Two Vikings, a Bear, and How We Read the Bible

If you’ve got a few minutes I’d like you to watch this video and then let’s have a conversation about how we read the Bible.

*This is not a commentary on Adrian Peterson, spanking, or the NFL. My intent here is to stand at the crossroads of culture, faith and scripture and point out something I find interesting*

When I talk to people about how we read the Bible, I have a tendency to challenge traditional methods. I think Bible reading should be an ever-evolving process, not a “we figured it out” method to be passed on through the centuries. There are emphases and teachings generations unearth that all of Christianity can benefit from. How thankful are we all for the reformation? The social upheaval of the 20th century brought about liberation and feminist theologies. I’m excited about how the church will continue to respond to post-modernism and the new readings that will reveal even more of God’s truth. The evolution of hermeneutics, like most other fields, is a blessing to creation.

However, not everyone feels this way. There are some who believe previous generations nailed down the proper method and function of scripture. If it was a code, they had solved it. If it was a door, they had unlocked it. All humanity’s problems could be run through their rubric and finalized. The evolution of hermeneutics had reached her apex.

This brings me to Mike Ditka. His thought on spanking was that it was justified because it made him a better person. (I have no idea the severity of Mr. Ditka’s discipline) If it made him a better person, then it obviously will make Adrian Peterson’s son a better person. (We do have an idea the severity of Mr. Peterson’s discipline) There is a rigidity and stonewalling that occurs. He agrees with everything already said, but his response could not be more opposite. Mike Ditka is saying, “My dad did it, so it is ok to do now.”

Apply this to Bible reading. There are some who can be shown a million pieces of evidence or hear from a world renowned scholar, and rather than changing their view they will dig in their heels. “Are you saying my grandpa was wrong?” 

Contrast that to Cris Carter’s impassioned plea, “My mom loves me, she did the best she could, but she was wrong about this one!” Cris is willing to concede error without throwing out love and honor. It is possible to honor those before us without deifying them. This is not an easy step, but it is the antidote to the toxin of blind religion.

We, the Church, must look back in thankfulness for all history has provided us. Traditions and teachings that ground our faith in Christ are signposts we are obligated to carry into the future. Let them be banners of hope, not weights of burden.

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09-07 Sermon: The Kiddie Table

(Due to circumstances, I decided not to share my opening sermon to the series, The Hunger Games. For those interested in reading it, here you go)

You’ve been a Christian most of your life. Showed up on time. Signed up on the bulletin boards to bring food, maybe taught a class or two along the way. Faithful in your tithing. Spent time at Church Camp, doing your best to raise your kids right and be a good person. But, sometimes, as you worship on Sunday mornings there is this nagging hunger inside -“Why don’t I feel closer to God yet?” 

You were converted as an adult following a series of Bible studies a friend led you through. It all made sense at the kitchen table. Your friend had such a confidence, a skill as they flipped through the Bible and connected the dots. You were drawn to their boldness as much as you were drawn to the cross. You wanted to feel that way about anything, and maybe baptism was the answer. But now, months later your soul is hungry. You don’t feel any closer to God than when you began that study. Where is God’s peace and presence?

Maybe you’re a seeker, curious about this Gospel and Church. You’ve been burned by communities in the past -opening up yourself to them only to be disappointed by the cold shoulder. Maybe you carry baggage you’re not ready to share with anyone. If Jesus followers ignore you -Jesus probably doesn’t care either. But your soul is hungry for something bigger than your present reality. There’s got to be a greater plan than the rat race you’re in every week. The people all around you seem to think they’ve found it. What does Jesus have to say to me today?

Do any of these descriptions fit you? I’d like to spend some time this month talking about those hunger pains we all get from time to time. We long for something grander -an intimacy like David talks about in. (READPsalm 63:1-8) For many of us, the meal we’re consuming doesn’t look or taste like the Feast in Scripture. When we look at followers of Jesus in the Bible, we hear words like abundance, eternal, banquet. (examples are Jesus in John 6:51, Matt 7:9-12, and Luke 6:23A) When John the Baptist needs a report, Jesus comes back with Matt 11:4-6. (To fit my metaphor, I wish he would’ve said, ‘the hungry are stuffed!’)

How many would use this overflowing imagery to describe our relationship with God today? How many would describe the American Church’s relationship with God in these terms? Most of us struggle with this disconnect -to have the faith of Paul, the perseverance of John, persistence of Lydia. We see this abundant Feast of faith in the Bible while we’d describe our faith as a fast-food meal. And rather than working on our side of things, we come up with ways to justify the disconnect.

