Saturday, December 31, 2011

Last day...What's next?

I'm sure that many folks are taking today to reflect on their accomplishments of the past 12 months, as well as to look ahead to the next. Why not? I'll take any excuse to reflect for a moment. A bit of self-indulgence that is actually culturally acceptable.
2011 saw me finally graduate from Ashland Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity. Don't believe me? I have the diploma to prove it. The journey began in 1973 when I first felt a sense of call. I pretty much ignored it at went into the marketplace to chase the elusive American Dream. It was in 2006 that I finally heeded the prompting and, miracle of miracles, was accepted at ATS. I can't thank the folks there enough for this life-transforming experience. But, I wrote about that earlier in the year here.
I have always been healthy. No major issues. However, in 2011 I had 2 surgeries on my right hand. And, in all of the preparation for that, the medical pros missed a dark critter lurking just beneath the surface. In November, I had a heart attack. According to the docs, it was a pretty bad one. I have been on the mend for the past couple months, and actually feel really well. I guess if I had listened and started the diet and exercise stuff earlier, I would have probably avoided the MI. Like I've written before...I'm a slow learner.
Looking forward...
The most important issue I face is to recover a relationship with my son. This is a matter that I will not detail, but it has been a painful struggle. For any parent, estrangement from a loved one is difficult,
(putting it mildly ). Especially, one who is deeply loved. If you ever read this, I am deeply sorry, son.
I have been having serious thoughts about starting a new project in one of the more economically struggling areas near my home. I think this is a direct result of the work I did in school. When I started seminary I was primarily interested in the real disconnect between the popular worship music industry and good, orthodox theology. The stuff being offered as "true worship" music is mostly fluff and 'feel-good' clap trap. Sorry if I offend anyone, but even a cursory look will reveal that. Anyway, I digress. As my time at ATS progressed, I became more and more concerned about how we can be involved in the work of the reign of God. Do we simply need to provide dogma and doctrinal 'truth' to the culture? Or, do we need to engage the culture as Jesus engaged 1st century Palestine? I think the latter. This may take the shape of activism in ecology, economics, politics or wherever God's people find themselves in everyday life. It make also take the form of benevolence: food kitchens and pantries, homeless and battered women shelters, work against the growing slave trade in the world, and other work to better the human condition. I would like to see this happening more in my geographical area. So, the New Year will find me pursuing this.
However, I must point out that for most of the world, the more things change the more they stay the same. I was reading the prophet Isaiah this morning. The portion I read contained the story of the Israelite king Hezekiah. In the story the king survived a serious illness because Yahweh healed him. The king was granted an extra 15 years of life. During this extra time, an envoy from the king of Babylon showed up to celebrate Hezekiah's recovery. Hezekiah showed this envoy all of his riches and valuables. Many folks attribute this to Hezekiah's overweening pride. "Hey, look at all the stuff I have!" Anyway, the prophet came to Hezekiah and revealed that because Hezekiah had shown off all of his stuff, at some time in the future all of that stuff was going to be ransacked and carried off to Babylon. Hezekiah's response? Sorrow and remorse for being foolish? No. Angry with the prophet and/or God? No. It was, "The word you have spoken is good. There will be peace and security in my lifetime." Huh?!?! In fact, the writers of scripture captured the same story in 2 Kings 20:19. This must have made an impact on these writers. Peace and security in his lifetime. Let's mortgage the future against present comforts. Sound familiar? It's the same today. We are gambling the future of our children and their children against our present comfort and prosperity. The most glaring abuse is in the exploitation of the environment for fossil fuels. The fossil fuel industry is fighting tooth and nail to keep their interests alive, even though we all know that these resources are not renewable and are beginning to run down. Rather than putting the energy and funds into alternative, renewable sources it is more important to be peaceful and secure in our lifetime. This does not even broach the issue of global warming, again a result of the fossil fuel addiction that the world has. So, what will the New Year bring? I hope some common sense. I hope that those people who are expert in these things will step up the pressure on the corporations whose greed and avarice is driving the abuse. I hope that we can learn from Hezekiah's ill-fated remarks that the future is now.
Last, I wish all who stop by this blog a blessed New Year. May all of your dreams be realized. And, May God Bless You Real Good!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Devil made me do it

When I was kid Flip Wilson had a character named Geraldine. Her famous line when anything went awry was, "The devil made me do it!"
Of course, those who are theologically inclined know that the devil can't 'make' us do anything. But, this, some say fallen angel, is capable of causing a lot of damage. The New Testament offers several warnings about this. Paul wrote about how the devil masquerades as an angel of light in order to deceive people. The apostle also mentioned that he was not unaware of the methods that the devil used. Peter wrote that the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking to devour folks.
Popular culture from the early church to current media paint this character in many colorful and fanciful ways. But, what can we discern about the reality of how this anti-creation being operates? I am thinking about looking at this over the next little while. Mostly, so I can get my thoughts in order about it. I find that as I write and reflect I see things a tad clearer So, for those few of you who actually read this, please bear with me as I muse.
Please, if any have input, I welcome diverse opinions.

