Monday, December 20, 2010

The Incarnation

I’ve been writing a lot about Advent on Kaleidoscope, mainly because that blog has a more general readership than Mind on Fire, but also because I wanted to range far afield on subject matter if I chose.

I think I’ve meditated more about Advent and the Incarnation this year than in any previous year. I see the Incarnation throughout the New Testament, not just in passages such as Galatians 4 or Philippians 2 or Hebrews 2, but whenever I read the phrase “in Christ” I see the Incarnation because not only are we in Christ but Christ is in us; and frankly we are either the continuation of the Incarnation or we are not, and I don’t mean simply in action, I mean in essence; for without the essence, the life of the Trinity, there can be no meaningful and lasting action.

For the past few years the term “incarnational” has been in vogue. The context is typically one of living out what we say we believe about Christ and the Gospel. The thing is, I’m not sure that when we use the term we use it rooted in the New Testament, I’m not sure we use it rooted in John Chapters 14 –17, or use it rooted in Colossians 1:27. Do we use the term “incarnational” with an awareness that Christ meant it when He said that He and the Father and the Holy Spirit were coming to live within us? Is that our experience? Is it what we teach?

Fully realizing that discipleship encompasses elements of mentoring and training, it seems that rather than teaching our people who Christ is in them and who they are in Christ, that we have embarked on a regimen of constructing external superstructures upon which people and churches are to depend for growth and functioning. These superstructures appear to constantly need reinforcing or changing lest people and churches cease functioning. This applies to well-intentioned folk who strive to discover and implement Scriptural principles by which we might minster and live; Scriptural principles can be a substitute for knowing who Christ is in us and who we are in Christ. Perhaps one of the realities behind the Biblical teaching that The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, is that this particular kind of fear is inherently relational, it implies a recognition of the One who is to be feared, a recognition of His holiness, His majesty, and His presence.

If the Incarnation of Jesus Christ is not continuing in us then what does it matter if we acknowledge His birth in Bethlehem? Wouldn’t we be better off ignoring His birth until such time as we approach the manger not in an attitude of sentimentality; but rather in an attitude of worship and reverence? And not just the manger of 2,000 years ago, but life today? And not just life “out there” outside of ourselves, but firstly life within us, inside of ourselves?

The Temple that requires cleansing is not in long ago Jerusalem, it is me. The Temple that God came to inhabit on Pentecost was not a temple of stone, but a Temple of people. The shepherds marveled at what they saw in Bethlehem; the crowds marveled at what they saw in Jerusalem on Pentecost. Angles announced the birth of Christ in Bethlehem; the Holy Spirit announced the continuing incarnation of Christ in His Church In Jerusalem on Pentecost. Are we announcing His continuing incarnation today?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving - A Primary Color

Thanksgiving is one of the primary colors that defines one’s relationship to God and to others. By its nature thanksgiving is relational in that you can’t thank nothing for something. I can’t say “thank you” to a void. Thanksgiving, the attitude and act of being thankful, must have an object; at least it must have an object in order to be rational, otherwise it is akin to asking the void a question.

            Of course, people do talk to the void all the time and so people engage in the rather absurd act of being thankful to nothing all the time, not reflecting on the absurdity of their actions. If one is not in relationship with the true and living God then who can one be thankful to? Who can one carry on a conversation of thanksgiving with? How can a person who believes that we are the products of time-plus-matter-plus-chance be rationally thankful? How can accidents of time and space produce something called thanksgiving? 

            If thanksgiving is showing appreciation, if it is acknowledging the blessing or goodness bestowed by someone else upon me, if it is – at a mundane level – gratefulness for a job well done or a courtesy extended such as opening a door; then to whom shall I say “thank you” to if there is no one to say “thank you” to? Why not say “thank you” when an automatic door opens for us? Why not say it loudly for all to hear? That would make as much sense as being thankful to the void or to some nebulous presence. 

            In Romans Chapter One thanksgiving is a primary color in the Creator – created relationship; when created humanity ceases to be thankful it falls into a downward spiral. In 1 Thessalonians Chapter Five thanksgiving is a primary color in doing the will of God, in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Many folks who say they want to do the will of God don’t like that verse – they want to “do” something, anything, other than give thanks and “be” thankful.    
            I was with a group of people who were asked to indicate what they were thankful for since it is Thanksgiving – it was a syncretistic gathering. Speaking into the void, certainly some, perhaps many, were speaking into the void. 

            Is thanksgiving to the true and living God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, a primary color in our lives?

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Worldview or A View of the World?

But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Galatians 6:14

            What do we do with a statement like this? The Cross of Christ not only deals with our sin, it not only deals with who we are (our sin nature), it not only deals with the Law; it also deals with our relationship with the world-system. We are dead to the world and the world is dead to us – not exactly a clarion call to transform something that has been judged. Now is the judgment of this world – John 12:31.

            And yet a significant element of the professing church is obsessed with the world’s politics, economy, and military events to the functional exclusion of the Gospel. In fact, in some quarters it is as if propagating a so-called Christian worldview has displaced the Gospel of the Christ of the Cross and the Cross of Christ. We appear to be more concerned with bringing people around to our geopolitical and economic views than we are with bringing people to know Jesus Christ. The Kingdom of God and the Sovereignty of God have become small and Right-Center-Left has become big. It is as if Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream of the kingdoms of the world being smashed by the Stone cut without hands had never happened; it is as if Christ is but king of a fiefdom in competition with other fiefdoms, it is as if Christ is no longer King of kings and Lord of lords, it is as if there has been a heavenly abdication and we are left with a planet of anarchy.

            James writes that whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God, James 4:4.

            Now of course we’re not talking about the people of the world – we are here, in Christ, to be broken bread and poured out wine for our generation. We are talking about the world-system with its headwaters – including its economic headwaters, all of its economic headwaters – in Satan. Its values, its images, its vanity, its lust after possessions, its accolades – the things this world-system deems important are opposed to what God values. Not the political Right, nor the political Center, nor the political Left represent the Kingdom of God; not Conservatives, nor Moderates, nor Liberals mirror the Kingdom of God – Christ is King of the Kingdom of God and His Kingdom transcends all worldviews and political persuasions – and He is the focal point of His Kingdom – not morality, not ethics, not economics, not nationalism…not even a focus on the family.

