Thursday, May 30, 2019

Perspectives: Distruptions

I took this picture from a hotel in Cleveland last fall.  Can you see the tornado?  Tiny thing, and it didn't cause any issues.

There are, however, those things that do cause disruption in our lives. What is disrupting your life right now? How is the presence of God in your life helping you to cope?


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The Trinity and Salvation

Why was the death of Christ necessary for our salvation?

No, I asked you first.

I don't have an answer, but I do know that there are many theories.  You can google them if you like.  I think Adam Hamilton reviews several of them in one of his books.

I was listening to a podcast "You Made it Weird" by Pete Holmes: he was interviewing Nadia Bolz-Weber.  I liked it, but I wouldn't recommend it if you are bothered by language.  Anyway, one of them was summing up one of the theories like this: God had one son, and he loved him very much. But we are so sinful - you are so sinful - that God had to kill his son in order to forgive our sins.  

That's an exaggeration of a theory, but it does reflect some of the thought around one of the theories of atonement.

Stop for a moment and think of the trinity.  God is Jesus.  Jesus is Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit is God.  Jesus was incarnated as a human - but that means that God was incarnate.  God died.  God loved us so much that God died.

When you shine the light of the Trinity on the crucifixion, it changes the understanding of it, I think.

No, I still don't have the answer.  But do think about the question.

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Tuesday, May 28, 2019


I just started the book Faith Unraveled by Rachel Held Evans.  It's the first book she wrote, and I've never read it before.

In the introduction, she says, "At twenty-seven, I'm probably too young to write a memoir."

She died a couple of weeks ago at the age of thirty-seven.  Reading that sentence reminded me that none of us knows the future.  I'm glad her age didn't stop her from writing the book I'm about to read.

What are you putting off that you should go ahead and do? What relationship in your life needs healing? What call from God have you set aside until later?

Maybe think about it today.  



Monday, May 27, 2019

Freedom at a Cost

On the way out of town this weekend, I saw a church sign in front of a church.  It read, "Freedom is never free."  I understand why it was there - it was Memorial Day weekend, and the sign was there to honor those who have fought for, had their lives changed, and died for the freedom our country is defined by.  And I honor that.

However, the sign made me wonder - is it true for all freedom? Is no freedom free of charge? 

Christ died to free of from our sins.  That was a definite cost to Christ, and I get that grace is not cheap, but does saying, "freedom is never free" support the idea that grace has an exchange rate? That, yes, God gives us grace, but only if.....

We live in a culture that believes that nothing is free.  Everything has a price.  Kindness deserves payback. Favors are debts. We live in a culture where fairness is the golden rule.  

But grace is not fair. Freedom in Christ is not a debt to repay. It has been given to us at great cost to Christ, but at no cost to us.  Free. No strings. No exchange necessary. 

We can't believe it because we have never seen anything like it. But faith is not exchange-based. Love is a gift to all - to me, to you, to all.

I think expecting there to be a cost cheapens it.

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Thursday, May 23, 2019

Perspectives: Beauty in the Ordinary

This was my view one day as I drove home from work.  What beauty do you see in the ordinary?


Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Pursuing Wisdom Wisely

Inside Cleveland Church

If, as Peter Enns says, the purpose of the Bible is to invite us to pursue wisdom, then can we see evidence of that in the Bible itself?  Did the later writers recognize that the scripture they had was ancient, ambiguous and diverse?

If you read his book, How the Bible Actually Works, then I think you will find that the Bible there are several examples of how biblical writers practiced wisdom in what they wrote.  They saw that the work they were reading, even in their time, was not a history book, but a story of truth. 

For example, compare the books of Kings to the books of Chronicles.  Same story - same time period.  Very different telling.

Look at Paul.  He quotes prophets when he writes his letters, but he pulls sentences out of context to apply to Jesus. They weren't written to speak of Jesus, but in them, Paul sees Jesus, so he writes of them.  I don't think that gives us permission to pull scripture out of context, but I do think it releases us from the idea that scripture can't be used to speak to today.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The women and soldiers

Still thinking about Matthew 28:1-15....  At the tomb, there were two women and a group of soldiers.  Both the women and the soldiers saw the dazzling angel.  How does their response differ?

