Learning–An Adventure in Freedom: a Reflection on Jeremiah 31:31-34 and John 12:20-33

We are to live our lives captured by a vision that is bigger than ourselves and circumstances. Jeremiah 31 depicts a vision of God restoring human to our original intent, restoring human in and through our brokenness. Woody Bartlett, an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Atlanta, writes, “…this passage begs us to explore the ways we need the law of love to be written on our hearts. More importantly, it sets up the exploration…of how the power of the resurrection can find a home in our hearts so that we, and those around us, can truly live a new life.”[1]

In November of 2008 one of the greatest masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance was restored to its original splendor and returned to its home at the world-renowned gallery in Florence. The Madonna del Cardellino was painted by Raphael in 1505 for the wedding of his friend, a wealthy Florence merchant. It portrays Jesus Christ’s mother, Mary, with two children who are playing with a bird. The children symbolized John the Baptist and his young cousin Jesus. The gold finch bird that feeds among thorns is interpreted as representing Christ’s future suffering…Forty years after it was created, there was an earthquake in the house in which this painting was kept, and the painting was shattered into 17 different pieces…So, another artist took long iron nails and tried to patch the pieces together. And then he tried to paint over it to conceal the breaks and make it look whole again. But over the years, there were so many layers of paint added and so much dust and grime over this painting that the original colors, the original art, was completely obscured. The contemporary restoration project fixed the shattered areas and removed layers of paint and dirt to get the colors back. It was a team effort. It took fifty people ten years of working on this painting, and the result is stunning. The cracks are gone. Centuries of brown film and grime are gone. The dulling veneers and patches have been stripped away, and the finished product glows with all the deep colors: the reds, and blues, and golds of the original work of art. Given how badly it was damaged, the restoration of Raphael’s painting is arguably even more amazing than the painting itself. The original was splendid, but the miracle of restoration compounds the beauty…The spiritual parallels are profound. They speak to a far greater masterpiece of restoration, the one that the Lord wants to do in your life and in mine. Tragically, the beautiful design of who God created us to be has been marred by sin; and layers of grime and dirt have collected. Maybe you’ve felt them and sensed them in your life. You thought you could paint over the damage, but it didn’t work, and the patches, the veneers that you applied just made things worse, and the cracks are showing. Maybe you’ve experienced earthquakes that have shattered you, but the good news of the gospel is that Jesus has the power to make all things new.[2]

In Jeremiah 31:31-32, God is doing something new. These verses are clear that the people of God would receive a new covenant, yet the covenant made to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 would not change. The Abrahamic Covenant had four major components. First, God would make Abraham’s name great. Second, Abraham and his people would become a great nation. Third, Abraham and his people would be a blessing to all nations. And fourth, Abraham and his people would be given a land, a geographical place of identity. The promise of blessing would not change. How it was experienced and advanced would.

In Jeremiah 31:33-34, the ability to live a life of forgiveness becomes the core of human experience. The law of God would be written on the people’s hearts. In other words, the people had the Torah, God’s law written. Now, God would write this law on the people’s hearts. The people would become the “living Law.” God would forgive the people’s sins and remember them no more. According to this reframing of the original promise, all people would know God.

God sent the Son of God, Jesus Christ, to be the Savior and Lord of the world. Jesus was the once and for all sacrifice for the sins of humanity. By placing one’s faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, the law of God is written on the believer’s heart. All a person needs to do is confess their sin and trust in Jesus. John Piper in Think writes, “…thinking is dangerous and indispensable. Without a profound work of grace in the heart, knowledge–the fruit of thinking–puffs up. But with that grace, thinking opens the door of humble knowledge. And that knowledge is the fuel of the fire of love for God and man. If we turn away from serious thinking in our pursuit of God, that fire will eventually go out.”[3]

In one week’s time, we will begin the journey of remembering the something new God promised and delivered. From Jesus’ faithful walk into Jerusalem, his reframing of the Passover Seder meal, betrayal, beating by the Romans, crucifixion, and resurrection, we know that death loses, and love wins. The text in John 12:20-33 keeps our focus that “Jesus’ crucifixion judges ‘the world’ and drives out the ‘ruler of the world.’”[4] Jesus is here and invites you to participate in something bigger than yourself.