            If no man can serve two masters, then we cannot serve the Kingdom of God and another system – even a moral and ethical system, even a patriotic system. We can work and serve within another system – even an overtly pagan system as Joseph and Daniel did – but we can only have one master.

            It isn’t that no one should serve two masters; it is no one can serve two masters.

            We don’t really need a worldview; we need a Biblical view of the world; and most certainly we need a view of the Kingdom of God.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Virus

It finally happened to me. I had been smug for far too long; the smugness is gone.  A virus mimicking Microsoft Security Essentials invaded and took control of my computer. It got me. My friend Brucie said, “Bobby, that’s a bad one.” Since Brucie is an IT guy I took those words pretty hard. 

            “Is there anyway I could have known it was a fake?” I asked. “It looked just like Microsoft Security Essentials.” 

            “No, you couldn’t have known. As a matter of fact most of the anti-virus products are still looking for a solution to it.”

            Brucie has my laptop and he’s going to clean it and put some high-grade protection on it. I had a few blog postings in “draft” on the laptop, not to mention other writing; he should be able to save my documents.

            My virus experience got me thinking about viruses we download into our thinking that look like the “real thing” but which aren’t. Just as the computer virus took over my laptop computer, so bad thinking masquerading as good thinking can take over our inner person. I was quick to realize I had a computer virus; how quick am I to recognize internal viruses in my thought life? 

            One of the viruses that I think we’ve downloaded is a preoccupation with the idea of a “worldview”. There are entire ministries and organizations built around the mission of articulating a Christian worldview. This looks good, it sounds good, but is it healthy? Is it healthy when it occupies center stage?

            I’m pretty sure I’m going to be misunderstood on this, and because of the limitations of a “blog” or even an extended article there is only so much I can do about being misunderstood, but I’m going to give this a try.

            In my last post I wrote about being in Detox vis-à-vis 24-hour news and talk radio; now I want to suggest that we should consider Detoxification from a preoccupation on worldviews, even from a Christian worldview. Sounds pretty bad doesn’t it? Is there hope for me?

            I think that instead of first asking, “What is a Christian worldview?” that we ought to be asking, “What is the Biblical view of the world?” and “What is our view of the Kingdom of God?”

            As to the latter, it seems to me that we have substituted the idea of a Christian worldview for the Kingdom of God. We are more tuned into current events and ideas than we are to the eternal Kingdom of our Father and Lord Jesus. I enjoy philosophy, but a philosophical view of the world should not take precedence over a Biblical view of the world; a Biblical view of the world should be the foundation of our philosophical view of the world – and both should be informed by our view of the Kingdom of God. 

            What is a Biblical view of the world? 

            Love not the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.          1 John 2:15-17.

            We know that…the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 1 John 5:19

            Elsewhere in his first letter John writes about us overcoming the world – not transforming it. Jesus speaks about His overcoming the world. Therefore, while I am all for transformation whenever possible, I recognize that overcoming the world-system is clearly a facet of the Biblical view of the world and that the world-system, which is opposed to the Kingdom of God, is passing away.
To be continued…

Saturday, November 13, 2010



A few weeks ago I had lunch with a friend who shared that she was in Detox. Earlier that week I had coffee with another friend who has been in Detox for some time. I rejoiced with both friends in their Detoxification experience because, having been in Detox for a few years myself, I know what a great experience it is.
Both of my friends had pulled the plug on talk radio; both of my friends had pulled the plug on mainlining 24-hour news and an obsession with politics. Both of my friends were refocusing on Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. Their minds and hearts are experiencing cleansing and they are finding peace – knowing that all the political entities of this world are passing away.
I recently read the first line of a commentary by a well-known Christian leader, it went something like this, “I admit that I am a political junkie.” While, as Paul writes, to his own master he stands or falls, I’ll use that statement as a foil:
Here is a man whose ministry was once leading people to Jesus Christ. He wrote a best-selling book that consisted in his personal testimony of coming to Christ; he spoke to large audiences about coming to know Jesus Christ; his life and his ministry were unambiguously about Jesus Christ – no one else and nothing else shared center stage with Jesus.
But now? Well, I have a friend who has been forwarding this man’s commentaries to me for years and I can’t recall reading about Jesus – political agendas, economic agendas, and worldview agendas have become center stage and Jesus Christ has been eclipsed.
It seems we’d rather talk and think about prophetic things, economic things, and political things than think and talk about Jesus – than live for Him and for each other. As a pastor I learned that a primary source of anxiety among my people was the media – talk radio and 24-hour television news – whether it was from “right” or the “left” or the pseudo-Christian.
And so I rejoiced with my two friends in Detox. As for myself, well, even though I’ve been in it for awhile I’m still discovering things in my system that need to be purged…to be continued.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Putting Words in the Mouth of God

My friend Stan Bohall raises a sobering point about the use of theophany in Christian literature - particularly as it relates to The Shack.

He begins with:

Since writing a recent blog about The Shack, I have read several reviews including one by Katherine Jeffrey in the January/February 2010 issue of Books&Culture titled "I Am Not Who You Think I Am." Here is a statement from the review that struck a chord with me: "Theophany is strictly circumscribed in Christian literary tradition." That means that, throughout Christian history, authors have not been allowed to include speeches by God in literary works. Jeffrey goes on to discuss a few minor exceptions to that rule in Medieval literature and to bring to light some egregious violations in recent films such as O, God!, Dogma and Evan Almighty.

You can read the rest here - go to October 14.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Reflections on Romans Chapter 12 – Part 12

In last Monday’s post, as I was reflecting on Michael Daily’s message on Romans 12, I pointed out that Michael views the admonition not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good¸ in the context of the Body of Christ. Until I listened to Michael’s message I saw verses 14 – 21 primarily leaning toward 13:1ff, in relation to a persecuting government and by extension the world. When listening to Michael’s message I saw that the context certainly does include the professing Church; and as I mentioned in last Monday’s post I now see 12:14 – 21 as looking both toward the Church and toward persecuting government and the world.

