Creative Biblical content at the intersection of life and faith.

Reading Romans

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to up the ante on my blog by writing more frequently. Thus far I hope my readers have recognized that I am doing a little better. If you have not checked in for awhile due to my usual schedule of bi-frequent posting then you may want to scroll down a bit. My goal is to write at least daily Monday through Thursday. That may not happen simply due to the fact that I am a husband/father/pastor/student guy. Yet, when I grow up I would like to be a writer. This does not mean I do not want to be a pastor, but it does mean that I would like to offer the world something in hardback.

I am not sure what sort of thing I would like to write, which is a huge problem according to C.S. Lewis. C.S. Lewis recommended that writers find an area of concentration and write within that area. In blogging I have seen the wisdom of this advice because it is so difficult to come daily with something off the cuff to post. Thus, I make this offering hopefully for the benefit of all. For me the benefit will be that this project will offer some parameters; an area in which I can concentrate. For you that may mean more decent offerings than simply what I did today which would contain frivolous references to how much I hate crying people on reality shows, what sort of car is passing outside of my window, and such and so. Maybe those are the sort of blogs I should write considering blogs of that nature are far more read than my own; but I just can’t resign myself to that sort of thing just yet. In a previous post I pointed out that I really don’t enjoy those sorts of blogs that constantly refer to how one is feeling about something at the moment, to which my friend Jason Dollar astutely pointed out that my blog is called “feeling my faith.” Hmmm.

Nevertheless, I hope to concentrate my writing for a time into something that may become meaningful to me as a writer and to you as a reader; not only because of its content, but hopefully also due to your participation. I beg you, comment! On Feb. 1 (yes love I know that is our anniversary, number 12 to be exact) I will begin preaching the second half of Romans, chapters 9 – 16. I would like to offer a project in which I offer you some fruits of my study. If you know something about this area of Romans then you will recognize that chapters 9 – 12 are the most treacherous of “Roman roads.” That fact alone should also up the ante on my blog, again, for the both of us.

So please join me in this. Happy hunting!

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Inauguration Day

I write this entry as I watch the intermittent live streaming broadcast of Barak Obama’s inauguration on my laptop. Ironically my Bible reading today was I Samuel 11 – 15, I backed up one chapter for context. It is the story of the inauguration and collapse of King Saul. I try to read five chapters a day. If I had tried to calculate this moment months ago it would not have been able to plan my reading so perfectly to fit such a historic day.

What are some principles to keep in mind this inauguration day?

1) Pray – 1 Timothy 2:1-2 says, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” Prayer supersedes political parties. There is no doubt that America is post-Christian. This truth was eloquently stated by President Obama just a few moments ago, but it has been a predominant ideological and political practice for many years. A post-Christian environment does not give any follower of Christ an excuse to also become post-Christian. Barak Obama is no Nero or Domitian. In the context of Paul’s writing to Timothy Christians were being fed to lions and lit on fire as garden torches. Under such intensity Paul implored the people of God to pray. Prayer is the force behind preserving our freedom to practice our faith in peace. The church has lost its intensity in prayer. Paul says the first business of the church is to pray. Inauguration day should inaugurate for believers an intense time of prayer. Barak Obama is now our President. We are urged to pray for him. If we do not do so we have failed him as our leader.

2) Enthusiasm is not a substitute for righteousness – Today is a great day for all Americans. It is a celebration of our nation. Today is a season of joy. We should celebrate it together as Americans. Yet enthusiasm is no substitute for righteousness. In 1 Samuel 10:6 the prophet Samuel is telling Saul that the Spirit of God would change him. “Then the Spirit of the LORD will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man.” Today inaugurates a change of ideas. Today needs to inaugurate our desire not only for national change but for spiritual change. In order for America to succeed we need to become a different kind of people. We must become people that seek the righteousness of God. In his farewell address Samuel tells the people to act in repentance. “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart. And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty (1 Samuel 12:20-21). The crisis of our nation is not as much economic as it is spiritual. We have morally collapsed. The themes presented in our art and media are a reflection of the seared moral conscience of our nation. Furthermore there is a moral crisis in the church. Rampant participation in all things ungodly characterizes the people of God. In order for God’s blessings to return to the church we must return to God. Sunday by Sunday we cover our unrighteousness with a veil of enthusiasm. It is time to return to righteousness and seek the Lord.

