Category Archives: Bible Thoughts

Noah’s Helpers

In case you’re wondering why the Transformers had to help Russel Crowe build the ark in order to get right with God again, here’s the listing of one of their sins:

The fourth [chief of the fallen angels] is named Pinem’e… he caused the people to penetrate the secret of writing and the use of ink and paper; on account of this matter, there are many who have erred from eternity to eternity, until this very day. For human beings are not created for such purposes to take up their beliefs with pen and ink. (1 Enoch 69:8-10)

That explains everything…

Tim Otto: Reorienting the Homosexuality Conversation

My friend Tim Otto wants to talk about orientation.

And he wants to talk about gay people in the church.

But the orientation he wants to address is not sexual orientation. He wants to talk about the need we all have, across the board, to be Oriented to Faith.


Do we need yet another book about homosexuality and Christianity? Don’t we have enough already?

Well, yes, we do actually need this one.

This book is a rare voice in the conversation, advocating for a genuine “third way” beyond the polarized either/or debate in which the church is reflecting (and influencing) the culture. It is a book that pulls no punches in pointing out the shortcomings of liberals and conservatives alike, and that humbly suggests that each side has a piece of the truth, at very least, that the other side must listen to.

But the greatest contribution of the book is the way that, by the end, it holds up the mirror so that we can see how the very existence of “sides” itself is a demonstration of our failure to live up to the calling we have in Christ.

Otto begins his discussion by mapping the experience of being gay in the church onto the New Testament notion of “family”– a notion that does not line up with the primacy placed on biological family in our context. Tim Otto Pic

What becomes clear as this narrative unfolds is this: we have not created the kinds of communities that make it possible for single people to live the kinds of lives that the traditional church has called both single and gay people to embrace.

The church has ignored the radical redefinition of family as those who follow Jesus, and has baptized instead the two-parents plus children financial unit as the basic unit of familial support. This goes for the mainline and progressive church as much as the conservative and traditional church.

Tim’s story is one of discovering a church that would be family for him. It is a story of committing himself to celibacy for the good of that family’s mission. It is a story of a person who isn’t convinced that scripture demands celibacy of gay Christians. It is a story of a man who is willing to make costly steps of discipleship in the belief that his ultimate identity is not “gay Tim,” but “beloved child of God.”

Foundational to Christian identity is that we are family, bound to one another, called to self-giving love. Foundational to American identity is that each of us is autonomous, an individual, and a consumer. Otto makes the graciously pastoral case that the American church has baptized the latter in the name of Jesus–and that this very misappropriation of Christian identity makes it impossible for us to faithfully love our gay brothers and sisters.

Anyone who attends to this book with a receptive spirit is likely to find cause of repentance. Everyone is likely to find cause for encouragement.

When we are confronted with divisive issues, it is very easy to take and read from that stack of books where we will find a mirror that shows us how beautiful and wonderful we are.

This book offers a different way.

Better than most any other treatment of homosexuality in the church that I have seen, it holds up a mirror to who beautiful and wonderful the way of Jesus is, and invites all of us to live into that with greater fidelity to the costly obedience that he demands.

Take and read!

Federal Guidelines stipulate that I have to tell you when I got something for free that I’m reviewing on my blog. I did not get this book for free. I paid my own money for my hard copy. I did, however, get a free pre-publication version that I reviewed and sent back to the author with comments. Also, Tim offers me coffee when I hang out with him and a couple other guys on Wednesday mornings, so you might view that as payment in kind or something.

The Missional Diagnostic Question

Advocates of “missional” church have been attempting to reframe how we think about church, specifically, and what “mission” means for each of us, more generally.

There are a couple of short answers to those questions, as the “missional” movement has framed it. Perhaps most importantly, they want to stress that it is God who is on mission in the world. When we are on mission, we are simply participating in what God was already up to.

But what does it look like to join God in God’s mission? How we answer that question will depend, to a large extent, on how we define God. What stories do we tell that enable us to grasp what it looks like when God is at work?

I would say that, in general, the missional movement has pushed us to imagine a God who is at work already in the world–and by world, I mean specifically the world beyond the walls of the church.

This means, in turn, that God is active in ways that extend God’s lovingkindness to all. This is the God who “causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” This is the God who calls us, in Christ, to bless our enemies so that we can be known as children of this kind of parent.