The more I thought about Michael’s message in the context of the Western church, the more I recognized that in contemporary Western experience, and certainly in North American experience, the primary point of obedience with respect to these verses is indeed vis-à-vis other Christians. Now I will also say that among many in the professing church the glaring problem is also among those engaged in the political arena – they can be most uncharitable and downright vitriolic toward those with whom they disagree – a distasteful witness before a watching world.

People fail to understand that we can be devoted to Biblical truth and be gracious and loving at the same time. I think we fail to understand that this is exactly what God looks like when He walks on this planet – the Word is made flesh, and the glory we behold, the glory of Jesus Christ, is Truth, and Love, and Mercy, and Holiness, without the least contradiction or the least tension – for those attributes, as well as many more, reside in the true and living God. There is no internal conflict in God with regard to mercy and truth, or love and justice, or graciousness and righteousness – I suppose this is a reminder that He is God and we ain’t.

Another Biblical passage we explain away quite often, and which Michael ties into Romans Chapter 12, is 1 Corinthians Chapter 13. That is the great “yeah but” chapter; for every attribute or manifestation of love that Paul writes about, most of us have a “yeah but” exception which justifies our thinking and behavior. Paul leads into 1 Corinthians Chapter 13 with the words, And I show you a still more excellent way – and we think to ourselves, “yeah but”. Of course that is the chapter that holds chapters 12 – 14 together, without which the Body of Christ cannot truly function…but we would rather say, “yeah but”.

We may talk about offering our bodies as living sacrifices and the renewal of the mind; but until we travel through the entire passage of Romans 12 and beyond, until loving our enemies is our nature – which indeed is the nature of Christ – until 1 Corinthians Chapter 13 permeates the fabric of our lives, until these things become our testimony before a watching world – I don’t think we know what we are talking about.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Reflections on Romans Chapter 12 – Part 11

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse…Never pay back evil for evil…Romans 12.

But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either…but love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Jesus Christ in Luke Chapter 6.

I don’t think we qualify any Biblical teaching to the extent that we qualify the teaching on loving and blessing our enemies. Even to the point of saying, “Well, so and so is not an enemy, we just differ politically, or in economic philosophy, or in terms of Biblical doctrine.” It seems we think that if we can establish that the opposition is not really an enemy that we can treat them however we please.

The other qualification is that, “Well, I’m not really attacking the person, I’m attacking his ideas, I’m attacking what he believes.” We think that relieves us of taking the teaching of Christ about loving and blessing our enemies seriously.

Perhaps if our rhetorical engagement with our opposition were clothed with blessing and love our protestations of qualification would carry a measure of truth. That is, “Show me your love and blessing toward your opposition and then I’ll listen to your rhetoric; then I’ll ponder what you have to say.”

We think and act as if neither Christ nor Paul lived in such circumstances as do we; as if they didn’t know political, or economic, or military, or religious opposition. We are fools – and I put myself at the front of the class. Those of our generation who are not fools – well, we tend to look at them as quaint curiosities at best, as embarrassments at worst.  

We pat ourselves on the back when we don’t retaliate. Yes, we are not to return evil for evil, that is the passive part of the commandment – loving and blessing are the active elements of our mandate.

This is such a core element of the nature of Christ, and yet I have seldom heard a word about it in church and seldom seen it played out in life.

We give lip service to not wrestling against flesh and blood when we use the same tactics as the opposition. Better yet, we engage in debates over elements that are transitory, that often have little or nothing to do with the souls of men. Could it be that displaying the nature of God to our generation is more important than winning earth-bound battles?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Romans Chapter 12 – Listening In On Michael Daily

My friend, Michael Daily, preached a message on Romans Chapter 12 worthy of consideration. A while back, while listening to Michael, I got to thinking about what I call “pastoral preaching”. Pastoral preaching is the shepherd speaking to his people, guiding them, loving them, correcting them, leading them to Christ and into His Kingdom. I don’t know any better example of pastoral preaching than Michael.

Michael points out that the term “sacrifice” carries with it the idea of being “smoked”. As one who cooks on a smoker that speaks to me – smoke permeates meat or fish; you can tell when something has been smoked. I wonder if folks can tell that we are living “smoked” sacrifices to Christ? Does Christ permeate our lives?

Michael brings out a great point in applying the “Bless those who persecute you” to life within the Body of Christ. Because of its proximity to the governmental passage beginning in Romans Chapter 13 I have tended to relate that command to those outside the Body of Christ, but Michael’s point is well taken and I now see 12:14 – 21 as a hinge that is connected to both those in the Church and those outside the Church. The fact is that most of our conflict is within the Church.

Note Michael’s explanation of “peace/shalom”. Do we really want that for others?

I heartily agree with his approach to 12:20 and I’ll no doubt quote him.

The image Michael uses of the Body of Christ as a people of kindness and blessing is one of those images we tend to explain away and qualify – and yet it is the image that Christ gives us of who we should be; John 13:34 – 35 and John 17:13 – 26.

And the conclusion to the message? Well – it’s worth listening to!!!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Shack or The Cross?

I have a friend reading The Shack who is looking for reviews. A while back I wrote a piece on The Shack and have posted it on my CompassDynamics website; however, I'm also putting it here just in case anyone is interested.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Reflections on Romans Chapter 12 – Part 10

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone, Romans 12:14 – 17a.

Why doesn’t Paul go from Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse, to verse 19, Never take your own revenge…? Surely verses 15 and 16 are a digression; or are they? Surely they are out of place, a wandering of the mind of the great apostle? But perhaps not.

If my estimation of myself is critical to my response toward evil then verses 15 and 16 are not a digression. If I seek to preserve my life, if my life is the center of my universe, if all the planets revolve around me, then I will respond to evil defensively at best, aggressively at worst – and in either case I will lose, and in the worse case I will be transformed into the evil I seek to resist – or at least be fooled into acting out the evil that I resist.

Rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep is a reorientation of my universe; from a universe of self to a universe of one another. Verse 16 brings us back to verse 3; don’t think more highly of yourself than you should; do not be haughty in mind…don’t be wise in your own estimation. Once again, the renewing of the mind challenges us to have a realistic view of ourselves and a loving view of others.

If Betsy ten Boom had been self-centered her heart would not have ached over the souls of the concentration camp guards; if Solzhenitsyn had been an egotistic black hole pulling everything and everyone into himself he would not have known compassion toward his torturers in the Gulag. The egotistic self is the most vulnerable to evil, and it is that element within us which evil seeks out – if evil can evoke a response from the self then evil will propagate itself. It is the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life whose seed was sown in the hearts of our first parents, and they are what the Apostle John warns us against in his first letter. 

And so in the Body of Christ we are to have the same mind toward one another; as Paul expresses this elsewhere:

And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it, 1 Corinthians 12:26

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others, Philippians 2:3 – 4.

Forgive my redundancy, but do we see that this is what it means to be transformed by the renewing of our minds? As long as my mind is a fortress of myself, as long as I relate life to me rather than to Christ and others, then I have yet to enter into incarnational renewal as envisioned in Romans Chapter 12. What are the words of Christ to those who would follow Him?

Let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. Whoever seeks to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s, the same shall save it.

We mitigate the image of the cross when we make it anything other than an instrument of execution – the execution of me in order that I might live in Christ – Galatians 2:20.

Only a people thus oriented are a people who can bless those who persecute them.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Reflections on Romans Chapter 12 – Part 9

Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good, 12:9

Evil resurfaces in verses 17 – 21. Note the context of the word in verse 9; let love be without hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is evil. As much as I want to justify hypocrisy as having social or religious utility it is evil, and as such I am to abhor it. But do I abhor it? The truth is that I rationalize it. I am to cling to what is good, in this context what is good is seen in verse 10, Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor, or as an alternate rendering, outdo one another in showing honor.

The evil of hypocrisy is the antithesis of brotherly love; it is opposed to preferring others and it is dedicated to preserving the “self-centered self”. I wonder if we shall ever escape the invisible prison of hypocrisy?

I want to transition into the final movement of this chapter in Part 10, so let me close this by asking us to reflect on the incarnational organic Body of Christ as seen in verses  3 – 13. We ought to be hearing messages about “us” and not about “me”; we ought to be reading books about “us” and not about “me”. Our heart’s desire should be focused on one another as opposed to ourselves – this is how presenting our bodies as living sacrifices plays out in life, this is how our minds are renewed – they experience a Copernican revolution from “me” to “you”; from the “I” to the one another. After all, it is the fellowship of the Trinity to which we are called – and there is no selfishness to be found in that fellowship, and to be certain there is no hypocrisy. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Reflections on Romans Chapter 12 – Part 8

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor, 12: 9- 10.

Let love be without hypocrisy; could it be that this is the most difficult challenge in the Bible? Certainly it ranks somewhere near the top. If we understand that hypocrisy speaks of putting on a mask, of pretending to be something we aren’t, then who is not guilty of some measure of hypocrisy in some relationship?

What is required to have loving relationships devoid of hypocrisy? A commitment to Jesus Christ, a commitment to one another, the centrality of the Cross…and time…to name what first comes to my mind. What comes to your mind? What would you add to the list?

I would also add the scope of chapters 13 – 16 with their incarnational relational nature.

Hypocrisy is often a substitute for relationship; relationship with God and relationship with one another. Code words, jargon, behavior, routines can all be substitutes for relationship, short cuts for getting things done, timesavers so that we’re not slowed down by conversation, by listening, by getting to know one another.

I am not speaking of hypocrisy in the sense it is used in the Gospels of legalistic scribes and Pharisees; though that can be one element of this context – see Chapter 14 and the issues of eating, drinking, and holy days. No, I am not speaking of that overt hypocrisy, I am considering the subtle internal hypocrisies we are prone to engage it – the dance of hypocrisy that our society at large and our churches promote as religious and social conventions.

If my love is to be without hypocrisy then it requires me not only to know myself in the light of Christ; it also requires me to know my neighbor in the light of Christ, to be “other centered” rather than self-centered. And this, among other things, requires time, time that most of us are not willing to invest.

I have seen folks take Paul’s words about speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and not understand what either true truth or love means – for if true truth is Christ then we should speak as Christ, and if love is Christ then our words should be clothed with His love – being “right” is not the issue. That verse has been used in more harsh ways than I care to imagine.

Consider Ephesians 4:25; Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.  We are to have relationships without hypocrisy, truthful relationships, because we are members of one another. This is part of our bodies being living sacrifices, this is part of the renewing of our minds. But do we see this as such? Do we see that it is essential to learn to live in honest and loving relationships in the City of God, the City of light? And make no mistake, for most of us this is a learning process, it is a journey. Is it a journey on which we are willing to embark?

We have made it acceptable to wear masks; so much so that it is considered unacceptable to remove our masks. We carry a wardrobe of masks for almost every conceivable situation – how shall we ever learn to love without  hypocrisy?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Reflections on Romans Chapter 12 – Part 7

…so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another, Romans 12:5

I suggest that this image of the Body of Christ, along with verses 9 and 10, form the basis for 13:8 – 15:13.

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor…12:9 – 10.

In 13:8 we read, Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another

In 13:10, Love does no wrong to a neighbor

In Chapter 14 Paul deals with the issues of eating and drinking, of regarding particular holy days, and of judging others. Consider 14:13, Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this – not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.

In 15:1-3, Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, and to his edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me”.

15:5, Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus…

This way of living, this living in koinonia, is a significant element in the renewing of the mind. Hence, the renewing of the mind is not individualistic, it cannot be individualistic, it cannot occur in a vacuum – it occurs in relationship to others. It is in relationships that I learn not to think too highly of myself. It is in bearing the weaknesses of others that I learn not to think too highly of myself. (To truly bear the weaknesses of others requires some measure of identification with others and such identification will disabuse us of thinking too highly of ourselves.)

It is when I let go of my preferences that I learn to escape the gravitational pull of “self” and enter into the koinonia of the Body of Christ which is rooted in the Trinity. When it is more important to me not to put a stumbling block in front of my brother then perhaps I’ve embarked on the renewing of the mind.