3) Be a student of history – On inauguration day it is not a bad idea to brush up on history. A marquee of post-modernism is the freedom of historical re-interpretation and revision. The rule of context is categorically ignored. Over the past few days we have been bombarded with quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King and the inaugural speeches of past presidents. There has also been a sea of historical references to events that have shaped our nation. Unfortunately in citing many of those things the historical context has been ignored. Moments shape meaning. It is a tragedy to solicit the enthusiasm of a movement and ignore its ideology. I may be frowned upon for writing this but there are a lot of things flying around in the media right now that are hypocritical and not honoring to Dr. King nor the civil rights movement. That sort of thing happens when not only journalists but also the masses are bad students of history. We easily swallow the placebo; empty with no substance.

4) Identify – Wherever you fall in your political persuasion there is an amazing ability in humans to be able to exercise empathy. Last night there was a program on television that featured President elect Obama’s wife and daughters. His daughters look to be about the age of my girls, maybe just a tad older. In that moment of watching those girls I sensed a connection with the man who was sworn in today to carry the burden of our nation. Though our contexts are not comparable, as a leader of people I felt something for our President and the strain that his family will experience. Those girls are so young. To us Barak Obama is the President, to them he is a daddy – no election will change that fact. We so carelessly criticize our leaders without any thought for their humanity, their family, their heart. We detach ourselves from one another and believe it then safe to throw bombs. If you don’t know a man it won’t hurt you to destroy him. “Don’t get attached, its just business.” As a man who has experienced my fair share of critique I can testify that it hurts and it is impossible, at least for me, to emotionally detach. Let us, especially the people of God, respect the family of our President. May we take some sense of responsibility to protect the sanctity of his family as he has taken an oath to protect our own.

May our President serve us in righteousness, integrity, and honor. And may God bless America.

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Work 40, Eat 3, Sleep 8

Work 40, Eat 3, Sleep 8

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. Proverbs 2:1-5

· Receive my words
· Treasure my commandments
· Make your ear attentive
· Incline your heart
· Call out for insight
· Raise your voice
· Seek it
· Search for it

Knowing God is not for the man who wants only to live – work 40, eat 3, sleep 8, fit in. Our souls were designed with the capacity to stretch for a lifetime. God has designed life to be a metamorphosis. Each day we can become deeper and different. We are not merely bodies. The mind is not just a brain. Living is not the ability to breathe in succession. We were created to understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.

· Learn
· Value
· Pay Attention
· Desire
· Ask Questions
· Cry
· Journey
· Explore

For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. Proverbs 2:6

Position your soul at the mouth of God.

· Read
· Memorize
· Think
· Discipline
· Ask More Questions
· Pray
· Journal
· Turn the Page

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What is Wrong With Us? Part 1 of a series of reflections on Jesus' words from the cross.

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” Luke 23:34

“They know not what they do.” Were they ignorant or are we to believe Jesus was naïve? Is it honest to say about such a deliberate act as the crucifixion that those involved did not know their role?

On Saturday I was awakened by a tiny kiss. My wife had gone out for breakfast; I was practicing second sleep[i]. During Saturday second sleep I am almost comatose; it is as close to a near death experience as I will probably ever get . . . but I felt the tiny kiss. I opened my eyes only to find that my vision was filled by the round smiling face of my youngest daughter. She then turned, walked out of the room and closed the door behind her, the smile never fading, almost Mona Lisa in nature, serving only to raise suspicion, to stimulate thought. I did not think how pleasant it was to be awakened by a tiny kiss. I did not think of how loving my little girl is. My first thought of the day was that I had been betrayed by a kiss. I knew something was wrong. Investigation revealed her desire to pull out all of her big sister’s clothes and play dress up; a situation that would require hazmat clean up. She kissed me to see if I were actually dead, thus giving her freedom to create disaster.

We like to laugh about it, but we know in all of us exists potential for mischief. If we could kiss and kill our conscience there is no limit to the evil we could imagine. We stand in the world like a child who has just shattered the cookie jar.[ii] We know something bad is about to happen. We know something has gone horribly wrong.

After Adam tasted forbidden fruit he realized something was horribly wrong. For the first time he felt shame. For the first time he felt fear. For the first time he hid himself from God. Adam had never considered these feelings; no one had instructed him on how to cover sin, there was no lesson on guilt, he just knew. He was afraid – instinctively afraid.

Chuck Colson said, “Someone has quipped that the doctrine of original sin is the only philosophy empirically validated by thirty five centuries of recorded human history.”[iii] All we need to do is live, view, listen, experience, express and we know something is wrong. Catalog only a few passing thoughts from your day, thoughts never shared, and you know your heart is not what it should be.