The more we change, the more we remain the same

One of my favorite professors at Ashland, John Byron, posted the following:

It seems that even in a sacred place, at a sacred time, those who have set themselves apart for a sacred duty cannot behave any differently than anyone else. It is sad, as well as telling. People are people, regardless of what their vocation. While some may state that hanging their dirty laundry out for the world to see is an embarrassment to the Church. I see it as an opportunity for people to reveal their humanity and humility. Like I wrote in an earlier post, Christ followers are no different than any other people. We still need to work to behave civilly. And, when we don't, we need to apologize and make appropriate modifications to our behavior.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Some days it's better just to stay in bed

One of the things about being a Christ follower is that people expect you to always have good days and be in good spirits. There's something about the way culture and society think about God as having some miraculous control over the emotions of anyone who claims to be a christian. Well, for those of us who have slogged through the muck of everyday life the reality is different. We have the same tolerances for ignorance, bullying, unrealistic schedules, missed buses as anyone else walking around in a meat suit. Somedays just suck. Today's one of them.
Yes, as a Christ follower I will take  these cares, worries, concerns, foibles etc. to my prayer closet where I'll vent my frustrations to the One who really gives a damn and will inhale...exhale.....inhale.....exhale....until I'm quite chilled.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Receiving...or being Received

This morning as I was spending time with God, I read this in Thomas à Kempis' The Imitation of Christ, "I desire, Lord, to give myself to You as a voluntary offering and to be Yours eternally. With a sincere heart I give myself to You this day, as Your servant forever, wishing to serve You in obedience and as a sacrifice of endless praise. Receive me..."
Receive me. These words jumped off of the page at me. The text from à Kempis was in the context of the Eucharist. So, I can see how 'receiving' is related to sharing the Body and Blood. Receiving the elements in a manner that brings a reality to Christ's offering himself on our behalf. But, something else also caught my brain. In many religious circles people are taught that they must 'receive Christ.' Receive him as Lord and/or Saviour. This concept is taken directly from the Gospel according to John 1:12, "Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (2011 NIV). This is one verse. One verse that has been used to define an entire generation, or more, of church-goers. But, does it accurately reflect who we are to become in Christ? Reception of something infers the conferring of ownership and control. When I receive a gift, it becomes mine. I own it. I can control it. Now, I am confident that when pressed no one would acknowledge that this is their motivation. I'm sure that they would say that the idea is more about sharing in the life and mission of Jesus in a personal way. But, I've heard way too many speak of Jesus in manner that indicates otherwise. There is a sense that I am in control of my faith and destiny rather than fellow-workers with the Holy Spirit.
I see, rather, a sense in the Scripture that we have been, and are being, received by Christ. The Gospels are full of stories about Jesus searching, seeking, turning things upside down to find a lost coin, leaving the herd in search of the one. This so he could receive us brothers, sisters and mothers. John continued by stating that no one could snatch those that belonged to him, (re. those he had received), from his hand. It appears that Jesus is the One who desires to be in control. By 'receiving' all things, he is claiming His rightful place as κύριος, Lord, over all. Paul got it. Throughout his epistles he wrote of Jesus being Lord over all things. In 1 Cor. 15: 25 he wrote that all things would be subjected to Christ, who would be himself subjected to God. Then all things would be "all in all." I don't get the sense that God is taking anything other than dominion over enemies. All other things seem to have been received. I know this is a stretch, but I want to make the point that it is we who are received by God through Christ. We who are subjects of the Divine reign. We who have been found and secured by Jesus. We, who together with the rest of creation, are held in God's hand, protected, nourished, loved on, cared for because we are God's. Not because God is ours. As I reflected on this, I was compelled to join with the Apostle Paul and exclaim, "For from him and through him are all things. To him be the glory forever? Amen" (Rom. 11:36).

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

It's Dec. 25, 2011. A day that we in the Christian world celebrate the birth of Jesus the Messiah. Christ followers around the world will participate in whatever cultural celebrations that they can. Here, we will gather with family for a not-so-quiet day of cooking, cleaning, talking, eating, unwrapping, more cleaning then goodbyes with well-wishes.
Today I think that we will do something a little different. I want to celebrate the Eucharist with my family. The Eucharist! At Christmas? Isn't that an Easter kind of thing?
Well, yes it is. But, if we understand the supper as a time of communion with God, then what better time to celebrate that then when we celebrate Yahweh's breaking into time and history to commune with us? If the Eucharist is a time when Christ's presence is with us, how much better is it a time to remember Emmanuel, God (present) with us?
I wish any who visit this a blessed holiday, but more than that, I wish you an experience. An experience of God's blessed presence through Christ the Messiah, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
God Bless Y'all!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve....plans don't always work

This morning I had plans. I planned to finish my Christmas shopping. One last thing for my wife. Then, clean the house and finish wrapping gifts. The sun was shining and all was well with the world. Plans were in place for a quiet evening at home in front of a fire. A light supper and a time for gifting my mother in law. Then, I got a call from my brother. My dad was heading to the emergency room via ambulance. He had an episode that caused him to become very weak. We met at the hospital and waited. That 's one of the main activities at hospitals...waiting. All the test results were normal. However, the doctors in their inimitable wisdom decided to keep him overnight for observation. In case you hadn't noticed, none of this was part of the plan. God knows the real plan. Sometimes it would be nice if God would let us in on the plan. But, then, I guess that's not part of the plan. We are giving thanks that dad seems to be out of any danger and will be home soon. Why do these plan breakers happen? I haven't clue. If I did, I suppose that would make me god. We're all better off if I'm not. Plans? Well, they change. Someone moves the cheese and we need to punt. How do we respond to these kinds of plan changes? I turn to Brian McLaren for this. In Naked Spirituality, he wrote about how folks can respond to unexpected, in his case tragedy, for me plan changes, in a couple different ways. We can say that God has planned the problem, it was "preengineered intentionally by God. Or, we can explain it away as the nature of things with evil in the world. The third way is to look to the future. We can ask, "What possible good in the future can be brought out of this [change of plans] in the present?" That is the way I think I will approach this. Yeah, my plans got changed, but God is still God and I'm not. I'm glad of that.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Communion...God's choice