Remember the 6 blind men who describe the elephant? Each one touches a part of the elephant and thinks they understand what an elephant is, and Godfrey Saxe’s poem ends with all of them being in the wrong. Sometimes we take a segment, one understanding, of the Great Feast from Scripture and think we understand Christian living.

We say, “The Feast is Only Eschatological.” (Don’t fear this word. All it means is ‘end times’) We’re saying all that abundant goodness Jesus talked about wasn’t talking about the here and now but the sweet by and by. We take verses like John 14:1-4 and 1 Peter 4:13 and think the good life isn’t supposed to be now. Have you met someone who thinks like this? We’re to be suffering servants. Christianity should be one struggle after the next, one fight after another, and then, when we meet Jesus in the oasis he’ll quench our thirst and satisfy our hunger. It is a martyr’s feast, actually looking for fights to prove just how faithful we can be.

To justify the disconnect between the abundant feasting of Christ life in Scripture and our faith walks today, some turn those Biblical feasts Spiritual with no Connection to the Physical World. We take verses like the fruits of the spirit (in Galatians) and ignore verses like Luke 6:21. The abundant life is all on the inside. The Feast is a contentedness we develop regardless of our surroundings. We have such a fear of being labeled “Prosperity Gospel,” or “the Health and Wealth Gospel” we swing the pendulum as far as possible and become the “Only on the Inside Gospel,” as if Jesus didn’t care at all about the physical. Some think our souls are all that matter to Jesus. Wasn’t he the Rabbi who fed the thousands? Who healed the physically disabled? Who raised the dead body? Wasn’t he present at creation and said it was good?

To justify the disconnect between abundant life in the Bible and what we’ve got now, some say,Maybe all that Feasting in the Bible was just Historical Jesus Events.” When Jesus fed the 5,000 in Mark 6, what Tim read earlier, certainly we are to study that in context, and view it as an historical event. To recognize Jesus as the focal point in redemption history and the wellspring of life. But if we leave these words in the past, surrounding them with security glass and hoisting them on a pedestal in the museum, we are not honoring their purpose. These words are meant to be feasted on in the present to impact the future. We place ourselves in the 5,000 -trying to get a glimpse of the Rabbi, to hear his teaching. We sit with the disciples and are cut to the core when Jesus challenges them (or is he challenging me?) “You give them something to eat.” It was John 20:30-31that summed up his Gospel, but so eloquently gets to the heart of the matter for all 4 Gospels, if not all 66 books of Scripture.

And lastly, to justify the difference we see in the Christian life of the first century and the Christian walk we’re on, We take these Feasts, these Abundant Life teachings of Jesus, and turn them into Morality Snacks. We take the Sermon on the Mount, the greatest feast of language since a voice called from the heavens, “Let there be light.” We take those 3 chapters in Matthew and boil them down to morality lessons -reasons to behave and act properly in a broken world, and we miss they are so much more. They are Jesus turning the world upside down, and announcing new creation breaking through the old! Jesus cares more about us than just our morality -he cares about our bodies and souls! He wants us to join in the mission!

All this said, what ends up happening is we argue back and forth about whether the Feast of Christianity is all about being in another world, internal, in the past, or only concerned with our morality. We feel the elephant once and our minds think we’ve got it. There is no room for humility. And what we’re left with is a malnourished Church and a starving World. I don’t know how to say it more bluntly:  Christianity has become a system of beliefs instead of a way of life. We want to argue with one another instead of recognizing they touched a different part of the elephant, and let’s get on with the mission of Christ!

We’d rather talk about preparing the meal and all the necessary components that go into hosting a meal, instead of giving up all that pretense and just sitting at the Lord’s Table as a sinner sitting next to other sinners saved by the power of the One at the head of the table. We’ll argue whether the meal was sprinkled or fully marinated, when we’re invited to dig in now! and enjoy the feast everyday. And if the Church is reluctant to dig in at the table, what chance do we have, what motivation do we possess to share our food with the world? To give them even a cup of cold water in Christ’s name?

Are we missing the Feast of Life because our appetites are hungry for the Meal of Religion? When I first thought of this series, I thought I would spend most of my time contrasting the Feast of Christ and the Meal the world offers. But I don’t think that’s where we struggle. Maybe it’s not the meal of the world that is causing problems, as much as it is the meal in front of us. The meal of religion -going through the motions without our hearts -without passion.

Brothers and sisters, this month let’s step away from the Kiddie Table, no longer content with the insufficient meal religion offers and let us feast on Jesus! Let’s look to be satisfied (as John Mark Hicks says) with a loving God who created and nurtured the world for the sake of loving fellowship, who chose Israel as a light among the nations, who became incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth to redeem the sin, pain, and hurt of this world, and who poured out the Holy Spirit to sanctify and empower a community that they might be dedicated to good works. It begins when we repent of our way and make a change -confessing our sins and then having them washed away in the waters of baptism.