Jesus was not declaring their ignorance, nor was He exposing His own nativity. Jesus was declaring that something had gone horribly wrong. “They know not what they do.”

It was indeed a horrible scene, a naked man, disfigured, beaten, covered in blood, writhing in pain, fastened to wood with spikes, encircled by death. Mel Gibson interpreted the scene on film, it was rated “R.” As blood drips from his feet soldiers play a game of chance, the winner gets a dying man’s cloth. The air is filled with insult, cursing, and satire. Lending more color to callousness is the fact that nothing about his scene is uncommon. Jesus’ death is only one of three this day, and theirs only three of many scheduled to die on a hill called skull.

The Academy Awards celebrate the best stories of our year recorded on film. The five most nominated films of 2007 were rooted in plots that portrayed the worst of humanity. They were filled with images of blood, corruption, violence, vulgarity, curse, lust, dishonesty, and greed. Is this our world? Is Hollywood right? Is art merely imitating life or is art now corrupting life? Do we live in an “R” rated world? Perhaps the proper question is an unusual one. Do we feel these films? Are we not like actors on red carpet who walk playfully in and out of a world filled with vulgar images? Vulgarity in our world is so common that we can no longer feel it. In our newspaper are stories of murder and birth, divorce and engagement, molestation and education, disease and athletic accomplishment, car wrecks and coupons – and it all fits together so well, like oil on canvas. This is the image of our world. Today someone will go to the mall and buy shoes, someone will enter a dark room and inject heroine into a vein, someone will eat bar-b-q, and someone will pay a woman to spend an hour with them in a hotel while their wife is at home feeding their children.

We walk the red carpet. Look beautiful. Continue to believe life is imitation film. Perception is reality. What is that you are wearing and who is the designer?

The description of us in Romans 3 is poignant, “their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips; whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” No one wants to be a viper, it is difficult to agree with this description when it is your soul that is involved . . . but neither does the asp taste its own poison. Death resides in the mouth of a viper. Everything he eats he swallows whole. His throat is an open grave. Whatever he eats is laced with his own poison.

We cannot taste our poison.

Our television shows, movies, books, words, thoughts – the images of our culture are laced with our poison, we swallow them whole, a rated “R” world. We have grown as accustomed to the images of our world as the Romans were to three men dying on a hill called “The Skull.” Death and brutality were common. It felt natural. The winner gets the cloth. Let’s play.

“They know not what they do.”

Ultimately it was rebellion. They posted a plaque that declared Jesus was a king, but they killed him because he said he was God. Nietzsche said that God was dead. He believed with the execution of God that man would move away from the supernatural and concentrate on the actual. Without the trappings of God man could fulfill his ultimate potential, redefine himself.

It was the same issue in the garden. Cast off the restraint of God and man would be able to create his own definition of morality. The forbidden fruit represented potential, man becoming as God. Legalize sin and it is no longer sin. Yet, when a doctor inserts forceps into the skull of a half born baby we prove we are not capable of handling moral autonomy. Just because abortion is legal does that make it any less of a holocaust? Some things the conscience cannot legalize. Guilt is not a judicial decision; it is a prison for the heart.

We do not know what we are doing, yet we are not ignorant. Something has gone horribly wrong, we can feel it. We cannot kiss and kill the conscience. How can we become what we have proven we are not . . . clean?

“Father, forgive them . . .”

(To be continued)

[i] I first mentioned the concept of “second sleep” in my entry, “Interpretations of Jesus.” Since I first mentioned it people have become so interested in the subject I may need to develop a manual, or at least a Wikipedia article.
[ii] Richard John Neuhaus, Death on Friday Afternoon
[iii] Chuck Colson, How Shall We Now Live

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Interpretations of Jesus: A reflection on Matthew 16:13-20

We are Saturday experts. My family takes pleasure in creating great Saturdays. There are plenty of things that will destroy a Saturday, i.e. yard work, house work, work. But there are a few ingredients that make for a great Saturday. For me, the first ingredient is what I would call “second sleep.” Second sleep is when everyone wakes up at around 7:00 a.m., my daughters crash the bed, injure their father, drag their mother away as a spoil of battle, and there is calm after the storm. Second sleep comes during that calm. I am not a good sleeper, but for some reason in that second set of Saturday morning sleep I am almost comatose. That is second sleep, a Saturday morning coma that occurs between 7 and 9 a.m., and if I am lucky can last as long as 10.

