Karl Barth: Our Freedom, Home, & God’s Directing [QUOTES]


When looking through old seminary research, I ran across some quotes I pulled out from Karl Barth, my favorite theologian (hands down), and got to soak in the beauty of his words. I wanted to share them. Now, for people that don’t read academic theology, this is it. It’s circular, it repeats itself, and it’s unnecessarily complicated and unclear. I know. I get that. But I promise, if you can spend a few minutes, quiet yourself, and focus, the pay-off is huge. This guy stands as a tower over all of modern theology and deserves more mainstream attention than he gets. I’ve done slight edits to some of the wording and paragraph breaks for clarity. Enjoy.

* * * * * * * *

God’s direction is an all-powerful decision, His own divine act of lordship. By this means, too, God vindicates His honor and maintains His glory. By this means, too, He exercises authority….

God’s direction is the directing of humans into the freedom of His children. It is this which has taken place in Jesus Christ no less uniquely than the once-for-all fulfillment of the divine sentence on all humanity. In suffering in our stead the death of the old nature, and bringing in by His resurrection the life of the new, He has made room for the being of all humanity to be at peace with God.

On the basis of what we are and is not by virtue of the divine sentence passed and revealed in Jesus Christ… we have no other place but this—the kingdom in which God can be at peace with us and us at peace with God. Jesus Christ…is the all-powerful direction of God to us to occupy this place, to live in this kingdom. If we are told in Him who we are and are not, we are also told in Him where we belong, where we have to be and live.

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Male Feminist Theology & Sinning Against Women


This is an incredibly hard post to write, but an important one, I think.

A couple of years ago, I started (and never really finished–but I will!) a blog series which outlined a systematic way that as a male, I can incorporate feminist perspectives on theology into the way I think about God and life.

I call it “Male Feminist Theology” because there’s something about truly being a “feminist” that requires having embodied the experience of being a woman–which I have not. (Similarly, I could not call myself a “Black Activist” with any kind of integrity.)

I started this series with a bunch of posts about using feminine language for God. There was a lot of blowback from that, most of it entirely unexpected. I still hold to that belief that God is gender–ful (not gender-less) and so the full range of human language, both masculine and feminine, ought to be applied to God.

And yet, in my actual-lived out spiritual life, this hasn’t seeped into my engagement with God as much as one would expect, considering how strongly I intellectually believe these things. Maybe an occasional substitute of “Mother” for “Father” in the Lord’s prayer or a Creed recitation, but I do it quietly under my breath. Only occasionally do I find myself remembering to pray to God in such terms. My unconscious reflexive depiction of God in my imagination is still fundamentally male. I have to actually exert energy and thought to try and conceive of something different.
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Because We’re Not Good: “East of Eden”, a Book Review


We all have those pieces of art–be they movies, books, music, what have you–that upon first exposure we fall in love. We turn the last page or walk out of the theater or concert hall certain that this will surely be added to our list of favorites and long-held companions. Yet, how many times do we say this and a year or two down the road someone mentions that very piece of art and we find ourselves thinking, “oh yeah, I did read that, didn’t I?” or “I had forgotten how much I loved that album!”

So often we get swept away in the immediate experience of something skipping upon the waters of our soul, leaving little ripples and echoes dancing upon the surface. But these dimples and dapples merely play on the surface for a time, returning once more to their source, leaving the waters ultimately undisturbed in their wake–the liquid plane unbroken; the deepest depths untouched.

There are other times, however, that we encounter a piece of art–or rather, it encounters us–and we are changed. It transcends mere rankings of “favorites” and “Top 10s” and weaves itself into our fibers. We do not critique and assess it, so much as it sizes and weighs us. The surface is broken and we are plunged beneath, staring humanity’s unvarnished truths in the face. And in so doing, our own humanity is actually enlarged, a spaciousness expands in our souls and we feel more human, even as our foundations are shaken.

John Steinbeck’s 1952 magnum opus, East of Eden, is just this kind of piece of art. It’s the kind of book people say they will read “someday”, only to read it and wish “someday” had come a lot sooner. So if you haven’t read it. Do so. Start today.

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Deep Sin & The Christian Soul


Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5.19-21)

As I recently finished a Church Bible Study on the book of Galatians, those verses inevitably caused some discussion.

I mean, we’ve all to some degree engaged in most–if not all–of the items on that list at some point in our lives, right? Even if you’re a Christian.

So what does it mean to say “those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God”?

As we discussed it, we arrived at the answer many of us come to if you grew up in the Church: these scary statements only apply to those individuals who have these “works of the flesh” as a pattern of their life to such a degree one might be able to say that the sins have “dominion” over them. That answers it, right?

Not really. Because there are Christians who find themselves in seasons–days, weeks, months, decades, even–where these sins are their practice over time, seasons where these sins have a very real sense of dominion over them and their lives.

And, this isn’t theoretical or theological for me. To be honest, I myself am coming out just such a time.

. . . . . 