I want to make an observation here about Paul’s emphasis on bearing with the weak. I don’t think there is much room for the weak in our churches. Whether they are weak in body, weak in learning, weak in doctrine, weak in faith, or weak economically; I don’t see much room for them. In some churches I don’t perceive any room.

I’ve heard pastors say in effect, “This church is not for everyone. This is our program and if you don’t feel you can get behind our program and support it then maybe this church isn’t for you.” And whether we say it or not, I think it is often true. Churches can be like Interstate highways, they are not for pedestrians – you will be run over, I guess we could call it road kill in the church.

In many churches there is little room for reflection, little room for working things out internally or relationally over time, little room for questions that require more than pat answers. If pastors and other leaders were winemakers most would be out of business for we seldom permit fermentation, we seldom let things age within our congregations. I write as one who has produced some hasty wine.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Reflections on Romans Chapter 12 – Part 6

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith, Romans 12:3.

I’ve read in verse 2 that I need my mind renewed and I’m ready to get with the program. I drop my Bible and run to the bookstore returning with titles such as; The Power of Positive Thinking; Your Best Life Now; Be All You Can Be; God Saw The Best In Me; How To Enhance Your Self-Esteem. I am ready to go! Rocket fuel for me! I’m going to renew my mind!

Then my eyes drift to verse 3 in the Bible I dropped in my rush to the bookstore: …I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think…

I just wasted $105.00 at the bookstore. But I don’t get it. Verse 2 tells me to renew my mind and then verse 3 tells me not to think more highly of myself than I ought to – what gives? I thought self-esteem was what this was all about? Isn’t it about “Who I am in Jesus”?

While chapters 1 – 8 portray our justification, sanctification, and glorification; chapters 12 – 16 remind us that we are part of the Body of Christ and members one of another.

Can we imagine a pastor saying to his congregation, “Don’t think too much of yourself.” Oh yeah, that sure is going to build attendance. What’s the likelihood of seeing a book in your local Christian bookstore titled, “How not to think too much of yourself – the secret of using sound judgment when thinking about yourself”?

Paul begins unpacking what it means to present our bodies as living sacrifices and what it means to have renewed minds that are not conformed to the world by striking at the heart of the way the world thinks – the world and the individuals in the world think too much of themselves, they think too highly of themselves – and consequently not highly of God and not highly enough of others.

If two of the most important words in Paul’s writings are “in Christ”, close behind them are the words “one another”. In Christ we are members of one another. We are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:12, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.”

The renewal of the mind entails the way I think about myself and the way I think about others; and the way I think about others incorporates the understanding that we are members one of another. But do we actually think like this? Do I think like this? Do you think like this? Is this our default mode? Is this our nature? Do the actions of our bodies indicate that this is the way we think and that this is what we believe?

Much popular Christian teaching is focused on strengthening our opinions of ourselves; self-esteem on steroids. This is not the path of renewal in Christ. For one thing it really doesn’t matter what I think about myself; what matters is what Christ thinks about me. Secondly, as we learn to be His disciples and as we know the all sufficiency of the Cross of Christ and the Christ of the Cross – then we live lives with consciences that have been cleansed by Christ – and we also live lives that are under no illusion of the depth of our pride and vanity and capacity to sin outside of Christ. The more secure I am in Christ; the more He is able to reveal the depth of my pride and vanity.

Thirdly, the renewal of the mind means that I recognize that we all have a measure of faith that God has allotted. As verses 6ff teach, we are to be good stewards of the grace and gifts that God has given us – stewards in the context of members of the body of Christ.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Reflections on Romans Chapter 12 – Part 5

In my next posting in this series I plan to move back toward the top of the chapter; in this posting I want to reflect on Part 4 and the challenge of 12:21 and 13:1 for the North American Church.

I hear Christians in America speculate about coming persecution, the end-times, and suffering for Jesus. While I’ll forgo direct comment on the foundation of most of this thinking and teaching, I will ask, “If we haven’t learned to live for Christ what makes us think that we will die for Christ?” Then I’ll ask, “If we haven’t learned to overcome evil with good in our everyday lives, if we haven’t learned to bless those who give us difficulty, if we haven’t learned to desire good and give good things (blessings) to those who oppose us, to those with whom we disagree – shall we delude ourselves into thinking that we can offer our bodies as living sacrifices with renewed minds should overt persecution burst upon us?

I have no idea whether the United States will ever see overt persecution, with no apologies to end-times speculators who have made an industry of prophecy. I can see no reason why overt persecution would be necessary considering that the professing church in this country has sold itself to the world-system and substituted any number of things (including speculative prophecy) for the Person of Jesus Christ. What concerns me is not the outer life of the church, including overt persecution; what concerns me is the soul of the Church, her inner life, for out of the heart, out of the inner life, the mouth speaks.

The mouth of the professing church in this country is not known for speaking blessing to those who oppose it. I include myself in this category and God has deeply convicted me of it – it has been, and continues to be, a journey for me – it is a mirror from which our Father will not allow me to escape. How can any critique of opposition have Biblical credibility unless it is found in the context of blessing? Show me your blessing toward those you oppose first; then I shall listen to your critique. And as for critique, is not our call to be redemptive; but is that truly our aim? Or is our aim to win?

We say we believe in prayer – but it is easier to respond to evil with evil rather than to pray for those who oppose God’s truth. Where would the Early Church have been with this attitude? It would have died in its soul; instead it chose to follow the Christ of the Cross and bear the Cross of Christ.

I am reminded of Betsy ten Boom’s response to Corrie’s question about how long they would be in the concentration camp (relying on memory), “As long as it takes. If they can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love.” Betsy was speaking of the cruel guards in the camp. Why cannot we look with compassion on those who reject the image of God, the natural law of God, the Gospel of Christ? They desperately need our compassion, they need our blessing, they need our forgiveness – and yet all too often they receive our vitriol at worst and our disengagement at best. We don’t see the inner person who is alienated from Christ; we see intellectual or economic or political opposition – we do not see a person, a soul, without Jesus Christ.
We teach witnessing “techniques” that avoid persecution. We teach witnessing the way I used to teach leasing agents to close a deal – and then we wonder why few people actually employ what are lifeless methods. Why don’t we teach the riches of the reproach of Christ? And why don’t we teach overcoming evil with good? If we follow Christ we will encounter evil and when we do God has called us to overcome evil with good.