I am impressed by the apparent understanding of the Incarnation and presence of God that the Roman church demonstrates. Or, as it was understood by à Kempis. He wrote that the Supper revealed Christ's goodness, charity; humility as He bent down toward humanity. For him, Christ is present in the bread and wine that is regularly shared with the church. So, they regularly share in His presence. While I don't see this understanding in the Scripture, I do think that there is a reality here that we protestants miss. That is that Yahweh, by His own choice, bent down and took on flesh in order to bring God's dominion and presence to the world. This is huge! The Eucharist is one of the best symbols to describe this. While we tend to give intellectual assent to the concept of Incarnation, we do not always reflect on the magnitude of God's love and care for the creation. Perhaps, we simply take it for granted. Perhaps, because of our protestant views of taking communion our vision is blurred. But, I think we should remember that it was God's initiative to commune with us, not our attempts to be with God. We have the opportunity to reflect and remember that Christ came and gave his body and blood so that we can be sustained and nourished by him. It is his goodness, charity & humility that allows us to share in the divine presence. No, I don't believe in transubstantiation. But, I do believe in celebrating the Lord's abiding presence.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

As the Story goes.......

I have long contended that the Bible is essentially a love story from Yahweh to the cosmos. From Genesis to Revelation there are all of the elements of a good story that conveys and interprets meaning. Derek Flood looked at this idea and came up with some lessons we would all benefit from.
I think that this is a topic that we may continue to look at from time to time.

Prepared for the presence of Christ

Today I was reading Thomas à Kempis' The Imitation of Christ, as I often do for a devotional. He shared about being properly prepared to experience Christ's presence in the Eucharist. I am not from the Roman tradition and do not appreciate any kind of -substantiation, so some of what à Kempis wrote has no resonance with me. However, his position on contrition and humility before Christ did. He wrote that Noah, Moses and Solomon all prepared vessels that represented God's presence for salvation. David danced, sang and psalmed before God. This reveals how people should act in the presence of God...with joyful abandon and all of our being. God's presence is a big deal!
Earlier this week I was also reminded that God is, in fact, always present within God's good creation. I thank Brian McLaren's book Naked Spirituality for bringing this back to my mind. God is indeed present. It becomes our responsibility to be present with God.
With à Kempis' writing as a back drop, how then should we prepare to engage God in God's immanent presence? Should we not live as humble, contrite people who are favored to enter into the presence of the Great Creator? While we don't have boats or boxes or buildings, we are, ourselves, vessels that contain the Spirit and real presence of Christ. At this time of year, especially, it would be a good thing for we who call ourselves followers of Christ to reflect on the merciful, loving presence of Abba Father, Jesus the Messiah and the Holy Breath of Yahweh in our lives.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

More prayer stuff

Back in October of 2010 I posted about Prayer Tools. In it I shared a couple things that I do that help me to pray. Today I'd like to add to that.
Many years ago I had heard the term "breath prayer." As I understand it, these are very short prayer offerings that can be said in the time it takes a person to take a breath, (Inhale/Exhale). While in a Spiritual Disciplines class at Ashland I found one such prayer in one of our texts. It is a prayer that is ancient. Today we know it as the "Jesus Prayer." It has a couple different looks. One is simply "Lord Jesus, have mercy on me." The iteration that I have found most helpful is "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." This can be said within the span of 1 breath. It also embodies truth about who Jesus is, and in relation, who I am. I confess that Jesus Christ alone is the Messiah; Lord; Christ. I also confess that this Jesus is the Son of God. (Sometimes I substitute 'Son of the Living God.') The prayer ends with supplication, a plea for Jesus' mercy. It is only this mercy that comes to me from Jesus' grace.
This simple prayer may not seem like much, but throughout the course of my day when I say it, my attention is drawn to Christ's presence with me. It helps me to re-focus away from the stress and hassles of the day and toward the peace and reality that comes from God alone. Scripture instructs that we never cease to pray. This prayer is one that, through repetition and reflection, can help one to do just that.

Life with Jesus on the Ground

Read the following that I found over at

Back in the 1970's I was a part of  a community of Christ followers who desired to live radically for Jesus. We were part of the Jesus Movement of that day and chose a communal way to live that out. So, I can readily identify with these New Monastics. Following Christ is active. Follow is a verb. There's no such thing as Couch Potatoes for Jesus. The last few months this has been driven home me in many ways. Hopefully, prayerfully, the future will see more "lived faith" than discussed theories of faith.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Biblical World: The Theology of Snoopy

The Biblical World: The Theology of Snoopy

Fruit Bearers

Recently, I heard a pastor deliver a message in which he expounded on the need for Christians to bear fruit. He then went on to look at Galatians 5, stating that was the only place in the NT that really discussed fruit, (sorry, wrong). He deduced that the lists in that text reveal that fruit in the NT deals with character issues, (again, not so correct). Now, I don't want to be too hard on this person. This is the kind of stuff that is offered from pulpits in many, many evangelical churches. It's about me and Jesus and how I treat my wife, kids, and members of my church group.
But, I think that there is a little more to bearing fruit than simply thinking the right things and behaving in a particular manner. There is the idea of service to those outside of our own groups. Caring for all who are poor, homeless, hungry, sick, blind, lame, unemployed, orphans...and the list goes on. John the baptizer told the crowds who came to him to produce fruit in keeping with repentance. He then explained what that was; "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same." To the tax collectors he said, ""Don't collect any more than you are required to." Even to the soldiers he exhorted them, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely--be content with your pay."
Jesus stated in Mat. 7 that folks would recognize false prophets by their fruit. He then showed what he meant: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." To make it clear what he was not talking about, he added, "Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?'" It seems that the religious stuff isn't the kind of fruit that we need to be concerned with. There were proper things to do, maybe like the whole of the Sermon on the Mount that preceded this statement.
Even Paul got it right. Colossians 1:10 states, "And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God." In every good work? Yes! Fruit bearing is being "doers of the word." not simply listening or giving lip service. Ok, it also involves good character. But, it's not limited to that. In fact, I think that good works will necessarily come out of a people of good character. The converse is also true. The verses following Col. 1:10 explain that endurance and patience, (and good character?), will result from doing good works. If we wait for character to develop on its own, good works may never happen.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas season