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A Night I Don’t Want to Bring Up…but i can’t stop thinking about.

I’m sitting in the back of the car, wearing my letter jacket to keep warm in the Minnesota winter and my hands won’t stop fidgeting. The red and blue lights just kicked on behind us, and it was me who ran back into the car with the empty beer bottle. We were hoping they’d drive on by, but it’s after midnight and we are 3 teenage boys. Why didn’t I throw the bottle into the snow? Why did I get back in the car? I’m on the cross country team -even in the snow they can’t keep up with me. Billy’s riding shotgun and not saying much. Andy is behind the wheel of our parked car. And my hands won’t stop fidgeting. The policeman’s flashlight scans my lap from the outside, and his hand opening the door seals my fate. 

Even now, twenty years later, I can hear the bottle bouncing on the crystallized pavement and the other policeman’s mocking voice as I step out of the car and he sees my jacket. We’ve got an athlete! That evening cost me a season of basketball and my reputation as a goody-two shoes. In true adolescent form I was only disappointed to lose one of those. It was the first (and only) time since that tour you get in kindergarten I’d been in the back of a squad car. I heard my name over the radio. My parents woke up to a cop on their doorstep. I’d like a redo for that night.

That evening has run marathons in my memory over the years. Seeing it with adult eyes, it makes sense. I messed up. I was punished. I learned my lesson. Only one scene from that one night play has escaped my understanding over the years. Until now. 

When the lights clicked on behind us, my immediate response in the backseat was panic. Look forward, don’t move, don’t blink. Shove the bottle between my leg and the door. Maybe they’ll go away. Billy acted the same. But as soon as Andy saw the lights, he opened his door and walked towards the policemen with his arms up like he had robbed a bank. I mean, it was rapid response. Like he had been coached. All I could think was, What are you thinking Andy? Now they know we’re up to no good! 

Now I know Andy had the talk before that night. Andy is black. To me he was the starting quarterback and the best power forward in school, but he had been told by someone to never assume people will see his letter jacket without first noticing the skin underneath it. I never had a conversation like that. I’ve never had to think like that. Of the three people in that car, Andy was by far the most innocent, yet there he was in the freezing cold with his arms up in the spotlight.

I don’t know what to make of this scene anymore. I realize now it has a depth I couldn’t comprehend in the back of that car. Perhaps this is me being able to see a little more clearly a difference in the world I grew up in and the world Andy did. We may have graduated together. Played ball together. Gotten in trouble together. But it is a different world.

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St. Louis, Adrian Cronauer, and an Ancient Prophet: A Lament

Last night I read through the Facebook updates as the news blared in the background. Once again parts of our city were emblazoned with red and blue lights and the sound of bullets. A cocktail of frustration and anger bubbling into the streets. Only hours earlier I drove down that road, and I could hear the eggshells crackling underneath my tires. The summer heat has been mild in the shadow of the arch, but this is a hot week dripping with possibilities.

I pray justice for Michael Brown.

I pray justice for the officer.

I pray justice for the business owners who must rebuild.

I pray justice for our city.

Dead Poets Society reshaped my life. It led me to Thoreau, Uncle Walt -the classroom. John Keating is the nail my framed English degree crookedly hangs on in my office. The fictional story that hinges on the tragedy of a man taking his life because he feels trapped has echoed through our country as the nation mourns Our Captain. He was Mork, Patch, Dr. Maguire, Genie, Adrian Cronauer, Mrs. Doubtfire. Four generations claim him as their own.

I pray mercy for his family.

I pray mercy for our nation.

I pray peace for Dr. Keating.

An ancient prophet called upon his people for justice to roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream. The river appears dammed at this moment -held back by the insurmountable boulders of violence and despair in her path. A city, a nation holds their breath like a fish flopping on the sun-scorched earth, praying for the current to overwhelm her obstacles and break forth like the dawn.

The brokenness of the world glares back at us through the mirror.

Have mercy on us, O God, according to your unfailing love.

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Do you give the benefit of the doubt? Do you love?