The women have come to “see.”  The verb “to see” denotes an understanding or insight into God’s purposes.  They have some “to see.” To see into God’s purposes.  They have come in belief or at least with an open mind.  They are told to go and tell – and leave in great fear and joy.  On the way to the disciples, the women encounter Jesus – and the touch him and bow down and worship him.  Then they go and tell the disciples that Jesus is alive.

Some of the soldiers go into the city and tell the chief priests what has happened. The priests assemble the elders and design a plan to cover up what has happened.  They bribe the soldiers to say that they fell asleep and someone stole the body. They tell the soldiers that if Pilate has a problem with them, the priests and elders will protect them, and make it right with Pilate.  The soldiers are paid with pieces of silver – sound familiar?  This is not 30 pieces of silver – this is a much larger sum of money.  The author I was reading quoted, “It costs more to suppress the resurrection message than to engineer the crucifixion.”

What is interesting to me is that all of the people we are talking about witnessed what the angels said. Some of them – the women – chose to follow the instructions of the angel and they found Jesus.  They chose life.  The soldiers who went to chief priests followed different instructions – instructions that could have led to their death for the dereliction of their duty.

What did the other soldiers choose?

Barbara Brown Taylor wrote:  The time frame in those five verses collapses as Matthew splices together the things that happened on both sides of the two earthquakes that he reports (one at Jesus death and the other on the morning the women found his tomb empty).  Strictly speaking, the soldiers’ confession comes after Jesus’ resurrection (The verse is Matthew 27:54 – Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s son!” )… Which earthquake was that, exactly?  So the text leaves open the possibility, at least in our imagination, that the other soldiers chose to believe.


Monday, May 20, 2019

Matthew 28:1-15: A comparison

I taught a Sunday lesson a couple of weeks ago based on Matthew 28:1-15.  This is the resurrection story in Matthew. Sometimes, we forget that while the story is in all four gospels, it is different in each one - kind of like we forget that the Christmas story told in the two gospels is different, and we combine them into one giant Christmas play in our head.

Don't ignore the differences,  Don't try to explain them away.  They can tell us something about the message that each Gospel writer is telling us.  Below are my notes from the Sunday school lesson.  Parts of these notes are taken from Feasting on the Gospel - a section written by Barbara Brown Taylor on this passage.
  1. Only Matthew allows the reader to watch the opening of Jesus’ grave.  In the other gospels,  the door of the tomb has already been opened when the women arrive.  We aren’t left to  wonder if a grave-robber or a soldier did it.  An angel of the Lord did it – it was done by a  divine act.  Question:  What is gained by knowing how the tomb was opened? What is lost?  (Aren't those interesting questions?  How do you answer them?
  2. The women who arrive are different in each gospel:
    • Matthew - Mary Magdalene and the other Mary
    • Luke – a group of women including Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and  the other women
    • Mark – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome
    • John – Mary Magdalene
  1. The angel in Matthew is very different from the young man in Mark.  In Luke, there are two  men in “dazzling clothes”
  2. Only Matthew mentioned Roman Guards at the tomb.  Maybe this was important to  Matthew in order to refute common rumors of his time.  Maybe it is to echo Daniel: when  the king orders Daniel to be thrown into the lion’s den, a stone is brought to seal the mouth  of the den, and the king seals it with his signet.  Matthew is written for a largely Jewish  audience, so Matthew often references the Hebrew scripture, so this seems to fit his  purpose
  3. Only Matthew tells that the women were the first to see, touch, and worship Jesus. And the  Disciples go to Galilee as the women tell them to, so they must have believed them – at least  enough to follow their instructions.
    • Luke – the women received instructions from the two men, but no one believed  them.
    • John – Mary sees and speaks with Jesus, but isn’t allowed to touch him. Although  she is alone with him, the disciples do seem to believe her.
    • Mark – Jesus first appears to Mary Magdalene, but no one believes her.
Question:  Does the role of the women bring any questions to your mind?  Barbara  Brown Taylor writes, “…how (could) a church so dependent on the primary ministry  and witness of women ever come to debate their gifts for congregational leadership?”


Thursday, May 16, 2019

Perspectives: Drop off

What is it that today, you are afraid of attempting? Afraid of trying to understand? Afraid of doing? Afraid of hearing? Afraid of seeing?

What is stopping you?