God’s promise of doing something new and forgiveness invites us into the vision that is bigger than ourselves. Jesus asks you and me to allow him the opportunity to do something new in our lives; to write forgiveness on our hearts. Think about the implications of forgiveness for you, others, and our society. Once again Woody Bartlett writes, “What would it be like if God wrote the law on our hearts so that we would live within the creation, not above it, so that we would cherish our neighbors, the birds, animals, and fish? What would this creation look like if we lived with restraint and humility, living for the whole creation, not just our singular, insular selves and our own narrow corner of creation?”[5] On the road of redemption you will do the good work of forgiveness and cherish your neighbors. Will you trust Jesus Christ to restore you to God’s original intent for the sake of all creation? Walk the road of redemption.

[1]Woody Bartlett in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 127.

[2]Mary Kassian, from the sermon “The Genesis of Gender” as found on http://www.preachingtoday.com, March 15, 2018.  

[3]John Piper, Think (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2010), 164-165.

[4]Charles L. Campbell in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 2, 141.

[5]Woody Bartlett in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 2, 127.


Learning–Complaining Is a Dead End: a Reflection on Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:14-21

Snakes top the list of common fears with two out of every five Americans.[1] And snakes, that is serpents, are the focal point of the text in Numbers. Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “The preacher’s first impulse may be to calm this fear by intellectualizing the snake or allegorizing it.”[2] In Moses’ case, once the people stopped complaining and looked to God, the serpent became their savior, not their tormentor.[3] In the gospel reading from John, we are invited to stop complaining about fears, which are rooted in condemnation, and look to Jesus the Savior.

The text in Numbers is the last in a series of five “murmuring stories.” Murmuring is a more accurate translation of the Hebrew than complaining. Murmuring denotes an ongoing “stirring up of the waters,” if you will. While in the wilderness, the people were complaining, about one thing or another, all the time. Although the people were complaining against Moses and Aaron, they were also complaining against God. Yet, Moses intercedes on their behalf. The point of the serpent is this: complaining is poisonous. However, when the people looked at the serpent on Moses’ staff, they were healed from the poisonous bite. But if they didn’t, they would die.

As the text in John reminds us, Jesus did not come into the world to condemn, but to save. We must decide to look to the Savior and trust him. God Almighty sent Jesus into the world, fully God and fully human, to give us eternal life. But not only eternal life. We must decide to look to the Son of Man (Jesus) as the anti-venom to the poisonous effects of complaining. The failure to have “faith” in God is at the root of complaining. A better translation of “faith” is “trust.”

When we are captured by fear and complain, we don’t have faith in anyone but ourselves. When we shift our allegiance to God, and look to the One who has conquered fear, the anti-venom is applied. John Piper in Think writes, “Knowing the truth with our minds and holding fast to it as a treasure in our hearts is the key to holiness…The fact that some people ‘know’ these things and still sin means only that there is more to it than knowing, but not less.”[4] The right use of the mind is so important.

It all began with a complaint. In the 1920s, the esteemed type designer Stanley Morison criticized London’s newspaper The Times for being out-of-touch with modern typographical trends. So, The Times replied to his complaint by asking him to create something better. Morison took up the challenge. He enlisted the help of expert draftsman Victor Lardent and began conceptualizing a new typeface with two goals in mind: efficiency and readability…In 1926, The Times tested an early version of Morison’s new type. After test upon test…the final design was approved, and “The Times New Roman” was born…Times New Roman is still going strong, proving that sometimes there’s something better than criticism: become part of the solution instead.[5]

Believing is the anti-venom for complaining. Believing works on solutions. I want the best for others. But, when I complain, such is not the case. I desire to lead out of my brokenness. But, when I complain, such is not the case. I know that Geneva is God’s church. But, when I complain, such is not the case. Complaining indicates unbelief. And unbelief is an indication of the condemnation from which we can be saved. W. Hulitt Gloer, Professor of Preaching at Truett Seminary, writes, “If believing is more than giving mental assent to certain propositional statements—if believing really means obedience—then during Lent, as we remember the obedience of Jesus, we must ask: ‘Do we really believe?’”[6] My friends, complaining is a dead end. So, I ask, do you really believe? Look to Jesus.