This leads me to a question that can take you near (if not always right to!) to the heart of whether or not your church community is being faithfully “missional.” It’s a question I posed to a new community that was starting to form a few months ago, and it’s a question a missionary friend of mine was using to encourage a church plant on the other side of the world in the past few weeks.

The question is this: “If this church disappeared, would our community miss it?”

That’s it. If we are on mission in such a way that we are loving our neighbors and seeking their good rather than our own, it will be a cause of grief for our community if our church shuts its doors. If we’re living to build the place, pack in as many as we can, then they won’t care.

In the latter case, have we been obeying the great command to love our neighbor as ourselves? Have we been agents of the God who causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike?

All Flesh (ΠΑΣΑ ΣΑΡΞ)

The writer of Luke-Acts is committed to the idea that the Gospel is for all people. Like Paul, he insists that it is first of all for God’s people Israel, and like Paul he insists that God’s plan for the message of Jesus is world-wide.

He embeds this concern from the earliest moments of his story. At Jesus’ dedication in the Temple, Simeon celebrates the baby Jesus, calling him God’s salvation… “a light for the revelation of the nations” (Luke 2:32).

There’s another signal Luke uses as well.

In both Luke and Acts the story transitions into the ministry of the main characters in a pericope that includes a biblical prophet anticipating God’s work on behalf of “all flesh” (πᾶσα σάρξ).

In Luke 3 we meet John the Baptist. Like Mark and Matthew, Luke cites Isa 40 in its identification of John: “A voice crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the lord.”

Luke, however, continues the citation through the bit about valleys being filled and mountains razed, concluding “and all flesh will see the salvation of God.”

At the beginning of Acts, Peter begins his sermon on Pentecost with a citation of Joel 3: “And it will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out from my spirit upon all flesh.”

With these two biblical citations, Luke signals that the story of Jesus is not just about Israel, but the nations. It is not just about the sons, but also the daughters. It is not just about the the youthful but also the aged. It is not just about the powerful and free but also about the weak and enslaved.

When Jesus teaches his disciples how to read the Bible in Luke 24, he tells them to look and see there an anticipation of the crucified and risen Christ. And he also tells them to look and see the anticipation that repentance for forgiveness of sins will be proclaimed to all nations (beginning from Jerusalem).

Luke models his interpretive guidance.

At the beginning of each book, we hear from the voice of the biblical prophets. God has a plan. And that plan is for all nations and all peoples within them.

The vision and the spirit are for all flesh.

God of Peace and Justice

This weekend I’m giving a talk on the God of Peace and Justice.

As if on cue, the writing of this talk is now punctuated by news that Israel has launched a ground invasion into Gaza and rumors are swirling that a passenger (!) jet was “blown out of the sky” by a missile near the Russian-Ukranian border.

I find myself at a loss.

As someone whose citizenship and home lies within the nation that has created unprovoked war in Iraq, that ensconced itself in over a decade of combat in Afghanistan, and that is in the business of killing people around the world by dropping bombs by remote controlled “drones,” what can I possibly say?

America has no moral ground to stand on in opposing violence around the world. We have not found a better way to be agents of peace.

It is times like these that underscore the impossible dream that is the reign of God. The idea of power that does not seize power, the vision of a people who do not take their own revenge, who believe that life is found in giving it away rather than seizing it–that vision is an impossible dream.

We’ve caught glimpses of it, though. Gandhi opened up a better world in India. Martin Luther King, Jr. pushed opened the door to a better world here in the U.S.

I ask the question of where God might be in all this. What difference does God make?

One answer comes from the mirror that gets held up to us as American Christians when we want to speak, but the hypocrisy of doing so shines forth in headlines about our own country’s drone activity.

We cannot speak because we have not pursued a better way. We have not pursued a better way because we have baptized the story of militarism and of nationalism rather than telling a better story enlightened by the narrative of Jesus.

Put differently, if the Christians in America believed that God’s route to peace and justice was the way of the crucified Christ rather than the crucifying Romans, America, and we who are Americans, would have some sort of footing from which to critique the devastation that other countries cause.

This beings me to a second dynamic.

I sub-titled my blog “Telling the story of the story-bound God.” God did a dangerous thing when God bound Godself to humanity. It was a decision to allow God’s name, God’s character, God’s reputation, be bound up with God’s people.