There have been many times in history when the church has been politicized; I suppose it has been politicized since the 4th Century. What is our collective testimony today in North America? Is it primarily as a people with a political agenda? A moral agenda? A philosophical agenda? Or is it as a people who are Christ-followers and who, being Christ-followers, are a source of blessing to all around them, including those who oppose them? The Early Church flourished in the midst of extreme cultural, economic, and governmental opposition by overcoming evil with good – if we are the continuing incarnation of Jesus Christ then we should do no less.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Reflections on Romans Chapter 12 – Part 4

 “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities…” Romans 12:21 – 13:1a.

The historical context of Paul’s letter to the Christians in the city of Rome is that of an unpredictable and often hostile government. For the first two and one-half centuries of Christianity the Roman Empire and its local governments would sometimes be openly hostile to Christians, to the point of torture and execution, while at other times benign with a “look the other way” attitude. The Empire was never a friend of Christians during this time, and while there might be local authorities who looked favorably upon the new religion, such instances were rare. Unpredictability was the one constant in the government’s posture toward the Church; overcoming evil with good was to be the one constant of the Church’s posture toward the government.

For Christians who were ethnic Jews this stance was a departure from a heritage that not only included warriors such as King David, but also in more recent history the Maccabees. Galilee and Judah were garrisoned by Roman soldiers because revolutionary ferment was a hallmark of the Jews, a ferment that would lead to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. For Christians who were not Jews, warfare was also likely part of their culture, whether Roman citizens or not. Who ever heard of overcoming evil with good? This was, as we say today, counter-cultural.

And yet, in His first recorded public teaching in a fiercely revolutionary and nationalistic culture Jesus Christ says:

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.

You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. So that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Perhaps we Christians spend more time and energy explaining away these words of Christ than any other of His teachings. Evangelicals who are quick to criticize anything that smells of relativistic thinking are masters at relativizing these words of Jesus Christ. Of course the church as a whole has done so ever since Christianity was legalized by Rome in the 4th Century, so we can spread the relativistic wealth around to virtually all Christian traditions.

It is no accident that as soon as Paul dictates the words, Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good, that the next words his amanuensis hears are, Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities.

What must this unnamed secretary have thought as he faithfully recorded Paul’s words? No doubt he had previously heard Paul’s thoughts on the matter; but still, after all, Paul was writing to Christians in the City of Rome, the heart of the adversarial Empire. How would they react? Paul had already challenged their attitudes toward one another in Chapter 2, then again in chapters 9 – 11, but now Paul is challenging them in their attitude toward a hostile government!

After writing 12:21 Paul takes the most difficult relationship the Church has and brings it to the forefront – he goes directly to the agent of persecution, the Roman government – be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities…

If we will be honest for a moment – how do we measure up to this teaching? If we can just for a moment release our relativistic hands from the text – what is the truth of our obedience in this matter?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Reflections on Romans Chapter 12 – Part 3

Therefore I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual [reasonable, logical] act of worship. 12:1

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my emphasis in verses 1 and 2 has always been the renewing of the mind; I had a riff I’d play that included Romans 12:2, 2 Corinthians 3:18, Ephesians 4:23, and  1John 3:1-3. But now I am faced with the fact that this passage begins with the presentation of the body as a living and holy sacrifice acceptable to God.

I think there is an inclusio in verses 1 and 21, with verse 1 also serving as a hinge and transition from Chapters 9 – 11 and verse 21 reaching back to verse 1 and propelling us into 13:1ff.

The “therefore” of verse 1 transitions us from Chapters 9 – 11 that conclude with, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” Let’s read this again without the artificial chapter break:

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. Therefore I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual [logical, reasonable] service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

While Christians may have their disagreements over the particular meaning(s) of Chapters 9 – 11, they can generally agree that these chapters set forth the sovereignty of God, that is, that God is in control – while perhaps differing on what that control entails. In that light we have the “therefore” of 12:1. Therefore, [since God is in control], present your bodies a living sacrifice…

If God is indeed in control then I can offer myself to him, beginning with my body, this temple He has created for His dwelling place, wherever I am. My offering of my body is an acknowledgement, among other things, that God is sovereign and in control, that from Him and through Him and to Him are all things – including me.

The ultimate offering of one’s body is generally considered to be death. Jesus’ offering of His body for us is an element of the Atonement. In Revelation 12:11 we see Christians who overcome the enemy, “because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even to death.”

We read in Romans 12:21 “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”; how did Jesus Christ overcome evil? It was by His death, resurrection, and ascension. Death came first, the offering of the body – hence the inclusio, the bracket, of Romans 12:1 and Romans 12:21. There is an inclusive thought in this chapter that begins and ends with the offering of the body. To be sure there are other elements and we might say that verse 2 is in the inclusio bracket as well, for to overcome evil with good in the ultimate sacrificing of one’s life envisions a transformed mind offering a dedicated body.

Following 12:21 we have the relationship of the Christian to government, and beyond that we have the relationship of Christians to one another; our bodies come into play in both of these sections. I will pick up the relationship of 12:21 with 13:1 in my next post.

Romans 12:1ff portrays incarnational living, in both the individual and in the Body of Christ – it begins with offering our body. What do justification and sanctification and the sovereignty of God (Chapters 1 – 11) look like in daily life? They look like Chapters 12 – 16.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Reflections on Romans Chapter 12 - Part II

Romans 12:1-2 exhort us to present our bodies as living and holy sacrifices, to not be conformed to the world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, thereby proving what the will of God is. If I stop there in my reading and my thinking where have I gone? In terms of the context of the verses I’ve come to a dead end, I’ve read something but I am now, by my compartmentalization, left to myself in terms of obedience.