I wrote the above words a couple of weeks ago. Since then, I’ve only sunk deeper into the bewilderment of this season I’m coming out of. How does a Christian understand a period of time in which they’re given over so deeply into self-absorption, sin, and hurting of others? I’ve sat on this question, mulling it over, letting it ruminate within me to see what fruit it bore. I’ve wanted to figure out a nice, tidy answer to this post–for the sake of both others and myself.

And alas, I have been found wanting.
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Sometimes, Mercy is Sweeter Than Grace


I grew up in a pretty stereotypical Evangelical setting, which led to a pretty stereotypical back-and-forth between guilt and self-righteousness. That is, until I really heard the Gospel of radical Grace.

Many of us have this same story, where it has been so healing to hear that how God relates to us is not, in fact, based on our performance. Instead, everything necessary for God to be pleased with us has been accomplished on our behalf by his Son.

In response to this, we fall in love with God’s Grace. We pray for it, long for it, and cry for it. We read books about it, write about it, and talk about it. We try and speak it into others’ lives while trying to figure out why we don’t apply it to our own. We joyfully build our relationship with God on the glorious foundation of His Grace. It is fundamental, primary, and essential.

In short: we love Grace.

Imagine my surprise, then, as I fell in love with liturgy and ancient forms of worship, to notice the utter lack of “grace” from the prayers and worship of the earliest saints. Continue reading

“The First Christian Sermon” [a sermon, ironically]


Well, I’m finally coming off a whirlwind month of preaching three out of four weeks while our lead pastor is on vacation…and while I keep doing my full-time day job. So now, hopefully I’ll be able to post more here again. I do want to share with you these sermons though.

This summer, my church is going through different key texts in the book of Acts, chronicling the opening years of the Christian movement in the world. In the first of these sermons I’ve done during the past month, I got to preach on the Christian holiday of Trinity Sunday and my text was the very first Christian sermon ever preached–Peter’s Pentecost message. I tried to weave these together best I could.

The text is Acts 2.22-39, and here’s the sermon audio. Feel free to send me any thoughts, questions or concerns:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast. If reading is more your style, here are my notes for your perusal. Continue reading

Falling Off the Face of the World


I really debated on writing this post. Those most intimate of place between my soul and my Creator are too often converted in my mind into sermon, blog, or conversational thoughts. I tend to be quite promiscuous with the details of my relating to God.

Yes, for many, it is helpful, valuable, and “authentic” to be let in to the inner sanctum of one’s spiritual processing. But it comes at great cost to my own vibrancy. I recall a critique I heard once of the great mystic monk Thomas Merton that he “never had an unpublished thought or experience”.

I can relate.

So what am I talking about? When you read this, I will be on a bus from Holland, Michigan to Kalamazoo. A monk will meet me there and will take me to St Gregory’s Abbey in Three Rivers for a week-long silent retreat where I will disconnect from all electronics and means of communication. I won’t read anything but prayer books, poetry, and my Bible. No phone, email, texting, kindle, news, podcasts, or anything.
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After the Final “No”, There Comes a “Yes” [Good Friday Sermon 2017]


I’m really looking forward to doing a happy sermon sometime soon. But alas, I find myself preaching on both Ash Wednesday and Good Friday this year–not the happiest of Church Holy Days.

And yet there is hope.

It’s fashionable to emphasize the narrative nature of God’s work in the world. And yes, it’s true–there is a progressive nature to Redemption, with a beginning, middle, and end.

But God’s work is also often cyclical, with certain rhythms and movements that return, repeat, and fold within one another.

I had this in mind as I went into this sermon. Yes, we ought to press into the darkness and doubt of the Cross without just quickly comforting ourselves with the Resurrection–we have to sit there for a bit–and yet the Church Calendar gets into our bones and souls to such an extent that it transforms the darkness. We can never sit in the Cross’ forsakenness without feeling the spiritual muscle memory of previous Easters gone by. And in that is hope.

This realization led me to largely do away with my notes (which you can find below) when giving this sermon and largely ad-lib, speaking from the heart as I wrestled with this stuff in real-time. The text selections came from Matthew 26-27, and here’s the sermon audio. Feel free to send me any thoughts, questions or concerns:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast. If reading is more your style, here are my notes for your perusal. Continue reading

i am not my own (Abide with Me)





…fast falls the eventide; the darkness deepens; Lord with me abide…

Both viruses and people get themselves into us, infect us, surprise us, and change us–both for good and ill. And when they depart we are left with that most complex simplicities of emotions, asking simply: what was that? The story, the episode, that previously seemed to exist with such continuity now seems so disjointed from all others that “the purpose” seems our only thought.

…When other helpers fail, and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, abide with me…

We wonder, we wander, seeking our Home, our Rest, our Selves. We recast our history in the eyes of this present trial, this present pain, this present darkness, and feel the twitch and fear that comes whenever we seriously consider all we’ve done before and all it represents within us–all the trials caused, the pains committed, and the darknesses within us.

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“Darkest Before the Dawn” [a sermon]


church-philly-bw-cross-market-eastDuring the Advent and Christmas season, my church did a sermon series going through the key texts of Handel’s Messiah.