Well, it's Monday the 19th. Christmas is less than a week away. I still have shopping to do because the ads on TV tell me that. I saw a news blurb over the weekend that really tipped me off to this. The person being interviewed said that the next week's dollars spent on shopping would tell whether Christmas would be successful this year. Of course, I want to do my part to ensure that Christmas is a success. I wouldn't want the fact that my daughter is visiting from California be a factor in Christmas' success. Being able to worship or spend time with friends and family apparently have nothing to do with it, either. People expressing their gratitude for their bounty by going to Walmart and paying for someone else's layaway purchases doesn't quite get it. Although they are spending money, it's not for themselves. Clearly, subversive. No, Christmas will not be successful unless we all suck it up and spend the money we don't have on stuff that no one really needs. I don't know how Christmas has lasted so long. After all, didn't someone say once, It's all about the economy, stupid?
I'm sorry, but it's not. It's about people caring for one another. Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and any other flavor of religious or not-so-religious people accepting and nurturing one another's humanity in a time and place that does everything to denigrate humanity and fracture our relationships with one another and the Cosmos that sustains us. It's about a kind and Generous Creator who has shown love for the creation by sending a baby to invade our small corner of the universe. A baby to illuminate the heart of God that cries out, "Peace! My good will is poured out upon all of those with whom I am well-pleased!" Perhaps, the ultimate success of Christmas will be people of good-will and hope actually embracing this statement and paying the peace and good-will forward. I don't know...just a thought.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Hell, the ongoing it real?

I just read an interesting idea about Jesus' parables that end with the promise of divine retribution. Here's the link:

Derek Flood presents a simple, yet thoughtful, look at this issue. With so many, especially the Emergents, questioning the existence of eternal torment for simply not believing like many Christians do the question deserves much and diverse discussion.
I'm not totally sure I agree with all that Derek wrote, but that's because I haven't yet taken the time to really reflect on it. However, I do agree that presenting Hell as the motivation for evangelism totally misses the mark. God's love and mercy are the grounds for our belief and our sharing.

Who's your daddy?

This morning I was reading Matthew 21:33 and following. This pericope is usually called the Parable of the Tenants. In it Jesus told of some folks who had been given charge over the vineyard belonging to someone else. It was their job to care for the vineyard and, at the end of the season, to give the fruit to the owner. Of course, they reneged on this and abused and killed those, including the owner's son, who came to collect the fruit. This is usually sited as abuse by the chief priests and Pharisee's in Roman Palestine. It gives justification for these so-called leaders to be ousted by the disciples of Jesus. As I reflected on this, however, I began to see that these leaders had a compelling desire to protect and control that which they had been given charge over. They were comfortable with the arrangement. Perhaps, because the landowner was what we would call an "absentee landlord", they felt that they knew better than him how best to care for the vineyard. They may also have felt entitled to the land and its produce because they were the ones who cared for it. In any case, they were mistaken. The vineyard was not theirs to control.
I think that the church has developed a similar mindset. Although we say we trust God to care for and protect the church, we do not know how to relax our grip. I have heard leaders in my own church talk a good game about raising up young men and women to be leaders. However, what they are really saying is "When we think that you have become enough like us, then we can trust you to lead." Like the tenants, we claim to know what's best for the vineyard we have been given charge over. We want to protect it from the chaos that will most certainly come if we allow the next generation to come and lead in their own gifting as Christ followers. We want to protect and "oversee" them as if we are their parents. The ancient churches even refer to those overseers as "Father."
I think that we are missing a great opportunity to share in the work of the Holy Spirit if we do not step back and learn from these young adults. Young adults who are expected to pick up the mantle of leadership in the culture, society, politics, the marketplace, and, yes...the church. We are not their parents, but their fellow laborers in the vineyard of the Master. It's time we embraced that.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Virgin birth...fact? Does it really matter?

There has been quite a reaction to an article written by Albert Mohler. This article was in response to another by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times. Mohler's argument that one must accept the virgin birth of Jesus as fact or risk one's position as a Christ follower. He wrote, "This much we know: All those who find salvation will be saved by the atoning work of Jesus the Christ — the virgin-born Savior. Anything less than this is just not Christianity, whatever it may call itself. A true Christian will not deny the Virgin Birth."
While I personally do believe in the birth of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, Mohler's inflamed rhetoric does little to convince anyone who is not a Christ follower of the truth of Christ's life and mission to reconcile the Cosmos to Yahweh. It does, however, point to the narrow focus of some. Having read some other articles by Mohler, I think that this recent one reveals more about Mohler's view on biblical inerrancy than to anyone's faithfulness to Christ.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Interesting article in Sojourners

I came across this article about violence in the Bible over at Sojourners Magazine. The questions about so-called God sanctioned violence have been asked for as long as there have been people to ask them. Derek Flood has a good take on Paul's "re-purposing" of Old Testament texts in the light of Christ.
Note that you will need to sign up to read it, butt hay, it's free.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