And then there is breakfast. You cannot have a great Saturday without a great breakfast. Through the week we start the day with cereal, yogurt, pop-tarts, a stick of wood, a jar of glue – anything that has any decent nutritional value that can be consumed in about three seconds. But on Saturday breakfast is a renaissance.

A couple of weeks ago we put together a jewel of a Saturday. Following second sleep we went to The Original Pancake House at Five Points on the Southside of Birmingham, AL. Granted it was almost eleven when we got there, but we realized there are tons of people who practice second sleep and treasure a renaissance breakfast. Following breakfast we went to the Alabama Museum of Art to take in the Pompeii exhibit. Unfortunately, at the museum, we ran into about a quarter of a million people who do not practice second sleep on Saturdays; we were already about six hours behind them in line – no exaggeration. So we decided to visit the free/lineless galleries reserved for Saturday second sleepers.

The first gallery we visited was the gallery of contemporary art. Compared with the historical progression of art I witnessed throughout the museum, my initial conclusion is that the longer we are on this planet, the weirder we get. Contemporary art is a metaphor for the fact that we have almost completely lost our minds. I thought art was mostly paint, clay, and stone – colors, shapes, and figures, but apparently art can also be video – really high-def., plasma, video. On the wall were two monitors, one containing the image of a man (shoulders and head), the other of a woman (shoulders and head). The woman and the man had a blank forward stare, sort of eerie; I uncomfortably stared back. Their staring was only interrupted by very pronounced slow-mo blinks. They would stare and then they would slow-mo blink. Suddenly you realize they are in water because they slow-mo rise out of the water. During the slow-mo rise you notice how water slightly changes the tones, colors, and shape of their skin. And then, they take this slow-mo fall back into the water. The slow-mo makes the disturbance of the fall, the splash and the swirls almost seem chaotic. The chaos of the water makes the man and the woman lose their shape, they are just dark non-descript images beneath the water, no longer distinguishable from one another. The video ends.

I struggle with culture as does any southern fried Georgia bred male, and so this moment for me was a total enigma. I hate feeling stupid, unfortunately it does not take much to get me there – art makes me feel beyond stupid. I like it, but I do not understand it. To add to the level of my discomfort there were several people in the room watching the video art who were not stupid. Every once in awhile the non-stupid people would let out an intellectual grunt, an appreciative grunt. So I tried to fit in and play along, I grunted just after they grunted as if to acknowledge I saw it too. But what did they see grunt worthy? Was it that they appreciated this blink even more than the previous blink? Did they know the meaning of water, what does water mean? Honestly, my first impressions were that these televisions would be awesome during college football season and I can’t wait for the weather to warm up so I too can get in a pool. I knew my grunting was only an intellectual façade, I was looking at the same thing they were looking at, but I was not seeing what they saw.

And so I read the information plaque beside the video art and it told a little bit about the story. Later that week I got on the internet and tried to learn more about what I had seen. It is a piece by an artist named Bill Viola called Dissolution. Dissolution is the last segment of a seven piece movement of video called Purification. It was inspired by an opera and is an artistic representation of the process of change through purification and sacrifice. In the end the man and the woman meet as lovers in Dissolution. It is an impression of what it is like to love. There were two distinct people, but when they fell into the water they looked the same, they sort of dissolved into images that were strangely similar and non-descript, indistinct from one another. Then it became provocative to me because I saw it like the artist intended it. This is what it is like to love, to lose yourself in someone else. When you find that person who changes you and you can’t imagine your life being defined without them. Your relationship with them changes you into someone else and you have a similar effect on them. In the Bible it is called “the two shall become one flesh”, dissolution.

Dissolution is when you are so in love it makes you want to jump into a pool. Strangely, when I am around my wife I have a sub-concious urge to swim.

Art has a way of making something happen inside of us. It provokes thought, captures your imagination, it helps you feel. Artists take intangible concepts and attempt to impersonate them with colors, textures and shapes, images – that take something indescribable and make it tangible: anger, sadness, confusion, joy, melancholy, love, hope, desire, freedom. Artists have a way of connecting with your thoughts and emotions through paint, clay, marble, and video.

You approach the piece with shallow first impressions – it’s a slow blink on LCD, “hmmm, oh yes, very intelligent.” Obviously even though you are seeing what everyone else sees, you are not seeing what everyone else sees, more importantly you are not seeing what is really there. And then you learn of the artist’s intentions, his or her story or background or interpretation of what they wanted you to see. After you get that, you begin to see even more and now you see it differently, in almost a moment. Now that you share the artist’s knowledge it frees you to see even more. You identify with it – yes, this is the way love feels, this is what love does, this is the way love looks, like dissolution.