[1]The Harris Poll 1993 #3. Released: Monday, January 18, 1993.

[2]Barbara Brown Taylor in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 101.

[3]This concept of “tormentor to savior” is gleaned from Barbara Brown Taylor in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 2, 101, 103.

[4]John Piper, Think (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2010), 127.

[5]Meredith Mann, “Where Did Times New Roman Come From?” The New York Public Library (12-9-14). Taken from the preachingtoday.com website, March 9, 2018.

[6]W. Hulitt Gloer in in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 2, 121.


Learning–The Law Teaches and Directs: a Reflection on John 2:13-22 and Exodus 20:1-17

On a recent FB post, Tic Long, a friend, who is a relative of Janet’s by marriage, wrote this on his retirement from the Journey Church in San Diego:

As I retire from here with no real idea of what God has next…I am excited about what God has up his sleeve. I have trusted [Him] in the past and will going forward knowing it will be awesome. One final thought about how awesome God is. For me it started as a lost knucklehead Freshmen in High School who smoked dope EVERYDAY with kids in my neighborhood before getting on the bus for school (hey it was 1966 in the Bay Area. I got 4 F’s, 2D’s and 36 cuts my first quarter of High School and was on no one’s list of most likely to succeed. That winter I got invited to a Youth Group Ski trip and bumped into Jesus (who I wasn’t looking for) and a community of teenage followers of Jesus in that youth group and my life was changed……forever. By the time I was 16 I knew I wanted to be a pastor, specifically a youth pastor and went to a Seattle Pacific to prepare to do just that. Well that never happened. God had a different idea and I ended up with Youth Specialties for 34 GLORIOUS years. I could not have asked for more. It was an amazing adventure and as my late friend Mike Yaconelli would say “What A Ride!!” Then out of the blue, totally unexpected at age 59….59!! God opens a new door and has another adventure for me…to become a pastor at Journey…So God answers the desires of a young teenage age heart after all those years and I become a pastor. Whodathunkit!
God is just so cool. I know it was God who put that desire in my heart and in his time granted it. I think as a young man I was still too much of a knucklehead and needed lots of polishing before I was ready to be a pastor :-)
So with much gratitude to God and Journey and…a sense of wonder & expectancy I take the next step of serving Jesus in whatever form that takes….tic[1]

The Ten Commandments depict God’s intent for humanity. Surprise! God finds us. “It’s important to remember that the Ten Commandments presuppose Israel’s history and its understanding of covenantal life before God, because, especially in Christian circles, the Ten Commandments have all too often been reduced to moral principles.”[2] Walter Breuggemann, in his commentary on Exodus 20 in The New Interpreter’s Bible, writes, “These commands might be taken not as a series of rules, but a proclamation in God’s own mouth of who God is and how God shall be ‘practiced’ by this community of liberated slaves.”[3] A significant aspect of our learning is to plumb the depths of God’s faithfulness and human obedience. Here’s the bottom line. “God’s faithfulness is not contingent upon the obedience of the people.”[4] God is not waiting to hammer us in our disobedience, but to help us experience a new way of life. When we disregard God’s teaching about living in community, we wander into an existence of bankrupt individualism, separated from God and one another.

The first four commandments focus on our relationship with God; the last six on our relationship with one another. The first commandment, verses 1-3, articulates how to have a right relationship with God. There are to be no other God’s before the One whose name is, “I am the Lord God Almighty.” The second commandment, verses 4-6, discusses how God is jealous and does not want the hearts of God’s people attached to anything or anyone besides God’s own self. The third commandment, verse 7, makes us cognizant that to “make wrongful use” of the name of the LORD means to misuse it. The fourth commandment, verses 8-11, commands us to “Remember the Sabbath Day.” The Sabbath rest was a memorial to what God had done at creation. It was a day made for humans to worship God, find strength for their weariness, and take delight in the Lord.

