Oct 29

Spiritual Jealousy

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We often read passages such as Hebrews 11, the Hall of Faith, and wish we could be like those heroes. We might even look at other Christian VIP’s, authors, speakers, and the like and think to ourselves, “Man, they have it figured out.  Why can’t

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We often read passages such as Hebrews 11, the Hall of Faith, and wish we could be like those heroes.

We might even look at other Christian VIP’s, authors, speakers, and the like and think to ourselves, “Man, they have it figured out.  Why can’t I be like them?”

Anyone on a faith walk or journey has these moments of spiritual jealousy.  And, on the one hand, maybe it’s a good thing.  After all, if we are that concerned with being spiritual and being an exemplar of faith, then maybe it’s good that we struggle with it.  Of course, it is obviously dangerous.  Such jealousy is hardly representative of a loving God.

Paul says in Philippians to work out your own salvation in fear and trembling.  This often scares people as if Paul is really trying to frighten them and their relationship with God.  But, that is not an appropriate reading of the passage.  Rather, Paul means you have to work at your relationship with God.  And, in that, be in awe of who He really is.

Faith is not a destination.  It is a journey.  And, everyone is on the same journey.  In fact, the trembling signifies that we might get scared once in a while.  We may have moments of doubt and weakness.  And, that is okay.  But, we are to have faith.

The Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard wrote of the knight of resignation who looks admirable and may be compared to a Stoic in the face of adversity.  How we admire those who can look unshakable during times of great trial and distress (perhaps at the loss of a job, death of loved one).  But, being Stoic is merely being detached from the world.  Where is the commitment, though?  Where is the faith?

Abraham, virtually the father of faith, should have been frightened to some extent when asked to give up his son, Isaac.  But, as he had worked on his relationship with God, he was considered righteous and faithful.  Isaac was not taken from him but given back, restored to Abraham.

As a man of faith or, as Kierkegaard refers to him, a knight of faith, Abraham should have worried while being obedient.  How could God ask for such a sacrifice?  In our world, that sacrifice would be considered murder.  Indeed, in the time of Abraham, it would have been considered murder as well.

The Knight of Faith, however, knows that anything and everything could be taken from him at a moment’s notice and, perhaps, at the command of God Himself.  But, the Knight of Faith is certain that all will be restored to him by God.  There is no detachment or doubt but utter faith and reliance upon God.

There is a lesson here about our walk with Christ.  Our faith may be irrational at times to trust in something that makes no sense in our everyday world.  In fact, some of God’s requests and plans seem so contradictory that it almost appears that God has no consideration of good and evil.  And, maybe He doesn’t.  And, maybe that’s the challenge.

How can God forgive all if even He has a rating system?  How can He ask us to forgive all and welcome all to the table if we rate and rank others?  It must have been frightening to watch Jesus welcome the prostitutes (how can she do that?), the tax collectors (how can he live with himself?), and make promises to a thief on a cross.  How much more disturbing to forgive those who nailed Him to the cross as a guiltless, sinless man?

As Christians, we should not just know this forgiveness but practice this forgiveness.  Our faith should at once tell us and exemplify the fact that we have lost everything and it has been restored by Christ’s death on the cross.  Could you ever repay such a debt?  Do you know how much God has given back to you?

In Christ’s parable from Matthew 18, the master who forgave the debt was forgiving, by today’s standards, billions of dollars.  Do you have billions of dollars to repay?  I don’t.

We have erred easily into the billions and God has written it off and said you must do the same.  Our showing of forgiveness is our demonstration of our gratitude to God and, in some sense, it shows that we have not forgotten, that we are forgiven and that we have faith.  

So, here is our salvation.  Our faith walk is one of fear and trembling.  We should be in awe, in fear of the judgment not rendered.  We should tremble, but not falter for He is with us.

Remember our heroes of the faith.  They stand out to us as giants because of what they faced often without sin or guilt before God.  We should be thankful, not jealous, that God has not asked us to tremble as much. But, if He does, remember there is faith, there is salvation, there is Jesus welcoming us no matter what.

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Sep 03

The Gospel of Peter and a New Way of Reading

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This week we reach the penultimate chapter in The King Jesus Gospel–Ch. 8: The Gospel of Peter. The one big idea in this chapter: The apostles preached the gospel. They filled out the bare bones summary of 1 Corinthians 15 and depicted a living, breathing, dying,

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This week we reach the penultimate chapter in The King Jesus Gospel–Ch. 8: The Gospel of Peter.

The one big idea in this chapter:

The apostles preached the gospel. They filled out the bare bones summary of 1 Corinthians 15 and depicted a living, breathing, dying, resurrected, ascending Jesus who has been identified as Messiah and Lord over all–Jews and Gentiles alike.

