scripture, the gospel and the church, and paradigmatic changing books (and *Our Daily Bread Ministries*)

One of the reasons I very much like the ministry I’m working for, Our Daily Bread Ministries, is that it doesn’t get fancy and try to impress, nor does it get tangled up in controversial matters, but it faithfully teaches the truth of God’s word, with an emphasis on its fulfillment in the good news in Jesus. The stated mission of the ministry is “to make the life-changing wisdom of the Bible understandable and accessible to all.” And the vision: “to see people of all nations experiencing a personal relationship with Christ, growing to be more like Him, and serving in a local body of His family.”

It is home of possibly the most well known Christian devotional in the world, Our Daily Bread, but there’s much more, as you’ll discover when you visit their/our website (see first link above). The devotional in my opinion, by the way, is great by itself, but there’s much more, and it’s all good. I listen everyday to Discover the Word which is an approximately 14 minute conversation in matters grounded in God’s written word, scripture.

I have worked there since December of 1999, and am glad to be part of this ministry. It frankly has grown on me. I have a propensity to ask hard questions and be open to different ways of interpreting and seeing things, and I tend to do that. Though as I get older, I am less apt and happy to do so. But sometimes that’s needed, and not just individuals doing that, but believers together. So I’ve found that the influence of working for so long at this ministry has grown on me for good. The ministry is strong in terms of scripture, the gospel, and the church.

It doesn’t at all for a second, by the way, matter what I think. I would much rather say what we believe as Christians and let it go at that. But I also share on this blog my thoughts, so it’s hard to avoid expressing it that way. We all have our unique perspectives from our experiences which we bring to the table. It is best by far when we listen well to each other, all in the mix together.

I have had paradigmatic shifts through various books, the first I can recall being N. T. Wright’s book, The Challenge of Jesus, then Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed along with another book of his, The King Jesus Gospel. Add to that Allan R. Bevere’s book, The Politics of Witness. And now I think I may be on the cusp of another paradigmatic shift through Greg Boyd’s book, Cross Vision. I have in recent years thought that my theology of the cross is not strong enough. If nothing else, Boyd’s book should help me that way. I’m not sure precisely where I’ll land, but I very much like where he’s going and what he’s trying to do in the book.

Theology and science have plenty of similarities. They’re open ended in their search for truth, so that the quest continues. While at the same time, they’re solidly based in certain givens, in theology (I mean Christian, of course), the truth of the gospel. Like hypotheses being tested in science by peers (peer reviews), so it is in theology both by professional theologians, and by the church at large. So I look forward to praying and thinking through with others Boyd’s thoughts in days to come. All of us likely won’t agree on all the details, including Boyd’s. But we want to all remain united from scripture in the centrality of the good news in Jesus, and the mission the church has in helping us receive that good news for ourselves, and come to share it with others. That is our hope, our goal, indeed, our passion. By God’s grace in and through Jesus.

writing by faith

Maybe, ironically, this post is a cop out and escape from the very subject that it is: writing by faith. Essentially, I think, that is what I do on this blog. Most of the time when I sit down I don’t know what I’m going to write on. And if I have an inkling ahead of time, I try to suppress my thoughts, because I don’t want more thoughts to flow, since I’m not at a keyboard.

I write by faith because everything is a gift from God. When someone way back when suggested that I ought to start my own blog, probably both out of respect for him, and simply in being intrigued, and having enjoyed what blogging I had done in the way of comments on Scot McKnight’s, Jesus Creed, I decided to give it a whirl. I remember early on for some time being amazed after every post, that I could write a post at all. Blogging also was less “old hat” then, it seems, not to say it doesn’t have value now. Even if not the value some are looking for. To this day I certainly consider every post a gift. Yes, a responsibility, but any ability we have from God is a gift, and I want to be led by God in what I write, even if what it all is is developmental in nature. Even so God uses our halting words and attempts to share his word and good news in Jesus.

I write by faith because essentially the subject matter is way over my head, way over any one’s head. I don’t want to simply be passing information along, even from the Bible. Actually anyone can do that and do that even on their own. Even if it is foolishness to them. What I want to share is something of the heart of God, something of the good news in Jesus, and something of my own testimony and life in relation to that.

Writing by faith is essentially like living by faith. We go on writing, wanting to be totally dependent on God through Christ, and even in our weakness and faults God’s strength is redemptively made known. There is something of the divine and human interwoven, somehow it is both God and I who do this work. Even though it is God alone who is the source of all good things, from whom all blessings flow.