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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Litany: Psalm 96:10-13

A Litany based on Psalm 96:10-13

One: Declare to everyone
All: The Lord is King!
One: The world is established on a firm foundation
All: Built on a rock.
One: Our God judges with mercy and fairness
All: Our God is full of grace and love
One: Let the heavens be glad
All: Let us all rejoice
One: Let the sea roar and all that fills it
All: Let the fields shout for joy and all that is in them.
One: The trees shall sing for joy
All: The forests shall hear God coming
One: God is coming today to bring righteousness
All: May we know God's truth.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Call to Worship: Psalm 7-9

A call to worship based on Psalm 96:7-9

Leader:  We come this morning to this Holy Ground to praise God.
People: Open our minds to remember the Lord's glory and strength.
Leader: We stand on this Holy Ground to praise God.
People: Open our hands to bring an offering.  Open our hearts to release what weighs us down.
Leader:  We worship God so that we may come into God's presence.
People:  Open our eyes to see God among us.
All: Open our lives to worship the God who creator us, who saves us, or loves us.

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Monday, May 13, 2019

Open My Heart

Inspired by Psalm 96:1-6

Open my heart.
sing a new song of praise.
To sing a new song, 
or remember an old song.
To sing a song of praise to the Lord.

Open my mouth to sing a song
To declare God's presence in the world.
To remember for everyone 
God's saving love for God's beloved.
For all.
For every day.

Open my life
so that the work I do may be acts of praise
that declare God's love to the world.
That help others to see
God's marvelous acts in our world
For them.

For great is the Lord
and greatly to be praised.

I forget.
I close my eyes to God,
and see instead what is not God
What is not important.
What distracts me from God.

But God made the heavens
And created the world around me.
Honor and majesty surround God.
Surround me, when I am in God's presence.
Strength and beauty are in God's sanctuary.

Open my heart.
Open my mind
Open my mouth
to declare the majesty of the Lord.

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Thursday, May 09, 2019

Canonized Contradictions

Repost from 11/20/18

I may have mentioned this before, but have you ever noticed in Proverbs the following two verses?

Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.  Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 26:4-5)

I'm reading Inspired by Rachel Held Evans.  She quotes Timothy Beal as saying, "The Bible canonizes contradiction."  

We want answers.  We think we would like God to say, "Do this, not this.  Be this, not this. Here I am, and here are all the answers." God doesn't work that way, and the Bible certainly doesn't work that way.

She goes on to say:

"When God gave us the Bible, God did not give us an internally consistent book of answers.  God gave us an inspired library of diverse writings, rooted in a variety of contexts, that have stood the test of time, precisely because, together, they avoid simplistic solutions to complex problems."

I think we can rest assured that if we think the answer is clear cut or simple, we are wrong.


Wednesday, May 08, 2019


Reposted from 5/30/17
These were the people who wore their brokenness on the outside, people whose indiscretions were so other, so uncommon, their entire personhood was relegated to the category of sinner.  They were the people the religious loved to hate, for they provided a convenient sorting mechanism for externalizing sin as something that exists out there, among other people with other problems, making other mistakes.  (Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans).
Have you ever been in the hospital and heard someone refer to a patient as the "infected arm in room 201"?  I think some nurses and doctors might do that in order to stay detached from the patient.  It's easier, isn't it? To see the patient as only the aliment instead of a person?

What Rachel Held Evans is talking about is a little of that, but it also includes something much for sinister, much more sinful.

Do we see a person and judge them by the sin we believe they have, rather than seeing the person? Do we do that in order to feel better about ourselves?

If I call the person in front of me an addict, am I saying - at least subliminally - that "I don't sin like that."

If we see label a parent as a "poor mother," - because in our eyes, her children aren't behaving the way we would expect them to, or she isn't doing what we think she should be doing - are we feeling better about ourselves?

When the Pharisees scoffed, and called someone a prostitute, or a tax collector, or an unclean leper, did it make them feel better?

At least I'm not like that person.


Tuesday, May 07, 2019

The Wind Blows Where it Chooses

Repost from 7/5/17

"The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)

I think that verse is one of those lovely verses in John that we know must be true, but we just don't take the time to know what it means. At least for me, this is true. I've read it, but I"m always distracted by the rest of the very lovely chapter, and I don't think about this verse.

This morning, I was reading a chapter from Rachel Held Evans book, Searching for Sunday; she was writing about this verse. Jesus is trying to explain -- well -- everything to Nicodemus, and Nic isn't getting it. So, finally, Jesus tells him to compare the spirit to the wind - in fact, he uses a word that means both spirit and wind. 