It's a matter of vision

Over the past few years I've begun to have an issue with folks who hold to a fundamentalist/literalist view of the scriptures. These believers steadfastly claim that every word is inerrant and true for all people in all places at all times throughout history. The belief that the Bible is historically and scientifically accurate...even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
I have read other's scathing rebukes and dismissal of these followers of Jesus. Some well-known writers and speakers have jumped on this bandwagon to castigate the dogmatic simpletons who don't use the brain that God gave them.
As I have prayed and reflected on this, especially my own complicity, I have to say that Yahweh has rebuked me. In my zeal to unleash my learning and understanding of the 'truth' about the Bible, I have unwittingly become that which I sought to correct. I have become judgmental and dismissive of these who are beloved by God. For this I have had to ask for Yahweh's forgiveness and have had to change my direction of thought.
We have no calling, nor right, to judge these others. We do, however, have the right to disagree. We have the right to discuss openly our concerns. This discussion must be open and two-way. I think that we must be willing to be changed, also. Building walls of dogma don't lend themselves to unity within the body of believers.
As I considered these things it occurred to me that Yahweh has given various gifts and particular vision to various people. Paul wrote about these things to the church at Corinth. I don't think that the base issues are much different now. Some people thought that their particular knowledge was better than some others. Judgements were made and people were marginalized. My vision is sacred and special to me. It is not necessarily any other person's vision. I think many of us would do well to remember that.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The many faces of me

This morning as I was spending time with Yahweh in prayer and reflection, I began to realize that I have much to be grateful for. Six years ago my life was pretty much a train wreck. (That's a topic for future consideration.) Through the experience of going to seminary and rubbing elbows with other Christ-followers God began a process of transformation that is ongoing today. I am grateful for Yahweh's reclamation project that is my life.
As God continues to transform me, I am becoming aware of the many faces I put on throughout the day. There is the face that I wear at home as I pray. There is the other face that my wife sees. At work, church, with friends, in stores, on the highway...different faces for every occasion. Jesus was not like this. His life was characterized by a unity of purpose and presentation that few of us can emulate. But, emulate we must. I think that folks who are called to follow Jesus and become disciples must allow God to mold and fashion us into more Christlike people. Painful...sure. Necessary...absolutely. This is an interesting journey we are on. May Yahweh continue to guide us on the way.

Sticks and Stones....maybe words can hurt me

I read an interesting take on the language of the Occupy Wall Street movement this morning. Author Brian McLaren offered an experience that he had with them. It is an experience with 'words' that many of us, certainly me, don't even think of. Words come coursing from our tongues with little or no consideration of what they are actually saying. At least, we don't think about what those who hear our words will actually take away.
In a short post, McLaren hit the mark about the violence that certain words and phrases can evoke. Violence that is not intended on the part of the speaker, but is there nonetheless.
He cited Mat. 5:21-26 as an example of the power, and consequence, of 'words.'
Perhaps, if we who claim to follow Christ would reflect on the Words of Jesus,  we would see more of the reign and dominion of God revealed in our world.
Please check out McLaren's post:

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Can Christ followers actually care about the environment?

I just read an article by Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental expert from Texas.
It is at:,0,2075349.story
It seems that some folks are actually starting to 'get it' about the effects that humans are having on the environment.
Being an Christ-follower puts me in a group that many times denies and denounces the idea of humans having anything adverse to do with the environment. That's a left-wing propaganda thing. Well, I happen to agree with the environmentalists. By, as Ms. hayhoe wrote, using the brain God gave me I have to agree.
Anyway, if anyone stops by here, please check out the article.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


I've started to work through the first chapter of Genesis in Hebrew. After all, I did spend a lot of money learning this language. I should use it.
Anyway, I find that in some respects it's a lot easier than Greek. However, sometimes I run into a verse like 1:11 that gets me turned around in circles. The first 10 verses revealed a lot of color that has been completely lost in English translations. But, verse 11 shows that I am so far removed from this foreign tongue that my western brain starts to convulse and spit up. I am going to get it, though. It may take 10 years, but my goal is to be able to give my English Bibles away and only use Hebrew and Greek texts. At my age, that will be an accomplishment.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Cultural distinctions and the Church

Last night my wife and I watched a movie on television about the life of author J.K.Rowling. As we are both fans of the Harry Potter series, we found the presentation entertaining and enlightening. During the movie another person asked if Rowling is a Christian. Personally, I don't know. I did read in the blog of Dr. Ben Witherington that he heard that she professed to be Christian. The other person pointed out that "professed" does not necessarily mean "yes." The this person made a statement that shocked me. The gist of the statement was that Rowling probably was not a Christian because she had said that the character of Dumbledore was gay. I'm sorry to say that in an instant my ire was raised. My response was, "Yeah, so what"?
The Church today has expended countless hours and dollars trying to keep gays and lesbians away. The homophobic mindset of American has led to naive people judging others. Theirs is an exclusionist theology that effectively negates the gospel and the expansion of the reign of God.
The scriptures that are used to defend their position are, for the most part, ambivalent when it comes to homosexual orientation. The actual word for homosexual does not appear anywhere in the canon in either Hebrew or Greek. Yet, it has seemed important to replace the love and example of Christ with concern for polity and piety. This ought not be.
I wrote in a paper for school, "As sons and daughters of God and joint heirs with Christ it is appropriate for us to treat other people as we have been treated by God. At no time did God require that people become holy before they receive God’s grace and mercy and choose to follow Christ. Jesus did not tell the lepers to go and be cleansed before he would interact with them. Yet, in spite of the fact that God has accepted those who believe and trust in God’s mercy, we in the Church do not." We cannot continue to judge others based on our culture's exclusionist mores. Jesus did not. What makes us so arrogant that we think we can?

