-God’s very life, God Himself-into the man. (A quick aside here-this is why so many spiritual traditions emphasize the breath. Think of it this way-every inbreath inhales God’s cleansing, life-giving spirit into our bodies. Every outbreath exhales all the toxic stuff-like ‘sin’, or ‘sinful thoughts’. Remember the child’s rhyme- ‘in goes the bad air, out goes the good’?) Again, God is the only giver of life-the only life period-ever mentioned. This too is reiterated in John’s prologue and is important as well.

            Third, all humanity-every human being who ever lived-was created for a purpose.

“So God created humankind in his image,
              in the image of God he created them;
              male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27

The vocation of every human being ever created (remember, there is only one life, only one source of life is ever mentioned) is to contain God’s image and demonstrate God’s likeness. We hold God’s image within ourselves and, as we are transformed inwardly, God’s likeness flows through us and we demonstrate it outwardly. This will become a common theme in much of Paul’s writing. The command-“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)-was humanities first calling. By the way, according to the NET Bible with Full Notes, Olive Tree edition,

 “one might paraphrase [Genesis1:28] as follows: "harness [the earth’s] potential and use its resources for [everyone’s] benefit." In an ancient Israelite context this would suggest cultivating its fields, mining its mineral riches, using its trees for construction, and domesticating its animals.”

Finally, Genesis tells us our first parents almost immediately rejected their vocation and call and followed the accuser’s advice instead: “…when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5-6, italics mine). This too is particularly important, and we will come back to it often.

            So here you have our five foundations. Everything belongs to God, including us. We all live because God’s breath/wind/Spirit gives us life. We all bear the image of God (even if it is very dim in most of us) and we are called to demonstrate God’s likeness. The tendency to reject that call and demonstrate our own likeness is the ‘original sin’ we all inherited from our first parents. The rest of the Bible is the story of God’s efforts to fix all that. Stay tuned. There is more to come.



Thursday, June 18, 2020

God’s Revival vs Our Deafness

We all have individual rights and freedoms; Americans perhaps more than most. However, I believe the Bible in general and Jesus (and Paul, John, Peter and James) in particular clearly teach our rights and freedoms are not to be used for our own self-aggrandizement but for the benefit of all humankind. 

We are in the midst of a revival of consciousness. Those who do not see it are the very ones who insist on individual rights without the accompanying responsibilities. Nothing severs the connection to God faster than self-centeredness. It is a mistake to think God speaks only to Christians. God will not be silenced by our deafness.    When Christians refuse to listen God will speak to those who will. 

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Love, Suffering, and Injustice

“We have met the enemy and he is us’-Walt Kelly speaking through Pogo.

“We have met the enemy and they are ours”-Admiral Oliver Hazard Perry. 

“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you ...” When you look deeply into your anger, you will see that the person you call your enemy is also suffering. As soon as you see that, the capacity of accepting and having compassion for him is there. Jesus called this “loving your enemy.” When you are able to love your enemy, he or she is no longer your enemy. The idea of “enemy” vanishes and is replaced by the notion of someone who is suffering and needs your compassion” 

Pogo’s enemy represents our interior fear and suffering which can (and usually do) become externalized and cause others to suffer-Perry’s external enemies, which demand conquering. Jesus proposes a solution-love your enemies, bless those who cures you-which is a little too abstract for some and requires a bit of inner transformation for most of us. Thích Nhất Hạnh  shows us a way to do it. 
For example, take a minute and ask yourself what kind of internal suffering is going on in the mind of anyone who would kneel on the neck of another person for almost nine minutes, deliberately causing a slow agonizing death. What kind of suffering is going on in the mind of Trump (and make no mistake, he is suffering) that causes him to say and do what he says and does. 
My point is to illustrate the need for restoration as well as justice. In fact, there cannot be any real justice unless restoration occurs. Anything else is simply vengeance, retribution. I am talking about the difference between retributive justice and restorative justice and saying God always favors the latter over the former. Of course, your opinion here will depend on how you view the cross. How do you view the cross?

Excerpt From
Living Buddha, Living Christ 20th Anniversary Edition
Thích Nhất Hạnh & Elaine Pagels
This material may be protected by copyright.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Worship. Or Manipulation.

I don’t post political stuff very often. I believe there is enough division already; the true value of social media lies in its potential for connectivity. I particularly abhor conspiracy theory stuff but my friends, there are two conspiracies afoot in the world today. The one seeks to deceive, divide, and destroy. The other, to unite and build up. We will all take a side.  Think carefully. Choose wisely. 

