Lent & Male Feminism: Reflections & Repentance


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Today is Ash Wednesday. It is the beginning of the Lent season of the Christian Church Calendar. It is the time of year in which we turn up the volume on those darker whispers in our hearts to hear what they say. We turn our ears to the cries of the world bear the wounds of a weeping earth in our hearts and hands. And oh, the wounds are deep.

We come to this Lent with the weight of so much on our collective shoulders: so much brokenness, so much injustice, so much pain, heartache, death, and violence in the world. I honestly thought that 2015 would bring relief from 2014. So far, it has not.

But in the midst of the chaos that reigns both within and without, I am determined to turn my thoughts and this blog towards one area in which the Church as a whole needs to repent; an area in which I feel we can make some real progress in this day and age: Women in the Church.

I do have an on-going series on this topic that I’ve been adding to for the past couple of years, but I think it’s important and helpful to turn towards it particularly now. Lent has always had a deep connection to this topic for me.
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For the Dead & Living: Prayers for the Martyrs of ISIS


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For the Dead

Eternal Lord God, we remember before you today your faithful servants,
the 20 Libyan martyrs; we pray that, having opened to them the gates of larger life,
you will receive them more and more into your joyful service, that, with all
who have faithfully served you in the past, they may share in your eternal victory.

Almighty God, who, in joy and felicity, lives with the spirits who die in the Lord,
and with the souls of the faithful: We give you heartfelt thanks
for the good examples of your servants, who, even in the fear of their final moments
finished their course in faith, and now find rest and refreshment.

Father of all, we pray for those we love, but see no longer:
Grant them your peace; let perpetual light shine upon them;
in your loving wisdom and almighty power, work through their deaths
the good purpose of your perfect will.
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Some Hopefully Not-Crazy Musings on Calvinism & Predestination


John_Calvin_by_HolbeinThe Christian family is large and diverse. The little corner of that family that I occupy is usually called “Reformed”, meaning they can trace a lot of their distinctive teachings back to John Calvin. Now, if theres one thing Calvin is known for (other than the burning a heretic thing) is a section of his teaching on Predestination–the idea that before everything, God “decreed” that only some people would be “saved”, and others would not be–they didn’t make the choice in that matter, He did.

Now, “Calvinism” wasn’t actually a thing until after Calvin had died, and he had a lot more to say about a lot of things other than Predestination. Nevertheless, having just recently re-read the portion of his magnum opus that deals with this issue, I can say that even the most caricatured, extreme articulations of Calvinism out there have a strong kernel of truth. Calvin was definitely a Calvinist, in all its untactful, harsh, unapologetic glory.

In college, I got super into Calvinism and took it way too far (Exhibit A; Exhibit B). I hurt a lot of people. Then I went to my first seminary and mellowed out on it. Since then, I’ve just been absorbing lots of different strands of thought around this issue, and haven’t really made a concerted effort to synthesize them. I’ve sort of been sitting in the Mystery of it all.

This seminary semester, though, I have to bring together all my thoughts on Predestination and its related doctrine of Election into some coherency. This means I’ve been thinking about this a lot. And today, I want to offer some of my random, contradictory, messy thoughts and get your responses and help. Imagine my brain on this topic as a big ball of yarn, with each strand of thought existing together all at once, not being able to distinguish where one thought ends, where the other begins, and how they can all fit together.

Strand 1

First, there really isn’t any such thing as “Free Will”. I can’t “choose” to have different parents, to fly, to shoot lasers out of my eyes, to breathe underwater, what color hair I naturally have, where I was born, etc. Arguably, the most formative, important, foundational things to who we are as people are unchosen. The point in saying this is to point out that our wills are not “free”, but are bounded by nature. All our choices are limited by our nature.
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Are Christian denominations good or bad?


luther-95theses-humor-memeI’m currently in a Church History class going through the Reformation period of Christianity. During the Reformation, Martin Luther’s partner in crime (literally) was Philipp Melanchthon. After Luther’s death, Melanchthon carried the torch as a leader of the movement spreading throughout the Medieval world. In the years following the start of the Reformation, there were several different strains of non-Catholic Christianity that popped up.

To withstand the Catholic majorities at the time, these non-Catholic groups started talking about what it would look like to unify under one banner. Believe it or not, even though all these movements were really young and were reacting to the same problems they saw in Catholicism, these groups had really big differences between them that were hard to overcome.

In these conversations, an aging Melanchthon used an old Greek philosophical phrase to suggest a way forward: Adiaphora. Greek for “indifferent things”, he used it to describe how he felt that some beliefs and practices could be considered adiaphora (non-essentials), and could be compromised on for the same of unity. He argued with his fellow Lutherans that some beliefs were more essential to Christianity than others and didn’t require so much division. The others around him, of course, disagreed.