I don’t know if I’ll blog as long as I can in this life. I used to think for sure that I would like to do that. I have one writer friend, a quite successful writer (books) who once had a blog, but says it is a poor way to share one’s writing. I would like to have a wider audience, as this person puts it, although I shudder at that thought, because I think it is presumptuous for me to want any audience at all. I simply want to be open to how God might move me.

Blogs are not only a dime a dozen nowadays, but even books are becoming that. Anyone at all can write their own book, though whether or not a publishing company wants it is an entirely other matter. I have often thought about writing a book, I think I would love to do that, at the same time I don’t want to write a book simply to write a book.

And so for now I will continue on. It is an exercise for me, and hopefully it will bless someone along the way. As we in Jesus continue on in faith and for the world.

who has your ear?

What we listen to, or take in is what can change us, for good or ill. I seem to learn best by listening. So I actually daily listen to the Bible being read. But I refer to listen in this post in a metaphorical sense. What do we take in day after day, or on a regular basis? And ultimately who should have our ear?

N.T. Wright’s book, The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is revolutionized my faith, and turned me back toward my Anabaptist roots (even though he is not Anabaptist), toward a Jesus-oriented, Sermon on the Mount kind of faith, although that journey and the end or outcome of it is much more complex than that. Scot McKnight’s, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others also powerfully impacted my faith. Another important book for me right now in helping me get my feet more firmly on the ground is also by N.T. Wright: After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters, with an excellent ending chapter on “the virtuous circle,” not to diminish the rest of the book. And there are a number of other key writers for me, such as Eugene H. Peterson, to name one. I wish I could read all of the books I would like to read, but “too many books, too little time.”

Ultimately the one who is to have our ear is the good shepherd, Jesus. We are likened to sheep, and sheep are known to respond to their shepherd’s call, recognizing the voice. If what we are taking in is not helping us hear the voice of the good shepherd, Jesus, then something is amiss.

Interestingly, what and how we hear is influenced by those around us, particularly those who actually do influence us or have our ear for one reason or another. I put our pastors high on that list, Jack and Sharon Brown, who I both deeply respect. And Sharon’s award winning book, Sensible Shoes: A Story about the Spiritual Journey, now being published by InterVarsity Press, is a most worthy read, unique in the way she helps us see how God can powerfully impact and change our lives in community through the spiritual disciplines rooted in scripture as practiced in the church (I am doing this book injustice with that sentence; you must read it for yourself).

In the end, let us listen, listen, and listen some more. Waiting and endeavoring to live as those who move because of the good shepherd’s voice, Jesus. Together in him for the world.

reading

I used to read wanting to gather as much information as possible. For a number of reasons, probably mostly all legitimate. I think over the years I’ve changed, so that I want to read in the context of living in this world individually and in community as a follower of Jesus.

For me this limits what I read due to time. I wish years ago I would have read many classics I’ll probably never get around to reading now. What piques my interest with reference to what I sense to be my calling, and to life itself, is what draws me.

In keeping with what Eugene Peterson suggested in one of his books, I tend to want to read less, not more. To read wisely for myself, which means not too much. I don’t measure success in reading by how many books I’ve read, or the speed with which I read them. I find the best books are usually enjoyed slowly. And those are the books I will reread, and go back to again and again.

Books are not ends in themselves. While there are certainly enduring classics, the best of them for me points me to God’s good will in Jesus for us. Or something related to God’s creation or provision for humankind. Even scripture as the written word of God is not an end in itself, but is meant to draw us to God through Jesus.

So let’s ponderously read. Knowing it is what speaks to us, into our lives, and from that, into the lives of others, that is good. Teaching us to think, and live better in our own unique ways, together in Jesus for the world.

Sharon Garlough Brown on the mini-pilgrimage of walking the labyrinth

“To get you started on your sacred journey,” Katherine went on, “we’ll begin with a mini-pilgrimage. Have any of you walked a labyrinth before?” A few hands went up around the room. “The one you’ll be walking today is the same pattern as the thirteenth-century labyrinth on the floor of the Chartres Cathedral in France.” She paused, looked intently at the group. “Now, I’ll be honest with you. Some Christians get nervous about labyrinths because they’re found in many cultural and spiritual traditions. After all, the circle and spiral are ancient symbols for wholeness and transformation, and some people claim that the labyrinth pattern itself is mystical.”

“Fabulous,” Charissa muttered.