I got to preach during that series and only recently realized I never posted it here.

I’m beginning to see that light and darkness are constant themes through my preaching, and in this sermon, those themes are explicitly in the text. God’s people have returned from exile to their homeland, but it still hurts. Things aren’t the way they remembered, and they keep encountering difficulties and old temptations at every turn.

And so God acknowledged the darkness, but promises light. Is that enough, though? How do we not just sit back and say, “yeah, yeah yeah–I’ve heard this all before” and then continue on steeped in our cynicism? In this sermon (as with others I’ve preached), I try to press more deeply into the darkness to see what God might say. The text is Isaiah 60.1-3, and here’s the sermon audio. Feel free to send me any thoughts, questions or concerns:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast. If reading is more your style, here are my notes for your perusal. Continue reading

Demand a Miracle (Merry Christmas) [from W.H. Auden’s “For the Time Being”] 


Flickr-Advent-Candles-rabasz

This is from the Advent portion of W. H. Auden’s Christmas Oratorio, For the Time Being. The full text is under copyright, but it’s in this book, if you’re interested.

From Part I:

[T]ime never moves and nothing can ever happen:
I mean that although there’s a person we know all about
Still bearing our name and loving himself as before,
That person has become a fiction; our true existence
Is decided by no one and has no importance to love.

That is why we despair; that is why we would welcome
The nursery bogey or the winecellar ghost, why even
The violent howling of winter and war has become
Like a juke-box tune that we dare not stop. We are afraid
Of pain but more afraid of silence; for no nightmare
Of hostile objects could be as terrible as this Void.
This is the Abomination. This is the wrath of God.

Part II, Chorus:

Alone, alone, about a dreadful wood
Of conscious evil runs a lost mankind,
Dreading to find its Father lest it find
The Goodness it has dreaded is not good:
Alone, alone, about our dreadful wood.

Where is that Law for which we broke our own,
Where now that Justice for which Flesh resigned
Her hereditary right to passion, Mind
His will to absolute power? Gone. Gone.
Where is that Law for which we broke our own?

The Pilgrim Way has led to the Abyss.
Was it to meet such grinning evidence
We left our richly odoured ignorance?
Was the triumphant answer to be this?
The Pilgrim Way has led to the Abyss.

We who must die demand a miracle.
How could the Eternal do a temporal act,
The Infinite become a finite fact?
Nothing can save us that is possible:
We who must die demand a miracle.

My Grandfather’s Passing (Hope in Death?)


peep-paul-dance-2Today is the sixth anniversary of my Grandfather’s death. I am reposting this reflection I wrote at the time.

This past Sunday, the day after Christmas, I watched my grandfather die. This is the first death I’ve experienced of someone very close to me. I’ve known people who had died, sure, but no one as close as this.

This man walked with me and I with him for my entire life. I sat on his knee and was tickled by his hands. I grew up hearing legends about him, and I walked in a general sense of awe and disbelief when in his presence.

His name was (is?) Lester Travis Williamson, or as I knew him for most my life: Peep (a mispronunciation due to the first grandchild’s toddler lisp).

Peep represented for me a tenacity and determinedness of love that great stories of tragedy and triumph are built upon. As their old pastor said during the funeral, he was a man that if you asked for a crumb would give you the entire loaf and then chase you out the door to give you another loaf for the road.

But this is not to be confused with the contemporary pictures of the sentimental, gratuitously giving man–cheerful, talkative, jocular, and always-optimistic. If Peep was anything, he was the quintessential man of his generation–America’s vision of a “real man”–quiet, determined, and strong. He spoke with intention in every syllable, meaning what he said and saying what he meant.

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Dyeing Tulips: Calvinism, “Free” Will, & Losing Our Religion


Rembrandt-Return-ProdigalWell, this little miniseries on Calvinism has been fun.

We’ve talked through a bookthe history,  and reframed the traditional “points” of Calvinism: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, and Limited Atonement. Today, we will look at the final two emphases of Calvinist belief.

I hope you’ve been challenged to evaluate Calvinism in broader and deeper ways so that, if you already agreed with it, you were challenged in the complexity and nuance of the issues here; and if you did not, that you found Calvinism a bit more inviting and interesting.

For more on just how broad and diverse Calvinist thought it, I can’t more highly reccomend Oliver Crisp’s Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology or the book that initiated this whole discussion, Richard Mouw’s Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport. Continue reading

A Prayer for America & President-Elect Trump


Ruler and King of all, our nation is now entering into such a delicate time. Many emotions are being felt very deeply after this election. It was a hard-fought fight that many had much invested in. Would you be with us as the immediate emotional aftermath of the election occurs?

Lord, hear our prayer.

O God of peace, you do not desire that we would be filled with anxiety, fear, or gloating, as if our greatest joy or pain would be the result of this one election. You have taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength: By the might of your Spirit lift us, we pray, into your presence, where we may be still and know that you are the God who is the sustaining Presence in all nations,

Lord, hear our prayer.

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