With the fifth commandment, verse 12, the commandments related to our relationships with one another begin. To honor your father and your mother is the foundation of social order and peace. Commandments six through ten, verses 13-17, are the “shall nots.” The “shall nots” of murder, adultery, stealing, bearing false witness against another and coveting are ordinances to safeguard marriage, property, and one’s neighbor.

Only in God, that is, through Jesus Christ, can we be the people God intends us to be. According to John Calvin, there are three uses for the Ten Commandments. George W. Stroup writes,

First, …they expose our sin, cutting through our self- deception, that we really are ‘good’ people…Second, the Commandments serve an important civic function in that they restrain sin, which is never simply individual but always corporate, social, and institutional. Finally, and Calvin said most importantly, the Commandments…guide us as we journey in our life before God and our life with our neighbors.[5]

Adherence to the Ten Commandments does not earn God’s favor or grace. Just as Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers in and drove out the people selling cattle, sheep, and doves from the temple as well as announced his pending death and resurrection was an awakening for all those involved, the Ten Commandments awaken us to believe, that is, to place our faith in God. John Piper in his book Think, writes, “…loving God with the mind means that our thinking is wholly engaged to do all it can to awaken and express the heartfelt fullness of treasuring God above all things.”[6]

And so, I tell you this personal encounter with Evangelist and Pastor Billy Graham, a great person of Christian faith, who loved God and others. Billy Graham had just preached at Bel Air Presbyterian Church where I served as an Associate Pastor (1985-1991). There was a luncheon at an elder’s home following the last service. When I arrived, the only open seat was next to Dr. Graham. When I sat down, Dr. Graham complimented me on how I assisted in worship and then said, “I know you travel extensively on teaching and preaching missions. So, who travels with you?” I stated, no one. To which Graham replied, “How do you guard your mind from lust when you see that beautiful woman as you walk through the hotel lobby. And who stops your finger from pressing the pay per-view adult films option on the remote in your room?” Wow, not light-hearted lunch time conversation. Dr. Graham concluded, “I travel with four men. I don’t trust my heart and mind to myself. It’s dangerous.”

Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord? Billy Graham, who died at the grand age of 99 on Wednesday, February 21 at his home in Montreat, North Carolina, led thousands of people to Jesus and invited them to pray this prayer, as I do those of you who are uncertain in your heart about that relationship with Jesus this day. Let’s all close our eyes. In silence, I invite you to agree with this prayer as it is said or quietly repeat after me this prayer: “O God, I am a sinner. I am sorry for my sin. I am willing to turn from my sin. I receive Jesus as my Savior; I confess Him as my Lord. From now on I want to follow Him in the fellowship of His Church. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Just like Tic Long, we stumble and mess up, and God surprises us. Remember what Tic said?

One final thought about how awesome God is. For me it started as a lost knucklehead Freshmen in High School…That winter I got invited to a Youth Group Ski trip and bumped into Jesus (who I wasn’t looking for) …and my life was changed……forever.[7]

Jesus finds us where and when we least expect him. Any of you who prayed the prayer used by Billy Graham, please come forward after the service and allow the elders present to love on you by welcoming you to God’s family and praying with you. It is our hope that you’ll find your place at Geneva to engage all that God is doing, so your experience with the Geneva Presbyterian Church family can become even more meaningful. Remember, we grow in our relationship with Jesus through worship, learning, connecting, serving, and giving.

[1]Taken from Tic Long’s FB page at facebook.com. Posted February 28, 2018.

[2]George W. Stroup in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 74, 76.

[3]Walter Brueggemann, The Book of “Exodus” in The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994), 1:841.

[4]Barbara Brown Taylor in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 2, 75.

[5]George W. Stroup in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 2, 76.

[6] John Piper, Think (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2010), 80.

[7]Taken from Tic Long’s FB page at facebook.com. Posted February 28, 2018.