Wrapped up in that big idea is an important note: With the resurrection of Jesus and the ourpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, the apostles experienced a “hermeneutical revolution” (117).hermeneutic

Hermeneutical, think interpretation. The veil was pulled back from their eyes and they saw the story of Israel (the Old Testament/the Scriptures) in a whole new light.

It wasn’t so much that the apostles’ old interpretation (hermeneutic) was faulty, as it was incomplete. Now, they could see they whole picture and it was both stunning and life-changing.

Probably a little overwhelming, too.

Those two terms–Messiah and Lord, connected to Jesus–offer a new way to read the texts.

It’s kind of like reading John 1:1-18. What’s this “Word” John keeps mentioning? Then one day–someone tells you or it just clicks–you realize this “Word” is “the Son” is “Jesus” and you can never read John 1 the same way again.

It’s kind of like that, but more…

Read through the Old Testament sometime and you’ll follow the story of a people called by God and looking for leadership. Judges, Kings, prophets, all fall short, but point toward another who will come and restore Israel–the Messiah.

The way Peter gospels in Acts, it’s like he’s reading the Scriptures for the first time, he can’t go back to the way he read them before. It’s good news for Israel.

The second term–Lord–is significant for Israel and everyone else (looking at you, Gentiles).

Lord over all–all means all.

Everything, so nothing he’s not lord over.

This gospeling is good news even for people who don’t know the Old Testament as Scripture.

McKnight offers the example of Paul in Athens. Paul doesn’t try to explain the covenant between Israel and God. He doesn’t explain Leviticus, or talk about Torah, or even line up Jesus’ lineage with King David.

Nope, Paul doesn’t even mention the name Jesus in his impromptu homily: instead he talks in terms they can understand. He tells them about “the God who made the world and everything in it, who is Lord of heaven and earth” (Acts 17:24).

He adapts the gospel of Jesus to fit his audience, but the integrity of the gospel is still here.

This section is probably worth the price of admission: “True gospeling that conforms to the apostolic gospel leads directly to who Jesus is, whatever the gospeler has to say to get folks to move in that direction. Once there, the apostolic gospeling in the book of Acts summons the audience to respond.” (127)

Which made me wonder, how much of my gospeling has led directly to Jesus? How much of yours has?

That’s the deal with this whole gospeling thing, through all the variations of presentation (Paul, the Gospels, apostles, Peter), it’s still all about Jesus. End of story.

But it’s not the end of the story, because the goal of the gospel is response:

 “To believe means more than just mentally agreeing to some truth, even if that truth is that Jesus is Messiah and Lord over all. The entire sweep of the Story of Israel and the Story of Jesus ushers us into a world where God’s people rely on and trust in God, and such a trusting relationship generates a life of obedience, holiness, and love.” (127)

That response is about more than salvation (though that may be included in the story), it’s about a hermeneutical revolution in your life. You no longer interpret/see things the same way you did before. Things change because Jesus is Lord over all.

Next week we’ll finish up The King Jesus Gospel with “Gospeling Today.”

Will you add The King Jesus Gospel to your bookshelf? What book would you like to see on the blog next?

*Merriam-Webster online

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Aug 20

A Fresh Look at the Gospel(s)

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We’re diving into Chapter 6 of The King Jesus Gospel: “The Gospel in the Gospels?” Two questions: 1) Where in the Bible do people look to make arguments about justification (right-standing with God)? A: Paul. 2) Where in the Bible do people look for the

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We’re diving into Chapter 6 of The King Jesus Gospel: “The Gospel in the Gospels?”

Two questions:

1) Where in the Bible do people look to make arguments about justification (right-standing with God)?

A: Paul.

2) Where in the Bible do people look for the gospel?

A: The Gospels, duh.

But, as we’ve seen, it’s not all as simple as that.

Paul’s gospel is the gospel, and that gospel is found in 1 Corinthians 15.

We’re pretty big on the kingdom of God around here, but we don’t look at Paul all that much to find kingdom language. Which might make you wonder, if the kingdom is the gospel, then did Paul preach the gospel? If you didn’t wonder already, then you are now.

Lots of people are big on justification (Get me right with God), but they don’t often look to Jesus to make their theological case.

So, if justification/salvation or kingdom is the gospel and Paul and Jesus only focused on one of those, who didn’t preach the gospel?

Paul?

Or Jesus?

McKnight clears the air with a firm ‘neither’:

“The gospel…is declaring the Story of Israel as resolved in the Story of Jesus” (79, The King Jesus Gospel).

So instead of focusing on the confusing questions I asked, here are some better options:

“Did Jesus claim Israel’s Story was fulfilled in himself?…Did Jesus preach himself?Did Jesus make his kingdom message center on his own role in the Story of Israel? If we answer ‘Yes’ to any of these questions, we are saying that Jesus preached the gospel” (79).

