Posts filed under ‘Theology’

Blazing Pulpits

Burning BushOne of my good friends, and sometimes commenter on this blog, has loaned me an excellent CD set on the Old Testament by Amy-Jill Levine. It is really terrific, even if I crave driving to listen to more of it! Dr. Levine’s lectures have given me new insights on several passages I’ve heard my entire life.

In the episode of the burning bush, I’ve always identified with Moses. After all, he was hearing God’s call to mission. However, after hearing the lecture on this particular episode, I’ve decided those of us who are pastors might better relate to the bush itself.

Let’s be honest, desert shrubs aren’t anything spectacular. They’re kinda dry, they sit there, and they do whatever they can to soak up nutrients from the sun-parched soil. Set ablaze by God’s divine fire, however, they become something important – something worthy of our attention. Aflame, yet not consumed. Burning alive. How’s that for a image of ministry? I think Wesley would like it. Remember this, “Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come for miles to watch you burn.”

Far too often we’re dry shrubs, failing to realize our call to be burning bushes while living hand-to-mouth searching for the stuff of life. What would it take for us to be transformed, catching the attention of would-be Moseses (Mosi?) in our community?

What does God’s fire do to the bush, ever-aflame, but not consumed? I can’t imagine this is comfortable or comforting to the bush itself, even though it isn’t consumed. Is it like Jeremiah who writes, “If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot (20:9).”?

What sets you on fire? What is in you like a burning fire in your bones? What would it take for you to share that with God’s people?

February 18, 2008 at 9:14 am 6 comments

Live Like You’re Dying

This is the first Ash Wednesday sermon I ever preached. May God bless you as you contemplate your mortality and cling to the hope we have by trusting in Christ.

In our world, we prefer to deny death. Death is simply not something we like to talk about. We even disguise the word. We say things like, she “passed away,” he’s “no longer with us,” or they “didn’t make it.” With modern medical breakthroughs and modern science, life spans have increased by 60% since the 1900s. Our culture has even retreated into a battle against aging – there are creams to smooth out the wrinkles that come as we age and if that doesn’t work, then by all means, botox is a viable option! Yet no matter how we may disguise aging and no matter how many decades we add onto our lifespan through healthy eating, exercise, or visits to the doctor, it remains that each and every one of us will die.[1] On one hand it is not unreasonable or even unchristian that we spend so much time in our battle against death. After all, Paul himself refers to death as the final enemy in 1 Corinthians (15:26). Yet on the other hand, there are many ways in which our culture’s choice to deny the inevitability of death impedes our lives. Denying death leads to a loss of life.

A basic Christian spiritual exercise is to acknowledge death. Ash Wednesday is a time where our worship reminds us of this truth. As I put the ashes on your head or hand here in a few moments, I will say to each of you, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This isn’t to be morbid or gruesome. It is simply to acknowledge the reality that each one of us will die. Yet, our awareness of death should remind us to really live.

Sometimes we can remember particular times in our life because of the music that stands out in our minds. The summer I worked as a chaplain at the University of Kentucky Medical Center in Lexington, KY, there was a song that stood out. Each day, I was confronted with death. Death of the worst kind – family shootings – death from abuse – cancer – heart attacks – accidents – death, both unexpected and drawn out. There are songs which we’d never sing in Church that describe things we deeply stand for and believe in. One day on my way into the hospital, Tim McGraw’s song, “Live Like You Were Dying” came on the radio. The first verse was eerily familiar with the experience and response of the patients I saw nearly every day:

“He said I was in my early forties
With a lot of life before me
When a moment came that stopped me on a dime
And I spent most of the next days
Looking at the x-rays
Talking ‘bout the options
And talking ‘bout sweet time
I asked him when it sank in
That this might really be the real end
How’s it hit you when you get that kinda news?

