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
A friend pointed me to Tim Challies’ recent interview with John MacArthur in which MacArthur doubled down on the claims made in his Strange Fire conference condemning the charismatic movement in Christianity. While I don’t have time to consider MacArthur’s scriptural arguments exhaustively, one of the passages he used to support his cessationist view that the Holy Spirit has stopped revealing things to people in the way that happened in Biblical times is Ephesians 2:20. I find his use of this passage providentially ironic and a good opportunity to illustrate how differently we read the Bible.
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.
Two years ago, I decided to give myself a challenge as I was starting out this blog. I decided to blog my way through the longest, and what I assumed to be the most boring psalm in the Bible, Psalm 119. Boy was I surprised at what I found there! It’s basically a love song about God’s law. I thought it was nothing more than a giant sycophantic gesture. But it was my time of reading this psalm during my Monday fasts probably more than anything else when the Bible first began to breathe on me
in a mystical way. There were many verses that blew my mind but verse 113 was the one that I decided would be the title of a devotional book if I ever wrote one about Psalm 119. Continue Reading
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
In seminary, I learned to think of truth as a symphony rather than a single voice or instrument. The goal is not to get everyone to play the exact same note with the exact same instrument; the goal is to enter into harmony with each others’ instruments so that we can become God’s song. It’s not the absolute relativism of playing our own autonomous songs; that would be a disastrous cacophony of sound. Rather, we are all playing our own particular improvisational variations on God’s melody. God designs the harmonic that we have been created to inhabit by helping us appropriate a particular set of experiences of His grace and by tattooing certain verses in His word onto our hearts over the course of our lives. Though there are tons of scripture passages that have touched me, five in particular define the gospel I was given to proclaim. The first I’m going to cover is 1 Corinthians 1:28: “God chose the base things, the despised ones and those who are not, to reduce to nothing things that are.” Continue Reading
There’s an African folktale that I’ve read with both of my sons. In the story, every child born in a village is given a song that tells them who they are, giving them their role to play within the village community. Whenever kids start misbehaving and causing conflict, the other villagers sing their song to them so that they will remember who they really are. This was basically the topic of a podcast sermon from the Meeting House that I listened to on my drive home tonight from North Carolina. I needed to hear this word because I’ve forgotten my song recently, namely that who I really am is an encourager, not a mocker or scornful accuser. Continue Reading
Those who have read this blog for a while will recall that about a year ago, God took me on a journey of exploring the Biblical concept of the fear of the Lord. The problem is that Christians conflate two different kinds of fear when talking about God: the Biblical sense of awe that compels our worship and the frightfulness which causes us to hide our sins and cling to idols. But I’ve also realized that fearing the Lord in a good sense is more than just awe; it also means that I hate the thought of dishonoring God with my sin, not because I’m worried about being punished, but because I love His truth, which I zealously seek and defend. This is very different than carrying around a fearsome god puppet who spews wrath on His enemies and happens to agree with me on who His enemies should be. Continue Reading
For the second sermon in our LifeSign series “Ugliness Into Beauty: Six Blessings of the Cross,” we talked about how Jesus’ cross represents a battle between truth and power. Jesus not only pays the price for the guilty; He also vindicates the truth of those who have been treated unjustly. Jesus’ story has not been passed down to us as the story of a renegade messianic troublemaker who was executed before things could get out of hand. Even though Jesus availed Himself of no earthly power, the fact that we heard the real story of His innocent martyrdom means that truth won over power on His cross, which should give us hope that the truth will ultimately win in our lives as well.
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I had a very uncanny experience today with the Daily Office. In a blog post this morning, I wrote, “My role is less to bring truth down to them from Mt. Sinai and more to name the truth that the Spirit is already breathing in their midst.” Well, what did God put into the Daily Office Old Testament reading today but Exodus 34:29-35 when Moses comes down from Mt. Sinai and has to put a veil over his face because he’s glowing too brightly? It made me tremble to read it because I thought God was directly confronting and contradicting what I had just blogged about. I wrote in my journal: “Teach me how to understand when I need to go to Sinai and when I need to seek Your word from my people.” But then I read the Daily Office epistle, 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2, in which Paul uses Moses’ veil as a foil for the way in which God’s truth should be sought under Christ. And that pretty well sent me into orbit. Continue Reading