What we are seeing with these armed protests is the precise point where individual ‘freedom’ clashes head on with the Gospel. This is a modern version of the garden-“Did God really tell you...That's not true...God [only] said that because he knows that when you [do] it, you will be like God...”. Because it’s all about me. 

 The Gospel teaches “Don't do anything from selfish ambition or from a cheap desire to boast, but be humble toward one another, always considering others better than yourselves. And look out for one another's interests, not just for your own.”; Paul’s concise summary of Jesus’ teaching. This is the message of the cross. How quickly we forget. 

The irony is these protesters, while claiming independence from government, can be sent into an instant frenzy by one tweet. We are witnessing the 21st century version of “You let the world, which doesn't know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience.” It’s a question of worship. It’s always a question of worship. 

Friday, April 10, 2020

Good Friday

A quick Google search of Atonement Theory yields at least seven explanations for what happened today. They range from ransom to penal substitution to satisfaction and on and on. Add to the mix the Franciscan theory-crucifixion as preeminent example of God’s love reaching out to us-and we end up with a bewildering array of explanations for the cross. The Bible itself isn’t quite so confusing. Paul says in Romans “If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart God raised Him from the dead you will be saved”. Two key points here.  
Jesus is Lord. This confirms what the Bible has been saying since at least Genesis 3.
      Raised from the dead. The Romans loved crucifying people. Without Sunday, Friday is meaningless; Jesus is just another crucified Jew. Resurrection is everything.

Of course, the Bible also says Jesus died for our sins according to the scriptures. So, what does that mean? Well, pick a theory. Or a combination of theories. Don’t forget the Franciscans-think John 3:16. I firmly believe the technical aspects of what occurred Friday are beyond our ability (at least, my ability) to understand, and certainly not worth arguing over. The important things are simply Friday happened. Sunday happened. We can all participate in the Sunday life even if we don’t fully understand Friday’s death. Let it be so.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Passover or Atonement

On this day when we turn our thoughts to the last supper, let me give you a few points to ponder. If the cross was (strictly) about atonement, why wasn’t Jesus crucified on the Day of Atonement? Why does Jesus celebrate this Passover and infuse it with new meaning? Passover was the first of three great pilgrimage festivals-Pentecost the second, Booths the third. These were mainly agricultural festivals; Pentecost was first or early harvest; Booths late harvest. (Many Jews today celebrate Booths by building ‘booths’ or lean-to’s in their yards). How should we understand the fulfillment of these festivals in relation to one another? How are they fulfilled in Jesus? In ourselves?

 “If you only know what [Jesus] has done for you you have not a big enough God...”My Utmost for His Highest

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Fake News and the Gospel

This morning I read a Facebook post that said a Virginia pastor who said or wrote or posted covid-19 was media-driven mass hysteria intended to hurt Trump had died. I did a little checking; evidently the story is true but incomplete. But fact checking, important as it is, is not what prompted this response. The story is heartbreaking for at least four reasons. 

The first heartbreak is that the death occurred at happened at all. I found this pastor seems to have picked up covid-19 ministering in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Here is part of a story from The New York Post, which I also found on Facebook. 

“As he battled symptoms, he shared a controversial meme on March 13, comparing coronavirus deaths to swine flu deaths, Patch reported. The meme is no longer visible on his Facebook page.
The meme decried the public reaction to the pandemic as “mass hysteria” and suggested the media was using the outbreak to hurt President Trump.
In the comments, the pastor said he believes the coronavirus “is a real issue, but I believe the media is pumping out fear and doing more harm than good.”
“It will come and it will go,” he wrote, according to Patch.”

So the post I read was correct but incomplete, which leads me to the second heartbreak. There will be some-including Christians-who will jump all over this. Some who will be pleased, if not delighted, by this mans death simply because he appears to have supported Trump. I shouldn’t have to say this but I will anyway. This is not the way of Christ. 

Which leads to the third heartbreak. We must-all of us-be very careful whom we follow. Christians by definition follow Messiah Jesus. That means having a world view influenced first last and in between by the Gospels, which show us what Jesus actually taught. Far too many today have allowed their political and economic views to influence their theology. It should be the other way around. Our world systems are about money and power. Christ is not. Think deeply about this before you respond. 