Learning–Faith Leads to Understanding: a Reflection on Genesis 17:1-7, 15-17 and Romans 4:13-15

During Lent, we are not to rush to Easter from our regular and everyday experiences. Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Instead, we are invited to spend forty days examining the nature of our covenant with God. Upon what does that relationship depend?”[1]  At this moment, you will either use faith to lead to understanding or insist on understanding to lead to faith. Which approach do you use to sort things out? Thinking leads to learning, which leads to becoming. Are you on the journey of thinking, learning, and becoming? That journey demonstrates us being the best neighbors. John Piper, the author of Think, writes, “Thinking is indispensable on the path to passion for God.”[2]

I’m convinced that faith leads to understanding. By placing your faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, there are the benefits you’ll receive. When Jesus spoke of the abundant life, he was referencing the things that God would do in the present for the believer. Eternal life was always a primary issue with secondary application in Jesus’ teaching. This is an important observation that followers of Jesus need to keep in mind. The Christian faith is not one, directly, for tomorrow. It is a faith with relevance for today.

God does work for us and wants to do things for us. Genesis 17:1-7, 15-17 demonstrates that God promised to do things for Abraham.  It was God, the Creator, who decided to tell Abraham who he was to become, leaving behind who he once was. God wants to work for you and for me. Let’s unpack the “I am” of verse one and the “I wills” of verses 2-7, 15-17. We need first to see who God is and then discover what God will do.

Verse 1, The “I am.” Abram was ninety-nine years old and God revealed God’s own self to Abram by saying, “I am God Almighty.” The Hebrew, el shaddai, is usually translated “God Almighty.” Not much more to say than that. In Abram’s world, a world of many gods and traditions, the God of the Scriptures was revealing God’s own self as the God of all gods. The name “God Almighty” is profound. The verb “to be” leading up to the name is even more significant. The verb “to be” used here is the same verb form used in the story of the burning bush in Exodus when God tells Moses God’s name is “I am who I am.” Genesis 17:1 is significant in that the concept of God and religion is clarified for Abram and his culture. The Hebrew God was differentiating God’s own self from all other gods by stating that the “I am” was God. In a pluralistic society like that of Abram’s day, much like our day, the absolute claim made by God here is quite striking. Abram was told that “I am” was his God and that “I am” wanted him to walk with God and to be blameless.

Verses 2-8, the “I Wills.” In Genesis 17:2-8 there is a series of seven “I will” statements. These are the things that God will do for Abram. These “I will” statements are promises from God for Abram, promises that only God can do and fulfill. There is nothing that Abram can do to make these promises happen. There is nothing about Abram that warranted God making these promises. The seven “I wills” are: I will make my covenant between me and you; I will make you exceedingly numerous; I will make you exceedingly fruitful; I will make nations of you; I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring throughout their generations; I will give you and your offspring the land; I will be the God of the people of that land. God made a series of seven promises to Abram that only God could do. All Abraham had to do was to exercise faith. Abram heard God’s call and responded in faith. Abraham left the security of the known and obeyed God’s call to go to a land unknown and yet to be seen. The journey of faith, leading to understanding, began. And the journey was messy. Abraham stepped out in faith and followed God in faith.

The “I am” will do the “I wills” for you. Faith leads to understanding. Believing the promise first leads to understanding the promise. Yes, it is only by faith in God that you can then grow in understanding how much you are loved by God and that God has a purpose for your life. Yes, you! Believe that God loves you. In Jesus Christ, God answers your questions along the way of the journey. Again, John Piper writes on how exercising faith leads to understanding, “Asking questions is the key to understanding.”[3]

Faith leads to understanding. Romans 4:20-22 reads, “No distrust made him [Abraham] waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith ‘was reckoned to him as righteousness.’” God calls you and me, just like Abraham, to be courageous and takes risks, rather than living a futile and immobile life trying not to make mistakes.[4] Mary Oliver articulates the power of faith leading to understanding in her poem, “The World I Live In”:

I have refused to live

locked in the orderly house of

reasons and proofs.

The world I live in and believe in

is wider than that. And anyway,

what’s wrong with Maybe?

You wouldn’t believe what once or

twice I have seen. I’ll just

tell you this:

only if there are angels in your head will you

ever, possibly, see one.[5]

Give yourself to Jesus Christ. Place your faith in God, the One who does what God’s own self promises. You will begin the journey of understanding.

[1]Barbara Brown Taylor in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 55.

[2]John Piper, Think (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2010), 27.