But what happens if I continue to read and think about what I’m reading? In verse 3 I’m told not to think more highly of myself than I ought to think – might that just possibly be tied to the renewing of the mind?

In verses 4 – 8 I’m taught that I’m part of a body of people in Christ and that this body is to function in Christ according to the grace given to each member.

Verse 9: Love is to be without hypocrisy, we are to abhor evil and cling to what is good. Can we see this as obedient response to verses 1 – 2?

Verse 10: We are to be devoted to one another in familial love, giving preference to one another in honor – can we see this as obedient response to verses 1 – 2? Can we see that failure to obey the commands of verse 10 is failure to obey verses 1 – 2?

Verses 14 – 21: We are to bless and not curse those who persecute us, to associate with the lowly, and not be wise in our own estimation. We are not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good. Might this possibly be the incarnation of verses 1 – 2?

In other words, I can quote Romans 12:1-2 everyday, I can read it on a cute little verse card every hour, I can have it rolling across my computer screen as a screen saver and have it perpetually before my eyes – but what does Romans 12:1-2 look like? It looks like Romans 12:3-21.

As with the Mary and Martha passage of Luke Chapter 10, I can interject my thoughts into Romans 12:1-2. As with Luke 10:38 – 42 I can mitigate Romans 12:1-2 with my own thoughts and definitions, I can superimpose my morality and ethics and maybe even political ideals; or I can move into verses 3 – 21 and submit myself to what the Biblical text portrays as the incarnation of verses 1-2.  

I had never read Romans Chapter 12 prior to this  past week.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Reflections on Romans Chapter 12 - Part I

A couple of weeks ago I reflected on Luke 10:38 – 42, the account of Jesus in the home of Mary and Martha. My focus was on encountering the passage as it is written as opposed to the way we would have it written; and teaching it as it is written, not as we would write it. Do we have warrant to mitigate what is written? In the instance of the Luke passage, do we have warrant to interject how vital Martha’s serving was when the passage clearly does not teach that, in fact it teaches the opposite – but we don’t want to hurt any Martha’s do we? While we may go to other Biblical passage to teach the importance of serving those around us, we may not go to Luke 10:38 – 42 and if we try to make Luke 10:38 – 42 teach the importance of serving we give the lie to our professed high view of Scripture.

If we can teach Luke 10:38 – 42 without interjecting the importance of Martha serving those around her then we will have done a good day’s work; if we cannot do so then we have not led our audience into and through that passage.

Having said this, I am now going to be the policeman who arrests himself. I seem to be doing this frequently, catching myself having never actually read a Biblical passage that I have been reading for over 40 years. Perhaps this is one reason why I am sensitive to passages like Luke 10:38 – 42, I speak from experience.

I realized this week that I have never read Romans Chapter 12, despite the fact that I know its contents. This is a good example of what happens when we focus on one or two verses in a passage to the neglect of the context. It is also a good example of what happens when we compartmentalize a passage and don’t see the connectivity of the writer’s thought. It is as if we actually think that the writer wrote in starts and stops, in a series of unconnected thoughts, as if his intent was to write verses when there were no verses in the original text – I’m speaking of numbered verses of course, not poetic verses which abound in Scripture. I am pretty certain that the Biblical writers did not write with the goal of having stand-alone sentences that lend themselves to verse cards to be read at the daily breakfast table.

Romans 12:1-2 have been as much a part of my life as salt and pepper. I cannot recall a time, other than my early years when I did not know Christ, when I didn’t know and use those verses. And perhaps that word “use” is a clue – they were there to use, not to obey in context. One of the reasons I “used” them was that they are familiar to many Christians, either that or people have been nodding their heads when I cite them to appease me or to act as if they know them. Another reason I quote them is because of their message – we are to offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices and to be transformed by the renewing of our minds – not being conformed to the world.

Verses 1 – 2 were my first compartment when thinking about Romans Chapter 12.

The second compartment was verses 3 – 13, a picture of the Body of Christ. I often “used” this passage in parallel with 1 Corinthians Chapter 12 and Ephesians Chapter 4. 

The third compartment was verses 14 – 21. I had a passing acquaintance with this section, I could say, “Hello”, to it but I frankly never stopped to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee with what Paul was writing, and I never really considered it as a call to obedience. I’m going to return to this section later because it was while being drawn into this section that I realized that I’d never really read Romans Chapter 12. In fact, it was by meditating on Romans 12:21, the last verse of the chapter, that I realized that I’d never read the chapter. I begin at the end (verse 21) to get to the beginning (verse 1); and having arrived at the beginning I could then travel back to the end and understand the significance of the trip after more than 40 years of traveling on a road that I didn’t see and therefore didn’t understand.    

Permit me to restate this: Prior to this week, when I came to Romans Chapter 12 I “saw” three compartments, three sections; verses 1-2, verses 3 – 13, verses 14 – 21. The fact that I quoted and meditated on verses 1-2 with such frequency over a period of 40 years reinforced this compartmentalization. Many ships have hulls which are compartmentalized with water-tight doors between the compartments that can be closed in the event of a leak or gash in the hull, thus compartmentalizing the water so that it does spread through the entire hull and sink the ship. Compartmentalizing is good for ships, it is bad for minds. Compartmentalizing water that doesn’t belong in a ship is a good thing; compartmentalizing understanding that belongs in the heart and mind is a bad thing.

What good is it to be able to quote a verse if we don’t know what it means? To quote a verse without knowing and responding in obedience to its meaning is to be inoculated against understanding it.

To be continued...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

How (Not?) To Read And Teach The Bible – Part II

The idea of teaching Biblical principles as opposed to teaching the Bible as it is written; as narrative, wisdom literature, prophetic, apocalyptic, didactic, poetry; leads to manipulation and selective application – as opposed to submission and obedience. It also turns what should be exegesis into eisegesis. 

Let me try to explain by beginning with obedience  versus application. The term application has been used a lot in the past 20 or so years in the context of preaching and teaching. We’re told to make sure our preaching and teaching contains application. How are we to apply the text to our lives? Preaching without application has been criticized with statements like, “That could have been a great sermon if only there’d been application. What does the text look like in my life today? How can I apply it today?”