If God appears absent on the world stage due to the inflammations of war and injustice, it is because God’s people have not embraced and lived out the story of God as king of peace.

Finally, I don’t think that any particular conflict is proliferating due to a misapprehension of the identity of God by one or both parties. These wars are not clearly wars about religion or driven by religion.

However, there is a transformation that the gospel story demands of us in how we see the “other.” There is a call to be like God who causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.

We are not called to the naive denial that there is injustice, or that we have a true enemy, but we are called to pray for and love such perpetrators.

More than that, we are to follow in the way of the God who, in Christ, reconciled all things to himself, and be agents of such reconciliation. The gospel story looks like enemies being won over through sacrificial love.

We need to be wary of taking sides in these conflicts, and in so doing accept the economies of power that the world is handing us.

That is to say, there is a gospel answer in there, somewhere. There is a way that God has made Godself known which says both that the world is not, right now, the world as God would have it to be, and which says at the same time that God has shown us a better way and patiently woos us toward it.

If only we will listen. If only we will follow.

The complicated question of how we as not only Christians but citizens are to live in a world where this dream of Kingdom come has not been realized, well, that’s another question as well.

Frozen: A Story of Christian Love

There’s this brand new movie that just came to theaters. It’s called Frozen.

Ok, so the truth of the matter is that we never go to the theater, so it takes me 6-9 months to catch up on what everyone else is talking about. But I digress.

The upside to my tardiness, however, is that this contains spoilers which will not spoil the movie for just about anyone…

Before singing the movie’s praises, I must confess that it has its downsides as well. My Twitter stream blew up when I made this my day’s prayer:

Screen shot 2014-07-15 at 9.34.03 AM

But there are two very powerful and beautiful dynamics in the Frozen story world that capture love as it’s defined within the Christian story–and we do well to notice.

First, the great act of love that saves the day is not romantic love.

The film actually does a fantastic job of deconstructing “Disney love”: the alleged “love” of two people who know nothing about each other but simply find each other attractive. (Or, worse yet, the “love” of the man who acts to save a completely passive woman as though his work is somehow “true love.”)

Kristoff mocks Anna for thinking she can love someone she just met. “True love” doesn’t work like that. FROZEN

How, then, does it work?

The movie beckons us to ask that question, and plays with our expectations. We’ve been trained to think that “true love’s kiss” is the ultimate act of love.

Not only does Anna realize that she didn’t have true love to bestow such a kiss, the expectation that romantic love will save the day is, itself, thwarted.

The act of true love, instead, is an act of self-sacrifice. Anna throws herself in front of the sword that is aimed at her sister Elsa.

Not only is this not an act of romantic love, it is an act of self-sacrificial love, a willingness to die so that the other might live.

When I watch this, I have two thoughts simultaneously: (1) Yes, yes, and a thousand times yes! (2) Why can’t the church consistently work this reinterpretation of what true love actually consists of?

If I have one frustration with the genre of contemporary praise music, it is that it has adopted the cultural notion that heart-aflutter romantic love is the highest form of love. We act as though our culture has rightly identified what the greatest form of love is, and then we cast Jesus into that role. (“Heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss and my heart turns violently inside of my chest,” anyone?)

Frozen, however, took the high road: reinterpreting the act of pure love as self-sacrificing love, enacted so that the other might live.

Second, the plague that provides the dramatic tension in the film is empowered by fear. The fear, in turn, feeds on itself, until the horrors of an eternal winter spew forth out of Elsa.

Until, that is, Elsa discovers that the remedy for fear is not concealment and cowering, but love.

She articulates this realization baldly, and the instant it comes to her, she gains the power to control the powers she had been given.

And as she says that love over comes fear, I hear echoing in my mind, “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).

Love lies at the heart of the Christian story. There are lots of ways to think about and depict love. The story told by Frozen captures this better than we have often found ourselves capable of doing on our own.

Shaving as Slow Spirituality

I don’t really know why I felt like I needed to change. Perhaps I’m just susceptible to advertising. But I was running out of cartridge refills for my shaving razor, and options started bombarding my mind.

I could join the Dollar Shave Club. Why? Because it’s relatively cheap and I always forget to get new cartridges, and I really don’t care about shaving–so I could not care, someone else could care on my behalf, and razors would just show up.