[3]John Piper, Think (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2010), 48.

[4]My thinking has been impacted by Jeff Paschal in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 2, 67.

[5]Mary Oliver, Devotions (New York City, New York: Penguin Press, 2017), 5.

Learning–Called Out of Chaos and Nothingness: a Reflection on Genesis 9:8-17

One day a young mother was taking a walk with her small son and they saw a  rainbow. The four-year-old boy looked up in wonder and said, “Mommy, can we take that home and put it in our house?” His awestruck question prompted the mother to write a poem she titled “A Rainbow in My House.” She took her son’s question literally, imagining what it would be like to have a rainbow in their house, on their walls, emanating from the windows and doors, coming out the chimney. The house was transformed, and it could not contain the glory of the rainbow and its colors.[1]

What difference might the rainbow make in our lives as Christians and a Church? Would you live your life differently, if the rainbow occupied your thinking? Think about it! God’s promise that God would never again separate humanity from God’s own self by water or flood the earth to destroy it, means God has your back. No matter what chaos or sense of nothingness you’re experiencing, it will not win. God’s Covenant promise continually calls you out of chaos and nothingness. David J. Lose, Academic Dean and The Marbury E. Anderson Chair in Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary, writes, “God binds God’s own self to humanity, and indeed to all the world, in a new and different way. God is no longer only the creator; God is now also the protector, committed to refrain from punishing humanity or destroying the world.”[2] Yes, God makes an everlasting Covenant with humanity and creation to be our creator and protector, forever.

Genesis 9:8-17 makes these observations regarding God being our, forever, creator and protector. First, the church can be a place where conflict can be taken seriously and not covered up. That is, whether the conflict resides in relational discord, ecological and natural disasters, inequity of resources and wealth, or ideological disagreement, such conflicts can be resolved, honestly and openly, using God’s way of loving God and loving others. Second, restorative justice can be practiced for our health and that of others. That is, changing gun laws to ban the purchase of the AR-15 rifle, a weapon used in the Vietnam War, making things right for the indigenous populations in our country for the injustices committed through resettlement, and honoring commitments made through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), “an American immigration policy that allowed some individuals who entered the country as minors, and had either entered or remained in the country illegally, to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and to be eligible for a work permit,”[3] are important matters given God’s Covenant promise, which we are reminded of in and through the rainbow. And, third, the way we practice patience and forgiveness with and to all people, regardless of ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation, is important. It is our shared faith in Jesus Christ that unites us.[4]

Are you willing to be enveloped by the rainbow and have God’s promise infuse your mind, words, and actions? The way you think forms your words and actions. John Piper, the author of Think, writes, “While all of God’s creation serves to reveal him is some way, he has willed that the clearest and most authoritative knowledge of him this side of heaven comes through this written Word, the Bible…The Bible is the main place that we come to know God, and the Bible is a book, and a book requires thinking.”[5] The Bible is clear about God’s Covenant promise of being our creator and protector, forever.

Let me go out on a limb and state that much of the chaos and nothingness we are experiencing in the world and our personal lives is the result of decisions made without clear thinking about consequences, intended and unintended. Mary Oliver articulates the power of thinking with these words from Upstream,

Wherever I’ve lived my room and soon the entire house is filled with books; poems, stories, histories, prayers of all kinds stand up gracefully or are heaped on shelves, on the floor, on the bed. Strangers old and new offering their words bountifully and thoughtfully, lifting my heart. But wait! I’ve made a mistake! How could these makers of so many books that have given so much to my life—how could they possibly be strangers.[6]

Let’s embrace the rainbow and its claim on each one of us to reject chaos and nothingness as definers of life. Work at resolving conflict openly and kindly, be agents of restorative justice, and provide an inclusive community at Geneva for all people, as together, we seek a better way to live.

[1]A personal story used by permission of Michelle Sisk, student at Iliff School of Theology and candidate for ordination in the United Church of Christ, by Jane Anne Ferguson in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 26.

[2]David J. Lose in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 29.

[3]Taken from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

[4]Some ideas gleaned from Jane Anne Ferguson in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 2 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 30.

[5]John Piper, Think (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2010), 41.

