I love this provocative portrayal of Jesus’ birth story, for all sorts of reasons, but primarily because of its linguistic and theological accuracy.
Thursday, December 21, 2023
Thursday, November 4, 2021
It's not a new word or idea by any means, but it sure feels like "deconstruction" is the new, trendy word in Christian circles today. Social posts on the idea are everyone, books on the subject are hot off the press, deconstruction programs are being sold, and most of what I'm seeing lately at least somewhat glamorizes the deconstruction process.
Tuesday, November 2, 2021
Back in 1971, author and theologian Karl Rahner stated, "The Christian of the future will be a mystic or nothing at all."
That's a prophetic, thought-provoking phrase, but while Rahner was ahead of his time by a number of decades, I think he was right. We've been steeped in the modern world of the scientific method for over 500 years, which has altered the way we think about faith. In our modern world, we've prioritized information over formation.
Our worship gatherings have primarily become lecture- or teaching-based.Our discipleship programs have been mostly oriented around study.Our evangelism has mainly been apologetic in nature.We've emphasized the head, while often neglecting the heart and the hands.We've often chosen theological points over spiritual practice.
Monday, October 4, 2021
Monday, September 13, 2021
After a recent worship gathering, a man entered our church and inquired about whether he could play the piano in the basement for a little while. And since we were still busy cleaning up and closing down the church, that was no problem. But while he was in the church basement, he stumbled upon some notes from Bob Snyder's recent Bible study on donkeys and found himself intrigued.
So, as he was leaving the building for the day, he noticed Austin Beard and I hanging out on the fronts steps of the church and stopped to ask us a few questions about the Bible study notes. Which, everyone knows if you ask a preacher a question about the Bible, you risk getting a sermon. And as I unpacked a few ideas from Bob's notes, connecting an Old Testament prophecy to the coming of Jesus, you could see this man's eyes light up with wonder. He was amazed and awestruck by the idea that the Messiah would come not as a conquering warrior atop a mighty steed, but as a humble servant, perched atop a lowly donkey, ready to save the world through peace, not the sword. Jesus came to die, not kill; serve, not dominate; save others, not himself. And despite this being the most simple and truthful way I can imagine to talk about the gospel, you could tell this narrative about Jesus was different than he was used to hearing, and he was caught up in the beauty of the story. So when I informed him that Bob was converting his Bible study into a sermon for the next Sunday, he happily and definitively declared that he'd be back to hear it (and he was).
Austin and I stood there with this man, witnessing the power of the gospel at work, and I was reminded that the good news of Jesus is still as beautiful, profound, overwhelming, and delightful as ever. The form and function of how we do church has changed a myriad of times in the last 2000 years, and will need to take on different formats in the future. But just as God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, so the good news of God remains relevant, profound, and life-altering at all times and in all places. So as the winds of cultural change rock the boat of organized religion, may we not lose heart, because Jesus' upside-down message of grace, peace, and love will never go out of style.
Monday, August 30, 2021
In my devotional time this morning, I found myself reading and praying through Psalm 46, where the psalmist writes, “Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.” Or as the devotional author suggested this be rewritten in today’s language: “He breaks the assault rifles and shatters the drones; he burns weapons of mass destruction with fire.”
Which feels like such a helpful reminder for my soul, at a time where our world is embroiled in conflict – with the most current and personal happening right now in Afghanistan. As you all know, our country suffered a great tragedy this week as 13 of our military service members were killed in a terrorist attack outside the airport in Kabul. And while the immediate response of violent retribution against the perpetrators, terrorist group ISIS-K, might have been justified in a worldly sense, President Biden’s use of the book of Isaiah to justify this violent reaction was extremely troubling. He’s not the first American leader to do this and won’t be the last, but it was still vastly misguided and needs to be called out.
Psalm 46, amongst so many other places in scripture, reminds us that the way of God is always one of peace. What we come to understand most clearly through Jesus’ depiction of God, is that God is a creator of life, not a taker of one. God has always sought to bring about shalom in our world, a right ordering of all that is so we can properly live in harmony with God, each other, ourselves, and creation.
And it shouldn’t surprise us then, that the very next line after this anti-violent section of Psalm 46 is one of the most well-known verses in all of the Bible: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Because the proper response to violence isn’t the clamor of more violence, but a peaceful silence in the presence of God. When we are riled by the din of destruction, we must untangle our unsettled hearts and remember what is ultimately true about our God-soaked world.
Which, I understand that peaceful non-violence is counter-intuitive and easy to doubt its potential effectiveness. But, to be honest, violence and retribution aren’t exactly solving our world’s problems either, are they? So what do we have to lose in giving peace a shot? Or, as John Lennon so beautifully articulated: “All we are saying is give peace a chance.”
The psalmist’s invitation is to trust the God of peace enough to calm our warring hearts and choose a better way forward. When we’re confronted with conflict and tempted toward retaliation, the only godly response is one of quiet humility, where we still our hearts and mouths, remember the shalomic calling of God, and intentionally choose peace and forgiveness over anger and revenge.
Thursday, August 5, 2021
Have you ever found yourself alone in the woods--hiking, biking, camping, or backpacking--and suddenly remembered that you're trudging through bear country? Have you ever had that sneaky suspicion something was nearby? You try to ignore the fear, you try to put the thought behind you, but you suddenly can't stop thinking about the fact that you're not alone in these woods after all.
You notice every sound. You're aware of every rodent scurrying through the brush. You're attuned to each gust of wind whistling through the trees. And with each noise, you find yourself wondering which large, ferocious animal is approaching to devour you.
I had this very sensation on Monday morning in Helena. I had dropped our kids off for a few, fun days with their grandparents, but decided to catch a quick mountain bike ride on the ridge of Mt. Helena before heading back home. And I'm not exaggerating about the noticing of noises and the fear of the ferocious that settles in when I'm alone in the wilderness. I hear everything. I constantly scour the area searching for predators. I process whether I'd be able to turn around and outrun a bear on my bike, whether I'd pick the bike up and use it to fight off the bear, or whether I'd just lay down and play dead. And I even find myself talking aloud to myself to warn any animals of my impending arrival.
In short, our senses are on high alert in the wild. We watch and wait and wonder. We see and hear and sense. Nothing goes unnoticed. Because we stand in awe of the power and majesty of God's creation.
But what if we saw our journeys with God as wilderness experiences as well? What if we also approached the Creator with fear and trembling, in awe of God's power and majesty? What if we were on high alert spiritually as well--listening for the sound of God’s spirit moving in our midst; beautifully and appropriately terrified of God’s presence all around; constantly aware of what he’s up to and how he might move in our lives?
So may we be on high alert with God, constantly attuned to his movement and presence around us. May our senses be heightened to where God is actively working in our community. And may we notice these actions and return to tell others of our encounters with the living God.
Monday, May 24, 2021
I came across this phrase recently—I can't lose you—written about someone's relationship with God, and instantly found myself wondering about its multiplicity of meaning.