Since today is Easter, I’ve been trying to think of something inspiring to say. But I thought I would tell the truth about something in my life that sucks which I desperately want to narrate into a blessing. I have lost twenty pounds since December. It’s not because I’ve been good about exercising or eating well. It’s because I have a condition known as ulcerative colitis, which causes me to need to sit on the toilet 15-20 times a day. Over the past couple of months, my colitis caused a secondary infection called C. Diff., which has required heavy duty antibiotics. I have basically felt like I’ve had the flu for the two months, and I’ve spent half of my awake time in the bathroom. Twice I’ve had good days which I interpreted to mean that I was on the mend, but then my disease came roaring back. My church has been praying for me, and it’s really seemed to help, for a day or two at a time. So I guess I wanted to name the gifts I have received from this miserable disease as a way of flicking off Satan and proving to him that he has failed to disillusion me since God can turn all things into good. Continue Reading
There are few things that make me smack my head more than the idea that Adam and Eve’s bite into an apple caused all of the decay and disease that exists in the world. I’ve written before that I believe the “death” that came to Adam and Eve (who are allegorical characters representing the human race) which Paul describes in Romans 5:12-13 is the death of innocence, not physical death as such. If you’re going to say that physical death didn’t happen until after the apple bite, then what you’re saying is that mushrooms and bacteria and viruses weren’t created by God until after Eden, which would mean that there wasn’t a real ecosystem and biological existence as such is dependent on sin. Continue Reading
I was listening to Brian Zahnd’s podcast Tuesday while waiting for the rest of my mission team in the Santiago airport. In his May 19th sermon “Mystery Revealed,” he preaches on the cosmic reconciliation of all creation in Christ described in Colossians 1. Brian cautions Christians not to take a triumphalist, hegemonic attitude about the cosmic reign of Christ as through its purpose is to serve as our self-affirmation. He says, “”The way of conquest and domination is the way of the old gods that are passing away… When we absorb enough of the sin and suffering of the world in imitation of Christ, people are drawn to Christ.” It’s a very fascinating claim about the nature of evangelism and what it means to take up our crosses and follow a crucified savior.
Sometimes you hear songs that only your eyes know how to talk about. I’ve spent all day talking with my eyes as I listen to a very beautiful album of songs by Zach Sobiech, a kid who died of cancer yesterday after recording an album in the final months of his life. Zach formed a band called A Firm Handshake with his lifelong friend Sammy Brown when he learned that he had less than a year to live. I’ve spent time that I don’t have trying and failing to summon up the right combination of adjectives to describe his music about living richly in the shadow of death. Continue Reading
It’s probably the most poignant scene in the original Star Wars movie. Obi-Wan has engaged Darth Vader in a fierce lightsaber duel to provide cover for Luke Skywalker and his friends to escape the Death Star. Luke looks over to his mentor; they lock eyes; Obi-Wan raises his saber to let Vader kill him; and Luke is left to figure out how to become a Jedi without his mentor. This weekend at our LifeSign contemporary service, we are talking about the day when Jesus left his disciples and ascended into heaven (click here for a promotional video to share!). It’s worth asking the question the disciples must have had: Why did He abandon us? Continue Reading
Our youth pastor invited me today to talk about atonement with our confirmation class. As you know, I am very passionate about offering a better explanation than the Four Spiritual Laws of how Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection reconcile us to God. I’m not very good at turning confirmation lessons into silly activities with cotton balls and papier mache. So what I offered them was pretty simple: a single sheet of paper with a brief description of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection at the top and then seven different concrete problems that Jesus’ atonement provides a solution for (realizing that’s not an exhaustive list). I gave them scripture passages to read and had them try to answer based on the scripture how Jesus’ atonement addressed the stated problem. Continue Reading
This is Advent translated into hip-hop for Christians who are able to admit that we don’t always do a good job of taking up our cross to follow Jesus and want to try again to serve our king by marching for His kingdom. Lyrics are below.
I’m jumping on the bandwagon. Ever since the Episcopal convention last week, all the Christians bloggers are talking about whether or not the liberal church will survive. The conversation thread that I’ve followed has included John Meunier, Ross Douthat, Diana Butler Bass, and Rachel Held Evans. I spent my twenties in struggling mainline liberal churches that were very active in social justice causes in their community and painfully empty on Sunday mornings. Since I feel like my own observations and convictions are inadequate to explain the sociological shifts that are occurring in American Christianity, I’m not going to present this as any sort of coherent theory, but rather a series of points that respond to what I’ve read in no particular order.
This past weekend for my message on Ephesians 2:1-10, I decided on a zombie theme since I can get away with that in my contemporary service and because zombies are “in” with the young people. The inspiration was a phrase that Paul uses to describe people who are enslaved to sin: “children of wrath,” which sounds like the title of a bad horror movie. He also tells the Ephesians that they “were dead through the trespasses and sins in which [they] once lived,” i.e. living dead, a.k.a. zombies. In all seriousness, I think a zombie apocalypse is an excellent metaphor for capturing the nature of sin. Sin is not just “breaking the rules” or “offending God’s honor” as we often hear in the pop-evangelical “Four Spiritual Laws” account of the gospel. Sin is a devastating spiritual disease that makes us into zombies; Jesus provides the means to resurrect us from this state of living death.
In the second sermon of our church’s “Big Picture” series, we looked at the meaning of church as described in Ephesians 1:23 — “the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” It’s often been said as part of the Methodist “Rethink Church” campaign that church is a verb, not a noun. This is literally true in the Bible’s original Greek. Paul uses the word kleseos in Ephesians 1:18 to describe the “calling” of God’s hope. Ekklesia, the word that gets translated as “church” in Ephesians 1:23, is derived from the same root as klesous. It means literally “the calling forth,” or as I decided to name it, the song of God’s power.