A man is diagnosed with a terminal illness – a man is faced with the news that is ultimately true of all of us. Even though our “real end” might not be as soon as this man, it is nonetheless equally true. When we live in denial that we will all die, we deny the call each one of us has to truly live. McGraw’s song goes on as the man describes what he did in face of the tragic news. As Christians, we are likely not called to, “go sky diving, Rocky Mountain climbing, or to ride bulls for 2.7 seconds!” However, there are many significant lessons we can learn as the song continues:

I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter, I gave forgiveness I’d been denying…I was finally the husband that most the time I wasn’t, and I became the friend a friend would like to have. I finally read the good book, and I took a good hard look at what I’d do if I could do it all again…

    The dying man then makes the most important point of the song, “Someday, I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying.”

    Ash Wednesday serves as the reminder that we should live like we are dying because in fact, we are all dying. Today is the first day of Lent and begins the time of repentance in preparation for Easter. Many Christians give up something during Lent, perhaps a favorite food or drink or maybe even television. But more and more people are choosing to add something to their lives instead of giving something up. That’s my challenge to you – live like you are dying – love deeper – speak sweeter – give the forgiveness you’ve been denying – become the wife or husband, or father or mother you haven’t been – become the friend a friend would like to have – spend time each day reading God’s word and praying.

    Do these things because the Gospel promises that existence doesn’t end with death – it ends with life. Living like you are dying brings new life – because we live in response to God’s Spirit and the power that raised Jesus at Easter. Easter, which lies at the end of Lent, is God’s answer to death – God raised Jesus Christ from the dead as the answer that death is not the end for Christians. By the power of Christ, we’re enabled to take good hard looks at our lives. Ash Wednesday and Lent remind us that God allows u-turns. We can turn from our destructive ways through the power of Christ and live our lives fully in view of the life giving resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. “Live like you are dying” and you will live a life worth living.

    In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.


    [1] Many insights for this section of the sermon were gleaned from Tortured Wonders by Rodney Clapp, Brazos Press 2004

    February 6, 2008 at 10:06 am 3 comments

    McKnight’s Series on the Kingdom

    Just a quick note – if you’re not already reading Scot McKnight’s blog, then shame on you – it’s far better than what you’ll find here!  🙂  He’s starting a series that’s sure to be interesting on Kingdom and the Church.  The first post is here.  Keep going back for more!

    January 7, 2008 at 7:20 am Leave a comment

    Advent with Eugene Peterson, No. 2

    I’m still hanging out with Eugene Peterson’s Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places during Advent. It has been a great, albeit slow, read. To get Peterson, sometimes you really have to slow down and absorb what he’s trying to say.

    In the following passage, I didn’t have to slow down. In fact, I wanted to speed up and fly right by!! In this passage, Peterson is talking about the idolatry of trying to live our faith disconnected from the places where we find ourselves, especially the workplace. Rather than risking everything and trying to find creative ways to live faithfully within our jobs we instead, “fantasize about jobs in which we can wholeheartedly work, in the wonderful phrase, ‘to the glory of God.'” He also argues that we look to the Christian marketplace to fulfill our need for a deeper faith.

    “…what we do is look around for ways to affirm and cultivate our new life in Christ outside our workplace. And we soon find, quite to our delight, that there is a lot to choose from. A huge religious marketplace has been set up in North America to meet the needs and fantasies of people just like us. There are conferences and gatherings custom-designed to give us the lift we need. Books and videos and seminars promise to let us in on the Christian “secret” of whatever we feel is lacking in our life: financial security, well-behaved children, weight-loss, exotic sex, travel to holy sites, exciting worship, celebrity teachers. The people who promote these goods and services all smile a lot and are good-looking…(p. 125).”

    Peterson then suggests that when we get caught up in this discipleship via consumerism, “we have become consumers of packaged spiritualities.”

    “This also is idolatry. We never think of using this term for it since everything we are buying or paying for is defined by the adjective “Christian.” But idolatry it is nevertheless: God packaged as a product; God depersonalized and made available as a technique or a program. The Christian market in idols has never been more brisk or lucrative (p. 125).”