Monday, July 18, 2011

2011 Women's World Cup...In the Book

Well, the 2011 Women's World Cup is history. An unexpected result catapulted the Japanese side to victory. Congratulations to them. This is a bright spot for a country still reeling from a devastating earthquake and tsunami.
However, for the number one ranked U.S. team the loss serves as a wake-up call. The U.S. had struggled through the tournament. Sheer will and tenacity allowed them to even be in the finals. They reflected the American never-say-die attitude that, I think, endeared them to the many fans yelling "U.S.A" in the stands. They had overcome the arrogance of the Brazil side in the waning seconds of a quarter final match. It looked as if they were destined to win. I feared that they may have looked at the final match against the Japanese team as a cake walk. After having defeated Japan in earlier matches, this would have been understandable. But, in the World Cup that cannot be assumed. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they took the match seriously and came out swinging. In the first minute they developed a very good scoring opportunity. In fact, for much of the game they could move the ball at will. The U.S. dominated much of the game creating many good scoring opportunities...but they were unable to finish them.
Japan, on the other hand, was patient. They waited for, and found, chinks in the U.S. defense that enabled them to score when they had to. While the U.S. was the stronger side between the end lines, Japan proved resilient enough to push the ball over the goal line.
There will be people who will claim that the better side did not win. To them I say, the last time I checked, the object of the game was to put the ball in the back of the net. The U.S. could not. It doesn't matter how many opportunities are created if they are not finished. This is not to take anything away from the players who left everything on the field. Sometimes the game is not fair. The post or crossbar get in the way. The defense gets confused and the ball winds up in the net. Such are the fortunes of the game. The U.S. team deserves praise for the tournament they played. However, the Japanese team did what was necessary to win. Cudos to them. If the U.S. team had to lose, the Japanese team was the team to lose to.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


One of my professors from seminary recently celebrated his first "blogiversary." In his post for that day he recapped some of his reasons for blogging as well as the joy he has experienced. One thing he wrote was that blogging is hard work. It takes time and commitment to do it in a way that people want to follow it. That has been the difficult part for me. I simply don't have the time to blog in a regular, consistent way. Be that as it may, I hope to continue jotting some things from time to time. After all, I have nothing profound or revelatory to write. This is primarily a space for me to explore and develop my thoughts about some things. I, like many others, find that sitting down and putting words to thoughts and ideas; to things I hear and learn; to events and emotions helps to concretize them in my mind. This helps to move these things from head to heart. So, if I'm not as regular with blog posts as the experts say that I should be...oh, well. It's still interesting to me to be able to look back over months of thought development and see where I've been. If anyone cares to join me in this, they are welcome.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Is the body rotten...or simply rotting

Dr. Ben Witherington wrote in his commentary on Revelation that the human body is "regularly portrayed as the weak link in the Christian's armor." Much has been said and written about the weakness of the flesh. Many today wrongly think that this is the result of some "sin nature" that humanity has inherited from the original humans. Witherington has an interesting take on this. He wrote, "the body is is [not] inherently evil..." It is simply "not currently being renewed by God. The renewal of the body must await the resurrection. The mind, the heart the emotions, and the human will are being renewed now. Inwardly we are being renewed day after day, but outwardly our fallen bodies are wasting away." I think this is a good place for one to start as one considers the effects of sin and death in the cosmos. It does not seem to be some driving force that is being spoken of. It seems more like the tent of clay that we inhabit on our sojourn through this life. A tent that will be replaced, (renewed), at the return of Christ and the revealing of a new heaven and new earth.

Monday, July 4, 2011


Last night my wife and I watched Christopher Titus on the tube. What can I say? The guy is great! I remember watching his sitcom way back when with Stacy Keach as his dad. It was hilarious. The trouble was that I was one of the two people who watched it. Anyway, after watching the show last night I started thinking about comics in general. With Comedy Central I can see a lot of stand up. Most of it is just bad. These people seem to think that if they can say F**k enough times people will laugh. I don't. There is one notable exception to this. Lewis Black. Yes, he is as foul-mouthed as anyone. But, his is not gratuitous vulgarity. It's always in context and, in many ways, speaks for the common folk who have to deal with stupid people day-in and day-out.
So, here are my top 4. (Not in any particular order.)
Jeff Dunham. Guys playing with dolls is not usually a good thing. But, Mr. Done-Ham brings these puppets to life. While there are the usual jokes, he tries to introduce a story line at the beginning of his show and follow it throughout. (Lotion, anyone?) Walter and Peanut give personality to his self-deprecating humor that is refreshing.
Sinbad. This gentleman seems to be following in the footsteps of Bill Cosby. His shows, at least the ones I've seen on television, are funny and clean. He brings everyday events and issues into hilarious focus. Well done!
Lewis Black. As mentioned before, the guy is just funny. His background in performance shines through his stand up. I enjoy social commentary when it's done well. Black does it well. I especially enjoyed his show on Comedy Central, "Lewis Black's Root of All Evil." His interaction with other comics and the audience was always done well, and, of course, was funny. Humor allows people like Mr. Black to say things that would get you or I slapped. It also creates an environment where serious social and political issues can be discussed. Well done, sir.
Christopher Titus. Family relationships can at some times, (all times?), be tenuous. Titus shares his experiences in ways that people can relate to. The overbearing father. Dipstick brother. Ex-wife. The tension that these relationships cause needs release. Mr. Titus releases his on stage. This allows us to share his experiences and gain some relief.
All 4 of these comics present a different way of seeing and dealing with the mundane events of life in America. All 4 are professionals who have taken their craft seriously and have honed their skills to razor sharpness. All 4 are my favorites.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Skin Map