Now while I think the question, “What does the text look like in my life today"?”, is a good question; I’m not sure about the other questions.

When I apply something I am the applicator and the substance applied is under my control. I am using something, be it a substance or a tool or an idea. But should this be the first tier  or first order of my encounter with the Word of the Living God? If I am looking for principles to extract from a text and apply to various contexts of life then fair enough, application is a good word for the process. But if I come as one created to Creator, as a son to Father, as one redeemed to my Redeemer, as bondservant to Master; then I come not to extract and apply, but to hear and obey. Obedience is not the same as application.

Application speaks of utility, obedience speaks of Lordship. Application gives me control, obedience sees me as a servant, a disciple, one who is called to surrender his will. Application is the use of a principle, obedience is acknowledgment of my Lord.

It isn’t that we intend to be selective and manipulative when we teach principles – and I am speaking about a primary mindset here, I am not saying that there aren’t Biblical principles that should be taught – but when we elect to by-pass the Biblical narrative, the Biblical storyline from Genesis to Revelation, we cannot but be selective and having become selective we cannot help but be manipulative…with all good intentions. 

If a high view of Scripture means that we believe God has orchestrated the content of Genesis through Revelation, and if sound textual understanding acknowledges that words derive their meaning from context, paragraphs from context, and longer passages from context, then how can we fail to lead our people into the entire Biblical narrative and call them to obedience within that narrative?

The Scriptures are not a supermarket with aisles stocked chock full of principles for us to put in our shopping carts as needs arise. There are not 66 aisles in God’s supermarket with numerous products in each aisle. And (to return to my previous post) if I should take a box of Martha and Mary down from Luke Chapter 10 I have no warrant to go to the aisle marked, The Epistle of James, and throw in a few boxes labeled, “Faith Without Works Is Dead”, because I happen to think that my dinner guests will find Luke Chapter 10 distasteful.

We have too often substituted our own parochial narratives for God’s eternal immutable narrative.

Can you find me a church living in a Biblical narrative? Can you find me a people who see themselves in Colossians, or Exodus, or Mark, or Isaiah? Can you find me a people on pilgrimage whose identity is not tethered to denomination, or ethnicity, or nationality, or education, or money, or yes…even principles? I’m certain they exist, and I’m certain they come in many flavors; but I also suspect there aren’t many of them.

But I am truly digressing here, and I apologize somewhat for the digression; I want to challenge us to read the Bible as it is written and to experience it as it is written, and to obey it as it is written; not to apply it, not to force our images on it, and certainly not to apologize for it or for Jesus. If Jesus chided Martha and commended Mary then I want to feel the full force of what Jesus said, whether I like it or not and whether I think it will cause others problems or not – I have no warrant to do anything other than that – to hear the Word of Christ and to obey it. 

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How (Not?) To Read And Teach The Bible – Luke 10:38-42

A few weeks ago we had some dear friends as weekend guests. The husband, who leads an adult Sunday school class, brought the book the class is currently using. The author of the book is Max Lucado, certainly a well-respected writer.

Now I hesitated before using Mr. Lucado’s name because I’m about to use him as an example on how not to read and teach the Bible. I use his name and the passage in the book I’ll describe with all sincere respect. In fact I’m using his name because I do respect him, though I admit to having read little of his work. I also know that if one were to examine my own body of preaching and writing that one could find similar examples in my own life. I think it’s worth using his name in the sense that “if it can happen to him then it can happen to me.”

This analysis also allows me to broach a question I’ve been pondering for months since a young pastor made the statement to me, “Well, we’re supposed to preach the principles of the Bible.” I think this will be one of those multi-part posts because I think his statement, in its context, is false and I want to explore that – but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The chapter in Lucado’s book is focused on the above passage in Luke, the well-known pericope of Mary and Martha in which Martha is playing the hostess by serving guests while Mary is hearing the word of Jesus. As my friend was sharing with us the contents of Lucado’s chapter, which I have not read, the importance of Marthas serving was given equal weight with the importance of Mary’s hearing the word of Jesus. In other words, lest there be any Marthas in the audience let’s make sure we acknowledge them, affirm them, and underscore that a world without Marthas would be a poor world indeed.

I said to my friend, his wife, and Vickie, “But the passage does not teach that. The passage does not teach that Martha was doing something important. That is not the point of the passage. If Jesus had wanted to make that point He would have done it. If Luke had wanted to record that point he would have recorded it. That point is not in that passage. That passage makes most of us uncomfortable and we are trying to assuage our feelings and to explain away what Jesus said.”

I didn’t mention that Jesus chides Martha in the passage; but chide He certainly does. Nor did I point out that Jesus says, “But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

The question is whether we, you, I, or Max Lucado, has warrant to teach this passage in any other way than it is presented? The warning is that most, if not all, of us are tempted to do so with any number of passages in any number of situations. If I seek to ameliorate or mitigate the force, the edge, the unpleasantness of a passage – then have I been a faithful steward of the passage? Have I forced the passage to submit to me or have I submitted to the passage?

Can I speak of a “high view of Scripture” if I force Scripture to submit to me? I may say that I have a high view of Scripture, but do I truly have a high view of Scripture if I force passages into my image of them, if I use them for my own ends? What does it matter if I say that I believe that all Scripture is inspired by God if I use Scripture to my own ends and mold it into my own image?

Are we not engaged in a perpetual apology for Jesus Christ? Do we not do our best to take the edge off His words, actions and life so as not to offend anyone, including ourselves?

Protestants give lip-service to there being no mediator between God and man except Jesus Christ; for every time we water down Scripture, every time we mitigate the word of Scripture, every time we take the edge off Jesus, we place ourselves as mediators between God and man, and between man and Scripture.

Haven’t we all done what Max Lucado did with this passage? I know I have with numerous passages; can you really say you haven’t? I’ll probably do it again, much as I don’t want to. Expediency will drive me to it, laziness will excuse it, I’ll have some utilitarian excuse – I only hope I’ll recognize it the next time before it’s too late to stop it.

To be continued…