    Well…ouch. I’ve asked my family to buy me Amazon giftcards this year so I could buy tons of great “Christian” stuff to read. Hey, a new prayerbook would deepen my prayer life. A new commentary would certainly spark a renewed interest in Scripture. Doggone-it, my faith in Christ will be deeper and stronger in the new year because of these purchases…

    Idolatry, huh? I suppose at times, God as a technique or a program is much more attractive than a living and active God.  Maybe this Christmas when I’m opening my new commentaries, prayer books, and emergent manifestos on leadership (w/apologies to Tim Keel, whose new book I can’t wait to read), I’ll remember that God doesn’t fit in a package. Maybe I’ll look up long enough from my new cache of books and catch a glimpse of the manger. Maybe then I’ll remember what I really need is an ongoing relationship with the living, active, Creator God, who is too big for words and much too big to wrap.

    December 12, 2007 at 2:11 pm Leave a comment

    My Future Assistant

    The other day, we were in the mall shopping and saw a little boy in a wheelchair. My five year old Emma pointed at him and asked me what was wrong. I told her I didn’t know and that it was rude to point. She asked why. I said, “Would you like to be in a wheelchair and have little girls pointing at you and whispering?” With no hesitation she said, “Yes!” She has no problem being the center of attention and couldn’t imagine that anyone else would.

    So it is without concern for her privacy (and with permission – yes even from a 5 year old) that I share this conversation we had today on the way to the doctor. She has been home from school for two days, and it turns out she has a throat infection. We’ll give her a round of antibiotics, and she’ll be fine. On the way to the doctor, we had a really fun conversation.

    • Me: “What are you going to do when you grow up?”
    • EJ: “I’m going to work with you and Mommy.”
    • M: “That’s great. You know, you could probably work as my assistant. Or, you could be my youth minister.”
    • E: “I think I’ll just do children’s church (Our kids come down for a very brief object lesson or story).”
    • M: “That’d be great, you could do them all for me. What would your first one be on.”
    • E: “I’d bring a bunch of seashells…no…maybe a crab shell.”
    • M: “Great! What would the lesson be?”
    • E: “I’d teach the kids about health.”
    • M:”Oh, OK. What would you teach them?”
    • E: “Dad…just wait until I’m grown up and you’ll hear it then!”
    • M:*laughter*

    I am waiting on the edge of my seat. I can’t wait to find out the connection between a crab shell and health in her first Children’s message. I’m sure it will be a fascinating connection. 🙂

    December 12, 2007 at 1:26 pm Leave a comment

    Advent with Eugene Peterson

    Christ PlaysI’m re-reading Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places for Advent this year. I continue to be amazed at the pastoral wisdom that Eugene Peterson has packed into the pages of this book. As I read slowly through the pages, I’m more and more convinced that spiritual theology is one of the most important disciplines for the pastor.

    A passage I read a few days back has really stayed with me, and I want to share it here. In it, Peterson is discussing the ways that accepting Jesus as the definitive revelation of God makes it impossible for us to make up our own individualized spiritualities. Peterson may very well have been writing during this time of year when he wrote, “…we can’t get around him or away from him; Jesus is the incarnation of God.”

    In the first words here, he goes back to the theme I’ve been hitting hard lately of the importance of “place” (a better word than context, I think). Incarnation is incredibly important for elevating the value of being a particular person in a particular place:

    Jesus prevents us from thinking that life is a matter of ideas to ponder or concepts to discuss. Jesus saves us from wasting our lives in pursuit of cheap thrills and trivializing diversions. Jesus enables us to take seriously who we are and where we are without being seduced by intimidating lies and delusions that fill the air, so that we needn’t be someone else of somewhere else (p. 33).

    However, it’s the expansion of this that really strikes me,

    Jesus keeps our feet on the ground, attentive to children, in conversation with ordinary people, sharing meals with friends and strangers, listening to the wind, observing the wildflowers, touching the sick and wounded, praying simply and unselfconsciously. Jesus insists that we deal with God right here and now, in the place where we find ourselves and with the people we are with. Jesus is God here and now (pp 33-34).