Which brings me back around to the beginning, and the fourth heartbreak. Concerning social media posts, do your due diligence. I don’t care what side you’re on stop spreading lies and half truths. This is not the way of Christ either. You, me, none of us posts in a vacuum. Our words have power and influence. It seems to me far too few of us stop to consider the effect words have. Remember, once the word is released it will, to paraphrase Isiah, not return until it has accomplished its purpose. A purpose which is not always intended.

Finally, a brief word about death. It hurts those left behind. I know this. So do you. But remember-Jesus was dead on Friday but alive on Sunday. To quote some radio preacher whose name I have I long forgotten- “Friday may be here but Sunday’s coming”. Let be so. 

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Pandemic Paradoxes

       One of the many ironies of covid-19 is, on the one hand, it demonstrates to the world how connected we all are. That which in normal times separates and divides falls away. We realize we are one united humanity fighting a common enemy-a great equalizer, if you will. At this time it is absolutely critical we work together for our common good. On the other hand, we also see one of the best ways to care for one another is to isolate ourselves from one another. We are, in a very real sense, fighting a common enemy alone together.
And yet, even in isolation we are not alone. One of the great paradoxes of social media is, it’s capacity for good and for evil are equal. If  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the rest were instruments of division yesterday, today we must make them instruments of union, of connection. To paraphrase Paul, ‘do not present social media as an instrument of wickedness but rather, present it as an instrument of righteousness’. 
For most of us quarantine is something completely new. Not many have lived in isolation for any length of time. It’s not natural; it’s why solitary confinement is such a horrible punishment. We are, simply put, created for connection. And yet...These times require a new open mindedness. Paradigms will shift. New norms will be established. Horizons will be broadened. Or not. The choice is ours-yours and mine-alone. Covid-19 will not last forever; we will get through it. God will lead us through it. The question we all face is this-will we emerge changed for better, for worse, or not changed at all?
President Trump is wrong. It is not America First, or America against China or the E.U. or Mexico anyone. It is not New York competing against New Jersey or Florida or California or Louisiana or Massachusetts or anyone. It is not Democrats against Republicans. For this moment in time it is humanity against covid-19 and we need to be in this together. For the long haul. 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Hope in Trying Times Pt 2

Jesus says ‘There’s only one sign I’m going to give you: the sign of the prophet Jonah’ (Luke 11:29; Matthew 12:39; 16:4). Sooner or later life is going to lead us ...into the belly of the beast, into a situation we can’t fix, can’t control...That’s where transformation most quickly happens. That’s when we’re uniquely in the hands of God. It’s God’s waiting room.” Richard Rohr; Just This.

“I live by the faith of the Son of God.” This faith is not Paul’s faith in Jesus Christ, but the faith that the Son of God has imparted to him — “the faith of the Son of God.” It is no longer faith in faith, but faith which has overleapt all conscious bounds, the identical faith of the Son of God.” From My Utmost for His Highest Classic Edition

Once again Chambers and Rohr arrive at the same place by different routes. The goal is always “to destabilize the imperial ego” (Rohr); Chambers calls this ‘giving up my right to myself’. The goal is always identification-oneness-with our Lord and Life. 

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Philippians 4:4-8

 Transformative words of comfort and hope for our trying times. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Hope in Trying Times

        A couple hours age one of my Facebook friends shared a post that said something like “why isn’t anyone reporting 80,000 people have recovered from Coronavirus. I did a little checking and that number appears to be accurate. I also discovered the worldwide mortality rate is 4%. The nationwide mortality rate is 1.7%. 
Yes I know people die from auto accidents but auto accidents are not contagious. And yes more people die from flu but right here, right now we are not dealing with flu. We are dealing with Coronavirus. And yes I firmly believe God will deliver us from this pandemic the same way He delivered us from polio, measles, swine flu, HIV/AIDS and the rest-by sending us women and men of faith and science who have the ability to discover cures. 

In the meantime, while we wait, we will do well to take all necessary precautions, to be kind to and look out for one another. If this virus teaches us anything it is that we are all connected. Finally, I would remind us that Jesus, when confronted with the temptation to fling Himself off the Temple Mount, replied “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” (Matthew 4:7). Words of wisdom for today from Wisdom Himself. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

R/C 01/01/2020 A Question of Language

Philippians 1:20
Paul’s Life for Christ
“For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die.”