This got me thinking about the trajectory this set for us today. We now feel perfectly free to think a whole host of different things and still call others Christians. And yet still, much of Christianity’s most bitter judgmentalism and cries of heresy, unfaithfulness, sin, and arrogance are directed towards other who are also trying to follow the God of Jesus best they can. This has caused rifts, schisms, splits, and divisions into a huge number of Church denominations. Is this healthy for us? What does Christian “unity” look like? Do we all need to look the same?
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Advent, Angst, & Ferguson


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When my phone started blowing up with notifications about the Ferguson grand jury decision, I was in a daze. I grabbed my pipe, poured the biggest single glass of whiskey I’ve ever had, and sat in my backyard in tears, alternating between retweeting others’ comments on the case and just staring at the sky. I watched and heard the helicopters above as they watched the Philadelphia protests below, mere blocks from my house.

I think part of my response was because of where my mind had been in the days leading up to the decision.

I recently pored over Cornel West’s biography and watched 12 Years a Slave. As the weather has gotten colder, the city’s marginalized and homeless have become more noticeable. An organization whose heart is in the right place, and who I otherwise love, put out some promotional materials that unintentionally showcased the degree to which racism and power structures are so ingrained and so unconscious. Last Sunday, I watched as Rudy Giuliani went shockingly racist on Meet The Press (what he said is wrong, by the way). For school, I watched a presentation on the Civil Right’s movement, and also read King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail. 

And then the grand jury came back. No indictment.
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A Sermon I Got to Preach on Isaiah 61 [VIDEO]


Believe it or not, I don’t really have much experience at all in preaching. Yeah, I’ve spoken and “preached” at some things, but I’ve still never offered the preached proclamation at a Sunday worship service. It’s an area I’ve wanted to grow in for a while.

To that end, I took a preaching class last semester for my seminary program. It was a powerful course that changed my whole relationship to both the Bible and the act of preaching. Each of us wrote and presented a sermon on an assigned text. The sermons were recorded, and I’m offering mine here today. It opens with some brief words on the context I had in mind when preparing this.

I hope it meets you and speaks to you, wherever you are. The video is above, the text and my manuscript are below. You can also download files for both the audio or the manuscript.

Special thanks also to an old friend, J. Chord Barnes of ASERWorks Media, for fixing some audio issues in the original recording and remastering it for me. Check him out at the link above. Continue reading

#Marginalia Weekly Round-Up #6 [Catch-Up]


After a long break, we’re back with this part of the site. Here’s a little catch up list of where we’ve been since we last posted about this.

Marginalia is a section of this blog dedicated to (mostly) short reflections, meditations, questions, and difficulties I have while going through my Bible reading plan. I’m still trying to figure out the best pace at which to post these, so be patient with me. To aid in helping people engage with these posts, every weekend I post a round-up of all of Marginalia posts that appeared during that week. This list is in biblical canonical order.

Job

Job, God, & Satan (Can I get some help from the scholar’s out there?)| Job 1.6-7
God, Social Justice, & Social Welfare | Job 5.15-16
Fragments from a speech by Job| Selections of Job 6 & 7
Job’s Friends are Right! Job’s Friends are Wrong.| Job 8.5-7,20-22
In a sense, God CAN’T favor the righteous| Job 9.1-4

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The Sermon’s Essence & Power | 1 Corinthians 2.1-5


When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.
1 Corinthians 2.1-5

This encourages me so much in preaching. No matter the exegesis, eloquence, or whatever, we preach Christ and him crucified, and that makes a good sermon. We also live a life in accordance with that outside of the sermon and it supports our preaching as well. Just as in the nature of God Himself, our words and our deeds cannot be separated from one another.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Righteous Works; Wicked People | Romans 6.20


When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.
Romans 6.20

those that are not Christians can still do righteousness. But when they do it, it is from a place that is not there essence. I can’t think of an analogy right now. But, they are free to do righteous sings even though they are not considered righteous people. Is that a good way to put it?

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Is There No Rest for God’s Weary Ministers? | Mark 6


Lucien Simon-Christ Performing MiraclesReading through the sixth chapter of Mark, I recently noticed a way that Jesus relates to his disciples which is, at first, incredibly encouraging, but then gets exceedingly hard.

This is right after he had sent his disciples out, two by two, to try out this whole “ministry thing” by themselves. According to Mark, it was an incredibly powerful and effective time of ministry for them. They saw powerful things done, and they were able to play a part in them. They return from their first “ministry internship”, and this is where we pick up the story.