    These are the “Christ-practices” that are essential for any good pastor. I would even suggest that the pastoral life well-lived also inculcates these practices in the group of believers they shepherd. If you’re like me you’ll probably find some who don’t do these things, but you’ll find many others who already do them, but don’t realize that they are part of the amazing good news of God! Part of our job is to help people understand how many of the simple practices of their daily lives are caught up in the narrative of God’s mission to reclaim the world.

    Maybe this year, as we prepare to remember God’s Incarnate Son, we can cling to the Christ-practices of the here and now. Maybe we can embody the way Christ’s Incarnation shows us a faith is earthy and real as we become more and more like the One who came and is to come.

    December 6, 2007 at 8:38 am 3 comments

    Sunday Morning Commute – Playing with Reality

    I have a thirty minute drive in order to get to the first service I preach on Sundays. On the drive, I always have a lot of thoughts running through my mind. Usually I forget them. However, since I’ve subscribed to Jott, I sometimes call them in to myself (ain’t technology great?). So today, here is one of the statements I found waiting transcribed in my email when I got home. I surely would have forgotten this if I hadn’t “jotted” it! I don’t think I’ve heard this somewhere and just remembered it. If so feel free to tell me!

    Faith disconnected from reality is just pretending.”

    Here, I’m thinking of “reality” in terms of “that which is real,” but I’m also thinking of it as an alternative metaphor for the Kingdom of God. In this way, I went on to imagine defining our faith in terms of Reality language. For example:

    • Celebrating Reality through worship.
    • Participating in Reality through mission.
    • Inviting others into Reality through witness.
    • Rehearsing the narrative of Reality in Scripture.

    So, what do you think?

    October 14, 2007 at 8:55 pm 6 comments

    Emerging Movement as the Evangelical Vatican II?

    Tony Jones posted an interesting email on the Emergent Village weblog from a Roman Catholic who compares the emerging church movement to Vatican II. Read what he says and see if you agree,

    The Second Vatican Council took place in the Catholic Church from 1962 to 1965. Called by Pope John XXIII, finished by Pope Paul VI, it was the first time in over four centuries that the Catholic Church really took a look around and said, “Hey, there’s a whole wide world out there, that isn’t so bad….maybe we oughta find out what’s going on in it, and see if it has anything to do with our community of faith”. The opening lines of The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (in Latin, Gaudium et Spes) set the tone for this new way of being church: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts”. No longer would, or could, Catholics remain isolated, insular, or reactionary to the world, or others in it. The Catholic Church’s new mission became the world itself, and its transformation would transform the Church as well.

    That seems to be what’s happening in Emergent. The people involved seem to all of a sudden see that there’s a big, wide world out there that we all live in- and most of it isn’t even considered “Christian”!- and somehow they have to do everything they can to learn more about it. Somehow everything they’ve learned up to this point – about being a Christian, about being part of the Church – has to change, so that they can truly be a follower of Christ every day of the week. Emergent seems to be a kind of Evangelical Vatican II, for many Christians that got their institutional start a hundred years ago- and maybe not even that long for others!

    Pope John XXIII’s legendary quip about Vatican II was that he convened the Council because he wanted to let a little fresh air into the Church by opening up a few windows. I hope the Emergent conversation can do the same for my Evangelical friends, and I look forward to being a part of it for those in my own neighborhood.

    Before Vatican II, the RCs worshiped in Latin, and then moved to vernacular masses.  I wonder if part of what is happening in the emerging movement is the move from our version of Latin (whatever that might be) to vernacular church.  In any case, this is definitely something to think about.

    September 27, 2007 at 6:54 am 2 comments

    Transformed Lives

    Here is the continuation of Dongell’s lecture. Read the first one, and then read this.  Wow.

    September 26, 2007 at 6:28 pm 2 comments

    Do You Have Any Enemies?

    Well then, you might want to read a terrific & thought-provoking lecture by Joseph Dongell that has been posted on Ben Witherington’s blog.

    September 25, 2007 at 1:24 pm Leave a comment

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