Chambers begins the year with one of his core issues-surrender of the will. “To get there (to my utmost for His highest) an absolute and irrevocable surrender [of the will]...”on the point in question. I have found this to be true for many years. In most cases the issue is not that I don’t know what to do but rather that I don’t want-I don’t have the will-to do what I know. When things aren’t as clear as they could be, I find-as Sean Connery says in The Last Crusade-‘A solution presents itself’ given a little time. It is the difference between reacting and responding, the importance of patient waiting. 
Rohr says “The most common [reactions] to a new moment (what Chambers might call crisis) are mistrust, fear, knee-jerk reactions...dismissal...judgement...”; what I have come to call ‘beginning with no’. Chambers makes an interesting and somewhat unusual point-we may say someone else will be adversely affected if we follow God on whatever point is before us (what will happen to him or her if I do this) but we are in fact only concerned with ourselves-what will become of me. The ‘someone else’ is just an excuse for our own fear or or negative judgement, or even lack of will. This concern for ourselves (what Rohr calls the ‘little I’ or ego; what Chambers calls the will) will come up again and again. 
The bottom line for both is learning to ‘keep yourself before God’ in absolute surrender of will (Chambers); allowing a takeover of the ‘little I’-ego-by the Big I-God, of whom we are all a part-(Rohr). What Chambers calls surrender Rohr calls connecting, or realizing the connection that already exists. 
Here Rohr’s insight becomes helpful. He speaks of surrendering to the awe of the moment, using Moses at the burning bush to illustrate his point. Moses, struck a bush that burned without being consumed, went to check it out. God speaks to Moses and Moses realizes he is on holy ground. The ground had been holy all along; Moses simply failed to realize it. Seeing the visible bush allowed Moses to see the invisible holy ground.  How many ‘burning bush’ moments do we encounter, and how many more do we miss by not paying attention? Specific visible moments (the bush) lead to a broader invisible revelation (holy ground). Moments of awe followed by surrender to the moment which together have the ability to change how we see. Rohr says once we become accustomed to this type of seeing our whole world becomes sacramental; we see God everywhere, the invisible behind the visible. This is an important first step towards discovering our connectedness, with God and with one another. It is the beginning of keeping ourselves before God. We learn to love God whom we cannot see by loving our neighbor whom we can see (1Jn 4:20); with loving comes surrender. Love, after all, is about the other while will and ego are about the self. 
And so the journey to become ‘our utmost for His highest’-the men and women we were created to be all along-begins. Let us all be bold for Christ and trust His life in us to bring honor to our lives in Him. 

Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, Uhrichsville, Ohio, Barbour Publishing
Richard Rohr, Just This, Albuquerque, New Mexico, CAC Publishing, 2017

Richard Rohr and Oswald Chambers-Strange Bedfellows

I’ve had a copy of Oswald Chambers’ devotional My Utmost for His Highest around since I was first ordained as a Presbyterian elder, around 1991 or so. While I’ve started many years with it since then, and finished up a few as well, I’ve never managed to read it through in one year. Chambers’ focus on relationship to Jesus, things like ‘coming to the end of yourself’ and ‘giving up my right to myself’ may have been nice catch phrases which I could use intelligently in sentences, but they had no real meaning for me personally. I was speaking of things about which I had no real knowledge, understanding or experience. It was all very frustrating. Rather than producing the inner transformation Chambers had in mind, all I ever experienced was guilt. Or worse, spiritual hubris. I simply did not know what I was talking about. 
This began to change with several more or less simultaneous events.  I began reading Richard Rohr, which led to Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh, where I discovered many striking similarities between Buddhism and Christianity (and no, I did not become a Buddhist). Then there was The Book of Joy (His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Abrams)), Holy Envy Finding God in the Faith of Others (Barbara Brown Taylor) and Pernnial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent (Rami Shapiro-I haven’t finished this yet) and finally back to Just This, a wonderful little book by Richard Rohr. What those books have in common is the insistence of common truths running through all the worlds great religions. Which brings me back around to Oswald Chambers. 
I have discovered Chambers’ My Utmost and Rohr’s Just This often say much the same thing in different words. This is true of so much of religion-it’s a sort of religious language barrier. Understanding Rohr has helped me understand Chambers as well. This year I have begun to jot down my thoughts as I read through these two books. I hope to share them here. Some of you-maybe most of you-may already know this stuff. That’s ok. It never hurts to hear it again. Feel free to share your thoughts as well. Others may be hearing this for the first time. Welcome. I hope you will discover, along with me, what this connected life-what Richard Foster (there’s another one, by the way) calls the With God Life-is all about.