[6]Mary Oliver, Upstream (New York City, New York: Penguin Press, 2016), 63.

Learning–Points of Dependence, Not Obstacles: a Reflection on Mark 9:2-9 and 2 Kings 2:1-12

We have shaped Jesus over the centuries into a dreadfully small deity. Brennan Manning writes, “In every age and culture, we tend to shape Jesus to our image and make him over to our own needs in order to cope with the stress his unedited presence creates.”[1]

Elisha faced head on the stress which God’s unedited presence created in his life. Elisha is being handed the mantle of Elijah. The reading in 2 Kings 2:1-12 depicts Elisha identifying with Elijah’s vulnerability, difficulty, and struggle. By doing this, Elisha depends on God to meet him in his stress, seizing God’s mercy to see him through. It is through the stress and stressors of life that we see God’s faithfulness proved.[2]

The Transfiguration calls us to enter the deep realities and relationships of the people with whom we worship, live, and serve. In Mark 9:2-9, the story of the transfiguration, the disciples see the pulling away of the veil of Jesus’ humanity to expose his deity. Peter, James, and John see God. During the transfiguration, Peter recommends building three dwellings. Some have suggested that Peter is thinking of setting up booths in the sense of the feast of tabernacles where the Hebrews made shelters out of intertwined branches celebrating the goodness of God in their lives. Peter is not thinking about a family festival, but The Tent of Meeting. He wants to be fully dependent upon God.

The Tent of Meeting was where Moses met with God after he came down from the mountain after receiving the Ten Commandments. The Tent of Meeting was built in the desert and moved from place to place as the community of Hebrews moved about the desert for forty years after their release from captivity from Egypt. The Tent of Meeting represented direct communication with God. Peter wanted to capture the presence of God in a permanent way.

Are you willing to be met by and meet God? God inhabits everyday life. God interrupts and startles us. Meeting and being met by God, makes us the best neighbors. Others see in our words and actions God’s love at work. Thinking is one of the ways we learn, when and how, to interpret God inhabiting everyday life. John Piper, the author of Think, writes,

Thinking is indispensable on the path to passion for God. Thinking is not an end in itself. Nothing but God himself is finally an end in itself. Thinking is not the goal of life. Thinking, like non-thinking, can be the ground for boasting. Thinking without prayer, without the Holy Spirit, without obedience, without love, will puff up and destroy. But thinking under the mighty hand of God, thinking soaked in prayer, thinking carried by the Holy Spirit, thinking tethered to the Bible, thinking in pursuit of more reasons to praise and proclaim the glories of God, thinking in the service of love—such thinking is indispensable in a life of fullest praise to God.”[3]

The transfiguration forces us to come to terms with the unedited presence of Jesus. Mary Oliver articulates the power of prayer in dealing with the unedited presence of Jesus in her poem, “Praying:”

It doesn’t have to be

The blue iris, it could be

Weeds in a vacant lot, or a few

Small stones; just

Pay attention, then patch

A few words together and don’t try

To make them elaborate, this isn’t

A contest but the doorway

Into thanks, and a silence in which

Another voice may speak[4]

The unedited presence of God is friend not foe. Blaise Pascal writes, “God made man in his own image and man returned the compliment.”[5]  Let’s embrace the former in all its unedited presence and cease and desist from the latter.

[1]Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus (Portland, Oregon: Multnomah Press, 1992), 131.

[2]Some ideas gleaned from David J. Lose in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 1 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 439.

[3]John Piper, Think (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2010), 27.

[4]Mary Oliver, Devotions (New York City, New York: Penguin Press, 2017), 131.

[5]As cited in Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning (Colorado Springs: NAVPRESS, 1994), 15.

Worshipping–Behavior Shaped by Slogans: a Reflection on 1 Corinthians 9:16-23

Since the First Sunday of Advent, we’ve been looking at what worship is and isn’t. Worship is not entertainment. Worship is giving praise to God who we know as the One who is, has been, and always will be. Worship is hearing God invite each one of us to participate in God’s mission of redemption and salvation of all of life. Worship is not putting in our time or an appearance to garner God’s favor. Worship is the recognition of God as creator and us as creature. Worship is not a preference. Worship is an act of obedience.