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.
Mark 6.30-31

Jesus’ pastoral concern extends not only to his flock but also to the shepherds. They have done so much ministry and now he insists that they withdraw and rest and eat. Also, they shouldn’t simply do this by themselves as individuals, but with those who are also doing ministry. The leaders of the church should rest together as fellow weary workers.
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Does Paul Not Believe in Original Sin? | Romans 7.9-11


I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died, and the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.
Romans 7.9-11

Hmm…is it just me, or does this does seem to go against the idea of Original Sin? It sounds like Paul is saying that he was born in purity and “alive-ness”, and it was only later that the law killed him. He does not seem to be saying here that he thinks he was born in death (yes, yes, I know Ephesians says otherwise, but I’m trying to stick to the text in question!)

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Does St. Paul Believe in a Hell that Saves? | 1 Corinthians 3.10-17


According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

1 Corinthians 3.10-17

Part of the problem with how we talk about Hell is the confusing diversity of images and language used to talk about it in the Bible. This is true here.

I don’t want to read too much into this few words, but at least in the first part, Paul seems to be saying that what gets burned in the fires of judgment are more the works of someone than the person themselves. In fact, it seems that the wicked come out the other side of the fire “saved”, with all their useless works and such having been burned away.

But then, the next section clearly says that God destroys “that person” (not just their works). But because it comes right after the statement of the person being saved by their wicked works being burned away, I wonder if this isn’t Paul saying, “yeah, that refining, restorative, salvific fire I just talked about? God will take each person through that destruction–the one that saves.”

Man, the more I’m on the lookout to see any universalistic statements by Paul, the more I’m starting to see things that could definitely be taken that way.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

When your church’s “cultural relevance” fails | Acts 14.11-18


When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifice.

 

When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, “Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to follow their own ways; yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good—giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy.”

 

Even with these words, they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.

Acts 14.11-18

This is in contrast to Paul’s later methods at Mars Hill in Chapter 17. Here we see that not every “contextualization” is created equal. Sometimes, your “relevance” could be dragging people to worship yourself or false idols. As preachers, we should always be on the lookout for this, and to constantly speak against it.

On another note, that bold part (v.15) should be the model for every single sermon.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Name the Darkness: Jesus & Our Persistent Demons | Mark 5:6-9


When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he had said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.”

Mark 5:6-9

Well this is interesting. It seems like Jesus had said words of exorcism earlier and it, in a sense, hadn’t “worked”. I wonder if the tradition behind this story was of a man so demon possessed that Jesus’ first try at getting rid of them failed. That certainly seems to be the case here. Jesus had commanded the demon to leave the man, and it didn’t.

Now, I don’t like pulling what seems like “self-help lessons” from things like this, or appealing to pop psychology, but this could be instructive in a ministry context. Jesus has appealed to his word and his authority to bring healing and to cast out the disorder and evil in this person’s life. It hasn’t worked. It is so big, it goes so far back into the past, and the issues seem so numerous, that it just isn’t going to take a quick shot to the soul.

So in light of this, how does Jesus respond? He asks the person’s name. Yes, the demon responds, but there’s no indication that Jesus is only talking to the unclean spirit here. He asks the man name, and he answers by identifying himself by his evil. But this is still progress. He gives name to what is haunting and hurting him, and this diagnoses his soul and gives Jesus the insight on how to bring healing to this man.

Giving name is powerful for healing and change and even getting rid of demons.

See other Marginalia here. Read more about the series here.

Logos Bible Software & Evangelical Insecurity


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I use and love Logos Bible Software for my Bible study and seminary work. It really is an amazing piece of software. You can amass such a huge library of books and resources that all connect and sync up to one another.

The one problem is that they can only put the time and resources into putting out books that people will actually buy. This means that their library selection has long been skewed towards a certain demographic: American Conservative Evangelicals, usually of the “Neo-Reformed” variety.

I don’t tend to like the books that are geared for this market. Their theological assumptions seem to come first, and the text seems to often come second. I love reading robust, scholarly commentaries and books that help grow and stretch me; books that focus on the messiness of Scripture and how it is historically and culturally conditioned. Yes, this means I end up preferring writings from “liberal” (God, I hate that term) perspectives and institutions, even if my actual theological conclusions are fairly conservative.

So it’s been frustrating to me that Logos was lacking in this scholarship and thinking for some time. But in the past year, I’ve noticed this changing. More and more commentary series and scholarship book bundles are coming out by Logos that I am loving (though my bank account hasn’t). Maybe I just never noticed them before, I don’t know. But either way, I’m noticing it now, and I’m really happy.

Or rather, I was.
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