Our souls desire to make a connection with intangible things:

Forgiveness – what is it like to know you are forgiven?
Love – what is the greatest love? How far can love go?
God – can we really know God? If we can, what is He like? Does He know what just happened to me?
Hope – What’s next? Will it be better than this?
Eternity – Is this life all there is? What will happen to me after I die? Does life end?

Jesus asks His disciples for an interpretation. When you look at me, what do you see? What do you think? Who am I to you? How do you interpret me? He called for all the options. “Who do men say that I am?” After the options were on the table He asked of them personally, “Who do you say that I, the Son of Man, am?”

So what are the options? Who is Jesus?

Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, believes God is bad for man. Religion has inspired men to kill, to persecute, and to brutalize. He believes God is bad for science. There can be no valid science that begins with the idea of God. If science cannot begin with God it will render honest conclusions, namely that there is no God. The story of the Golden Compass echoes this thought that the world would be a better place without God and His church; that people would be better if they were free to experience magic dust and think and act as they feel. The atheist has no room for God, no place for miracles, and no tolerance for Jesus.

Post-modernism, the something and nothing of our culture, is very spiritual in nature, but revisionist in practice. Post-modernism encourages spirituality but discourages definition. The Jesus Seminar is the reputation of the idea and “The DaVinci Code” was the entertaining of the idea. The idea that what we have been led to believe about Jesus may not be honest. The traditional Christ is only an invention of the modern church, a projection of what they wanted Him to be, but never was. To Oprah Christ is one of many valid paths. On the island of LOST Christianity and Hinduism are a potpourri of mysticism that helps us explore the meaning of miracles, forgiveness, prayer, and ultimate reality.

Religion presents its interpretations of Christ. To the Catholic Church it is the institutional Jesus, that through the vehicle of sacraments, papal authority, and the administered graces of the church you will find forgiveness in Jesus. The cultic Jesus says he is not God, but a god. Jesus was a man like you and me who struck gold on a path to deity, an inspiration for the rest of us prospecting for immortality. There is the bubba Jesus, the icon of southern fried culture, the man who will help us believe just enough so that we can escape Hell. Jesus is the moment we fear fire, fear death, but at the same time dread actually changing the way we live our life. We will make a deal so that we will not burn. Jesus is sort of like a booster shot, every couple of years you may need one. I don’t know if you realize this, but almost everyone who dies in the south goes to heaven. At some point in time we have almost all believed in Jesus, we made a deal so that we would not burn.

“Who do you say I, the Son of Man am?” Every person has an interpretation of Jesus. It is sort of like art; we are looking at the same thing, but we are all seeing something different. But are we seeing what is actually there?

Peter interpreted Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Peter was raised in a religious culture. Peter was raised in what I would consider to be the forefather of post-modernism, Roman pluralism. Some people believe that Peter was raised geographically near Jesus; he may have known Jesus his entire life. But now, he saw Jesus in a way he had never seen Him before.

It is when we hear the artist’s story, his or her intention and explanation of the metaphors, of the images, of the colors, of the textures, of the motions, of the shapes, that we begin to see what is really there. When we see what the artist sees it connects us intellectually and emotionally to intangible, sometimes unexplainable, concepts like sadness, joy, melancholy, passion.

Our first impressions can be misleading. The atheist’s interpretation of Jesus is hopeless. The post-modern Jesus is confusing, He is and isn’t. The religious Jesus is lifeless. The southern Jesus is shallow. It is ironic that sometimes we can all be looking at the same thing, but see something completely different. More importantly, we can look at something and not see what is really there. Sometimes our interpretations are biased based on what we want to see; but how can we ignore that which our soul truly craves: to be forgiven, to be loved sacrificially, to have hope, to have a place in eternity, to know life is meaningful, to know God? God has a way of revealing truth to us in grace by making a connection with the cravings of our soul. Jesus said to Peter, “Simon Bar-Jona, flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” Simon, also called Peter, you now see what God sees, this is God’s interpretation, that Jesus is the anointed savior of the soul.

We are constantly presented with Jesus, almost to the point of confusion, very near apathy; and then a moment comes in which God powerfully shows us what is actually there. In a moment He connects our soul to forgiveness, to hope, to eternity, and to Himself through the reality of Jesus. We see Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God. For Simon Peter and for those with whom God makes a connection Jesus is not simply a confession, but He is a revolutionary of the searching soul.
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