As I have grown in my understanding of being church in culture, I have come to appreciate the power of branding. When mimeograph machines were replaced by Xerox copiers, we referred to the copying process as “Xeroxing.” Or take that gem of a slogan at Christmas time, “Jesus, the Reason for the Season.” What about these tag-lines or slogans: “We bring good things to life,” “Don’t leave home without it,” “Snap, Crackle, and Pop,” “Think Different,” “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” “The Un-Cola,” “Stronger Than Dirt,” “The Ultimate Driving Machine,” “The King of Beers,” “What’s in your wallet?,” and “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing” remind us of General Electric, American Express, Kellogg’s Rice Krispies, Apple, ABC’s Wide World of Sports, 7 Up, Ajax, BMW, Budweiser, Capital One, and Alka Seltzer. And what about “Loving God. Loving Others.” Oh, that’s us, Geneva Presbyterian Church. Branding matters. Why?

Behavior is shaped by slogans. You know that. If my stomach is upset, I buy Alka Seltzer. When I read our tag line “Loving God. Loving Others,” I stop and think about how I’m behaving toward God and others. And you do the same. A great slogan causes us pause. That’s a good thing. It creates loyalty.

Our lectionary texts drive home this point: every aspect of the Christian life is shaped by Jesus’ death on the cross on behalf of every human, including you and me. We are to order our life as a community and lives as individuals around the reconciling work of God’s love for all people. God has called our community of faith at Geneva into existence for that purpose. We are “to incarnate, live out, and proclaim this new reality”[1] of God’s reconciling work of love. All that we say and do is to impart our love of God to others. Christianity’s brand that “Jesus has died for your sins, forgiven you, and given you new life” matters. Mark Labberton, the author of The Dangerous Act of Worship, writes, “A worshipful imagination bears the mark of God’s Spirit.”[2] When you imagine the brand of Jesus, that is, Jesus dying for you and forgiving you, you pause and become overwhelmed with gratitude.  God’s goodness is overwhelming and expands our vision for life and compels us to want others to have such a reality of life. Labberton continues, “How do we cultivate an imagination for goodness? By living a lifestyle of worship. A lifestyle of worship lets God and God’s dreams fill and guide us”[3]  It is by God’s grace that the terms, definitions, and purposes of our lives are set for how we are to live in the world.

Every aspect of the Christian life is shaped by Jesus’ death on the cross on behalf of every human, including you and me. With this in mind, let’s explore 1 Corinthians 9:16-23. First, proclaiming the gospel in word and deed gives us no grounds to boast. In verses 16-18, Paul reminds us that proclamation of the gospel, in word and deed, is an act of obedience, not privilege. Second, our existence in Christ enslaves us, that is, binds us, to all people. Verses 19-22 indicate that we sacrificially love others in order to win “others” to Jesus. Paul states that he became weak in order to gain the weak for Christ. Paul does not say that he has become like the weak, but that he has become weak. Therein lies the principle of transformation. And third, in verse 23, servant leadership transforms self and others. Becoming like the different “others” in our lives for the sake of the gospel makes us fellow partakers in it. Becoming all things to all people is not a boastful thing. It is acts of sacrificial love that leads “others” to salvation. This is the end game…salvation.

We are to identify fully with others in order to experience transformation. They will be transformed as well. Do not overly enjoy the freedom you have in Jesus Christ. Embracing the real needs of others is the priority of our freedom. Sacrificial love is the core of Christianity’s brand. Richard B. Hays, Professor of New Testament at The Divinity School, Duke University writes, “Everything that Paul does is aimed at winning as many people as possible to the gospel. He will adapt his behavior (not his message!) in whatever way necessary to achieve that end.”[4]  You are free, yet God has called you to become “slaves of Christ.” Are you willing to submit yourself, in any number of ways, to cultural constructs and the limitations of others, in order to reach “others” with the good news of Jesus Christ?

[1]V. Bruce Rigdon in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word Year B, Volume 1 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 328.

[2]Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 149.

[3]Ibid, 149-150.

[4]Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians (Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 1997), 153.