If you flip back to 1 Corinthians 15:1-5 (or these posts), you’ll see that this is exactly what Paul received when he received the gospel.

Why are the books we call Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John–first four books of the New Testament) called gospel, anyway? They tell the story of Israel being consummated in the story of Jesus. “To ‘gospel’ is to tell the Story of Jesus” (82).

This chapter further clarifies the difference between salvation and the gospel, even if it’s not obvious. Disconnecting justification from the gospel, doesn’t make justification unimportant, it just means it’s not gospel (by itself).

Gospel is about story–particularly the story of Jesus and the story of Israel. Sure, salvation comes into the picture and is connected with the bigger picture, but don’t mistake it for the picture.

So, the gospel is in the Gospels, because the Gospels are telling the story of Jesus, which is why they were called gospel in the first place. Got it?

Here’s maybe the most interesting part of the chapter for me: 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 could be thought of as a reduced version of the gospel Paul received and the four Gospels could be thought of as an extended commentary on that gospel (90).

The gospel (1 Cor. 15:3-5) portrays the Story of Jesus as culminating the Story of Israel, albeit in Cliff Notes form. The Gospels give you the full length director’s cut feature presentation.

In this case, it doesn’t matter which you prefer because it’s all about Jesus (and Israel).

What do you think about McKnight’s version of the gospel and the Gospels? Like it? Challenge it? I’d love to know.

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May 21

In Praise of Questions

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If you’ve stumbled onto the homepage of the blog archive, you’ve seen the cryptic quote from Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow. How many people read that and never make it any further? I have no way of knowing. How many people simply skim over it to

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If you’ve stumbled onto the homepage of the blog archive, you’ve seen the cryptic quote from Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow.

How many people read that and never make it any further? I have no way of knowing. How many people simply skim over it to get to the blog? I also have no way of knowing.

But it’s there. And I didn’t just slap it up there for kicks and giggles, or because I wanted to impress you with a quote from a book you might not have read (ok, so maybe a little of the latter, but definitely not the former).

I put it up because sometimes this field of Christian spiritual formation has too many answers.

Having a hard time? Read the Bible (preferably Jeremiah 29:11, or a related text).

Need an answer? Listen in silent prayer.

Problem meet solution. And so it goes.

There’s a time and place for answers, just not very often. I like answers. I was that student who tried to find out what answer the teacher wanted to hear so I could parrot it back to her and be appropriately praised.

It’s not that answers are bad, it’s just that answers shut off the journey.brick wall

Being content with answers is like closing your eyes during a road-trip from LA to New York (hopefully you’re not the driver in this scenario). You’d miss the dramatic changes in scenery, food, and culture along the way. You’re never forced out of your comfort zone. You arrive more or less the same as you left.

Which brings me to this Sunday’s lectionary reading from Acts 17.

Paul rolls into the Areopagus and sees how dad-gummed religious these Greeks are. They’ve got temples to everything, they’re worshiping like it’s their job. Heck, they’ve even got an altar dedicated “TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.” They’re that religious.

They’ve got a god  (answer) for everything.

Paul goes on to tell them about the God who they actually worship, the one who made heaven and earth and…you know the story. This God is known. Whew, thanks for the answer Paul.

Just when I had an answer, a dear teacher I’ve never met, Karl Barth, caused me to stumble. Barth insists–again and again–that the God revealed in Jesus Christ is wholly other. Different from us.

Yes, God became one of us, but lest we get too confident or comfortable in our own ability (our answers), Barth keeps that (wholly other) trump card up his sleeve.

Barth says to us (to quote an old show), “You think you know [God], but you have no idea.”

Which is terrifying and refreshing at the same time.

You think you know about God, but the reality would probably blow your mind.

Even Moses could only handle God’s backside.

It makes sense if you sit with it.

Except for his “I am” statements in the Gospel of John, Jesus is pretty cryptic in his teaching. The disciples continue to miss the point. Indeed their whole schooling with Jesus seems like an exercise in missing the point.

Who’s the greatest in the kingdom? Nope.

What’s the message of the loaves? Still didn’t get it.

Pray with Jesus in the garden? Droopy eyes.

But Jesus still loves them, still leads and guides them, even, perhaps especially, when they have no idea what the answer is. Heck, they don’t even always ask good questions (See “Who’s the greatest” above).

But asking is what opens us up for growth and transformation, for surprise and awe. Answers leave us comfortable in our knowing. And if we stay comfortable long enough, we might find out no one is asking the questions for which we have the answers anymore.

So, I hope you’ll read the epigraph for this blog. And I hope you’ll continue to ask questions, instead of just boxing God in with answers.

If you box God in long enough with answers, after you tear through all the tape and peanut packing, you might just discover the god you packed away is UNKOWN and unfamiliar to the God who meets us in Jesus.

What question are you asking in this season of life?

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