“I don’t believe there’s anything inherently mystical about the labyrinth,” Katherine said. “Transformation and healing come as gifts from meeting with the living God–not from walking along a particular pattern or path. The labyrinth simply provides an opportunity for prayer. Remember, the intent of spiritual disciplines is to create space where we can encounter God–space where we can be deeply touched and changed by God’s extravagant love for us. In walking the labyrinth, we deliberately slow down to give God our prayerful attention. We ask the Holy Spirit to help us be fully present to the One who is always with us. We quiet ourselves so we can notice the stirrings of God and respond in love, faith, and obedience.”

Katherine picked up a stack of papers from her podium. “I’ll pass around handouts to your tables so you can read about the labyrinth in your groups. Then when you’re ready, head right out these exit doors and follow the path to the courtyard. Once you’ve finished walking and praying, come back inside, and we’ll share some reflections with one another, okay? And may you know God’s near presence as you walk together.”

Sharon Garlough Brown, Sensible Shoes, 43.

Sharon gives further explanation of this on the following page, as the handout by this fictional character, Katherine Rhodes, including a drawing of a labyrinth.

Scrooge’s change and living out the true meaning of Christmas

“I don’t know what to do!” cried Scrooge, laughing and crying in the same breath; and making a perfect Lacoon of himself with his stockings. “I am light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!”

….Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.

He had no further intercourse with the Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol and Other Stories, 99-100,106-107.

“slow down” echoed in new novel

Sharon talking about her book at a recent book launch at Baker Book House.

The words I took as from God: “Slow down”, with the understanding that God would help me work that out in life are echoed in Sharon Brown’s new book, Sensible Shoes. Or I should say that God used her influence to slow me down in the sense of getting me open, and now hungry for a deeper life in God.

I’m reading the book and finding it fascinating, and am resonating deeply with the characters in it, even though they are all women. It is easy for me to make that crossover from the normal feminine concerns and issues they face, since their basic problem is tied to their humanity.

And I’m at an advantage, witnessing Sharon and her husband Jack’s ministry as our pastors. Her gift is for the whole church, just as I believe is true, whether directly or indirectly, of every member of Christ’s Body.

And I want to join real life people through joining the book characters on this “sacred journey”.

Upcoming I will offer a book review. And I look forward to the study guide to go along with this book. Add to that Sharon’s blog centered on the book, and you can begin right now, and see for yourself.

You can see why my theme on this blog all week has been slowing down. And I will top that off tomorrow with a quote from this book.

The book cover image is from Google books. I think the best prices right now are from Sharon herself, and Amazon.

review of “The Character of Our Discontent” by Allan R. Bevere

For many of us Christians the Old Testament is quite interesting on some levels, but puzzling in others. We don’t really feel at home in much of its writings. And for a number of reasons. It was a different time. And when Jesus came, he brought a new time with him. However the New Testament writers like Paul do not let us off the hook. They tell us that the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible was written for us as well, for our instruction and warning. And that Jesus came to fulfill it, to bring its goal and intention to completion. And we see the New Testament inundated with quotes and allusions from the Old.

Allan R. Bevere whose book All Is Not As It Seems: Random Reflections on Faith, Ethics, and Politics, I reviewed helps remedy this problem with a new book, interestingly entitled The Character of Our Discontent. Allan is a pastor and professor at a seminary, as well as a New Testament scholar. At a certain point in his ministry, he realized to his embarrassment that he was not giving enough attention to the Old Testament in the number of sermons he preached from its text. Being biblically and theologically astute, he knew that this just didn’t wash. So Allan prepared a number of messages from it to share with his congregation, and shares them with us in this book.

Abraham, Jacob and Esau, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Samson, Samuel, David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Josiah, Esther, Job, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel are the main biblical characters we interact with. The chapters are compact with good, solid content. First with reference to the passage and subject matter from the Bible at hand. And also with reference to what theologians have said, along with good stories. The perfect mix not only for a good sermon, but for helping us grapple with the text, and better still,  letting the text as God’s word grapple with us. For those interested in preparing messages, this book has good homiletical value in demonstrating a solid approach to it. The message of the text is interestingly applied to life now in ways in which we readily connect. For example Allan tellingly brings home to our culture something little related to it in the story of how Esau carelessly gave up his birthright which Jacob seized, in terms of the privileges given to us which bring with them serious responsibilities. The rest of the book is like this. And each chapter is ended with a fitting prayer. I could have read it cover to cover in one sitting (or in a day) since it’s so engaging, but thought it best to read it more reflectively, in a devotional sort of way, one chapter at a time.

This book should help whet our appetite, or rekindle our desire to get into the Old Testament. In fresh ways that are open to God’s voice.

(A quote from the book.)

review of “Will Jesus Buy Me a Double-Wide?”