God often serendipitously exposes my faulty wiring while I’m busy finding faults in others. Yesterday was no exception. I thought I’d surprise my wife by showing up at the office and taking her out for ice cream. She works at one of the largest hospitals in the country, and cell phone signals have a tendency to fade in and out under the heaps of concrete and medical devices. I arrived on the sixth floor ten minutes before her intended clock out. I called her cell phone. Nothing. I paged her (yes, the medical field still uses the preferred technology of drug dealers circa 1997). Nothing. I waited…nothing. Exchanging pleasantries with those walking out of the office, I began to stir. Where was my wife? Had she left early and was already sitting in our living room? Was she purposely ignoring my calls? I paged a few more times. Nothing. An hour passed me by as I searched my contacts for someone to text so I would appear as busy as everyone else in the lobby. Finally, my phone rang. I coiled to pounce. But it wasn’t the sweet voice of my wife on the other end but that of a man. “Hello, Jimmy? This is nurse so-and-so. Amber’s still scrubbed in and working overtime on a really tough procedure. What is it you need?” I shriveled into the bench. “Just tell her I’m waiting in the office.”

Why am I hesitant to give the benefit of the doubt to the love of my life? She’s busy working overtime, saving someone’s life, and I’m thinking she’s loafing about and absent-mindedly avoiding her phone? Who’s in the wrong here?

Has a variation of this scene played out in your marriage as many times as us? What about in your church? When Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, he showed them the most excellent way they were to behave. And he told them about a patient love, a kind love. A love that keeps no records of wrongs. I imagine 1 Corinthians 13 is read at the majority of weddings in America, but its original audience was a gathering of Christians -not a couple. Those people who sit across the auditorium from you, down the pew from you. Those who get into lengthy political debates in the foyer. Those who dump their children off at the nursery and then head out for coffee. Those who reek of smoke. Those who updated their status from the pub Friday night. Those who question your fundamental beliefs in the classroom. Yes, all those people and everyone in between. Paul says love them.

And part of loving people is giving those same people the benefit of the doubt. That means, when they say something that could be perceived as sarcastic or a dig at your personality, regard it as sarcasm. When they do something in ministry that affects your toes, don’t think they’re deliberately trying to step on them. And when they combat your comment in class, it’s more about something they’re trying to work through than shoot down your thoughts.

A church that doesn’t extend grace to herself isn’t able to extend grace to the world.

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Got 3 Minutes?

Could you help me out and answer this quick, 10 question, multiple choice survey anonymously? It focuses on your prayer life and how you use prayer. As a preacher, I love to tackle big ideology and concepts. I believe the more we know (not just facts, but how it pertains to the Big Picture), the more we can discern and adapt our faith. Where I find my preaching lacking is in the application stage. I just often assume that as a given. 

Thankfully, I am a part of a church that is gracious with her young preacher, and my brothers and sisters gently nudge instead of kick. I would like to help her by focusing on the application of faith on a day to day basis, and I can’t think of a better place to start than prayer.

So please take this survey and help me out. And thank you for your patience!

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Are Biblical Metaphors Still Making the Point?

(This week’s random meanderings)
Last Sunday our Church had a powerful service focusing on the betrothal between Christ and the Church. Connecting communion to an ancient wedding engagement asks us to accept the cup of marriage as we wait for our bridegroom to return. I’ve never looked at the Lord’s Supper that way before.
But this week has me chasing rabbits concerning Biblical metaphors. Do they pack the same spiritual punch for us as the first readers, and do we have the liberty to tweak those metaphors for current days so they still relay the original point?
In the first century, an engagement/wedding was much different than your typical American wedding of today. The bride and groom didn’t walk down the aisle as equals. Money probably changed hands between families, and I’m curious if the ceremony consisted of a time when the woman stated her vows. Because back then her promises just didn’t mean much. She was entering a covenant where her husband would be the decision maker. It was a patriarchal society. So, when the Church was referred to as the “Bride of Christ,” it was an acknowledgement that Jesus was calling the shots. There was a covenant bond, but not between equal partners. To mix my metaphors, Paul refers to Jesus as the “Head of the Body.”
Yet our society is significantly more egalitarian than back then, with the pants being shared between partners. Many more couples see their marriage as a 50/50 split -sometimes he steps up and leads, other times she steps up and leads. In this culture, how does the “Bride of Christ” metaphor get altered? Jesus becomes a foot soldier, another face in the crowd, my homeboy, instead of his rightful place in salvation history.
And speaking of foot soldiers, we could look at the “spiritual warfare” metaphor. When Paul tells the Galatians to put on the full armor of God, Roman soldiers were on every street corner. Everyone was aware of Rome’s boot on their throats thanks to the overwhelming presence of Caesar’s minions. So Paul’s metaphor was extremely political and contemporary. And in a violent-heavy culture like ours, where wars happen over oceans, should we be dressing up our children in Roman soldier outfits so they memorize a metaphor that no longer applies?
What do you think? Do we keep the metaphors we’ve known through the ages or do we alter them to fit the times? And what do you replace Biblical metaphors with?

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