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“Try me, O Lord, and test me” (a prayer for integrity, Psalm 26:2-3)

Today’s Daily Office reading included two verses from a psalm that comprise an awesome prayer that I think Christians should be praying continually: “Test me, O Lord, and try me; examine my heart and my mind. For your mercy is before my eyes so I will walk in your truth” (Psalm 26:2-3). This prayer summarizes what it means to live with integrity and illustrates how utterly we need God to make that possible. Continue Reading

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Culture war blindness: “I can see people but they look like trees walking”

Yesterday morning at our church staff meeting, we read the story of Jesus’ double-healing of the blind man at Bethsaida in Mark 8:22-26. Jesus has to rub his spit on the man’s eyes twice, because the first time that he does it, the man says, “I can see people but they look like trees walking.” In the context of another week of evangelical Christian blogosphere drama, God confronted me with this realization. Like the blind man at Bethsaida, my vision is blurred when I look at the people on the other side of all the arguments. They look like trees to me in the sense that I can basically see where they’re going but I don’t see their faces. Just like many others in my generation of white evangelicals, I have been afflicted by culture war blindness. Continue Reading

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“Everything created by God is good” (1 Timothy 4:4)

I stumbled across a beautiful passage in my scripture reading today: 1 Timothy 4:4-5. Paul says to Timothy: “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer.” In this context, Paul is polemicizing against the false asceticism of a gnostic group that was promoting a false gospel, basically telling people that creation was evil which caused them to “forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods” (v. 3). Throughout Paul’s letters, he battles with a number of false prophets. By and large, they are not libertines who are promoting hedonism, but curmudgeons who want to make the gospel “hard” and austere as a way of building their own power. Continue Reading

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Have you ever been thrown into hell or did you pluck your eyeball out in time? (Matthew 5:29)

Jesus says some pretty wild things, but this week’s lectionary reading includes one of his most extreme statements in Matthew 5:29: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” I’ve only known of one instance in which somebody actually obeyed this teaching, and it was fictional. My favorite novelist Joyce Carol Oates wrote a novel called Son of the Morning about a boy prodigy Pentecostal preacher named Nathan Vickery who falls into fornication and publicly gouges out his eye as an act of penance. So what do we do with this extreme teaching of Jesus besides creating a nation of cyclopses? Continue Reading

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“Don’t let those who hope in you be put to shame because of me”

God spoke to me this weekend through some loving criticism I got about my blog and a verse from the Daily Office last week that I had decided to memorize in Hebrew, Psalm 69:6. The verse says in English, “Do not let those who hope in you be put to shame because of me, O Lord God of hosts; do not let those who seek you be dishonored because of me, O God of Israel.” I memorized it because it seems like a very important prayer to say as a pastor every day. And God used it to confront me about my motives for writing on my blog. Continue Reading

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“Do not believe every spirit” (1 John 4)

At the basilica’s Monday mass, the epistle reading was from 1 John 4, which includes: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” It was a sobering reminder to me that not all the “inspiring” voices in my head are from God. Even if I have had legitimate prophetic convictions before, that doesn’t mean that my compulsive urge to weigh in on the latest drama in our world is “God-breathed.” One way in which I’m testing the spirits that speak to me is to wrestle with the question of how God speaks to us through His word. Continue Reading

Wisdom is to rest in Jesus

At our church staff meeting today, we looked at this reading from Matthew 11:25-30:

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Continue Reading

“For the glory of Your name” (Psalm 79:9)

For about the past year, God has been giving me verses from psalms to memorize in Hebrew. I can’t really explain why. But the meaning of the verse that He gives me is slightly different than what’s literally written.The latest of these is Psalm 79:9: “Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and forgive our sins, for your name’s sake.” When I read the psalm today, I knew it was the verse I was supposed to memorize so I started working on the Hebrew and saying it as a real prayer to Him, and then He asked me one of those pointed questions He always asks: Do you really care about the glory of my name?

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“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof…”

The gospel reading at my Monday mass was Luke 7:1-10, the story of the centurion whose servant is healed by Jesus without setting foot in his house. A line that the centurion says has become a key part of the weekly Eucharistic liturgy: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” There is something essential about that posture of humility for us to be able to encounter Christ authentically and receive the transformation that He wants to instill in us. I worry sometimes that Christians like me define ourselves so much against the overemphasis on human wickedness in fundamentalist Christianity that we end up having a blithe presumptuousness about Jesus’ grace in our lives which turns our prayer and worship life into a farce.

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Paraklesis: a beautiful word (2 Corinthians 1)

The Daily Office reading for yesterday was the opening of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. A single word appears 9 times in verses 3-7: παρακλησις, which can be translated as encouragement, comfort, or consolation. You may recall that Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the παράκλητος (cognates as Paraclete) his speech to the disciples in John 14:16. In that context, the word is translated as intercessor or advocate in addition to comforter. So I thought it would be interesting to spend some time meditating on the meaning of παρακλησις as I find myself in a place of needing it right now. Continue Reading