Karen Spears Zacharias has written a number of books, each of which I want to read. I finally did get around to reading my first, her latest, Will Jesus Buy Me a Double-Wide?. I really like this book for a number of reasons.

First of all, Karen is a good story teller. She lets people tell their stories, and she describes them as well. Her skill in journalism shines through. And you really get the sense of meeting these people.

Also there is good diversity within the theme of Karen’s book. The theme is actually about how the desire for monetary and material wealth can take over people’s lives, even becoming a large part of their faith. But the theme includes how others live in contrast to that. Living in a world where money does matter, but with an eye to do good with what they do have, while trusting God to meet their needs. And the book includes people who are moving along on this journey, maybe close to where we are, but are seriously grappling with these issues.

One meets a variety of people in this fast moving, page turning book. Rich and poor, those who have faith and those with little or none, those who believe God for material wealth, and those who believe wealth is more than material. Almost any sort of person you can imagine is covered in one of the nineteen people’s story. We get a rather full glimpse of American society in relation to money. But more than that, we get down to earth people who struggle just like you and I.

This book hits on nearly every angle imaginable of special interest during the current economical downturn. But always important in life. From the greed of Wall Street to the struggle on Main Street, from the one who turns their back on wealth to serve God in a jungle, to those who get rich off of people in the name of the Lord.

And Karen has strong words of her own to say in a few places in the book. Against the prosperity gospel which flies in the face of not only reality, but the pages of Scripture and of Jesus’ life. Against the American sense of entitlement, seeing this in contrast to so many in the world who barely (or not) have enough to live on. This book does not make one think being wealthy is sinful, or being poor is a virtue. Nor does one finish the book thinking they’ve been taken on a political ride. It neither came across as left or right (nor center, for that matter), but kingdom of God in Jesus in its orientation. Even with the strong words, there really is a graciousness to the book, not the harshness we’re all too accustomed to nowadays.

I know I want to read this book again. And get others to read it. Will you be one of them? You won’t be sorry if you do.

Here’s a quote from the book.

evangelizing like St. Patrick

One of my favorite books and reads was from George G. Hunter III (I need to read it again), The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West…Again. In it is the wonderful story of St. Patrick of Ireland who (along with St. Francis of Assisi) Protestant Christians like to claim as their own (I am wearing a green shirt and orange socks today).

What emerged out of the gospel Patrick proclaimed, and the churches that came into being- and I must add in the midst of great danger as Patrick well understood when he returned to the land of his captivity- was a visual, expressive, creation-oriented Christianity which captured many of the minds and hearts of Ireland and held sway a good number of centuries there.

There was a freedom and rootedness in God’s working which (again, like St. Francis) made Rome (by then in place) uneasy. This is surely in significant part because when Patrick ventured back from his home of England to evangelize a pagan nation, he surely did so as one who not only had a heart for his former captors, but who understood, or at least respected their culture. He was surely led by the Spirit to let the gospel and the basics of the faith emerge into a community of faith which expressed the gospel in terms of their own culture. My guess is that Patrick himself not only let it happen, but was a part of it. He took the three leaf clover, the shamrock to teach the Holy Trinity: God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Our evangelism necessarily is answering to the fall, but it should be rooted in creation. And then from there, the fall, the covenant, redemption and new creation. God’s salvation in Christ is about reconciling all things to himself, about making all things new. So that is it not an other-worldly venture, some kind of mystical religion which is accessible only to the “saints” or super devout Christians. But it is a faith accessible to all, and to be lived out as creatures in creation. So that the arts are an important part of it. Painting, sculpturing, music, poetry. And simply an orientation which sees God metaphorically in his good creation. The sun, the beauty of this world, the eikons (meaning us) made in his image.

It is an evangelization which appeals to people not only on the basis of what God has done in Christ to reconcile the world to himself- not counting people’s sins against them, but it is also one that appeals to people to find the purpose for why humans were created in general, and what their special calling from that is, in particular. Of course it’s a combination of living in both a wonderful world made by God, and a fallen world which needs God’s salvation. So that, for example the arts should capture something of both, rather than one or the other. But expressions of faith should be buoyant in the expression of God’s new creation work in Jesus, making all things new. Restoring us to our calling through Jesus, as stewards and caretakers of God’s good earth which God has given us as our home. And which someday will become one with heaven, in the new heaven and new earth when all things are made one in Christ.

So it’s time to rethink our evangelizing. Yes, we need to help people understand their lostness and sin, but in terms of God’s creation. To get us back to our roots in creation as told to us in Genesis. And into the beginning of the realization of that vision through Christ.

What thoughts do you have on this? Have any of you read the book, and how did it impact you?