But in the back of my mind, I knew that the really cool kids were doing something else. They were “wet shaving.” They were using something called a “double edged safety razor” that seemed to me anything but safe. Merkur 38C

And I always wanted to be one of the really cool kids.

So now I am in the 10+ minute per day shave club. When the two roads diverged in the yellow wood, I chose heightened attention rather than outsourcing concern for my shave.

There is a whole experience involved here: not only the fearful blade of the double-edged safety razor, but also the badger-hair brush creating shaving foam from a block of shaving soap.

And the experience must be repeated. Not just the next day, but three times in succession. Talk to anyone who uses a double-edged safety razor: you do three passes of lather and shave.

And, strangely, I begin to care.

Not just to care in the moment–something absolutely essential as you take an exposed blade to your face. But to care more generally about my shaven face. To care about what my state of being clean-shaven communicates in contrast to my default mode of lackadaisical disinterest.

In the slow business of shaving, I’ve found myself falling in with a broader theme of my life: slowing down.

(As evidence of my slowness, behold the eight years it took me from the time I read Andy Crouch’s article until the time I adopted his shaving practice! But I digress…)

In a fast-everything society, we prize speed. I like speed. I like to act quickly, to speak quickly. The spiritual discipline I have been striving toward for the past two years is to embrace slowness.

I do contemplative prayer, no words, to slow down my mind enough to listen. To remind myself that I don’t have to say everything that comes into my head.

My blogging has been turned off, and only restored at a trickle, to remind me that I don’t need to tell the world every thought that comes into my head.

So I sit. To be. To listen. To shave.

Fast food presents the same problem as the fast shave: not taking time to do it feeds a lack of concern about what it is, which in turns feeds the desire to get it over quickly.

Taking time and caring go hand in hand. They each feed the other.

There is a depth of being that we cannot attain by quickly devouring everything in our way–every song, every book, every bit of knowledge. There is a depth of being that comes only from being slow.

There’s another word for that depth of being. It’s called “wisdom.”

The book of James encourages us to attain to it by being slow. Yes, we should be quick to listen, but slow to speak.

There is an important place for slow.

I embrace that reality in the 10 minute ritual that is my morning shave. No, don’t think I’ve gone a day, yet, without cutting myself.

It looks like wisdom lies yet in my future.

(Update: I changed the link on the Andy Crouch article to one found freely available on his own website:

The Dangerous Act of Reading

I operate with deeply Protestant sensibilities. I read, work with, and respond to scripture anticipating that it will challenge, even upend, the paradigms that I bring with me to the task.

As banal as that might sound (the idea that a 2,000 year old book is free to disrupt what we’ve come to know), I actually think it’s quite a radical posture.

Reading is dangerous.

A month or so ago, Greg Carey’s Huffington Post Article made the rounds again. It’s title, “Where Do ‘Liberal’ Bible Scholars Come From?” The short answer to his provocative question is this: from reading the Bible.

The best way for conservative churches to produce “liberal” biblical scholars is to keep encouraging young people to read the Bible.

Over the past couple of week Peter Enns has been hosting a series on “Aha Moments,” those times when folks encountered something that transformed how they understand what the Bible is.

Nobody in Pete’s series is a “liberal” bible scholar, but the theme recurs: reading the Bible opens up our eyes to things that actually are contained in scripture which the theologies about scripture that we cut our teeth on typically did not allow for.

Today on Seth Godin’s blog he talked about “Literacy and Unguided Reading.”

Controlled, or guided reading, is all well and good for those who want to control. That control is lost, and with it the stable present that they want to preserve, when people are free to read:

Unguided reading is a real threat, because unguided reading leads to uncomfortable questions.

Reading is a dangerous act.

With reading comes learning. Godin looks at this with giddy anticipation:

Teach an entire culture to read and connections and innovations go through the roof.

“Innovations go through the roof.”

This is, in fact, what happened in the wake of the Reformation. It’s still what happens when people read today.

Are we ready for the innovation? Are we willing to change? Are we willing to not be in control?

Are we ready for people to read?

My Aha

Over at Peter Enns’ blog I have a guest post. When did my understanding of the Bible begin to shift?

I sat there on the shore for about three hours a day with nothing to do.
So one day I decided that the logical way to spend my time would be to create a chart of what each Gospel says about the last week of Jesus’ life.

Read the rest: My “Aha moment”.