My duty to the Bible’s living interpretive tradition

bibleI had a good discussion yesterday with my pastor covenant group about our discernment process as a church in the wake of the Frank Schaefer trial and controversy. I know that I got a little hot-headed in the debate online so I wanted to offer more circumspect reflections. I believe that each disciple of Jesus Christ not only has the right but actually the duty to contribute to the ongoing living interpretive tradition of our faith. Some Christians think that the Bible doesn’t require any interpretation, but I contend that the way we interpret it is by living it and sharing our testimony with each other. Continue Reading

Is your life NSFJ (not safe for Jesus)?

IMG_1616Please excuse the gratuitous selfie; I couldn’t think of another graphic to use. I was reading a passage in Greek today and it hit me in a different way than it ever has before. It’s 1 Corinthians 6:12-13, which illustrates how Christian morality differs from a casuistic or legalistic moral system. Few Christians are willing to accept how radical Paul is being when he says, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial.” It is a morality that is based not on following a particular set of rules, but on living in such a way that we seek union with Christ. The question is whether our lives are NSFJ (not safe for Jesus). Few Christians are willing to rise to Paul’s challenge so they define their “morality” according to a safe, limited set of rules (often the trinity of “no sex, no drugs, no cussing”) that they don’t have trouble keeping and they can judge others for breaking. Continue Reading

The God who wants us to be friends #sermon #podcast

friendsFor the second weekend of our sermon series “Love Actually,” we talked about philia, the form of love that is friendship. James 4:4 says, “Friendship with the world is enmity with God.” When I was young, I presumed that becoming Christian meant most fundamentally leaving your old friends behind. You showed Jesus that He was number one by who you were willing to stop hanging out with. Since that time, I’ve come to understand James 4:4 differently. “The world” does not describe a group of people we’re supposed to stop being friends with but a way of perceiving people that does not allow for the authentic friendship that we learn from Jesus. My sermon audio is here, with more thoughts added below: Continue Reading

Five verses God has tattooed on my heart: #3 John 1:5

In my second semester of Biblical Greek in seminary, I discovered John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not seize it.” I had to translate it for my homework. What immediately drew my attention was the verb in the second clause which the NRSV translates as “overcome” and the NIV translates as “comprehend.” It was reflecting on the intersection between these two translations that gave John 1:5 the meaning that it has for me. Continue Reading

God’s grace in 4 stick figure drawings

We had the first session of our new member class today. During the first class, we do introductions and give a primer on Methodist theology. We had the fortunate problem of having too many people in the class so our introductions took up all but 15 minutes. I didn’t want us to leave having only done introductions, so I tried to explain in 15 minutes and 4 stick figure drawings the three kinds of grace we talk about in Methodism: prevenient, sanctifying, and justification, along with the Christian perfection that God’s grace draws us toward. The way I’ve illustrated it is a bit individualistic (which of course I would have criticized if someone else had done it ;-)). I’m interested in hearing your feedback and suggestions for improvement. Continue Reading

Word, life, light: the eternal side of Christmas

I decided to do something different for my LifeSign sermon this weekend. Normally for Christmas, we look at the accounts of Christ’s birth given in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Mark starts with Jesus’ baptism rather than his birth. John describes Jesus’ incarnation from His eternal perspective as the Word of God who became flesh. Part of John’s opening is one of my favorite verses in the whole Bible, John 1:5, which says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not seize it.” Since there’s a lot of darkness in our world right now with school shootings and fiscal cliffs in the news, I felt called to preach on John 1:1-5 about the hope that is established by the incredible eternal identity of the baby who was born in Bethlehem. I will summarize my message below. Here is the audio: Continue Reading

Life and wrath as ontologies (John 3:36)

I just stumbled across something in my sermon preparation that made me do a double-take because it related to a sermon I preached earlier this fall on the way that sight can be a metaphor for salvation. And God decided to throw another reference to wrath at me that doesn’t fit its modern juridical definition as God’s future punishment of those who break His rules. Here’s the verse: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, but God’s wrath remains on them.” Continue Reading

Blueprints don’t make people worship

For the last month, I’ve been reading David Bentley Hart’s Beauty of the Infinite, which is one of the most profound and difficult texts I’ve read. Hart uses the theology of Gregory of Nyssa and other sources to talk about the relationship between our desire and God’s beauty. On the first weekend in December, Rachel Held Evans spoke to our annual Virginia United Methodist youth retreat about “living in the questions” as a way of understanding our faith. The Saturday morning talk was about seeing the Bible as a “conversation-starter not a conversation-stopper.” Rachel questioned whether the Bible should be viewed as a self-evident “blueprint” for every aspect of life. Weaving her talk together with Hart’s book left me with the thought that reducing God’s word to a finite blueprint not only snuffs out the conversation and fellowship that are supposed to emerge out of our sacred canon; it also kills the worship of our infinite Creator.

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10 songs in 2 days on the Goodson Chapel piano

I had a bit of a creative explosion this week while I was attending the Duke Divinity Convocation so I wanted to share the fruit. Basically I wrote two raps and one praise song from Sunday evening to Tuesday afternoon. Then I played hookey from several of the lectures at the Convocation to sit down at my favorite piano in the world in Goodson Chapel and record these three songs and seven others with my iPhone propped on the music stand. The sound quality is actually not too bad. Because of time constraints, I did almost everything on the first take, mistakes and all, unless I completely shut down. So almost all the songs have two or three mistakes. Anyway I’m sharing them below. Some of them might sting a little bit because God is giving me a prophetic word to call out some things about the American church right now. As there’s always a mix of flesh and spirit, some of my cynicism and arrogance may have found its way in. That’s where I depend on you to call me out so I can refine this and make it more glorifying to God. So please critique and offer suggestions!!! (And don’t laugh too hard at the goofy expressions on my face on this page.) Continue Reading

Persecution and epistemic closure

Epistemic closure is a recently defined philosophical term that describes someone who is so thoroughly encased in the echo chamber of their own ideology that they are completely immune to considering other viewpoints. The term is derived from the Greek word pistis which means faith or trust. When people live in epistemic closure, they are immune to integrity because they only trust people who already agree with their ideology. They scan potential sources of information for the presence of code words that indicate whether or not the speaker can be trusted as a member of their own ideological tribe. As a pastor communicating in our “post-truth” environment of ideological tribalism, I try to be very attuned to both the code words that make me trustworthy and those that instantaneously discredit everything I have to say. Continue Reading