Think about it. You see the work of God in the world, if you will look, but like hearing the wind, you don't know where God comes from, where God is going. You can't predict the wind (or God); you can't control the wind (or God). Even though we try.

If we look, we will see the work of God everywhere. Evans says we will recognize God's work by the fruit - fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Where have you seen those lately?

A few days ago, I was driving to work, and I saw a turtle trying to cross the road. In our impatient world,  no one is going to wait for the turtle to cross the road, or even notice that it is there. A turtle crossing the road is going to die. Horribly (for the turtle). I often just drive by, in a hurry to get where I cam going and do what I need to do, but today, I stopped and turned around. I was going to get the turtle out of the road.

As I was driving back to the turtle crossing, I saw a very large, black SUV coming down the road, right at the poor, slow turtle. Surprising to me, it stopped, right before it hit the turtle. A large (by large, I mean tall, athletic, young) man stepped out of the car. He rescued the turtle.

Kindness, right in front of me. 

The spirit moving. 

It wasn't a bit thing (unless you were the turtle), but maybe it was a big thing. Maybe it was God at work in that man's life, and in my life, to make himself known.

The wind blows where it chooses.


Monday, May 06, 2019

Woman of Valor

I was so saddened to hear of the death of Rachel Held Evans (RHE).  I've read three of her four books, and watched on twitter as she stood up for those who are oppressed, forgotten, hurting.  I was inspired by her, and learned from her. I will miss her voice, but so will the world.  

One of the phrases I remember from the book, A year of Biblical Womanhood was "woman of valor." It answered my concerns about Proverbs 31, and I still remember and am blessed by her explanation.  Many today are calling her a "woman of valor." And I agree.

This week my posts will focus on RHE.  I will bring back some of the writing I did earlier, but today is new.

Below is where my mind was wondering as I thought about the phrase woman of valor.  These are four sketches of four woman. One of them is RHE.  I hope you see yourself in some of this, because, you, too, are a woman of valor.

She works hard during the day,
answering questions,
typing reports,
bringing together those who disagree.
On the way home,
she stops at the field
to pick up her son from practice.
She grabs carrots, cereal, and milk,
and then, with the help of all,
fixes dinner.
Homework, dishes, baths, 
all a coordinated effort.

She is a woman of valor.

She sits by the side of her elderly husband,
holds his hands.
She tells him stories of their lives together,
stories he doesn't remember.
She is alone in the memories,
but sits with him,
so that he is not alone.
She cries, she hurts, she loves.
She misses him already.

She is a woman of valor.

She married, had two babies
She wrote four books,
Questioning, living, searching, inspiring.
She blogged. She tweeted. She taught.
She stood up for the oppressed,
escaped the church that she loved and couldn't support,
led others to freedom.
She invited everyone to the table,
sharing faith.  Pointing to God.
She died too soon.

She was a woman of valor.

She served others all her life.
Preaching the word of God.
Teaching forgiveness and grace.
She hardends herself against the arrows of prejudice.
She welcomes the homeless, and loves the grouchy.
She feeds people bread and juice, soup and peanut butter sandwiches.
People call her "woman preacher" on a good day.
"Sinner" on the worst days.
But she has a call, and she told God "yes."

She is a woman of valor.

Whether you work with wool or flax,
bring food from afar,
buy fields or stay up late at night.
Listen to others sing of your valor.
Whether you are a soccer mom, or a single woman,
a woman is is never alone, or one who is lonely, or both.
share your gifts
speak your mind
stand up for those who are hurting.
You are worthy.
You are a beloved child of God.
You are a woman of valor.
Hear us sing about you.

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Thursday, May 02, 2019

Perspectives: Decisions

What decisions are you facing this week?


Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Scooting Over

I am listening to Nadia Bolz-Weber's new book, Shameless.  At the very beginning, she talks about creation.  Before God created the world, there was nothing except God.  In preparation for creation, God had to make room - to scoot over, so to speak.  She compared it to the woman on the subway whose purse has been placed on the seat next to her.  The woman, out of kindness and generosity, picks it up to make space for someone else to sit down.  She can't help it; it's how she's made.

If this is a description of God - a God who makes room for us - then we, who are created in the image of God, are created for such kindness, too.  It is part of us, too.

Who in our communities do we need to scoot over for? Who is standing up without a place to rest? Who has God created the world for and yet feels outside of God's love? Who do we need to make room for?

And how do we do it? And when will we do it?

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