I recently finished reading "The Skin Map" by Stephen R. Lawhead. I have been reading his material for a few years. I began with "The Song of Albion" series. I found that refreshing. I have long considered anything Celtic worth my time. I followed that with "The Pendragon Cycle." This was an excellent take on the Arthurian theme. It gave grounding to an otherwise overdone tale. Of course, that made it necessary to read "Avalon: The Return of King Arthur." (Just to finish the story). "Patrick" and "Byzantium" followed. Both were worth reading. I especially found "Patrick" stimulating. (Remember the Celtic thing?) His "King Raven Trilogy" was also a fresh look at the Robin Hood legend. I especially enjoyed "Tuck." So, when my daughter lent me "The Skin Map" I was excited to see where Lawhead would take me this time.
The idea was quite intriguing. People who could travel between parallel worlds by interacting with "Ley" lines. These are apparently associated with what is called "telluric energy" that are lines of electric current that travel through the Earth's crust. Some have speculated in fiction that these currents can allow one to travel to other dimensions, worlds, etc. It makes for a great story. I was also interested in the way that the so-called "skin map" came to be. One of the characters, Arthur Flinders-Petrie, a seasoned ley traveler, learned how to map the various parallel worlds using the leylines. In order to keep his discoveries from falling into the hands of evil people, he had it tatooed on his body. Apparently, after his death the skin was removed and preserved. Voila, the Skin Map. The story followed the travels of others who were searching for the map, or for missing persons, or for true love. All the while trying to stay one step ahead of the master villain, Lord Archelaeus Burleigh, Earl of Sutherland. Even the name sounds nasty. All in all, a good basis for a fantasy novel.
However, this book missed the mark by a fair amount. While the idea of travel throughout the time-space continuum has received a fair amount of attention, this book promised something new. It was not. Many of the possible story lines were not resolved with satisfaction. Flinders-Petrie, in an attempt to save his young wife's life vowed to take her to "the Well of Souls." The what? This was not developed at all. The reader was simply left hanging. OK, I understand the concept of building tension, but there needs to be some resolution.
Perhaps the author was trying to keep to many storylines in play. However, what interaction there was seemed to be contrived and unnatural. The ending, rather than giving the reader either satisfaction at the resolution of these storylines, or at least providing a good cliff-hanger that would make one want to read the next installment, simply fizzled out like a firecracker dud.
I expected more from an author of Lawhead's ability. Maybe he needed to meet a deadline. I don't know. What I do know, however, I cannot recommend this book.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

June 26, 1976...a very good year

On that day I had the good fortune to wed my wife. The journey has not been easy. However, with perseverance and God's grace we have survived. We have added two more to the human family directly and one indirectly, (that would be our grandson!).
Anyway...Happy Anniversary to my wife!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Giving thanx for a Friend

During my first year at seminary I found that I had a nagging need for someone to talk to. You see, up until then I got along with no one. No one to share my thoughts with. No one to share the feelings that had developed into a maelstrom of emotions that nearly destroyed me. Yes, I was, and am, married. But, there are only so many things that one can discuss with a mate. My prayer became, "God, show me someone I can talk to." Well, the first year of seminary came and went with no result. The second, my year of languages, also rushed by with solitude. However, in the third year I found that the need for a peer to speak with became a priority. I was in a class on spiritual disciplines, (thank you ATS and Jodi!), when the Holy Spirit began to insist that I find a brother with whom I could share. Again, I prayed. This time a name came up. It was a person I had known for over thirty years. I asked God to find someone else. But, God usually gets God's way. I phoned this person. He was not really keen on the idea, but agreed to meet for coffee. We talked and decided that maybe we could continue getting together for 6 months or so...just to see how things developed. Now, 2 and a half years later, we still get together for coffee. The time spent with him has been a blessing, indeed. I am able to share my life; and he can share his. Ours is not necessarily a pastoral relationship, although, some of that takes place. Ours is not a relationship with like partners. He is 14 years my senior and an engineer. I am a "sensitive musician." But, we do have a good relationship. I guess the reason I'm writing this is to extol the virtue of having a friend. For those of us who find that difficult, I encourage us all to go on a "friend-quest." Dig, scratch, grab a magnifying glass, whatever is necessary to find someone to be a friend to. God has fashioned humans in such a way that comradeship is a necessity. Like breathing and eating, we cannot flourish without it. Yeah, we can survive. But, there is so much more than simply surviving for us.

Friday, June 17, 2011

One more thing with N. T. Wright

Wright stated throughout this book that the resurrection of Jesus was not merely an event that opened the way for people to go to heaven. In fact, he was adamant that heaven is not the final destination for any humans; the final resurrection is. His take on the resurrection of Jesus is that it inaugurated the kingdom of God in this present age. Not that it is complete, but that it has started. Part of our responsibility, then, is to work toward advancing the reign of God. This leads him to the conclusion that "we must envisage a world in which the present enhanced, taken up into God's larger purposes...but certainly not abandoned." God said that the creation is very good. Corrupted; yes. But, still very good. If this is true then our spirituality works out in the every day lives of those who follow Christ. It's not just to get people saved, whatever that actually means. According to Wright, it would be a holistic approach to revealing God's redemption of, not just humankind, but the entire creation. As a worshiping people, Wright sees us as "the people who feast at Jesus' table [being] the ones in the forefront of work to eliminate hunger and famine;...those who pray for the Spirit to work in and through them [being] the people who seem to have extra resources of love and patience in caring for those whose lives are damaged, bruised, and shamed." These people are then in a position to speak of Jesus, to encourage others to join with them in worshiping Yahweh, and to follow Christ. Our mission is not to swell our numbers with souls waiting to abandon ship, but to make disciples to change the world.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Let me tell you....

