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Wrestling with heaven and hell (last weekend’s #sermon #podcast)

I keep on getting busy and forgetting to post my sermon podcasts. Last weekend, for our Wrestling sermon series, we wrestled with heaven and hell. To provide a different framework than the usual one in which the question is concerned, I looked at two passages from Isaiah. Isaiah 2 starts off by talking about God’s vision for a beautiful peaceful world (vv. 1-4) and then talks about the entrenched idolatry and injustice that will need to be destroyed for God’s peace to be established (vv. 5-19). This was actually the topic of one of my first major blog posts if you’d rather read than listen. The second passage I looked at was Isaiah 6 which captures what it’s like for a human to stand in the overwhelming presence of God. I have a typed manuscript of a sermon on this that I preached in the Dominican Republic two years ago. These two components, God’s promise of a peaceful kingdom and the ability to face God with integrity, are the foundation for how I understand what heaven and hell are. Here is the audio. Sign up for the podcast if you’d like to auto-download it into your phone.

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What makes God mad? My hard heart.

This weekend, I had the perfect setup for a stereotypical social justice Christian sermon. I was preaching on wrestling with God’s anger. My primary text was Mark 3:1-6 where Jesus heals a man with a withered hand on the sabbath. Verse 5 says, “He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at the hardness of their hearts.” The lectionary Old Testament passage was Isaiah 58, in which God berates Israel for trying to win his favor by fasting when their lives are unjust. So I was all ready to talk about those religious elitists with hard hearts whom I’ve always heroically stood up against. But then God confronted me with something. It turns out that I’ve got a hard heart too. My audio is here with some additional commentary below. If you want to auto-download these sermons to your phone, sign up for my podcast.

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Did we crucify Jesus or did God? (Using @ScotMcKnight to bludgeon bad atonement theory)

Scot McKnight had a very interesting post last week concerning a recently popular“scapegoat” atonement theory about Jesus’ cross based on the cultural theory of French philosopher Rene Girard. The scapegoat theory’s basic idea is that God the Father doesn’t demand Jesus’ blood as the price for humanity’s sin, but that we humans needed Jesus to be our scapegoat so that we could be liberated from our sin. McKnight contends that the Girardian view doesn’t count as an atonement theory because in his interpretation of the scapegoat theory, “we side with Christ and God and not those who put him to death.” McKnight says that for an interpretation of the cross to be atonement as such, it must implicate us in the death of Jesus, “the cross [must be] in some way against us.” Interestingly, McKnight’s terms for a valid atonement theory don’t delegitimize Girard’s scapegoat theory nearly as much as they invalidate the default evangelical understanding of the cross as the satisfaction of God’s wrath. I heartily agree with McKnight’s understanding. Humanity crucified Jesus, not God; it is our needs which the cross satisfies, not God’s. Continue Reading

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Is God’s love more holy than his holiness is loving?

It may seem like a nonsensical distinction but I think it makes all the difference in the world in Christian theology. Which term gets to modify and define the other? Love or holiness? Is God’s love more holy than his holiness is holiness? I suspect that the reason that Wesleyans and Calvinists tend to talk past each other is because Wesleyans say God is most fundamentally love and thus define holiness in terms of love while Calvinists say God is most fundamentally holy and define love in terms of holiness. There are two quotes in particular that capture this distinction. Continue Reading

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Church, I think we’re gonna be okay

The past several years of my life have been building up to a three and a half hour stretch of time this morning from 8:30 am to 12:00 pm: my interviews for full ordination as a United Methodist elder. I have anticipated this moment with dread, paranoid about getting torpedoed by someone with a chip on their shoulders over one of my blog posts. What actually happened was I sat in a room with human beings who love God, who pray, who have made mistakes and learned from them, and who genuinely seemed to want the best for me and for our church. They not only took seriously their duty to evaluate my effectiveness in ministry but also acted the way that pastors are supposed to act in making me feel loved and safe in their presence. I don’t want to diminish the legitimately troubling experiences that other pastors have had in the ordination process. Neither do I want to minimize the injustices in our church. But experiencing the peace of the Holy Spirit when I expected to face a firing squad, God put it on my heart to say to my fellow Methodists that I think we’re going to be okay.

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A response to @BillMaher’s recent comments about God

I’ve been reading an interview with outspoken atheist comedian Bill Maher in the Atlantic. The interviewer asked him a question about God and his answer was intriguing to me. The question was along the lines of Pascal’s Wager: “What if you’re wrong and you’re dooming yourself to hell? Do you ever worry about that?” Here is Maher’s response:

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Nouwen

Some Henri Nouwen thoughts on prayer

A woman from my church gave me a bunch of spiritual books because she was downsizing, including an old Henri Nouwen book about prayer called With Open Hands. Yesterday, I read this book by Lake Accotink since we had the only fifty degree day we’re going to have for the rest of January. I underlined some quotes that I wanted to share on my blog. Continue Reading

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Salvation from “whiteness”: a subversive reading of Job

For Martin Luther King Day, I wanted to consider a very challenging quote from black liberation theologian James Cone: “When whites undergo the true experience of conversion wherein they die to whiteness and are reborn anew in order to struggle against white oppression and for the liberation of the oppressed, there is a place for them in the black struggle of freedom.” When Cone talks about whiteness, he’s not talking literally about the color of our skin. He’s talking about a set of attitudes that many white people are usually completely unaware of having and which all too often our Christianity has been tailored to validate. In my last semester of seminary, I wrote a term paper in Hebrew poetry on the way that the book of Job describes a “white” man who is literally turned black by God (Job 30:30). When we see Job’s “whiteness” come through in his speech from chapters 29-31, we’re able to see that his fall from privilege, or his “dying to whiteness,” is his salvation. Continue Reading

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Is the Old Testament a debate between priests and prophets?

I’ve been reading two books recently that have me really wondering what to do with the Old Testament: RC Sproul’s The Holiness of God and Richard Beck’s Unclean. Sproul’s book uses some of the most troubling Old Testament depictions of God to define God’s holiness since holiness has to do with God’s otherness and incomprehensibility. Beck talks about the way that the ethics of mercy and sacrifice pull in opposite directions. The God depicted by the prophets seems to care mostly about mercy, while the God depicted by the priests in the Torah seems to care mostly about sacrifice. It may be a taboo question, but is the Old Testament really a debate between the priests and the prophets? Continue Reading

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Three different conceptions of Biblical authority

Thanks very much for your responses to my last post on Biblical inerrancy. Though some were a bit snarky, they were actually quite helpful to my sermon preparation process, which was my goal with the post. What has emerged out of that wrestling is that there seem to be three ways of understanding Biblical authority, which basically amount to three interpretations of the most cited proof-text for Biblical authority: 2 Timothy 3:16: “All scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.” Continue Reading