Before I launch into uncharted waters, I would like to reflect a bit on the last 5 years of my life. Some things just take longer for those of us who are a bit slow.
I felt a calling 30 some years ago to go to seminary. At 18 yrs. of age and with a job that paid real dollars, I skipped undergrad, (I had been accepted at Malone College in Canton Ohio), and went straight into the marketplace. Fast forward 30 years. I entered seminary at Ashland Theological Seminary in 2006 as a "special student." We are the ones without an undergrad degree, but have some kind of life experience that makes up for it.
Anyway, ATS was good to me. I will be forever indebted to the administration that allowed a bugger like me into a Master of Divinity program.
Beside the obvious, I need to thank several of the faculty for opening my eyes to
God in ways that I could never have experienced apart from the school.
Dr. Paul Overland, who is perhaps the most sensitive professors of Old Testament and Hebrew. Thanx also to "Eli."
Dr. Wyndy Corbin-Reushling who taught me that it's ok for Christians to think. I cried for hours when that hit home.
Dr. John Byron, well just cuz.
Dr. L. Daniel Hawk who taught me that the party line is not necessarily correct.
Dr. William Myer...If Dr. Corbin-Reushling taught me it was ok to think, Dr. Myer taught me to think outside of my white, middle-class comfort zone. I am forever indebted to him for this.
Dr. David DeSilva who taught me how to love the dark underside of socio-rhetorical criticism.
Dr. Dawn Morton who had faith in me as a budding Christian educator.
Dr. JoAnn Ford Watson...what can I say're the best!
Dr. Walter Kime who had faith in me.
Dr. J. Robert Douglass who I had before he was Dr. You inspired me to consider my gifting as a musician and leader of worship. (If you need a guitarist, let me know.)
Dr. Marvin a fellow Clevelander, (or close enough, I'm from Avon Lake), God's blessings on you in your future. And, thank you for showing me how to preach God's word to God's people.
Dr. William Payne, what can I say but thank you for rekindling the fire of missions and evangelism. You're a good man, sir.
Rev. Ramone Billingsley for your encouragement and support.
Lori Lower, without whom I don't think I could have gotten through any of this.
Dr. Ken Walther whose common sense approach and passion for teaching was refreshing.
All the other staff and faculty whose love of God and passion for preparing God's people made this journey transformational for me.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

the gospel?

I came to follow Jesus as a teenager in the early 1970s. We were all evangelicals then. Some of us actually became "charismaniacs." Anyway, we defined the gospel that needed to be preached to all nation pretty much in line with Billy Graham and others like him. We used the 4 Spiritual Flaws as a guide to help people realize their abject sinfulness before a righteous and indignant God. This was, I suppose, to help them realize their guilt and fall on the mercy of the Court for justification and release.
What if our message was not exactly correct? I want to quote a fairly lengthy portion of Wright's book:
"The power of the gospel lies not in the offer of a new spirituality or religious experience, not in the threat of hellfire (certainly not in the threat of being 'left behind'), which can be removed if only the hearer checks this box, says this prayer, raises a hand, or whatever, but in the powerful announcement that God id God, that Jesus is Lord, that the powers of evil have been defeated, that God's new world has begun. This announcement, stated as a fact about the way the world is rather than as an appeal about the way you might like your life, your emotions, or your bank balance to be, is the foundation of everything else."
The gospel is God wins! Revelation is all about God wins! And, we are participants in God's victory. The Kingdom, or reign, of God is all about...yeah, you guessed it...God wins!
We don't need to pull on people's heart-strings to manipulate some emotional reaction. God wins!
And, I think this is the important part, God is glad. God is not some wrathful curmudgeon just looking for the opportunity to squash humanity. He is a loving, benevolent Person, (but not human), that loves that which has been created through and because of God's great love. Sound redundant? It is! God loved the cosmos, (re. all of creation), and as a result of God's love, Jesus came and lived, died, and was raised from death so that God's love could be realized by all of us. Pretty heady stuff!
Anyway, this is going to lead me to discuss some things I have heard recently from the pulpit of the church that I have been attending.
One question to ponder until then:
Does Jesus stand between humanity and wrath of God?

Saturday, June 11, 2011 save or to save

There has been a great deal published about what salvation means to evangelical Christians. Does it mean eternal life after death? What part of a person is thus "saved"? Does it mean "rescue" and can therefore apply to the present life?
As I wrote earlier, I want to spend some time with N. T. Wright's book, "Surprised by Hope." In it he stated that Jesus' resurrection was not simply evidence of a posthumous life in heaven, nor just the hope of being resurrected like Jesus in a new earth yet to be revealed. There is another hope, and "intermediate hope...that comes forward from God's ultimate future into God's urgent present." This ministry of the present toward those who are hurting and crushed by the cares and traumas of the present is not something that one must "tack on to the gospel as an afterthought." It is what Jesus was doing. Luke 4:18-19 has become one of my favorite scriptures. It reveals the heart of God as it relates to people's lives...right here; right now. It's no "pie in the sky" look at life. It is the reality of bring the reign of God to bear in God's good creation. As Wright put it, the people "saw him, (Jesus), saving people from sickness and death, and they heard him talking about a salvation...that would go beyond the immediate into the ultimate future." For Jesus, salvation involved rescue from death into resurrected life, to be sure. But, it also involved rescuing those who were perishing in this present world, also.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

It's been a long road

I have finally finished seminary. The seminary president said so at commencement. I'm pretty sure he would not be telling fairy tales about such things. Do I fell prepared? Perhaps more than I did 5 years ago, but not entirely. The more I learned, the more I realized I do not know. I guess that's what scholarship is all about. There is always something more to learn, to know, to embody. I hope to be able to spend time with this blog now that my official studies are complete. I do intend to continue my education through audited classes, personal study, seminars, etc. But, I am now a Master of Divinity, whatever that is. I don't feel like a master of anything at the moment. However, God has proven faithful and I'm sure that God's will shall prevail.
I am currently reading, (again), N.T. Wright's "Surprised by Hope." If you haven't read it, please consider it for your summer reading list. I will touch on parts of it here over the next week or so.
Until next time, Shalom.